Margin Notes



What I was reading:

Hidden Truths by Elly Swartz is a novel told in the perspectives of two middle school students about friendship, trauma, and the lengths at which we will go to fit in. Read more about this book and why it is great for middle school classrooms here.

The text:

Hidden Truths opened with a hook that had me considering the power that the first few words can carry for the experience of the reader. It read:

“I didn’t know today would matter.

I didn’t know it would change everything.

I thought what mattered had already happened.

I was wrong.”

Moves I noticed the author making:

  1. Short fragmented sentences. Similar to poetry, or a novel in verse, these fragmented sentences are done with purpose to pack a punch after each thought.
  2. The repetition of “I didn’t know” at the start of the lines creates a sort of flow and reinforces the inner struggle of the main character.
  3. The structure. Having the “I didn’t know… I didn’t know… I thought… I was…” structure at the start of each of these sentences gives us a sense of conflict right from the start. It gives us the sense that the character is dealing with something that has deeply impacted them and hooks the reader to want to know more.

Possibilities for writers:

  • Try writing their own hooks using the “I didn’t know… I didn’t know… I thought… I was…” structure.
  • Try using fragmented sentences to create a sense of inner conflict.
  • Write about a situation that they were wrong, trying to use repetition to reinforce struggle.
  • Look through their own independent reading to try to identify and recreate craft moves in hooks.



Hidden Truths by Elly Swartz asks a big question, how far would you go to keep a promise? It tells the story of Dani and Eric who are best friends who go through something traumatic together. As Dani tries to heal, Eric is trying to come to terms with the fact that he may have been the one to cause the accident that hurt Dani. Neither of them knows how to handle their feelings, so they keep everything bottled up and focus more on who they think they should appear to be to everyone else. This drives the friends apart and sets into motion a series of events that will have you hoping these two can forgive one another and find their way back to their friendship and themselves.

Hidden Truths was such a heart wrenching middle grade novel and really had me considering the lengths we go to at all ages to be accepted and to fit in. The author does a really great job of appealing to a younger audience with pressures they would face in trying to fit in with a group of people, and leaves readers with a glaring message of hope that our differences shouldn’t separate us, instead they should bring us together.

The whole time I was reading, all I could think of was how great of a class read aloud this would be in a middle grade classroom. It was fast paced and had some dramatic moments that would engage readers. It also had a lot of points where you could stop and consider the motivations of the characters, the connections to we could make to ourselves and the choices we have made, and how the alternating perspectives of Dani & Eric really impact our understanding of the story and these young characters. There is something about a middle grade novel that can not only help us grow and reflect on our own choices, but also create empathy for the characters and their experiences and this one definitely delivers. It felt like it was appealing to every part of me that had ever struggled and gone to any certain length to try and fit in and is perfect for adults and children alike. Hidden Truths should have a place on all middle school classroom library shelves!



*Taken from article: 24 New Words Invented by Teenagers – The New York Times

As I was poking around on the New York Times, I came across the article 24 New Words Invented by Teenagers. Naturally, it had me considering our own vocabularies and how sometimes we can spend so long in our classrooms helping students search and search to find the right descriptive word for their writing.

While I read the article, I remembered a craft move I had seen Rudy Francisco make in his book of poetry called I’ll Fly Away, where he comes up with his own word and defines it for the things where he feels like the English language fails to describe it properly.

These two things got me thinking about how great of an activity this could be to get students warmed up to using descriptive language and exploring the best ways to describe things in their own writing, while also playing with the language and considering their own vocabularies.

How could this be used in the classroom?

  • Use the words on the NYT article as mentor texts 24 New Words Invented by Teenagers – The New York Times (
  • Have conversations about situations/feelings that need a new describing word.
  • Think about recent examples of Neologisms (made up words) that they may know that have started to gain popularity and understanding as part of our daily language: “cheugy”, “doomscroll”, “staycation”, “funcle”, “rizz”
  • Use this in a morphology lesson to talk about the way the created words have meaning from their parts, just like other words.
  • Ask your class to invent their own describing words and write a definition for them.
  • Have them try to use their new words in sentences.

This could be such a fun activity to incorporate into a writing lesson. If you give this a try, we would love to hear of any words that your students come up with and their definitions!



In October of 1944, Claire’s family needs help with the apple harvest. Claire’s brother, Danny, is overseas fighting in World War II and there are no other workers available. Claire’s dad decides to hire German prisoners of war to help with the harvest. One of the POWs is Karl, who is starting to question everything he has been taught by the Hilter regime. Told in dual-perspective and written in verse, Claire and Karl slowly break down barriers and start to enjoy each other’s company, but can a friendship truly grow between people on opposite sides of a war?

Karl’s perspective as a young German soldier just out of Hitler’s Youth, is very unique and is one that is not often told in middle-grade or young-adult novels. He is confronting the many lies he has long believed, including that Germany completely demolished many of America’s thriving cities, and what that means for the many other lies they’ve been fed. Karl provides a window into life under Hitler’s regime and the rollercoaster of emotions that came from the indoctrination, manipulation, and corruption of German youth. Meanwhile, Claire grapples with what it means to stay on the home front and make sacrifices, during a time when being a young girl can be extremely isolating thanks to the unspoken horrors of war.

Based on true events, readers will learn about some little-known history. Prior to reading this story, I did not know that enemy soldiers were housed in midwestern camps and put to work where American young men were absent because of WWII. The author does an incredible job of writing these characters in a way that makes you not only understand them but start to empathize with their respective situations.

The whole time I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but think about the read aloud opportunities it offers and the amazing discussions it could generate. It opens with two beautiful “Where I’m From” poems that could act as mentor texts for that form of poetry, and it ends with a huge plot-twist that would certainly have students considering the impact of that particular ending. This book is ideal for 5th/6th graders and up, though it can be enjoyed by adult readers alike, and anyone who may have an interest in the WWII time period.

Enemies in the Orchard is a wonderful story of loss, hope, and redemption. There is an incredible amount of craft and thoughtfulness on every page. The author’s note adds even more achingly beautiful context to this story and has readers consider the “real humans ravaged by war” (p.275) and the ways in which we determine who are the enemies and who are the allies. This one deserves a spot in your classroom libraries!



Iris Winnow’s brother is missing. Unable to reach him after he leaves to fight in the war of the Gods, she is left to care for her struggling mother and attempt to keep their lives afloat with her low-paying journalist position. Iris knows that if she can get the columnist position at work, things will start to turn around for her family. The one person standing in her way is Roman Kitt, a rival journalist vying for the same columnist position in the paper. With pressures building for Iris at home and at work, she finds solace in a mysterious pen pal connected by magic through her heirloom typewriter. Their connection grows, writing out letters each night and slipping them through their wardrobes. Until a heartbreaking event alters Iris’ trajectory to the front lines and thrusts her into the chaos, danger, and horror of war.

Divine Rivals is a YA book that has it all! Including elements of fantasy, romance, magic, war, rivals, and gods, this is a book that would be a great entry point to different genres for readers who might be stuck in their own preferences. With the blurring lines of genre, Rebecca Ross has weaved a story so wonderful that you can’t help getting sucked into the world and rooting for the main characters. Iris is a strong female character that has her own insecurities and struggles, forced to mature because of her circumstances and is perfectly balanced by Roman, whose tough exterior shields his own fears and anxieties. They’re surrounded by a world where the gods have pulled humans into the crosshairs. By writing through both of their perspectives, the author fosters this connection we have made to both characters, to their lives as journalists, and to the realities of war they are living in. With a heart-pounding cliffhanger in the final moments, this book will surely have readers wanting to discuss and share all their thoughts, long after the book has ended.

I would recommend this book to high school students who want to try out new genres and don’t know where to start. This would also be a great novel to introduce in genre studies as it might generate some interesting discussions about the must have elements of each genre and some of the ways in which they can crossover. Whether it’s about genre, cliffhangers, or predictions for what is to come, this book is sure to start some great conversations for readers!