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.

 

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.

Skyping with Anne Marie Pace

IMG_0350Back on March 6th, we celebrated World Read Aloud Day with Skype sessions with authors and schools around the country.  On that very same day, a major winter storm was making its way across the country creating chaos, power outages, and librarians frantically rescheduling connections.  Anne Marie Pace was scheduled to Skype with Ms. Wright’s and Ms. Yawn’s 2nd grade classes.  We had read Vamperina Ballerina and written several questions to ask her about writing and the book.  However, the snowstorm knocked out Anne Marie’s power.  Fortunately, we were able to find a time to reconnect and the students were so excited to finally meet her on Skype today.IMG_0361

IMG_0351We did a brief “hello” and then Anne Marie read us Never Ever Talk to Strangers.  She had the book on a presentation so that the kids could easily see the pages as she read.  After that, the students begged to hear Vamperina again.  Because our schedule wasn’t so rushed today, we had time, and Anne Marie graciously gave the kids a 2nd reading of Vamperina Ballerina.

We printed all of the students’ questions from a Google Doc so that they were prepared to quickly ask their questions.  Here’s a look at our questions:IMG_0358

  • Natalie:  Who is your publisher?

  • George:  Why did you make Vamperina Ballerina?

  • Tykeria:  Why did she turn into a bat in the story?

  • Lucy:  Is it a long process to make a book or does it depend on the book?

  • Nikolas:  Do you only write picture books?

  • Olonix:  Do vampires change into anything else?

  • Grace:  How did you come up with the details?

  • Myles:  Why did you put the vampire into the spotlight?

  • Sam B:  What are your other books?

  • Sam G:  Why did you put a vampire in a ballerina class?

  • Miles:  Do you make chapter books or comic books?

  • Mr. Plemmons:  Do you feel like the illustrator drew what you were thinking when you wrote your words?

  • Ms. Wright:  Did you have to write multiple drafts of the book?

  • Harper:  How do you know so much about vampires?

  • Danny:  Do you ever have writer’s block?

  • Repp:  Have you ever messed up on a published piece?

  • Eddie:  Do you have more books than 3?

  • Jeremiah:  Why do you like books so much?

  • Diana:  Who inspired you to write books?

  • Ty’Najia:  How long does it take to make a book?

  • Tom:  How did you come up with these book ideas?

  • Xander:  If you do have chapter books, how many do you have?

  • Mrs. Yawn:  How young were you when you first started writing?

IMG_0359This year we have been so fortunate to make so many connections through Skype.  I can’t wait to incorporate it even more next year.  The students left this session energized about reading and writing.  I just know this will translate into what they do in the classroom.  Thank you, Anne Marie Pace, for making our day so special!  We can’t wait to read the Vamperina sequel!

A Visit with Meghan McCarthy

We had a wonderful day in the Barrow Media Center learning from author and illustrator, Meghan McCarthy.  She is the award-winning author/illustrator of books such as Pop the Invention of Bubble Gum, The Aliens Are Coming, and The Incredible Life of Balto.  She shared with every grade level during 3 sessions.  Her talk included a close look at her early writing as a child.  The students loved seeing that she made lots of spelling errors as a child and drew drawings that looked very much like things that they draw in school.  She showed them how her writing and illustrating evolved through High School and College.  We learned about her family stories and interests, which inspired many of her books.  She showed students how a book is published and walked them through what each step looked like in pictures and videos.  I loved seeing how her research impacted both her writing and her illustrations, like making sure the bathing suits were from the right time period in one of her books.  Finally, she showed students how to draw the dogs, horses, aliens, and birds in her books.  She included her signature “big eyes” in each illustration.

After today, Meghan will speak at the Georgia Conference on Children’s Literature in Athens, where I will also be presenting on Techno Poetry.

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