Margin Notes

SUMMER SORA SERIES RECOMMENDS BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY

Jul
20

Eleanora Fagan better known as Billie Holiday did not have a happy life. After all, she sang the blues for a reason.  

“Becoming Billie Holiday” is a poetic interpretation of her life story. Readers follow Billie as she matures from a troubled adolescent into the fearless and passionate musician we know today. The text offers the privilege of watching her navigate a world that seems to be against her with parents that leave her, a neighbor that rapes her, and a drug addiction that destroys her. Billie must summon every ounce of her courage to fight against the brutality.  

Carole Boston Weatherford recounts this story beautifully and entirely through free verse poems with titles that correspond to each of Billie’s songs. The poems are accompanied by compelling illustrations.  

It was extraordinary to discover the complex story behind the famous musician. The book was exactly what I needed to incorporate a little bit of poetry and a lot of imagining into my reading routine.  

SUMMER SORA SERIES RECOMMENDS ALONE BY MEGAN E. FREEMAN 

Jul
13

All Maggie wants is some time alone – and she has a plan to get it. With a few lies about where they are, Maggie and her friends plan a sleepover at her empty grandparents’ house. To say things don’t go as planned is an understatement. Her friends are caught and can’t come. During her secret night hidden alone, her town is evacuated, and Maggie is indeed left alone…totally alone. 

This novel, written in verse, is a fantastic middle level survival story. Readers follow Maggie as she slowly accepts that no one is coming back and realizes she is on her own to take care of herself and her neighbor’s dog, George. The slow descent into survival mode is realistic and brings authentic threats such as food, water, weather, fire and wild animals. 

Other than the obvious challenges of survival, the conflict of the plot is a steady build of loneliness. Maggie is aware of the hope she is losing and searches for connection in radios and books. The seasons change and the years go by without any indication of this isolation ending. Maddie’s resilience in the environmental and mental struggles is fierce and makes her a strong character for readers to admire. Although I would give a trigger warning for animal abuse, I would recommend this book to readers who like dystopian survival stories as well as someone looking to devour a book in verse.  

STUDENT WRITER FIONNA JARVIS RECOMMENDS HEARTSTOPPER BY ALICE OSEMAN

Jul
06

Heartstopper is a graphic novel depicting an adorable yet realistic LQBTQ romance between two boys finding themselves, one an openly gay and bullied boy, the other a questioning rugby jock.

When the story begins, Charlie Spring wants nothing more than to be loved by his secret, closeted, emotionally abusive boyfriend, Ben Hope. He finds himself sitting in the art room every lunchtime, eating his lunch surrounded by the haunting memories of last year.

Nick Nelson is the epitome of a sweet jock, having a soft spot for vulnerability, but still hanging out with his rough, homophobic rugby friends. Even though he doesn’t agree with what they do, he finds himself with no one else to listen to.

Charlie and Nick finally meet after a homeroom seat change one morning, and nothing but a “Hi” every day to each other. Nick was all Charlie thought about for weeks on end, whereas his friends, Tao, Isaac, and Elle, only crushed his hopes by continually insisting that Nick was straight, without a doubt.

Then there is an incident with Nick in homeroom and a leaky pen, and after Charlie helps Nick, a spark of friendship begins to whirl between the two. They begin to chat in the halls, smile at each other when they pass, and Nick invites Charlie to learn how to play rugby after school one gorgeous, sunny day.

Unfortunately, there is then a horrible and aggressive incident between Charlie and Ben, with Nick comes to Charlie’s aid after lingering around due to a sense something isn’t right between Charlie and Ben. That event sparks the first nighttime texting session between them, evoking a stream of confused feelings about their relationship and the potential struggles of identifying as LQBTQ in an all-boys school.

 

Heartstopper is one of the most subtly powerful and emotional novels I’ve ever read. Each page ropes you more into the character’s life until you’re immersed into the feeling of pure excitement every time they show affection, romantic or not.

Sometimes I would take breaks in between reading, just to scream out of joy or sob at an emotional scene, and I’ve honestly never had a book do that before. It’s an LGBTQ modern classic, and I absolutely adored how many topics are addressed and how inclusive the characters are. So many mature topics are covered in such an realistic way, like coming out as gay and lesbian, being transgender, homophobia and discovering your sexuality. Heartstopper is an essential read for allies and LGBTQ alike. I guarantee it’ll be the best book you’ll ever read.

 

Fionna Jarvis is a 14-year-old student at Ridgeview Middle School in Oromocto, New Brunswick who likes to read atypical romance, dystopia, non-fiction and poetry books. She loves to write and has written several online novels. She plays rugby, volleyball and does all-star cheerleading. Also, she does art, she paints, sketches, and also uses oil pastels and watercolours.

SORA SUMMER SERIES – STUDENT EDITION

Jun
30

the collection of titles on SORA has expanded to include titles for students in high school. To celebrate this, and to add some book buzz, Margin Notes will feature book recommendations written by high school students over the summer months. Stay tuned for some great book recommendations!

Ways teachers might use the students’ recommendations:

  • Direct students to Margin Notes to read student recommendations
  • Book talk the titles by reading the student recommendations
  • Post the recommendations in the classroom for students to read
  • Have students comment on the posts of titles they decide to read
  • Use as mentor texts for students writing their own recommendations

TRY THIS TOMORROW: THREE TOOLS FOR TALK 

Jun
23

In their resource, Breathing New Life into Book Clubs: A Practical Guide for Teachers, Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen guide educators on how to use book clubs to create a culture of reading.  

When students are placed together to carry conversation, the discussion might begin with the question “What do we talk about?” One response suggestion in this resource is to offer the three tools of talk. This strategy can help learners who struggle to find ideas worth sharing along with those who have ideas but need support to start a conversation. 

What’s on your mind? 

This question can start a conversation with any thought, sticky-note or quote to break the silence and teach learners that their ideas are valuable. It might be a thought about a character, an important event, an interesting detail etc.  

Audacious Questioning 

All group members can ask questions that may or may not have answers. The questions could be why something happened, what others predict will happen next, help to clear up confusion or ask about an event. Students can write sticky notes with questions as they arise in reading and bring them to the discussion or ask as the discussion progresses. 

Author’s Moves 

Once students learn to read like a writer, they know how to see the craft moves of an author. Students can discuss these moves together. They could talk about the structure, the language, the perspectives, the theme etc.  

Once you introduce, model and practice the three tools for talking, you can individualize feedback and support to groups when you notice which area they are leaving out of discussions or support them in including a variety of subtopics in each branch. 

If you are interested in learning more about starting, running and assessing book clubs, this title offers a practical guide to your teaching. The mini-lessons, tracking suggestions and immediately applicable advice is invaluable. 

Cherry-Paul, S., & Johansen, D. (2019). Breathing New Life into book clubs. Heinemann Educational Books. 

 

 

JENNIFER CHAN IS NOT ALONE BY TAE KELLER

Jun
21

There are just some authors who are an immediate “yes”. Tae Keller has become one of those authors for me, ever since reading her Newbery Medal winning novel “When You Trap a Tiger“. So, when I found out that she had a new middle grade novel coming out on April 26th, I pre-ordered it. And, let me tell you, it does not disappoint.

Mallory, the narrator of the story, is so real and raw. I love how we are privy to all of her thoughts, insecurities, and feelings. She is a complicated character and is not simply “good or bad”. The shame and guilt she feels over her actions and those of her friends is written with sensitivity, and I certainly felt empathy for her- despite the fact that as a parent and a teacher I wanted to tell her to give her head a shake many times.

This is a story of bullying, aliens (yes, I said “aliens”), being the “new kid”, standing up for what is right, and speaking up for others EVEN when it makes you stick out. This novel would be an amazing read aloud for a grade 6 or 7 class.

I highly recommend you add this to your TBR stack of summer reads. And if you haven’t read “When you Trap a Tiger”, add that one too!

PROMOTE A LEAP, NOT A LOSS: SUMMER, HOLIDAY AND WEEKEND READING

Jun
16

As educators we want to ensure that our students have daily time to read each day when they are with us at school.  To keep this momentum, it is important that we consider ways to set students up to read at home on weekends, holidays and of course over the summer.  With summer fast approaching teachers may want to consider the following suggestions from Intervention Reinvention by Stephanie Harvey et al, on how to prevent the phenomenon known as “summer slide”.  These strategies may be especially helpful when brainstorming ways to support our more vulnerable learners who according to research experience higher degrees (80%) of stalled learning over the summers break.

  • Consider having students make a vacation reading plan. Have children plan ahead and get them talking about what they would like to read and prepare copies of books/ebooks, and teach them how to access books at the public library. Photocopy calendar pages and conference with students to support their interest and reading plan.

  • Consider sending students home with books that were carefully book matched to their interests using books from your classroom library.
  • Consider organizing book swaps before the school year ends. Put out a call for gently used books and book match with your students and set up a display letting families know books are available and that they are welcome to what interests them.
  • Consider promoting book ownership through giveaway promotions. Studies have found that book ownership when paired with a summer reading programs has more impact when no strings are attached (Allington, McGill-Frazen 2010). Students build home libraries of high interest books and pride in book ownership.
  • Consider keeping the school library open over the summer. Advertise it as a one-time special events or exclusive offer. It may be easier for students to access the school library rather than the public and even if students have been sent home with books, allowing access to the school library with allow them to refresh their stack. Perhaps a new interest has popped up over the summer, and accessing the library allows them to continue that interest.

Get together with colleagues and the school administration to discuss these ideas or brainstorm  other out of the box ideas to support students over the summer.  Plan for a leap and not a loss!

To learn more about Intervention Reinvention and other reading volume interventions strategies click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GUEST WRITER LAUREN SIEBEN RECOMMENDS FINDING JUNIE KIM BY ELLEN OH

Jun
14

From We Need Diverse Books co-founder, Ellen Oh, Finding Junie Kim is a powerful and important middle grade book that focuses on family, hope, and survival, all while delivering a punch. Based on the author’s own family stories from the Korean War, this is an eye-opening and candid look at a piece of history that is underrepresented in both the middle grade and young adult genre.

Finding Junie Kim follows our young protagonist, Junie, who struggles with her own demons, friendship issues, and acts of racism in her school. She is then assigned an oral history project, for which she interviews her grandparents and learns about their struggles and experiences growing up during the Korean War. Taking inspiration from her grandparents’ courageous stories, Junie finds ways to overcome her own personal struggles and make changes in the world around her. The story beautifully connects the trauma of war with modern hate crimes, while also including conversations around bullying, depression, & friendship dynamics. It does all of this with sensitivity and without diminishing any of the topics, keeping it relatable and suitable for a middle school audience.

Finding Junie Kim was a very insightful middle grade novel and would make a great mentor text for many reasons. The book is split into sections told in part realistic fiction from Junie’s first-person perspective and in third-person historical fiction from both of her grandparents. It is also split into time periods, with different sections telling the stories from different years, which would lend well to practices around both framing a story and discussing point of view. The grandparents’ interviews are a wonderful way to provide many details about the historical setting that many students may not have much background information in and would make a great mentor text for how to weave background information throughout a story. Finding Junie Kim would also make an excellent class read aloud or book club book, as it is a fitting example of a window/mirror/sliding glass door book that any student or adult alike can learn from. Middle grade students need this book for many reasons, and I am so looking forward to all the ways I will incorporate it into my classroom.

 

Lauren Sieben is a Grade 8 ELA teacher at Perth-Andover Middle School. Her favourite activity is reading books. Her second favourite activity is talking about them.

CRAFT STUDIO: CAST AWAY: POEMS FOR OUR TIME

Jun
09

What I Was Reading:

Cast Away: Poems For our Time by Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye is a collection of poems about trash that will inspire any reader to take more care regarding the things we leave behind. Recommended for ages 10+, the poems are accessible, relevant, and relatable. Here is one of the poems in the collection:

 

Trash Talk 326

Did anyone ever say you were their girlfriend
or boyfriend and you barely even knew them?

Did they tell your friends they had insight
and could guess what you might do next?

Did they say you called them when you
didn’t even know their number?

What did you do about people like this?
Did you argue, tell them off?

Or walk calmly past them in the hallway
as if they were a locker or a clock?

 

What Moves I Noticed the Writer Making:

  • The poet speaks directly to the reader (you), which creates a sense of intimacy between poet and reader
  • The poet tells a story by asking a series of questions
  • The poet never tells the reader how she feels about the situation. Her feelings are inferred through the questions she chooses to ask
  • The first three stanzas set up the problem and the last two stanzas is where she is asking how others have handled the situation

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Use the format of the poem (asking questions of the reader) to tell your own story of an event/situation
  • Write the story of what you think happened between the poet and this person
  • Write back to the poet, answering the questions as they pertain to you
  • Write a letter of advice to the poet on what to do if she is ever in this situation again

THE COMFORT BOOK BY MATT HAIG

Jun
07

In the introduction to The Comfort Book, Matt Haig writes

It is a strange paradox, that many of the clearest, most comforting life lessons are learnt while we are at our lowest. But then we never think about food more than when we are hungry and we never think about life rafts more than when we are thrown overboard.

So, these are some of my life rafts. The thoughts have kept me afloat. I hope some of them might carry you to dry land as well.

This wonderful collection is a series of notes Haig wrote to himself to help him through hard times. Haig shares them in the hopes that readers will also find them helpful when things are bleak: “When times are hard, we need a deep kind of comfort. Something elemental. A solid support. A rock to hold onto. The kind we already have inside us. But which we sometimes need a bit of help to see.”

Entries range from a few words to a few pages. Some are presented as prose while others read like poems. Haig reflects on the truths the lowest points in his life have revealed: “Time disproves the lies depression tells. Time showed me that the things depression imagined for me were fallacies not prophecies.” He presents his thinking in a wide range of formats including quiet observations, thoughts to remember on a bad day, realizations, advice, a playlist, a book list, a list of don’ts, and recipes. As a whole, this collection works together to remind readers of one of the themes interwoven throughout the book, that “Nothing is stronger than a small hope that doesn’t give up.”

The Comfort Book is one of those fantastic texts that you can read straight through in one sitting read slowly, stopping to savor each selection; you can read it in order or dip in and out as you like. It is also filled with mentor texts and quickwrite opportunities.