Margin Notes

Guest Writer Ryan Price Recommends Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Aug
28

Winter, 1945, Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe. Readers follow the stories of four refugees from four different homelands, harbouring four separate secrets that have torn their lives apart akin to the physical destruction of Europe caused by World War II. Joanna, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred attempt to flee Eastern Europe in search of safety, family, revenge, closure and escape from their past.

Ruta Sepetys’, Salt to the Sea will certainly appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, specifically World War II history, but also any reader who enjoys texts driven by complex characters. The format of Salt to the Sea, with short, cliffhanging chapters rotating between the perspectives of the four main characters, makes it very easy for the reader to become engaged in the characters and their stories. It’s a novel that leaves you wanting to continue reading to find out what happens next.

Joanna, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred’s secrets, much like their safety, are made vulnerable by the events of war unfolding around them. They also place each character on a destined path that inevitably brings them together aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that is meant to transport the four ‘heroes’ and their friends to safety. As their rescue mission reaches its climax, their secrets are revealed causing an emotional impact that mirrors the physical impact of the war taking place around them.

Salt to the Sea would appeal to middle and high school students. As a work of historical fiction, it would be very easy for students to make cross-curricular connections with social studies courses. It tackles many themes that are prevalent in texts set during war, including but not limited to fate, survival, family, guilt, loss, and redemption. I highly recommend this novel!

Bio for Ryan Price:

I am a High School Literacy and Assessment Coordinator in Anglophone School District-South. While a large chunk of my time dedicated to reading is immersed in professional research, I feel it is extremely important to frequently return to what made me fall in love with reading in the first place, engaging stories with complex and dynamic characters.

Rebound by Kwame Alexander

Aug
22

After reading Kwame Alexander’s award-winning novel, The Crossover, students invariably ask the same question, “Do you have any other books like this one?” and with the release of Rebound comes a book that will thrill these readers.

Set in 1988, Rebound is the prequel to The Crossover and tells the story of Chuck “Da Man” Bell’s summer when he is 12 years old and struggling to live with grief after his father’s sudden death; the summer he is sent to live with his grandparents; when he faces the consequences of bad decisions; discovers his passion and talent for basketball; and, supported by his family, is finally able to “find his smile.”

Rebound is written in verse that mirrors that of The Crossover, and with the author’s command of this form, and his creative and precise use of space and placement, readers experience the full power and intensity of a single word or line as they journey through the story (insert photo). The addition of graphic pages illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile serve to further captivate the reader and reveal the dreams that Chuck is too fearful to share with even those closest to him.

Fans of Kwame Alexander will be delighted to be reunited with characters from The Crossover, and the new characters introduced are just as spirited, loving, and funny as we have come to expect. But you certainly do not need to have read The Crossover to read Rebound; this book as a stand-alone is just as powerful.

I would recommend this book as an addition to both middle and high school classroom libraries…with one warning. Start thinking about what you are going to suggest to students as their next read because we all know what question they will ask when they finish.

Conversations About Artifacts of Learning- Inquiry Writing

Aug
15

This is a summary of this year’s final conversation about artifacts of student learning as part of our Visible Learning project with our colleagues Michelle Wuest and Shelley Hanson and their Grade 11 students at Leo Hayes High School.  You can read a description of the project here.

In order to make our own learning visible, we decided to follow a protocol based on the Project Zero See-Think-Wonder thinking routine to structure our conversations and capture our thinking and reflections.  We recorded the conversation and I have summarized our observations, wonderings, and reflections.

Description of Artifact

After brainstorming a list of their wonderings-questions they would like to know the answers to-Shelley’s students selected a question (from the list or on their own) to explore further in an inquiry writing piece.  Students were challenged to explore at least 3-4 different perspectives in their final pieces.

Shelley shared a mentor text with her students: “What Women Really Do in the Bathroom” which can be found on page 119 of Kelly Gallagher’s book, Write Like This or here. (more…)

Guest Writer Noella Jeong Recommends Love, Hate, & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Aug
08

As suggested by the title, this book has it all! Samira Ahmed’s debut novel is realistic fiction which will resonate with many students in your classroom. I have nothing but praise for Love, Hate, & Other Filters, and I feel that it is not only an enjoyable read but also a valuable resource to use with regard to the character development that we aim to foster in our multicultural classrooms.

Maya Aziz is an American-born Indian girl who is learning to maneuver her parents, relationships, life, and (most importantly) her own identity. While Maya’s parents are already sure that her future consists of studying medicine at their hometown college, as well as marrying the proper Muslim boy they’ve chosen for her, Maya has other dreams. She’s passionate about the arts, especially film-making, and what better place to pursue that career than New York City. As for her love life, well there is that someone special…

But when Maya’s town is suddenly rocked by terrorist actions elsewhere, she begins to question everything from society, to loyalty, to the person she truly wants to be. Much of this story is spent in Maya’s thoughts, and this style of writing feels candid and authentic.

As someone for whom multiculturalism is an integral part of family life, I have always had empathy for the many students from various backgrounds in my classes. However, it wasn’t until I read Love, Hate, & Other Filters that I began to truly understand the perspective that my own children and so many students must experience as part of their daily lives. I am so happy that in this novel I was able to find both a mirror and a window!

I am a grade 9 teacher, mother of 4, and an avid reader. I love to explore young adult fiction as a way to connect with my students and to also help guide them in their choices!

Guest Writer Devin McLaughlin Recommends Warcross by Marie Lu

Aug
01

Every locked door has a key. These words have stayed with Emika Chen since the moment her father said them. Ever since his death, she has been dealing with debt and struggling to make ends meet. The story begins with Emika, bounty hunter and hacker, mere days before eviction, hunting down petty criminals in the hopes of scoring some extra cash.

When she is not hunting criminals, Emika, along with the rest of the world, spends her time escaping reality and living in Warcross – a virtual world created by 21-year-old tech mogul, Hideo Tanaka. On the opening night of the annual Warcross Tournament, Emika decides to hack into the game and attempt to steal a power-up in an effort to one day sell it for real cash.  This starts her on an exciting adventure, beyond her wildest dreams.

In the notes about the author, it mentions that Marie Lu was previously an artist in the video game industry and this comes across in every paragraph of Warcross. Her ability to paint a colourful dystopian future is matched by few other authors and the opportunities to apply this to lessons on descriptive writing are endless. Despite many claiming this is Ready Player One meets The Hunger Games, Marie Lu has managed to create something both unique and like Warcross itself, addictive.

I am already using this book as a read-aloud to grade 7’s and 8’s and they are begging for me to keep reading every single day. Whether you are a fan of action/adventure, video games, or incredible world-building, there is something in Warcross for just about everyone. Many students in middle and high school will be pleased to have this on the class bookshelf or used as a read-aloud but, of course, you know your students best.

My name is Devin McLaughlin and I am a middle school Language Arts teacher at Harold Peterson Middle School in Oromocto, NB. I love reading and my favourite aspect of teaching is introducing students to new and exciting books and seeing their reactions as they make their way through them.

 

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Jul
30

Mara and her twin brother Owen are extremely close.  When Mara, who is bisexual, broke up with her girlfriend and childhood best friend, Charlie, it was Owen’s girlfriend, Hannah, who supported Mara.  Hannah is one of Mara’s closest friends, and when she accuses Owen of rape, Mara finds herself torn between believing that Owen could never do something like this and believing that Hannah would never make a false accusation.

The school community is largely taking Owen’s side and the Empower feminist group Mara founded has asked her to step down as leader.  Mara finds herself turning to Charlie, trying to make sense of Hannah’s accusation against Owen, which also means navigating their friendship post-breakup. (more…)

Escape from Aleppo by NH Senzai

Jul
26

Nadia is awoken in the early hours of October 9, 2013. As the sound of bombing approaches and helicopters appear, the family has decided it is time to escape their home in Aleppo, Syria for safety in Turkey.  They have a well-practiced escape plan, but Nadia is reluctant to leave, despite the imminent danger.  One year earlier, she was injured in a bomb strike and has hardly left her apartment since.

As they are leaving, a bomb destroys their apartment building and Nadia is buried in the rubble.  Fearing that a second bomb is about to strike, and not knowing whether Nadia is alive or not, everyone is forced to run, leaving her behind.  Injured and alone, Nadia must overcome her anxieties and keep moving if she hopes to be reunited with her family at their designated meeting place, Dr. Asbahi’s dental clinic.

Nadia finds shelter for the night in an abandoned pharmacy.  There she meets an elderly man named Ammo Mazen who agrees to take her to the clinic to find her family before they leave for Turkey.  When they finally reach the clinic, Nadia is heartbroken to discover a letter from her mother telling her that they had no choice but to leave without her.  There are instructions for meeting her father in Turkey and Ammo Mazen tells Nadia he will take her there.

As they travel, Ammo Mazen becomes increasingly mysterious to Nadia as he makes many unexplained stops along the way.  Ammo Mazen’s health is deteriorating and as more facts are revealed, Nadia begins to wonder about his true identity.

Each chapter is time-stamped and the story flashes back and forth to reveal events leading up to what became known as the Arab Spring and give context to the progression of the war in Syria.  We see how, over the course of a few years, life has changed drastically for Nadia and her family.

I was captivated not just by Nadia’s quest to find her family but also by how much this story taught me about the history and culture of Syria and the insight it gave me into the life of a child in a war-torn country.  Escape from Aleppo is a definite must-have for any middle-grade classroom library, but I believe older readers will also connect with Nadia’s story of bravery and determination.  This book has much to teach readers of all ages.

Guest Writer Gabi Sant’Anna Recommends A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck

Jul
24

Told from the perspective of Matt Wainwright, an endearing 15-year-old basketball fanatic, this novel is both lighthearted and heartbreaking. Through a series of funny, relatable stories, Matt recounts the shift in his relationship with his next-door neighbour Tabby, from childhood best friend to a hopeful love interest.

He tells stories of playing with Tabby as young kids, sorting their Halloween candy into specific categories, riding the school bus together since elementary school, starting high school, and many other moments that made him realize he had fallen in love with her. For Matt, no memory is more devastating than the one when he saw a black car parked in front of Tabby’s house belonging to the school’s “it” guy, telling him someone else had figured out how amazing she was, too.

For a large part of the book, Matt’s narration captivates the reader and has them rooting for him to reveal his true feelings and hoping for the couple to live happily ever after. But that’s not always how life works. Just when you think you know what will happen, a shocking tragedy strikes that leaves Matt on a downward spiral, and the reader in a fit of rage.

This novel is a beautiful depiction of a likeable character doing his best to deal with the hardships life throws at him. There is no correct way to grieve but Matt’s journey is a great example for students to reflect upon, and potentially relate to. I believe anyone who picks up this book will be able to take something from it.

Guest Bio:

My name is Gabi Sant’Anna and I’m a first year English teacher at McAdam High School. I’ve always considered myself a reader but teaching English this year has taken my love of reading to the next level! My students know I’m always up for talking about a good book. 

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Jul
19

Scythe is set in a futuristic post-mortal age in which death and disease have been eliminated, along with crime, war, and government.  Instead, society is ruled by a virtual cloud called The Thunderhead.  Because, theoretically, everyone is immortal, the population is controlled by an elite group known as Scythes who are each responsible for “gleaning” a specific quota based on statistics from the “Age of Mortality.”

Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch, both sixteen, are chosen to be apprenticed to Scythe Faraday.  They will live and train with him for a year, after which Scythe Faraday will select one of them to become a junior Scythe.  Ironically, they are competing for a role neither of them wants. In a shocking turn of events, it is decided by the Scythedom that, because Scythe Faraday has taken the unusual step of selecting two apprentices, they will increase the level of competition between Citra and Rowan. The apprentice selected to wear the ring of a Scythe will have to glean the unsuccessful candidate immediately. (more…)

Guest Writer Melissa Wilson-Smith Recommends Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Jul
17

Do you find yourself trying to find a book that could speak to all of your students in a general way, yet want something that speaks to each student, individually?  If so, Ghost by Jason Reynolds may be a great option for you.  Reynolds has a way of speaking to his audience that is strategically aimed at every individual’s personal struggle.  Ghost is the first book in the Track series and is a National Book Award Finalist.

Ghost is about Castle Cranshaw, a teenage African American boy who has witnessed and survived some of life’s worst situations.   Castle is the underdog, the kid that should amount to nothing.   He is a sunflower seed loving, Guinness World book obsessed boy that proves that it takes a village to raise a child.  His mother is trying her best as a single, working mother, his father is in jail for an unthinkable act, and Castle, finally, finds himself in the right place at the right time.

Trying to stay out of altercations and prove himself academically so that he can make the track team, Reynolds allows the reader to feel each decision that Castle has to make as he tries to stand up for himself, his family, and his beliefs all while staying out of trouble.  This novel truly proves that anyone can accomplish anything.

Castle’s story has the ability to speak to so many.  Students that struggle with finding and sticking with a book, who are going through a difficult life circumstance, or enjoy reading a series, Ghost may be the right novel for them.    If you are a 37-year-old mother of three that needs evidence that it takes a village to raise a child, Ghost may also be right for you.  I would encourage you to add this YA novel to your classroom library, use it as a read aloud, and ensure that it finds its way into as many hands as possible.

Melissa Wilson-Smith is a guest blogger for Margin Notes and teaches grade 8 Language Arts at Bliss Carman Middle School, in Fredericton, NB.   She is married to her high school sweetheart and is the mother of three children, Lochlan (8), Anderson (6), and Airdrie (3).   She tries to balance her school life with her home life, while on the crazy roller coaster of being a mother to an autistic child.