Margin Notes

GUEST WRITER DEVIN MCLAUGHLIN RECOMMENDS MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU BY BARBARA DEE

Feb
18

maybe he just likes you.jpgWith Maybe He Just Likes You, Barbara Dee explores sexual harassment and unwanted attention from peers in the middle school environment. The result is a gut punch of a story that will leave the you, the reader, frustrated but also uplifted at times. Overall, it is an emotional roller coaster and one middle school students will connect with in many ways.

Everything starts to unravel for Mila, a seventh-grade girl, when a boy in her school gives her an unwanted hug on the school grounds. As word spreads, things escalate and at recess one day, one of the boys, Callum, tells Mila it’s his birthday and requests a “birthday hug.” Thinking he must just be friendly, Mila agrees to hug Callum too, but the hug goes on for too long and leaves her feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. Mila goes to her friends, but they seem to question her actions and not those of the boys. She attempts to go to some of the adults in her life, but the results leave her feeling confused, angry, scared, and alone. This is the moment where the author’s use of first-person narration really enhances the subject matter. As the boys continue to harass Mila, we follow her thoughts as she navigates through the situations. We feel for her as she questions whether she is overreacting as well as when she feels helpless and victimized. It is honestly heartbreaking.

Dee has done a fantastic job making the reactions of the characters, and therefore the situation itself, incredibly believable for a middle school setting. Issues like consent, guilt, personal space, and the differences between flirting and harassment are issues central in today’s society and this novel. When used as a read aloud, this story will open a class up to some fascinating and very important discussions. I honestly can’t think of a single reason not to have Maybe He Just Likes You in your classroom. The book’s short yet significant chapters make it a quick read that should interest even the most reluctant of readers in your classroom.

My name is Devin McLaughlin and I am a Language Arts teacher at Harold Peterson Middle School in Oromocto, New Brunswick.

GUEST WRITER ROXANNE MORNEAULT RECOMMENDS FROM YOU TO ME BY K.A. HOLT

Feb
11

from you to meFrom You To Me by K.A. Holt is an emotional story of eighth grade Amelia who mistakenly receives a letter written by her deceased older sister as a sort of to-do-list before Clara (her sister) finishes middle school. The book takes you through Amelia’s attempts to cross off each item on her sister’s list as a way to pay tribute to her late sister and perhaps put some closure on her own grief.

Amelia is overcome with grief and allows her sister’s death to take over her life. She encounters many challenges that help her to grow emotionally and heal from the tragedy in her life. Amelia finds herself taking risks and challenges that the “old her” would not have taken.

This novel includes topics around growing up as a teenager and feelings of being isolated and not fitting in. This book would be great for a young reader who is not ready for a mature read but will relate to the emotional turmoil of being a teen.

Roxanne Morneault teaches Language Arts to grade 7 and 8 students at Sunbury West School in Fredericton Junction, New Brunswick.

GUEST WRITER ERMA APPLEBY RECOMMENDS THE HANDMAID’S TALE (GRAPHIC NOVEL) BY MARGARET ATWOOD

Feb
04

The Handmaid's TaleThirty-three years ago, Margaret Atwood introduced readers to the dystopian world of Gilead. Now, with the artwork of Renee Nault, this tale comes alive once again in The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel.

This story outlines the life of Offred, a handmaid in the new republic of Gilead, where declining fertility rates have forced the government to establish a society of suppression. As Offred struggles to adjust to her new role, she is plagued by memories of her past life and family. The restrictive rules of Gilead create biblically inspired handmaids to serve in each officer ranking’s home. The sole purpose of the handmaid is to conceive a child.

Initially written in the 80s as a satire, The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel offers a viewpoint that is still relevant in modern society. The art of Nault adds a whole new dimension to this piece of literature. Striking a remarkable balance between detail and depiction, Nault’s illustrations depict scenes with clarity: the Red Centre, a night out at Jezebel’s, scrabble with the Commander, and the salvaging.

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel is 240 pages of full color illustrations that incorporate the major plot events of the original novel. Throughout the novel, Nault balances the pages with bold illustrations in both small panels and full page scenes that depict events significant to the story’s plot.

This is a wonderful genre of reading for students, which is inclusive of all reading abilities. While the illustrations are very detailed, they may not be suitable for all audiences. For example, some readers may find scenes such as the Wall disturbing. Overall, The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel is an effective choice for sharing powerful literature with students.

Erma Appleby is an English Language Arts teacher at Oromocto High School, in Oromocto, New Brunswick. She enjoys the discussion that literature can ignite and the role that it plays in our lives.

Opinionated Students

Jan
30

We would like to share an idea we have used with a teacher in grade 8 to get the students thinking about writing persuasively.

Our goal is for the students to be able to choose a topic they feel passionate about so they can write with an opinion, see both sides of an argument, to have a purpose for their writing, and to identify the audience they are writing for. In the past, we felt like we had taught this kind of writing like a formula and it ended up being painful for both the students and the teacher. The students had little real interest in their topic and we were bored of teaching it as it always seemed to drag on forever. The writing it produced was generally appropriate against our writing standards but if we were really honest, it just ended up being a compliance writing piece and not truly authentic for the majority of students.

We looked at two main books for inspiration, Kelly Gallagher’s “Write Like This” and Linda Rief’s “Read Write Teach”. After reading their work, we realized in the past we hadn’t spent enough time building students’ capacity in being able to have an opinion and back it up with evidence. This had resulted in dry topics like, “Why cats are better than dogs”, “Why we shouldn’t have a dress code”, and “Why the Montreal Canadiens are the best hockey team”.

We decided to spend more time on the prep work to get them thinking, talking, and writing while building their background knowledge so that hopefully when it is time to choose what they are going to write about, they will be ready. We are also hoping to create some urgency and energy around the writing piece so it doesn’t drag on for weeks once they start it.

We started with a simple and fun game of “Would You Rather” to get them to practice having an opinion and be able to say why. We read the questions aloud, the students turned and talked, then we came back together as a group and shared a few. While the students were turning and talking, we listened in and facilitated where necessary. The two big things we noticed-some students still wanted to say, ” I don’t know” and we had to do a couple of whole class reminders to state their why. We really wanted to focus on these two skills as they are essential and easily transferable to this kind of writing.

Here are some sample questions we got off the internet: would you rather…be covered in scales or fur? Be able to fly or talk to animals? Find a suitcase with $5 000 000 in it or true love? Give up bathing or the internet for one month?

With about ten minutes left, we had them choose one or two questions to write about in their Writers Notebook which was easier for them to do after they had practiced first by talking and listening to their classmates. We noticed this was an essential step that we had often skipped or glossed over and we were happy to rectify the situation!

GUEST WRITER ANGELA LARDNER RECOMMENDS TONIGHT THE STREETS ARE OURS BY LEILA SALES

Jan
28

Tonight the streets are oursArden Huntley seems to have it all: family, a best friend, a gorgeous actor of a boyfriend, and good marks. But things change, and people change.

Arden has always taken care of the people in her life; she is loyal to a fault. Now she feels her loyalty is being taken for granted when her mother leaves, her best friend lets her take the fall for drugs found in their locker, and her boyfriend cancels on plans for their 1-year anniversary celebration. This is when Arden stumbles upon a blog called “Tonight the Streets Are Ours” and becomes fascinated by the New York author Peter. She feels connected to him and starts to live vicariously through his blog posts.

Setting out on a road trip to find and meet Peter, Arden, and her best friend Lindsey, have a crazy night. This includes Arden discovering that Peter is not who she thought he was; he is not who he portrays in his blog. But this night also propels Arden on a journey of self-discovery, which leads her to reconnect with her mom and repair her relationship with Lindsey.

This story begins with, “Like all stories, the one you are about to read is a love story. If it wasn’t what would be the point?”. Readers looking for a book that includes a unique perspective on this theme will surely enjoy Tonight the Streets Are Ours.

Angela Lardner is a teacher at Stanley Consolidated School. She teaches English 9, English 112, English 122 as well as Resource. Her greatest joys are reading and her 2 dogs: Thor and Apollo.

CRAFT STUDIO: ALL OF ME BY CHRIS BARON

Jan
23

As teachers, most of us have probably read our students’ writing accounts of events in their lives, such as “What I did this summer…”, “Over Christmas I…”, “On my trip to…”, “When we were in Florida…”, “At Cadet Camp…” etc. How often have these writing pieces been dry? Taken over with monotonous details? Lacking creativity in the writing?

All of Me Photo.jpgWhat I Was Reading:
As I was reading Chris Baron’s debut middle school novel in verse, All of Me, I was mesmerized by how beautifully and succinctly the main character, Ari, describes the night of his cousin’s bat mitzvah. All of Me follows Ari, a young boy who struggles with being overweight and being a victim of bullying, on his journey to self-discovery and finding a sense of belonging.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:
• The details of the event are brief and pinpointed to specific memories of his experience
• The sentences vary in length: some verses are an entire sentence on their own while some are made up of a series of short sentences
• The punctuation is grammatically correct even though the structure is unconventional
• The commas allow for pause and flow
• The feeling of being loved is expressed through describing the actions of the family, without directly stating the feeling
• Dialogue is written in italics to set it apart as what was spoken aloud
• The sensory details coming together – sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell – allow readers to experience the event for themselves

Possibilities for Writers:
• Choose an event in your life to write about. Start with writing down the brief details you remember
• Think about each of the five senses and write down any additional details that some to mind from the experience – Be brief!
• Consider which parts of the experience you most strongly remember – What did you feel?
• Attempt to describe the details of what influenced those feelings
• Use commas to create pause and to separate the details
• Use a colon to introduce a list (of food, of games, of people, etc.)
• Imagine a fictional event and follow the same steps, creating a character’s memory of the experience

GUEST WRITER BEN DOWLING RECOMMENDS FRANKLY IN LOVE BY DAVID YOON

Jan
21

Frankly in Love

In Frankly in Love by David Yoon, Frank Li, a Californian Korean-American, narrates his journey through his final year of high school, desperate for his first “Summer of Love”. But he will have to find the girl first. Early on, Frank and the white and wealthy Brit Means hit it off, so all should be golden, right? Not exactly. As the son of Korean parents, having a romantic relationship with a partner who is not Korean (the world’s most ethnically homogeneous culture and racial identity, we are informed) is rarely welcomed by mom or dad. Frank’s older sister Hanna and her African American boyfriend have already vanished to the other side of the country and are no longer spoken of in the Li household – Frank knows what is at stake.

Race and racism are key to this unique coming-of-age story. Frank refers to himself and his fellow first-generation Korean American friends as the “Limbos”; who, ever since being born, have all been regularly thrown together at family gatherings. The parents drink and share stories in their mother tongue, whilst their children, who only truly speak the language of the only home they have ever known, try to enjoy each other’s company without ever having had anything in common outside of a shared culture. Yet it is through his fellow “Limbo”, Joy, herself dating a Chinese American boy, that a clever, covert plan is concocted: if they pretend to date each other, they will be awarded the time and freedom they need to date their real partners. The excitement that ensues as this plan is put into place gives the novel some real pace and takes the story in a direction that comes as a surprise.

One question that, as an immigrant myself, I love to ask students who were born in other parts of the world is, “Where is home to you?” Frankly in Love brings to light this issue by helping the reader understand that, even if you have never set foot on the land that your parents were born and raised upon, the power with which this place casts over you and your family complicates the notion of what home is. As Frank complains, he “just wants to be carefree, like in those teen movies where all the kids (meaning all the white kids) get to… act out their love dramas… on moonlit lawns to gaze up at the stars and wonder about the universe and fate… not B.S like the racism of their parents.”

The story tackles race and racism in a very interesting way. There are lots of current Y.A novels currently tackling these complex issues at the moment. But rather than focusing on the devastating effects of racist violence or xenophobic political climates, real or dystopian, Frankly in Love, looks at the tough question of what a young, liberal teenager does when the most racist people he knows are the two people whom he loves so much. Frank’s mom and dad, without any pause or irony, will openly state that “ninety-eight percent” of black people are criminals, without any of the knowing irony that they as immigrants themselves could be the targets of racism. And, also, they know that Frank’s best friend is African American.

I lived in Korea for seven years, and more than the U.K, I miss it as home. In Frank’s parents, David Yoon has created two adults who, despite their flaws, I feel quite sure I have met a thousand times over back in Seoul. The passages written exclusively in Korean were of personal interest as I wanted to see if I could still read the language, but, like Frank, I had great difficulty following these parts that include the discussion of the complex issues regarding race. It is these issues that eventually threaten to tear the families apart.

Though Frank’s voice may not be for everyone – this is an academically gifted student applying to schools in the Ivy League whose view on certain situations, the cutesiness to his inner voice, and his dialogue with like-minded friends can grate at times – this is a wonderful addition to my high school classroom library. Students in Grade 12, may make a particular connection with Frank and his friends as they move towards the exciting precipice of the end of high school. I have already recommended it to a Canadian student of Korean descent in grade 11, who came to me the next day and just gave a very firm nod. In Frank, David Yoon has crafted a nuanced character who, as the child of immigrant parents who have given up everything for their children, quite literally carries the full weight of their expectations on his shoulders. I know there are many students, regardless of where their parents are from, who can identify with that.

Ben Dowling teaches ELA9 at Fredericton High School. He has just gotten a lovely new armchair and Frankly in Love is the first of many that he hopes he shall consume in it.

THE POWER OF THE READ-ALOUD

Jan
16

Read-Alouds are a powerful, and we believe essential, component to building an engaged and empowered community of readers in the literacy classroom. Frank Seragini and Suzette Serafini-Youngs say it best in their professional resource Around the Reading Workshop in 180 Days:

“What occurs during reading aloud and discussing literature affects how individuals transact with texts independently. How literature is discussed during the read-aloud provides the most concrete demonstration of the ways we want students to read and think on their own and in small groups. If things don’t happen during whole-group instructions, why would we expect them to happen when we send students off on their own to read?”

When we are reading aloud, we want our students to be engaged and captivated. Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch, in their book Cultivating Readers, discuss the ways students are drawn in by a read-aloud: “Students need to hear and see a reader who reads with great pace, tone, phrasing, expression, and intonation.” They also explore the many purposes a read aloud can have in our classrooms:

• Exposure to different genres
• Reading for enjoyment
• As a mentor text for writing
• For making thinking visible
• As opportunities for dialogue and discussion about rich text and topics
• As fuel for higher-order thinking questions

Knowing our purpose, selecting quality texts, planning how the read-aloud will benefit the readers in front of us, and responding to the “teachable moments” that arise during the authentic discussions all work together in creating a community of readers in our classrooms.

When selecting a read-aloud for your classroom, keep in mind all of the rich, quality types of text that are available aside from an engaging full-length novel:

• Sections from novels
• Non-fiction
• Poetry
• Short stories
• Images
• Articles
• Videos
• Comics
• Infographics
• Artwork
• Picture Books

To help you get started in exploring options for read-alouds in your classroom, we put together this Read-Aloud Padlet of resources that includes a variety of texts you might consider. If you are interested in learning more about how read-alouds can contribute to growing an engaged community of readers in your classroom, we suggest checking out the following:

Article: “The Power and Promise of Read-Alouds and Independent Reading” by The International Literacy Association
Blog Post: “Never too old: Reading aloud to independent readers” by Donalyn Miler
Blog Post: “Reading Books Aloud – Teaching Readers, Knitting Hearts” by Valinda Kimmel
Podcast: “Why Read Aloud Matters” with Rebecca Bellingham
Podcast: “A Novel-Approach Read Aloud” with Kate Roberts

As always, if you are looking for support or want to chat further about how to use read-alouds in your classroom, please send us an email!

GUEST WRITER AMY BOURGAIZE RECOMMENDS SADIE BY COURTNEY SUMMERS

Jan
14

Sadie.jpgSadie goes missing just months after her thirteen year old sister Mattie has been found dead – murdered just outside of Cold Creek. Sadie has been declared a runaway, but West McCray, a podcast producer, thinks there’s something more to the story.

Readers learn about Sadie, Mattie, and their absent mother, Claire, through McCray’s interviews with May Beth Foster, the manager of the trailer park where the girls lived, and other people he connects to Sadie along the way. The book jumps between McCray’s interviews and Sadie’s perspective, where readers learn in small doses about what Sadie’s been up to and where she’s headed. Sadie defies society’s obsession with stories such as hers, keeping both McCray and readers at bay – she’s always one step ahead, revealing details about her journey, her life, and her suffering only in part.

Sadie explores the ways in which society is at once mesmerized with stories of dead women and, somehow at the same time, complicit in women’s suffering. The book questions assumptions about addiction and challenges systemic issues surrounding abuse, neglect, social services, patriarchy and objectification. It challenges the media’s obsession with highlighting pain and sensationalizing crime.

the girlsA downloadable podcast accompanies the book, making it accessible to a wide range of students. Readers can listen in on McCray’s interviews, feeling his anticipation as he unravels Sadie’s story and steps closer to finding the missing teen.

The book is fast paced and engaging, offering something we can all connect to.

After all, Girls go missing all the time.

Amy Bourgaize teaches at Fredericton High School. She has read 50 books so far this year.

#BuildYourStack

Jan
09

I had the pleasure of attending the National Council of Teachers of English conference and presenting as part of a #BuildYourStack panel. Our theme was curiosity and I chose to share 5 titles to inspire secondary writers to get curious about the stories that live in their worlds. These titles pair nicely with writer’s notebooks and encourage students to observe and capture potential writing topics and ideas in their environments. Here they are:

Wonder

I Wonder, written by KA Holt and illustrated by Kenard Pak, follows a group of children across a day as they wonder about and question the world around them. It ends at bedtime with the final curiosity of the day: “I wonder why I wonder so much.”

This picture book is an invitation for students to notice and record all their wonderings, questions, and curiosities over a day or longer.

Noticing

The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker is a charming and quirky book filled with 131 exercises, meditations, and invitations designed to help us explore our surroundings with joy and curiosity. As Walker writes in the introduction, “Every day is filled with opportunities to be amazed, surprised, enthralled—to experience the enchanting. To be, in a word, alive.”

The activities range from simple (notice something new each day or make an auditory inventory) to more challenging (create a field guide or develop a personal annotated map). This book is a treasure trove of ideas for sending writers out into the world to practice the art of noticing.

Sylla

In Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor Lynda Barry shares writing and drawing exercises from her classes. One of my favorite activities is called X-Pages. Barry asks her students to draw a large X across a notebook page, creating four large triangles, and spend five minutes recording what they did, what they saw, what they heard, and a sketch from the day.

This nightly five-minute ritual not only encourages writers to be more attentive and observant, it helps generate a large volume of details in the notebook for them to go back into to when looking for seeds of more writing.

A Mind Spread Out

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is a collection of first-person essays by Alicia Elliott, a Tuscarora writer from Six Nations of the Grand River. Each of these essays is powerful in its own way, but the essay called “Half-Breed, A Racial Biography in Five Parts” offers a beautiful mentor structure for writers.

In it, Elliott shares five vignettes from her life—beginning in early childhood, moving through high school, and ending after the birth of her child. These culminate in a final reflection. Students can use this structure to name an aspect of their own identity and write five snapshots to create their own biography in five parts.

Here

Here by Richard McGuire is an astonishing, almost wordless, picture book that tells the story of one corner of one room over thousands of years. The narratives from different times periods are layered across the pages, almost like collages.

This text invites students to visually depict the passage of time in their own lives by marking the changes in one thing, possibly a particular location or a meaningful object.