Expecting the Miraculous with Cassie Beasley & Circus Mirandus

I’m drawn to powerful words and stories, and over the summer, my eye was caught by the cover of Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley.  I had seen the book getting considerable buzz, but even without the buzz, the cover, with its cutout top hat and hidden world beneath the tent, caught my eye.

The back cover slogan, “You have to BELIEVE IT to see it”, spoke to me.  In fact, it spoke directly to our motto in the Barrow Media Center to expect the miraculous every day.  In our library, we believe in everything that we attempt.  We don’t always know what is going to happen, but we know that if we believe that we can do something, then miraculous things will happen even if they aren’t exactly what we thought would happen in the first place.

mirandus 3

This summer I visited our local independent bookstore, Avid Bookshop, and picked up my copy.

I only had to read a few words to know that I was holding magic in my hands.  Circus Mirandus is about a magical circus that only is visible to the people who believe in it.  In fact,  you can’t even get into the circus with a regular ticket.  Entry is different for each person who comes because each person has a different purpose for being there.  Micah Tuttle’s grandfather tells him fantastical tales of the Circus Mirandus and Micah first thinks these are only stories.  Granpa Ephraim becomes very sick and says that the magical Lightbender from the circus has promised him a miracle and he is doing his best to make sure the miracle is granted.  Micah realizes the circus is more than stories and makes it his mission to find the circus and bring the Lightbender to his grandfather to grant his miracle.  This book has the magic of Peter Pan, Wizard of Oz, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and more.

mirandus 2

When I read, quotes stand out to me.  Sometimes there is a single quote from an entire book that resonates with me.  I often tweet it out.  It happened this time, too.  One quote stayed with me:

I won’t give away how this quote fits into the plot of the story, but for me, it reminded me of how every day in our library we expect the miraculous.  It reminded me that often times there are very small magical things that happen even though I may pulling my hair out, dwelling on all the things I haven’t accomplished, and thinking about all of the things that went wrong.  However, it’s those small, magical moments that stand out.  It’s those small magical moments that are the most important and remind me why I press on.  It’s those moments that remind me the importance of empowering the voices of our students.

mirandus 4

Even Cassie’s dedication in the book reminds me of the importance of empower our students to believe that they can do anything they set their minds to.  She writes in her dedication:

“For Daddy and Mama.  When I was little, you told me I could do anything.  I’m not so little now, but you keep saying it.  I’m starting to think you really believe it.  I love you for that.”

I didn’t even have to finish Circus Mirandus to know that I wanted my students to experience the book and that I wanted Cassie Beasley to visit our school, but when I did finish, I knew that she had to.  When I read that she lives in “rural Georgia”, I immediately emailed Rachel Watkins at Avid Bookshop to learn more.  Between me, Rachel, and Janet Geddis, we began a conversation about what an author visit would look like and started talks with the publisher and author.  It took some time, but in my heart, I really believed that Cassie Beasley would come to our school at some point this year.

Just a few days ago, we got the confirmation that Cassie will visit our 3rd-5th grade on September 3 at 1:00.  She will also do an in-store visit at Avid Bookshop.  As part of my proposal, I said that I would introduce the book to all 3rd-5th graders and would also get a copy for every 3rd-5th grade classroom to use as a read aloud.  I love Avid Bookshop, because they got us our 10 copies for the classrooms just in time for school to begin.

Students will have an opportunity to pre-order her book for signing.  We are also purchasing additional copies of the book to give to classrooms thanks to our wonderful PTA.  You are probably wishing that you could also get your signed copy.

If you are in the Athens area, visit Avid Bookshop on September 3 from 4:30-5:30PM.  If you can’t make it to Athens, you can still get your autographed copy.  Just visit Avid’s website to order a copy.  Make a note that you would like to get your book signed, and they will ship your book to wherever you are!

We look forward to meeting Cassie Beasley in our school on September 3.  Expect to see lots of tweets and pictures during the event and a full post afterward.  I highly encourage you to read Circus Mirandus.  Your life will be rewarded!

mirandus 1

 

Coming Soon from Peachtree Publishers: Lilliput by Sam Gayton

 

LilliputSummer is a time for recharging, reflecting, and reading! Each summer I find myself with a little extra time to take a look at my stack of books that are in my ever-growing to-be-read pile.  In May, I received a package from Peachtree Publishers. It was wrapped in an aged box with a book, hot chocolate, thimble, and a letter.  I was immediately drawn to the artwork on the cover of Lilliput, written by ‘Sam Gayton and illustrated by Alice Ratterree.

The cover is filled with many details of characters, events, and objects in the book.  This summer, as I found time to read the book, I often looked back at the cover and understood a little more about the illustration that had caught my attention from the very beginning.

Lilliput is the story of Lily, a Lilliputian, who was stolen away from her home by the famous Gulliver of Gulliver’s Travels. Lily is being held captive by Gulliver while he writes his book of his travels.  She is his proof that the land of Lilliput actually exists.  Lily hatches multiple escape plans to get back to her home, but she repeatedly gets caught and punished for her efforts.  Across the course of her escapes, Lily meets a cast of amazing characters:

  • Finn, a clock maker’s apprentice who is being held prisoner himself
  • Mr. Ozinda, a Spaniard with a famed Chocolate House
  • Swift, a bird caged within a clock
  • Mr. Plinker, an evil clock maker who designs clocks that torture or force people to spend most of their time working rather than having fun

There really is a character for everyone whether you love animals, evil villains, giants, spoiled bratty girls, clever boys, or fairies.  Throughout the book, you’ll find several steampunk illustrations by Alice Ratterree.  I love every one of them!

The book is divided into 3 parts: Escaping, Searching, and Leaving. Each chapter is fairly short, which I love.  Short chapters make me read a book so much faster.  I always think, “I can read one more chapter. It’s only a few pages.” Before I know it, I’m done with the book.  I find this a big selling point for reluctant readers as well.

Lilliput is filled with adventure. You’ll be cheering Lily on as she works with other characters in the book to get back to the place where she belongs.  You’ll find yourself clenching your toes as you read faster and faster to see if this plan is the plan that finally works.  You’ll want to get your own revenge on the evil Mr. Plinker and stinky giant Gulliver.

My favorite quote from the entire book was:

It made me think about all of the things in the world that have held me back and all I’ve done to work to get beyond those barriers. Lilliput will inspire readers to keep trying no matter what obstacles are standing in their way.  Just when you are at your point of giving up is the point where you need to keep trying the most.

I highly encourage you to check out Lilliput when it is released on August 1, 2015.  I can’t wait to recommend this title to all of the Barrow readers when we return to school.

You can learn more about Sam Gayton here.

You can learn more about Alice Ratterree here.

 

2015 Student Book Budgets: The Final Steps

unpacking (30)

This year’s student book budget group has been one of the largest groups, but one of the most thorough groups I’ve had.  To recap, our student book budget group is a group of 4th and 5th grade students who develop a reading interest survey, gather data from the whole school, analyze the data, set purchasing goals, meet with vendors, and spend a budget of approximately $2000.  I assist them, but the decisions are completely driven by students.

unpacking (28)

This year, we got started a bit late, so we didn’t get all of our books until the very last week of school.  After a lot of debate, the students decided to prepare the books for checkout, enjoy looking at them, and then set them aside for the beginning of the school year next year.  It was a hard decision, but we think it will be so exciting to walk into the library on the first week of school with over 150 new books to choose from.

unpacking (24)

On our final day together, some of the students gathered in the library for the big unpacking. We highlighted the books on our packing list, inspected them, stamped them with the library stamp, and started enjoying them.  One student said, “This needs to be your motto. Unpack, stamp, and enjoy.”

unpacking (2)

We realized that several of the books were cataloged as fiction but were really graphic novels, so we took time to label all of those books with a graphic novel sticker so that they could be easily found with other graphic novels.

unpacking (26) unpacking (25)

Once the books were enjoyed by the students, we sorted them into stacks by type of book and took their pictures.  These pictures will be used next year to promote the books at the beginning of the year.  It was fun to see all of the books grouped together to actually see how we distributed the money between our goals.  I think some of us realized we may have been a bit heavy in some areas of our budget, but I don’t think anyone will be disappointed in these great selections.

We thank Capstone and Avid Bookshop who were huge supporters of this project.  We wish the books were checked out right now, but with only one day of school left, we will wait with anticipation for the big checkout day.  It will be a nice way to inform students about the project who might want to participate next year.  My plan is to start much earlier next year!

Unpacking Our Student Book Budget Books: Part 1

Unpacking (9)

Two parts of our 2015 student book budget arrived!  It’s always exciting when I can email the students and tell them that the books are here.  They’ve been asking me almost daily since we placed the order.

All of our books from Avid Bookshop arrived during our author visit with Sarah Weeks.  The first box of Capstone books arrived while our 5th graders were at Skidaway Island.  I emailed the whole book budget group and told them to come today at noon to unpack books.

Our timeline has been a bit crunched this year.  We are almost out of school days and book check out is already coming to an end for the school year.  I need to do a better job next year of making sure this project doesn’t slip too far into the year.  Usually, we put all of the books out when they arrive and let the students start checking them out.  However, with only 8 days of school remaining, I handed this dilemma to the group.  There was a lot of debate about whether or not to have a special checkout of just book budget books or to wait until the opening of the library in the fall.  After a lot of discussion, the students decided that they wanted to wait and have these books be the first new books available to students in the fall.  It’s always nice to start the new school year with some exciting new books.

As we unpacked the books, we checked them off of our packing slips.  I had already cataloged the Avid books and uploaded the MARC records for Capstone, so the books were ready to go into circulation.  Once they were checked off the list.  Capstone sent us some special labels to put inside our books so that students could indicate books that they chose for the order.

Unpacking (3)

Each student chose a label, wrote his or her name on the label, and added it to the inside cover.  Students also stamped the books with our library stamp.

The excitement was high and it was so much fun to see the students immediately diving into the books.  They all tucked away around the library to read by themselves or with a partner.  Before they left, the book budget students did get to checkout a few of the books to read over the next few days.  They will return these books to the boxes so that they are ready for the next school year.

We are eagerly awaiting our final order from Capstone which should be arriving in the next few days.

Student Book Budgets: The Final Lists

final lists and skype (1)

It has been a long road to the final book lists this year, but our student book budget group has done it!  They’ve taken over $4,000 worth of books and narrowed it down to our final order.  In the last moments, they chose to take advantage of Capstone’s incentive right now which is to spend $1750 and earn 30% in Capstone Rewards.  This stretched our budget to almost $2300 for Capstone and $250 for Avid Bookshop.  Our list from Avid was not quite as long for this first time working with them, so it was easier for students to decide to go with the Capstone incentive.

final lists and skype (3)

After lots of debate, we narrowed the list down one book at a time until our dollar amount matched our budget and we felt like the books we included matched our goals.  We all got to take a deep breath because the hardest part was done.

final lists and skype (4)

Next, I got to share some great news with the students.  Each year, Capstone is a huge supporter of our project.  We do lots of sharing of our work and it has inspired many other libraries to give this type of project a try.  In turn, Capstone loves to celebrate the work of the students and our willingness to share the work of our process.  This year, Amy Cox offered the students a tremendous opportunity.  Since they had made such tough decisions about books, she wanted them to each have a chance to pick a book for the library that they personally wanted to include on the list.  It didn’t have to match a goal; it just needed to be a book that mattered to that student.  You should have seen how fast they started flipping through catalogs when I shared the news!

final lists and skype (8) final lists and skype (7)

I made a separate list in Capstone for this order and we started adding in books.  We saw books come back onto the list that had to be cut as well as books that students had longed for as they looked at catalogs.  There were hilarious books such as the Space Penguins series but also prolific books such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  We can’t thank Capstone enough for this special surprise for our students and library.  It means so much.  We are even going to put special stickers inside to mark that the books were donated by the 2015 Student Book Budget group.

During our final meeting before ordering, we were able to Skype with Karyn Lewis in Houston, Texas.  She was inspired by our long-standing project to try this with her students.  She also worked with her Capstone representative.  It was fun to have our group who was about to place an order talk with her group who is still in the midst of making decisions.  The students were able to take turns telling about our work so far.  We immediately noticed the connections that our students had with the students in Texas.  Some of the same types of books were popular in both states, and graphic novels were high on the list.

Then, we did a screen share and showed them our list.  Many of Karyn’s students noticed that we had some of the same books on our list as they were including on theirs.  Both groups of students also got to ask questions to one another.  They asked about things like how the surveys were done.  The Texas students noted some trouble getting responses due to testing and other school events, and we shared that we experienced some of the same problems.  We were able to share some strategies we used for getting more responses such as going to lunch and surveying people while they ate.

After we disconnected, I showed the students what would happen with their order at this point.  Amy Cox at Capstone shared a great video with me that shows just what happens to that order when it reaches the warehouse.  It was fascinating for all of us to see so many books and how they fill an order.

When students left, I proceeded to send off their orders to the appropriate places.  Now, we get to take a breath and wait for the fun day when the books all come in.

Thank you so much to the Amy Cox, Jim Boon, and the whole Capstone team.

Unnamed image (9)

Also, a huge thanks to Will Walton and Janet Geddis from Avid Bookshop.

Unnamed image (10)

Our project would not be the same without all of this support.

I can’t wait to see how this project continues to grow and inspire other.  Just today a library in New Jersey shared how they are trying out the project too.  The students were so excited to consider themselves teachers of schools around the country.

Student Book Budgets: Building Wish Lists and Making Tough Decisions

narrowing (12)Our student book budget group is hard at work.  So far, they have made lists that total almost $4,000, but our budget is $2,000.  Isn’ t this the struggle that we all face with budgets?  How do you decide what to buy and what not to buy?

During our most recent session, we revisited our goals.  We decided based on our survey data to purchase books about

  1. Animals
  2. Sports
  3. Mystery
  4. Comics and graphic novels
  5. Action Adventure
  6. Horror/Scary
  7. Fantasy
  8. Humor
  9. “How to”
  10. Music
  11. Games/Video games

As we made wish lists, our excitement over so many wonderful books caused us to add several things to our list that really didn’t match our goals so we had to think about this.  Do we stick with our goals or do we give ourselves permission to buy whatever we want?  The general consensus was to stick to our goals but possibly have some extra additions here or there.

Since we are way over budget, we have a lot of work to do.  During the most recent work session, we divided the responsibilities.  We identified 3 things that needed to happen:

  1. Continue searching through the Capstone catalog for books that match our goals and adding them to the list
  2. Examine the current Capstone list to see what does not match our goal or what might need to be cut
  3. Continue searching for books that match our goals that could be purchased from Avid Bookshop

One group of students formed an independent group to work on the Avid list.  They used Avid’s website, Amazon, and Novelist to look for books that might be of interest.

The students in the Avid group accidentally lost part of a title on our list, so we consulted our friend Will Walton at Avid via Twitter.

The author of the book even jumped in on the conversation.

Another group of students worked with Mr. Coleman, a 4th grade teacher, to examine our existing list.  He was great at facilitating a conversation with this group.  Only one person at a time was in charge of the mouse to delete books from the list, but all students were engaged in conversation about the books.  As usual, it was heated at times and at other times there was quick consensus about a book.  They narrowed the list below $3,000, but they knew that another group was adding more books to the list.

I worked with the third group who each chose one of our goals and looked through the Capstone catalog for books that matched.  They once again used the easy scan feature to scan books into the list.  I had a great conversation with a student who was adding an animal book to the list.  She asked me, “Do you think this is a book that fits the nature category?”  It really seemed like she was just putting the book on the list because it matched instead of putting it on the list because she thought people would read it, so I asked her about that.  I asked, “Do you think this is a book that kids would be excited about reading?” She paused.  “Do you think this is a book that a teacher would assign someone to read?”  She said yes.  It was a good time for me to say that I strongly believe that the book budget group is a time for kids to buy books that they think kids will be excited about reading.  I can buy books that teachers can use or books that fill gaps in our collection at another time.  This budget is all about what students want.  She smiled and continued looking for a books that mattered to students.

At the end of our time, I don’t think we narrowed our cost at all, but we did get closer to finding books that matched our goals.  Our next step will be to look closely at our budget and the promotions that Capstone offers to consider what our budget really is.  With Capstone Rewards, we really have a lot more money because if you spend $1750 you get 30% in rewards.  This might help our decisions during our next meeting.

Creating Wish Lists with Capstone Press: A Next Step in Student Book Budgets

Capstone Jim Boon (6)

Jim Boon from Capstone Press has been doing student book budgets with me since the beginning.  Each year things change just a bit, and Jim naturally adapts right along with me.  This year, we have our largest group of students working simultaneously so it gets noisy fast.  The most challenging thing is making sure that every voice is heard and that all members of the book budget group are engaged.  I love bringing in Jim because he masterfully listens to all students.  He makes connections with them and even remembers them from year to year if they have been part of the group before.  The students in turn have come to know him.  The returning students welcome him back and the new ones quickly learn why we bring him back every year.

Ahead of Jim’s visit, I email him some possible dates to visit.  We establish a time and he mails catalogs for all of the students to use on the day of his visit. Once we have our purchasing goals, I share those with him as well.  He sets up a big selection of Capstone books for students to look at that match the goals that they have set.  He even divides the books into 2 displays: fiction and nonfiction.

Jim does a very short explanation of what students have in front of them. He shows them how to look for books in the index and as well as how books a grouped together. He shows them that the displays might only have one book from an entire series that they can find in the catalogs. He shows them where to find prices for individual books as well as complete sets.  He shows them how each set of books has a barcode in the catalog that can be scanned straight into a wishlist on capstonepub.com  This scanning feature puts the entire series into the list, but then you can go in an uncheck the books that you don’t want to add.

Finally, Jim talks to students about current promotions that Capstone is offering that might stretch their budget even more. I love this part because it helps students think about how they might invest their money or how they might request extra money from me in order to take advantage of a promotion.  This discussion usually doesn’t happen on this particular day, but I always love seeing their wheels turning as they give me reasons why we should spend our money a certain way.

The fun begins when students leap into action. They take books from the display back to their tables and look through them.  They peruse the catalogs.  This is the point where it is hard to stay focused on our purchasing goals.  With a catalog of hundreds of pages, there are so many interesting books that don’t match what we said we were going to buy, and students easily slip into what they personally want to buy rather than what the whole school wants.  I don’t really worry about this very much during our first day with catalogs. Instead, I give a few reminders to think about our goals, but I know that we will revisit the entire list when we make cuts to match our budget.

As students find books that they want to add to the wishlist, they begin forming a line at my computer. I pull up a student book budget list on capstonepub.com and students scan the barcode in their catalogs.  We uncheck all of the books in the series that they don’t want to keep and then save the list.

At this point we don’t worry much about money, but when a student scans a series of 32 books and says that they want to add all of them, I do let them know how much all 32 books would cost.  Most of the time, the student is shocked and quickly narrows down to a few books that they really want to add.

Across an hour, students made a wish list with 161 titles totaling $3071.91.  Capstone is not our only vendor we are working with, so we are definitely going to have to cut some titles from this list.  We will meet 4 more times to add more titles, revisit our goals to see that they are all represented, and finally narrow our list down to the budget we have agreed upon.

We thank Capstone Press and Jim Boon for their continued support of his project.  We appreciate that this company listens to students as well as offers a rewards program that allows us to stretch our student budget even more.