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.

Let’s Talk Writing Process with Cassie & Kate Beasley

Our fourth grade is immersed in the writing process using Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop. They are looking at mentor texts. They are studying author’s craft and developing their own style of taking a story from an idea to a published piece of writing. During this exploration, the fourth grade team reached out to ask if there was any possibility of connecting with an author to talk about the narrative writing process.  I immediately thought of the dynamic sister duo from south Georgia, Kate and Cassie Beasley. Both of these talented authors have visited our school in the past for their books, so I reached out to them to consider the possibility of connecting for an informal chat about writing.

They enthusiastically said yes, and the whole fourth grade came to the library with writing journals and index card questions in hand.

Cassie Beasley is the author of Circus Mirandus and the recently released Tumble and Blue.  Kate Beasley is the author of Gertie’s Leap to Greatness and the upcoming Lions & Liars.  During our connection, they started out with an informal conversation about writing. They each took turns asking questions about writing process from the beginning to the end.  I loved how it was like a mini-interview conversation between the two of them and how we discovered that they both have different ways that they accomplish the same task of writing a story.

Cassie shared that she often starts with an idea for a story and Kate often starts with a character and tries to put that character into a setting and a problem.  Both sisters shared that they do a good bit of outlining when they are getting ready to write.  One of the most surprising things to all of us was the amount of writing that they do that never makes it into a novel.  Circus Mirandus, Tumble and Blue, and Gertie’s Leap to Greatness all went through multiple rewrites. Kate even shared that she thinks that about 75% of what she writes doesn’t get used.  After our connection, we spent a bit more time talking about this and came to the conclusion that even though that writing doesn’t make it into the novel it wasn’t wasted work. The 75% was what was needed in order to discover the best story that was hiding underneath everything else.

 

I’ve heard several authors talk about how much they rewrite, and it’s important for students to hear that too because it’s really hard to start over.  I casually asked Kate and Cassie how they feel when they have to start again. I asked if they scream or throw things.  I mostly asked because that’s a bit how I feel when I have to start over.  I think it’s important that students know that it’s not always the best feeling to start over even when you know it’s the right thing to do.  Kate and Cassie both talked about the frustration. They shared how it’s a moment of panic. Cassie relies on Kate to talk her through the frustration so she can start again. Some deep breaths are involved and maybe some chocolate too.

Students had a chance to line up and ask their own questions to support their writing. One of the questions was about “where”.  Where do you write?  Kate has a very specific place where she writes.  It’s a house that doesn’t have phone or internet so that she can stay away from distractions.  Cassie also writes in that place but she does writing just about everywhere: a coffee shop, the pool, outside.  It was an important reminder to us all that sometimes it’s tricky in the crowded classroom to find writing spaces that feel supportive. I hope we can think more about how to give students a space where they feel productive in their writing process.

Another student asked about how many books they hope to write, and it was so great to hear that they have many more ideas for stories that are waiting to be told or are in the process of being drafted. Even though writing takes time and has frustrating moments, it still comes down to that magic of escaping into someone else’s life or some other magical place on the page.  It was so refreshing at the end of our skype to hear students who were excited to go back to class and write after hearing from published authors.

Thank you Cassie & Kate Beasley for taking time out of your writing lives to share your wisdom with us.  We can’t wait to celebrate all your future stories.

To purchase their books, visit here:  Circus Mirandus, Tumble & Blue, Gertie’s Leap to Greatness.

To learn more about Kate’s upcoming novel, click here.

Little Red & Rapunzel: A Skype with Bethan Woollvin

I’ve written about the magic of Bethan Woollvin’s Little Red a few times on the blog. It’s one of those books that captures an audience when it’s read aloud. The repeating lines, the bold color, the large scary wolf, the shocking images….all work together to speak to so many readers.

Our 2nd grade has been studying Bethan Woollvin’s work by reading Little Red, viewing some of Bethan’s art, and exploring some of the resources on All the Wonders. Students loved acting out scenes from the book using the story shapes from All the Wonders.

Students also loved putting the book over their face or using the cutouts to become the Wolf or Red.

Today, in celebration of her upcoming book Rapunzel, we skyped with Bethan to hear both stories and learn about her art and inspiration.

Rapunzel has some similar magic to Little Red.  There’s some repetition of the “snip, snip” of the scissors, and students love to put their scissor fingers up and snip along with the story.

The witch and her polka dot underpants steal the show when the book is read aloud, and you just have to pause and give the students a moment to point and laugh.  Without giving anything away, I’ll also say that there are a few images that elicit that same shock from students that they have when reading Little Red.  I loved hearing Bethan read parts of both books that had something gruesome or shocking. Her bubbly personality paired with Grandma getting eaten by the wolf was delightful!

I always love Skyping with an author or illustrator because they usually have original art, notes, or other artifacts that they can reach over and grab.  Bethan showed us a few early versions of illustrations from Little Read so that we could see how much they changed in the final version of the book. I loved the reinforcement that artists revise just like writers revise.

We saw some panel sketches from Rapunzel.  Students immediately made a connection to our current study of panels in graphic novels, and we learned that Bethan thinks a lot in panels when she is working. She also showed us images from Rapunzel that didn’t make it into the book or images that slightly changed after feedback from the publisher.

Near the end of our Skype, students formed a line to step up and ask questions. This is always a special moment because it’s so personal for each student to get to speak directly to an author or illustrator.

I loved that Bethan would often answer the questions and then direct it right back to the student to answer too.  For example, a student asked about what her favorite part of writing and illustrating was. After answering, Bethan asked the student what her favorite part of writing and illustrating in class was.  It reinforced that we are all working on our craft no matter what stage we are in. We have connections to one another.

At the close, Bethan talked to us a bit about how her books are published in the UK and US. Some of the words and illustrations change depending on the vocabulary or to help the flow of conversation. Since I had a copy of both books, we were able to take a close look while she shared this with us.

We are so excited to now have both Little Red and Rapunzel living in our library for readers.  Be on the lookout for Rapunzel coming from Peachtree Publishers on October 1!  Many thanks to Peachtree Publishers and Bethan Woollvin for making this Skype possible and to Avid Bookshop for our presales of books.

A Visit with LeUyen Pham

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The American Library Association just held its annual Midwinter Conference in Atlanta, and that meant that some amazing authors and illustrators were in town.  One of the speakers at ALA Midwinter was LeUyen Pham.  Who has worked on over 80 picture books!  Her current picture book is The Bear Who Wasn’t There and it is one she wrote and illustrated.  We were so thankful when her publisher, MacMillan, reached out to Avid Bookshop to offer a visit with a local school to celebrate her new book.

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The Bear Who Wasn’t There is a hilarious tale that invites the reader along to look for a bear who has gone missing from the book. There’s evidence of a bear along the way, but the reader and the animals in the story just can’t seem to find him.  Meanwhile, the duck in the story uses the bear’s absence to show off some magic tricks and try to sell his own books.  This book has a lot of mischief and laughs along the way, and readers might just discover a bear if they look very carefully.

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We didn’t learn about the opportunity to host LeUyen until late December, so the prep time for this visit was very short. Normally, I try to have students make decorations, but it was tricky to pull off this time. Instead, we really focused on reading the books. I pulled all of LeUyen’s books from our library and showed lots of classes the huge range of illustrations she has created from Freckleface Strawberry to Vampirina Ballerina to Alvin Ho to Princess in Black and more.  We read several of her books as well including The Bear Who Wasn’t There.  Every class laughed out loud on every single page.  We also took time to learn how to pronounce LeUyen’s name by listening to it on TeachingBooks.net

With over 350 K-3 students in the audience, LeUyen was magical!  With her twinkle fingers, she sprinkled the room with focus and students were hanging on every word.  She took them on a journey by looking at some of her very first drawings to the drawings she does as an adult. Students learned about movies that she worked on before she became an illustrator such as Prince of Egypt and Spirit.  She did some storytelling as she recounted her journey to Africa sketching scenery and animals.  LeUyen pulled out one of her many notebooks and showed students how she sketches everywhere she goes.

One of the moments I loved, was when she told students that she doesn’t spend too much time on one drawing. In fact she shared some pretty amazing drawings that she created in less than 15 minutes. She always draws in pen.  With a pen, you can’t erase your mistakes, so you can look back at those mistakes and learn from them.  That one statement has so many connections within and beyond art.  I want to bring that idea back up with students as we create together.

 

Next, LeUyen read A Piece of Cake, which is a perfect story for a big group read aloud.  There are so many unexpected things at each page turn and the kids had a blast shouting out what they thought mouse and bird would trade cake or objects for.

Listening to A Piece of Cake #avidinschools #avidevents #author #illustrator

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To close her time, LeUyen created some illustrations.  Students were selected from the audience, and she turned each of these models into an animal version of themselves reading a book.  While drawing animals with the features of our student models, she also took questions from the audience about her inspiration, her longest and shortest books, and more.

Turning kids into animals with LeUyen #avidevents #avidinschools #author #illustrator

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Animal kids with LeUyen Pham #avidevents #avidinschools #author #illustrator

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It was during this time that we heard about how a student at a school could suddenly become the inspiration for an illustration as one student did for Grace for President.    You just never know where your next idea may come from, so LeUyen is always watching, listening, and sketching her world.

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Our young readers listed to LeUyen for an hour, and I was so proud of their excitement for her.  She is such an inspiring and sweet person who is insanely talented at illustrating.  I know her books will fly off our library shelves, and I can’t wait to see what students create and talk about after exploring her books.

As she left, LeUyen signed lots of books.  She lovingly included an illustration in each book she signed.  If you didn’t get a book at the visit, we have many books for checkout in the library or you can visit Avid Bookshop to purchase one.  As always, we are thankful to publishers like MacMillan for sending authors and illustrators to independent bookshops and schools.  Thank you, LeUyen, for spending part of your travels with us and sharing your talents and stories.  Thank you to Avid Bookshop for connecting with your community and enriching the reading and creative lives of students.

 

When Authors Connect: A Skype with Barbara O’Connor

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One of our amazing Barrow teachers, Ms. Spurgeon, is leading a book club with some 5th grade students.  To select their book, she read the summaries of several books as well as the first page of those books.  The members of the group unanimously chose Barbara O’Connor’s How to Steal a Dog after hearing the opening line: “The day I decided to steal a dog was the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car.  They have been savoring every moment of reading the book since choosing it.  They’ve taken their time because a book like this one deserves some discussion, and Ms. Spurgeon has shared that some of that discussion has been hard.

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How to Steal a Dog is about Georgina Hayes and her brother who have been evicted from their apartment and now live out of their car with their mother.  They long for a place of their own, and a “lost dog” poster suddenly gives them an idea.  What if they stole a dog and then collected the reward money after giving the dog back to its owner?  The plan sounds brilliant, but even though it is well planned out by Georgina, the duo face some unexpected challenges that complicate their hopes.

Ms. Spurgeon’s group has had some tough discussions about homelessness, poverty, stealing, and family relationships, but the students have embraced those discussions and in turn stayed connected and engaged in the book. When she shared with me how powerful the discussions were, I really wanted Barbara O’Connor to hear about it.

I shared some of Ms. Spurgeon’s observations with Barbara and wondered if we might connect over Skype for just a few minutes when they were close to finished with the book.  Barbara enthusiastically said yes, and we set a date to connect for about 20 minutes.

Ms Spurgeon kept the Skype a surprise until the day of the connection, and the 5 students were shocked that they would actually talk to the “real author” of the book they were reading. They prepared some questions over lunch and came to the library to Skype.

Meeting Barbara O'Connor #authorvisit #studentvoice

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It was a different kind of Skype because it was intimate. I pulled 5 chairs right up to the board so students could be close to Barbara on screen. Students each introduced themselves, and Ms. Spurgeon had a moment to talk to Barbara about their experience with the book.

Barbara took time to talk a bit about herself as a writer, how many books she has published, and where she lives. Then, it really became a conversation between the students and Barbara. I love author and illustrator visits, but often these visits are more presentation and less conversation because of the size of the groups we pack in for a visit. This type of visit built a connection between author and reader.

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Students asked about whether Barbara had experienced homelessness, why she wrote the book, how long it took, and more. Some students also came up with follow-up questions in the moment and because it was a small group, they could actually ask those.  We got to take a quick tour around Barbara’s house as she showed the students her dogs after they asked whether or not she had a dog of her own.

We closed our time by thinking about next reads. I had pulled the books from our library that weren’t checked out at the moment and asked Barbara if she would like to suggest any of her other books as a follow-up selection. She suggested The Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis and showed students an example of a Yoohoo boat from the story. While she mentioned other books like Wish, one of the students reached out and grabbed Popeye and Elvis and started reading it. That’s one of the great rewards of an author visit whether it’s through Skype or in person.  The books come alive for the students and they can’t wait to read them all. Even though I can often recommend a book to a student and they will read it, the recommendation from the actual author is as good as gold.

When the students returned to their class, they continued to talk about the visit and how wonderful Barbara was to talk to.  Some of them said they couldn’t wait to read more of her books once they finish this one.  I know that Skype visits take time for authors, but it means the world to readers when they offer even a small amount of time to say hello, show off their dogs, and talk about the joys and challenges of writing and reading. Thank you for joining us today, Barbara O’Connor!

 

Exploring Pigloo with Anne Marie Pace

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Today Ms. Skinner’s 1st grade class had the great fortune to Skype with Anne Marie Pace to celebrate her new picture book, Pigloo. This book began when Anne Marie was in 1st grade, and now it is a beautiful picture book for our readers to explore. Pigloo dreams of going on an exploration to the north pole, and thanks to some snow, his sister, and some imagination, he is able to make his dreams come true.

This Skype was made possible through a contest that Anne Marie Pace held for librarians and teachers of 1st grade.  Prior to our Skype, students watched the book trailer to get familiar with where the idea for the book came from.  Anne Marie also sent us coloring pages for the students to color.

During our Skype, Anne Marie had students think about times they have waited on something just like Pigloo waits on the snow.  We heard stories of waiting on pizza and Pokemon cards.  We also talked about weather in Virginia where Anne Marie lives and in Georgia where we live.  We certainly don’t have as much snow as Anne Marie has, so it was fun for the students to think about opportunities to get out and play in the snow which is rare here.

Next, Anne Marie read through the entire book.  She held it up for students to see, but luckily a copy arrived in the mail for us just in time for the Skype.  I held up the book so that students could see it on the screen or on the physical pages.

One of the things I love about connecting with authors is the chance for students to chat with them one on one.  Anne Marie took time to let students step up and ask a question.  Many wanted to ask more questions about Pigloo.  Why did his sister “trick” him?  Where did he get his sled and hat?  However, we also got to ask about writing.  She encouraged students to keep writing even when it’s hard.  She explained that sometimes writing has fun parts and sometimes it has hard parts.  She wanted them to always listen to their teacher and realize that feedback was a teacher’s wish for them to each become better writers.  This affirmation is always powerful for students to hear and realize that we all need to push ourselves to do better.

Pigloo will now be available for checkout in our library, but students have a chance to order it from Anne Marie’s local bookshop, The Sycamore Tree.  She will sign each one and the bookshop will mail them to our school.

Connecting with authors in person and virtually is always a treat for our readers. Each experience reminds students that there is a person and lots of hard work behind the pages of each book on our shelves.  Thank you Anne Marie Pace for stepping into our school for the morning.

A Visit with Kate Beasley

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Thanks to Avid Bookshop and MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group, we had the great fortune of celebrating the book birthday of Gertie’s Leap to Greatness with the author.  Our 3rd-5th grade all got to come to Kate’s presentation. We did lots of work leading up to the visit to write about great people in our lives as well as read the beginning of the book.

Kate traveled to our school with her wonderful publicist, Mary Van Akin.  When Kate arrived, she took time to look at all of the student writing in the windows.  Mary and Kate both took lots of pictures of the students’ “great people”.  I also had birthday balloons, Twinkies, and Gertie balloons to celebrate the book’s birthday.

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We were sure to take a picture with those to remember the day.

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Prior to the students’ arrival, Kate got busy signing all of the books.  Thanks to our PTA, ever classroom received copies of the books to put in class libraries.  Students are always eager to read the book after an author visit, so many teachers will read the book aloud while some will give the book to eager students to read and pass around to other students.  The library will also have 6 copies of the book for checkout and I’m sure that they will stay checked out for a long time.

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We kicked off the author visit by singing “Happy Birthday” to Gertie.  It was a rambunctious version of the song, but I’m sure Gertie would have loved it.  Then, Kate jumped into her presentation.  It’s always a treat to hear from an author because you get a window into their life to see where ideas come from.

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Kate also gave the students a lot of tips on what it means to be a writer and shared the huge stack of rewrites and revisions of Gertie. She also showed students what it looked like when various editors sent feedback to her to make changes.  Students were very surprised to see that she worked on the book for over 3 years before it came to be in our hands.

I loved that Kate read from Gertie and chose a part near the end of the book that students hadn’t read yet.  She read the part where Gertie goes to the office to take a note but the secretary forgets to give Gertie a chocolate for delivering the note.  It puts Gertie in a tricky situation where she has to make a decision about the tempting chocolate in front of her.  It was once of those scenes that leaves readers wondering, so I’m sure many students will be eager to read the book to see what happens in that scene.

At the end of her presentation students had a chance to ask questions and then participate in an activity on specificity.

Kate asked students to look at some parts of a sentence and try to come up with more specific details to make the sentence more descriptive and interesting.

Kate Beasley is now off on a big tour for Gertie’s Leap to Greatness.  We are so honored that we got to be one of her first two stops.  I can’t wait to see how readers at our school and across the country react to this wonderful book.

Thank you Avid Bookshop, MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group, and Kate Beasley for a very special day in our library.