Margin Notes

GUEST WRITER JULIA JENKINS RECOMMENDS THE SUNBEARER BY AIDEN THOMAS

Dec
20

The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas is a young-adult fantasy novel that mixes aspects of Mexican/Aztec Mythology with more modern elements. The book tells the story of Teo, a trans teenager, a Jade semidiós, and the son of the goddess of birds. While Teo has been told his whole life that he is less important, not as strong, and no hero in comparison to the “Gold” semidióses, this is put into question when he and another Jade are chosen to compete among 8 golds in the Sunbearer Trials- an important ceremony that happens only once every ten years in which 10 young semidióses compete with one another to appease the sun god Sol. He begins to question everything he’s ever known while trying to keep himself and his friends out of harm’s way in the trials. This book feels very reminiscent of The Hunger Games and Percy Jackson & the Olympians.

There is so much great representation in this book. First, there is the representation of different types of mythology. So often books and movies focus on Greek mythology but forget about Aztec mythology, Indigenous mythology, Germanic mythology, etc. This book does a great job of tying real aspects of Aztec mythology into this fast-paced story. The identity of the main character Teo as trans (as well as other characters being part of the LGBTQ+ community) is written about in a refreshing way. Teo’s identity is written about in a way that does not hyperfocus on the struggle of being trans, but simply acknowledges his identity and carries on. Along with the great representation and storyline, the underlying message behind this story is amazing. It is a classic underdog story, that shows is that physical strength is not the only strength, and it is often not the best. Things like intelligence, kindness, altruism, and determination can be just as valuable.

About me: I am a 23 year old bachelor of education student at the University of New Brunswick, originally from Sudbury, Ontario. I love to read YA, historical fiction, horror, some romance, and really anything I can get my hands on. I’m so excited to share my love of reading with my future students.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: IT STARTS WITH A PICTURE

Dec
15

I spent the very last day of work in June reading The Confidence to Write by Liz Prather. Why did it take several more months before I found her blog? This resource offers so many ideas to try tomorrow but I am picking “It Starts With a Picture” to link you over to her page.

The only material you will need is dice, students with cellphones (if you have any students without cell phones, you can give them the heads up to add some photos to MS Teams from home or bring in some physical copies), writer’s notebooks and a pencil.

Here is her explanation:

Final exams looming, pop-up Christmas parties sugaring the halls, kids ready for a break, and I’m looking for something light and fun that also develops students’ writing skills of observation, analysis, language, and image.

This lesson also helps students develop those “dig deeper” skills, mining a universal theme, which is discovered in this single moment in time.  This lesson may also translate into something longer like a vignette or personal essay, but I encourage students to try to write in whatever short form of poetry they want for sharing.

She gives you the setup, the prompts and an extension idea so you are ready to try this tomorrow.

GUEST WRITER JOHN HARLEY RECOMMENDS TREMENDOUS THINGS BY SUSIN NIELSEN

Dec
13

A novel that leaves you with tugged heartstrings and the biggest grin on your face, Susin Nielen’s Tremendous Things, is an incredible experience. Following a teenage boy named Wilbur, we live through the challenges of growing up through his eyes, feeling his insecurities, experiencing a variety of his hardships, and watching as he learns how to build his confidence. While partaking in an exchange program and meeting Charlie, he, with the help of his friends, pushes himself to become more confident, all while dealing with many social difficulties.

This novel tackles themes such as bullying, love, friendship, and self-worth, allowing its readers to see how you are able to find a happy ending, even in the most unlikely places. This is a personal journey that we have the privilege to take, showing us that it is not about how we look on the outside, but who we are and how we feel on the inside.

This novel is recommended for readers 12 years of age and over, as it does contain some content that younger readers may not be ready for. However, I believe that many students will be able to see themselves in Wilbur’s shoes and discover that they too can build confidence and stand up for what they love.

John Harley is an Education student at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton Campus. This is his first book recommendation and he hopes that he is doing a good job. John’s interests include theatre, including comedies, Shakespeare, and musicals, hockey, music, and YA novels.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: THE PARIS REVIEW MORNING POETRY

Dec
08

I recently read Joy at Work by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein, which suggests strategies for applying Kondo’s famous tidying method to our work environments, both physical and digital. One of the ways I have tidied my digital space is by unsubscribing to newsletters and email subscriptions that no longer “spark joy.” Over the years, I have subscribed to a number of education-related newsletters but find myself really reading only a few.

One of the newsletters that absolutely sparks joy for me is the Daily Poem. Every morning, a poem from the Paris Review archives is delivered to my inbox. This is a terrific resource for high school literacy teachers looking for contemporary poems to share with students. I love starting my day with a few minutes of poetry and have added many of the poems to my writer’s notebook to inspire my own writing. You can sign up for the Morning Poem using the Newsletter tab.

I know we often feel that we are inundated with emails, but newsletters that curate high-quality resources that we can use in our classrooms are timesavers in the long run.

GUEST WRITER REESE PHOENIX RECOMMENDS CURSED: AN ANTHOLOGY

Dec
06

Curses can manifest in countless arrays of landscapes and surface in various scopes. They are often cloaked or buried in the unlikeliest dwellings, or concealed just around the corner, perhaps to provide us with greater motivation to be cautious in life. Nonetheless, they are indispensable components of fairy tales and fundamental principles of stories of ethics and virtues that many are exposed to in childhood. They aim to impart upon us lessons of decency and further our conviction that indiscretions ought to be reprimanded, and with any luck, to direct us toward a conservative and traditional track of nobler conduct. After all, in the absence of wickedness how could one appreciate righteousness?

Cursed: An Anthology, by Christina Henry assembles familiar tales inspired by authors such as the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Charles Perrault, while incorporating feasibly more foreign fables influenced by ones originating from France, Denmark, and Norway. Impassioned readers of the genre looking for contemporary darlings like Neil Gaiman may be disappointed to see that Troll Bridge, a fan favourite, is his only work in the book. However,Cursed is an excellent collection with a broad assortment. Jane Yolen’s Castle Cursed and Castle Walking offer occasions for poetry, while her work Little Red with Adam Stemple, and Christina Henry’s As Red as Blood, as White as Snow deliver new alternatives for deconstructed fairy tale fans.

Containing stories that may feel quite dark and ‘twisted’ with some blood and gore, Cursed would be most appropriate for high school students. Individual readers who can digest these tales would be best left up to the discretion of the teacher.

Bio: Reese is a pre-service teacher at UNB and an enthusiastic reader of 19th century “classics.” Reese hopes to engender a love of reading in students, provoke them to question and think about what they are reading, and awaken an enduring, lifelong thirst for inquiry.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: MOODY MENTORS

Dec
01

I love it when my nightly scrolling is productive. Twitter can be a fantastic resource for inspiration and sharing ideas. Kate McCook (@KMcCookEnglish) so generously shared her idea of moody mentors. Here are the steps she outlines:

  1. I decided to focus on how to add mood to our pieces.
  2. I pulled out two favorite mentor texts, the openings to the memoirs The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls & Educated by Tara Westover, and called them “Moody Mentor Texts”
  3. I handed students a list of mood words & we defined new ones.
  4. We identified moods in each piece.
  5. We identified writing moves each author used to create the moods we noticed.
  6. We reassessed our drafts to see if we had established mood (and what mood)
  7. We chose two “Moody Mini Moves” to emulate in our own drafts.

I loved this idea so I tracked down the two mentors listed. Here are some excerpts:

Text #1

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Chapter 1: A Woman on the Street

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. It was just after dark. A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming out of the manholes, and people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading.

Mom stood fifteen feet away. She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep out the spring chill and was picking through the trash while her dog, a black-and-white terrier mix, played at her feet. Mom’s gestures were all familiar — the way she tilted her head and thrust out her lower lip when studying items of potential value that she’d hoisted out of the Dumpster, the way her eyes widened with childish glee when she found something she liked. Her long hair was streaked with gray, tangled and matted, and her eyes had sunk deep into their sockets, but still she reminded me of the mom she’d been when I was a kid, swan-diving off cliffs and painting in the desert and reading Shakespeare aloud. Her cheekbones were still high and strong, but the skin was parched and ruddy from all those winters and summers exposed to the elements. To the people walking by, she probably looked like any of the thousands of homeless people in New York City.

It had been months since I laid eyes on Mom, and when she looked up, I was overcome with panic that she’d see me and call out my name, and that someone on the way to the same party would spot us together and Mom would introduce herself and my secret would be out.

I slid down in the seat and asked the driver to turn around and take me home to Park Avenue.

The taxi pulled up in front of my building, the doorman held the door for me, and the elevator man took me up to my floor. My husband was working late, as he did most nights, and the apartment was silent except for the click of my heels on the polished wood floor. I was still rattled from seeing Mom, the unexpectedness of coming across her, the sight of her rooting happily through the Dumpster. I put some Vivaldi on, hoping the music would settle me down.

I looked around the room. There were the turn-of-the-century bronze-and-silver vases and the old books with worn leather spines that I’d collected at flea markets. There were the Georgian maps I’d had framed, the Persian rugs, and the overstuffed leather armchair I liked to sink into at the end of the day. I’d tried to make a home for myself here, tried to turn the apartment into the sort of place where the person I wanted to be would live. But I could never enjoy the room without worrying about Mom and Dad huddled on a sidewalk grate somewhere. I fretted about them, but I was embarrassed by them, too, and ashamed of myself for wearing pearls and living on Park Avenue while my parents were busy keeping warm and finding something to eat.

What could I do? I’d tried to help them countless times, but Dad would insist they didn’t need anything, and Mom would ask for something silly, like a perfume atomizer or a membership in a health club. They said that they were living the way they wanted to.

After ducking down in the taxi so Mom wouldn’t see me, I hated myself — hated my antiques, my clothes, and my apartment. I had to do something, so I called a friend of Mom’s and left a message. It was our system of staying in touch. It always took Mom a few days to get back to me, but when I heard from her, she sounded, as always, cheerful and casual, as though we’d had lunch the day before. I told her I wanted to see her and suggested she drop by the apartment, but she wanted to go to a restaurant. She loved eating out, so we agreed to meet for lunch at her favorite Chinese restaurant.

 

 

Text #2

 

Educated by Tara Westover

After Dad took up preaching against milk, Grandma jammed her fridge full of it. She and Grandpa only drank skim but pretty soon it was all there – two percent, whole, even chocolate. She seemed to believe this was an important line to hold.

Breakfast became a test of loyalty. Every morning, my family sat around a large square table and ate either seven-¬grain cereal, with honey and molasses, or seven-grain pancakes, also with honey and molasses. Because there were nine of us, the pancakes were never cooked all the way through. I didn’t mind the cereal if I could soak it in milk, letting the cream gather up the grist and seep into the pellets, but since the revelation we’d been having it with water. It was like eating a bowl of mud.

It wasn’t long before I began to think of all that milk spoiling in Grandma’s fridge. Then I got into the habit of skipping breakfast each morning and going straight to the barn. I’d slop the pigs and fill the trough for the cows and horses, then I’d hop over the corral fence, loop around the barn and step through Grandma’s side door.

On one such morning, as I sat at the counter watching Grandma pour a bowl of cornflakes, she said, “How would you like to go to school?”

“I wouldn’t like it,” I said.

“How do you know,” she barked. “You ain’t never tried it.”

She poured the milk and handed me the bowl, then she perched at the bar, directly across from me, and watched as I shoveled spoonfuls into my mouth.

“We’re leaving tomorrow for Arizona,” she told me, but I already knew. She and Grandpa always went to Arizona when the weather began to turn. Grandpa said he was too old for Idaho winters; the cold put an ache in his bones. “Get yourself up real early,” Grandma said, “around five, and we’ll take you with us. Put you in school.”

I shifted on my stool. I tried to imagine school but couldn’t. Instead I pictured Sunday school, which I attended each week and which I hated. A boy named Aaron had told all the girls that I couldn’t read because I didn’t go to school, and now none of them would talk to me.

“Dad said I can go?” I said.

“No,” Grandma said. “But we’ll be long gone by the time he realizes you’re missing.” She sat my bowl in the sink and gazed out the window.

Grandma was a force of nature – impatient, aggressive, self-possessed. To look at her was to take a step back. She dyed her hair black and this intensified her already severe features, especially her eyebrows, which she smeared on each morning in thick, inky arches. She drew them too large and this made her face seem stretched. They were also drawn too high and draped the rest of her features into an expression of boredom, almost sarcasm.

“You should be in school,” she said.

“Won’t Dad just make you bring me back?” I said.

 

 

Text #3:

Here is a link to a blog post on mood with more moody mentor texts from poetry and pop cultures videos. The clip from One of Us is Lying could spark a book talk!

If you have another moody mentor, leave it in the comments!

GUEST WRITER BRADLEY GAMBLE RECOMMENDS ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS BY OCEAN VUONG

Nov
29

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong is a raw, tender reflection of being a newcomer, being a queer youth, and the complicated love between a son and his mother. This novel is styled as a letter written by a son to his illiterate mother; as you read, you feel as if you’d opened someone else’s mail on accident, as the narrator reveals intimate moments of his adolescence which he knows his mother cannot read. Vuong mixes prose with poetry, providing a large scope of opportunity for classroom discussion. The narrator explores his identity and the external social forces that shape who he is, a topic everyone, particularly high schoolers, may relate to.

Themes covered include masculinity, race, class, and intergenerational trauma. This novel is written quite accessibly and may be of interest to students interested in gender and masculinity, poetry, queerness, immigrant experience, and novels that are written as auto-fiction. CW: addiction, death, parental abuse.

Bradley Gamble (he/him) is a Bachelor of Education student at UNB. He is passionate about advocacy, harm reduction, and learning through dialogue. He is interested in poetry, postmodernism, and pop music.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: COLLABORATIVE POEMS

Nov
24

The New York Times Magazine used the poem Small Kindnesses by Danusha Laméris as an invitation for teen readers to submit their personal responses to the question “What small kindnesses do you appreciate?” Danusha Laméris compiled some of the over 1300 responses into Small Kindnesses: A Collaborative Poem by Teenagers From Around the World.

Collaborative poems are a novel and creative way to curate students’ ideas and make their thinking visible. You might try compiling collaborative poems by:

  • inviting students to read Small Kindnesses and respond with their own small kindness or to the first line of the poem, “I’ve been thinking about…”
  • using another short text as an invitation to share thinking after a quickwrite
  • asking students to each share the line they are most proud of from their writing at the end of a craft or form study
  • collecting students’ favorite sentences from their independent reading

 

We’d love to hear your suggestions for collaborative poems in the comments!

GUEST WRITER TAYLOR FLORIS RECOMMENDS THE GIRLS I’VE BEEN BY TESS SHARPE

Nov
22

There is no better way to spend a grey and rainy afternoon than with a thriller that at-once keeps you at the edge of your seat, while also exploring themes of identity, feminism, coming-of-age and the concept of survival in the young lives of teenagers. The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe follows the story of Nora O’Malley, the daughter of a con-artist, who finds herself trapped inside of a bank during a robbery. To make matters even more interesting, she is joined in this fiasco by both her current girlfriend and her ex-boyfriend.

Growing up as her mother’s protégé, Nora has assisted in her cons by embodying the perfectly constructed daughter to pair with each perfectly constructed con, never truly being able to be her true self, raising the question of “who is Nora O’Malley?”. Through her mother’s antics, Nora has become highly skilled in the art of con and combines her skills with her powers of persuasion in an attempt to free herself and her friends during the hostage situation at the bank. The book follows a non-linear format, primarily taking place over the course of a few hours in present-day. Additionally, it explores Nora’s past through the five girls that she has adopted as herself over the course of her life, shedding light on the lessons and consequences that arise from each.

Some content warnings should be mentioned for this novel, including violence, abuse, assault and death. This story will soon be adapted into a Netflix original thriller, starring Stranger Things actress, Millie Bobby Brown.

Taylor Floris is an aspiring English and Business teacher, currently completing her Bachelor of Education degree from the University of New Brunswick. On her spare time, she can be found cozied up, with a coffee in-hand, indulged into the life of fiction and poetry.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: THE ABSOLUTE BEST

Nov
16

Grub Street’s Best of New York series has gotten me thinking about the many ways students could use this “absolute best’ structure in their own writing to describe a topic they are knowledgeable and passionate about.

Some of my favorite examples are:

The Absolute Best Ice Cream Sandwiches in New York City

The Absolute Best Veggie Burgers in New York City

The Absolute Best Pancakes in New York City

These absolute best lists combine description, analysis, and persuasion. I can see students creating their own lists of the absolute best books they read during the year, teams in the WNBA, episodes of Star Trek, cookie recipes…the possibilities are endless!