Wishes and Plans: Exploring Life Challenges Through Books

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Somehow, I’ve managed to read three books recently that all feature a main character grappling with the challenge of having an absent parent. I didn’t choose these books because of this fact, but reading about someone’s life challenges that are so different from my own has made me a better person. In his recent Newbery speech, Matt de la Pena referenced an encounter with a librarian where she said that she loved his books but didn’t stock them in her library because she didn’t have those kinds of kids at her school. Those kinds of thoughts make me cringe because books allow us to escape to magical worlds and do things we could only dream of doing and they can also allow us to step into someone else’s shoes for just a moment to get a brief perspective on the world through someone else’s eyes. While it can’t make you an expert on the struggle that the character is going through, it does allow you to see that we all face challenges and struggles and we don’t always wear those troubles on the outside for everyone to see.

One of these books is Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo, which I already mentioned on the blog. Two of these books that I read are upcoming releases from Farrar Straus Giroux. Barbara O’Connor’s Wish comes out in late August.   It features an 11-year old girl named Charlie whose mother is having trouble keeping her life in order and whose father is in jail. She goes to live with her aunt and uncle in a small town. Every day of her life since fourth grade she makes the exact same wish and wonders if it will ever come true. Charlie’s list of ways to make a wish is pretty impressive, and I can’t help but wonder how many ways there are to make a wish after reading this book. What did Barbara O’Connor discover that she didn’t even include in the book? While Charlie is with her aunt and uncle, she meets a stray dog who she names Wishbone. Along with her new friend Howard, they craft a plan to catch Wishbone so Charlie can have a pet of her own.

Woven into this tale of longing for a pet is Charlie’s struggle with finding a place she belongs and her desire to have a mother and father who care enough about her to give her a stable home filled with love. That struggle affects how Charlie interacts with those around her. She lashes out at anyone who ruffles her feathers, and I couldn’t help but wonder how I would act if faced with a similar situation. I can’t say that I blame her for writing mean things to her teacher, giving kids a shove, or insulting her aunt.  What I was struck with the most was how her Aunt Bertha handled every incident of acting out. She offered nothing but love and understanding. I must admit that my own reaction might be to jump at the negativity with a punishment, but Bertha just offered a heap of love.  One of the quotes that still stands out to me after reading wish is:

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own drama and challenges that we lose sight of what others are going through. Instead of being quick to judge or react, I want to slow down and remember that love is a powerful gift.  Barbara O’Connor has once again masterfully written a southern tale that can speak to us all.

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In Kate Beasley’s Gertie’s Leap to Greatness coming in October, Gertie deals with an absent parent as well. However, this parent lives in the same town and still doesn’t have any interaction with her.  How would that feel to know that your mom lived just a few streets away yet had no interest in seeing you or talking to you? It’s certainly very far away from my own experience of having a mom and dad who are always there for me, wanting to know where I am at every second, and still want to talk to me every single day on the phone. 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. Gertie wrestles with her absent parent in a different way than Charlie does. She thinks that if she does enough then her mom will notice and want to be a part of her life or realize that Gertie is so awesome that she doesn’t need a mother anyway. 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.

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 highly recommend all three of the books mentioned in this post. Check them out at your local independent bookshop or library and add them to your collection.

Morning message #summerreading #literacy #librarian #thatsmycar

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I love to read books that I connect to, but I also love to read books that challenge my thinking and open my eyes to new cultures, perspectives, or challenges that are different from my own experience. I hope that I’ll keep finding books in my path that enrich my life in this way. As I’m looking toward the new school year, I am thinking about goals and what I hope for the students and families in our library. Right now, I hope that we can all step into the shoes of characters that we connect with but more importantly step into the shoes of characters that give us new perspectives to learn from and enrich our lives. I want to work as hard as I can to offer a collection of books to our readers that gives the opportunity to do this.

 

The Power of Words: Personal Connections to Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale

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When I was in high school, my great grandmother was placed into a nursing home. Almost weekly, my mom and I went to visit her.  She had Alzheimer’s so our visits weren’t filled with conversations. I paced the halls of the LifeCare Center holding my great grandmother’s hand, even though she seemed to have no idea who I was or why I was walking with her. Over those many visits, I came to know many of the residents at LifeCare and their many quirks. It was strange how even as an introvert I was drawn to certain people who maybe were some of the most risky of residents. One of those residents was Florence.  She was from New York, and you heard her before you ever saw her. She shouted out, “Hey!” over and over.  The workers at LifeCare seemed to have reached a point where her repeated shouting of the same word was tuned out, but I always heard it. While it scared me, I was also intrigued by her, and I remember many instances where despite my fear of being hit, grabbed, or pushed, I chatted with Florence. I think more than anything she just wanted someone to listen to her, to acknowledge that she existed in the world.

As I read Raymie Nightengale, I came to the scene in the Golden Glen retirement home where Raymie encounters a resident who repeatedly says, “Take my hand”, and I was thrust back in time to my own fears, curiosities, and empathy from my many days in the LifeCare Center. I don’t know how she does it, but Kate DiCamillo seems to always write words that speak to my soul. Her words are powerful and link to personal connections or goals in my own life.  As I read Raymie, I closed the book at the end of every chapter, hugged the book to my chest, and said, “How does she do it?”.

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I know what we hold in our hands is the final version of a story that has grown and morphed many times. I know there are probably many moments of intense thought, hair pulling, tears, joy, and time spent in the writing chair. Many eyes have looked at these words before they reach the reader, but the final words on the page are powerful. They are concise, yet they bring out the complexities of 3 girls and many unforgettable characters who are very different yet are connected to one another at the same time.

I love Ida Nee and her tell-it-like-it is attitude of not putting up with any nonsense

I love Beverly who is rough around the edges but has a kind heart inside.

I love Louisiana who is innocent and naive as she wrestles with the challenges of poverty.

I love Mrs. Borkowski and her ability to brush off just about anything with a “Phhhhtttt.”

I love Raymie and her strength in making a plan to bring her family back together yet recognizing when she needs to help others along the way.

Kate DiCamillo's words are powerful and honest. #Raymie #bookstagram #book #bookreview #bookrelease

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As I read Raymie, I took a pen and underlined words that spoke to my heart. It seems that no matter which Kate DiCamillo book I read, there’s a line that resonates with me that I tend to carry with me wherever I go. In Flora and Ulysses, it ended up being a line that inspired our library motto and blog title of expecting the miraculous.

There are many lines in Raymie.  I’ll leave them here without any interpretation for now.  These lines are still sitting with me, speaking to me, and finding their place in my life.

“She herself often felt to terrified to go on, but she had never admitted it out loud.” p. 2

“…this made everything she said seem ridiculous, but also possible–both things at the same time.” p. 10

“The sun is nothing but a dying star. Someday it will go out. Phhhhtttt.” p. 22

“Fear is a big waste of time. I’m not afraid of anything.” p. 79

“…stand as if you value yourself and your place in the world.” p. 82

“And I wanted to tell you that no matter what, I’m here and you’re here and we’re here together.” p. 154

I invite you to find your own lines that speak to your heart by picking up a copy of Raymie Nightingale starting Tuesday April 12th at your local bookstore.  My copy will be waiting for me at Avid Bookshop, and I can’t wait to hold it in my hands.  Even if this book isn’t the one that creates a personal connection for you, I hope you’ll keep searching for an author and a book that has lines that speak to your soul.

 

 

Building Community: An Avid Bookshop Storytime with Philip and Erin Stead

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We have an amazing independent bookshop in our community called Avid Bookshop. Our library has been collaborating with Janet Geddis before the storefront of Avid existed, and it has been so much fun to watch how this community-focused bookshop has changed over the years. They have been hosting some dynamic authors and illustrators for children over the past few months. When I saw that Caldecott medal-winning duo Philip and Erin Stead were coming to the shop, I was over the moon excited and didn’t want to miss the chance to see them. Then, I got an email from Rachel Watkins asking if our school might be the site of the pajama storytime. We’ve never hosted an event specifically for Avid that wasn’t an author visit for school, but I didn’t hesitate in exploring how to make it happen.

The opportunity aligned perfectly with my goal of supporting the reading interests and curiosities of students, teachers, and families. I’ve been thinking a lot about the family part. What do I do to support families and reading? It’s something I need to work on, but offering a nighttime event for the community with Philip and Erin Stead was the perfect opportunity to show families at our school and in the community an amazing author/illustrator team they may not have heard of, exploring some new books together, and taking a look at the illustration process. Our students have benefited from many author and illustrator visits thanks to Avid, but I loved that this gave families a chance to have the same experience alongside their child and ask questions and learn together.

Avid and I advertised the event heavily. Students did book talks of one Stead book each day on our morning broadcast along with a reminder about the pajama storytime. An electronic flyer went home to all families. I posted the flyer on the doors of our library. Numerous tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram pictures were shared. We had no way of knowing how many people would actually show up, and by 6:20PM we were pretty nervous that no one was coming. Suddenly at 6:25PM people started pouring in and they just kept coming. We even delayed until 6:35 and they still kept coming in.

If you’ve never met Philip and Erin Stead in person, they are just a delight. Both are soft spoken, which has a naturally calming effect on the wiggly small ones. Phil did most of the talking, but I loved that at the beginning he started by telling about how Erin is shy and had all the kids say their names aloud to introduce themselves all at once. Erin replied, “It’s nice to meet you”, which just felt right. It showed the kids that it’s ok to be quiet and that you can do amazing things to put your voice into the world without actually speaking the words out loud.

Phil read A Sick Day for Amos McGee and had the kids participating along the way with movements and chants. He knew just how to keep their attention.  At the close of the book, they paused for questions. I loved that several parents chimed in with their own questions which were peppered with comments and questions from the kids too. We had questions about the red balloon in Amos McGee and whether it was an homage to Good Night Gorilla.  There were questions about the process of creating a book together as husband and wife and whether or not the illustrations or the writing came first.

Next, Phil introduced us to his new book Ideas Are All Around and we found out we were the first group that he had actually read part of the book to. He teased us with just a few of the pages and gave us a taste of how the book takes us into the head of a writer and illustrator on a walk and that ideas are really hiding all around us.  Then came probably the most special moment of the night: an art demo.

Phil invited all of the little kids to come up and gather around a table where he had his art supplies. Then adults gathered around behind the kids.  It was a large group and yet somehow most people found a spot they could see.  Kids seemed to be literally on top of the workspace, but Phil worked his magic and made the art come to life. He talked through each step of his art for Ideas Are All Around and modeled it as he went. Some kids even got to help a bit during the process.  In the end, he created 3 illustrations of a bear: two he was happy with and one not so great.

We love these bears from Philip Stead's art demo. #avidevents #avidinschools #illustrator #authorvisit #event

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I loved this! It connected so well with the book that an artist goes through many pieces of art until the right one is created. Lots of versions go in the trash or at least to a “fail” box.

We love these bears from Philip Stead's art demo. #avidevents #avidinschools #illustrator #authorvisit #event

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To close the night, Phil read aloud Special Delivery and we learned that the idea was really something that he dreamed about. Once again, he had the audience participating along the way even while they were bouncing on cushions around the library.

The crowd lingered for a long time looking through the books from Avid, making purchases, and getting autographs. So many families left with new books to take home and share together along with the personal experience of meeting the author and illustrator that created the book.

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I’ve often encouraged families to attend Avid events or to go to author events in nearby Decatur such as the Decatur Book Festival, but I don’t really see that encouragement pay off as much. There was something about the familiarity of the school community, a place where we have connections to one another, to host an event like this. I think we’ve tapped into something we need to explore even more in the future.

Thank you so much to Avid for trying something new for an author event. Thank you for bringing the Steads to our community. Thank you to Philip and Erin for your long travels to reach our community and for sharing your inspiring work with us all. Thank you to the Publisher who makes these kinds of book tours and events happen for independent bookshops, schools, and communities. Finally, thank you to our families.  Whether you were a Barrow family or a visitor from another school or county, thank you for spending a night with us in the library connecting with one another through art and story.

A Visit with the Amazing Henry Cole

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When I saw that Henry Cole was coming to Avid Bookshop for a special storytime, I knew that we just had to get him to our school. I started chatting with the Avid and Peachtree Publishers teams to see how we could make it happen.

Henry Cole (2)Henry Cole is the author and illustrator of more books than I can list here. A few of the books he illustrated include:

  • Three Hens and a Peacock by Lester Laminack
  • And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  • I Know a Wee Piggy by Kimberly Norman

Books he has written and illustrated include:

  • A Nest for Celeste
  • Unspoken
  • Big Bug
  • On a Meadowview Street

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Henry Cole’s newest book comes out in April. The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine is a tale of a mouse who is sent into the air in a remote control airplane that crashes into the woods. There his adventure begins as he goes on a quest to find his way home and meets many helpful friends along the way. As a part of his special visit, the publisher allowed our students to purchase the book before it comes out in April. Our fabulous PTA purchased 3 copies of the book for each classroom n grades 2-4.

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During Henry’s visit, he told stories from his childhood, which revealed to us the many places that where he gets his ideas. Rather than taking questions from the audience, he anticipated the typical questions that authors and illustrators often get and wove those into his presentation through storytelling. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a speaker quite as animated as Henry Cole. He yelled, whispered, shrieked, danced, and leaped across the front of the library as he told stories of being pushed off the roof in a makeshift airplane and getting giddy with excitement at art assignments in school. Across the course of his presentation, we knew where Sammy Shine came from, where the inspiration for A Nest for Celeste originated, and how grueling it is to get boxes upon boxes of questions from editors to improve writing. He connected this to the same process that students go through when they get feedback from their teachers. We heard how many revisions a single illustration in a book can go through and that when something isn’t quite right, you just do it again.

For a solid hour, our students rolled in floor from laughing but then hooked right back in to Henry’s presentation. It was magical. He closed his time by illustrating two pieces of art choreographed to a soundtrack.

We are so excited to have these two pieces on display in our library now.

Henry Cole drew Sammy Shine for our students. #art #illustrator #authorvisit #inspiration #librariesofinstagram

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We want to thank Peachtree Publishers and Avid Bookshop for making this happen. Please take a moment to check out Henry Cole’s website. His new book can be purchased at Avid Bookshop. If you don’t get it now, then look for it in April and purchase it from your local bookstore.

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Happy International Ninja Day!

Did you know there was a day dedicated to ninjas?  Well, I didn’t either until my friend, Matthew Winner, pointed it out.  International Ninja Day is December 5th, and even though it’s a Saturday this year, it doesn’t mean you have to pass by the opportunity to read some ninja stories in December! Over at All the Wonders, you’ll find a whole toolkit to celebrate the day at home, in your classroom, or in your library.

International Ninja Day is December 5th! Celebrate at All the Wonders.

Yesterday, I had 4 Kindergarten classes in the library who wanted to have a storytime and checkout, so it was the perfect opportunity to talk about ninjas.  We started by sharing all the things we know about ninjas.  Words like sneaky, training, ninja moves, and fighting were of course brought up.  Then, we thought about characters we knew who were ninjas.  The overwhelming favorites were Ninja Turtles and Lego Ninjago.

This connected us to our read aloud of choice for the day which was Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Scwartz and illustrated by Dan Santat.  Since we were already talking about characters, we took some time to talk about Red Riding Hood and what we knew about most Red Riding Hood stories.  We held onto these ninja and Red Riding Hood ideas to see how they unfolded in the book.  Once the book was complete, students picked out some of their noticings.  They were so observant, and there were many memorable moments.  I think my favorite was when a student talked about how Ninja Red Riding Hood didn’t need a woodsman to help her.  She saved the day with her ninja grandma.

After our quick but rich conversation, we hurried to tables to make our own ninja masks.  I printed off an online template and students used crayons to decorate their masks in any way they wanted.  Some chose the Ninja Turtle route and colored with their favorite character colors.  Others chose to create patterns on their mask like a rainbow ninja.

This was a whirlwind time in the library because all of this along with a checkout happened in 30 minutes, but I guess that goes with the ninja theme.  We didn’t have time to finish our masks, so the teachers were gracious to take the masks back to class to finish.  As I was in the halls during dismissal, I spotted a student who was proudly carrying her finished mask to take home for the weekend.  She stopped me and said, “Mr. Plemmons…I forgot my backpack at home, but I’m carrying my mask home.”

I’m often asked if I do “traditional storytime” because I do so much with technology.  The answer is a huge YES!  It’s not about print vs digital.  It’s about how all of the tools we have available to us come together to help us experience the world.  Sometimes it’s an iPad, and sometimes it’s a box of crayons, a paper mask, the power of our imagination, and our curiosities about becoming a ninja.  Happy International Ninja Day!

Picture Book Smackdown 2015 is a Wrap!

smackdown (8)Wow!  We had the most students ever participate in our 3rd annual picture book smackdown.  Even sickness and technical difficulties didn’t stop our students in 5 states sharing favorite books along with author, Laurie Thompson.

Here are a few behind the scenes notes:

  • There were multiple emails and tweets sent between the participating schools in this smackdown. We established etiquette for the hangout such as keeping things moving, muting microphones when we weren’t speaking, and only having about 5 students at a time share
  • We all prepared our students in advance of the smackdown but we each did it in our own way.  My own students had a basic script that they filled out.

  • The amazing Cathy Potter helped organize Laurie Thompson to join us. Unfortunately, Picture Book Month founder, Dianne de Las Casas wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t join us.  She was with us in spirit, though!
  • I had a group of 50 students!  Luckily 2 volunteers and a teacher helped me keep them organized in chairs and a parent frantically wrote down as many titles of shared picture books as she could.

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  • We all came into the Google Hangout early to test our cameras and microphones.  We communicated with one another through the chat in Hangouts as well as through text messaging if needed.

All of our Picture Book Smackdown content can be found on our Smore.

I would like to thank all of the schools who participated, Laurie Thompson, our volunteers, and all of the people who viewed and sent out tweets.  Thanks for celebrating Picture Book Month with us!

We’ll see you next year for our 4th annual smackdown!

Read for the Record 2015

Each year, Jumpstart  sponsors a day for readers all around the globe to join their voices in reading the same book. A different book is chosen each year, and this day has become a day that we love to connect with other schools to read the book together.  This year the featured book was Not Norman: A Goldfish Story by Kelly Bennett and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones.  Jumpstart puts the book online during Read for the Record so that readers can easily access the book to read aloud.  I love having a large full screen version of the book for students to look at while we read alone and with our Skype partners.

Ms. Sandifer’s Kindergarten class started our day by reading the book with me on our projection screen.

I loved hearing the students make noticings about the images that weren’t included in the words.  We also had fun making predictions before we turned the pages such as when a tree branch is making a noise outside but we got to guess before we found out.  One student thought it would be a zombie!

Next, Ms. Kelly’s Kindergarten class (my daughter’s class) came and connected with Jennifer Reed and her 3rd graders in Newton, MA.  We had fun looking at a map before the call and learning that we were connecting with students over 1,000 miles away. Our students also got to introduce themselves to one another.

Jennifer’s students did choral readings of pages, while I read most of our pages with Kindergarten students joining in for words they recognized.  Students were amazed that Jennifer Reed and I know each other in real life and will get to see one another at the AASL conference in Columbus this November.

Finally, Ms. Choate’s Kindergarten class came to the library to enjoy a live Google Hangout with Kelly Bennett reading Not Norman and sharing the answers to several questions about being an author and getting ideas for writing.

This was a great addition to the event to allow many classes to enjoy hearing the author.  We wish there had been more interaction between students and the author, but it was fun listening in to her voice and ideas.

There’s still time to participate in Read for the Record.  You can read the book for free online today and count you and your family in the numbers toward the record.