A Visit with Illustrator R. Gregory Christie

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We have such an amazing community.  Anytime we have a wish or a dream that we put out there, we somehow find a way to make it happen. This year, our supportive PTA budgeted money for us to have a school-wide author or illustrator visit.  These types of visits are huge learning experiences for our students because they connect them to the real people behind the books on our shelves and inspire their own art and stories.  Author/illustrator visits are hard to do for an entire school every year because they take a lot of financial support to pay speaking fees and travel for the author/illustrator.  I am so thankful that our PTA brought Gregory Christie to our school this year for every grade.

From R. Gregory Christie’s site:

R. Gregory Christie has been working as an illustrator for over 20 years.

He has illustrated over fifty books,as well as collaborated with clients

such as The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Vibe, The Wall Street Journal,

The New York Times, The Kennedy Center, Pete Seeger, Queen Latifah ,

and Karyn Parsons on a variety of projects.

Our day kicked off with Kindergarten and 1st grade in their own sessions.  Mr. Christie took time to read a bit of A Chance to Shine and talk about how he connects the text of the story to his art.  What the students in these grades loved the most was seeing an illustration come to life before their eyes.  It was like magic.  Mr. Christie got the students to come up with some drawing ideas.  They wanted a cat.  Then he asked them to think about more details, so they added a bad cat from Korea.  Using these details, he started to draw.  He constantly checked in with them to see if his drawing was matching the text.  If it wasn’t, they gave him reminders and held him accountable for what to draw.  I loved how he connected this to what an editor does.

During our 1st grade visit, we had a bit of excitement: a real fire emergency.  We all had to evacuate while fire trucks and firefighters came to investigate our building.  The kids were fantastic, and Mr. Christie was so flexible with this unexpected part of our day.  First grade came back in for a few more minutes and we adjusted our schedule for the rest of the day.

Our 2nd and 3rd graders had a chance to really study some paintings and consider the mood of them.  They also compared two paintings to see what was similar and different.

These students loved it when Mr. Christie drew the face of Jazz Baby but then let students come up and collaborate on the drawing to help tell a story.  They only had  few seconds to add to the drawing.  He started asking them to be accountable for their work by telling what they were trying to achieve by drawing what they did.  After several students, he came in and added his own twist to the drawing.

Mr. Christie visited both PreK classes individually and read Jazzy Baby and A Chance to Shine.  Then, he took time to draw Jazz Baby and some other things like birds and dogs.  The kids loved having those illustrations left in their class.  My favorite part of this time was when the PreK students were able to show him their artwork and talk about what they did in their own artwork that was inspired by his artwork.  This was so empowering for our smallest students.

In our 4th and 5th grade, students had a special treat.  They saw Mr. Christie’s first book that he has written and illustrated.  It isn’t published yet, but they were treated to parts of the F & G version of the book.  He also took them through several of the books and how the illustrations came together.  Students saw the very first book that Gregory Christie did called Palm of My Heart.  It was great to see this first book side by side with the newest book to see how his illustrations changed or stayed the same.  Students shared a lot about why Mousetropolis stood out to them with its cute mice and its vibrant colors.  These students were also treated to a special video production that is yet to be released about an African American ballet performer.  It was a session full of special opportunities for our students.

I loved capturing some words from Gregory Chrisitie throughout the day.  Students heard:

“When a book starts it’s a manuscript.  When the book it comes to me.  The words can help you feel that it’s an upbeat bright colored book.”

“It’s graphic.  You see a lot of negative and positive space.”

It takes about a year to do a book.

Body language is important when you are illustrating a book.

I know these students will remember this visit for years to come.  We now have all of our Gregory Christie books autographed and ready for checkout in the library.  Thank you again to our PTA for this opportunity, and thank you Avid Bookshop for helping with our book sales.

Give Our Students Some Pie (by Sarah Weeks)

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We have a wonderful opportunity at our school.  Author Sarah Weeks is coming to visit on May 8th to promote her two new books Glamourpuss and Honey.  She is also author of the amazing book Pie.  

From the book Pie:

From the award-winning author of SO B. IT, a story about family, friendship, and…pie!

When Alice’s Aunt Polly, the Pie Queen of Ipswitch, passes away, she takes with her the secret to her world-famous pie-crust recipe. Or does she? In her will, Polly leaves the recipe to her extraordinarily fat, remarkably disagreeable cat, Lardo . . . and then leaves Lardo in the care of Alice.

Suddenly, the whole town is wondering how you leave a recipe to a cat. Everyone wants to be the next big pie-contest winner, and it’s making them pie-crazy. It’s up to Alice and her friend Charlie to put the pieces together and discover the not-so-secret recipe for happiness: Friendship. Family. And the pleasure of donig something for the right reason.

With Pie, acclaimed author Sarah Weeks has baked up a sweet and satisfying delight, as inviting as warm pie on a cold day. You’ll enjoy every last bite

Some schools in our district benefit from the amazing Books for Keeps, which gives 12 books to every student in the school to read over the summer.  We don’t benefit from this program, and I have always wanted to give students something to read over the summer.

We have never done an “On the Same Page” or “One Book” event at Barrow, but this seems like a great time to try getting lots of our students reading the same pages over the summer.  We would love to give every student in 3rd and 4th grade (rising 4th & 5th graders) a copy of Pie to read over the summer.  We will have lots of online ways to talk about the book over the summer and a celebration of the book when we return in August.

For now, we have a bit of urgency.  We need to raise enough money to purchase these books from our local independent bookstore, Avid Bookshop. We have created a GoFundMe campaign to raise $1000 over the next month.  We expect the miraculous, so we truly believe that this opportunity will be miraculous for our students and we will miraculously raise the funds.

Any amount helps.  Please consider donating a few dollars to get books into the hands of our summer readers.  Click the picture below to visit our GoFundMe campaign.

An Author Visit with Alan Gratz

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Once again, the amazing Avid Bookshop has brought an author to our school.  This time our visiting author was Alan Gratz.  He is currently touring in promotion of his newest book The League of Seven.   Gratz is also the author of books such as Prisoner B-3087 , Fantasy Baseball, and The Brooklyn Nine.

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All students in 3rd-5th grade attended, which was roughly 200+ kids.  They were mesmerized by his every word.  After showing a slide with all of his book covers, Alan Gratz focused the conversation on the cover of his new book.

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Instead of starting with a summary of his book, Gratz began with the story of how the book came to be.  He explained that he wanted to make a book “full of awesome”, so he made a big board to pin up awesome ideas for his book.

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He kept bringing students back to a slide with several of these ideas and having them vote on what they wanted to hear about by raising their hands.  For example, would you rather hear about heads in jars or mad scientists?  Would you rather hear about secret societies or machine men?  Would you rather hear about giant monsters or Native American cities?  As students chose a topic, he fleshed out the topics that appear in The League of Seven.

When it came time to talk about what the book was about, the students had context about what “steam punk” meant as well as example of secret societies, flying machines, and monsters.  Best of all, by the time Alan Gratz got to the part about giving a summary of the book, pretty much every student was hooked and wanted to read the book.  I ordered 2 additional copies of the book during the presentation because I knew demand would be high.

The Septemberist Society – About The League of Seven

Alan Gratz showed students how readers around the world are creating fan fiction and illustrations based on the book.  He has a website called the Septemberist Society, which has challenges, book news, and places for displaying fan fiction and illustrations.  He encouraged students to send any of their creations to him for the site.

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As soon as the talk was over, I hurried to catalog the books.  A parent came in to prep the books for checkout and within minutes of putting them out, they were gone.  Students came in and started putting holds on the books as well.

I love how hearing from an author sprinkles magic dust onto the library books.  The awesome cover of this book designed by Brett Helquist is enough to make you want to pick it up, but hearing from the author creates magic.

Thank you Alan Gratz, Avid Bookshop, and Starscape for this incredible visit with out students.

Believing in the Possible with Jennifer Holm

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Many of you know that our motto in the library is “Expect the Miraculous” based on the book Flora & Ulysses.  When I saw the cover for Jennifer Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish for the first time I was immediately drawn into the tagline “Believe in the  impossible possible.”  Before I even read the book, I felt a connection.  I was lucky enough to score an advanced reader’s copy of the book at the Texas Library Association Conference back in April and I was hooked from the opening chapter.  In fact, you can read the opening chapter here.

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During the summer, I was contacted by the wonderful people at Avid Bookshop about a potential author visit with Jennifer Holm.  She was planning to be at the Decatur Book Festival on Labor Day weekend and was spending some time visiting bookstores and schools ahead of the festival.  It was fate.  The author of a book that I absolutely loved that connected with our philosophy of the library was available to visit our school.  I immediately said yes and the planning began.

Pulling off an author visit in the first two weeks of school is tricky.  When an author visits, I love to have time to preview their books with kids, have classes sharing the books as a read aloud, and allowing students to create decorations to welcome the author to our school.  There’s also the presales of books.  Forms must be sent home, collected, organized, and books ordered for autographing.  Two weeks is hard, but we expect the miraculous.

Here’s what happened ahead of the event.

  • Every single Holm book was checked out by either teachers or students.  In fact, I didn’t have any library books available for her to autograph at the visit!
  • Announcements were made on BTV advertising the visit
  • Three teachers received advanced reader copies of The Fourteenth Goldfish and began reading it aloud.
  • The entire school was invited to make book birthday cards since the book came out 2 days before Jenni’s visit.

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  • Several people helped make decorations for the event including jellyfish and goldfish balloons to hang from the ceiling as well as some posters.

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  • Preorders went home on the 1st day of school and were due 4 days later.
  • Classes watched the book trailer for The Fourteenth Goldfish.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91FeXVF-56E

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Today’s visit was incredible.  Every 3rd-5th grade class came which was a little more than 200 students.  We shifted back the library shelves to make room for everyone.  Jennifer kicked off the visit by sharing with students the story of how The Fourteenth Goldfish came to be.  She shared the stories of famous scientists and what it means to be an true observer.  She shared family stories of scientists in her family and built up to the science behind the main idea of the book which revolves around a fountain of youth found within a jellyfish.  She held up an apple and invited students to think about whether or not it was alive or if it held new life within it.

Then, she spent some time having students ponder what it would be like to be old and suddenly be transformed back into a teenager.  What problems might people face if they changed ages?  What success would they have?  She turned this into a game by having kids come up to the board in teams and write everything good about being old and everything good about being young.  Then she tallied up the number of reasons to see which was better.  She did the same thing with new groups of students but switched to everything bad about each age.  While students were racing against time to make their lists, she took questions from students about her books and the writing process.  She also shared the secret Babymouse signal and had students do it (which was really a clever way to keep the audience focused and settle down).

I loved how she pushed students to think deeply about whether they would ever want to go back to being young if it was possible.  I also loved how she shared the idea of believing in the possible by connecting the story to an actual jellyfish that can revert back to a younger version of itself.  If it’s possible for a jellyfish, could it be possible for us?

I hope many students will take time to read this book, and I have a feeling after this visit that many will.  I know several teacher who are considering it as their next read aloud.  With tie-ins to science and the belief in the possible, it has so many implications for what it means to be a dreamer, a tinkerer, and a maker.

We ended our time by sing happy birthday to The Fourteenth Goldfish.

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Following her talk, she spent time connecting with students and signing books.  We found out that she had not signed a copy of The Fourteenth Goldfish yet, so Hannah was the lucky student who has the 1st signed copy of the released book.

We are so fortunate to have Avid Bookshop in our community making connections between the community, authors, and our students in schools.  Thank you Jennifer Holm for taking time to visit our school and share your wisdom with us.  Thank you Avid and thank you Random House for this wonderful experience.  Our students will never forget it.

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Fifth Grade Battle of the Books Had a Visit with Deborah Wiles

IMG_3370Last month at the Texas Library Association conference, I had the opportunity to attend a session with multiple authors talking about writing historical fiction.  Deborah Wiles was on the panel.  I’ve know “Debbie” for several years now.  I first heard her at the Decatur Book Festival, and when she spoke, she created a magical presence with her words.  When she speaks, she truly breathes story into the air.  Hearing her speak and reading the words that she writes on the pages of her books gives me such a connection to her southern spirit and reminds me of growing up in the rural town of Blue Ridge.  About five years ago, Deborah Wiles came to Barrow Elementary as my very first author visit.  She sang One Wide Sky with PreK-1st grade and had upper grades writing in their imaginary journals.  She even led a professional learning session for teachers after school.  When, I saw Debbie in Texas she told me that she wanted to stop by and see the new media center, so we setup a time.

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Since she was already stopping by, I asked her if she would like to meet our 5th grade battle of the books students since they had read Countdown for their competition.  I’m so glad that we decided to do that because today’s visit was simply magical.

While she was stuck in traffic, the 5th graders worked on making her some birthday cards for when she arrived.  We also displayed the blackout poetry that we had made using Freedom Summer and Revolution.

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When she arrived today, she took a seat in the rocking chair that my dad made and started sharing stories.  She let the students talk to her about reading Countdown.  The depth of their conversation made me realize how different an author visit can be when the students have not only read the books but also spent extensive time discussing them.

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The students talked about the complexity of her plots, the character traits of their favorite characters, and shared specific details of scenes that seemed suspenseful.  In fact, some of the scenes that students chose to describe were some of the very scenes that were the most difficult for Deborah Wiles to write.

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Next, she showed us lots of pictures of where Countdown came from.  The students loved seeing the real places that inspired the story.  They also loved seeing how the title and cover art for the book changed and how the editor gave Deborah Wiles feedback on her work.

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Before students went back to class, we told her “Happy Birthday” and gave her some cards and artwork.  She spent time signing books that students pre-ordered from Avid Bookshop and chatting more with students about books and writing.

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While she was signing, we enjoyed birthday cake that she brought for us to enjoy!

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Before she left, we spent some time roaming around the school and looking at how much it had changed since the last time she was here.  Now, she will go to Avid Bookshop for a signing this afternoon at 4:30.

The students are all very eager to read Revolution, which publishes on May 27th.  I gave away 2 ARCs of Revolution today as well as some copies of Countdown.  We are so thankful to Deborah Wiles for driving to Athens and spending time with us today.  The students could have listened to her for the rest of the day.  We can’t wait to see her back in our library soon.

 

First Grade’s Fun Skype with Crabtree Co-creator, Jon Nichols

IMG_3166Our community amazes me.  Every year, new people within our school community step forward with ideas for our library program.  People share their talents, their connections, and their love of education.

This year, Rachel Gabara, a parent of a 1st grader, introduced me to a new book called Crabtree by brothers Jon and Tucker Nichols.  I’ll admit that it was my first time hearing of the book, but when I looked at the praise for Crabtree on the McSweeney’s website, I was floored.  Authors like Jon Klassen, Maira Kalman, Lemony Snickett, and Jon Agee all raved about the book.  I immediately ordered it from Avid Bookshop.  When I got it, I was raving about the book as much as the reviews.  It is jam packed with illustrations of all kinds of things.

Here’s the official trailer:

Crabtree loves to collect things.  The problem is that he has so much stuff he can’t find anything.  He begins to organize his collections of stuff in order to find his false teeth.  Each object on the page is labeled with its name, so kids are introduced to all kinds of tools and gadgets that they’ve probably never heard of.  It’s a great books just for the sorting, vocabulary, and potential research opportunities.  However, the humor and gadgets of the book are what really make it so much fun to read over and over again.  Even the dust jacket of the book has a collection of gadgets and unfolds into a poster.  At the end of the book, there’s a game where you can go back through the book finding various objects.  You need to order a copy of this book today.  It’s so much fun.

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When Rachel introduced me to the book, she told me that she was friends with the co-creator, Jon Nichols.  She offered to reach out to him to see if he would Skype with us.  He agreed, so we got to work preparing for our visit.  All of the 1st grade classes read the book in advance and pulled in some categorizing and math standards along the way.  Students also spent some time writing out questions for Jon.

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Today, the whole 1st grade came to the library and we connected with Jon in California.  He was a fantastic Skype author full of energy.  He told the kids a bit about how he and his brother made the book together.  Both of them were involved in the writing and illustrating process, and it was their first book.

Then, Jon showed the kids how he draws Crabtree.

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The students loved it when Jon let them ask him some questions.  When authors do this, the teachers help me a lot.  They start choosing students from the audience to start forming a line to the side of the screen and camera.

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As they get in line, we try to check to make sure the questions are all different and are actually questions.  I move the camera down to student-level.  Then, students take turns speaking to the author directly into the camera.

Today, students asked Jon questions like:

  • What kind of paint did you use?  He showed us the pens used to draw the illustrations and we learned that the colors were created by computer at the publisher because they didn’t like how real paint looked on the paper.

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  • Why did you call him Crabtree?  We learned that it was a mixture of a favorite place to visit but also the idea of 2 things that don’t really go together: crabs and trees.
  • Can 1st graders write books?  Jon was so enthusiastic in his answer and told them that they could absolutely write books.  He ran through the whole writing process and got them excited about their ideas for stories.

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There were many more wonderful questions.  I was really surprised by how well 1st graders asked questions.  The teachers did a wonderful job giving students time to think and write their questions down before they came.

We are so thankful to Jon for taking time out of his busy day to connect with us.  If you haven’t read Crabtree yet, we highly recommend it.

 

An Author Visit with Nancy Krulik

nancy krulik (23)I love our local independent bookstore, Avid Bookshop.  They work very hard to bring children’s, young adult, and adult authors to our community.  They also reach out to schools and connect us with these authors.  Today, Nancy Krulik visisted 3 Athens Clarke County schools:  Barrow, Oglethorpe, and Stroud.

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Nancy Krulik is the author of more than 200 books!  The books that the kids get the most excited about are her 3 series:

  • Katie Kazoo
  • George Brown
  • Magic Bone

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She started her talk with a game between 4 students who answered questions related to the Magic Bone series.  The questions were all based on inferences and point of view.  This gave kids context for the section of the book that she planned to read aloud to the students since the dog doesn’t necessarily know the human terms for the things he sees in the world.  I loved how she set the stage for them to understand this part of the story.

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She spent some time talking about her writing life, her first book, and her 3 series.  Finally, she took student questions.  She really wanted to answer every single question that students had.  I think they could ask questions all day.  They had a great time learning that she wrote some of a George Brown book while she was in her hotel in Athens.

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They also loved burping like George Brown.

Students who purchased books from Avid were able to stay after the visit and get their books signed.  They loved sitting down with an author, chatting, and watching their book get signed.

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Many thanks to Avid Bookshop, Penguin, and Nancy Krulik for a fantastic visit.  I’m sure there are many new Katie Kazoo, George Brown, and Magic Bone fans in Athens.  In-person as well as Skype author visits always inspire our students to read more but also to write down their stories and work hard to make them the best stories that they can be.