Margin Notes

AKATA WITCH BY NNEDI OKORAFOR

Sep
13

“One night, after the power went out, I lit a candle as usual.  Then, also as usual, I got down on the floor and just gazed at its flame.

My candle was white and thick, like the ones in church. I lay on my belly and just stared and stared into it. So orange, like the abdomen of a firefly. It was nice and soothing until…it started flickering.

Then, I thought I saw something. Something serious and big and scary. I moved closer.”

 

Akata Witch is told through the eyes of Sunny, a twelve-year-old albino girl born in the United States, but who now finds herself living in Nigeria. Not surprisingly, Sunny is often seen as an outcast. An outcast at school because of where she was born and how she looks.  An outcast in the community because of her lack of knowledge about Nigerian culture. Even an outcast at home because she is a girl, an unwanted girl.

Sunny’s days are filled with trying to navigate school, prejudices, staying out of the way of bullies, and not upsetting her parents. Especially her father. This changes when she befriends a quiet boy in her class named Orlu and his friend Chichi. Slowly Orlu and Chichi introduce Sunny to their world of Nigerian magic, and she learns she is in fact a leopard person; Nigerians who can conjure and perform juju (magic). Soon Sunny is visiting mysterious villages where books and devices for creating juju are purchased, disappearing through keyholes, and accepting challenges issued by their leopard person teacher.

Sunny is equal parts fascinated, terrified, and frustrated by her new life and what she is learning about herself, her family’s past, and the challenges she will need to face when charged with finding and defeating Black Hat Otokoto. The man responsible for kidnapping and maiming children in order to gain powerful juju strength.

Okorafor crafts a well paced suspenseful narrative that provides readers needed background knowledge by enlisting excerpts from the “Free Agents” handbook that Sunny reads to learn about her newfound abilities. If you have readers in your class who enjoy supernatural fiction and want to try something new, Akata Witch, the first book in the Nsibidi Script series may just be a great book fit.

To read more about Nnedi Okorafor, Akata Witch and the sequels Akata Warrior and Akata Woman click here.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PINK: A WOMEN’S MARCH STORY BY VIRGINIA ZIMMERMAN

May
31

Picture books can be used in variety of ways in the literacy classroom and well-known author and educator Pernille Ripp believes,

there is no “too old” for picture books. In her July 2015 blog post she outlines five reasons why picture books should be in every classroom and available for every reader:

  • Picture books give us a common language.
  • Picture books can teach us complex matters in a simple way.
  • Picture books can make us feel successful when we have lost our way.
  • Picture books relieve stress.
  • Picture books can make us believe that we can read well.

To read the entire blog post you can click here.

Knowing that picture books can provide all these positives in the classroom, please take a moment to check out Pink A Women’s March Story by Virginia Zimmerman and illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma. Told from the prospective of a young girl name Lina, the story provides the reader context and history for the January 2021 Washington D.C. Women’s March.  Lina learns that one small person can become part of a much wider and larger movement and that no one is ever too small to make a difference.

Beyond the lessons of perseverance and personal growth, readers will learn about taking a stand for one’s beliefs and that we all have a role to play in our democracy. Pink A Women’s March Story provides common language, makes a complex issue understandable, and is accessible for readers. To learn more about the authors and Pink A Women’s March Story click here.

ROTATING CLASSROOM LIBRARIES

May
26

Last year the ASD-W Literacy team asked literacy teachers of grades 6-12 to complete a reading volume survey. That survey provided our team a multitude of valuable information.  One piece of data that resonated with me was the fact that 80 of the 84 respondents shared that they use personal funds to purchase books for their classroom library. We know that classroom libraries are recommended to include 20-30 books per student and that these titles need to appeal to a diverse audience and include selections accessible for all students.  This need for books can creates a financial burden for many teachers who want to provide students with rich reading experiences .

Given this reality for teachers, may I suggest a strategy to stretch both personal and school funds.  The recently published, Intervention Reinvention by Harvey et al suggests that teachers share books with colleagues to “maximize classroom library resources and ensure that every student has access to a range of appealing and varied texts” p. 144.

        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • By knowing your own library well, you can decide which topics, genres, or formats are needed to rotate to supplement your own library.
  • Connect with colleagues in your building and reach out to see if they are willing to collaborate and rotate books.
  • Identify rotating books with a sticker on the back or inside cover.
  • Organize rotating books in bins or a separate shelf.
  • Check out the school book room. If titles are available here, ask the administrator if these can be part of a rotating collection.
  • Finally, don’t forget to borrow from the school and the public library.

Curating a diverse well stocked classroom library is a huge challenge. Working with colleagues can stretch and strengthen your resources and knowledge of texts.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEING THE CHANGE: LESSONS AND STRATEGIES TO TEACH SOCIAL COMPREHENSION BY SARA K. AHMED

Mar
31

Last spring, literacy coach Sonja Wright and I participated in a virtual book study with several teachers in ASD-W on Being the Change by Sara K. Ahmed.

While this book focuses primarily on building personal identity, awareness, and classroom community, it does so through a wide variety of literacy activities that span all strands our English Language Arts curriculum.

Ahmed organizes the text through a collection of 6 chapters beginning first with personal identity and then moving outward to understand the acts of listening, being candid, informed, as well as personal responsibility. The book ends with the process of working together. Each chapter provides real world classroom activities curated by Ahmed illustrating possible discussions, teacher samples (anchor charts), student work, and recommended literacy “stacks” to engage students with each big idea.

Lessons and activities allow for multiple literacy connections; from the implementation of a writer’s notebook, and personal reflections through quick writes, use of mentor texts for poetry writing, opportunities for speaking and listening with think-pair-share activities and multiple inquiry activities . This list does not begin to scratch the surface of the possible literacy learnings that could arise when implementing Ahmed’s strategies.

In conclusion, I can not recall a professional resource that I have read recently that offers more meaningful and authentic classroom learning connections for students and teachers. To find out more about Sara K. Ahmed and Being the Change click here.

 

 

 

 

TRY THIS TOMORROW – ENCOURAGE STUDENT-LED BOOKTALKS

Mar
24

In their new book, Intervention Reinvention: A Volume-Based Approach to Reading Success, authors Stephanie Harvey, Annie Ward, Maggie Hoddinott and Suzanne Carroll advocate that teachers use reading volume as an intervention strategy for all students. In part three of their book, they provide numerous practical ways to teach your students about the importance of reading volume and strategies to increase their reading volume.

One of my favorites is Encourage Student-Led Booktalks found on page 169. So how exactly does a booktalk work?  When students complete a book that they feel others would enjoy, they simply provide a short talk introducing the book and share interesting elements of the text. As always, students will need guidance and modeling before they begin sharing independently. The authors provide a quick point form lesson detailing how to introduce this to students and provide time for practice. The main points are as follows:

  • Begin by pointing out to students that booktalks are an important way to share awesome books in your classroom community. Share that you have booktalked some of your favorites (if you haven’t done this, begin by trying it yourself a few times over a couple of weeks, before introducing to students). Let students know you are going to give them a chance to booktalk one of their favorite books today. Outline the main attributes of a booktalk: a quick commercial for the book, grab the listeners attention with any interesting or unique, but remembering not to give away any spoilers!
  • Next provide the students with a model: name a title and author of a book, share the genre or format, and give a brief overview.
  • Remind students to end their booktalk with a reason why others would enjoy the book. For example, “If you love mystery and intrigue, this is definitely for you”.
  • Finally, allow your students time, perhaps ten minutes to draft their own booktalk and practice sharing with an elbow partner. Let them know that you will provide time the following day for someone to give the first daily booktalk.

 

Providing the opportunity for students to prepare, deliver and listen to booktalks addresses ELA outcomes for listening and speaking, reading and viewing as well as writing and representing.

To view ASD-W teachers and the literacy team modeling booktalks check out our ASD-W Margin Notes K-12 Sharepoint site.  Scroll down the homepage until you see Booktalks.

To learn more about the book Intervention Reinvention: A Volume-Based Approach to Reading Success, click here.

 

DADDY SPEAKS LOVE BY LEAH HENDERSON

Mar
22

Many educators (including myself) will advocate that no students are too old for picture books. Picture books, as shared by Jill Davidson in an earlier Margin Notes post,  Picture Books in Grades 6-12,

“…make excellent mentor texts to use in mini-lessons or to demonstrate writing techniques since you can read them more than once in a short amount of time.  They can be used to develop background knowledge about a concept or topic or for quick writes and writer’s notebook responses.  Picture books can invite dialogue about tough topics and complex ideas. Most importantly, though, they bring students together into a shared experience that invites everyone in the reading community to celebrate beautiful words and images.”

Daddy Speaks Love by Leah Henderson is just one of these books that will provide teachers a segue to discussing difficult topics, the sharing of ideas and opportunities for critical thinking.  Motivated by the death of George Floyd during the summer of 2020 and the statement by his then six-year-old daughter that, “Daddy changed the world”, Henderson explores the relationship that fathers or father figures play in the lives of their children.  Love, support, and guidance are all explored in the text, as is unfairness and injustice.  The illustrations by E. B. Lewis will also provide teachers with opportunities to explore critical thinking activities, such as, “What does this picture say? What does it not say.”

Henderson’s words and Lewis’ illustrations provide a powerful and timely reflection on the state of social justice issues facing much of the world in 2022.  To learn more about this book and other powerful picture books check out our K-12 Virtual Books shelves on our ASD-W Margin Notes K-12 Literacy sharepoint.

 

YOU’LL BE THE DEATH OF ME BY KAREN MCMANUS 

Mar
15

“We all make mistakes, right? And almost never see the fallout coming.” 

If you enjoyed her books One of Us is Lying or The Cousins, you will be happy to pick up You’ll be the Death of Me. I enjoy a mystery and, even more than that, I appreciate how McManus captures the complexities of relationships in high school. Students gather together in one spot each day yet their experiences inside and outside that building are vastly different. This story centers around Ivy, a rich blonde who feels unseen under the comparison to her brother; Mateo, a mysterious student who is working multiple jobs to support his mother while also protecting his cousin; and Cal, an artist who romanticizes a middle school adventure as he experiences the life of an outcast in high school. 

The unlikely friendship that connects these three begins with the desperate need to escape their current situations. The trio once happened to experience “The Greatest Day Ever” in the 8th grade and circumstances have brought them together to try to recreate this before graduation. The fantasy of this adventurous escape, paired with the deep nostalgia of good times passed, is one with which teenagers can relate. Unfortunately for them, “The Greatest Day Ever” sequel starts with the discovery of a dead classmate and a witness describing one of them as the murderer.  

McManus’ writing is fast paced with vivid description casting a movie in your mind. Her depiction of the complicated nuances of relationships with friends, parents, siblings and partners creates a connection between the reader and characters. The book is another title to add to your mystery collection.  

 

DECOLONIZING YOUR BOOKSHELVES

Feb
17

In their new book, Intervention Reinvention: A Volume-Based Approach to Reading Success, authors Stephanie Harvey, Annie Ward, Maggie Hoddinott and Suzanne Carroll advocate teachers create and curate what they refer to as, “…robust, vibrant, and diverse classroom libraries”(p. 29). One way they propose to curate this library is to actively engage in decolonizing your bookshelves.  Classroom libraries need to reflect all students and the authors provide an abundance of research to support this stance.

As early as 1965 the Saturday Review article, “The All-White World of Children’s Books,” by Dr. Nancy Larrick, stated that though integration was the law of the land, most books children saw were white.  This lack of representation, she when on to say, “ …harms children of color by depriving them of opportunities to see themselves in books they read and in how they imagine their futures”. Almost 50 years later in 2014 author Walter Dean Myers published an op-ed in the New York Times, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”. In 2016 and 2019 Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen, an associate professor at St. Catherine University and illustrator David Huyck published what is now a will known infographic displaying data collected about the representation of children of color in books published prior to 2019.

In February 2020, author, and educator Zaretta Hammond wrote, “Revisiting Your Library: Decolonizing, Not Just Diversifying”. She argues that while teachers are ensuring more books with brown faces are in their libraries, these books often still perpetuate black stereotypes.  For example, books that portray buses, boycotts, and basketball or only storylines that examine the challenges of inner city living.  She goes on to explain that while having books around a ‘Black Lives Matter’ theme and social justice is part of the black experience, it is not the only part.  Black life and lives are diverse and the books that reflect their lives should show this diversity.  Hammond offers the following three reflective questions to determine whether a book is worth including:

          • Does the book go beyond the typical themes about characters of color?
      • Do the children of color look authentic?
      • Are the texts, especially fictional stories, ‘enabling’?
(David Huyak, in consultation with Sarh Park Dahlen – Released under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)

Consider taking time to ask these questions of the books in your library and decolonize your shelves. Once finished, if you are looking for titles to add to your collection, check out our virtual bookshelves.

To learn more about the book Intervention Reinvention: A Volume-Based Approach to Reading Success, click here.

 

 

FIREKEEPER’S DAUGHTER BY ANGELINE BOULLEY

Feb
08

I am a frozen statue of a girl in the woods. Only my eyes move, darting from the gun to their startled expression.

Gun. Shock. Gun. Disbelief. Gun. Fear.

THA-THUM-THA-THUM-THA-THUM.

The snub-nosed revolver shakes with tiny tremors from the jittery hand aiming at my face.

                I’m gonna die.

                My nose twitches at a greasy sweetness. Familiar. Vanilla and mineral oil. WD-40. Someone used it to clean the gun. More scents: pine, damp moss, skunky sweat, and cat pee.

                THA-THUM-THA-THUM-THA-THUM.

                The jittery hand makes a hacking motion with the gun, as if wielding a machete instead. Each diagonal slice toward the ground gives me hope. Better a random target than me.

                But then terror grips my heart again. The gun. Back at my face.

                Mom. She won’t survive my death. One bullet will kill us both.

                A brave hand reaches for the gun. Fingers outstretched.

Demanding. Give it. Now.

                THA-THUM-THA-

                I am thinking of my mother when the blast changes everything.”

Angeline Boulley’s debut novel Firekeeper’s Daughter shares the story of Daunis Fontaine, the daughter of a local Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) hockey hero and a rich girl from the right side of the river. Daunis has had difficulty her entire life fitting in and feeling accepted by both communities she ferries between.  As I settled into this novel, I was convinced I was reading a coming-of-age story about how Daunis will find her place within her two families and succeed in her desire to become a doctor. I could not have been more wrong! While Daunis does endeavor to discover who she is, this book becomes so much more…a murder mystery entangled in organized crime, a love story, and at the same time, a beautiful reflection of indigenous teachings.

Boulley crafts her text with carefully layered hints that have the reader speculating who is behind the murders and distribution of crystal meth at the centre of the community’s heartache. She develops characters that are strong, loyal, and mysterious.  Daunis finds herself embroiled in the mystery and using both her traditional indigenous teachings and her uncle’s scientific method to find the killers.  Will she succeed?

Due to mature language and themes this book is matched best to older readers. I highly recommend Firekeeper’s Daughter for grade 11 or 12 classroom libraries.

To learn more about Angeline Boulley and Firekeeper’s Daughter click here.