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.

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!

Our 2018 Picture Book Smackdown was a Success!

The 2018 Picture Book Smackdown was held on November 29, 2018.  This has been a yearly tradition since November became Picture Book Month.  During a smackdown, we hold a Youtube Live event where students and authors in multiple states book talk as many picture books as possible across 45-60 minutes.

This year’s smackdown featured students in 4 different grades in 3 different states, which included:

Andy Plemmons and students at David C. Barrow Elementary in Athens, GA

Donna MacDonald and students at Orchard School in South Burlington, VT

Julee Murphy and students at Early Childhood Development Center in Corpus Christi, TX

Ahead of the event, students selected a picture book to share, read the book, prepared a script, and practiced.  I also communicated with all the librarians at each site to make sure we all knew our roles during the hangout.

I made a Smore for us to advertise our event, and it’s really fun to see where people are viewing the smackdown from.

Donna MacDonald reached out to author Saadia Faruqi who agreed to kickoff our smackdown. She shared her Yasmin books as well as 3 favorite picture books featuring Muslim characters and stories.  We can’t thank her enough for speaking to our students. I know many of my students want to read all of the Yasmin books now.

During the smackdown, we had 5 students from each school step to the microphone, share their name, and tell about their book. We kept this rotation going until we ran out of students or time.

It was amazing to see that every student chose a different book, even though we didn’t plan that. We kept a list of all of our books so we could remember them for our own libraries and to share with all of you.

Saadia Faruqi closed out our hangout by encouraging students to continue to read picture books and create their own stories. She found it so encouraging to see so many students reading and also enjoying the books that she created herself.

You can watch the full smackdown here.

I encourage you to host your own, even if it’s just in your own school.  We are even thinking about doing a smackdown with other formats of books like graphic novels or chapter books.  Thank you to everyone who participated and watched.  We’ll see you next year for the 2019 Picture Book Smackdown.

Happy Picture Book Month 2018

It’s November 1, which means the beginning of picture book month. We’ve been celebrating this special month since it was created back in 2011 by Dianne de Las Casas. Today, we launched our annual picture book challenge. The challenge has been a bit different each year.  Some years, students have earned stamps for reading a certain number of picture books. Other years, students have set their own personal goals for what to read whether it was reading a certain number, all the books by a specific author, every book on a certain shelf, etc.

This year, I decided to focus on the genres of our picture book section.  I made a sheet that lists out each picture book genre/format in our library with a check box by each one. I also included a line. The goal is for students to read 12 picture books across the month of November, 1 book from each section. They simply write the title of the book on the line when they finish reading. At the bottom of the sheet, I asked students to list their favorite book they read for the challenge and tell why picture books matter in the world.

At the end of picture book month, we hold a picture book smackdown where we do a virtual hangout with authors and schools to book talk favorite picture books. I hope that the challenge will get some students prepped for the smackdown by already having a favorite book and a reason picture books matter.

Today, we launched the challenge on our morning broadcast by going over the instructions and showing the sheet.  I’m also highlighting a diverse selection of books in my read alouds and encouraging students to think about windows and mirrors as they read for the challenge.Every student who finishes the challenge will get a certificate and a special bookmark. We will also announce their name on our morning broadcast. Each finisher will also have their name entered into a drawing for an autographed picture book. I try to get an extra autographed picture book each time we have an author visit or I go somewhere to hear an author. This year I’ll give away signed copies of More-igami, King Alice, Love, Last Stop on Market Street, and Hansel and Gretel. I showed each of these books on the morning broadcast too.

If you go to our school or want to take a look at our challenge sheet, you can download it here.

The Power of First Lines: Another New Library Orientation

School is back in session in Georgia, and I’m once again reorganizing what happens in the first visit to the library. I’ve tried to steer away from a traditional orientation where students hear the do’s and don’ts in the library. It’s not that they aren’t important, but is that really the message I want to send about reading with the first words that come out of my mouth?

The message that I really want students to hear is about the joy of reading. I want them to hear about how readers talk about books to one another. I want them to hear how books can be windows into other worlds and other perspectives. I want them to hear how books can be mirrors that reflect a part of ourselves back to us.

I also wanted to tackle a problem that bothered me last year. I saw so many students continue to come to the library and spend their whole time standing at the computer typing out topics in the library catalog instead of actually looking at books in our various genre sections. I had hoped that genres would eliminate this, but it hasn’t. I decided to start with something that wasn’t intimidating to most readers: the first lines of a book.

So, here’s what a first library visit looked like for 3rd-5th grade this year.

What are you reading?

We started with a question, but instead of asking students to share their own reading, I showed them what I just finished and what I was reading now.

I promised them that all year long I would post what I’m reading on the door of the library so they can always see, even if I’m with a class.  I told them that my hope was that anyone in the school could ask anyone else in the school what they are reading and both of them would have an answer. One of the best ways to find a new book is to see what others are reading, so we are giving ourselves permission to freely ask each other throughout the year about books. I also hope that several teachers will begin to post their reading outside their classrooms too.  In most classes, a few students said what they were reading now, and I loved how it immediately felt like a connection between us.

Next, I showed students some of my summer reading. I did book talks of Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed, Front Desk by Kelly Yang, and the Track Series by Jason ReynoldsAs soon as I finished book talks, I showed students a picture of a window and a mirror and asked them about their purpose. Then, students brainstormed how a book could be like a window and a mirror. It was a conversation we’ve never had in such an public manner, but so many of them added amazing contributions to the conversation. One standout comment was how a window keeps you safe from things going on outside and a book lets you explore dangerous situations without getting hurt.  I let students know that I intentionally chose books this summer that would most likely be windows for me. I wanted to read about people whose lives were very different from my own.

Power of First Lines

This became our invitation to step into the books in the library and begin to look for windows and mirrors for each of us.  Ahead of time, I put chairs at each section of our chapter book section: scary, realistic fiction, historical fiction, humor, fantasy, sports, mystery, science fiction, and adventure.

I shared with students how one more great way to discover new books is to visit sections you love and try out the very first lines of several books. Some of my favorite books hooked me with the very first line. I shared Barbara O’Connor’s first line from How to Steal a Dog.

“The day I decided to steal a dog was the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car.”

That line has so much story packed into it. Why did she steal a dog? What’s her situation that she lives in a car? What does Luanne think about all this?  You can’t help but read on to find out.

I placed students into random chairs in the chapter books and invited them to try as many first lines as possible in about 90 seconds.

Then, they moved to the right to the next chair and had 90 seconds in that section. We continued this process for as many rounds as we could squeeze in.

Students did not take any books with them, but I told them to make mental notes of what books caught their attention.  Some students thrived in this experience.  Others weren’t happy that they were in a section that they didn’t usually visit. Still others read first lines in one section but not in another.  The teacher and I circulated and gently encouraged students to keep giving the books a try. Sometimes that even meant jumping in with a student and reading some first lines for them.

Reminders

Back on the carpet, I asked if anyone found a book that grabbed their attention, and it was amazing to see how many people raised their hands. We used this brief moment to go over some reminders before exploring the whole library to checkout books.

  • Enjoy reading as much as you can while you’re here
  • Choose what you love, but push yourself too
  • Spend less time at the computers, and more time at the shelves
  • Respect other learners
  • Borrow what you need (limits are different for every reader)
  • Honor the line at check out

What happened next is what encouraged me the most. Students could hardly contain themselves as they rushed to the shelves to find their first check outs of the year. Almost none of the students went to the computers and instead went straight to shelves and started opening up books. As students have returned for their 2nd rounds of check outs, they have continued to visit the shelves more than the computers.  I can’t wait to see how our momentum builds during the year, and I want to immediately start asking “What are you reading?”

What about K-2?

For the younger grades I did something very similar, but I book talked several picture books including Drawn Together by Minh Li, The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker, and Hansel & Gretel by Bethan Woolvin. After talking about windows and mirrors, we read aloud All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold. I wanted students to see and hear the message that all are welcome at our school and in our library. We used the book to talk about the windows and mirrors we saw within the book and our own school.

This group did the book sampling at the picture book section. Some classes rotated chairs and other classes just stayed in one seat to practice using shelf markers and sampling books.

The Pitfall

Overall, this new orientation experience did everything I hoped it would do, and only time will tell if it got us kicked off in the right way. The one big pitfall of this was that the shelves started to look like a tornado had gone through. Books were pushed back behind other books. Books were on the floor. Books were turned upside down and backwards. I had to pause and take some deep breaths every once in awhile, but when you look at the grand scheme of things, the messy shelves are evidence of excited readers, so it’s hard to complain too much about the mess.

Onward we go to search for the windows and mirrors in our library collection. Onward we go to becoming a school community that shares our reading lives with one another.

 

 

 

Books for Keeps: It’s Time for Summer Reading!

I am so excited to share that this was the very first year our school was served by an amazing program called Books for Keeps. This non-profit group was founded by Melaney Smith and gives 12 new books to every student in 12 of our 14 elementary schools in Clarke County. They also serve schools outside of Athens as well. It takes a massive effort in fundraising, grant writing, and volunteer hours to make this happen in each school.

I’ve had several questions on social media about this program and how it works, so I’ll try to explain it here.

Before the event:

  • Year-round Books for Keeps is fundraising, grant writing, and ordering books to deliver to their warehouse. Volunteers spend many hours sorting and boxing books grouped by grade levels and themes and sorted into stacks for delivery to schools in April & May.
  • I send a master schedule to Books for Keeps which includes the number of kids in each class. They create a draft schedule that I send to teachers for feedback.
  • During the year, Books for Keeps checks in to see if numbers need to be adjusted in each class and the schedule is finalized.
  • Boxes of books are delivered to the school and sorted into areas for quick distribution to tables.
  • Bags and tags arrive for every student. Bags & tags have to be counted out and delivered to each class. Teachers/students write student names on tags.
  • Since this was the first year, I did an introduction to Books for Keeps via Youtube Live.

  • I did a presentation to our whole faculty at a staff meeting so they were comfortable with the process and understood the purpose of BFK. The biggest things to go over were the importance of student choice and the importance of making sure every child got to participate.
  • I also sent home info to families in the my monthly newsletter.
  • A volunteer signup went out from Books for Keeps to help with distribution.
  • Right before distribution day, I arranged tables in the middle of the library.

Distribution Days May 14 & 15

  • Volunteers arrived for a morning shift and an afternoon shift

  • Leslie Hale & Justin Bray from Books for Keeps handed out aprons, clipboards and questionnaires as well as gave volunteers and overview of what to expect during each visit from classes.

  •  Leslie and Justin also unboxed books for each class session and volunteers stocked the tables.
  • As classes arrived, Leslie or Justin gave an intro to each class on choosing 12 books, the importance of summer reading, and the process for checking out with a volunteer.
  • Students carried their bags to the tables and self selected 12 new books. Volunteers were encouraged to hold back and let students look. We wanted students to self select books because that’s a huge predictor of whether kids will actually read during the summer.  If a student was having trouble making selections, then volunteers would step in to have conversations and make suggestions.

  • When students had 12 books, they visited a volunteer to count their books. Some students had too many and needed to make decisions. Others didn’t have enough and went back for more. Volunteers also asked students about which book they were most excited about as well as what was missing from the selections. This helps Books for Keeps make purchases for next year.
  • When a class left, new books came out of boxes and onto tables and the process repeated again.
  • Each class had 20-30 minutes depending on the number of students.

I’ve been hoping Books for Keeps would come to our school for several years.  There have been many initiatives where I’ve tried to get some extra books in student hands for the summer, but none as large as this one. A few things I’ve tried include:

  • Giving Middle School the Worst Years of My Life to all of our 5th graders for World Book Night. https://expectmiraculous.com/2013/04/23/world-book-night-2013/
  • Giving all 3rd and 4th graders a copy of Pie. https://expectmiraculous.com/2015/03/26/give-our-students-some-pie-by-sarah-weeks/
  • Creating summer reading buckets (home libraries) for 100 students in multiple grades. https://expectmiraculous.com/2016/05/04/home-libraries-and-summer-reading/ and https://expectmiraculous.com/2016/04/12/building-home-libraries-a-community-collaboration/

Books for Keeps takes approximately $15,000 per school which means about $30 per child. They rely heavily on donations, so if this program speaks you to, check out their site and make a donation. http://booksforkeeps.org/ 

These 2 days were amazing and filled with smiles, squeals, and students jumping straight into a book to read.  I’ve gotten messages from families who said that their child got such a great mix of books that were truly of interest. I’ve also gotten thank you notes to send to Books for Keeps with lots of great feedback from students. I can’t wait to see how this grows across the years and how students’ excitement and expectations develop.

Seeing every student in the school right before summer began also surfaced some dilemmas and questions for me. A handful of students didn’t want books to take home and weren’t afraid to say that they had no plans to read during the summer because it was their time off. Those comments bothered me, but they also gave me information about work that needs to be done ahead.  Just handing books to them isn’t going to resolve that dilemma. I’m diving into some professional reading to help me begin to think more about this.

I can’t thank Books for Keeps enough for continuing to work tirelessly to get books into kids’ hands. Even with some bumps in the road, it’s an amazing program that was overwhelmingly welcomed by teachers, families, and students. Thank you to every donor who made the funding available to purchase books and thank you to the many volunteers who put in countless hours to prepare for these 2 days.

Happy summer reading!