Margin Notes



Darius photo.jpgWhen reading, I love nothing more than the realization a couple of pages or chapters in that I have been masterfully beguiled and am now gladly under the spell of the author. Darius the Great is Not Okay, Adib Khorram’s beautiful debut novel, will warmly weave its way into your heart.

In a story about identity, and the assumptions we make about ourselves and others, Khorram deftly threads the needle in his use of oddly specific details – Star Trek and Lord of the Rings allusions, tea facts, and Iranian culture – to tell a story with almost universal appeal. Darius could be any one of us with his quirky interests and all-too-common insecurities: Who is he really? Where does he fit in at school, and even his own family? Perhaps Khorram is so successful in this instance because he seems to understand the lack of clarity in the human condition, enveloping his characters in the fact that life has very few clean answers.

Ultimately, Darius the Great is Not Okay should work for a wide array of readers in terms of ability (it’s a simply written story, although it does contain plenty of non-English language that is explained – Darius is learning too after all), and in terms of content as it can be read and enjoyed solely for the wonderful story, or peeled back one layer at a time to reveal characters and themes we all can relate to.

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 11 month old daughter Olivia.



What I Was Reading:Girl Made of Stars Cover
Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake follows Mara as she navigates her way through her twin brother being accused of raping her friend, her broken relationship with her best friend and ex-girlfriend, and facing a trauma from her past. Experiencing and dealing with these difficult situations leads Mara to question who she is and who she wants to be.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:
• Using a title (italicized): Her name, followed by a brief context for the thoughts that follow
• Intentional use of repetition to begin sentences: The first eight lines begin with the same seven words: “Maybe I’m the type of girl who…”
• The series of thoughts focus on exploring her identity through highlighting events, emotions, and realizations
• The last two lines move to be more definitive, as though she is coming to a conclusion about who she is and is okay with what she comes to understand about herself
• The excerpt ends with a simple drawing that reflects what she has realized about her identity

Possibilities for Writers:
• Using a similar format, explore a part of your identity:
o “Maybe I’m the type of __________ who…”
• In your last line, or few lines, see if you can draw some conclusions about the thoughts that came through your writing about who you are
• Write a title that includes your name, followed by context for what you are exploring about yourself
• Draw a sketch at the end of your writing that in some way reflects the part of your identity you wrote about

Guest Writer Shelley Hanson Recommends Pride by Ibi Zoboi


Pride by Ibi Zoboi claims to be “a Pride and Prejudice remix,” and from someone who loved the original by Jane Austen, it clearly was, in subtle and not so subtle ways. Zuri Benitez, the protagonist, lives in a world that couldn’t be more different than Austen’s Victorian England-modern day Brooklyn, N.Y. In spite of that, it works. Zuri has the same spunky character as Elizabeth Bennet (play on the name), is proud of her roots, and demonstrates a stubbornness that plays out as willful pride! She is a compelling character that loves her family in spite of their humble lifestyle and of course, when a rich family (aka the Darcy’s) renovate an old crumbling house next door and move in, they have two handsome sons, Ainsley and Darius. The plot mirrors that of the original almost identically, with minor differences that work with a modern setting. Ainsley, the oldest, attracts the interest of Zuri’s sister, Janae right away, while Zuri hates Darius at first because he seems to be a snob, and in the end she finds out that her pride has caused her to misjudge him and they develop a friendship that deepens to romance. Janae and Ainsley also have snags in their relationship that cause Zuri to become very protective of her sister. In the end, Janae and Ainsley also find a way through the obstacles of their relationship and become a couple.

This book is character-driven, rather than plot-driven, much like the original, weaving a tapestry of the hum of daily life. Although this book provides a window into a cultural world that is colorful and warm, it is also a mirror into the world of the banalities of family life and the sense of community in a close-knit neighborhood. This book succeeds as a modern, slightly edgy retelling, while maintaining the nostalgia of the original in terms of family, community, and home. Its messages about pre-judging others and about the importance of family and community are presented in a fresh style and speaks to the intimacy and universality of the desire for human connection.

Shelley Hanson teaches grade 11 and 12 at Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton, NB. When she isn’t inspiring teens to find their next great book, she enjoys the antics of her pet miniature goats, Peanut, Pepper, and Pippi.



No fixed addressIn a lot of ways, Felix Knuttson is your regular, run-of-the-mill 12-year old boy. He writes for his school newspaper. He loves goofing off with his best friend Dylan. He is struggling to navigate the murky waters of middle school dating. He is also homeless.

No Fixed Address opens with Felix in a police station explaining to the officer (and the reader) the circumstances, bad luck and decisions that led to him and his mom becoming homeless and living in a van. Felix’s friends Winnie and Dylan are oblivious to his living situation and Felix struggles with the lies he needs to tell to keep this secret from them. In the midst of being homeless, Felix earns his way onto the trivia gameshow Who, What, Where, When and is convinced the prize money is the ticket they need to jump-start a new life.

For some readers, this book will be an excellent “window” into the realities of homelessness and the unfortunate truth that people around us may be in need of help and we may never know it. This book manages to walk the fine line of being humorous and light-hearted without minimizing the problems Felix and his Mom are facing. I am currently using this book as a read aloud for my Grade 8 Language Arts classes and it is sparking excellent discussion on everything from the ethics of lying to why families fear involvement from Social Services. I would recommend this book to students in Grade 7 and older. The chapters are short and the writing is uncomplicated but the content may be a bit heavy for those in Grade 6.

Megan Young Jones is a guest blogger for Margin Notes. She teaches Grade 8 Language Arts at Nashwaaksis Middle School in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Her favorite genres to read are historical fiction and true crime.



What I Was Reading:Saving Red

Saving Red by Sonya Sones is the story of what happens when Molly meets Red, a homeless girl only a few years older than she is, and becomes fixated on reuniting Red with her family. What quickly becomes apparent to the reader are two things: Red is suffering with some serious mental health issues and Molly’s family has experienced some type of trauma. This is a beautiful story, written in verse, that reveals how sometimes when we try to save someone else, we end up saving ourselves.

Saving Red Craft Studio

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

• Using a title to provide brief context to a conversation
• A conversation written in verse
• Spacing that provides time for the reader to consider the message of the conversation
• The use of italics for emphasis
• Intentional use of repetition to begin sentences
• Smooth pacing of writing that leads up to what makes this conversation necessary to write about

Possibilities for Writers:

• Think of a conversation you have had and try writing it out in verse, using only the essential parts of the conversation.
• Play around with italics to see how emphasizing different words in your writing impacts the way it is read.
• Play around with the organization of your stanzas to see how the line breaks speed up or slow down the conversation.
• Write a title that sets the stage for the conversation.



Monday's Not ComingMonday’s Not Coming is one of the most engaging YA mystery books I have read to date. I literally could not put this book down, despite promising myself that I would turn out the lights in “one more chapter”!

The novel opens with Claudia, an eighth-grade student who returns home to Washington after having spent the summer at her grandmother’s in Georgia. Upon seeing her mother, she immediately inquires about her best friend, Monday Charles, who has not returned any of Claudia’s posted letters. Claudia knows that something is terribly wrong and sets out to find her beloved friend despite all the mixed messages she receives. Her mother appears unalarmed and aloof. Her father chalks it up to friends growing apart. Mrs. Charles nearly assaults Claudia and threatens her to never come knocking again. Monday’s sister April says that Monday is at her father’s…no, her aunt’s…no, her father’s. The school seems to think that Monday is being home-schooled. Only Ms. Valente, the girls’ former grade seven English teacher, seems disturbed that no one has seen nor heard anything about Monday. As the story progresses, the author flips between chapters titled with the months of the year, “The Before,” “The After,” and “One Year Before the Before,” and the reader is privy to the intimate nature of Claudia and Monday’s relationship, Claudia’s panic and search for her other half, and the devastation of a mental breakdown.

While the novel initially paints a picture of true friendship and acceptance, it is later revealed that perhaps the girls’ relationship has a few skeletons in its closet—at least for Monday. The reader sees glimpses of the abuse Monday endures, the squalor in which she lives in the housing projects of Edward Borough, as well as some half-truths told to Claudia. On the other hand, in Monday’s absence, Claudia finds herself bitterly managing a newly diagnosed learning disability and navigating the harsh environment of middle school without her closest and only ally.

And, all the while, the question remains: “Where is Monday Charles?”

This novel will interest any student who loves a good mystery and who is interested in delving into social issues such as poverty, abuse, and community responsibility; as well as exploring mental health issues and those who are marginalized.

Joanne McDonald teaches grade 9 English and Canadian Geography 120 at Oromocto High School. Over the past couple of years, she has become passionate about getting great books into the hands of her students and has reconnected with her old creative writing self.



As teachers of reading, we know the importance and the power of book talks to increase the volume of our students’ reading. One type of book talk you may want to try is the Read-Alike Book Talk, where you take a book that has been flying off the shelf of your classroom library and share titles that have similar themes or characters or are of a similar genre.

Here are some read-alikes for One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus: one-of-us-is-lying

Like One of Us is Lying, these books make the reader ask, “What really happened?”

The CheerleadersThe Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas: Five years ago, five cheerleaders in a small town died in three separate incidents. One of those cheerleaders was Monica’s sister, and now she knows that what happened isn’t the tragic coincidence most people want to believe.


SadieSadie by Courtney Summers : Fleeing from home after her sister’s brutal murder, Sadie is a missing teenage girl on the run, possibly looking for the person she believes to have murdered her sister. When her story is picked up by a well-known radio personality, she becomes the subject of a popular podcast. But, can he find Sadie before it’s too late?


people kill peoplePeople Kill People by Ellen Hopkins: One gun. Six teenagers. Someone will shoot. And someone will die. Written in a combination of prose and verse, this book will keep you guessing until the very end.


two can keep a secretTwo Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus: Ellery and her twin brother Ezra find themselves living in a small town made famous by the deaths of teenage girls, one of whom was their aunt. These crimes have never been solved. But now, Ellery is determined to uncover all of the answers—putting her own life in danger in the process…because someone wants to keep the town’s secrets hidden.



“Dear Evan Hansen,dearevanhansen-thenovel
Today is going to be an amazing day, and here’s why…”

Well, not all of Evan Hansen’s days are amazing.

Evan has a letter mix-up with Connor Murphy, a troubled teen whom Evan barely knows. Evan wrote the letter to himself as part of his therapy; however, Connor picked it up off the printer and kept it. When tragedy strikes, Connor’s family finds the letter, thinking Connor wrote it to Evan.

Evan, not being able to tell the truth to the grieving family, plays along with the idea that he and Connor were best friends. Evan creates an imaginary world of memories and experiences of the “friendship”, all in the good-spirit of trying to bring peace and comfort to Connor’s family.

Soon, Evan’s lies start to get out of control. They start consuming his life, his friend’s life (as he assists Evan with the charade) and his relationships, especially the relationship he is developing with the girl of his dreams…Connor’s sister, Zoe!

When the “charade” becomes too much, Evan needs to come clean with what he has done. He needs to be honest with himself, the world and Connor’s family. How will he do this? What will be the consequences?

Today is going to be an amazing day…until it is not.

This book is about finding one’s voice and doing what is right, no matter the consequences. Life is not always easy, but by following our hearts and doing the right thing, it does get better.

Angela Lardner is a teacher at Stanley Consolidated School. She teaches mostly high school English. When not at work, she spends her time with her fur babies and reading.



What I Was Reading: gnight

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks For Me & You is a collection of inspirational and encouraging words for the beginning and end of each day. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical Hamilton, compiled the best of his daily messages from his Twitter account for this book. Accompanied by artwork by Jonny Sun, these greetings challenge, inspire, and empower readers with their brief and honest bits of wisdom.

Here are three excerpts from the book:

GMorning GNight Excerpt 1GMorning GNight Excerpt 2GMorning GNight Excerpt 3


What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

* Each set of greetings begins with a variation of “Good Morning” and “Good Night”

* Each greeting directly addresses the reader.

* The advice uses verbs, insinuating that the advice is actionable and attainable.

* Each greeting is three to four sentences in length.

* The varying sentence lengths and use of punctuation for pause and intonation allow the voice of the writer to sound more relaxed and inviting.

* The illustrations are simple, black and white, and allow the reader to connect them to the greetings with their own interpretation.

Possibilities for Writers:

* Using Miranda’s greetings as a model, write your own Gmorning, Gnight! messages. They could be based on what you need to hear or what you want to tell someone else.

* Illustrate your greetings yourself based on what you think best represents your words.

* After writing your messages, ask a friend or a classmate to create an illustration that they connect to the greetings.

* Write about how one of the above excerpts spoke to you and may have been what you needed to hear.

* Revisit a draft in your notebook and find a place that can be rewritten to address the readers directly. Consider varying your sentence lengths, using one-word sentences, and playing around with punctuation to create a voice that is relaxed and conversational.

Try This Tomorrow: 19 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Ikea Employees


Mental Floss recently published, “19 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Ikea Employees” an article filled with neat insider information about “what it’s like to work for one of the world’s most recognizable retail stores.” At first, I paid attention to the organizing structure, thinking it would make an interesting mentor text for using titles to identify separate subtopics or ideas and make information writing flow. Then, I realized that the whole concept makes this article a powerful invitation for students to write about the behind-the-scenes secrets of something or someplace they have expert knowledge about. Think of how much you would learn about your students (and they could learn about each other) from these behind-the-scenes secrets!