Margin Notes



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!



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.



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:


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.


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.


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 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.







“The most powerful words in English are, ‘Tell me a story’”
– Pat Conroy

Start With JoyWe are very excited to join educators tonight on Twitter for the ShelfieTalk with Katie Egan Cunningham centered around her book Start With Joy (2019)!

In her chapter on “Story”, Katie talks about the power of image reading:

One of the simplest ways to spark a storyteller voice in students is to have a daily image to talk about. It can be an image from a recent read-aloud, an image of children the same age as your students engaged in something joyful, or a compelling photograph of somewhere you’ve been or of a landmark site. When the image is character driven, it can spark discussion about what the character might be thinking, feeling, or saying. Students get to image the life of the character beyond the photo as they develop their storyteller voice. When the image is setting driven, it can spark discussion about what students see, what makes them think, and what makes them wonder. Any image can be used to imagine other sensory details like smells and sounds that we can’t see but we can invent. When images are used as a foundation in understanding stories, students are given a primer in the craft techniques that will soon make their verbal and written stories that much stronger (p. 108-109).

Three of her suggestions for using images to encourage students to ask, “What’s the story here?” are:

• Invite students to create their own captions for what they see
• Join online conversations to see what students around the world come up with
• A weekly caption contest

In her book Teaching Talk, Kara Pranikoff suggests using these three questions to springboard idea growing around images:teaching talk.jpg

• What are you thinking?
• What ideas do you have about this picture?
• What specific details give you these ideas?

Visible Thinking suggests the following sentence starters to spark talk around works of art, images, and other interesting things:

• I see…
• I think…
• I wonder…

The New York Times suggests asking these questions of images:

• What’s going on in this picture?
• What do you see that makes you say that?
• What more can you find?

If you are interested in using images with your students as a way to spark your storytellers, to use talk to grow thinking, or to inspire wonder, here is a compilation of resources to find images that might work for you:

“The best photos of 2019” by National Geographic 

“2019: Top 100 Photos” by Time Magazine

The New Yorker: Daily Cartoon

“Paintings That Will Make You Question Everything Wrong In This World”

“Images to Inspire” by Once Upon a Picture

“Elderly People Look At Their Younger Reflections In This Beautiful Photo Series” by Tom Hussey

“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words” from Odd Stuff Magazine

“What’s Wrong With Today’s Society Captured In 58 Though-Provoking Illustrations” By Al Margen

“What’s Going On in This Picture” by The New York Times



pumpkinheads coverPumpkinheads is a YA graphic novel created by the well-known writer Rainbow Rowell and the award-winning artist Faith Erin Hicks.

The story is about two high school seniors doing their final night shift together at a seasonal pumpkin patch. After three years of being autumnal best friends and workmates at a famous pumpkin patch, Josiah the MVPPP -Most Valuable Pumpkin Patch Person- and cheerful Deja have differing ideas on what should happen during this final shift. Josiah wants a routine Halloween night shift at the Succotash Hut, but Deja has a plan for the two of them to make the night the best Halloween ever by eating all of their favorite Halloween snacks, and finally getting “Josie” to speak to the co-worker he’s been mooning over for three years, nicknamed “The Fudge Girl.” 

From the first page to the last you can feel and taste the sweetness of friendship and all those amazing autumnal colors and food. I believe it is a story that many YA readers will adore. I very much like the way the story depicts how bittersweet the senior years can be when you are dangling between adolescence and adulthood.

The character strengths of Josiah: hardworking, committed, ambitious, and those of Deja: generous, kind and supportive, along with the themes of empathy, responsibility, cultural diversity and teamwork, work together to create an engaging story. I believe that these two adolescents could be role models for students in many ways and this is one reason why I highly recommend this book.

All in all, Pumpkinheads is more than a story about a last evening at a popular pumpkin patch; it is about authentic friendship and speaking honestly, as can be seen in a few of Deja’s remarks to Josiah during their final shift:

” I’m your friend. And friends don’t let friends live small lives.”

” I can’t ever get a sense of someone until I meet them.”

” We could be friends for all seasons.”

” It’s not fate that brings people together. It’s people!”

” I don’t want this girl to achieve mythical status in your life just because you never talked with her.”

 Rezvan Dehghani, originally from Iran, is an EAL instructor at Devon Middle school in Fredericton, NB.



People Kill People.jpgReading Ellen Hopkins’ latest novel, People Kill People, was like watching a car crash in slow motion.

Born out of the social dichotomy of Trump-era nationalism, People Kill People weaves the lives of six Tucson, Arizona teens together, after one purchases a gun (the seventh character?), to a devastating conclusion. Stitching this tapestry together is Hopkins’ choice of narrator, giving voice to the basest aspects of humanity: our fear and self-doubt. Hopkins uses this ‘devil on your shoulder’ voice brilliantly not only to tap into our own fears and insecurities, but to actually humanize the extreme views and perspectives of her characters. In making the reader see the dark side in themselves, Hopkins forces the audience to empathize with even the most unlikeable of characters by illuminating how circumstances, uncertainty and emotion sometimes simply seem to make our decisions for us, leaving the characters and the reader feeling pulled along an unavoidable collision course with tragedy.

Apart from wonderfully writing her character vignettes, the novel belongs to this demonic presence that uses such subtle but menacing language and tone to slip under your skin. People Kill People pulls no punches and uses mature language and content to grapple with the complexities of the characters’ lives: mental health, suicide, teen parentage, family dynamics, racism, drug use, and friendship. Stylistically, Hopkins employs two other useful techniques; each character has their own font, and the demon-puppet-master-narrator inserts itself via italics within the vignettes, providing colour and context through short poetic intermissions as the mood and plot of the novel intensifies.

For such an emotionally difficult read, it is highly engaging and hard to pull away from. Many students will see something of themselves or someone they know in the novel, but the mature language and themes, as well as some more complex vocabulary, particularly in the poetic structure, may make it a challenging read for some.

Will Milner is an English & Outdoor Pursuits teacher at Fredericton High School, where he also coaches soccer and track & field. When not teaching, or coaching, he can be found with his wife Jen outside with their dogs and playing with their daughter Olivia.



Ghost boys coverThrough her book, Ghost Boys, Jewell Parker Rhodes once again distills challenging world topics such as racism, police brutality, and gun violence and provides us with a beautiful piece of work for young readers.

Ghost Boys is the story of 12-year-old, Jerome Rogers. He likes school and learning but is bullied for it. He has an adoring little sister, and hardworking parents who rely on his grandmother to help raise the kids. But one day, he’s out playing with a toy gun in a park near his house and is shot and killed by a white police officer that deems him as a threat.

The story alternates between Jerome being alive and dead, as he struggles to understand how this could have happened and navigating the world between life and death. Following his death, Jerome meets another ghost of a young black boy killed many years before him, Emmett Till, who begins to help him process the events that ultimately led to his murder. Through this lens he sees the effects that his death has on his family, his classmates, and the family of the officer who killed him.

This book offers a heartbreaking simplicity that challenges the reader to look at and begin to understand the effects of systematic racism and what it would take for meaningful change. The author takes on this massive subject that has plagued our society for many years and delivers it with a balanced thoughtfulness that is appropriate, and I would argue essential, for a middle-school audience. It provides many opportunities for discussion among readers and offers them a pathway to start to unpack many large societal issues and begin to empathize with people who may have these experiences.

Lauren Sieben is a UNB pre-service teacher currently interning with Sara BeLong teaching Grade 6 English at George Street Middle School. She has always had a passion for reading, specifically YA titles.



Lighter Than My ShadowKatie Green’s graphic novel, Lighter than My Shadow, is an emotional dive into the world of eating disorders, abuse, and recovery. Throughout Green’s book, readers can feel her guilt, shame, and awkwardness through her series of intimately drawn pictures showing how her body, mind, and spirit changed throughout her life and through her path to self-discovery. Green’s work is a documentary told through the art of illustration and we not only meet Katie herself, but her friends, family members, and abusers.

We also meet a few others along the way. While their names are not shared, they certainly show the importance of character-building and how to show an emotion, rather than describe it. Katie’s fears are symbolized through two means. First, we see a simple scribble – her emotions bottled up and created through a dark, menacing, and faceless creature that follows her throughout her life.

Lighter 1
Secondly, we see a monster within Katie’s actual body – her eating disorder that has come alive within her.

Lighter 2.png

So often as English teachers, we focus on the written word, but how often have you stepped back to take a look at the bigger picture? This is what Green’s work will force you to do – step back. Look at your own hurdles. See the bigger picture.

By reading Lighter than My Shadow, I have thought more about the difficult choices my students are faced with every day. We truly do not know the battle that is happening in anyone’s lives but our own. Green teaches us that compassion and empathy are truly the roots that maintain the strong foundation for not only our relationships with others, but our relationship with ourselves. I would recommend this graphic novel to both English and Personal Development teachers, as there can never be enough literature on the acceptance of one’s own body and the understanding of someone’s struggle.

Laura Noble is a high school English teacher at Leo Hayes High in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Laura is currently completing her Master’s in Education and is an avid reader of young adult fiction, true-crime, and feminist literature.

Our Favourite Books Released in 2019


It is almost time to say farewell to 2019, and with Christmas just a few weeks away, we thought we would share some of our favourite titles released this year (and maybe provide you with ideas for your holiday gift-giving!).









On the Come Up CoverOn The Come Up by Angie Thomas is a book I am excited to have on my bookshelf, and I strongly encourage L.A. teachers to read it. In addition to a compelling story, this novel makes a strong case for rap music and its place in the L.A. classroom. Through her main character, Angie Thomas demonstrates that in order to write good rap, you need command of the English language. She makes it clear that rap is a process that requires skill and practice. She proves it is a genre not to be dismissed.

Written from 16-year old Brianna’s perspective, this is the story of a talented young rapper’s quest to make it big. She is the daughter of a revered rapper and community hero “Lawless” who was tragically killed when Bri was a young girl. Her family struggles to make ends meet and there isn’t a lot of extra cash when the bills are paid. So, Bri runs a side hustle at school where she sells candy bars to make some spending money. Everything changes when she gets thrown to the ground and searched by school security who suspect her of dealing drugs. Bri lives to rap but she also loves Star Wars and Tweety Bird and playing Mario Cart with her two best friends. She doesn’t do or deal drugs. But none of that matters because the incident at school starts a spiral of Bri being profiled and labeled because of the color of her skin and the neighborhood she lives in. Her situation escalates when she vents her frustrations in a rap that gets a lot of airtime. Now she’s worshiped by some and reviled as a dangerous thug by others.

Due to the myriad of themes covered in it’s 447 pages, I found On The Come Up to be a lovely hybrid  between a window and a mirror book. Through her characters, Angie Thomas manages to deftly tackle issues surrounding racial profiling, family, poverty, addictions, gang violence, LGBTQ+, and the confusing/wonderful world of teen romance. And overarching within all of these is the theme of identity. Of people thinking or believing you’re something you are not. This is a story of Brianna navigating the murky and messy waters of discovering who she is versus who the world tells her to be.

I cannot wait to pitch it to students,  especially those who fell in love with Angie Thomas’ writing after reading The Hate U Give.

Megan Young Jones is a guest blogger for Margin Notes. She teaches Grade 7 Language Arts at George Street Middle School in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Her favorite genres to read are historical fiction and true crime.