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.

Guest Writer Noella Jeong Recommends Love, Hate, & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Aug
08

As suggested by the title, this book has it all! Samira Ahmed’s debut novel is realistic fiction which will resonate with many students in your classroom. I have nothing but praise for Love, Hate, & Other Filters, and I feel that it is not only an enjoyable read but also a valuable resource to use with regard to the character development that we aim to foster in our multicultural classrooms.

Maya Aziz is an American-born Indian girl who is learning to maneuver her parents, relationships, life, and (most importantly) her own identity. While Maya’s parents are already sure that her future consists of studying medicine at their hometown college, as well as marrying the proper Muslim boy they’ve chosen for her, Maya has other dreams. She’s passionate about the arts, especially film-making, and what better place to pursue that career than New York City. As for her love life, well there is that someone special…

But when Maya’s town is suddenly rocked by terrorist actions elsewhere, she begins to question everything from society, to loyalty, to the person she truly wants to be. Much of this story is spent in Maya’s thoughts, and this style of writing feels candid and authentic.

As someone for whom multiculturalism is an integral part of family life, I have always had empathy for the many students from various backgrounds in my classes. However, it wasn’t until I read Love, Hate, & Other Filters that I began to truly understand the perspective that my own children and so many students must experience as part of their daily lives. I am so happy that in this novel I was able to find both a mirror and a window!

I am a grade 9 teacher, mother of 4, and an avid reader. I love to explore young adult fiction as a way to connect with my students and to also help guide them in their choices!

Guest Writer Devin McLaughlin Recommends Warcross by Marie Lu

Aug
01

Every locked door has a key. These words have stayed with Emika Chen since the moment her father said them. Ever since his death, she has been dealing with debt and struggling to make ends meet. The story begins with Emika, bounty hunter and hacker, mere days before eviction, hunting down petty criminals in the hopes of scoring some extra cash.

When she is not hunting criminals, Emika, along with the rest of the world, spends her time escaping reality and living in Warcross – a virtual world created by 21-year-old tech mogul, Hideo Tanaka. On the opening night of the annual Warcross Tournament, Emika decides to hack into the game and attempt to steal a power-up in an effort to one day sell it for real cash.  This starts her on an exciting adventure, beyond her wildest dreams.

In the notes about the author, it mentions that Marie Lu was previously an artist in the video game industry and this comes across in every paragraph of Warcross. Her ability to paint a colourful dystopian future is matched by few other authors and the opportunities to apply this to lessons on descriptive writing are endless. Despite many claiming this is Ready Player One meets The Hunger Games, Marie Lu has managed to create something both unique and like Warcross itself, addictive.

I am already using this book as a read-aloud to grade 7’s and 8’s and they are begging for me to keep reading every single day. Whether you are a fan of action/adventure, video games, or incredible world-building, there is something in Warcross for just about everyone. Many students in middle and high school will be pleased to have this on the class bookshelf or used as a read-aloud but, of course, you know your students best.

My name is Devin McLaughlin and I am a middle school Language Arts teacher at Harold Peterson Middle School in Oromocto, NB. I love reading and my favourite aspect of teaching is introducing students to new and exciting books and seeing their reactions as they make their way through them.

 

Guest Writer Gabi Sant’Anna Recommends A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck

Jul
24

Told from the perspective of Matt Wainwright, an endearing 15-year-old basketball fanatic, this novel is both lighthearted and heartbreaking. Through a series of funny, relatable stories, Matt recounts the shift in his relationship with his next-door neighbour Tabby, from childhood best friend to a hopeful love interest.

He tells stories of playing with Tabby as young kids, sorting their Halloween candy into specific categories, riding the school bus together since elementary school, starting high school, and many other moments that made him realize he had fallen in love with her. For Matt, no memory is more devastating than the one when he saw a black car parked in front of Tabby’s house belonging to the school’s “it” guy, telling him someone else had figured out how amazing she was, too.

For a large part of the book, Matt’s narration captivates the reader and has them rooting for him to reveal his true feelings and hoping for the couple to live happily ever after. But that’s not always how life works. Just when you think you know what will happen, a shocking tragedy strikes that leaves Matt on a downward spiral, and the reader in a fit of rage.

This novel is a beautiful depiction of a likeable character doing his best to deal with the hardships life throws at him. There is no correct way to grieve but Matt’s journey is a great example for students to reflect upon, and potentially relate to. I believe anyone who picks up this book will be able to take something from it.

Guest Bio:

My name is Gabi Sant’Anna and I’m a first year English teacher at McAdam High School. I’ve always considered myself a reader but teaching English this year has taken my love of reading to the next level! My students know I’m always up for talking about a good book. 

Guest Writer Melissa Wilson-Smith Recommends Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Jul
17

Do you find yourself trying to find a book that could speak to all of your students in a general way, yet want something that speaks to each student, individually?  If so, Ghost by Jason Reynolds may be a great option for you.  Reynolds has a way of speaking to his audience that is strategically aimed at every individual’s personal struggle.  Ghost is the first book in the Track series and is a National Book Award Finalist.

Ghost is about Castle Cranshaw, a teenage African American boy who has witnessed and survived some of life’s worst situations.   Castle is the underdog, the kid that should amount to nothing.   He is a sunflower seed loving, Guinness World book obsessed boy that proves that it takes a village to raise a child.  His mother is trying her best as a single, working mother, his father is in jail for an unthinkable act, and Castle, finally, finds himself in the right place at the right time.

Trying to stay out of altercations and prove himself academically so that he can make the track team, Reynolds allows the reader to feel each decision that Castle has to make as he tries to stand up for himself, his family, and his beliefs all while staying out of trouble.  This novel truly proves that anyone can accomplish anything.

Castle’s story has the ability to speak to so many.  Students that struggle with finding and sticking with a book, who are going through a difficult life circumstance, or enjoy reading a series, Ghost may be the right novel for them.    If you are a 37-year-old mother of three that needs evidence that it takes a village to raise a child, Ghost may also be right for you.  I would encourage you to add this YA novel to your classroom library, use it as a read aloud, and ensure that it finds its way into as many hands as possible.

Melissa Wilson-Smith is a guest blogger for Margin Notes and teaches grade 8 Language Arts at Bliss Carman Middle School, in Fredericton, NB.   She is married to her high school sweetheart and is the mother of three children, Lochlan (8), Anderson (6), and Airdrie (3).   She tries to balance her school life with her home life, while on the crazy roller coaster of being a mother to an autistic child.  

Book Relay Celebration

Jun
07

Yesterday we met with a wonderful group of middle-level reading enthusiasts to wrap up our year-long book relay.  Teachers first met in their relay teams to discuss the titles they had read throughout the year. A few minutes later, we asked teachers to vote on what title impacted them the most as readers. We gave each person six sticky dots to vote on their favourite title ( 3 for 1st place, 2 for 2nd and 1 for 3rd).  Here are the winners:

1st place was Refugee by Alan Gratz

Refugee is a story of three children displaced from their homes (Nazi Germany 1939, Cuba 1994, and Syria 2015) told simultaneously with one of the most beautiful endings we have ever read.

  • Although this book was the one that teachers chose to have impacted them the most as readers, many agreed that it took them time to warm up to the characters because of the layout of the book.  It cycles through each character telling a bit of their story for a few pages then moves onto the next which can cause some confusion and it takes a bit longer to get lost in the narrative as it changes characters and time periods quickly.  One teacher shared that when book talking this title to her students, she made a comparison to a title they had previously enjoyed as a read-aloud involving alternating chapters told by two characters and that Refugee just added a third.  We chatted about strategies to share with students involving novels with multiple characters such as checking back in with the character description on the jacket cover, writing down notes, etc.
  • Another aspect that we loved was that this novel builds empathy because people are still living in these horrible situations right now around the world, facing discrimination and hate.  Teachers agreed this would also be a great book to use in a Social Studies class.  One thing that also struck us was the high level of engagement we noticed when our students were reading it.  One teacher shared that when she was done reading it, she had five students who read it after her.  They loved it so much that when she went to chat with one of them about it, she was “shushed” because a nearby student still reading it hadn’t got to that part yet.  As writers, we all agreed that the craft displayed by the author with the ending was spectacular.

2nd place was The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish

A poignant middle-grade novel of friendship and forgiveness; love and loss; wonder and adventure; and ultimately, of hope.

  • What really stood out in the discussion about this book was the love of the characters.  And not just the main character-all of them!  One teacher is using it as a read aloud to end the year with and the students are loving it.  All the teachers agreed that once they started reading it, they could not put it down until it was finished!  A big motivation to keep reading this book was that you don’t know the secret the main character is keeping inside until towards the end.

 

 

 

 

 

3rd place was Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

A realistic story about a girl named Finley who is wandering through the swampy mess of family, depression, and divorce countered with a parallel fantasy story.

  • A lot of teachers shared how they weren’t initially embracing the fantasy sections of the book until about a third of the way through when they realized these interwoven stories gave great insight to what the main character, Finley, was feeling.  We talked about Finley’s determination to keep her depression and anxiety hidden because she couldn’t name what she had and how this novel takes topics that can be scary to middle school kids like mental illness and cancer and makes them safe to talk about.  It really showed the power of writing and family to heal.

 

 

 

Although these were the three winners, we all agreed that every title was one they wanted in their classroom library.  Teachers really appreciated having the opportunity to fill their own book gaps through the relay and are looking forward to next year!

For Every One: A poem. A nod. A Nothing to Lose. by Jason Reynolds

Apr
30

Jason Reynolds has written the anthem for all dreamers. But although he is a dreamer, he doesn’t claim to know how to make them happen. In fact, he starts out stating just that. Reynolds thought he would have made it by 16. At 18 he thought he would have made it by 25. And now he says he is making it up as he goes.

What he does know is how it feels to be a dreamer. He knows the battle of two voices, the one telling you to give up and the one that demands you keep going. He knows the fear, the doubt, the struggle.

Written for “the courageous” Reynolds explains dreams come in all forms, can be realized at any age, and “…don’t have timelines, deadlines, and aren’t always in straight lines. But the dream? The dream is what makes the dreamer special.”

The title of this book is For Everyone, and it indeed is for anyone. Anyone who has had a dream. Anyone who has doubted it. And definitely for every kid. This is why this book is a must for the classroom library or a class read aloud. I can’t imagine a better way to inspire both the dreamers in our classrooms and those who don’t even know dreams are possible than to put this book in their hands.

House Arrest by K.A. Holt

Feb
06

In this wonderful novel, we meet Timothy, a young man who is currently on one year house arrest for stealing a credit card.  Part of his probation requirements is that he has to write in a journal (which is the book) to show his remorse to the courts.   Timothy begrudgingly writes and starts to open up and tell his story causing the reader to quickly realize there is more to him than being a young offender.  As his story unfolds, we discover he stole the card to pay for his baby brother’s medication.  House Arrest takes the reader on an emotional journey as we experience what it is like for the working poor to try to survive and we are reminded how important it is to care and trust one another.

Timothy experiences what many of our students live out daily-having adult responsibilities and worries while they are still a child.  As teachers, it is important for us to remember that there are kids like Timothy sitting right in front of us.  Students will find his story fascinating (more…)