Exploring Themes & Goals at the Decatur Book Festival

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I’m no stranger to the Decatur Book Festival.  This Labor Day weekend tradition always has a prime spot on my calendar each year.  It’s not often that you get the opportunity to connect with so many profound adult, teen, and children’s authors in one location.  Each year, the festival seems to take on new life and I gain something for myself, for my own children, and for my students every time I attend.

This year, the children’s stage featured panels of authors and illustrators rather than single speakers.  Panels were organized around themes and were facilitated by a children’s author or literature-loving moderator.  I loved this revision to how the festival worked in the past because the facilitators of each panel made sure that the audience learned about each author/illustrator, each book, the process behind how it was created, as well as exploring the theme of the panel.

Here are a few of the sessions I attended.

Bugs, Birds, and Birthday Cake!

This panel was all about the fun of animals and humor in stories.  Mac Barnett shared his upcoming book Telephone.  LeUyen Pham shared her book A Piece of Cake.  Angela DiTerlizzi shared Some Bugs.   One of the quirkiest things about this panel was when each author/illustrator shared 2 truths and shenanigan about themselves.  Each author/illustrator shared some pretty off the wall examples, so it was really hard to decide which of the 3 examples was truth and which was made up.  This brought about so much audience participation and engagement, but it also revealed to us each speaker’s personality which in turn revealed something about their work as an author/illustrator.

Pure Imagination

This panel explored the power of imagination in children’s books and kids’ lives and featured Matt Phelan (Druthers), Amy Krouse Rosenthal (Uni the Unicorn), and Kelly Light (Louise Loves Art).  This panel reminded us all of the importance of taking time to imagine and dream even as an adult.  Panelists also emphasized the importance of play and tinkering without judgement.  We each hold within us the power to dream and imagine and have to give ourselves permission to let the ability continue to shine through even in constraints that we face.

All in the Family

This panel featured family teams of author/illustrators including Frank Morrison & Connie Schofield-Morrison (I Got the Rhythm) and James & Kimberly Dean (Pete the Cat and the New Guy).  It was interesting to hear how married couples collaborate with one another on a project.  The speakers revealed that it can definitely be a challenge and a blessing to work with someone that you are so close to.  Each collaborative partnership seemed to have developed strategies to push one another while at the same time respecting one another’s creative talents.  Author Elizabeth Dulemba moderated this panel, and I loved how she highlighted each creative duo equally well.  She also took time to bring up the conversation of diversity by specifically pointing to I Got the Rhythm and it’s pages where so many people can find themselves within the illustrations.  The Decatur Book Festival had many aspects of diversity represented this year.  I will nudge that racial diversity wasn’t at the top of the list.  I hope that diversity will continue to be explored at this festival along with many other kinds of diversity so that readers will continue to find themselves in the books and in the authors and illustrators in attendance.

Great Books for New Readers

This panel focused on newly released books to hook a variety of readers including Jon Scieszka (Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor), Jennifer Holm (The Fourteenth Goldfish), Tom Watson (Stick Dog Chases a Pizza), and Mike Lane (The Vanishing Coin).  This was a really interesting panel full of fun and laughs.  Each author had a unique way of presenting his or her work.  Mike Lane performed a magic trick with the audience.  Jenni Holm shared stories of how her father kept bacteria cultures in the fridge.  Jon Scieszka performed his own magic trick by growing hair on his head right before our eyes.  It was easy to see why new readers would gravitate toward these authors.  They write stories that connect with readers, especially readers who want to read about magic, fun, experimenting, and just plain silliness.

This Really Happened: Graphic Memoirs for Kids

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This panel explored how real life events can be relived in a graphic novel format and featured CeCe Bell (El Deafo) and Jimmy Gownley (The Dumbest Idea Ever).   I had already heard lots of buzz about El Deafo, but when I watched CeCe Bell stand up and share the very personal story of where her graphic novel came from, I was inspired.  To take a life changing event that some people might look at as tragic or confining and turn that story into a graphic novel superhero story is a true artistic gift to readers.  So many students will find themselves in this character and feel strength in their own disabilities.  I can’t wait to put this book in students’ hands to read for enjoyment but also as a strong example of how our life experiences become the stories we tell.

All the Girls in the World


This was a panel of women authors who write about strong girl characters and featured Jennifer Holm (The Fourteenth Goldfish), Laurel Snyder (Seven Stories Up), and Megan Jean Sovern (The Meaning of Maggie).  The always-profound Deborah Wiles moderated this panel with carefully crafted questions.  Her wonderings explored the true stories behind the fictional novels as well as the hard topics that each author chose to explore in her writing.  This panel was the perfect way to end my festival experience because it left me with so many wonderings as well as so much wisdom.  Multiple times kids in the audience raised their hands to express that they experience sadness in their lives and survive that sadness, which reinforced the idea that authors need to include sadness in books.  We can’t shield our young readers from a world where sadness and heartache exists.  Books can show readers how they might persevere through these trials just as the characters in these 3 novels do.


How did the festival inform my library goals?

My library goals for this year really are proving to be something that I carry with me wherever I go.  To me, this means that they really are goals that matter.  In the past, I can’t recall writing goals that I could recite with memory or goals that I could connect to so many experiences throughout the school year.

As I experienced the Decatur Book Festival, I couldn’t help but think about my goals.

1.  To provide students, teachers, and families opportunities to dream, tinker, create, and share

Dreaming. Tinkering. Imagining.  These words kept surfacing throughout the whole festival.  Kelly Light talked about how she let her daughter pick 2 books at bedtime as well as share one story.  She believed in the power of using the imagination to create soemthing new as well as be inspired by the stories created by others.  LeUyen Pham created individualized illustrations in each book that she signed in her autograph line.  I heard her ask one person if she had a picture of a baby that a book was being signed for.  She drew an image of the baby in the book by looking at a cellphone picture.  She made my own daughter feel like a rockstar while signing her copy of Vampirina Ballerina and drew Alora as a ballerina in the book.  Throughout the festival, there were opportunities for families to spend time together dreaming, tinkering, and making from booth with cardboard boxes and art supplies promoting the new film The Boxtrolls to the Decatur Makers booth where a variety of maker opportunities existed for families.

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2.  To engage in global thinking and global collaboration

The panels organized by themes really pushed my thinking.  As I listened, I started to think…..what if global collaboration revolved around themes?  When I think about connecting around a particiular book, I mostly think about American-published books.  I honestly have no idea about books, authors, etc from other countries.  What if we concentrated on a theme, connected with other schools around the world, and read books and created content around that theme?  I imagine that we would experience new authors, new books, and new perspectives that we never dreamed of before. I really don’t have a definite path because of this, but it has sparked something in me that is listening and watching for opportunities for global collaboration and thinking.

3.  To empower student voice

During the “All the Girls in the World” panel, a girl stood up and talked about The Fourteenth Goldfish and Seven Stories Up.  She shared how reading those stories shows her and other girls that it is ok to feel they way that they feel and that there are other people in the world struggling with those same topics.  I wish I had captured her exact words so that I could carry them with me because she reminded me of how much wisdom our students are carrying.  That panel gave her an opportunit to stand up and make her voice be heard and she reminded me that I need to continue to think about the opportunties that I’m providing students to stand up and make their own voices be heard.  So many students need so many different kinds of experiences to find their moment to speak up.  My hope is that I can maximize those opportunities for the students of our school.

4.   To support the reading habits and curiosities of students, teachers, and families

Visitng this festival always exposes me to authors and books that haven’t been on my radar before.  By listening carefully to each author/illustator’s story, I have a personal experience to share with readers as they make decisions about the next book that they will explore.  Listening to each author/illustratore share they journey they have made to publishing the works that we hold in our hands makes me even more aware that every book on our library shelves holds a story of how it came to be and makes me want to know that story to share with readers.  I wish that more authors would use blogs and social media to share their stories of their journey to publication so that we could connect these backstories to readers.  Hearing these stories makes me want to dig a little more to connect readers with the stories of the authors that are hiding on our library shelves.



Believing in the Possible with Jennifer Holm

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Many of you know that our motto in the library is “Expect the Miraculous” based on the book Flora & Ulysses.  When I saw the cover for Jennifer Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish for the first time I was immediately drawn into the tagline “Believe in the  impossible possible.”  Before I even read the book, I felt a connection.  I was lucky enough to score an advanced reader’s copy of the book at the Texas Library Association Conference back in April and I was hooked from the opening chapter.  In fact, you can read the opening chapter here.


During the summer, I was contacted by the wonderful people at Avid Bookshop about a potential author visit with Jennifer Holm.  She was planning to be at the Decatur Book Festival on Labor Day weekend and was spending some time visiting bookstores and schools ahead of the festival.  It was fate.  The author of a book that I absolutely loved that connected with our philosophy of the library was available to visit our school.  I immediately said yes and the planning began.

Pulling off an author visit in the first two weeks of school is tricky.  When an author visits, I love to have time to preview their books with kids, have classes sharing the books as a read aloud, and allowing students to create decorations to welcome the author to our school.  There’s also the presales of books.  Forms must be sent home, collected, organized, and books ordered for autographing.  Two weeks is hard, but we expect the miraculous.

Here’s what happened ahead of the event.

  • Every single Holm book was checked out by either teachers or students.  In fact, I didn’t have any library books available for her to autograph at the visit!
  • Announcements were made on BTV advertising the visit
  • Three teachers received advanced reader copies of The Fourteenth Goldfish and began reading it aloud.
  • The entire school was invited to make book birthday cards since the book came out 2 days before Jenni’s visit.

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  • Several people helped make decorations for the event including jellyfish and goldfish balloons to hang from the ceiling as well as some posters.

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  • Preorders went home on the 1st day of school and were due 4 days later.
  • Classes watched the book trailer for The Fourteenth Goldfish.


Today’s visit was incredible.  Every 3rd-5th grade class came which was a little more than 200 students.  We shifted back the library shelves to make room for everyone.  Jennifer kicked off the visit by sharing with students the story of how The Fourteenth Goldfish came to be.  She shared the stories of famous scientists and what it means to be an true observer.  She shared family stories of scientists in her family and built up to the science behind the main idea of the book which revolves around a fountain of youth found within a jellyfish.  She held up an apple and invited students to think about whether or not it was alive or if it held new life within it.

Then, she spent some time having students ponder what it would be like to be old and suddenly be transformed back into a teenager.  What problems might people face if they changed ages?  What success would they have?  She turned this into a game by having kids come up to the board in teams and write everything good about being old and everything good about being young.  Then she tallied up the number of reasons to see which was better.  She did the same thing with new groups of students but switched to everything bad about each age.  While students were racing against time to make their lists, she took questions from students about her books and the writing process.  She also shared the secret Babymouse signal and had students do it (which was really a clever way to keep the audience focused and settle down).

I loved how she pushed students to think deeply about whether they would ever want to go back to being young if it was possible.  I also loved how she shared the idea of believing in the possible by connecting the story to an actual jellyfish that can revert back to a younger version of itself.  If it’s possible for a jellyfish, could it be possible for us?

I hope many students will take time to read this book, and I have a feeling after this visit that many will.  I know several teacher who are considering it as their next read aloud.  With tie-ins to science and the belief in the possible, it has so many implications for what it means to be a dreamer, a tinkerer, and a maker.

We ended our time by sing happy birthday to The Fourteenth Goldfish.


Following her talk, she spent time connecting with students and signing books.  We found out that she had not signed a copy of The Fourteenth Goldfish yet, so Hannah was the lucky student who has the 1st signed copy of the released book.

We are so fortunate to have Avid Bookshop in our community making connections between the community, authors, and our students in schools.  Thank you Jennifer Holm for taking time to visit our school and share your wisdom with us.  Thank you Avid and thank you Random House for this wonderful experience.  Our students will never forget it.


Library Orientation: Starting the Year with Failure

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Last year, I decided to try something new for my library orientation.  Rather than have students sit and listen to me go on and on about how the library works, I let them explore the library with QR codes.  I loved this change so much that I decided to try this again this year and add some new twists.

First, I thought about all of the main questions that pop up during the year about using the library and made a list.  Then, I took this list and tried to make videos that were concise and addressed one task rather than weaving in multiple topics into one video.  This included topics such as how to search in Destiny, how to check out with and without a student id, how to check in, how to use a shelf marker, how to place a hold, and where supplies are located.  I also had some pieces of the library that I wanted students to know about such as areas where participatory opportunities would be displayed and what was new in our makerspace.

I took each video, improved the sound quality in iMovie, and uploaded to Youtube.  Using Kaywa QR Code generator, I made a QR code to each video, labeled it, printed it, and put it in a sleeve to hang in the library.

When 2nd-5th grade came to the library, they entered to a rolling slideshow of our 4 library goals.





I wanted our first focus to be what we hope our library is about this year.  The procedures are important because they affect the flow of the year, but the goals are what drive us every day.

After talking about the 4 goals, I showed students how the orientation would work.  Each student would have an iPad with headphones.  Using the Layar app, students would scan each QR code and tap on the video to begin listening.  There were 4 videos that I wanted every student to review:  how to check out, how to check in, how to use Destiny, and a tour of the library sections.  I placed these 4 codes on 4 tables so that students could easily keep track of which videos they needed to watch first.  Following the 4 videos, students could scan a QR code on the project board that took them to a playlist so that they could choose any of the other videos to watch.

QR orientation (5)QR orientation (8)Once students scanned a video, I encouraged them to carry their iPad and go to that section of the library so that they could physically see the things that I was talking about in the video.  Once again, this was a wonderful experience because it allowed students to move, replay videos if needed, and actually see the library spaces rather than sit and listen.

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This worked beautifully some of the time, but here’s where the failure comes in.  On the 2nd week of school, our district implemented a new filter.  Filters can be wonderful things to protect our students, but anytime something new is implemented the bugs have to be worked out.  On day 1, every Youtube video was blocked on the iPads.  As soon as students started scanning, they got the no access screen.  Luckily, I could still access Youtube on my own computer so I decided we could just watch some of the videos on the projector.  Then, the internet speed became so slow that no videos would work.  Finally, we just got in a line and did an old-fashioned tour around the library.  The coolness of the QR codes was gone, but we still accomplished learning about the library.

While this experience was very frustrating, it allowed me to model what it means to not give up, to persevere through failures, and to expect that great things will happen even when things don’t work.  Rather than bottle all of my thinking in my head, I began to share it with the kids.  I said things like, “This was an epic failure, so let me back up and rethink this” and “Why don’t we try…”.  In future lessons, I built this conversation into our mini-lesson.  I prepped the kids by sharing the failures we had already encountered and how we worked through them together.  What I started to see was kids who were being more patient and were trying different strategies when the internet was slow or a code didn’t scan rather than kids who were giving up or kids who were yelling out about something not working and asking for an adult’s help.  I was reminded of the importance of sharing that it’s ok to fail as long as you use that failure to learn what you might do differently.

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In Kindergarten and 1st grade, we used the book Awesome Dawson by Chris Gall.  I chose this book because Dawson is a “maker”.  I felt like he embodied what I hoped that all of us would consider ourselves across the course of the year.  During our reading of this book, we paused to notice how Dawson never gave up.  We pointed out his epic failures along the way and how he took those failures, backed up, and tried something new.  He never lost his cool.  Instead, he took a different path or split a huge invention into 3 smaller ones.  As we made these noticings, we made connections to our own learning and the goals that we had for this year in the library.

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Following our read aloud and/or QR code tour, we used Kahoot to review a few of the library procedures.  I chose Kahoot for a few reasons.  One was to put it in front of teachers at the very beginning of the year as an engaging tool to use with students to check for understanding.  Several teachers were eager to try it in their classrooms.  Another reason was to make the really boring topic of library procedures fun and get us all on the same page.  It worked.  Even another reason was to throw a tool at students that was new to just about all of them and once again practice our acceptance of failure.  Several students couldn’t login.  Others had games that didn’t load as fast as other i Pads.  Still others got kicked out in the middle of the game and had to log back in.  Did any of these failures stop of us from learning? No.  We used each and every barrier, glitch, and student error as a learning tool for how we will work together this year.

Now that our orientations are over. We are ready for a year of miraculous projects.  The QR codes are now hanging all over the library for students to continue to reference throughout the year as they forget how to check out or place a hold.  The videos are also being sent to all of the library volunteers so that they can also review the different ways the library works before assisting students and shelving books.

I’m sure I will make even more changes to next year’s orientation, but I love how this one set the stage for our year.



Developing Library Goals to Carry Into Every Collaborative Meeting

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Last year, a book impacted my life, my library program, and found its way into so many conversations with students, teachers, and librarians.  “Expect the Miraculous” came to be our mantra in the Barrow Media Center thanks to Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo.  It was all thanks to p. 130-131.

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This summer, as I sat down to develop our library program goals for the 2014-2015 school year, that mantra of expecting the miraculous everyday was still a big part of my thinking.  However, this summer I carried so much more with me as I reflected on goals.

I had my experiences and conversations with the #Wandoo5 at Evanced Games in Indianapolis.

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I had the moonshot thinking and action plan of the Google Teacher Academy and becoming a Google Certified Teacher.



I had the Invent to Learn Workshop with Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager.

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I had numerous experiences at the ISTE 2014 conference including a zombie fighting keynote from Jennifer LaGarde, empowering talks from George Couros and Todd Nesloney, and inspiring keynotes from Ashley Judd and Kevin Carroll about the importance of each child’s story and the importance of play.

The more I reflected on my summer professional learning experiences the more I realized that I wanted this year’s goals to be different.  In the past, I’ve made big goals about developing the participatory culture in our library, but I’ve also made specific goals about the collection.  While the collection is important, it is not my primary focus for the library program.  I was reminded of a question in Jennifer LaGarde’s keynote about the Dewey decimal system and her answer of “who cares”.  Who cares if I have specific goals about the library collection?  What cares if the 300’s have the recommended number of books?  Who cares what the average age of the biographies is?  The heart of the program isn’t the physical collection.  The heart of the program is the students, the teachers, the families, and the community.  The heart of the program is the opportunities that they have through the library.  Now, I’m not saying that I’m abandoning the collection or that I don’t have goals about the collection.  It’s just that my primary goals of the library aren’t about the collection.

I want goals that I can carry with me into every collaborative meeting that I attend.  I want goals that I can put up on the walls of the library and add tangible evidence throughout the year of how they are impacting the students, teachers, and families in our school.  I want goals that support our school and district goals as well as reflect what is being talked about on a global level.

This week, I will share these goals with our faculty during pre-planning, but they’ve already faced their first test.  During our first day of pre-planning our principal set the stage for our year.  I must say that it was one of the most inspiring opening days that I’ve ever been a part of because it wasn’t filled with duties and responsibilities, mandates, and daunting changes.  Of course, all of those things  will be present this year, but our principal chose to focus on how we can value each child’s story, how we can add to and enhance that story by what we offer at school, and how we can develop a vision and mission for our school that represents what we truly believe in education.  As I listened and as I talked with other teachers, I was already carrying my goals with me, and I must say that I felt really good about the 4 goals that I’ve chosen.

These are the goals that are based on the themes that consistently surfaced in all of my reading, professional learning, conversations, and reflections.

Goal 1:  To provide students, teachers, and families opportunities to dream, tinker, create, and share

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I chose these verbs carefully because I think that the order matters.  So often, we feel the time crunch in education and I think we often jump to having students make something with so many detailed requirements that they don’t have time to dream about what they hope they could make or have time to mess around, fail, and learn from those failures.  As I plan projects with teachers this year, I want to intentionally plan spaces for students to pause and wonder and have time to explore before they actually create a final product that is shared with an authentic audience.  I want us to think carefully about how we “show our work” just as Austin Kleon outlines in his books.  He says, “If your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.”  I’ll be thinking carefully about how we give students opportunities to create and also how they share their process as well as their final product.

Within this goal, I have subgoals about the number of large-scale projects I will do with each grade level, the development of our library makerspace, the collaborative relationships with our community makerspace and tech startup, and embedded digital citizenship.

Goal 2:  To engage in global thinking and global collaboration

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I can’t even count the number of times that global thinking and collaboration came up this summer.  I feel like so many people around the world are primed and ready for this endeavor during the upcoming year.  Last year, our library was more connected than it has ever been through authors, guest speakers, reading events, and peer feedback through Skype and Google Hangouts.  Even though we felt connected, most of our work was projects or single connections.  I would love to see global thinking and collaboration become more evident in what we do through long-term collaborative relationships around the globe and authentic questions and projects that matter to the world.  Within this goal are the many networks that I will be a part of this year including GlobalTL, Connected Classroom, Skype in the Classroom, and my Twitter PLN.  I’m inspired by the work of Sylvia Rosenthal Tolisano and will look at her work as we plan this year.

As teachers and I plan this year, we will ask ourselves how we are being global thinkers and how we are connecting our students beyond the walls of our school.

Goal 3:  To empower student voice


When I thought about this goal, I was reminded of many stories shared by George Couros at ISTE including the story of a little boy who made a video where he overjoyed by getting one “like” on a social media post.  I was reminded of Todd Nesloney sharing about his math fair and how he asked students to “wow” him by showing their math knowledge.  Students did more that “wow” him.  They shared their passions in life, involved their families, and were empowered.  I was reminded of how we all want to be heard and feel like we’ve made a difference.  As I plan with teachers this year, I want to ask how we are empowering each student by allowing them to share their passions and feel that their voice is heard.  In the library, I will continue to explore this as well by giving students opportunity to document our year, make decisions about library resources, share their passions through contests and displays, pass on their expertise through co-teaching experiences, and listening closely for opportunities I don’t even know about.

Goal 4:  To support the reading habits and curiosities of students, teachers, and families

It’s no secret that the more you read the better reader you become.  You of course need to have the skills and strategies to accompany that time commitment.  You also need access to reading that matters to you.  This year I want to be more intentional about supporting reading curiosities to match students, teachers, and families to the kinds of stories and information they are looking for.  I also want to be more intentional about documenting that commitment to reading.  Our library is not the only source of reading materials, so I want to continue to build a collaborative relationship with the public library, local bookstores, and other community resources to all work together toward a common goal.

This year, we will explore an Evanced tool called Wandoo Reader.  This tool will give students a portal for documenting their reading lives through tracking book titles and minutes read.  Along the way, there will be challenges issued to students, and within Wandoo Reader, they will earn pieces to a robot that they will customize.  I hope that this tool will offer a level of engagement for tracking reading as well as encourage students to spend more time reading in multiple ways from multiple locations.



Our planning will begin this week and I look forward to carrying these goals with me, trying them out, and see what miraculous things happen this school year.

What are YOUR library goals?  I invite you to think about them in new ways and share.