Major Impossible: An Author Visit with Nathan Hale

It has been a rainy week in Georgia, which means kids haven’t had recess in a while. Pair that with the full moon, and you have a group of high energy kids. We were already excited about our upcoming author visit with Nathan Hale, but this added an extra layer. If I had known what students were about to experience during the visit, I wouldn’t have worried at all. Nathan Hale is a top-notch author & illustrator and his school presentation is a sight to behold. I don’t want to give too much away about the content, but I will say that he had almost 300 high energy 3rd-5th graders laughing, gasping, and hanging on every word.

We’ve known about our visit since November, which gave us a bit of time to build some excitement. When Nathan Hale arrived at our school, two of our 5th grade ambassadors welcomed him and walked him to the library to get setup.

Once we got him setup, he worked on a drawing of Hangman. He continued working on this as kids arrived and then moved over to draw on his iPad.

I loved that this immediately hooked kids in as they sat down. There was a buzz of excitement as kids chatted and watched Nathan draw.

All Nathan uses for his presentation is an iPad connected to the projector, but don’t let that simple setup fool you. After my quick intro, which included a huge thank you to Abrams Books and Avid Bookshop, Nathan launched right in to his presentation which is a combination of storytelling and drawing on his projected iPad. He introduced the Hazardous Tales books and then crossed them all out.

Since kids can just read those on their own, Nathan told us a new Hazardous Tale about Lewis & Clark. Since some people say that this story is too weird, too gross, and too dumb to be published, it can only be heard in school presentations. And, of course, the students were dying to hear it.

Nathan proceeded to tell us the story of Lewis & Clark and the corps of discovery. His story introduced an evil doctor, York-an African American explorer, and Sacagawea. His story was filled with  sarcasm, danger, gruesome details, and of course laugh-out-loud humor.

As Nathan told the story, he drew everything out on the iPad. He would zoom in at just the right moment, just like we were zooming in to a panel of a comic.

The storytelling introduced students to parts of the Lewis and Clark expedition that they most likely hadn’t heard before. It explained the “Lewis and Clark” is really referring to a whole group of people, and Nathan was sure to give credit to the individuals who played big roles in the expedition.

The story built up to a huge comedic finish that I can’t give away. What I will say about it is that it was so much fun to look around the room and see so many students and adults laughing to the point of tears. No matter what we were carrying with us as we came to the visit, we had 45 minutes of storytelling and laughter.  You couldn’t help but feel good after laughing that much.

One of the things I loved about Nathan’s presentation was that he went around the library before the presentation and pulled books about Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, York, and Sacajawea. He repeatedly reminded students that the story he was telling them was true and that he learned about the facts by reading books from the library.

He showed each one with his iPad and even turned this book presentation into a comedic event by always zooming in to show Baby Pomp on Sacajawea’s back.

Nathan chatted with students as they left, and then signed a huge stack of books. Every student who bought a book got a signature and a drawing of Hangman.

Before he left, Nathan took time to look at all of the comics that kids had made for the library windows. I loved that he took a moment to see how each one was different and what kids did with a blank piece of paper.

After an author/illustrator leaves our school, they don’t always get to see the miraculous things that happen back in classrooms and home. Kids returned to class buzzing with ideas and retelling the Hazardous Tale they heard. I had reports back from parents that their child couldn’t stop talking about the visit. Some students made their parents take them to hear Nathan again at the public library. Several parents reported back to me that their kids couldn’t put Major Impossible down and some finished it that night.

The next day, I put out a new set of Hazardous Tales and 5 copies of Major Impossible along with the other books Nathan showed at his visit.  All were immediately checked out and there’s already a list of holds on each book. Before Nathan’s visit, we already had some Hazardous Tales fans, but now that students know him, he has developed a much bigger fan base at our school.

Thank you again to Abrams Books for sending Nathan Hale on a tour of bookshops and schools. Thank you Avid Bookshop for supporting our schools with author visits and allowing us to have this opportunity. Thank you Nathan Hale for sharing your talents with us all.

Preparing for An Author Visit with Nathan Hale

One of the biggest blessings of having an award-winning independent bookshop in your community is having authors and illustrators visit our school as they tour to promote new books. Avid Bookshop is our local indie bookstore and even before they opened as a store, they supported the author visits that I arranged at our school. Now, Avid Bookshop pitches to publishers to have authors and illustrators visit their bookshop. Sometimes those visits happen in store and sometimes they happen at our public library. In addition to visiting the store, authors & illustrators usually visit a couple of schools, too.

The Setup

These visits are for one presentation and sometimes have requirements for the minimum or maximum number of students in attendance or are sometimes targeted at specific age groups. We also have a minimum number of books that we need to sell for each visit. Typically this is 40-60 books.  Ahead of the visit, I send home a pre-order form for students to purchase the new book. I have also worked with our PTA to include a line item in the budget for buying books for classroom libraries and students. I use this budget to supplement the number of books to ensure that we meet the minimum number.

We normally have the visits in our library, which requires me to move our shelves, tables, and chairs to accommodate 250ish students on the carpet. I book time on our library calendar to make sure there’s time to setup and clean up.

Introducing the Author

When we know about the visit in enough time, I make sure that all students have been introduced to the author. On January 14th, we will host author Nathan Hale for his new book, Major Impossible. We learned about the visit in November, so that gave me time to work on introductions before winter break. The visit will be for grades 3-5.

Our 5th grade was studying WWII at the time, so I worked with the art teacher and 5th grade teachers to put together a project around their Social Studies curriculum and Nathan Hale.

For day 1 of our project, we looked at all of Nathan Hale’s books and read the first chapter of One Dead Spy in order to meet the characters and learn the setup of the Hazardous Tales series.  Next, students had time to browse all of the Hazardous Tales, Rapunzel’s Revenge, Apocalypse Taco, and One Trick Pony. Their job was to enjoy the books but also to notice the style of illustrations, the dialogue, the humor, and anything else that caught their eye. They shared these noticings with partners and the whole group in our closing.

For day 2, students selected a topic from WWII to research. Examples included D-Day, Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust, Rosie the Riveter, VE Day, Iwo Jima, and more. They used resources from our state Galileo database. Students gathered facts onto Google docs in Google Classroom to use in art with Ms. Foretich.

In art, students used their research to create Nathan Hale-inspired one-page comics. These comics would be used to display at the front of our library for Nathan’s visit.

For grades 3-4, I offered an opportunity to come to the library for the same intro that 5th grade had. I also knew that they were overwhelmed with assessments and finishing up units before winter break, so I made a short intro video and uploaded to Youtube for them to watch at their convenience in class.

Contests

Ahead of Nathan’s visit, we held a big reveal on our morning broadcast. I gave one clue each day about the author/illustrator visiting our school and students could make a guess and drop it in a box in the library. I pulled out all the correct answers and held a drawing the give away copies of Major Impossible.

We also held a one-page comic contest for anyone in the school.  5th grade was automatically working on this, but I wanted to extend the opportunity to any students.  The rules were to create a one-page comic in the style of Nathan Hale. Students had to incorporate some event from history.  I provided various blank comic strip pages or students could create their own. Once the deadline came, Ms. Allie, our student support technician, and I went through the entries to select some winners. Again, these students received a copy of Major Impossible.  Every entry was used to add to our window display at the front of the library.

The Visit

Now, we are awaiting the big visit. I made a banner to put above the library door. The window display is created.  Books have been ordered. I’ve created post-it notes to put inside each book for autographing and delivery to students.  Students have been checking out all the Nathan Hale books, so hopefully we will get a few back to have signed at the visit. I love the excitement that an author visit brings. They are a lot of work, but they are so rewarding.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Celebrating Hansel & Gretel with Bethan Woollvin

I’ve loved Bethan Woollvin’s fractured, humorous, and subversive fairy tales for many years now. My own two kids have read Little Red until it’s falling apart. These books beg to be read aloud. Kids recite the repeating phrases, gasp at unexpected twists, and cheer for the heroines of the story.

Last year, our 2nd graders Skyped with Bethan to celebrate the release of Rapunzel. This year, we were over-the-moon excited that Peachtree Publishers brought her to our school as part of her US tour for her new book Hansel and Gretel.

In Hansel and Gretel, Willow the witch is a witch who only uses her magic for good. Hansel and Gretel are two mischievous and naughty kids who only think of themselves.  Willow tries her best to be nice to them along the way as they eat her house, gobble up all of her food, and wreak havoc with her magical things.  Can Willow continue to use her magic for good or is it time for Hansel and Gretel to be taught a lesson?  You’ll just have to read this fractured fairy tale to find out.

Ahead of Bethan’s visit, all classes in K-3 read all 3 of her books.  With each reading, students noticed similarities and differences between the tales.  They noticed the bravery of Rapunzel and Red.  They noticed the color scheme of black, white, and gray with a pop of a bright color. They noticed the hidden pictures underneath dust jackets and end papers.  In art, students worked on creating scenes of their own versions of fairy tales.  We hung this art in the hallways of the front of the school.

Our third graders all designed candy for a giant gingerbread house outside the library that I made out of some pumpkin spice tablecloth. My high school intern created Bethan Woollvin’s iconic eyes to go on the door of the library.

In classrooms, students also created their own Hansel & Gretel puppets, which were provided to us by Peachtree Publishers.  Many of them brought their puppets to the visit to hold up as Bethan shared the story.

Bethan presented 2 times: once for K-1 and once for 2-3.  She showed England on a map along with some childhood pictures.  We got a peek at her studio where she creates her illustrations.  One of my favorite parts was seeing how she creates the characters in her books.  She created some time lapse videos to show us how she begins with a pencil and then fills in the details one color at a time.

She also showed students how the illustrations changed over time.  They started as sketches but then went through several versions before reaching the final version found in the books. It was great to see how artists revise too and things aren’t perfect the first time.

Another great surprise was seeing how Bethan’s little sister created a drawing that inspired the ending of Hansel and Gretel.

Students loved watching Bethan draw many of her characters.  At one point, she sat in the middle of the floor amongst the students and drew. Students loved having her right in the middle of all of them, even if it did cause a stir of energy.

As always, students went back to class buzzing with excitement about the visit.  Our PTA bought a copy of Hansel & Gretel for all the class libraries and many students also purchased copies that Bethan autographed.  I can’t wait to see what projects, stories, and art spark from this visit.

Thank you, Bethan, for taking time to share your expertise with our school.  Thank you Peachtree Publishers and Avid Bookshop for bringing this opportunity to our students. It was truly a special day for all of us.

Love Projects: 5th grade Symbols of Love

After 5th grade spent time, reading the book Love by Matt de la Pena & Loren Long, I silently turned back through each image in the book.  We had spent time talking about some of the images as well as listening to Matt’s powerful words, but Ms. Foretich (art teacher) and I wanted them to have one more slow look at the images. Their goal in looking at the images for a 2nd time was to pick out an image that spoke to them in some way.

At tables, each 5th grader took a brainstorming sheet to reflect on some questions through writing or through sketching.  The purpose of this sheet was to help them think more about an image from the book and to imagine a new symbol of love. We wanted students to think beyond just a universal symbol of love like a heart, but we didn’t exclude hearts if that was what students were most connected with.

At the end of the brainstorm, students had to think of what materials they might need in order to make a 3D sculpture of their symbol. Ms. Foretich went through these and helped group students with the materials that they might need.

During the 2nd class, some students worked in the art classroom and others came to the library.  Students in the library worked on 3D design in tinkercad to prepare for 3d printing or they used materials from our makerspace such as duct tape and other crafting supplies.

In the art room, students used clay, paint, and other materials from Ms. Foretich’s supplies.

I took student Tinkercad files and put them into Makerware software for 3d printing. Over the course of a week, all files were printed.

All of the sculptures will be displayed in the collaborative space just outside the library.

We hope they will inspire people to think about the many forms that love takes and the many symbols of love that exist in the world.