Margin Notes

Guest Writer Heidi Muise Recommends Far From The Tree by Robin Benway

Sep
04

Far From The Tree is realistic fiction that tells a touching story of three adopted siblings who eventually meet and learn the true meaning of family. This beautifully written story grabs the reader right away in the first chapter when you are introduced to Grace, an only child in her adoptive family. Pregnant at sixteen, giving up her “Peach” for adoption, the reader is drawn to her struggles of finding the perfect family for her baby, and her decision to search for her own biological mother. Thus, she discovers that she has two biological siblings, Maya and Joaquin. As the chapters switch from sibling to sibling, we see how each of the teenagers have lived very different lives.

Maya, the youngest and most vocal sister, struggles living with an upper-class family of redheads while she is the only brunette. Her sarcasm and humour draws the reader into her story. Her adoptive family starts to fall apart and she apprehensively begins to build a new relationship with her new found siblings. The stress of her relationships is also played out in the story with her girlfriend, Claire and her adoptive sister, Lauren.

Joaquin, the oldest brother, was not as fortunate as his siblings and spent most of his life raised in foster care. His unshakable fears from spending 17 years in foster care system show how he struggles to build relationships. When asked by his sisters to help search for his birth mother, he has no desire to find her. Gradually, he begins to trust his new siblings and together they start their quest to find for their birth mother.

This tear-jerking YA novel is a National Book Award winner and it does not disappoint. The multi-layered characters express how dysfunctional families can be, yet shows the importance of family at the same time. It is written in third person narrative and touches on teen pregnancy, adoption, foster care, alcoholism, and family. It is an emotional read and I would highly recommend this to my grade 8 students!

Bio for Heidi Muise:

I am a grade 8 Language Arts teacher at Ridgeview Middle School. Passionate about reading,  I love doing read alouds with my students and conferring about their reading.  In my spare time, I can be found at a sports’ field or arena cheering on my three daughters, Adrianna, Olivia, and Carly.

Guest Writer Ryan Price Recommends Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Aug
28

Winter, 1945, Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe. Readers follow the stories of four refugees from four different homelands, harbouring four separate secrets that have torn their lives apart akin to the physical destruction of Europe caused by World War II. Joanna, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred attempt to flee Eastern Europe in search of safety, family, revenge, closure and escape from their past.

Ruta Sepetys’, Salt to the Sea will certainly appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, specifically World War II history, but also any reader who enjoys texts driven by complex characters. The format of Salt to the Sea, with short, cliffhanging chapters rotating between the perspectives of the four main characters, makes it very easy for the reader to become engaged in the characters and their stories. It’s a novel that leaves you wanting to continue reading to find out what happens next.

Joanna, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred’s secrets, much like their safety, are made vulnerable by the events of war unfolding around them. They also place each character on a destined path that inevitably brings them together aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that is meant to transport the four ‘heroes’ and their friends to safety. As their rescue mission reaches its climax, their secrets are revealed causing an emotional impact that mirrors the physical impact of the war taking place around them.

Salt to the Sea would appeal to middle and high school students. As a work of historical fiction, it would be very easy for students to make cross-curricular connections with social studies courses. It tackles many themes that are prevalent in texts set during war, including but not limited to fate, survival, family, guilt, loss, and redemption. I highly recommend this novel!

Bio for Ryan Price:

I am a High School Literacy and Assessment Coordinator in Anglophone School District-South. While a large chunk of my time dedicated to reading is immersed in professional research, I feel it is extremely important to frequently return to what made me fall in love with reading in the first place, engaging stories with complex and dynamic characters.

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

Jun
04

Sasha, who identifies as agender, and Richard, a boy with a record, are two teenagers who both live in Oakland, California but the lives they are living couldn’t be more different. Yet, each afternoon, their paths cross for 8 minutes on The 57 Bus. On one of these afternoons, Richard, on impulse and egged on by peers, puts a lighter to Sasha’s skirt. Sasha is left severely burned and Richard is left charged with two hate crimes and the possibility of life-imprisonment.

But there is so much more to the story than just these details.

In four parts (Sasha, Richard, The Fire, and Justice), journalist and author Dashka Slater reveals how the truth is much more complicated than what can be learned through media headlines. Her use of fragments from witnesses, first responders, counsellors, friends, and even excerpts of text messages work together to show just how complicated that truth can be if you care enough to look at the actual people involved.

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Increasing the Volume of Reading in the ELA Classroom PL

Apr
27

Recently, we met with an inspiring group of high school teachers to learn together about ways to increase the volume of reading in ELA classrooms.  We started the day in one of our favourite ways with a read aloud from a picture book and a quick write.  To make our learning visible, we then responded to the Compass Points questions and discussed/read some current research regarding the importance of reading in the high school classroom.

Next, we delved into some professional reading on increasing the volume of reading and reflected on our own reading identities and practices.  We explored the resource, “Teaching Reading With YA Literature” by Jennifer Buehler and pushed our thinking around three main ideas: Classrooms That Cultivate A Reading Community, Teachers As Expert Match Makers and, Reading Tasks That Foster Complexity, Agency and Autonomy. Following that, we looked deeper into conferring with individuals and groups through discussions and watching videos.  We also looked into the classroom conditions that were necessary to support reading and talking about reading with students.  We ended with reading like a writer by co-constructing criteria after delving into real-world mentor texts then coming back to our compass points activity to show the learning that had occurred throughout the day.  We celebrated our learning by giving each teacher a stack of brand new novels to share with their students and to add to their classroom libraries.

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Speak-The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll

Apr
05

It’s been at least a decade since I first read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson but the story is one so brilliantly crafted that it has never left me. In every school I have visited this year, I see students reading Speak, transfixed by it, and I know they are rooting for the main character Melinda, just as I did.

Melinda, returning to school in September is the social outcast. She is sometimes ignored and sometimes mocked, and even her best friend rejects her. This wasn’t always Melinda’s life, and it is the aftermath of what happened at a summer party where she was sexually assaulted (this is the part nobody knows) and called 911. All that is known is that the party was busted by police, people were arrested, and the newest rule at Merryweather is that being friends with Melinda is a social death sentence. Alongside the main theme of finding your voice, topics such as the hypocrisy of high schools, self-absorbed parents, and loneliness are also explored.

As with other novels by Laurie Halse Anderson, the internal narration in Speak is one of the most (more…)

Picture Books in Grades 6-12

Feb
06

Although we often think of picture books for younger readers, there are unlimited opportunities to incorporate them into Grades 6-12 classrooms also.  Because they are short, they 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.

It can take time and money to develop an extensive library of picture books, so my advice is to start with one or two titles that you can use in several ways.  Here are four of my recent favorites and some suggestions for using them in your classroom:

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles written by Michelle Cuevas and illustrated by Erin E. Stead

  • Practice describing the author’s style and selecting evidence or examples from the text.
  • Practice describing the illustrator’s style and selecting evidence or examples from the text.
  • Focus on figurative language by inviting students to choose their favorite example, respond to it in their writer’s notebook, and then use it as a model for their own writing.

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