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.

Kindness Rocks

Third grade studies rocks and minerals in science.  Ms. Hicks, 3rd grade Spectrum teacher, is always dreaming up ways to extend and enrich the study.  We have collaborated together many times, and I always love leaping into something new.  In the past, we’ve Skyped with a jewelry studio and designed our own jewelry.  We’ve thought about climbing wall design and how the hardness of different rocks and minerals would support the design. Students even 3D printed prototypes of their climbing walls.  This year we once again worked together to add a new layer to this science unit.

I’ve been watching lots of people getting involved in kindness rock projects locally and globally. The idea of these projects is to spread words of inspiration in the world through randomly placed rocks and inspire people to create good in the world.

Our local Athens Rock Project

I’ve found a few of these rocks myself and know that it gives you a bright moment in your day just to know that someone cared enough to create a piece of art intended for good.

Be light in a dark world #rockpoetry #rock #paintedrocks

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Gretchen Thomas, UGA instructor, and I have been brainstorming the idea of weaving this project into makerspace, but we held off this semester.  I passed the idea on to Ms. Hicks and we decided to give it a trial run.

We started by showing images of rocks and asking students if they had ever found a rock like these.  I was surprised at how many stories were already in our small group of 15 kids.  From a rock in a stream to a rock in the park, students had stories of words and images they had found on rocks.

Then we watched this video to consider the meaning of a project like this.

We also read an excerpt from If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian and Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor. These books helped us think beyond a rock just being a rock but instead a symbol of something else.

Starting our rock project today with some 3rd graders #kindness #kindnessrocks #rock

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At tables, students used an index card to plan out their rock.  We wanted them to really take their time in planning so that they chose their words with purpose, so Ms. Hicks and I conferenced with students as they worked. They chose a word or phrase, wrote a short explanation of their choice, and sketched a design for their art.  Students also selected a rock. All of this took one class session.

In the next session, students used paint pens and paint to design their rock.  Most started by getting the word(s) onto the rock and then worked on design. If they finished early, they helped one another fan portions of rocks to get them dry enough to keep painting on.

Kindness rocks in progress #choosekind #rocks #kindnessrocks

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My wonderful computer technician, Allie, added layers of Mod Podge onto the rocks before our 3rd session. Here’s where this project is taking a different turn that many of the kindness rock projects.  We don’t really want to be random.  We want the person who finds our rock to know a bit more about it.

In our 3rd session, we used Flipgrid to record videos to tell the story of our rock.  Students talked about the reason they chose their word and even why they designed it the way they did.  We also brainstormed what someone would need to know in order to get to the video we recorded.

I took this brainstormed and turned it into an information card to put with our rocks.

Instead of randomly placing the rocks, we are putting them all in one container. We’ve talked with Avid Bookshop in Five Points and will be placing this container somewhere outside the shop.  Our hope is that people will select a rock, take an information card, watch the accompanying video, and hopefully leave a response video to the student.

It’s all a big experiment, and I’ve tried to be very open with students about that from the beginning.  Anything could happen.  We of course want every rock to be taken and for every person to leave a response, but we also know that might not happen.  Whatever happens, we’ll know that our rocks have gone into the world and caused at least one person to pause for just a moment and think about kindness.

Before our rocks go to Avid, we’re making a few more.  If your’e in the area, keep your eyes open in Five Points for a clear acrylic container near Avid Bookshop sometime this week!

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2018 Student Book Budget: First Steps

It’s time for one of my favorite projects of the year: Student Book Budget. Every year, I reserve a part of the library budget that is under complete control by students. This budget comes from many places.  Sometimes it’s a grant and other times it is part of our regular budget.  This year their budget comes from the profit we made from book fair.  The book budget is their chance to make sure that books are added to our library that represent their interests.  They go through a long process to make sure that many voices are represented in their purchases.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing their process.  Here are some of the steps that are already happening.

First, I created a Google form application for students to apply to be in the group.  The form was available for one week for students in grade 3-5.  Every student who applied and had a genuine reason for being in the group was accepted.  Our group this year is 40 students strong and has a great mix of boys and girls.

Next, we held our 1st meetings. I met with each grade level group separately and answered all of their questions about the group. Then, in small groups or pairs, they brainstormed things that they thought we should ask on a reading interest survey for the whole school.

Then, I took their ideas and put them into a Google form survey.

I sent the survey to all of the students on the book budget team so that they could review it and decide if it matched their comments.  We made some minor adjustments and were ready for the school to be surveyed.

I sent the survey via email to our 3rd-5th grade students who each have their on device. The Student Book Budget Team was responsible for surveying Prek-2nd grade. On our 2nd meeting, we scanned QR codes to get to the survey on an iPad and went to recess and lunch to survey as many people as possible.

The students were so professional and I loved standing back and watching them work.  It truly was their project and they were taking it very seriously.

In just one day, we have already surveyed 216 students.  We will continue this process and then take the next step of looking at the results.  I love how we can check along the way to see which grades need to be surveyed more so that we have a somewhat even distribution of voices.

Be on the lookout for our next steps.  We are off to a great start.

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.

The Winner of Our Global Book Talk Challenge

For several weeks, people around the world have been contributing to our 30-second book talk Flipgrid.  In March, we narrowed the videos to 16 and have been inviting a global audience to listen to the videos and vote on the brackets each week.

After many, many votes, we have a winner!  Congratulations to Evin for her book talk of It Came in the Mail by Ben Clanton.  Adaline’s book talk of I Dissent by Debbie Levy was a very close 2nd place.  Both of these students will receive a special recognition on our morning broadcast as well as gift certificates to our local bookshop, Avid Bookshop.  Please help me in congratulating our winners, but more importantly, continue to share great books with one another!

The 2017 Student Book Budget Books Have Arrived!

Every year a volunteer group of students give their time to spend a budget on books for the library. This budget comes from grants, book fair profits, and rewards points and it is completely in their control. They create a survey, interview students throughout the school, analyze the results, set goals, meet with vendors, create consideration lists, narrow the lists to the final order, unpack the books, and display them for checkout.

This year’s book budget group purchased over 150 new books for our library from Capstone and Avid Bookshop.

When the books arrived, this year’s crew had a big additional step that previous crews didn’t have.

They had to sort the books into genre categories, label the books with their new genres, and scan them into those subcategories in Destiny.

Once the books were all ready, the students put them on display all over the tables of the library, and the excitement of check out began.

Because there were so many books, it was hard to put them all out at once. As books got checked out, we refilled the tables with new books.  Within the day that the books were put on display, almost all of them had been checked out.

Once again, the amazing Amy Cox at Capstone allowed our committee members to choose 1 book that was their personal choice for the library and these books were donated to us as a thank you.  Students got to put a personalized label on the inside cover to show that they were the selector of the book.

Student voice matters in the library, and every year I value this process of seeing students BE the process of collection development instead of just requesting books to be purchased.  When they take part in every step of the collection development process, they see the thought that goes into each book on our library shelves.

They see that their interests and requests matter because they immediately see those represented in the books on our shelves.  If the library is to be a true community, then I feel like one person can’t decide on all of the books in the collection. I certainly have a major role in collection development, but when my students work alongside me in this process, we all become members of our library rather than just a consumer.

Happy reading!