Picture Book Smackdown 2015 is a Wrap!

smackdown (8)Wow!  We had the most students ever participate in our 3rd annual picture book smackdown.  Even sickness and technical difficulties didn’t stop our students in 5 states sharing favorite books along with author, Laurie Thompson.

Here are a few behind the scenes notes:

  • There were multiple emails and tweets sent between the participating schools in this smackdown. We established etiquette for the hangout such as keeping things moving, muting microphones when we weren’t speaking, and only having about 5 students at a time share
  • We all prepared our students in advance of the smackdown but we each did it in our own way.  My own students had a basic script that they filled out.

  • The amazing Cathy Potter helped organize Laurie Thompson to join us. Unfortunately, Picture Book Month founder, Dianne de Las Casas wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t join us.  She was with us in spirit, though!
  • I had a group of 50 students!  Luckily 2 volunteers and a teacher helped me keep them organized in chairs and a parent frantically wrote down as many titles of shared picture books as she could.

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  • We all came into the Google Hangout early to test our cameras and microphones.  We communicated with one another through the chat in Hangouts as well as through text messaging if needed.

All of our Picture Book Smackdown content can be found on our Smore.

I would like to thank all of the schools who participated, Laurie Thompson, our volunteers, and all of the people who viewed and sent out tweets.  Thanks for celebrating Picture Book Month with us!

We’ll see you next year for our 4th annual smackdown!

Read for the Record 2015

Each year, Jumpstart  sponsors a day for readers all around the globe to join their voices in reading the same book. A different book is chosen each year, and this day has become a day that we love to connect with other schools to read the book together.  This year the featured book was Not Norman: A Goldfish Story by Kelly Bennett and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones.  Jumpstart puts the book online during Read for the Record so that readers can easily access the book to read aloud.  I love having a large full screen version of the book for students to look at while we read alone and with our Skype partners.

Ms. Sandifer’s Kindergarten class started our day by reading the book with me on our projection screen.

I loved hearing the students make noticings about the images that weren’t included in the words.  We also had fun making predictions before we turned the pages such as when a tree branch is making a noise outside but we got to guess before we found out.  One student thought it would be a zombie!

Next, Ms. Kelly’s Kindergarten class (my daughter’s class) came and connected with Jennifer Reed and her 3rd graders in Newton, MA.  We had fun looking at a map before the call and learning that we were connecting with students over 1,000 miles away. Our students also got to introduce themselves to one another.

Jennifer’s students did choral readings of pages, while I read most of our pages with Kindergarten students joining in for words they recognized.  Students were amazed that Jennifer Reed and I know each other in real life and will get to see one another at the AASL conference in Columbus this November.

Finally, Ms. Choate’s Kindergarten class came to the library to enjoy a live Google Hangout with Kelly Bennett reading Not Norman and sharing the answers to several questions about being an author and getting ideas for writing.

This was a great addition to the event to allow many classes to enjoy hearing the author.  We wish there had been more interaction between students and the author, but it was fun listening in to her voice and ideas.

There’s still time to participate in Read for the Record.  You can read the book for free online today and count you and your family in the numbers toward the record.

Little Elliot Big Family: A Visit with Mike Curato

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We have been excited since the very beginning of this year about author/illustrator Mike Curato visiting our school.  Thanks to Henry Holt, a division of Macmillan, and Avid Bookshop, our local independent bookshop, Mike visited all of our Prek-2nd grade classes.  We all read Little Elliot, Big City during library orientation this year, so we were super excited to meet the person who created it.

On field day, students created a massive window display of Little Elliot and cupcakes.  They worked for 30 minutes designing their own special cupcake.  They also added dots to a collaborate Little Elliot.  Many volunteers worked to get all of the cupcakes and elephants onto our windows to celebrate the author visit.

The display has been so much fun to look at and watch students searching for their dots and cupcakes.

It was a busy time at our school during the visit because it is also our fall book fair.  Instead of having our visit in the library, we moved everything to the cafeteria stage.

Students enjoyed a reading of Mike Curato’s new book Little Elliot, Big Family.

Mike had the book’s pages displayed on the large screen so that students could easily see what he was reading from the book.  They were mesmerized by the story and were such careful listeners.

After his story, Mike shared some slides and stories about how he works as an author and illustrator.  Students saw sketches beside finished artwork as well as a time lapse of a drawing being created.  He also showed students pictures of how Little Elliot has changed through the years.  He has been drawing him for several years, and he has gone through some changes along the way.  We also saw sketches of some of Mike’s early artwork, which was a wonderful connection for our young learners to see how work they are doing right now could inspire a future career or hobby.

Students even got to see the cover of next year’s Elliot book Little Elliot, Big Fun.

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Next, Mike worked with the entire room to create 3 pages of a new story.  He wrote a sentence to start the story: “Elliot went to school”.  Then, he drew Elliot on the page and let the students take it from there.  They suggested things to add to the picture and Mike added them in.  For the next 2 pages, Mike took suggestions from the audience about what Elliot should do.  Students decided he would read a book and go to lunch.  Once again, Mike added details to the drawing that were suggestions straight from the audience.  The best part was that we got to keep the 3 drawings to enjoy in our library!

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Finally, students got to ask questions.  Mike jumped right out into the audience with the students to take their questions and give thoughtful answers.  The kids were so attentive during the whole process.

Before Mike left, he took time to sign all of the books purchased by students.  Our incredible PTA bought a copy of each book for every PreK-2nd grade classroom, so he signed those as well.

He also took time to look at the big window display and marvel at the students’ creativity.  If you ever get the chance to have Mike Curato at your school, don’t hesitate.  He was wonderful and the kids and teachers have talked about it all day.  Be sure to check out both of his Elliot books, add them to your home and school collections, and enjoy the many positive messages that your sure to take after reading the books with kids.

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Thank you Mike Curato and Avid Bookshop for a wonderful day!  We can’t wait to reconnect once the Polka Dot Express arrives at our school soon!

Our Wonderful, Marvelous, Miraculous Visit with Cassie Beasley & Circus Mirandus


The magical day finally arrived.  After 3 weeks of school, lots of circus photo booth pictures, invented tickets to Circus Mirandus, and many pages read, Cassie Beasley came to our school!  The students have been buzzing with energy all week long.  They’ve repeatedly asked, “Is today the day that she’s coming?”


Thanks to our PTA every 3rd-5th grade classroom got a copy of Circus Mirandus and 20 additional copies were given away to students who added their name to our raffle by taking a picture or making a Circus Mirandus ticket.  I announced all of the winners on our morning broadcast.

Hannah and Will from Avid Bookshop arrived early and helped setup all of the books for autographing.  We worked together to place post its in all of the books to make the signing smooth.

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When Cassie arrived, it was so much fun walking her down the halls of our school through our Circus Mirandus tent and looking at our display of photo booth pictures.

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We also took time to look at all of the tickets that students submitted and admired the student choices and how long each ticket was valid.  We smiled at the crown of Artemis and how the student thought it should be good forever because it was a goddess crown.

Today was Cassie’s very first school visit, but you would not have known it without her saying it.  She engaged the energetic students with a timeline of her life to show how she was a real person who first thought writers looked like people like Gandalf.  Students connected with her as she told the story of how she was so engaged in reading while in school that she completely missed a fire drill.

She shared with students how it took 2 1/2 years to write Circus Mirandus, even though the first draft was written in a week.  They saw pictures of her overflow bucket of revisions and heard about her filing cabinet which stored all of the drafts and notes.  Cassie even showed notes from her sister that were being scribbled onto her manuscript up until the final stages of the book and how she continued to see things she had missed and added them in.

Students saw that even though Cassie has a book in print that is getting tons of buzz she is still working hard.  She gave them some insight into the projects she is currently working on and how she covers her tables at home with notecards, ideas, and manuscripts.  She wants to think about each character and spends time getting to know each one on a notecard.

Cassie showed students lots of evidence of how her life makes its way into her writing.  We saw a picture of her black tea that is just the way Aunt Gertrudis likes it and her parrot which was the inspiration for Chintzy.

There were just so many nuggets of information that Cassie shared with the students to inspire both their reading and their writing lives.  I can’t wait t see how this early author visit inspires student work throughout the year.

Cassie left plenty of time for questions, and wow…..students had some profound questions.  One student asked about what Cassie does to make herself keep going with her writing.  The student explained how she often starts writing but never finishes it.  Cassie shared how it is sometimes hard to keep going, but you just have to make yourself sit down and write.  She reminded about how she can change what goes onto the paper, but she makes herself get something down.

Our students gave her a thunderous applause, and students who won a book or purchased a book stayed behind to get books signed.  These students continued to talk with Cassie.  I just love how authors have a celebrity status in the eyes of readers.  So many students just wanted her to sign something for them, and Cassie was wonderfully pleasant the whole time.

Before Cassie left, we had a bit of fun in our circus photo booth.

I have to send a huge thank you to Cassie for taking time to visit our school.  Thank you Avid Bookshop for working diligently to make this connection happen and for helping the book selling and autographing process go so smoothly. Thank you Dial Books for Young Readers, a Division of Penguin Young Readers Group for supporting Cassie’s visit to our town. Thank you PTA for being such a supporter of our library programming and believing in our students and teachers.  We believed in this author visit, and we certainly saw a bit of magic today.



Creating Hype for an Author Visit: Circus Mirandus


We are over the moon with excitement that Cassie Beasley is coming to our school on September 3 thanks to her, her publisher Penguin Random House, and Avid Bookshop.  Sometimes author visits happen at the last minute, but this one has been in the works since the summer.  I read the book and fell in love with the story.  Even before I was done, I was talking with Avid Bookshop about the possibility of Cassie coming to our school.  We created a proposal together, and many emails and conversations later the visit was scheduled.

As a part of my proposal, I suggested that our PTA would buy a copy of the book for all 3rd-5th grade homerooms.  The book would be available to students to read or the teacher could even read it aloud.  I’m excited to say that our entire 3rd grade is reading the book aloud and many of the 5th grade classes are starting it. During our library orientation, I read aloud the beginning chapter of the book as well as the beginning of the chapter starting on p. 65 which details how Ephraim first made it into Circus Mirandus.  We learn that you can’t pay to get into the circus but must instead offer something of your own to the ticket taker.  For Ephraim, it’s a fish from his boot which results in a week-long pass to the circus.

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Reading from the book is enough to create hype because it’s just that good.  However, a circus theme as well as the contents of the book lend to some other fun opportunities for students to engage with the book ahead of the author visit.  Our wonderful PTA also bought 20 additional copies of the book to be given out at our discretion.  I’ve decided to give 10 of these away to students who participate in 2 opportunities in the library.


The first opportunity is to think about what your ticket into Circus Mirandus would be.  I’m encouraging students to either make, bring in, or even take a picture of the object they would offer as their ticket.  I made a short ticket template for them to fill out with their name, ticket description, and how long they think the ticket would be good for at the circus.

We are displaying these on the tops of the library shelves.  When they turn in their “ticket”, I give them a ticket to put their name on and drop into our fish bowl.

The second opportunity is a photo booth.  I made a backdrop of red with quotes from the book.  I covered a table and cushion with a gold tablecloth and filled an empty Mariah Carey perfume container with fuzzy pom poms to look like gum balls.  Then, I ordered a set of circus photo booth props from Oriental Trading.  I put all of this together and included the wearable books from Capstone which contain beards, hats, masks, and teeth.  If students take their picture in the photo booth, then they earn another ticket into the drawing for a book.  I plan to print out the photographs and display them on the library windows.

Before the author visit, I will draw out 10 names and announce the winners so that Cassie can autograph the book for them.

Along the way, I’m tweeting about our fun and tagging Avid Bookshop, Cassie Beasley, and the publisher so that they can all follow along in the fun.

I have some other special decorations in the works, which I plan to complete this week.  I’ll keep those under wraps for now.

I’ve been emailing with Cassie and planning the visit.  I know that it is truly going to be a magical experience for us all when she comes.

Library Orientation for Third through Fifth Grade


Just as I did for the early grades, I pondered what message I wanted our upper grades to take away from library orientation.  I wanted to of course give them some reminders about routines and procedures, but I wanted them to leave with a sense that the library was a place for all readers to connect with books.  I wanted them to know that if they had never found a book that they connected with that I wanted to help them find that book.  If we didn’t have the book or topic in our library, then I wanted us to make sure that we did.

Over the summer, I saw John Schu post on his blog about a new site from Scholastic with the motto “Open a World of Possible”. On the site, there are several videos and resources about how reading opens possibilities for us all.  One of the best videos is the one asking kids of all ages to talk about why they read.

I asked students to first think about what their answer to the question “Why do you read?” would be.  I didn’t take any answers from them since I felt like it was a personal question at that moment in time and that some students may have never thought of the answer.  Then, we watched the video to see if we connected to anything the students said or if their ideas sparked some of our own.  At that point, instead of asking students to share aloud, I gave them an opportunity.  I created a Flipgrid with that same question and told them it would be available for the next two weeks.  I hoped they would think about their answer and share their voice with others in our school.  I loved that some of them did this before they even left the library.

I shared with students that one of the reasons that I read is to walk in other people’s shoes, especially people who are different from me. I also love to experience things in a book that I know I would never do in real life.  Books are my safe place to go into the spooky unknown, the thrill of the Hunger Games, or the magic of a schools for wizards.

Next, I shared a bit of a book that I connected with this summer called Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley.  These grades will all have an author visit with Cassie in September, so this lesson was also a way for us to start diving into her text.  I chose to read aloud starting on p. 65, which is the part where Ephraim first visits the circus as a young boy.  He is a believer, so he is able to find the circus.  However, he still needs a ticket to get in.  It is on these pages that Ephraim discovers that every person’s ticket into Circus Mirandus is different.  You can’t pay to get in but instead must offer something to the ticket taker that has a connection with who you are or simply what you have to offer.  For one boy, it’s a spool of thread and for Ephraim it’s a fish.

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I loved seeing so many students connect to this part of the story and want to read on.  I knew they wouldn’t all connect because it’s so hard for us all to connect with the exact same book.  However, this part of the story helped us talk about how we are each different.  We each have interests that we bring into the library when we search for a book, and those interests are our tickets into the books on the shelves.

Beyond “why I read” and connecting through interests, students have an opportunity to explore the library and refresh their memory on checking out books, using Destiny, and finding the various sections.  As in the past, I made some videos connected to QR codes.  Students used iPads to watch these videos and then start checking out books when they were ready.  I was able to talk to students about their interests rather than focusing on how to check out books.

I hope that students continue to think about why they read and that I can think of more ways to find out their interests and showcase their voices in the library.


Library Orientation for Kindergarten through Second Grade


Each year I ponder what to do for the first of the year library orientation.  Once again, it’s a time where you want to talk about procedures, expectations, etc, but I think more and more about what message I really want students to take away.

This year we are fortunate to have author and illustrator Mike Curato coming to visit our school in October.  His book Little Elliot, Big City has so many positive messages for students to start off their year.  I decided to use this book as a conversation starter about problem solving, helping one another, being a good friend, and feeling welcome in such a big place.

As students entered the library, I played the book trailer.

Then, we opened with the story. Little Elliot, Big City has very few words on a page, but the discussions that can blossom from those simple words and powerful illustrations are priceless. Over the course of reading the book to students, there were certain pages that started to stand out as the pages I wanted to pause on in order to connect the book with the first visit to the library.

First, we paused here:

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Students imagined an elephant in their mind based on what they had seen in a book, movie, or real life. Then, they talked with a partner about all of the differences. We could connect this to all kinds of library ideas such as how different we all are as readers: our interests, our stamina, our favorite authors, and more.

Next, we paused here:

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I loved hearing students talk about this page and how Little Elliot was a problem solver.  Even though things were challenging, he found ways to persevere.  Again, there were so many was to connect to the library and school.  We talked about the importance of not giving up, taking a deep breath, trying what seemed impossible, and the more classes I talked to the more ideas surfaced that I hadn’t even thought of.

Probably the most powerful page to talk about was here:

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We saw Elliot struggle to be noticed as he went into the city to buy a cupcake. Students came up with all kinds of ways that Elliot could get his cupcake, but then he leaves with nothing.  We pondered the question, “Why was Elliot able to be a problem solver at home, but not in the bakery?”  Students amazed me with what they said.  At home, Elliot was alone and could be brave. In the city, he was shy and scared.  Students also talked about how he knew how to use all the tools at his house like his chair, his books, and his broom. However, in the city, he didn’t know how to use things, so he felt helpless.  Wow!  The conversations just kept coming and each class had a statement that stood out.  I wish I had captured the brilliance.  It really made me think about all the tools students really need in order to use the library and how that can be a little scary even though I have no intention for it to feel that way.  It reminded me of the importance of smiling and patience as students ask over and over how to do things like check out their own books.

Our library really is a massive place, especially for a Kindergarten through second grade student. I don’t want them to ever feel like Elliot did in the cupcake store, so we had some honest conversation about what we could all do to make sure that happened.  I was honest with them about how I work alone in the library so there are times that I can’t leave a class to come over and help them.  I truly want to, but sometimes it’s just hard for me to do.

Suddenly, those rules and procedures for using a shelf marker had a purpose.  I wasn’t just giving students a rule for the library during orientation.  I was giving them a tool just like Elliot had his broom.  The shelf marker was a strategy for those times that students were unsure.  We talked about going to a section of the library and really examining the books on the shelf with a shelf marker rather than searching on the computer.

We also talked about how Elliot was a helper to mouse in the story and that we really all have to be like Elliot at some point.  We have to help one another.  We can’t wait on one person to be the person to help us.  Whether it’s another adult roaming the library, a student from another class, or a volunteer, we can ask anyone in the library to help us access what we want.

I really didn’t plan for Elliot to have so many connections to library orientation, but he did.  It just evolved.  Students left with a positive story, a strategy for finding books, and I hope a sense that the library is a welcoming place where we all take responsibility to help one another.