Margin Notes



What I Was Reading:

The Book of (More) Delights by Ross Gay is based on the same premise as his previous collection, The Book of Delights: a year’s worth of brief essays, beginning and ending on his birthday, that celebrate the delights he encounters in his daily life. Gay explains that for the second collection he “kept to the same constraints—write them daily, write them quickly, and write them by hand—though truth be told, I was a little looser with those this time around, for one of the delights of a constraint, or a rule, is breaking it.”

Also like the previous collection, these essayettes as Gay calls them, are filled with inspiration for developing our own personal practice of delight by tuning into and documenting the small and large things that bring us joy.

Gay’s prose often reads like his poetry—alive with rhythm and energy. His sentences are complex, filled with strong imagery and emotion, and uniquely punctuated. This sentence is just one of a hundred I marked while reading:

As is my mother’s way sometimes, she offered this dime of wisdom as we were driving home from a sweet Christmas at my brother’s, almost in passing, dipping into a serious or serious-ish conversation, grave maybe is the better word, as is common for us, when she said—describing her grandchildren, now sixteen and fourteen years old, who will forevermore call her Munga, which is precisely how the oldest couldn’t say Grandma, both of whom still sometimes like to sleep over, or come over for a meal, and for whom she always bakes a this or a that (that requires some clarification: the best pound cake, eighteen kinds of cookies, etc.), and goes to games major and minor, traveling often quite far to sit on the hard stands despite the arthritis creeping into her lower spine, and worries on their behalf, for she changed their diapers and bathed them and when their parents were off early to work she was the one who got them off to school, which included, after waking them up very gently, soothingly as a loon singing their diminutive names, I kid you not, making for them whatever breakfast they wanted, I think they called it putting in our orders, usually eggs and bacon for the one, and chocolate chip pancakes for the other, and who still not infrequently takes them to doctor’s appointments and always makes the award ceremonies and the concerts, and if ever their folks are caught up she’s the one takes over—They saved my life.

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • There is a lot going on in this sentence punctuation-wise!
  • One of the unique elements of Gay’s style that I really appreciate is the way he interrupts himself in his writing. In this sentence, Gay pauses his original thought to add background details about his mother and sets them apart with a pair of dashes. It feels as though we are in conversation and he has veered off mid-thought to give me the important backstory.
  • When I read this extra-long single sentence with its variety of punctuation and combination of phrases, I could feel the energy behind the pacing. I felt myself inhale with the first dash and exhale when I reached the second one.
  • At first glance, this appears to be a giant run-on sentence, but it is really an exemplar for comma use and transition words.
  • This sentence would be perfect for a fluency mini-lesson that invites students to describe how the punctuation guides their reading expression.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Notice and name other interesting craft moves in this passage.
  • Explore the types of punctuation and their unique purposes in the sentence.
  • Identify the transition words and explain how they connect parts of the sentence to the whole.
  • Reflect on how the punctuation impacts the way you read it. Watch for interesting pacing strategies in other texts you read.
  • Use Gay’s technique of interrupting a shorter sentence by adding details such as anecdotes or examples.
  • Revise a draft in your writer’s notebook by incorporating some of the craft moves you notice in this excerpt.





Kat Fields and Marisol “Mari” Castillo are headed to Estrella Roja, a tiny town in rural Texas, but for different reasons. After receiving an anonymous tip about the strange things that happen there, Kat loads up her car for a solo trip to the town to investigate it for her podcast, “Paranormal Texas.” Upon arrival, she finds the people of Estrella Roja distant and cold, except for a girl she runs into at the local diner. Mari is on her way to Estrella Roja, a place she hasn’t been since her mother packed up and left with Mari and her sister nine years ago, for her abuela’s funeral. Plagued by nightmares and bored out of her mind, Mari seeks a distraction through Kat, a girl determined to discover whatever secrets Estrella Roja holds. The two girls team up, and as the town’s mysterious past comes to light, it’s not just feelings swarming up around them.

The Hills of Estrella Roja is a story about self-discovery and learning to love yourself, even when you think you’re a monster. With its beautiful illustrations, heartfelt moments and the highs and lows of teenage love, this graphic novel is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a visual experience while reading. It’s also a wonderful choice for students looking for books that contain LGBTQIA2S+ representation. Before recommending this book, it’s good to mention that there are spooky elements that may frighten students.



What I was reading:

“Good Different” by Meg Eden Kuyatt is a captivating and heartwarming novel that delves into the lives of middle school students navigating the challenges of identity, acceptance, and friendship. To read more about this novel in verse, check out the book recommendation here.



For Mrs. V’s Homework Assignment On Why I Like Pebblecreek Academy

By Selah Godfrey

Why do I like Pebblecreek?
It’s a silly question. Of course
I like Pebblecreek. I just do.

I like the sound of the whole class reciting
the same jingle, or singing the same song, together.

I like the way my best friend Noelle wiggles her eyebrows
in the goofy Noelle way and makes me laugh
when we’re in class or on cleanup duty.

I like that the stairwells always smell like Pebblecreek stairwells
and the classrooms always smell like Pebblecreek classrooms.

I like that I’ve been in the same school building
every year of school and know where all the rooms are.

At Pebblecreek, there’s a way for doing everything:
raise your hand to speak in class
electronics off and put away
no makeup
lunches and jackets on the shelf
in your assigned spot
just outside the classroom.

Even though lots of kids complain
about all our rules, I like
that I don’t have to think about
what to wear
and know what I’m
supposed to do.

Everyone at Pebblecreek is part of the Pebblecreek family,
and it really feels like that,
like all the teachers are my aunts and uncles who always tell us at the end of each day,
“You are loved and worthy
and can do great things.”

At Pebblecreek, all the kids invite each other
to each other’s parties.
Even if we aren’t all close
They’re always there,
Because we’re stuck with each other
In the same classes each grade,
so we kind of have to get along.

I like that everyone knows me
As the Girl Who’s Good at Drawing
and people always say nice things about my drawings
and ask me to draw them.

I like that there’s a place for me at Pebblecreek.
Pebblecreek might not be perfect
but it’s familiar
and I never want to change it,
like a pair of favorite shoes
that even if they’re falling apart
you tape up and try to fix
because they’re special and important
and yours.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  1. Descriptive Language: The author uses sensory details to describe the environment and atmosphere of Pebblecreek Academy. Descriptions like “the stairwells always smell like Pebblecreek stairwells” and “classrooms always smell like Pebblecreek classrooms” evoke a vivid sense of familiarity and routine. She capitalizes what she is known for as if it is an official title.
  2. Character Development: Selah introduces and describes her best friend, Noelle, showcasing a personal connection and adding depth to the narrative. This helps create a more relatable and engaging story.
  3. Voice and Tone: The tone of the piece is personal and reflective, conveying the author’s feelings and experiences. The voice feels authentic, which allows readers to connect with the narrator’s emotions and perspective.
  4. Repetition and Rhythm: The repetition of phrases like “I like” and the consistent structure throughout the piece create a rhythmic flow, emphasizing the author’s sentiments and reinforcing the central theme of fondness for Pebblecreek Academy.
  5. Symbolism and Metaphor: The analogy of Pebblecreek being compared to a pair of favorite shoes that one wants to keep despite their imperfections is a metaphor that adds depth and emotional resonance to the author’s feelings towards the school.
  6. Themes of Belonging and Community: The text explores themes of belonging and community within the school, emphasizing the sense of belonging and acceptance the narrator feels among her peers and teachers.


Possibilities for Writers:

Writer’s can:

  • Reflect on their own communities and buildings where they feel they belong.
  • Practice crafting vivid and sensory descriptions of places, whether it’s a school, a neighborhood, or any familiar environment. Detailing the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings associated with a place can create a strong sense of atmosphere and nostalgia.
  • Experiment with using metaphors and analogies to describe feelings, experiences, or places. Similar to Selah’s comparison of Pebblecreek to a pair of favorite shoes, writers can use metaphors to evoke emotions and connections.
  • Experiment with the style of narrative. Try using repetition, varied sentence structures, or different points of view to convey emotions and experiences effectively.
  • Write about that they are known for like how Saleh is known as “the Girl Who’s Good at Drawing”.






“Good Different” by Meg Eden Kuyatt is a captivating and heartwarming novel-in-verse that delves into the lives of middle school students navigating the challenges of identity, acceptance, and friendship. The story unfolds through the eyes of Selah, a middle school student who has survived on the rules she has made for being normal. She has spent her life studying the world around her and changing her behaviors to fit into the mold.  Challenges arise and she starts to learn and explore the idea that she could be autistic. Armed with the power of knowledge and the support of some mentors, she sets out to make her own rules and accommodations so the world can adapt for her. As she forms unexpected connections with her classmates as the narrative weaves a poignant tale of self-discovery, empathy, and the power of embracing diversity.

One of the central themes of “Good Different” is the celebration of diversity. Meg Eden Kuyatt skillfully explores the complexities of identity, emphasizing the importance of accepting oneself and others for who they truly are. The novel provides valuable insights into the challenges faced by individuals who may be perceived as “different” and encourages readers to cultivate empathy and understanding. Themes of friendship, resilience, and the strength that comes from embracing one’s unique qualities are interwoven throughout the narrative. Truly, the biggest takeaway was the unwavering idea that different should be celebrated.

Kuyatt’s writing style is both accessible and engaging, making “Good Different” an ideal choice for middle school classrooms. The author seamlessly blends humor and sensitivity, creating a narrative that resonates with young readers. The characters are well-developed and relatable, allowing students to connect with the story on a personal level. The inclusion of diverse perspectives enriches the reading experience, fostering a sense of inclusivity within the classroom.

Don’t forget to read the author’s note for context and personal insights that enhance the overall reading.




When all 2 hours and 2 minutes of The Tortured Poets Department dropped, the reactions of swifties and non-swifties alike dominated online spaces. Since students (and their teachers) are reading and debating the merits of these digital texts, it seems like an excellent opportunity to leverage this current engagement and create a mini craft study.

After I pulled together a small collection of reviews that range from glowing to mixed to negative, I identified a learning target from our ELA curriculum: evaluate an author’s effectiveness using textual support. Then, I selected a paragraph from each of the reviews that demonstrates the use of textual support:

Taylor Swift: The Tortured Poets Department / The Anthology Album Review  (Pitchfork)

It’s not Swift’s fault that we’re so obsessed with her, but this album gives the impression that she can’t quite hear herself over the roar of the crowd. Tearjerkers like “So Long, London” and “loml” fall short when every lyric carries equal weight. There’s no hierarchy of tragic detail; these songs fail to distill an overarching emotional truth, tending to smother rather than sting. It would help if Swift were exploring new musical ideas, but she is largely retreading old territory—unsurprising, perhaps, given that the last three years of her life have been consumed by re-recording her old albums and touring her past selves. The new music is colored in familiar shades of Antonoff (sparse drum programming, twinkly synths) and Dessner (suppler, more strings). Songs sound like other songs—“I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” like Midnights’ “Mastermind”; the intro of “So Long, London” like that of Folklore’s “My Tears Ricochet.” Her melodies feel staid, like they are made to fit the music, rather than the other way around.

Taylor Swift’s ‘Tortured Poets Department’ Is More Puzzling Than Poetic  (Huffington Post)

When it comes to Swift’s music, I often think of a concept introduced by Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers on their podcast Las Culturistas: Taylor Swift vs. Tayla Swiff. In their analysis of “folklore” and “evermore,” they posit that at her best, Swift portrays her genuine self in her music, exuding raw emotion and vulnerability. At other times, she leans too far into Tayla Swiff (the name they have given her public persona), and tries to wink at her listeners that she’s in on the joke of her celebrity, or worse, garner pity for her struggles as one of the most powerful women in the world. Tayla is alive and well on “The Anthology”: She writes of the hyper-attention on her breakups, saying, “Come one, come all / It’s happenin’ again / The empathetic hunger descends” in “How Did It End?” and in “The Prophecy,” she claims, “Don’t want money / Just someone who wants my company”…

Taylor Swift: The Tortured Poets Department review  (AV Club)

Swift is hardly the only artist whose work is in conversation with itself, nor is she the first to return to ideas on multiple albums. But The Tortured Poets Department exists in the inescapable shadow of the incredible volume of music immediately preceding it. It’s easy, on many tracks, to point to an analog, musically or lyrically, from a previous album. “Who’s Afraid Of Little Old Me?” is this album’s “mad woman”; the reference to CPR on “So Long, London” inevitably recalls “You’re Losing Me.” Perhaps this wouldn’t be a detriment if we had time away from these repetitive themes. But Swift has released eight albums in the last four years, and the influence of that hyperproductivity is evident in Tortured Poets. Production-wise, many of Swift’s collaborations with Jack Antonoff sound like Midnights B-sides, or worse, like 1989 Vault Tracks (essentially, C-sides). Songs that are brand new feel done before within this Taylor Swift Experience context.

Taylor Swift’s ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ Review  (Billboard)

Furious rhetorical questions and errors in judgment dot the Tortured Poets Department lyrics, as Swift aims at a target beyond vulnerability, that allows her wide listenership to understand her heart and mind. In a career defined by her songwriting, Swift has never placed so much emphasis on her words — the production, courtesy of Swift and close collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, seems to evaporate at points, the music almost incidental compared to the lyrics. The warm synth-pop of Midnights serves as the closest reference point, but that album was cleanly orchestrated, while The Tortured Poets Department wants to get in the mud with soft-loud dissonance and tracklist sprawl. Really, the album is in conversation with her entire catalog — a country-pop chorus here, a Folklore folk tale there — while still making time to explore the unknown.

Album Review: Taylor Swift’s ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ is written in blood (NPR)

Swift’s musical approach has always been enthusiastic and absorbent. She’s created her own sounds by blending country’s sturdy song structures with R&B’s vibes, rap’s cadences and pop’s glitz; as a personality and a performer, she’s all arms, hugging the world. The sound of Tortured Poets offers that familiar embrace, with pop tracks that sparkle with intelligence, and meditative ones that wrap tons of comforting aura around Swift’s ruminations. Beyond a virtually undetectable Post Malone appearance and a Florence Welch duet that also serves as an homage to Swift’s current exemplar/best friendly rival, Lana Del Rey, the album alternates between co-writes with Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, the producers who have helped Swift find her mature sound, which blends all of her previous approaches without favoring any prevailing trend. There are the rap-like, conversational verses, the reaching choruses, the delicate piano meditations, the swooning synth beats. Antonoff’s songs come closest to her post-1989 chart toppers; Dessner’s fulfill her plans to remain an album artist. Swift has also written two songs on her own, a rarity for her; both come as close to ferocity as she gets. As a sustained listen, Tortured Poets harkens back to high points throughout Swift’s career, creating a comforting environment that both supports and balances the intensity of her storytelling.

Taylor Swift’s New Album, ‘The Tortured Poets Department,’ Could Use an Editor: Review  (NY Times)

Plenty of great artists are driven by feelings of being underestimated, and have had to find new targets for their ire once they become too successful to convincingly claim underdog status. Beyoncé, who has reached a similar moment in her career, has opted to look outward. On her recently released “Cowboy Carter,” she takes aim at the racist traditionalists lingering in the music industry and the idea of genre as a means of confinement or limitation.

Swift’s new project remains fixed on her internal world. The villains of “The Tortured Poets Department” are a few less famous exes and, on the unexpectedly venomous “But Daddy I Love Him,” the “wine moms” and “Sarahs and Hannahs in their Sunday best” who cluck their tongues at our narrator’s dating decisions. (Some might speculate that these are actually shots at her own fans.) “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” is probably the most satisfyingly vicious breakup song Swift has written since “All Too Well,” but it is predicated on a power imbalance that goes unquestioned. Is a clash between the smallest man and the biggest woman in the world a fair fight?

Invite students individually or in small groups to notice and name the various types of textual evidence as well as the range of techniques for incorporating it they find in each of the excerpts. Then ask them to rank each of the reviewer’s use of textual evidence from most to least effective and explain their decision. In other words, they’ll be evaluating the reviewers’ effectiveness using textual support.

You could use these reviews for a number of different mini craft studies, including:

  • Select paragraphs that focus on the same element of TTPD and compare points of view or perspectives.
  • Give students different highlighters to identify analysis, summary, and examples and compare the ratio across excerpts.
  • Compare sections of each text where the writer is persuading the audience. List the techniques and evaluate their effectiveness.

This framework for organizing mini craft studies (curate a collection of texts, identify a learning target or focus, select a paragraph or excerpt from each text, and inviting students to notice, name, and evaluate the effectiveness of the techniques) can be adapted for any collection of responses, reactions, reviews, and hot takes on something your students are reading and talking about (a new product/movie/series/game, the outcome of a sporting event, a current event, etc).

No matter what your mini craft study focuses on, you can extend students’ learning by asking them to find examples of similar craft moves in their reading and by incorporating them into their writing.




“It looked like a doll house. Or, it would have, if anyone ever bothered to clean it up. What was supposed to be bright yellow was closer to grayish cream. The front porch was missing boards, and the roof sagged. Even the grass, when it wasn’t covered in snow, was brown and overgrown with weeds year-round.

Micah loved it. It was beautiful and creepy and looked like it had a story to tell.”

Finch House by Ciera Burch offers a unique take on the customary haunted house tale. Eleven-year-old Michaela (Micah) is fascinated by the old Victorian home known as Finch House. Her curiosity only increases when her Poppop makes her promise that she will never step foot in that house, or even on the street where Finch House is located. No more will he reveal.

Despite her promise and best intentions, Micah finds herself befriending Theo whose family purchased and fixed up Finch house. When invited inside, Micah gives into curiosity and accepts. What she doesn’t realize is that she may never be able to leave.

This book provided the intrigue and mystery that students love in a YA novel while seamlessly folding in a deeper story about family and forgiveness. I pitched it to my class when we returned from break and have several waiting to claim it.

It is appropriate for grades 5-8 and contains enough action to keep students turning the pages. I would recommend this book as a good transition for students who enjoy Goosebumps or Haunted Canada books.

Megan Young Jones is a middle level teacher at Hanwell Park Academy. Finding and recommending books to her students is the best part of her job!



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!



What is a reading word sort?

This “Think From the Middle” reading activity is used for making predictions, setting reading intention and checking for understanding. It involves tactile learning and can be done individually or in groups. Here is the description from their website:


Word sorts for narrative text is a before-, during-, and after-reading strategy in which the teacher creates a collection of important words and phrases from a story on index cards.  This collection is prepared in advance of the lesson.  Working individually or in pairs before reading the text, students arrange the cards in an order that supports the telling of a story and then use the cards to tell the story to the class.  During the reading the teacher stops occasionally, allowing the students to rearrange their cards, as needed. Upon the conclusion of the reading, the students rearrange for the last time in order to give a proper retelling.

How would I use it?

Before asking students to complete this sorting, the teacher would model the steps in a mini-lesson while sharing aloud their thinking. The work of readers happens inside the mind and the think-aloud will allow that process to be visible for students.

This idea can be expanded to have students continue to re-arrange the cards to discuss theme, characters, conflict, text structure etc. The teacher guides the lesson with the words/phrases selected for the cards.

Where can I find a step-by-step guide?

This reading activity comes from the website Think From the Middle and all the directions are written out step-by-step here.

If you love this activity and want to stretch this thinking, check out our post on hexagonal thinking.