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.

King Alice: A Visit with Matthew Cordell

I love collaborating with our local indie bookstore, Avid Bookshop. Each year, we get amazing authors and illustrators who visit our schools and share their expertise with our kids. Our first visit of this year was Caldecott-medalist Matthew Cordell.  He won the Caldecott for his story of bravery and kindness called Wolf in the Snow.  Now, he is touring for his newest book King Alice.  His visit to our school was made possible by his publisher MacMillan Kids and Avid Bookshop.

I’ve followed Matthew’s work for several years. His book,  Hello Hello, is a favorite book that I love to use as we ponder how we balance our digital lives and real lives.  Even though it is a few years old, it continues to be relevant.

When I found out he was coming to our school, I began collaborating with Rita Foretich, our art teacher.  I scheduled read alouds with every class in K-2.  During every class, we read Wolf in the Snow. First grade also read Dream. Second grade also read Hello Hello.

In art, Ms. Foretich focused on 1 book per grade. Kindergarten made art inspired by Wolf in the Snow. They considered a time they were kind or brave and illustrated that moment. First grade made art inspired by Dream. They considered what they dreamed to be and illustrated that dream.  Second grade made art inspired by Hello Hello. They considered what they like to do in their free time and how they balance digital/real life and illustrated those thoughts.

Each piece of art was mounted on black construction paper to create a gallery in the front halls of our school.

For the visit, we transformed the entrance to the library to look like a castle wall. My talented high school intern, Andrea Aramburo, created a hand-lettered banner that said “Welcome Kings”. Every class received paper crowns from the publisher to wear to the visit. All of this was in honor of King Alice.

During Matthew’s visit, he shared a little of his childhood leading up to where he is now. Then, we got to see inside his messy studio. He talked about how he purposefully took a picture of the studio in action because he wanted students to see that art wasn’t a neat and clean process.  This became one of the favorite moments of the talk for some students.

Before Matthew read King Alice, he told some stories from his family. One example was how his daughter suggested things for them to do together like throw a pie in dad’s face or put on dad’s makeup. I loved hearing these real-life examples because it showed all of us that ideas are truly all around us.  King Alice is about a dad and daughter doing things together on a snow day. The dad doesn’t always want to do everything Alice suggests, but when she suggests making a book, the dad is all on board. We loved learning that Matthew’s daughter even got to collaborate on parts of the book.  King Alice has many laugh-out-loud moments that students were still talking about after the visit, and I heard more than one student shout out “Idea!” just like Alice did when she thought of additions to her story.

Students always love seeing an illustrator draw. Matthew drew King Alice and narrated every step of the drawing process. Seeing the blank page transform into the stoic King Alice was incredible and inspiring. I always see students go back to class after these moments and try to draw the characters themselves.

Before Matthew left, he chatted with several students including one student who presented him with a book that he wrote just for Matthew.

He also took time to tour the gallery of student art and get to know our many creators throughout K-2.

 

Thanks to our PTA, every classroom teacher received a copy of King Alice.  I’m sure it will be heavily used as a mentor text in writing workshop. It brings up some many important ideas of storytelling from ideas to revision to illustrating.

If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, I encourage you to go to your local independent bookshop and make a purchase. I’m sure there’s even a few signed copies still left at Avid Bookshop if you want to order one online.

Thank you, Matthew Cordell, for sharing your wisdom with our students, teachers, and families. Thank you MacMillan Publishers for making our city one of the stops on the tour. Thank you Avid Bookshop for collaborating with our school to make this visit possible and for supporting all of our book sales.

 

 

Examining the Work of Ashley Bryan

Our fabulous art teacher, Ms. Foretich, is always looking for opportunities to take our students to art experiences outside our school.  Last year, she attended a workshop at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and learned that the Wonderful World of Ashley Bryan exhibit was on the way for this school year.  We did a quick brainstorm on a grade level we might do a project with and she applied for the Art Access grant which supports transportation and admission to the museum.

Second grade was the grade we decided to work with and their field trip was planned for 2 days to accommodate all the students. Before the trip, every class came to the library for an introductory lesson and experience planned by me and Ms. Foretich.  We made a Google doc and planned out 4 centers that students could rotate to with the goal of making it to at least 2 centers.  Ms. Foretich arranged each class into 4 groups.

Before we began the centers, we did a brief overview of the High Museum website and the life of Ashley Bryan.  We learned about his life experiences and how he wants to fill the world with as many stories and illustrations of African Americans as he can.

We listened to him read My People by Langston Hughes.

We also gave a brief overview of each center since all students wouldn’t visit all centers.  Then, students went to their first center and got started.

Center 1: Ashley Bryan’s Puppets

Students began by watching a video of Ashley Bryan’s puppets.  As they watched, we wanted them to consider what characters he created. We also wanted them to notice materials he used and how the puppets moved.

Then, students took a look at the book Ashley Bryan’s Puppets so they could take a closer look at the materials of the puppets.

Finally students used a short readers’ theater script along with my library puppets to act out a script.

Our hope is to eventually have students create their own puppets and scripts for a project in 2nd quarter.

Center 2: Beautiful Blackbird Collage

Students read the book Beautiful Blackbird and looked closely at the colors and collage work in the illustrations. Then, Ms. Foretich had stencils, construction paper, glue, and oil pastels so that students could create their own bird collage. Many of the students kept the book open while they worked so they could mimic some of Ashley Bryan’s style.

Center 3: Poetry & Illustration

Students began by looking at the many ways Ashley Bryan illustrates the poetic works of African American poets.  Some of the books included Freedom Over Me, Sail Away, and ABC of African American Poetry.  Each book had a different style of illustration. Then, students used the Word Mover app on the iPad to create their own poetry. An additional step could have been to craft an illustration, but it was hard to add that in the time frame we had.

Center 4: African American Spirituals

Students looked at Let It Shine and I’m Going to Sing which both include African American spirituals illustrated by Ashley Bryan. Their task was to look at the words of the spiritual and how he took song and turned it into illustration. Then, students listened to multiple African American spirituals from the books that I compiled on Symbaloo.

While they listened, they used various kinds of paper, oil pastels, and black markers to draw what they heard or draw what they felt.

The library was noisy and creative during the centers, and Ms. Foretich and I enjoyed walking between centers and facilitating conversations about what we noticed in the illustrations.

Field Trip

Now, all students have visited the High Museum to see the exhibit of Ashley Bryan and they carried all of these center experiences with them as they went.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend the field trip with them so it will be important for me to gather their experiences and visit the exhibit through them so that I can support the next steps of our project.  In quarter 2, we will revisit the books of Ashley Bryan, think about storytelling, and create art and puppets to help us tell those stories.  I’m excited to see what they create.

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.

World Read Aloud Day 2017

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Each year we looking forward to celebrating the joy of reading aloud during LitWorld’s World Read Aloud Day.  This year’s official date was February 16, but we celebrated the entire week.

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It takes a lot of organization to pull off a week full of Skypes and Google Hangouts.  Planning began back in December.  Shannon Miller and I created a Google doc where people could share their World Read Aloud schedules.  Kate Messner also did a great blog post with a list of authors willing to do Skypes during the week.

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I got my teachers to sign up for slots, and then I started looking for connections on the Google doc.  Other librarians also signed up on my schedule.  Once all of the slots were full, our connecting authors and schools started communicating to decide which books to read.  I made a separate spreadsheet for myself to keep times, books, Skype names, and email addresses organized.

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Of course, weather and illness was a factor and caused a few cancellations during the week. Even with some cancellations, we still had a full week of connections.

We also experienced many technical difficulties with our internet filter and I had to communicate with our technology director on a daily basis to make sure that Skype and Google Hangouts was not being blocked by the filter.  A growth mindset and perseverance really helped push through the issues.

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Over the course of the week, we connected with schools in Georgia, Washington state, Missouri, Vermont, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, Maryland, South Carolina, Kansas, Texas, and Illinois.  We also connected with authors Dee Garretson (Boxcar Children), Hannah Barnaby (Bad Guy), Paul Fleischman (Seedfolks & Joyful Noise), and Jason Chin (Gravity & Grand Canyon).

The week was filled with many special moments.  Students were able to ask one another questions about their lives and make connections to students in another location.  Each connection helps us realize we are all part of the same world and have more in common than we realize.

We wove in a lot of map skills my looking at Google maps to see distances from Athens, Georgia to our connecting schools.  Students were able to talk directly with authors and ask them questions about the writing process.

Authors like Paul Fleischman turned around and open his filing cabinets to show us the original version of poems like Whirligig Beetles.  We had fun performing stories with students in two schools and hearing special songs performed by PreK students.

We were entertained by middle school students reading Ballet Cat and chanting out the text of Yo! Yes! with students in Seattle.  We also got to connect with Caitlin Ramseyer who was a teacher at our school last year and moved to Maryland.  It was fun to reconnect with her and her Kindergarten students.

If you’ve never tried Skype or Google connections, I highly encourage you to do it.  These events lead you to collaborative partners around the world and help our students step outside the bubble of their everyday lives.

A Visit with Christian Robinson

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We are one fortunate school. Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and Avid Bookshop we welcomed illustrator Christian Robinson to our school in promotion of his newest book School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex.  Christian has illustrated numerous books including the award-winning Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena.

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Prior to Christian’s visit our Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade classes all read the book in the library during library orientation. We loved thinking about our own feelings on the first day of school and relating those feelings to the feelings of the school. We also loved examining the illustrations to see the face of the school and discovering connections to our own lives in the illustrations.  One of those connections came on the spread in the book that shows the children arriving to school. Students loved finding the way that they come to school on this page because they were all represented somewhere.

In classrooms, students created drawings of our school and turned them in to the library. Each student who completed a drawing had his/her drawing displayed in the library windows the week before the visit. Christian Robinson took some time to appreciate them all when he arrived at our school.

Our visit with Christian was in the library, so I pushed shelves and tables away to make room for over 250 little students.

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He began his visit with a reading of School’s First Day of School.  It was so fun to hear the book read by one of the collaborators. I hope students discovered something new after hearing the book again.  I know I did!

Christian Robinson walked us through his process in creating the book. We learned about starting small by making sketches on tiny post it notes.

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We also learned about making mistakes. Christian showed us one picture of a big pile of mistakes, and he stressed with students that mistakes are a part of the process.

He showed us the research that went into the book including visiting actual schools and looking at buildings that seemed to have faces in real life.

Christian also took questions from the audience.

Finally, he created some drawings.  Students imagined an animal and he called on different students to suggest an animal to draw.

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Thanks to our incredible PTA every classroom got a copy of the book to put into their classroom library, and Christian signed them all.

The impact of these author and illustrator visits is very special. Different students connect in different ways.  Some are inspired to write and illustrate their own books that they proudly show off in their classroom, the library, and at home.  Some realize that being an artist isn’t something that has to wait until you are an adult; the foundation starts now. Some students connect with an author or illustrator as a person and realize that there’s a friendly face behind the writing or art on the library shelves. Some students connect with a story in a way that they didn’t connect before because they know the story behind the story.  Often after a visit, the author or illustrator’s books fly off the shelves and stay consistently checked out.

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Today as I was walking down the hall, two boys in Kindergarten stopped me to ask, “Where’s Christian Robinson?”. I smiled knowing that they had met someone who they respected and hoped to see again at our school.  Thank you so much for supporting our local bookshop to bring authors and illustrators like Christian Robinson into our schools. It matters to our students.

Suzanne Bloom Author/Illustrator Visit

We were thrilled today to host author/illustrator Suzanne Bloom thanks to the community connections of Avid Bookshop and the generous publisher, Boyds Mills Press.  What a great time to have an author visit during National Picture Book Month!  This visit was exclusive to our 1st and 3rd grades.  We began planning the visit a few weeks ago, when Avid Bookshop emailed me to see if I was willing to host a visit.  I’m seldom one to turn down the support of a published author/illustrator because I know the kind of impact it can have on student enthusiasm and productivity in reading and writing.

All 1st-3rd grade classes came individually to the library for an introduction to Suzanne Bloom’s books.  We visited her website and learned a bit about her life.  One of the things that sparked the most conversation was how she wasn’t allowed to play with blocks and trucks when she was in Kindergarten just because she was a girl.  This led to other books in our library that break away from gender profiles.  Students were also curious about her messy desk and talked about how how messy writing and illustrating can be sometimes.  We laughed together as we read the Bear and Goose books and made connections to Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie Series.

Today during her visit, Suzanne shared some of her earliest drawings from when she was in Kindergarten, 1st grade, and 4th grade.  For the students, it was validating that Suzanne’s work didn’t start out as the polished drawings that we see in her books today.  She had to practice, practice, practice in order to develop her skills.  Students also heard how each of her books has a bit of truth in them such as how Piggy Monday is really about her son’s Kindergarten class and how A Splendid Friend, Indeed came from a conversation she had with her dad while working on her writing.  Suzanne also took time to read aloud to students and do a quick sketch.  She immediately molded into our participatory culture by having students select the crayons from the box that she used and having students give details and topics for her illustrations.  All along the way, she encouraged participation through sounds, comments, questions, and more.  She honored every student’s voice and tried to make as many connections to her audience as possible.

I was also impressed with the conversations I had with her outside of the presentations.  I learned how she overwrites her stories and then cuts away at the words to find the very best language.  She looks for language that feels and sounds right while it is read aloud.  What seems like a very simple text, actually has a tremendous amount of thought poured into it to create just the right effect in readers.   I even learned that she was a contributing author/illustrator to the Picture Book Month celebration which started last year!

Suzanne Bloom was a delight.  Many thanks to Avid and Boyds Mills Press for allowing this visit to be possible.  I know our students’ writing and illustrating lives are enriched because of her generosity of love for sharing her words and illustrations.

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