The King of Kindergarten: A Visit with Derrick Barnes & Vanessa Brantley Newton

We are 3 weeks into the new school year and we are so thankful that we were able to host an author and illustrator for students in PreK-1st grade. Derrick Barnes, author of the award-winning Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, and Vanessa Brantley Newton, illustrator of numerous, stunning books such as The Youngest Marcher, Mary Had a Little Glam, and Grandma’s Purse came to our school thanks to our local bookshop Avid Bookshop and their publisher Penguin Random House.  They came to celebrate their newest picture book together called The King of Kindergarten, which has received numerous starred reviews.

Getting the students ready for an author visit so early in the year was a challenge, but most K-1 students heard 2-3 stories by Derrick and Vanessa including The King of Kindergarten, Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut, Mama’s Work Shoes, Early Sunday Morning, and Mary Had a Little Glam. 

 

We also took pictures of every student in K-1 and put their pictures on the windows of the library with clip art crowns to welcome Derrick and Vanessa to our school.

Families had an opportunity to pre-order a copy of The King of Kindergarten for autographing, and thanks to our pre-sales and a generous donation from an anonymous donor, every student in Kindergarten received a copy of the book.

When Derrick and Vanessa arrived at our school, they were greeted by two of our 5th grade Barrow ambassadors. These students welcome visitors to our school, give tours of our school, and make sure special guests are well taken care of.  They took their job very seriously and helped Derrick and Vanessa get settled in the library and helped deliver all of the signed books to classrooms.

As students entered to get seated, their excitement was palpable. Some of them saw Derrick and Vanessa waiting in my office and said, “Mr. Plemmons!  Look behind you! They are here. They’re really here in Georgia!”  It was a celebrity sighting for sure and one of the reasons it is so important to read books and talk about authors and illustrators before a visit.  The kids felt like they knew them and they were able to connect the books we’ve experienced with a real, live person who created them.

Derrick shared a little about himself and his family. He also shared that his own children are the faces of characters on the covers of his books. We looked at Crown and The King of Kindergarten covers to see his sons. During this time, Derrick talked about the importance of every person being able to see themselves on the cover of a book and that he felt his job was to fill in some of the gaps that exist in the publishing world.

Vanessa also shared about herself. We learned that she is dyslexic and she talked with the kids about working with that challenge in her life. She also stutters, so she talked with the kids about how that has impacted her and asked for their help in staying peaceful while she talked so that she could formulate her words. It was so important for kids to hear about these challenges she faced in her life but was still able to do something that she loved.  Vanessa also showed us some of her art books and shared that she loves to leave pieces of art everywhere she goes so that people can find her work and add some art to their lives.

Before Derrick read The King of Kindergarten, he offered our young learners some advice. 1.  Always greet your teachers and classmates each day with a good morning (which they all turned and did right away!) 2.  Be kind.  3. Represent your family name. Make them proud.

As Derrick read the book, Vanessa drew the king of Kindergarten.  I loved hearing students filling in the parts of the text they remembered as Derrick read. They also noticed that Derrick and his wife are in the book too. Vanessa also included a couple of students from our audience in her drawing. She shared that she has a photographic memory and uses people she sees as characters.

As Derrick and Vanessa said goodbye, so many students came up to smile, wave, point out parts of the book, touch Derrick and Vanessa, or give them a hug. I was so thankful that all of our young learners got to hear their message, see their faces in person, and be inspired by their work and stories.

What happens after an author visit is always special. Kids recognize the books in the library and immediately check them all out. Kids get inspired to create their own art and stories.

This time because so many kids received a copy of the book, we saw kids excitedly putting books into their backpacks to go home and read with their family and many brought the books back to school to read here too.

Thank you so much Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley Newton for sharing your talents with our students. Thank you Avid Bookshop for bring author and illustrators to our school.  Thank you Penguin Random House & Nancy Paulsen Books for choosing our community and our school as a stop on the tour.  The impact will last well beyond this 30-minute visit.  Thank you.

 

 

 

The Night Diary: A Visit with Veera Hiranandani

We are so fortunate to have an amazing independent bookshop in our community, Avid Bookshop. This year, they have brought 5 authors/illustrators to our school. That means that every student in grades K-5 has experienced 2 author/illustrator visits this year. For our final visit of this school year, we welcomed Veera Hiranandani, author of the 2018 Newbery Honor book The Night Diary. Veera is on tour for the paperback version of the book which was released on April 23, 2019. She visited our school thanks to Avid Bookshop and her publisher, Penguin Kids and Kokila.

From the Publisher:

The Night Diary

 
Next, we listed to Veera’s interview with her editor. https://youtu.be/6Q5Tzyjl8iU
The publisher also has a thorough Educator’s Guide for the book. It is packed with ideas prior to reading, during reading, and after reading. In classrooms, students examined 4 statements that had a connection with the content of the book.
  • Being smart doesn’t have to be about reading or math. It might be about artwork or being able to understand others.
  • When people are separated into groups, they start to believe that one group is better than the other.
  • Quiet voices sometimes get people’s attention even better than loud voices.
  • Everyone should dress the same, enjoy the same foods, and practice the same religion.

Each student choice a statement that resonated with them and wrote a diary entry to explain why they agreed or disagreed with the statement. These diary entries were displayed in the windows of the library to welcome Veera.

During Veera’s visit, she took time to give us even more background on the partition of India.
Then, she read another excerpt from the book that took place right when the partitioning happened.
Veera took students into her writing process a bit and then gave us a glimpse into her family and why telling this story was important to her.
 
We got to hear about her dad experiencing the partition. She also shared additional pictures of family members.
We learned about the importance of food in Veera’s life and why she wanted to include food references in her writing.
 
I loved that she closed by asking students to consider their own stories and allowing them to ask questions. We were so impressed at the kinds of questions students chose to ask.

Questions ranged from how to decide on characters to how her father came to America to which religion she identifies with to how she gathered information about the partitioning. When sensitive questions arose, students respectfully asked if it was ok to ask about religion or money or other topics, and Veera didn’t shy away from any of their requests.

Before she left, Veera chatted with a few individual students and signed several books. Thanks to our PTA every 5th grade classroom has 6 books as well as a set of 15 books to be used in 5th grade book clubs. The library also has multiple copies for student checkout.

Students are eager to read the book before the close of the school year and we look forward to using this book next year with book groups. Thank you again to 5th grade teachers, Barrow PTA, Avid Bookshop, and Penguin Kids for making this visit possible. Thank you Veera Hirananadani for sharing your story with all of us.

The 2019 Student Book Budget Orders Have Arrived!

After surveying our entire school, analyzing data, setting goals, meeting with vendors, creating consideration lists, and narrowing down orders to meet their budget, the hard work of our student book budget team has paid off.  All books from our 3 vendors have arrived and it’s time to get these books out into the hands of readers.

The book budget team met to unpack the books. Across 90 minutes, all of our books from Capstone and Gumdrop were checked on the packing slip, sorted into genres, labeled with genre stickers, and scanned into subcategories in Destiny. Every student on the team took a role in the process and I walked around to assist with questions and tricky genre decisions. I also helped students make sure they were sorting books into the right categories such as chapter book, picture book, or informational book.

Our books from Avid had to be cataloged so I “volunteered” to do this step for the students and some of our library volunteers have helped with getting the barcodes and plastic wrap on the books.

The book budget team met one final time to display the books for readers to see. It was hard for us to find a time to meet to get the books displayed so we all came one morning right after morning broadcast before our school day started. Students worked efficiently to get all of the books displayed in the windows, counters, and tables in the library. It was amazing to see all of the books out together and see all of our hard work pay off.

The real payoff comes when the book budget students get to check out some of the books and then see the rest of the school pour in to the library to check out books. It doesn’t take long for the tables full of books to be reduced down to a couple of tables and then a single table. These books are always popular with readers and I love knowing that our library collection truly is “our collection”. We build it together.

Bad Kitty Kitten Trouble: A Visit with Nick Bruel

We’ve been purring with excitement for the past few weeks as we geared up for an author/illustrator visit with Nick Bruel. Nick is currently touring to promote his newest installment in the Bad Kitty series: Bad Kitty Kitten Trouble.

Prior to his visit, we held an art contest in the library. Students in any grade could enter. Their task was to name a new Bad Kitty book and create a cover for that book. Winners in the contest received an autographed copy of Bad Kitty Kitten Trouble and honorable mentions received a blind bag Hatchimal.

Once again, students amazed us with their creativity in both titles and covers, so it was hard to narrow down to just a few top winners. All student artwork was displayed in the library windows to welcome Nick to our school.

Our 1st, 2nd, and 4th grade packed into the library to hear Nick talk about Bad Kitty. In the beginning, he introduced us to the newest book: Bad Kitty Kitten Trouble. He made the connection for students that it was inspired by the global issues around refugees and how we welcome them into our communities around the world (or not). Even though this Bad Kitty addresses a global topic, it is still a Bad Kitty book at heart with plenty of humor along the way.

Nick read aloud the first couple of chapters of the books, and it was fun to hear students chime in with the repeating lines that they quickly noticed.

Rather than go through his whole writing and creating process with students, Nick took a different approach. He made sure we divided the audience in half as they were being seated and he had each side think of pieces to an entirely new story. One side thought of a character, while the other side thought of an emotion. Then, he picked students to share their thoughts. Our story title became “The Happy Cockroach”.

With this title, Nick began asking questions to each side of the room. With each question, more of the story developed and more questions emerged. Why was the cockroach happy? ….because he was in a hotel full of food.  What problem might that cause?….he ate too much.

The questions and answers continued until we had created a story from beginning to end. Nick took time to retell the story from memory using every answer that students had given.

This brought us to the learn the secret of writing.

This was a perfect setup for students and teachers to take back to the classroom to continue writing workshop. Nick even gave them some activities they could try when they returned.

Students always love to see an illustrator draw, so Nick of course drew Bad Kitty for us. After that, he took time to reinforce the idea that simple changes to the same drawing can give your character different emotions. He did this by just drawing the eyes, nose, and mouth of Bad Kitty and making changes to show surprise, adorable, and crazy.

He finished up his time by letting students ask questions, and he even got some questions he had never been asked before. One of those questions came from a 4th grader: “On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you saw your writing and illustrating has improved since the first Bad Kitty?”  This question took some thought, and even though he didn’t have a number to assign, he did talk about how his work had grown both in writing and illustrating.

Before he left he signed pre-ordered books for students. Our PTA bought a copy of Kitten Trouble for each homeroom class library.  We also now have 6 copies in the library for checkout.  Thank you to Avid Bookshop for bringing another author to our school to inspire our reader and creators. Thank you to MacMillan Kids for continuing to send authors on tour to bookshops and schools.

This was our 4th author/illustrator visit this year, and each one brings a new piece of learning and inspiration to us all.

These visits connect us with a real person that creates just like we do in our classrooms and homes. These visits build excitement for books that some students may not have engaged with yet, and they create a shared experience that we can all continue to talk about throughout this year and in the future.

 

Max and the MidKnights: A Visit with Lincoln Peirce

We’ve been building excitement for weeks to get ready for an author/illustrator visit with Lincoln Peirce. Many people know Lincoln from his bestselling series Big Nate, but he has an equally fantastic new book out called Max and the Midknights. This new book is a spoof on the Sword in the Stone and other medieval stories. It is filled with surprises, adventure, a wicked king, an evil sorceress, unlikely knights, a dragon, a few zombies, and plenty of humor. (And the best part is that there are more Max books in the works).

Prior to Lincoln’s visit with 3rd-5th grade, we held a one-page comic contest and used those comics to fill our windows of the media center to welcome him. When he arrived, he was so impressed by how many of our students expressed their creativity through comic art.

Lincoln arrived a little bit early so he took time to sign the many books that we pre-sold through our local independent bookstore, Avid Bookshop. He also had one adoring fan spending recess time in the library, and Lincoln took time to chat with this student who has read all of the Big Nate comics. This student even drew a comic for Lincoln using Big Nate and his other favorite topic, the Titanic.

Before his chat with all of the students, Lincoln had just enough time to create a special Max drawing for our library. I’ve made it a habit now of framing an illustration from each illustrator who visits and is willing to leave behind an image. With 3 author/illustrator visits just this year, our walls are becoming a mini-museum.

A few lucky students arrived early and got to see Lincoln create the drawing.

In his presentation, he of course acknowledged Big Nate at the beginning because that’s what he’s famous for. I loved how when he showed each character from Big Nate, the kids shouted out their names. These illustrated novels have made quite an impact on many readers.

Lincoln then backed up and showed us where a lot of his inspiration has come from. He referenced books he read as a kid and many comics that inspired him. I’m always impressed when an author/illustrator shows things that they kept from their childhood, and it reminds me the importance of holding on to at least a few things from my own children each year.  He had drawings of Peanuts characters that he created and super heroes based on his love of Batman.

Lincoln took students up to the point where he created the Big Nate comic strip for newspapers and how it became wildly popular. We were all surprised when an image of another famous author made its way into Lincoln’s presentation because Jeff Kinney was a key player in how the comic strip turned into an illustrated novel series.

It was very evident that Lincoln has had a lot of fun moving away from the Big Nate novels to a new series. He’s coming up with so many new, fun characters that are based in medieval tales he’s read or watched in the past.  Students loved seeing how he took some small ideas and eventually turned them into a much longer story. He introduced them to all of these key players in the book without giving away any of the fun secrets from the book.

One of the most fun parts of Lincoln’s presentation was seeing him draw. He emphasized to students that the smallest lines and symbols convey big messages to the reader. A simple letter z tells you someone is sleeping. A slanted eyebrow can change a character’s emotion.

He drew one character on our whiteboard and then erased and drew over and over to show how small changes can make a big difference in the message you are sending to the reader. This was so helpful to our young artists and I can’t wait to see how this impacts the images, comics, and stories that they create.

After Lincoln’s visit, we rushed all of the signed copies to classrooms. Students immediately started opening them up to read. Students came in the next day buzzing about what they had read.

Our 6 copies of Max and the Midknights immediately got checked out and a “hold” list started to develop throughout the day. Every signed copy of Big Nate was also checked out right away. I started to get messages from parents whose kids came home and wouldn’t stop reading the book and stories of kids who went home and made their own comics. I heard stories from teachers who had students begging to have the book read aloud in class or to the be the first student to read the class copy of the book.

This is what an author visit does. It inspires students to create. It creates a buzz of conversation. It encourages readers to read and readers who haven’t found the right book yet try something new. Thank you to all publishers who send authors and illustrators to schools and bookstores. For this visit, thank you to Random House Kids & Crown Books for Young Readers for sending Lincoln Peirce to our school. Thank you to Avid Bookshop for advocating for this visit and for taking care of all of our presales of books. Finally, thank you to our amazing PTA who made sure every class in 2nd-5th grade received a copy of Max and the Midknights for their class library.  These books will make an impact for years to come.

 

A Walk to Avid Bookshop with the Student Book Budget Team

Our student book budget team has made quite a long list of books to consider for this year’s student book budget purchase. So far, they have met with Capstone and Gumdrop Books. Our local independent bookstore is within a mile of our school, so we also take a walking field trip to Avid Bookshop.

I split the group into two days. Third and Fourth grades went one day and Fifth grade went another day. Before we walked, we reminded ourselves about the types of books we were looking for. We also reminded ourselves that we were in a place of business so we needed to be respectful of the space and the other customers.

When we arrived, we snapped a quick photo in front of the shop.

Kate Lorraine, bookseller, met us at the back of the bookshop and gave us some book talks on picture books, informational books, graphic novels, and middle grade books that met our purchasing goals. We also showed students where these areas were located in the store so that they didn’t venture into adult sections for our list of books.

We took some shelf markers with us so students could remember where books went on the shelf. Each time a book was found to be of interest, students checked with me to see if we already had it in the library. If we didn’t, they scanned the ISBN into a spreadsheet on my computer and added the title and price. Again, we weren’t worried about cost at this point, we were just adding books of interest.

I loved that students could check with the Avid booksellers for information on prices, age ranges of books, series sequence, and more. They are so used to asking me questions, that sometimes I had to remind them that the Avid booksellers were there to help us and were happy to answer questions.

As usual, it was a challenge to stay focused in a bookshop with so many interesting books and gifts to look at. Students had a chance to look all around, but did need reminders to stay focused on our most important task of finding books. I also noticed that our oldest readers also needed reminders to visit the picture book sections in addition to the areas that they were most attracted to.

I have some more thinking to do around these walking visits. Avid has such a great selection of titles to look at and I feel like students could have spent more time really looking at what was there. Maybe I need to assign certain students to certain sections. Maybe there needs to be more guidance on how many books they should try to evaluate.  I don’t want to take power away from the students, but I do want to equip them with some tools to help them get the most out of their visit to this useful resource in our community.

Now, we are at our most challenging task, which is cutting down our lists to fit our budget. Wish us luck.

One-Page Comic Contest: Prepping for a Visit with Lincoln Peirce

We are still in shock that next week we will be visited by Lincoln Peirce, the author of the bestselling Big Nate series. Lincoln is touring the country to promote his newest illustrated novel, Max and the Midknights. I can’t wait for students to be introduced to this new book. It has a little bit of everything: surprises, humor, medieval fights, mystery, magic, zombies, and more.

When an author/illustrator visits, I love to fill our windows and/or hallways with student work inspired by the author/illustrator. Sometimes there’s just not enough prep time, but luckily for Lincoln we knew a couple of months in advance.

When I read the Advance Reading Copy of Max and the Midknights, I saw that it opens with a one-page comic to setup the story. I thought this would be a great concept to invite students to try out. Instead of hosting class after class in the library, I made this a choice contest. In the contest, I invited students in any grade level to create a one-page comic on any topic. That’s pretty much the rules. They could create the comic on their own paper or use a pre-printed page of comic boxes that I provided in the library.

I introduced the contest on our morning broadcast and also made a video that teachers could share.

Students had a little less than 2 weeks to enter the contest and it didn’t take long to see that this was a high-interest topic. By the deadline date, we had over 100 entries in our contest from almost every grade level. It was impossible to pick winners by myself, so I had the help of Allie Melancon, SST, and my high school intern, Andrea Aramburo. I also had a few students, teachers, and my wife read a some comics too.

In the end, we picked 12 students to receive an autographed copy of Max and the Midknights. Thanks to a local organization called Books for Keeps, I had some other items I could hand out as prizes for about 50 honorable mention students.

These students received their choice of several doodling books, coloring books, magnetic storytelling kits, and comics.

Every student who entered a comic also has his/her work displayed on the windows of the library. As soon as the display went up, students, teachers, and families were stopping in the hall to read comics. We can’t wait for Lincoln Peirce to see them next week too.

I loved having this choice contest. It’s something I would like to try again with other author visits. It gives students one more way to interact with their library, one more way to make their voice heard, and one more way to be creative regardless of grade level, language, or background. I met some students in a new way through their art or writing. I saw some hidden talents that I didn’t realize were there.

We never know what opportunity is going to be the spark that students need in order to connect.