The Forgotten Girl: A Visit with India Hill Brown

Thanks to Scholastic Book Fairs our fourth and fifth graders were introduced to debut author India Hill Brown.  Her new book The Forgotten Girl releases in November, but it is a featured book on Scholastic’s fall book fair allowing readers to enjoy it well in advance of release day.

The Forgotten Girl is about 2 friends, Iris and Daniel, who leave their home one night to play in the first snowfall of the year. They sneak away into the woods to get to some fresh snow and to be out of sight. Iris decides to make a snow angel, and when she gets up, she realizes she has just made a snow angel on top of a forgotten grave. This action awakens a ghost named Avery, who needs help being remembered. Iris and Daniel launch into a research project to remember the deceased members of the segregated African American cemetery and to have the area cleaned up. However, Iris is put in some dangerous situations due to her new ghostly friend.

Our local Athens history has some interesting connections with this book. We invited local expert, Fred Smith Sr, to speak to students ahead of our visit with India. He shared the history of segregated cemeteries in Athens, including the slave burial grounds at the University of Georgia. He also shared how UGA moved some of the remains as well as built on top of the burial sites. Fred Smith Sr has been active in the process of acknowledging and honoring the forgotten graves.

He then shared about our 2 black cemeteries in Athens that were created after slavery ended. The Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery is where Harriet Powers is buried. She is well known for her Bible story quilts which now hang in the Smithsonian and the Boston Museum of Art. I brought in my replica of her quilt for students to see.

Scholastic sent books for pre-ordering ahead of the event, so we were also able to read the first chapter before the visit.

Our library windows transformed into the cover of the book with a the title sign, trees, and tombstones representing some of our Athens graveyard residents.

India Hill Brown spoke for about 30 minutes to our 4th and 5th graders. She shared some of her favorite books as a child as well as her love of writing from an early age.  She also surprised us by sharing that she really doesn’t like scary stories. However, she said one way to get over your fear of something is by doing it or by turning it into art.

 

India showed us pictures of the cemetery in her own community that inspired her to write the book. She wanted to weave in the history of forgotten cemeteries with a ghost story. We always love it when authors share the creative process of a story, and India showed us how the story went through multiple revisions and edits to reach the final version. I loved how she explained the different kinds of changes she made from the content of the story to spelling mistakes. Students are always surprised how long the entire process takes. Even though the first draft was done in about a month, the entire process of creating the finished book took over a year.

Students had a chance to ask India lots of questions about writing and her favorite things in life.  I even got to ask a questions about any ghostly happenings she has encountered in her own life.  After her talk, India took time to greet students as they exited. I loved seeing students making connections with her and even doing chants and hand clapping games with her.

Many times when we host and author, they are in a hurry to get to their next event. We usually do signing without students and then deliver books. India wanted to greet her readers, so we had students wait in the library and get in line for greeting and signing. I loved watching students glow as they met her and shared their excitement about her book.

Now that the visit is over, we have 5 copies of the book in the library and all 5 have already been checked out. Every classroom also has a copy in the classroom thanks to our PTA. I have a feeling many students who missed out on pre-orders will want to purchase the book at our fall book fair.

Thank you Scholastic Book Fairs for bringing India to our school.  Thank you India Hill Brown for sharing your historically important story with our readers. I can’t wait to hear the conversations that take place as students read this book.

The King of Kindergarten: A Visit with Derrick Barnes & Vanessa Brantley Newton

We are 3 weeks into the new school year and we are so thankful that we were able to host an author and illustrator for students in PreK-1st grade. Derrick Barnes, author of the award-winning Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, and Vanessa Brantley Newton, illustrator of numerous, stunning books such as The Youngest Marcher, Mary Had a Little Glam, and Grandma’s Purse came to our school thanks to our local bookshop Avid Bookshop and their publisher Penguin Random House.  They came to celebrate their newest picture book together called The King of Kindergarten, which has received numerous starred reviews.

Getting the students ready for an author visit so early in the year was a challenge, but most K-1 students heard 2-3 stories by Derrick and Vanessa including The King of Kindergarten, Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut, Mama’s Work Shoes, Early Sunday Morning, and Mary Had a Little Glam. 

 

We also took pictures of every student in K-1 and put their pictures on the windows of the library with clip art crowns to welcome Derrick and Vanessa to our school.

Families had an opportunity to pre-order a copy of The King of Kindergarten for autographing, and thanks to our pre-sales and a generous donation from an anonymous donor, every student in Kindergarten received a copy of the book.

When Derrick and Vanessa arrived at our school, they were greeted by two of our 5th grade Barrow ambassadors. These students welcome visitors to our school, give tours of our school, and make sure special guests are well taken care of.  They took their job very seriously and helped Derrick and Vanessa get settled in the library and helped deliver all of the signed books to classrooms.

As students entered to get seated, their excitement was palpable. Some of them saw Derrick and Vanessa waiting in my office and said, “Mr. Plemmons!  Look behind you! They are here. They’re really here in Georgia!”  It was a celebrity sighting for sure and one of the reasons it is so important to read books and talk about authors and illustrators before a visit.  The kids felt like they knew them and they were able to connect the books we’ve experienced with a real, live person who created them.

Derrick shared a little about himself and his family. He also shared that his own children are the faces of characters on the covers of his books. We looked at Crown and The King of Kindergarten covers to see his sons. During this time, Derrick talked about the importance of every person being able to see themselves on the cover of a book and that he felt his job was to fill in some of the gaps that exist in the publishing world.

Vanessa also shared about herself. We learned that she is dyslexic and she talked with the kids about working with that challenge in her life. She also stutters, so she talked with the kids about how that has impacted her and asked for their help in staying peaceful while she talked so that she could formulate her words. It was so important for kids to hear about these challenges she faced in her life but was still able to do something that she loved.  Vanessa also showed us some of her art books and shared that she loves to leave pieces of art everywhere she goes so that people can find her work and add some art to their lives.

Before Derrick read The King of Kindergarten, he offered our young learners some advice. 1.  Always greet your teachers and classmates each day with a good morning (which they all turned and did right away!) 2.  Be kind.  3. Represent your family name. Make them proud.

As Derrick read the book, Vanessa drew the king of Kindergarten.  I loved hearing students filling in the parts of the text they remembered as Derrick read. They also noticed that Derrick and his wife are in the book too. Vanessa also included a couple of students from our audience in her drawing. She shared that she has a photographic memory and uses people she sees as characters.

As Derrick and Vanessa said goodbye, so many students came up to smile, wave, point out parts of the book, touch Derrick and Vanessa, or give them a hug. I was so thankful that all of our young learners got to hear their message, see their faces in person, and be inspired by their work and stories.

What happens after an author visit is always special. Kids recognize the books in the library and immediately check them all out. Kids get inspired to create their own art and stories.

This time because so many kids received a copy of the book, we saw kids excitedly putting books into their backpacks to go home and read with their family and many brought the books back to school to read here too.

Thank you so much Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley Newton for sharing your talents with our students. Thank you Avid Bookshop for bring author and illustrators to our school.  Thank you Penguin Random House & Nancy Paulsen Books for choosing our community and our school as a stop on the tour.  The impact will last well beyond this 30-minute visit.  Thank you.

 

 

 

The Night Diary: A Visit with Veera Hiranandani

We are so fortunate to have an amazing independent bookshop in our community, Avid Bookshop. This year, they have brought 5 authors/illustrators to our school. That means that every student in grades K-5 has experienced 2 author/illustrator visits this year. For our final visit of this school year, we welcomed Veera Hiranandani, author of the 2018 Newbery Honor book The Night Diary. Veera is on tour for the paperback version of the book which was released on April 23, 2019. She visited our school thanks to Avid Bookshop and her publisher, Penguin Kids and Kokila.

From the Publisher:

The Night Diary

 
Next, we listed to Veera’s interview with her editor. https://youtu.be/6Q5Tzyjl8iU
The publisher also has a thorough Educator’s Guide for the book. It is packed with ideas prior to reading, during reading, and after reading. In classrooms, students examined 4 statements that had a connection with the content of the book.
  • Being smart doesn’t have to be about reading or math. It might be about artwork or being able to understand others.
  • When people are separated into groups, they start to believe that one group is better than the other.
  • Quiet voices sometimes get people’s attention even better than loud voices.
  • Everyone should dress the same, enjoy the same foods, and practice the same religion.

Each student choice a statement that resonated with them and wrote a diary entry to explain why they agreed or disagreed with the statement. These diary entries were displayed in the windows of the library to welcome Veera.

During Veera’s visit, she took time to give us even more background on the partition of India.
Then, she read another excerpt from the book that took place right when the partitioning happened.
Veera took students into her writing process a bit and then gave us a glimpse into her family and why telling this story was important to her.
 
We got to hear about her dad experiencing the partition. She also shared additional pictures of family members.
We learned about the importance of food in Veera’s life and why she wanted to include food references in her writing.
 
I loved that she closed by asking students to consider their own stories and allowing them to ask questions. We were so impressed at the kinds of questions students chose to ask.

Questions ranged from how to decide on characters to how her father came to America to which religion she identifies with to how she gathered information about the partitioning. When sensitive questions arose, students respectfully asked if it was ok to ask about religion or money or other topics, and Veera didn’t shy away from any of their requests.

Before she left, Veera chatted with a few individual students and signed several books. Thanks to our PTA every 5th grade classroom has 6 books as well as a set of 15 books to be used in 5th grade book clubs. The library also has multiple copies for student checkout.

Students are eager to read the book before the close of the school year and we look forward to using this book next year with book groups. Thank you again to 5th grade teachers, Barrow PTA, Avid Bookshop, and Penguin Kids for making this visit possible. Thank you Veera Hirananadani for sharing your story with all of us.

First Grade 3D Jewelry Design with Makers Empire

Each year, the art teacher and I collaborate on a 3D design and 3D printing project to accompany her art standards in 1st grade. Blokify has been a trusty 3D design tool that has served this project well due to its simplicity on the iPad. However, this year we hit a road block. Blokify is no longer available in the app store, and this was the year that our iPads finally quit supporting its functionality.

I began exploring alternatives.  There are so many 3D design apps and web tools out there, but the tricky part is finding one that is developmentally supportive to 1st graders.  The app I decided on was Makers Empire. This app has a lot of options for 3D design and also has some gaming built in, but it has a block based design tool called Blocker that works very similar to Blokify. This app is free to use but it’s not free to access the teacher dashboard and be able to download the STL files for 3D printing. It’s also not cheap, so we decided to test it out with a free 14-day trial and see how it served our project.

After tinkering with the app on my own, I decided on some steps it would take to get our 1st graders designing. Makers Empire is not an app you can just open up and start. There’s some setup involved, which I felt like was a bit of a barrier to our 1st graders. Ms. Foretich and I made a slideshow of steps to get students started, and we all sat in front of the screen to do these setup steps together.

First, students tapped on “new” to create new accounts. First, they create a hero. This is their avatar, but we didn’t want to spend much time on this so we just told them to tap each button and make a quick selection.

Next, students let Makers Empire assign them a random name and skipped the password step.

Prior to their arrival, I went into the dashboard and setup a class for each 1st grade homeroom. Students were able to select their class, grade, and type their real name so that I could easily identify their account in the teach dashboard.

This finally brought students to the screen where they were ready to create in Blocker.

At this point, we had students turn over their iPads so that they could see the steps needed to create a jewelry pendant for 3D printing. Since Makers Empire has so many things to click on, I really wish we had time for them to tinker first. However, we decided to focus them on a few buttons and promise them that when they finished their design that they could tinker with any of the other parts of the app.

In Blocker, we only needed students to use the add, delete, and view buttons to create their design, so we showed them these 3 buttons. We also talked to them about the requirements for a pendant. It needed to be one level tall. All pieces had to be connected by at least one side. There had to be a hole for string to go through. Students could design a specific shape or something abstract.

We sent them to tables with iPads and then rotated around to support students with any design questions or confusions they had. Once students were actually in Blocker, most of them had little to no trouble figuring out how to design. When students felt their design was done, they raised a hand for us to come and double check it. Then, they named the file with their name and moved on to tinkering with any part of the app.

Once students left, there were several steps for me to do. I loved that I could log in to the dashboard in Makers Empire and pull up each class, see their files, and download the STL file. This was such an easy step that was so much better than my experience with Blokify. I imported each filed into the Makerware software for our Makerbot and put about 8 files on each plate. On paper, I labeled each plate with student names so I knew which file belonged to which student.

Then, the printing began. Each plate took about an hour to print and there were about 3 plates per class. In all, it took about 12 hours to print the whole first grade’s files across a few days. As each plate printed, I put pendants in individual ziploc bags with the teacher and student name written on the outside.

When classes were finished printing, Ms. Foretich took the pendants to the art room for the final steps. Students colored their pendants with sharpie markers, placed string through the pendant, and added decorative beads to finalize their jewelry piece.

I loved seeing students wearing their necklaces around the school. They were so proud to show them off to me in the hallways.

Now, Ms. Foretich and I need to think through this tool, how often we might actually use it through the next school year, and whether it’s worth the lofty price tag. If you know of other 3D design tools that might be a good fit for this project and first graders, comment below.

 

Poem In Your Pocket Days 2019

We just wrapped up 2 days filled with poetry readings. For many years, we have been celebrating poetry month and national poem in your pocket day by hosting a poetry cafe in the library. During this 2-day event, every class in the school comes to the library for a 20-minute session. Students sit in a specially decorated area of the library filled with soft cushions, lighting, flowers, and a fancy microphone.

Every student has a chance to come up and share an original or favorite poem into the microphone and we celebrate each poet with snaps and quiet claps. This even is broadcast via Youtube Live so that family and friends can enjoy our poetry from afar. Ahead of the even, I setup each Youtube event and put the links to every class on a Smore page for easy access and sharing. As we broadcast each event, it immediately archives to Youtube and the Smore page.

One of my favorite parts of these days is that it is one time where every single student in our school has an opportunity to be seen and heard. While not every students chooses to get in front of the microphone, they all have the opportunity.

There’s always magical things that happen: kids who are shy have a friend who encourages them and stand with them, a poem is tucked away in a special place like a shoe, a student creates an unexpected poem that stands out in a beautiful way, a student reads a poem in a different language, a parent or teacher shares a favorite or original poem.

I invite you to listen to some of the student poetry by visiting the Youtube links on our Smore page. You can continue to leave comments for the students on Youtube or on Twitter by using the hashtag #barrowpoems

Happy poetry month!

Sharing Books Through Google Slides, Shelf Talkers, and Book Talks

I’ve been working with Ms. Hicks and a group of 3rd graders to think about our reading lives, how we talk about books, and how we share our reading with our local and global community. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been thinking more about our school community and what we can do to share new book ideas with them.

We started our journey by creating a rolling slideshow that could be displayed on a hallway monitor that most students pass at some point during the day.

Each student created one slide about their book.  Their goal was to write a short blurb about the book to inform passersby about the book they had read. They were also supposed to include an image of themselves with the book or the book by itself.  I published this slideshow to the web and set it to rotate slides every 15 seconds and repeat the show when it reached the end.

It continuously plays in the hallway until we update it with new slides.  Then, I’ll need to publish it to the web again.

Next, we talked about other ways we could share our books with the readers in our school. We brainstormed a list, and rather than asking everyone to do the same thing, students chose from the list what they wanted to create. They could create a shelf talker like you might find in Avid Bookshop, a poster to hang in a strategic spot in the school, or a book talk that could be shared on our morning broadcast, BTV.

To get ready, we looked at some mentor examples. A few years back, we Skyped with Will Walton at Avid Bookshop, and he shared tips from writing shelf talkers. We took a look at his video clip and a few examples from the shop. I made an example of a book poster on a Google slide and had students point out things they noticed. For book talks on BTV, we revisited our 30-second book talk Flipgrid videos and reminded ourselves about a good hook, a tease of information, and a recommendation.

Students made their selections and got to work creating. Ms. Hicks and I conferenced students but also encouraged students to share their work with one another for feedback.

For posters, I created a blank set of Google Slides, which Ms. Hicks shared with the students. Each claimed a slide, chose a background color, added a short book talk, and chose images from Google Explore that represented their book.

As students finished, I saved each slide as a JPEG and printed them in color.

Students met together to brainstorm strategic spots in school to place their posters. They decided to pick spots where people would have time to stop as well as spots that were visible. This was spots like the water fountain, the hand dryer, and columns in the rotunda.

For shelf talkers, students displayed the book that they wrote about near its genre section and taped the index card shelf talker underneath.

For BTV book talks, students wrote out their script and practiced. Then, they scheduled a day to come to our morning broadcast to share their book.

As a part of the book talk, each student shared which section the book could be found in in our library.

Our hope is that giving student these authentic ways to share their reading lives within and beyond our school will get them thinking about even more ways they might share the books they are reading. We hope that it raises the awareness of other readers in our school to want to also share their reading lives within their classroom and around our school. We are hoping that are small group explorations will put a spark back into grade levels to incorporate this more into the classroom culture.  I know that I want to be more intentional about getting student voice out into our school in regards to sharing our reading lives.

 

 

 

 

Storybook Celebration and Parade 2019

We continued Read Across America Week this week by having our annual Storybook Parade and Celebration.

We started our day with 2 guest readers in every classroom. They read favorite books from home as well as books from our library collection. It’s always a great way to get kids excited about trying out some new stories in our library.

Next, we held an assembly in the cafeteria. This was our chance to come together as a school for a story and to see each other’s costumes.

Dressed as Jarrett Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady, I read aloud Everybody’s Favorite Book by Mike Allegra. Since I was reading to 600 students, I wanted something that could be a bit interactive, and this book has some great moments for choral reading, laughs, knock knock jokes, and saying yes or no. I projected the book up on the screen so students could follow along as I read.

Next, each row took turns standing to show off their costume and faced the back of the lunchroom before sitting back down. This allowed us to get prepped to walk out the door for the parade.

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I kicked off our parade with our 5th graders as we marched down the sidewalks by our school, the UGA athletic fields, and Lumpkin Street. Students chanted “Read More Books” and added in some rhythm along the way too. We loved seeing families waving along the route as well as UGA students walking to class or cars driving down the road. It is a great way to make our school and reading visible in our community.

Our 5th grade stopped by the Dooley garden to have some lemonade and donuts while the rest of the parade passed by.  Many group photos were taken based on themes of costumes.

Once we returned to school, grade levels held their own activities in their classrooms. As with any schoolwide event, it takes a village to pull this off. This tradition is one that students always look forward too and remember for years to come.

Now as we head into spring break, our students can spend some time reading more books!