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

Philip & Erin Stead (37)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A photo posted by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

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

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

A photo posted by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

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

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

Philip & Erin Stead (30)

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

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

Polar Express 2012 & Participatory Culture

5th Graders received special blue bells this year

5th Graders received special blue bells this year

Every year our Polar Express Day is an event that students, teachers, and families look forward to.  We of course wear our pajamas and listen to the story in the school library, but it’s much more than that.  We want students to experience the story.  A conductor with a flickering lantern meets classes and leads them to the train tracks of the Polar Express.  The path is lined with multiple decorations:  lights, student-made art, train tracks, a ticket booth, railroad signs, and more.

Here’s what the students saw this year:

A sample of music from the Polar Express movie plays while students enter the library and take their seats.  A spotlight illuminates the book that awaits them.  The hot chocolate song comes on and students are served hot chocolate with marshmallows.  After listening to the story, every child receives a bell placed around their neck with the words “always believe” whispered in their ears.  Students immediately begin shaking their bells, which sounds like this:

As they exit the library, they receive a candy cane.  Many of our 5th graders cry on this day as they experience their final Polar Express Day.  We have even started having a Polar Express alumni night for people to come back and experience the magic.

This year, I’ve been thinking about our participatory culture and how much participation is involved in this event.  Here are some examples:

  • Our principal organizes a schedule, volunteers, and materials
  • Our lunchroom staff makes hot chocolate
  • Parent volunteers purchase all of the materials and supplies
  • Parent volunteers (and some students) string the 450 bells
  • Parent volunteers pour and serve the hot chocolate and place bells around students’ necks
  • Teachers and students work with me to decorate the library and hallways.  Many teachers come back at night to decorate in order to have the element of surprise on the morning of Polar Express.  Every year, the decorations are different depending on what the teachers dream up in the moment.
  • This year, for the first time, many students made decorations to line the hallways with.  One of our enrichment clusters made decorations and some students made decorations on their own.

At times, I’ve felt guilty that so many people help with this event, but this year things began to click in my mind as I realized that this is an event sponsored by the library that is truly owned by the entire school.  I hope to think more about this in years to come and look for more ways that students can be involved in this special day.


Exemplary Elementary Media Program Open House

Mark your calendars.  On Thursday March 3, 2011, the David C. Barrow Elementary Media Center will hold an open house in honor of its distinction as the Georgia exemplary elementary media program for 2010.  The event will last from 7:30AM-4:00PM with student showcases of work and opportunities to tour and explore the kinds of learning that take place inside the Barrow Media Center.  Everyone is welcome to attend.  RSVPs are greatly appreciated, but not necessary.  Stop by for a few minutes or spend the whole day!

If you plan to attend the Georgia Conference on Children’s Literature on March 4-5, 2011, this is a great reason to head into Athens early and explore a media center that is just one block away from the Georgia Center for Continuing Education.

David C. Barrow Elementary is located at 100 Pinecrest Drive Athens, GA 30605.  Parking is limited in Barrow’s upper and lower lots on Pinecrest Drive, but additional parking is available across Lumpkin Street at the Campus View Church of Christ.  Do not park on Rutherford Street or in any UGA lots.

We hope to see you in March.

Send RSVPs or questions to plemmonsa at or call (706) 543-2676 ext 38280