Reader’s Advisory: Quirky Questions and Crowdsourcing Ideas

readers-advisory-4This year, I’m really trying to think of ways to support students’ reading lives.  Recently, Ms. Hicks, 3rd grade collaborator, came to me with an idea. She wondered if I would meet with small groups of students in 3rd grade who needed some suggestions of books to read.  These students are all readers but some might be stuck in their reading, abandon many of the books they choose, need a nudge to try something new, etc.


When I recommend books in the library, it’s always a very informal process.  I ask what students like, what they’ve read, what they are hoping to find, etc, but I’ve never formally made a list of questions to pull from.  I started thinking about Will Walton at Avid Bookshop and how he manages the Avid book subscription program.  In this program, someone buys a 6 or 12-month subscription and the recipient gets a new book in the mail specifically tailored to the recipient’s interests. I sent Will a message to see if he had a formal process and learned that he just loves to talk and chats with the person all about things they love. His questions aren’t always specific to reading, so it really got me thinking about quirky questions that I might ask to students that would help me connect them to a book.


I initially started making a list on my own, but then I sent the Google doc to all of the media specialists in our district as well as posted to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Share yours in the comments. #teachersfollowteachers #librariesofinstagram #bookshop #readersofinstagram

A photo posted by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

There were many suggestions about book related questions but some interesting thoughts started to emerge.  Our list started to grow.  (Feel free to add to this document!)

  • What do you like to do after school?
  • What are some of your favorite movies or television shows?
  • What are some of your hobbies?
  • What is a book that you couldn’t stand to read?  What was it about that book that you didn’t like?
  • What kind of music do you listen to?
  • Where do you like to eat?
  • What kind of games do you enjoy playing?
  • Would you rather fly a kite (sit by a river, etc.) on a nice day or go to a big party?
  • Who is your favorite superhero?
  • Do you have a favorite series?  Genre?
  • Do you like “just the facts” or “a far out story”?
  • What are 3 books you’ve read that you loved?
  • Do you like realistic stuff or imaginary stuff?
  • Why do you read (to escape, entertainment, learn new things)?
  • What is your preferred length of book? (short & sweet, long & detailed, depends on the book)
  • If you could visit any place or time in history, where would you go?
  • Is there anything you would avoid when choosing a book? (bad language, violence, ghosts, death, etc)
  • When you come to the library, where you usually go first when looking for your next book?
  • If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be and why?
  • Who are some of your favorite celebrities?
  • What is your favorite subject in school?

Then, I took those questions and turned them into a Google form to use with students.

I decided that if 6-8 students came at a time, I could have them start filling out the form while I started having 1-on-1 conversations with them.  We settled on a 30 minute session for this survey process.  I took over the typing as I talked with them and added to what they had already written or finished the questions they hadn’t gotten to.


I was actually amazed by some of the responses that I got from students and the insight it gave me into ways I might connect them to a book.  Some snippets of responses included:

If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be and why?

  • Mal from Descendants because she’s pretty and has purple hair. I like what she wears.
  • a wolf to howl at the moon
  • a cheetah because I want to run fast

Is there anything you would avoid when choosing a book? (bad language, violence, ghosts, death, etc)

  • kissing….love story
  • princesses
  • main character dies


I looked at all of the results for each student and wrote key words from the answers onto a post-it note for each student.

This helped me walk around the library and pull books into stacks for each student for a second trip to the library.  The purpose of the second 30-minute segment was to look at the stack of books that were chosen specifically for each student and really spend some time with them. Students were so eager to get their hands on their stacks that they started asking me for a sneak peek before it was even time.  My fear was that students wouldn’t connect with any book, but once again the miraculous happened.

Each student had a strategy.  Some spread all the books out and looked at the covers.  Some started reading one book and didn’t want to move to another book in the stack.  Some flipped over and read the back of each book.  Some read the beginning page of each book. What happened is that every student found more than one book in their stack of 7-8 books that they wanted to read and they were genuinely excited about their choices.


We decided that each student would choose the “first read” from the pile and we would create a list of all of the other titles so that we didn’t forget about the “future reads”.  For all of the books that weren’t chosen, we just pushed them aside in a big stack. Something else miraculous happened.  Students who were coming into the library to check out books saw all of my small group looking at that pile of books and they wanted to check something out from the pile. Several students who always have trouble finding something actually picked something from the pile of leftover books from the small group.

This gave me a lot to think about in terms of how to support various readers.  This was a very personalized experience.  It was time consuming on my part, but it was a way that I connected with students that’s hard to do when they are rushing in and out to get a book while I’m teaching a class.  I won’t to continue to explore this and see how it can be fine tuned.

Our next step is for students to read their books during “read to self” time in the classroom and we will meet again to chat about the books.  It will be like a book club. We won’t focus on naming the characters, setting, problem, solution, etc.  Instead we’ll talk about connections we had to the characters, what surprised us, what made us laugh, what we think will happen next. It will be “real talk” about books rather than just academic talk.  I can’t wait to see how this evolves.

If you have a favorite reader’s advisory question, add it to our doc or leave it in the comments.

A Visit with Kate Beasley


Thanks to Avid Bookshop and MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group, we had the great fortune of celebrating the book birthday of Gertie’s Leap to Greatness with the author.  Our 3rd-5th grade all got to come to Kate’s presentation. We did lots of work leading up to the visit to write about great people in our lives as well as read the beginning of the book.

Kate traveled to our school with her wonderful publicist, Mary Van Akin.  When Kate arrived, she took time to look at all of the student writing in the windows.  Mary and Kate both took lots of pictures of the students’ “great people”.  I also had birthday balloons, Twinkies, and Gertie balloons to celebrate the book’s birthday.

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We were sure to take a picture with those to remember the day.


Signing lots of Gertie's Leap to Greatness. #gertiesleaptogreatness #newbook #authorvisit #avidinschools

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Prior to the students’ arrival, Kate got busy signing all of the books.  Thanks to our PTA, ever classroom received copies of the books to put in class libraries.  Students are always eager to read the book after an author visit, so many teachers will read the book aloud while some will give the book to eager students to read and pass around to other students.  The library will also have 6 copies of the book for checkout and I’m sure that they will stay checked out for a long time.

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We kicked off the author visit by singing “Happy Birthday” to Gertie.  It was a rambunctious version of the song, but I’m sure Gertie would have loved it.  Then, Kate jumped into her presentation.  It’s always a treat to hear from an author because you get a window into their life to see where ideas come from.


Kate also gave the students a lot of tips on what it means to be a writer and shared the huge stack of rewrites and revisions of Gertie. She also showed students what it looked like when various editors sent feedback to her to make changes.  Students were very surprised to see that she worked on the book for over 3 years before it came to be in our hands.

I loved that Kate read from Gertie and chose a part near the end of the book that students hadn’t read yet.  She read the part where Gertie goes to the office to take a note but the secretary forgets to give Gertie a chocolate for delivering the note.  It puts Gertie in a tricky situation where she has to make a decision about the tempting chocolate in front of her.  It was once of those scenes that leaves readers wondering, so I’m sure many students will be eager to read the book to see what happens in that scene.

At the end of her presentation students had a chance to ask questions and then participate in an activity on specificity.

Kate asked students to look at some parts of a sentence and try to come up with more specific details to make the sentence more descriptive and interesting.

Kate Beasley is now off on a big tour for Gertie’s Leap to Greatness.  We are so honored that we got to be one of her first two stops.  I can’t wait to see how readers at our school and across the country react to this wonderful book.

Thank you Avid Bookshop, MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group, and Kate Beasley for a very special day in our library.

Happy Book Birthday to Gertie’s Leap to Greatness

Today is a very special book birthday. Kate Beasley’s Gertie’s Leap to Greatness is now on bookstore shelves. This is Kate’s debut novel and we are so excited to have her coming to our school on the book’s birthday thanks to MacMillan and Avid Bookshop.



About the Book

How would you feel if your mom lived just a few streets away yet had no interest in seeing you or talking to you? That’s Gertie Reece Foy’s situation. It doesn’t matter, though, because she has a plan, and Gertie never gives up on a plan. Gertie is a firecracker of a girl. She takes matters into her own hands and makes a plan to be the best 5th grader in the entire universe. She thinks that if she gives the best summer speech and become the best 5th grader in the universe, her mom will realize that Gertie is so awesome that she doesn’t need a mother anyway or possibly even come back into her life. Gertie has something standing in her way: a new girl named Mary Sue. Both of them have what it takes to be standout students, but their battle for the top results in even more struggles for Gertie to deal with.   This is a book filled with friendship, school and family challenges, and summer adventures.  You’ll be laughing out loud, cheering Gertie on, and crying along with her too.

Gertie is a character that I just want to hang out with. She is full of wit and adventure and can take just about any situation and make the best out of it. She does all of this even with a gloomy situation hanging over her. I think about my role in education and how a student like Gertie might slide by unnoticed as having a challenge to deal with. She isn’t one to reach out for help because she thinks she has to handle it all herself. How do I recognize those students? What opportunities can I give to students that allows them to shine and be the star that they are?  I love how even the stern Mrs. Stebbins recognized the potential in Gertie and gave her a moment to shine.

I’ve been reading the first two chapters of Gertie to our 3rd-5th graders, and it is pure magic to read aloud. Reading aloud is a sure way to see how a book connects with multiple readers.  It only took a few sentences into the book to have readers hanging on every word, laughing at the opening scenes in Aunt Rae’s kitchen, and begging to go on to the next chapter.  I know this book will become a favorite of many of our students.


Going Above and Beyond


This book made all of my students think about people from their lives that are always giving their all.  Together, we thought about the many “great” people in our lives.  Students in 3rd-5th grade were able to write down their great person on a Gertie’s Leap to Greatness card and we displayed them in our library windows.


I have so many great people in my life: family who are always there for me, volunteers who give their all to keep our library program running smoothly, and librarians who push me to be a better librarian.

One of those many librarians that I look up to is Nikki Robertson. She is the picture of perseverance, determination, and never giving up.  She is 100% awesome, not from concentrate just like Gertie Reece Foy.  I can’t really comprehensively name all of the things that Nikki does, but here are a few:

  • Co-founder of EdCamp Atlanta
  • Member of the EdSpeakers Group
  • Champion and producer TL News Night, a monthly internet program highlighting libraries
  • Moderator of #tlchat on Twitter
  • Nominee for numerous awards including Edublogs and Bammy Awards
  • Presenter at national and international conferences including ISTE and AASL

What stands out to me about Nikki is her willingness to go above and beyond for the good of all educators and students, not just herself.  Here’s an example.

Recently, Google Hangouts on Air transitioned to Youtube Live.  Many people in education use this tool and were really worried about how the changes would affect them. Nikki jumped right in to figure out the new tool.  She shared her frustrations, reached out to other people for ideas, and ultimately figured out how to easily use Youtube Live just like Hangouts on Air. She could have kept all of this new knowledge to herself, but instead she made a step by step visual tutorial on how to easily setup Youtube Live, and it saved me from agonizing over it another second.  I immediately used it to teach my BTV crew how to setup the new way of doing our morning broadcasts as well as assisted a fellow friend in a Youtube Live event we were doing for Dot Day.

Nikki also goes above and beyond for her students. Her high school library is buzzing with activity and it’s all about giving the students a voice. Nikki designed custom Snapchat filters for her library and had students and herself immediately having fun in the library and embracing the power of social media.  Her makerspace is a bustling place where she empowers her students to deeply explore specialized topics in making. She engages her students with creative interactive displays such as inviting students to spell out the word “hope” and share what hope means to them.  She does a personal shopper program to put the right books in the right readers’ hands.  All of these things are in addition to the fully packed schedule of classes that she teaches.  The list just goes on and on.  The bottom line is that Nikki Robertson never gives up on any mission she starts for her students, teachers, and network just like Gerite Reece Foy.

Get the Book

Who do you know that goes above and beyond?  I invite you to leave a comment, share on social media, or do your own blog post.  Be sure to get yourself a copy of Gertie’s Leap to Greatness at your local indie bookshop.  You can always order a copy from our local store, Avid Bookshop.

Leap with Gertie

While you’re at it, when you get your copy of Gertie, take a picture of yourself leaping with the book and post it to social media with the tag #leapwithgertie  Take a look at Kate & Cassie Beasley leaping along with students from our school.


Kate & Cassie Beasley leaping with Gertie. Photo courtesy of Macmillan.

Win a Skype with Anne Marie Pace


About 4 years ago, I participated in my very first World Read Aloud Day and scheduled Skypes with several great authors.  I was pretty new to using Skype, especially with authors, so I was a bit nervous about how the day would go.  What I discovered during that day was how powerful it can be to connect with an author or illustrator in their studio or home.  Students get to see a side of an author or illustrator that is hard to replicate in a library visit because they can easily reach over and grab items that they are working on, tools that they use, objects that inspire them, and more.  Skypes can also be an affordable alternative for schools on a budget for author visits.


One of the authors that I connected with on that first World Read Aloud Day was Anne Marie Pace.  She knew there was a big snowstorm coming, so she proactively gave me her contact info in case anything happened. That morning, I got a call from her because her power was out. She was so sad to miss our connection, but we immediately rescheduled and had an amazing connection.  Since that first Skype, she has shared Vampirina Ballerina with us, had Kindergartners up and dancing with her on the screen, and shared favorite picture books with our school and 4 others during our picture book smackdown.

She is a delight, and offers her wisdom on writing books and her love of reading.  I’m so excited that she has a new book coming out that started when she was in the 1st grade. It’s so important for our students to hear that adult authors often save writing from their childhoods and sometimes those writings turn into a new published book.

Anne Marie has an opportunity coming up for 1st graders.  I hope you’ll take a moment to read a message from her.


A Message from Anne Marie Pace:

“Because I was a first grader when I wrote the first draft of the story that has become my new book PIGLOO, I’d love to celebrate its release by talking with first graders about reading and writing.  I am happy to offer ten free Skype visits to first grade classes across the United States in November and December (and January, if needed to schedule with the schools).  To enter, I’d like first grade teachers to use this form to send me their information between October 3 and October 24.  I’ll choose ten schools using a random number generator and contact the winners to arrange the scheduled visit.


Skype visits will be 20 minutes long and will include my reading PIGLOO, a bit of chat about how writing is hard but fun, too, and a Q&A.  I’ll also send the winning classes some book-related swag and a teacher activity guide.


If teachers would like to send home a book order form to allow students to purchase a signed copy of the book, I have arranged with my local independent bookseller to ship copies of PIGLOO which I will inscribe and sign before they are shipped.  This is NOT required to enter or to win, but some students and their families like to have this opportunity.


First grade teachers and librarians on behalf of first grade teachers only, please.  Yes, I love kindergarteners and second graders, too, but this one’s for first grade.  (Ks will get a chance in the spring for Vampirina at the Beach)”

Submit your info by following this link!


Students as Teachers: Exploring Text Structure with Flipgrid


At the beginning of the year, I started talking with Melissa Freeman, 5th grade teacher, about exploring text structure in the library.  The very 1st unit in 5th grade language arts starts with text structure which explores the following standard.

ELAGSE5RI5  Compare and contrast the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events,ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts.

Melissa was wondering how to make the topic more engaging and wondered about the possibility of a library scavenger hunt.  We really weren’t sure where to go with the idea so we kept bouncing around possibilities over email and in person. She even came to the library and worked with me to pull books out of the nonfiction section and start sorting them into stacks.

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I continued this process so that we knew we had examples of compare/contrast, description, sequence/order, cause/effect, and problem/solution.  Then, I mixed them all up.  We knew that even though we personally picked a book for a specific structure that students might find other examples of text structure within the book.  We were also excited that students would have some one-on-one time looking through some nonfiction books that they might not know that the library has.

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In one of our brainstorms, I thought about the possibility of students recording their findings in a digital way that could be shared with one another and also other grade levels. I originally thought it would be a good way for them to agree or disagree with examples that were discovered, but we expanded the idea to be a way that students could teach other students in our school and other schools about ways text can be organized.

We decided to use Flipgrid for this task.  I created 5 separate questions: one for each type of text structure.  Then, I linked them all on a Symbaloo that Ms. Freeman could share with her students via Google Classroom.

In class, Ms. Freeman introduced each kind of text structure and students started exploring books on Tumblebooks for each structure.

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Each class came to the library for a 50-minute session.  We did a quick mini-lesson to review the structures, show how to use Flipgrid, and share what we hoped students would include in their video. This included things like the book title, author, text structure, and a concrete example from the text to justify the structure chosen.  We also setup the idea that these videos could be a teaching tool for the rest of 5th grade, the school, and other schools.

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I spread the books out at tables and students worked in partners to browse the tables for a book to start with. As they discovered one of the 5 text structures, they prepared to make a video.  Students used their own computers to record a Flipgrid, and then continued exploring for their next book example.

Ms. Freeman, Ms. Mullins (gifted teacher), and I all walked around and chatted with students as they searched through books.  One of our immediate noticings was that students were guessing the structure simply based on the title, topic, or cover of the book.

They weren’t even opening the book to read the text.  While this was a great predictor of what kind of structure might be inside, students were missing the point about looking at the organization. We clarified this in conferences and adjusted our mini-lesson with each class to put a stronger emphasis on explaining.

To close each class, we showed a few of the videos and had student offer noticings about what they heard. I love that in the new Flipgrid, you can actually respond to each video response.  I showed students how the comments they were making could actually be added right onto our Flipgrid.  I also encouraged each person who made a video to think about how they might add to their original video by posting a new video as a response.

The plan is for students to continue using these Flipgrids in class to post additional examples and respond to one another. We hope that eventually there will be some strong examples that can be shared with other classes in our school as well as with schools we collaborate with.

In the meantime, it’s a work in progress.

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Exploring Chefs and Food Trucks with Cantata Learning’s Harmony Project


We love getting involved in global projects that connect us with different careers, cultures, and people. Last year, we shared what winter is like in our community of Athens, Georgia by contributing to an interactive ebook.

This fall, Cantata Learning’s Harmony Project is called “Give a Shout Out to Your Community“.  It will feature live connections with several community helpers such as chefs, authors, doctors, and farmers.  As students learn from these live connections, they are encouraged to explore their own communities and create videos that showcase their communities.

Students can also get involved in a service learning project in their community.  All of these products can be shared with Cantata Learning on their Harmony Project page so that they can be shared with the world and we can all learn about one another’s communities.

Today, Ms. Kelly’s Kindergarten class connected with Jason De Baca who is a chef and owner of a food truck in Denver, CO.  Through a Google Hangout facilitated by Shannon McClintock Miller, we were able to go inside the food truck, see a recipe prepared, and learn how a food truck works.

Such fun learning about food trucks today with @cantata_learning #tlchat #foodtruck #googlehangout

A photo posted by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

Ms. Kelly’s class also got to ask questions which was a very special part of our connection.  Students asked about how to become a chef, where to get recipes, where ingredients come from, what tools are used in cooking, who drives the food truck, and how much it costs to get started with a food truck business.

Jason was happy to answer all of their questions.

After we disconnected, we were able to look at a map to learn where Denver, CO is and how long it would take to get there.

Another exciting thing that happened was that a student in Ms. Kelly’s class shared that his dad owns a food truck. We hope this might lead to an opportunity for us to actually go inside a food truck or sample some food truck food.  It was also a special connection to see how food trucks are a part of our community in Athens, Georgia and Denver, Colorado too.


This connection also allowed me to highlight our cooking and food section of the library.  This section includes cookbooks as well as books on where food comes from and how kids can get involved in growing their food.

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Ms. Kelly’s class is always dreaming up something exciting, so I look forward to what they will dream up after exploring food trucks with Jason and Cantata Learning.

Take a look at our whole connection.

Athens, GA & Seodaemun, South Korea: A Global Art Collaboration


In June 2015, the mayors of Athens, GA and Seodaemun, South Korea signed a Memorandum of Understanding.  This MOU calls for both cities to exchange leadership programs in private and public sectors that promote economic development.  That basically means that our cities have a friendship to exchange ideas.


As a part of this collaboration, the 2nd graders at our school are engaging in a collaborative art project with students in Seodaemun.  This has been an exciting and challenging undertaking for our students and teachers, but it has been full of rewarding experiences.  The classroom teachers, art teacher, and media center all supported the students at Barrow in carrying out the project.

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In class, students read the book Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki Shaw.  This set the stage for students thinking about how our city of Athens is the same as Seodaemun and how it’s different.  My wife, Denise Plemmons, in the Athens-Clarke County Economic Development Department, shared several websites with us to learn more about Seodaemun. I added some additional sites for students to visit that included resources from our state-funded Galileo databases. These were all housed on a Symbaloo page for students.

Teachers paired students within their rooms to research and create art together.  Students used a Venn diagram to write brief notes on what was the same and different between our cities. For example, students learned that we have an arch at UGA and Seodaemun has an arch at Independence Park. They saw that we go to school for 7-8 hours per day and Seodaemun may go up to 16 hours per day.  Research was done in the library, and prior to letting students search on their own via the Symbaloo, I provided some tangible examples like these to put into the diagram.


The research was a challenge.  One reason was just the lack of resources on a 2nd grade level. The other big challenge was that students are 7 and 8 years old. There are currently studying regions of Georgia, so adding in a country on the other side of the world was hard to grasp within that context. We found that some students thought they had been to South Korea when in fact they were thinking of South Carolina. It may seem humorous, but it was valid conversation that we worked to clarify in the library, art room, and classroom.

After an hour-long session of research, students took their work to Ms. Foretich in the art room.  They used their Venn diagram to decide what art they would create that would show something that was the same or different between our cities.  One of the partners painted the Athens side of the art, and the other partner painted the Seodaemun side.

2nd grade artwork preview; studying South Korean culture. #barrowbuddies #barrowschool

A photo posted by Barrow Elementary School (@barrowelementary) on


More 2nd grade artwork featuring South Korean culture. Come see the display on Sept 12. #barrowschool #barrowbuddies

A photo posted by Barrow Elementary School (@barrowelementary) on

In classrooms, teachers continued to share maps and facts about our two cities. Mrs. Yawn, the 2nd grade team leader, worked to plan a morning of rotations for all of the 2nd graders. Some of our students are from South Korea, so she invited the parents of those students along with support from UGA to offer rotation topics on culture, games, and food.

2nd graders learning about South Korean culture! Thanks Barrow parents for sharing. #barrowschool #barrowbuddies

A photo posted by Barrow Elementary School (@barrowelementary) on

Another part of the rotations was for each class to come to the library and record a Flipgrid video explaining what each pair of students learned about Athens and Seodaemun and what they created in their art.

Students used Flipgrid to explain their Athens & Seodaemun artwork. #global #athensga #southkorea #librariesofinstagram

A video posted by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

Our goal is to send these Flipgrid links to Seodaemun so that the Korean students can respond back when they create their own art.

To celebrate the end of our portion of the project, the mayor of Seodaemun visited our whole 2nd grade along with members of the Athens Clarke County government.

Dr. Ellen Sabatini, principal, welcomed everyone.


Ms. Yawn, 2nd grade team leader, explained the project to our visitors and families.


Students shared pieces of the project that they worked on.

Student presentations on what they learned about South Korea #barrowbuddies #southkoreaexperience

A video posted by Barrow Elementary School (@barrowelementary) on

Commissioner Harry Sims spoke about how the students’ art work would now be a world traveler as it goes across the ocean to South Korea.

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Finally, Seok-Jin Mun, the mayor of Seodaemun, spoke to students about how we are all connected to one another because we are all mankind. Even though we have different beliefs or different skin color, we are all connected.

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To conclude the visit, Mayor Mun, teachers, and all guests explored the student artwork on display in the 2nd grade collaborative space.


Mayor Mun pointed out his observations of what stood out to our students and clarified some facts from our research.

Collaborative art showing Athens GA and Seodaemun South Korea is on display. #collaboration #athensga #southkorea #global

A video posted by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

It was inspiring to think with him and the members of our Clarke County government about how we can continue to build upon this friendship between our two communities.

Now, our artwork is preparing to make its journey, and we look forward to seeing what our new friends in South Korea learn and draw about Athens, Georgia.  We thank the Athens Clarke County Economic Development Department for this opportunity to connect our students with our global community.