Margin Notes

CRAFT STUDIO: AIN’T BURNED ALL THE BRIGHT by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin


What I was reading:

Ain’t Burned All The Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin.

From the book blurb: “Jason Reynolds, using three longgggggg sentences, and Jason Griffin, using three hundred pages of pocket-size moleskine, hav mind-melded this fierce-vulnerable-brilliant-terrifying-whatiswrongwithhumans-hopefilled-hopeful-tender-heartbreaking-heartmaking-manifesto on what it means not to be able to breath, and how the people and things at your fingertips are actually the oxygen you need.”

What moves I noticed the writer/illustrator use:

  • The text and the artwork are equally prominent 
  • The author and the illustrator work together to create the text (true collaboration)
  • All the art is created in a Moleskine notebook
  • Some of the words are crossed out but kept visible
  • On a few pages, blackout poetry is used
  • The text on each page appears to be cut out of a larger page and taped down in the Moleskin
  • Many art media are used – ink, pencil, paint, chalk, collage, stencils, etc.
  • The text is an example of a prose poem
  • The artist uses nature themes as a metaphor for the pandemic
  • The text is an example of a remix. Learn more about remixes from educator Paul W. Hankins here.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Try your hand at writing prose poetry and then play around with cutting it up, changing it, adding to it – in other words- remix it. 
  • This book is a true collaboration. Try collaborating with another person to create a text together using a poem and art. This could be your poem, or someone else’s. 
  • Create a blackout poem from a old book, newspaper or magazine

Here is a sample:

You can also make blackout poems using a Blackout Poetry Maker. 

Most of all, have fun! 



Ain’t Burned All The Bright is the collaboration of author Jason Reynolds and artist Jason Griffin. Set in the year 2020, during lockdown, the story consists of three sections, three breaths. The narrator is a young adult trying to make sense of lockdown, what is means to be black in America right now, and how both contribute to his lack of oxygen. The reader can feel the suffocation as he details his father’s battle with COVID quarantine, his mother’s paralyzed consumption of the news and his siblings’ distracted avoidance of all issues. He becomes every reader as he struggles to find oxygen and desperately searches for air, both literally and figuratively. The hope that comes when he does find that breathe is contagious and provides the promise that society can find the strength to move forward, make changes, and finally breath.

Reynold’s lyrical ability to play with words, combined with Griffin’s art, pair together to express the complicated emotions of our narrator, leaving the story, and the ideas expressed within, resonating with many young adults long after closing the book.

The beauty of this piece does not end with the rejuvenating breath. After the story, this book includes a little gem of a conversation between the two collaborators. In a final section titled, “is anyone still here?” Reynolds and Griffin share the journey of creating this piece of work together. This interview style closure is one that reveals the trust between the two creators, their trust in the writing process itself, and offers up some great advice for student writers and artists.



The resource Teaching Living Poets by Lindsay Illich and Melissa Alter Smith offers several engaging ideas and activities to incorporate poetry in your class. This activity is one used to introduce poetry and teach theme.



  1. Place students in small groups with a poem and ask the simple question “What is the most significant word?” to represent this poem. Ask the groups to discuss their word choice and extend their discussion by explaining why they chose each word.
  2. Give each group a piece of chart paper with a marker. You will give a mini-lesson before they begin.
  3. Demonstrate how to use the concentric circles (found in the image below) to record your thinking on a poem. The focus is to defend the word choice as there are no right/wrong answers. The center circle is what the group has decided is the most important word. The next circle is for images and connections to that word. The third circle is theme. One way to consider theme is to ask, “What message is the author trying to deliver about the word written in the middle circle?”. Lastly, the outer area is for the text evidence that supports the word and theme.
  4. Students will copy the concentric circles on their own page.

For more ideas, follow the hashtag #teachlivingpoets on Twitter.

Illich, Lindsay, and Melissa Alter Smith. Teach Living Poets. National Council of Teachers of English, 2021.



My first introduction to Maggie Smith’s poetry was during a quickwrite when we were invited to write beside her poem Good Bones. I was immediately drawn in by its powerful images and direct language, and I found myself thinking about the repeated phrase, “though I keep this from my children” long after I had put my writer’s notebook away.

I have read Maggie Smith’s most recent collection, Goldenrod, multiple times and in various ways: straight through in one sitting the day I got it, slowly and deliberately while capturing favorite lines in my notebook, and dipping in and out to revisit poems that I continue to mull over. The poems found in Goldenrod touch on love and loss, parenthood and childhood, the pandemic, and the truths and wonders that exist in the world when we take the time to notice them. It is brimming with possibilities for the high school ELA classroom.

You can read three poems from Goldenrod here:

Written Deer

During Lockdown, I Let the Dog Sleep in My Bed Again

How Dark the Beginning

In this episode of The Wintering Sessions, writer Katherine May interviews Maggie Smith.

Here is a Craft Studio post about Keep Moving by Maggie Smith.



Poem In Your Pocket Day (PYID) is celebrated every year during National Poetry Month.

From the League of Poets website:

“On PIYP Day, select a poem, carry it with you, and share it with others at schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, workplaces, coffee shops, street corners, and on social media using the hashtag #PocketPoem.”

I was thinking about all the digital options available for accessing poetry and how our phones can fit in our pockets and then it occured to me that selecting a poem on a social media platform and then sharing said poem on your socials is literally “a poem in your pocket”.

Here are some fantastic sources for poetry:

Button Poetry

Button Poetry is very active on all social media platforms, including TikTok and Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. If you click the link above and then scroll down to the bottom of the page, you can find all the links. They share amazing spoken word poetry on TikTok.

Poetry Foundation

Publishers of the magazine POETRY. They are active on instagram, and have a podcast called “Audio Poem of the Day”.

Brett Vogelsinger

Brett is a high school ELA teacher, and each year in March he tweets and blogs about poetry – leading up to Poetry Month. You can find this year’s tweets here. is active on Twitter and has a poem-a-day section on their website. They tweet using the hashtag #poemaday

League of Canadian Poets

On their website, you will find selections of poems for Poem-in-your-Pocket Day for the past 6 years.

PIYP Day 2021 / 2020 / 2019 / 2018 / 2017 / 2016

With all these options, I can guarantee that your students will not only find a poem that speaks to them, but will be excited to share that poem to the world. And, don’t forget to use the hashtag #pocketpoem!




April is Poetry Month and Margin Notes will be featuring ideas for celebrating poetry this month…and all year long.

We’ve updated our Poetry Month Resource Round-Up.

Made with Padlet

If you are looking for more inspiration to launch a month of poetry, these might be helpful:

4 Reasons to Start Class with a Poem Each Day by Brett Vogelsinger (via Edutopia)

10 Reasons to Begin Reading Poetry by Rebecca Hussey (via Book Riot)

Poetry Critic Steven Burt’s TED Talk Why People Need Poetry

How Poetry Can Turn A Fear of Literature into Love by Jason Reynolds

Grant Snider’s Comic Understanding Poetry

You will also find poetry ideas in our Craft Studio and Try This Tomorrow posts.

Happy Poetry Month!



Last spring, literacy coach Sonja Wright and I participated in a virtual book study with several teachers in ASD-W on Being the Change by Sara K. Ahmed.

While this book focuses primarily on building personal identity, awareness, and classroom community, it does so through a wide variety of literacy activities that span all strands our English Language Arts curriculum.

Ahmed organizes the text through a collection of 6 chapters beginning first with personal identity and then moving outward to understand the acts of listening, being candid, informed, as well as personal responsibility. The book ends with the process of working together. Each chapter provides real world classroom activities curated by Ahmed illustrating possible discussions, teacher samples (anchor charts), student work, and recommended literacy “stacks” to engage students with each big idea.

Lessons and activities allow for multiple literacy connections; from the implementation of a writer’s notebook, and personal reflections through quick writes, use of mentor texts for poetry writing, opportunities for speaking and listening with think-pair-share activities and multiple inquiry activities . This list does not begin to scratch the surface of the possible literacy learnings that could arise when implementing Ahmed’s strategies.

In conclusion, I can not recall a professional resource that I have read recently that offers more meaningful and authentic classroom learning connections for students and teachers. To find out more about Sara K. Ahmed and Being the Change click here.







A New York City-wide blackout brings a stream of panic induced reminders that every moment and emotion counts reducing you to a state of impulsivity you have never felt before. Forcing people to stop and think smaller yet seeing the big picture at the same time. To quickly reevaluate what’s important and what’s not. Feeling alone and crowded in the same breath. Blackout, co-written by today’s executive YA authors Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon, takes its readers on an emotional tour of a blackout in the dead heat of a New York City evening while encapsulating the love trials of young people of colour.

One of my favourite movies to re-watch for comfort is 2011’s “New Year’s Eve” directed by Garry Marshall starring Zac Efron, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Sarah Jessica Parker to name a few. The characters are showcased in their own vignettes throughout the film, until the end when it is revealed how their separate stories have intertwined. Blackout follows this creative plot development format- creating 6 vignettes, each written by a different author, explaining 6 different love stories, with 6 different outcomes, while bringing them altogether in the end. This format did not disappoint- keeping the energized reader invested throughout.

What I enjoyed about this YA novel, as an adult reader, is how each author captured their characters’ emotions in such diverse relationships. Not just captured- but nailed it on head: the relationship that’s just starting out, or the relationship that is losing passion, or the relationship that you know is going to change you forever. No matter what your relationship history may be, you’ve experienced these feelings of safety, insecurity, confusion, anticipation, or relief. Overall, these authors have created inclusive love vignettes that will be mirrors for some and windows for others.

I am 100% recommending this novel to my students.

Sara Bamford is a high school English teacher who escapes her busy mom-life by digging into good books and journaling. Her passion is to find her students the novel that makes them want to read another novel to ignite the passion of getting lost in a good book.



In their new book, Intervention Reinvention: A Volume-Based Approach to Reading Success, authors Stephanie Harvey, Annie Ward, Maggie Hoddinott and Suzanne Carroll advocate that teachers use reading volume as an intervention strategy for all students. In part three of their book, they provide numerous practical ways to teach your students about the importance of reading volume and strategies to increase their reading volume.

One of my favorites is Encourage Student-Led Booktalks found on page 169. So how exactly does a booktalk work?  When students complete a book that they feel others would enjoy, they simply provide a short talk introducing the book and share interesting elements of the text. As always, students will need guidance and modeling before they begin sharing independently. The authors provide a quick point form lesson detailing how to introduce this to students and provide time for practice. The main points are as follows:

  • Begin by pointing out to students that booktalks are an important way to share awesome books in your classroom community. Share that you have booktalked some of your favorites (if you haven’t done this, begin by trying it yourself a few times over a couple of weeks, before introducing to students). Let students know you are going to give them a chance to booktalk one of their favorite books today. Outline the main attributes of a booktalk: a quick commercial for the book, grab the listeners attention with any interesting or unique, but remembering not to give away any spoilers!
  • Next provide the students with a model: name a title and author of a book, share the genre or format, and give a brief overview.
  • Remind students to end their booktalk with a reason why others would enjoy the book. For example, “If you love mystery and intrigue, this is definitely for you”.
  • Finally, allow your students time, perhaps ten minutes to draft their own booktalk and practice sharing with an elbow partner. Let them know that you will provide time the following day for someone to give the first daily booktalk.


Providing the opportunity for students to prepare, deliver and listen to booktalks addresses ELA outcomes for listening and speaking, reading and viewing as well as writing and representing.

To view ASD-W teachers and the literacy team modeling booktalks check out our ASD-W Margin Notes K-12 Sharepoint site.  Scroll down the homepage until you see Booktalks.

To learn more about the book Intervention Reinvention: A Volume-Based Approach to Reading Success, click here.




Many educators (including myself) will advocate that no students are too old for picture books. Picture books, as shared by Jill Davidson in an earlier Margin Notes post,  Picture Books in Grades 6-12,

“…make excellent mentor texts to use in mini-lessons or to demonstrate writing techniques since you can read them more than once in a short amount of time.  They can be used to develop background knowledge about a concept or topic or for quick writes and writer’s notebook responses.  Picture books can invite dialogue about tough topics and complex ideas. Most importantly, though, they bring students together into a shared experience that invites everyone in the reading community to celebrate beautiful words and images.”

Daddy Speaks Love by Leah Henderson is just one of these books that will provide teachers a segue to discussing difficult topics, the sharing of ideas and opportunities for critical thinking.  Motivated by the death of George Floyd during the summer of 2020 and the statement by his then six-year-old daughter that, “Daddy changed the world”, Henderson explores the relationship that fathers or father figures play in the lives of their children.  Love, support, and guidance are all explored in the text, as is unfairness and injustice.  The illustrations by E. B. Lewis will also provide teachers with opportunities to explore critical thinking activities, such as, “What does this picture say? What does it not say.”

Henderson’s words and Lewis’ illustrations provide a powerful and timely reflection on the state of social justice issues facing much of the world in 2022.  To learn more about this book and other powerful picture books check out our K-12 Virtual Books shelves on our ASD-W Margin Notes K-12 Literacy sharepoint.