Margin Notes



Ernesto Cisneros’ debut novel, Efren Divided, is a must have for all middle level classroom libraries.  This powerful and moving, but often humorous story of undocumented immigrants in California sheds important light on the hardships faced by individuals striving to provide a better life for their children. Through the eyes of Efren Nava, the oldest son, Cisneros paints a vivid picture of Efren’s life in middle school with his best friend, David, and in the poor working-class neighborhood.

As the oldest son of the Navas, undocumented Mexican immigrants, Efren accepts and understands why his parents need to work as hard as they do to provide for himself and his twin siblings, Max, and Mia. He knows they do not have the resources to provide a great deal, but he is never hungry, and his mother’s love and affection is never in question.

It is against this backdrop that Efren must find the strength and resiliency to grow up much faster than either his Ama (mother) or Apa (father) wanted and when Ama fails to return home one day, the family eventually learns that she has been deported. This news sets in motion a chain of events that requires Efren to put family first, school second and embark on a dangerous journey in the hopes of reuniting his family.

Efren Divided is a heartbreakingly realistic depiction of life for many immigrant families.  I shed many tears as Efren shared his story and hope that Cisneros will soon provide the next chapter in Efren’s life.







Picture books provide for teachers the perfect tool to build students’ vocabulary, understanding of story structure, and character traits, but beyond that they also provide teachers the perfect platform to introduce areas of study far beyond that of developing literacy skills.  Discussion of complex ideas like cause and effect, self-esteem, bullying, or mathematical concepts can all be initiated through the use of picture books at any age. You are never too old for picture books, and given how busy teachers are, why not consider combining multiple purposes through a read aloud?

The following texts are new releases that teachers of all grade levels will enjoy having as part of their classroom library.

Because by Mo Willems and illustrated by Amber Ren provides a joyful journey through a series of seemingly unrelated and insignificant events that bring a young girl face to face with a life changing moment.




I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James uses easy to read text to highlight the strength, courage, and worth of a child. Strength can be found in a painful fall, courage in making an effort, no matter how small, and it all contributes to recognizing our own unique worth.





A Computer Called Katherine by Suzanne Slade and illustrated Veronica Miller Jamison celebrates the life and perseverance of Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician featured in the movie Hidden Figures. Katherine exhibits strength and the unwavering recognition that how she and other women are and have been treated is wrong… as wrong as 5+5=12 or 10-5=3.




I Didn’t Stand Up by Lucy Falcone and illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon is another example of a seemingly simple text that will facilitate thoughtful discussion about bullying. The illustrations like the text provides powerful context for the topic.

How Do I Build it?


“Children and adolescents need meaningful and consistent access to books at school and home.  When they have access to books, they read more and they read better. Period. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s true.”

Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp, Game Changer 2018


As a classroom teacher you know the importance of having a well-stocked inclusive library.  You also know that building or curating that library is easier said than done. During my conversations with teachers and when having the opportunity to share my enthusiasm for every classroom to have that accessible and inclusive library I am often presented with the question, “What do I buy?” What do you recommend”?  Like you and these teachers, I do not have unlimited access to books, nor do I know all the soon to be released titles or student favorites.  When all of us are living the same reality of limited funds, we want to make wise choices when we select books.

One quick and extremely easy way to find out about new books and books children love, is to follow grade 5 teacher @ColbySharp on Twitter or to check out his videos on YouTube. His posts include favorites of his own and or his students. His videos offer genuine feedback and share why the book should be put into the hands of students.  Beyond providing insight on what titles to gather for your classroom, he also provides an excellent model of how to “book talk” books for your students to generate excitement, buzz and that, “next to be read” list.

To further learn about the power of books and book access for students consider reading Game Changer by Donalyn Miller & Colby Sharp.  Much of what Colby Sharp models in his videos is explained in much greater detail in this book.

Happy reading and viewing.

Welcome to Margin Notes 2020-21!


Welcome to another year of Margin Notes! We are very excited to introduce our newest members of the team Tracy Davis, Colleen Dyer-Wiley, Signe Williams, and Sonja Wright.  

When we created Margin Notes in 2018, our target audience was teachers of Grades 6 to 12. This year, thanks to the expertise of the new members of our blogging team, we’re going to expand our content with a K-12 focus. 

We look forward to connecting, learning, and growing with you this year!