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.

 

A Visit with Barbara Walsh: Author of The Poppy Lady


Barbara Walsh (19)Over the summer, I received an email from Carole Langley, wife of a Barrow alumni.  She introduced me to the incredible story of Moina Belle Michael, an Athens area woman who is credited with making the poppy the symbol of remembrance for soldiers.  The children’s book is called The Poppy Lady:  Moina Belle Michael and her Tribute to Veterans by Barbara Walsh.  Until this book, I really didn’t know the story of Moina and her ties to Athens, Georgia and the world, but I am so thankful that Carole introduced me to this book and I’m even more grateful to Barbara Walsh for creating it.

After that email, I contacted Barbara and her publisher and began a long collaborative journey to bring her to our school.  Luckily, Barbara was already going to be in Decatur for the Decatur Book Festival.  She graciously agreed to come to Athens and present her work to our 4th and 5th graders, but just like Moina, Barbara wanted to do more.  She offered to visit as many schools as she could while she was in Georgia.  I arranged for her to visit 7 other elementary schools in Clarke County and Carole Langley agreedto be her chauffeur.

Before her visit, I read the book to all 4th and 5th grade classes.  We also watched the book trailer:

And we watched the video from the Georgia Women of Achievement:

All of this information was fascinating to the students and was a great tie-in to the 5th grade Veteran’s Day Luncheon that they do every November.  The students couldn’t wait to hear Barbara talk.

Barrow was honored to be  Barbara’s first ever school visit, and she did an incredible job sharing Moina’s story and the long process it took to write a work on nonfiction.  In all, it took 7 years to bring this book into the printed copy that we hold into our hands today.  Barbara shared how she interviewed numerous people, dug through archives at UGA and Columbia University, and used Moina’s autobiography as a resource.  She shared how her editor wanted her to be extremely thorough in her research.  I loved having this information emphasized for students so that they could see how hard authors have to work to research their topic.  Having this at the front end of the year will allow this visit to inspire our work for the rest of the year.  Barbara also shared many pictures of artifacts and the story of her 99 year old father who has a personal connection with Moina.

Barbara Walsh (6)As students left, Barbara gave each student a poppy that was made by a veteran.  She also gave them each a bookmark from her book.  Avid Bookshop sold copies of her book and those will be autographed and delivered to students soon.Barbara Walsh (24)

In the spirit of Moina Michael, Barbara Walsh doesn’t keep a penny of the profits from her books.  She donates everything to Operation Purple, which benefits the children of those serving in the military.  Barbara’s passion for Moina Michael’s mission is evident in every conversation that you have with her.  She truly lives up to Moina’s own phrase:  “Whatsoever the hands find to do, do it with all your might.”  Thank you Barbara Walsh for giving this gift of a story to all children, and thank you for your generosity in coming to speak to our Barrow and CCSD students.

An Author Visit in the 1st Three Weeks of School….Why Not?: Our visit with Gennifer Choldenko

These books will all be gone tomorrow!

These books will all be gone tomorrow!

I love our local bookshop, Avid Bookshop.  Over the summer, they contacted me about a possible author visit prior to the Decatur Book Festival.  This book festival brings in some of the top authors from around the world for 2 days of book celebrations.  This festival is actually connecting us with  2 authors in the 1st three weeks of school since they will already be in Georgia!

Today, thanks to Avid, Gennifer Choldenko visited our 4th and 5th graders.  Gennifer is the Newbery Honor award-winning author of the Al Capone series, Notes from a Liar and Her Dog, No Passengers Beyond this Point, and more.  Before her visit, I held a session for all 4th and 5th graders to get familiar with her books as well as the book of our other visiting author, Barbara Walsh.  I used two different Blendspace (formally Edcanvas) links to share excerpts from books, book trailers, and biographies of the authors.  Students also had an opportunity to pre-order books for signing.

During her talk, Gennifer talked about:

  • her inspiration for the Al Capone books from her time as a docent on Alcatraz
  • her research of looking at the most notorious prisoners to see who would be the most fun character
  • details of what she learned about Al Capone while he was a prisoner.  Her photos of his prison experience with antique furniture was amazing!
  • photographs of convicts doing laundry on Alcatraz and how that came into her books
  • cockroaches helping to make exchanges between prisoners
  • convicts coming to brunch at her house and sharing their stories
  • how she keeps a notebook with her ideas, including kids’ names
  • how she writes other books in between the Alcatraz books
  • going to Alcatraz Alumni Day
  • what historical fiction is…..like can you include an iPhone in a story set on Alcatraz?
  • how many books she is in the process of writing.  She’s a busy person!
  • And so much more
Gennifer spent time before and after her talk chatting with students.  Love this!

Gennifer spent time before and after her talk chatting with students. Love this!

As always, the kids left this session pumped up about reading an author’s books.  I have no doubt that kids will be knocking on the door in the morning to get these stories.  I can’t thank Avid Bookshop enough for making this visit happen for us and for Chase Street Elementary.  Bringing in authors is always inspiring, but it’s also very expensive.  Having the support and connections of our local bookshop is fantastic!  Also, a huge thank you to Gennifer Choldenko for sharing her time and talents with our students.  They were so engaged and probably could have asked questions for another hour.