Celebrating Stories with Our Annual Storybook Parade

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The day before fall break is always a special day at our school.  It is our annual Storybook Celebration.  Organizing this day takes a tremendous amount of work, but the students have such a great day. Students and teachers are encouraged to dress as any storybook character.

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We spent about 2 weeks ahead of the event advertising various costume ideas on our morning broadcast.  I wanted to encourage students to think about how they could use things they already had around their house or things they could make in order to create an awesome costume.  Some of my BTV crew chose books and shared some simple ideas for creating an awesome costume.  An example was Max from Max the Brave where you could just dress in black and tie a red cape, blanket, sheet, or towel around your neck.

Students poured into the library for the past 2 weeks to ask for assistance finding a book for the parade and costume ideas.  We had students coming in right up until the parade actually started, which was definitely a little crazy without much help.

Also ahead of the event, I sent out a Google spreadsheet to all of our resource and specials teachers to offer special opportunities during the day for classes to have literature-focused activities and a chance for teachers to have a planning time.  Resource and specials teachers blacked out times that they weren’t available and teachers signed up for the rest.

My volunteer coordinator, Courtney Tobin, created a Signup Genius to recruit 2 guest readers for every classroom to kickoff the day. This was sent out to grade level parent representatives who encouraged people to sign up.  I also shared the link with my own list of past guest readers as well as CCSD board members and district leaders.  I also published it on our library Facebook page.  We didn’t quite reach our goal of 2 readers per class, but every class had someone to share a great story with them at the start of the day.  These readers gathered in the library, chose from a selection of books, took a photo, and were off to classes to read.

After guest readers, we gathered in the cafeteria for an assembly.  We broadcast students onto the big screen as they entered using Google Hangouts.

Evan Bush from the Athens Clarke County Public Library came and told several interactive fall stories to almost 600 students.  I loved how he took the energy of the crowd and got them all snapping, clapping, and sharing parts of the stories.  It kept them focused.  I reached out to Evan about 2 weeks before our event, and he graciously agreed to come.  I love that he gave our students a great storytelling experience and also one more connection to the public library and what it can offer.

After Evan, each class stood up twirled around to show off costumes, and sat facing the back of the cafeteria.  This prepared us to go out on our actual parade as well as gave students a chance to show one another their costumes.

It was during this time that I found out all my preparation for the parade route suddenly had to be changed.  I was so organized this year and provided maps of the parade route to families and community ahead of time.  However, Georgia Power had to do some work and closed part of the sidewalk on our route.  I had to make a last minute change, but it all worked out.

We took off into the community shouting “Read More Books!” and showing off our costumes.  It was fun to see community members, families, UGA students, construction workers, and more cheering us on along the way.  Our 1st-5th grade took a longer route and our Prek/K took a shorter route around the school.

Our 5th graders have a tradition of stopping along the parade route for a special treat, and for the past few years we have stopped at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education for hot chocolate.  Mimi, our family engagement specialist, organizes this piece for us by having the cafeteria prep the hot chocolate and taking the hot chocolate to setup.  Students have some time to just hangout, talk, and enjoy their treats before heading back to school.

Finally, back at school we go to our special classes as well as do more literature activities in class.  In the library, we focused on pirate stories since I was dressed as Captain Hook.  I also used the great pirate video from All the Wonders.

Students moved to tables and colored a pirate sheet or designed their own pirate using Chromville augmented reality.

Somehow in all the craziness, we also organized a big book giveaway.  In the back corner of the library, there were tables of books that had been donated or weeded out of various collections and needed a good home. Courtney Tobin and other volunteers helped get the books put out, and teachers brought classes or small groups of students to pick out new books.  It was fun to glance over and see so many students excited to add books to their home libraries.  We will keep these tables going next week since there are still books left.

It seems that each year something new comes along for storybook celebration that makes it a little more special.  This year I loved seeing so many creative costumes: Little Elliot, the Bird Woman from Circus Mirandus, Minecraft creepers, Martin Luther King, the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and more.

I loved seeing our reflection in the glass of the UGA coliseum.

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I also loved that our public library was involved in the day and I want to think even more about how community is represented on this day.

Until next year…

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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.



Continuing Our Battle of the Books with Even More Student Voices


Each year we have a program called Battle of the Books in 3rd-5th grade.  This is a reading competition where teams of 5 students read a list of 10 books.  They work together to answer questions about the books in several rounds of competition in order to be crowned the Battle of the Books Champion.  Each year there are students who don’t participate in battle of the books for many reasons.  Sometimes they are unsure if they want to do it and by the time they decide it’s too late.  Sometimes they have too many other things going on that they can’t fit it in.  Whatever the reason, there are students who are left out. This year, one of our teachers, Ms. Mills, recognized that in 3rd grade and wanted to give these students a 2nd chance to participate.



Since we are near the end of the year, reading the long chapter books that are on the regular list weren’t reasonable to consider, so she pulled several books that students could realistically finish, understand, and compete with.  Students read these books in small groups as well as during state testing when they finished their test.

Deciding to choose new books  meant that there weren’t questions written for these books, so she knew she would have to come up with every question asked.  I love what she decided to do.  She took the books to a 5th grade class and asked them if they would read the books and come up with questions to ask the 3rd graders.  The 5th grade students worked with their teacher to craft questions and they put their names on each question written.  During the competition, Ms. Mills or Ms. Garrett would say who a question was written by.


We decided to broadcast the competition through Google Hangouts on Air so that all 3rd grade classes could watch and support their friends.  I setup the hangout and emailed the link to all of the teachers, and of course, we now have an archive of our competition for anyone else who wants to watch.  Students helped pull the questions from a basket of questions and the teachers asked them. Each team received 8 questions and the teachers kept track of which team got the most questions correct.  It was a tight competition because the students knew the books so well.


I take no credit for any of this competition, but I just had to highlight what these teachers and students did.  Bravo to Ms. Mills and Ms. Garrett for giving even more of our students a voice in this fun competition during the busy end-of-the-year rush.  They all did an awesome job, represented our school well, and showed that they knew their books well!

Kicking Off Summer Reading with a Visit from Author Sarah Weeks

A few weeks ago our local independent bookshop, Avid Bookshop, emailed me with an opportunity.  Sarah Weeks, author of Pie and many other great books, was coming to Athens, and they wanted her to visit our school.  Hooray!  I try to jump at every author visit I can get.  For the visit, I needed to presale some books, which I always do, but this time we wanted to try something new and crazy. I’ve always wanted to do a school wide read, but I have never gotten the idea off the ground.  I saw this as a perfect chance to try it with a smaller number of students rather than the whole school. This author visit focused on upper grades. Our 5th graders would be gone to Skidaway on a field trip, so 3rd and 4th grade would be the classes coming to the visit. Rather than asking every student to buy a copy of the book, I decided to try a GoFundMe campaign to raise enough money to give every 3rd and 4th grader a copy of Pie as well as buy a few copies of Honey to give away to a few students.

Summer Reading w Author Sarah Weeks by Andy Plemmons   GoFundMe

In just under 1 month, 28 donors funded our project.  These donors included community members, grandparents, families, and friends from around the country.  Thank you to each one of these donors who made this crazy idea a reality.

When Sarah Weeks came to visit our school, I got to make the exciting announcement and tell them about the 28 people who took time to donate money to the project.  I also told them that the deal from me is that I want each one of them to read Pie.  I want them to share it with families and spend time talking about it.  I also want them to make things together like family recipes or even pies.  My hope is that they will document this over the summer on a Padlet.

Sarah Weeks was phenomenal in her visit and I highly recommend her to any schools looking for a great author visit. She built so many frequently asked questions into her talk such as “What was your first book?”, “What is your current book?”, “Do you get writer’s block?”, etc.  Each question was answered with slides filled with great photographs, personal stories, and lots of funny moments.  The students laughed so much at Sarah’s stories about boys painting their fingernails, kids doing puppets shows through the shirts, and dogs joining.

She talked about a story arc and had students moving their hands to show the flow of a story through beginning, middle, and end.  She also told them a story about a cowboy on a horse in the airport and paused along the way to point out what part of the arc she was in during the story. What a great connection to what they are learning in writing class!

She showed them the many revisions that her work goes through and how important it is to listen to her editor. She connected this to all of the notes that students see on their writing papers and stressed how they needed to listen to their teachers’ comments because it helps make the writing better.

Sarah has so many books that she couldn’t talk about them all.  She started with books like the Oggie Cooder books and how he charves cheese into the shapes of states.

We had one student who knew every state she showed a picture of!

Sarah’s two new books are Glamourpuss and Honey.  She treated the students to a full reading of Glamourpuss and the high-energy students were mesmerized.  I loved how she showed Honey to the students.  She showed several slides with single words that helped students know some things the books was about, but then she showed students several characters from the book along with text from the book that gave the students a taste of the character.

Then, she showed the students how she had to do research to learn about how nail polish is made.  This story connected with a great story about how some girls in a library were painting their nails and several boys were very curious.  The librarian at the school hosted a nails at noon session in the library and it was attended by mostly boys who painted their nails and posed for some fierce pictures.

I couldn’t believe how much Sarah packed into an hour long presentation.  There was even time for Q & A.  She was engaging, funny, and a pro at keeping the student’s attention.  I loved getting to hang out with Sarah Weeks even for a brief time.  She is a fun person and a talented writer.

Thank you Avid Bookshop and Scholastic for bringing her to our school. Thank you to all of the donors who got Pie into the hands of all of our kids.

As I went to car riders today, I saw several students in the hallway already reading their books while they waited.  That’s what it’s all about!

It was a really fun day!



A Visit with Illustrator R. Gregory Christie

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

From R. Gregory Christie’s site:

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

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

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

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

and Karyn Parsons on a variety of projects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It takes about a year to do a book.

Body language is important when you are illustrating a book.

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

2015 Poem In Your Pocket (Part 2)

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Our live poetry cafe continued today with 11 more sessions.  Again, we broadcast each reading through Google Hangouts and encouraged people to Tweet about our poetry using the hashtag #barrowpoems.  You can read about yesterday here.

I always love the surprises that come up from students: a student reading from a computer, a student who barely speaks who reads an incredibly descriptive poem, a student giving his teacher a standing ovation, a student who shared a poem in Chinese and then English, students encouraging their friends with a “you can do it”, a student sharing a poem about his home country, a student reading a poem for another student who was too shy to come up, and  a student handing me her poem to carry in my pocket.

Today I added a little sign to help with our traffic in and out of the library for checkout.

The energy of our students sharing poetry is simply amazing and inspiring.  Check out all these pictures of the students in action.

Our Twitter wall was very popular with students during the two days:

A few tweets from today:

Watch all of today’s archives:

2015 Poem In Your Pocket Day (Part 1)

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Each year, Poem In Your Pocket Day morphs into something just a little bit new.  It’s always a day to come to the library and share poems into our open microphone, but we like to mix things up a bit each year.  This year, I put out soft seating instead of tables.  It allowed students to be a bit closer to the speaker and hopefully felt a bit more cozy.

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In the past, I’ve used Adobe Connect to broadcast our day.  While it is a great tool, it has some drawbacks.  I love that it is one room that our online guests can stay in all day long and I can communicate with them via chat.  However, I don’t love the way the archive is created.  I have to setup and name each recording right as I’m starting the recording.  It doesn’t take long, but it’s one more step I have to do.  Also, once all of the archives are done, I have to go in, change them to public, and copy the link to share in order for people to view them.

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This year, I decided to try Google Hangouts on Air.  We use this every day for our morning broadcast, so I’m very familiar with using it.  Ahead of our event, I setup a Google Hangout on Air for each session on our schedule.  Then, I opened each hangout and copied the Youtube link where the video would stream live.  I embedded these videos on one big Google site so that they were easily accessible in one spot.

Click to visit our Google Site

As each group came in, I opened the hangout, tested the sound, and pressed start.  Our guests could watch online, but as soon as I pressed stop the video was instantly archived on that same Google site.  It saved me the hassle of having to go back and find all of the videos in order to share them.  While it’s not huge, any amount of time I can save is valuable to me.

This year, to make up for the chat feature being taken away, we decided to use Twitter to talk about our poems.  We encourage our online guests and future viewers of our content to tweet using the hashtag #barrowpoems I used Tweet Beam to display the tweet on our projection board for students to see.  It was fun to see how this populated throughout the day and how much students smiled when they saw a tweet mentioning their poem.  Teachers even pulled out their phones and helped document the day through pictures, videos, and comments on Twitter.

Also, here’s a little look at what it’s like to be in the room.

This event always amazes me because pretty much every student in the school gets up in front of an audience and speaks.  It’s a small amount of speaking, but I love seeing students get used to speaking to an audience and seeing what that feels like.  This is a very positive and supportive atmosphere, so most students leave the reading feeling validated for their work.

I encourage you to listen to some of our archives and continue to tweet about #barrowpoems

Continue watching us live on April 10th!