World Read Aloud Week 2018: Author Visits, Skypes, and More

What an amazing week for celebrating the power of reading in our school!  For the past few years, we have celebrated World Read Aloud Day and stretched it into a whole week.  This celebration was created by an organization called LitWorld for a very important reason.

We think everyone in the world should get to read and write. Every year, on World Read Aloud Day, people all around the globe read aloud together and share stories to advocate for literacy as a human right that belongs to all people. ~Litworld

In fact, there are some pretty mindblowing facts about reading around the world.


This week in the library, we’ve hosted skypes and Google Hangouts with classes, libraries, authors, and illustrators as well as hosting an in-person visit with Matt de la Pena & Loren Long.

We’ve stressed many things in these connections.  One of those is that we all should read as much as possible and celebrate our freedom and right to read.

Author & Illustrator Visit

On Tuesday, Matt de la Pena & Loren Long visited our 1st-5th grade to share their new book Love.  This was one of the many stops on their national tour.  Our amazing art teacher, Ms. Rita Foretich collaborated with me in the library to create art projects with every grade level in the school.  We wanted them to know how much their book impacted us by showing them an art exhibit throughout the front halls of the school.

Matt & Loren started their visit with a reading of the book.  Matt read the book from memory while Loren  painted the front cover of the book on chart paper.

Love! #thisislove

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Then, they both took time to tell us their own personal journeys of how they came to work together on the book, Love.  From Matt’s basketball scholarship to college to Loren’s mom encouraging him to continue his art pursuit even with the barrier of being colorblind, we learned of the many examples of love that filled these two guys lives.  They brought messages to students about taking risks, loving and respecting your family, working hard even when things are hard, having empathy for people going through tough bumps in the road of life, and more. I hope that their messages will connect with students for years to come.

The power of their spoken word had our audience of 450 1st-5th graders captivated for an entire hour.  We can’t thank Penguin, Avid Bookshop, and Matt & Loren enough for taking time to visit our school.

Class & Library Skypes

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, several of our classes connected with other classes around the country via Skype and Google Hangout to read aloud books.  This year, I tried to select books that had an element of discussion around doing good in the world.  Selections included books like Love by Matt de la Pena, Be a Friend by Salina Yoon, We’re All Wonders by R J Palacio, Yo Yes by Chris Raschka, A Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards, and Maybe Something Beautiful by Isabel Campoy & Theresa Howell.

Each connection had its own variation.  Sometimes students helped me read the text to the other class.  Sometimes the two librarians alternated reading the text.  Other times we read one book to our connecting class and they read a book back to us.  We always spent time making connections with one another through sharing and questions.  We talked about things like making things beautiful in our school, creating gifts to give to others in need, identifying wonders of our classmates, and what it takes to be a good friend.  So many of our conversations were filled with meaningful ways to make sure the world is a great place to live, and we learned that we aren’t alone in our interests and routines.

Authors & Illustrator Skypes

On the official World Read Aloud Day, we had several skypes with authors and illustrators.  Anne Marie Pace, Brian Lies, Carter Higgins, Donna Gephart, Jody Feldman, and Loree Griffin Burns all connected with students.  I loved that they showed many of their books and then read aloud from one of them.  Any time an author/illustrator connects with us in person or in Skype, they immediately become a favorite author/illustrator in our library.  Their books fly off the shelves and stay checked out.  This time was no different.

Brian Lies read from Bats at the Beach and then got kids to brainstorm a new bat drawing that he illustrated on Skype.

Donna Gephart read to us from a book that she had just gotten the ARCs for.  We couldn’t take pictures or record anything, but it was so exciting to get an early preview. Loree Burns went in depth with students about her research process and writing about what matters in the world. A group of writers met with her and got lots of inspiration for their own writing.  Anne Marie Pace and Carter Higgins both read from brand new books with a timely topics of love and Groundhog Day.

We are so appreciative of these professionals who take time out of their busy schedules to connect with readers.


As usual, we used Google Tour Builder to keep track of our connections and the books that we shared. It’s always fun at the end of the week to see all of the stories that have been shared and the connections we’ve made. Technology flattens our world and reminds us that stories can connect us across the miles.

Happy World Read Aloud Week.


Love Projects: 2nd Grade Tweets & Instagrams

Every class in our school has read the book Love by Matt de la Pena & Loren Long. In preparation for their visit later this month, every class has also created a piece of art in response to the book.  These projects began in the library and continued in the art classroom with Ms. Foretich.  I have loved the inspiration that the book has given her and the pieces of art that students have created with her.  I’ll be sharing much of this student work in the next few blog posts.

Today, I want to focus on 2nd grade.  Every 2nd grade class came to the library to hear Love before the holidays.  When we read the book, I invited students to listen to Matt’s words and look closely at Loren’s illustrations for as many examples of love as they could find. Similar noticings emerged in each class, but there were also unique observations made that other students didn’t catch. We always paused on the 2nd spread that shows a park image with a cab, a hot dog stand, and a man on a bench. Students always talked about the boy in the wheel chair giving the man a hot dog. Sometimes they noticed the people making eye contact and talking in the cab. Sometimes they talked about the color of the balloon being a symbol of love.  The important thing is that they always talked. Students were never silent on a page. They always found love even on pages that were hard like the one with the boy hiding under the piano. Even with all of the bad things happening in the picture, love was still there.

In the art room, we took apart the F&G version of Love and Ms. Foretich gave groups of students an image from the book to study more closely. Students were asked to think about what the image said about love. They had a brainstorming page to get some of their ideas down.  They used this process to reimagine the version of love into a new image that connected with them personally.

Over the next class, students turned this into a watercolor image.  Each student made a statement about their art that could be posted in a tweet or Instagram caption and wrote it onto their art.  What message of love could students send out into the world? I loved the student voice that Ms. Foretich was giving students as she asked them about a short message of love that they could actually send out to the world via social media. She has been taking time to post these images and captions to her Instagram & Twitter account.  If you don’t follow her, please take a moment to.  You will be inspired by the many examples of student work that she posts.

For now, I’ll let the student work speak for itself through this series of Instagrams.  Take a moment to leave students comments here on the blog or on Ms. Foretich’s Instagram posts.  The students would love to hear how their messages have connected with you.

"Love is when you share." Audrey #thisislove

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"When someone is being teased, say 'Stop'." Tanner #thisislove

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"They are all being nice to each other." Jaiona

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"If someone is being mean, say 'Stop, that's not nice.'" Oskar #thisislove

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" Love is helping others when they get hurt." Bram #thisislove

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"Care about your siblings." Aaden #thisislove

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"Sharing with other people is love." Bess #thisislove

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"Love is caring for someone who needs to be cared for." Evie #thisislove

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"To love, you need to share." Patrick #thisislove

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"Love is families eating together and having fun." Shanti #thisislove. #artsed

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"This is how I show love." Baylen #thisislove

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"Someone will be by your side." Deiondre

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"I love you guys." Dalilah #thisislove

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"Helping is Love." Asia #thisislove #studentwork #artsed

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"Kindness comes in many forms but love comes from the heart." #thisislove

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"Love is playing music" Ruby, 2nd grade #thisislove #artsed #studentwork

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"Friends spend time together" Nehemiah #thisislove

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"Giving is love" Martha 2nd Grade sends Love out into the world #thisislove #arted

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Happy Book Birthday to Love by Matt de la Pena & Loren Long

When I first saw the cover of Love by Matt de la Pena and Loren Long, I knew it was going to be something special. I couldn’t wait to peer inside the pages and hear Matt’s words and see Loren’s vivid illustrations. The first time I got to actually hear about what was inside the book was with the amazing John Schu while we presented at the Tennessee School Librarian Association Conference. In his masterful way of book talking, he made me want to read the book even more by gushing over the illustrations and how Matt brought the idea of “love” to life in many different ways.

I finally got to see a copy of the book in Phoenix at the American Association of School Librarians Conference, and I read the book multiple times in the Penguin Young Readers booth. Every single illustration from Loren Long is breathtaking. You can see something different each time you look at the pages. He takes Matt’s words and extends them into a visual masterpiece of how love lives in our world. Matt’s words take you well beyond the idea of love being a hug, a kiss, or an “I love you”. Love lives in music, in time spent with family, in the colors of the sky, in good deeds to those in need, and more. We’re in a time where it sometimes feels like love has been lost in our world.  This book reminds us that love is everywhere, but we do have to take a moment to look closely in order to remind ourselves where it is.

I’m so happy that this book is finally out in the world. It’s the perfect book to start the new year as people consider their goals for the year. If you’ve found yourself in a hard place over the past year, pick up this book and reconnect yourself with the love in our world.

I knew that this book was one that I wanted to share with my entire school as soon as I saw it. Miraculously, while I was in Phoenix looking at the book for the first time, I got an email from Hannah DeCamp at Avid Bookshop.  The email subject was “Pssst, we’re hosting Matt de la Pena and Loren Long in January”.  My fingers couldn’t open the email and respond fast enough.  As part of the extensive Love tour, Matt & Loren are stopping by our school in January.  Also while in Phoenix, I scored an ARC of Love after standing in a long giveaway line.

Many times for these tour events, I don’t have a lot of time to prepare. This time we had almost 2 months notice. As soon as I got back to school from Phoenix, I started showing the book to teachers.  One of the first was our art teacher, Ms. Rita Foretich. I love collaborating with her because so often we take a seed of an idea that blossoms into something grand. The book immediately got her creative wheels turning and she wanted to do something with every class in the school.

Over December and January, we have been reading the book to every class and creating an art piece that is inspired by the book.  Every grade is doing something different.  I’ll be sharing many of those projects in some posts over the next few weeks leading up to our author and illustrator visit.

For now, go out and get this book at your local bookstore.  Even better, order a copy from Avid Bookshop to have signed when Matt and Loren visit on January 30th.  They will ship the book to you.  See the beautiful in the world and give love.

Top Elf: An Author Visit with Caleb Zane Huett

We have a magical bookshop in Athens called Avid Bookshoop, and in that bookshop works a talented author named Caleb Zane Huett.  Caleb’s new book, Top Elf, which is published by Scholastic, is the hilarious journey of a group of elves as they compete against one another to be the next Santa Claus.

It’s filled with a cast of characters that bring something for every reader, and numerous jokes fill the pages to keep you laughing along the way.

Ready for an elf visit. #author #authorvisit #avidinschools

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I was so excited when Caleb offered to visit our school this December.  Thanks to him and Avid Bookshop, our 3rd and 4th grade got to come to separate sessions to hear him speak.  He started each session with a reading of the first chapter. If you ever get a chance to hear him read, do it!  He brings every page to life with voices and movement and keeps the audience totally focused on every word.

After reading, Caleb facilitated the students in a collaborative story.  He wanted to model this story after some of his own thought process as he writes. Kids were raising hands and shouting out ideas all along the way, and Caleb masterfully wove their ideas together into a story that he told along the way.

Teachers were also excited because they knew that his mini writing workshop directly tied back to what they were doing in their classrooms and now students can go back to class and create their own stories using a similar process.

At the close, we heard a bit about how Top Elf followed this same type of process and students got to ask Caleb questions. I always love to hear students ask authors about how long it takes to write, how many times a book was rewritten, and what inspires them.  These become common questions but they make the author a real person to our readers.  It creates a connection between the author and the students because the process they go through is very similar.

I want to thank Caleb Zane Huett for taking time to visit our school. I also want to thank Avid Bookshop for this opportunity and the presales of books. Finally, I thank our wonderful PTA who makes sure that every classroom gets copies of the book to add to their classroom libraries.

I know we will now have many readers of Top Elf at Barrow, and I love that our readers can walk down the street and visit with Caleb if they want to share what they’ve discovered.

The 5th Annual Picture Book Smackdown

Our 5th annual Picture Book Smackdown was held on November 30th.  This year’s smackdown featured students in 3 states along with author & illustrator Deborah Freedman.

Every year we love to close out Picture Book Month with an hour-long Google Hangout where we book talk as many picture books as possible across one hour.

In Georgia, I had students in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th grades who shared their favorite picture books and why picture books matter. In Vermont, Donna MacDonald had 1st graders and 4th graders who were reading buddies.  Each pair of students shared a favorite picture book.  In Texas, Julee Murphy had 6th graders who shared favorite picture books and some 3rd graders who came in to watch.

We kicked off our Google Hangout by dedicating our time to the late Dianne de las Casas, founder of Picture Book Month.  Her enthusiastic spirit was definitely with us and we missed having her with us in person this year.

Deborah Freedman shared a whole range of books in all shapes, sizes, and emotions before book talking Many Moons by James Thurber & Louis Slobodkin.  She then turned the smackdown over to students and several students in each state took turns sharing.

We were able to come back to author Deborah Freedman two more times for some more book talks and closing thoughts.

One of the things I always love about the smackdown is how many new books we see that we haven’t read yet. We also love seeing students and authors pick books that are also our own favorites.  It gives us a connection to one another.

I also love hearing students take a stand for picture books.  Their reasons range from picture books being for all readers to the necessity of picture books for people who are learning to read.

As we shared our books, I did my best to write down as many of the titles and put them into a Google doc for our reference.  We’ll be cleaning up this document in the coming days and trying to make sure all books are represented.

I loved seeing pictures from different perspectives.  Many thanks to Donna MacDonald for capturing some great moments at each school.

Since we broadcast our hangout through  Youtube, it was fun to know that other people were watching with classes.

Even if you didn’t watch live, you can still experience our smackdown via Youtube and consider hosting your own smackdown whether it’s with picture books, novels, poetry, or something else.

We already look forward to next year.  I thank Donna MacDonald, Julee Murphy, and their students for sharing their time with us. I also thank Deborah Freedman for time and enthusiasm as well.


Follow the Bookstagram Choice Awards Nov 27-Dec 17

Instagram has become one of my favorite places. I’ll admit that I was late to the Instagram craze, but now it is probably my favorite place to be. I love the visuals of classrooms, libraries, bookstores, and books. I get so many ideas for new projects in the library as well as new books to add to the collection.

There are numerous bookstagrammers who post pictures and reviews of new and upcoming books. A personal goal of mine has been to be critical of our library collection and be constantly aware of the voices represented in the books on our shelves. Instagram has helped me see many more books than I could ever find alone.

One of the people I started following is Charnaie Gordon @hereweeread  Her posts about the diverse books that she reads with her son and daughter always keep me up to date on books that need to be added to our library.  The great thing is that she isn’t the only one. As I follow one person, I discover someone else and suddenly I’m surrounded by people who are passionate about books and diverse voices.

I was so excited when I learned that Charnaie was brainstorming a new Instagram book award list selected by many of the “bookstagrammers” that I admired.  I was in disbelief that she wanted to include me as one of the members of the first award selection group.  I was honored, intimidated, but mostly inspired.  This group of people has poured their hearts into what has become the Bookstagram Choice Awards.  Each person chose one winner along with honorable mentions in a variety of categories.  The hope is that these categories will represent a diverse collection of voices and communities that serve a wide age range of readers.

Starting on November 27th, there will be one category announced each day. This will include the winner and any honorable mentions.  You can follow along on the newly created Bookstagram Choice Awards Instagram account as well as by following all of the contributors who will post on their individual pages on their assigned day.

Be sure to follow:


I hope you will take time to follow all these wonderful people, celebrate the books that were chosen, and suggest books you would have selected.  It’s all in the name of amplifying the wonderful books that exist in the world. Through books, we can better understand and connect with one another in the world. Through books, we can have conversations about what matters and help our world be a better place.

Let the Bookstagram Choice Awards begin!

P.S. Stay tuned on December 17th for some special giveaways where you’ll have a chance to enter to win some of the books featured in the awards.

Join Us for the 5th Annual Picture Book Smackdown

We are nearing the end of November, which means the close of Picture Book Month. In 2013, I started brainstorming with several dynamic librarians across the country a way for us to celebrate the close of the month.  Jenny Lussier, Cathy Potter, Shawna Ford, Kathy Kaldenberg, and I created the very first Picture Book Smackdown which was held via Google Hangout on November 21, 2013.  Authors Laurel Snyder and Ame Dyckman joined us as well.  For one hour, we all shared as many picture book talks as possible.  This was the beginning of an annual event that is now in its 5th iteration.

This year, our event will take place on November 30th from 1:30PM-2:30PM EST.  We will feature students from:

  • David C. Barrow Elementary in Athens, GA (facilitated by Andy Plemmons)
  • Orchard School in South Burlington, VT (facilitated by Donna MacDonald)
  • Early Childhood Development Center in Corpus Christi, TX (facilitate by Julee Murphy)

We are also very excited to announce that we will be joined by author/illustrator Deborah Freedman. Her books include This House Once, Shy, The Story of Fish & Snail, and many more!  You can learn more about her books here.

I’ve put together a Smore that puts everything you need in one place

Click the image to visit our Smore

What to expect:

  • A live broadcast via Youtube Live or archived to watch at a later time
  • Numerous student voices book talking their favorite picture books in 3 states
  • A short talk from Deborah Freedman about why picture books matter in the world
  • A list of the books we reference

What you can do:

  • Watch live with your class!
  • Host your own picture book smackdown in your classroom, library, or district
  • Share your favorite picture books on social media using the hashtags #pbsmkdwn and #picturebookmonth
  • Send students a shout out on Twitter using #pbsmkdwn

In Loving Memory of Dianne de Las Casas

We will of course continue reading and sharing picture books all year long, but we want to end November with this special event.  This year’s Picture Book Smackdown is dedicated in loving memory of Dianne de Las Casas, founder of Picture Book Month.  We lost Dianne this year in a tragic fire, but her legacy of advocating for the importance of picture books in our world lives on.