Celebrate the Season: Secret Snowflake


By Taylor Garland

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Celebrate that magic of Christmas…

This year, Riley Archer’s seventh grade class is having an anonymous gift exchange called “Secret Snowflake.” Riley is thrilled when she gets to be the Secret Snowflake for the cutest boy in school, Marcus Anderson, who she’s had a crush on for two years. To make things even more exciting, there’s a rumor going around the school that Marcus is Riley’s Secret Snowflake too! Riley puts her heart into making homemade gifts for Marcus to let him know how special he is to her, even though her friends warn her that Marcus might think her homemade gifts are lame. When Riley starts receiving presents that are just as thoughtful as her own, she is sure that Marcus is just the boy she’s always believed him to be. Is Riley’s Secret Snowflake her secret crush…or will she be crushed when she finds out who it is?

©2017 Hachette Book Group. All rights reserved.


“Snow day!”

Those two words were guaranteed to get Riley Archer out of bed, no matter how early it was. Riley’s eyes flew open as she fumbled for her phone on the bedside table, then squinted at the screen. It was only 6:12—her alarm wasn’t supposed to go off for another eighteen minutes—but Riley didn’t mind the earlier-than-usual wake-up. Her little brother, Theo, was hollering about snow first thing in the morning; if there was going to be a snow day, Riley wanted to know about it!

Riley scrambled out of bed in such a rush that she forgot to grab her glasses. She’d been wearing glasses for a month, but she still wasn’t quite used to them. Across the room, Riley yanked open the curtains and saw… nothing out of the ordinary. There was the deserted gray sidewalk, the stubby brown grass, and the empty black streets, which were etched with odd patterns where the salt trucks, in anticipation of a storm, had brined them overnight. It was early enough that the streetlights were still on, casting a weak yellow glow as the sky gradually began to lighten.

“What snow?” Riley mumbled to herself. But it wasn’t like Theo to make up a story. She reached for her glasses and took another look.

Sure enough, in the warm glow of the streetlights, Riley could see it: little flurries drifting down from the leaden sky. She had to grin. Theo took everything so literally. Yes, it was snowing. But barely. Unless those faint flurries suddenly swirled into a blizzard, there was no way school would be canceled today. There wouldn’t even be a late start.

And—to be completely and totally honest—that was okay with Riley. After all, it wasn’t just any ordinary school day. It was the day Riley had been waiting for since September: the kickoff to Secret Snowflake! Ever since Riley had learned about Secret Snowflake on the first day of seventh grade, she’d been looking forward to it. Secret Snowflake was just one of the things that made Mrs. Darlington, Riley’s homeroom and language arts teacher, so awesome. She was really into all kinds of different, creative assignments (Mrs. D. called them “alternative learning opportunities,” whatever that meant). To Riley, the unusual projects were interesting, exciting, and sometimes even fun—and they made her really look forward to school.

Take Secret Snowflake, for example. In a few hours, the students in Mrs. Darlington’s class would pick names and, over the next two weeks, exchange small, secret gifts. Sure, there was some schoolwork involved—they would have to write an in-class essay at the end of the project—but for the most part, Riley already knew that Secret Snowflake was going to be incredibly fun!

Might as well get ready for school, Riley thought. She’d already planned her outfit for today—an ice-blue sweater with her favorite skinny jeans and boots. As a finishing touch, Riley decided to wear her dangling snowflake earrings, too.

By the time Riley got downstairs, Theo was already eating a stack of waffles at the kitchen table. “Did you see?” he asked excitedly. “It’s snowing! I bet school will be canceled!”

Riley paused to ruffle Theo’s blond hair, grinning as he ducked away from her. “Flurries,” she corrected him. “They’re not going to cancel school for a light dusting of snow. But, who knows—we might have an early-release day if it picks up!”

Theo looked disappointed—but only for a moment. “It’s still snow, Riley,” he insisted. “That’s better than nothing! And maybe it will get really heavy this afternoon and we can go sledding later.”

“Sure,” Riley said with a laugh. “Anything’s possible.”

After breakfast, Riley peeked into her backpack to make sure she had everything. Her binder, her books, her lunch money—check, check, and check. Most important, though, Riley had remembered to pack her personalized snowflake, the very first part of the Secret Snowflake assignment. At the start of the week, Mrs. Darlington had given each student a plain snowflake made out of heavy card stock and told them to decorate it to make it a reflection of their personalities. It was more challenging than it sounded, but Riley had really enjoyed the assignment. She had placed her school picture in the center of the snowflake and drew little branches around it. She used each branch to highlight a different interest—music notes because she loved to sing, a chocolate cupcake because she was a certified chocoholic, a photo of her family, and more. Then she’d filled in all the blank spaces with sparkly blue glitter because Riley loved sparkle. By the time she’d finished, Riley was really proud of her snowflake. Not only was it pretty enough that she planned to hang it in her room when she got to take it home, but it really did reflect her personality—and all the things that mattered most to her were represented on the snowflake.

“Bye, Mom! Bye, Dad! Bye, Theo!” Riley called as she wrapped her scarf around her neck. “See you after school!”

Then she paused in the doorway. Was it snowing harder already? “Or maybe before!” Riley added.

By the time Riley got to homeroom, she could tell she wasn’t the only one excited about Secret Snowflake. Some of the kids were trying to act cool, like they didn’t really care, but almost everybody else was chatting excitedly about it. Riley’s best friend, Sophia Perez, practically pounced on her the moment she walked through the door.

“Can you believe? Secret Snowflake? Is finally here?” Sophia asked breathlessly. Her excitement made it sound like she was asking a bunch of rapid-fire questions.

“I know!” Riley exclaimed. “And there are only two more weeks until Christmas break!”

“Come on! Let’s hang up our snowflakes!” Sophia said as she pulled Riley across the room.

Together, the two girls hung their snowflakes on the window. The ledge under the window was crowded with labeled shoe boxes that would hold their Secret Snowflake presents.

“I wonder who will pick our names,” Sophia said. “Tell the truth. Is there anybody you’re hoping for?”

Riley shrugged. “Not really,” she said, trying to sound casual. “I’d be happy with anybody.”

Riley watched her friend to see if Sophia had noticed that Riley was keeping something from her. Because the truth was that Riley was hoping to pick someone in particular, and that someone was Marcus Anderson… the cutest and most interesting boy in school if you asked Riley. Of course, she’d be just as happy to have Marcus pick her. Either scenario sounded perfect. She’d had a crush on Marcus for almost two years now, and Secret Snowflake seemed like it would be the perfect chance to finally get to know him better and to show him how she really felt.

Luckily, Sophia’s thoughts had already flitted off to another topic. “Do you think it will be hard? To come up with all the different presents?” she asked. “I mean, it would be easy if I pick your name. I know you so well! But what if I pick somebody who I don’t know that well? What then?”

“That’s what the snowflakes are for, I guess—to give a few hints,” Riley replied. “Plus, I think that’s supposed to be part of the challenge. Getting to know your person a little better and all that.”

Just then, Marcus entered the room, with Mrs. Darlington right behind him. “Good morning, class,” Mrs. Darlington announced. “If you haven’t already hung your snowflake on the window, please do so now. Then go ahead and take your seats.”

Riley hurried across the room to her desk, tucking her hair behind her ears as she snuck a glance at Marcus. He was standing by the window, goofing with Austin as the boys hung up their snowflakes. She didn’t want Marcus to catch her staring… but if he happened to glance her way at the same time, well, that would be pretty incredible.

She watched closely to see which snowflake was Marcus’s, just in case she picked his name. And even if she didn’t, she still planned to check it out later so she could find out more about him.

As the bell rang, Mrs. Darlington placed a small silver box on her desk. “And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for,” she announced with a big smile. “I’ve placed each of your names on slips of paper inside this box. One by one, I’ll call you to come pick a name for your Secret Snowflake. Remember, once you pull a name, you’re sworn to secrecy! No telling anyone whose name you picked. We’ll go in alphabetical order. Marcus Anderson.”

Riley watched as Marcus got up from the seat in front of her, ambled across the classroom, and pulled a slip of paper out of the box. He read it, smiled, and slipped it into his pocket. Then he looked right at Riley—and smiled again!

Why did he do that? Had Marcus picked her name? Was he giving her a sign?

Riley’s heart was pounding with such anticipation that she almost didn’t hear Mrs. Darlington call her name.

“Riley Archer,” Mrs. Darlington repeated. “Riley?”

The class started to giggle.

Riley didn’t care, though. Marcus Anderson had smiled at her! She hurried up to the front of the room, thrust her hand into the box, and shut her eyes. Her fingers closed around a scrap of paper and, with her heart still pounding, Riley pulled it out.

Who would be her Secret Snowflake?

Riley was about to find out!

In her rush to unfold the slip of paper, Riley’s fingers fumbled, and the tiny scrap of paper fluttered away from her as if carried by a breeze. Riley made a wild lunge and grabbed the paper just before it hit the floor. She was so eager to open it that she didn’t even notice that a few kids in class were laughing again.

Relax, Riley told herself sternly, forcing her heart to stop pounding, her fingers to stop trembling. Then, holding her breath, she unfolded the paper and read:


Riley blinked in disbelief. She wasn’t imagining it, right? A second glance at the paper confirmed what she’d seen the first time. Riley could feel the smile spread across her face. Her Secret Snowflake was Marcus Anderson! It was perfect—no, it was too perfect—no, it was beyond perfect—

“Riley,” Mrs. Darlington said, and from the sound of her voice, Riley had a feeling that it wasn’t the first time Mrs. Darlington had called her name.

“Yes?” Riley said quickly, looking up at Mrs. Darlington through her glasses.

Mrs. Darlington looked like she was trying not to smile. “You may sit down,” she said. Then she turned back to the class and called, “Becca Brandt!”

Too late, Riley realized that she’d been holding up the Secret Snowflake selection process. She scurried to her seat, sneaking a look at Marcus as she passed by his desk. She wanted to flash him the same kind of smile he’d sent her way. But he was scribbling something on the cover of his notebook, not paying any attention.

Riley slid into her seat, still beaming. She glanced over at all the personal snowflakes on the wall, trying to get a better look at Marcus’s snowflake. From where she was sitting, it didn’t look like it had much detail. It just looked like it had been hastily colored in blue with some red stripes. But Riley was sure that, upon closer inspection, she’d see some cool details that Marcus had put on the snowflake to represent his personality.

Mrs. Darlington was talking about their Secret Snowflake essays, which meant that Riley really needed to pay attention so that she didn’t miss anything important.

But it wasn’t always easy to pay attention, not with Marcus sitting right in front of her. She stared at the back of his neck, where he had five freckles visible below his reddish-brown hair.

Quit it, Riley told herself, and focused all her attention on Mrs. Darlington.

“This project has many parts—not unlike the spokes of a snowflake,” the teacher was saying. “But most important, I think, is what you will learn about the nature of giving. There’s a famous expression, dating back thousands of years: ‘To give is better than to receive.’ For your homework tonight, I’d like you to write about that saying. Do you agree? Disagree? Why?”

Riley studiously made some notes.

“Please don’t tell anybody the identity of your Secret Snowflake,” Mrs. Darlington continued. “Even if you think you’re just telling one person, you’d be surprised how quickly news can spread. I promise it’s a lot more fun to wait until the big reveal at the Christmas party on the last day of school before break.”

TOP SECRET, Riley scribbled in her notebook, underlining the words three times for emphasis.

“Finally, as we work on the Secret Snowflake project, try to find out how you can be the best possible friend,” Mrs. Darlington continued. “There’s no one way to be a great friend. I hope, by the end of this assignment, you’ll all be more aware of what it feels like to be the best friend you can be.”

Best friend I can be, Riley wrote. That wouldn’t be hard. After all, Riley already knew that Marcus deserved the best Secret Snowflake—and she was up for the challenge!


On Sale
Oct 10, 2017
Page Count
176 pages

Taylor Garland

About the Author

Taylor Garland has written books for children of all ages. When she isn’t dreaming up stories, Taylor loves giving out Halloween treats.

Learn more about this author