Get Ready for Picture Book Smackdown 2015! #pbsmkdwn


For 3 years, I have organized an online picture book smackdown in honor of Picture Book Month.  Over those 3 years, our Google Hangout event has grown stronger thanks to the collaboration of librarians, students, and authors around the country.  We are busily planning this year’s event, but you can go ahead and put it on your calendar now!  It will be November 19th from 1:30-2:30PM EST.

We made a Smore to host all of the content of the event:

During the smackdown, you can expect to hear:

  • An introduction and welcome from Picture Book Month founder, Dianne de Las Casas
  • Students from at least 5 states share favorite picture books and why picture books matter in a fast-paced format
  • Authors such as Laurie Ann Thompson share her favorite picture books along with our students
  • An ongoing doc of picture books that we share!

Everything will broadcast through a Youtube link:

We would love for you to watch the event with your students or share with classrooms.  You can even participate by tweet about the event or tweeting your own picture book recommendations during the event using the hashtag #pbsmkdwn


Even if you can’t join us, we hope you are inspired by our event and consider having your own Picture Book Smackdown online or in your own space.  Feel free to use our hashtag to connect our events together. Happy Picture Book Month!

P.S.  If you can’t wait for this year’s event, here’s a little taste of what we did last year:

Celebrating Picture Book Month with the 2014 Picture Book Smackdown

IMG_4429Our 2014 Picture Book Smackdown was a huge success.  Students in 5 states including Georgia, Texas, Connecticut, Maine, and Pennsylvania shared their favorite picture books along with 2 amazing authors, Dianne de Las Casas and Anne Marie Pace.


Anytime you host an event like this, you worry about technical difficulties.  However, today the internet gave us smooth sailing.  I do want to take a moment to uncover some of the pieces that went into making this event successful.  There was a lot of preparation that went on behind the scenes.

  • I created our Google Plus Hangout on Air event page well in advance so that we could advertise our smackdown to all of our networks.

  • All of the authors and participating schools have been communicating with one another via email, twitter, and a shared Google doc.  The doc contained tips for making the hangout run smoothly such as keeping our microphones muted unless we were speaking as well as listed the order that we would speak.

Picture Book Smackdown Notes   Google Docs

  • All of the participating schools had students prepare in advance.  Many of our students wrote our scripts or memorized a brief blurb about their books.  Some of us hosted a practice for our students to run through their talks.

  • We opened the hangout well in advance so that we could test our microphones as needed.  I sent everyone a direct link to join the hangout rather than sending everyone a G+ invite.
  • Many of us had organization to how our students came up to the microphone. For example, I setup my chairs in groups of 3 so that students were already sitting in the groups of 3 that would come up to the microphone.

  • Some of us had helpers who were assisting us behind the scenes.  I recruited a parent volunteer, a UGA student, and UGA teacher to help me.  The parent volunteer took pictures and assisted students to the microphone.  The UGA teacher created a Google doc of all of the picture books that were shared during the event.  The UGA student helped students to the microphone.  Since I was in charge of the hangout, I wanted to be able to focus on the technology and supporting any issues that came up with our event.

  • As we had time, we tweet pictures or publicity about the event while it was happening.

I hope that you will take time to listen to the archive because it truly was miraculous.  We heard from Dianne de Las Casas about why Picture Book Month was started and it was amazing to see how many authors and  illustrators she has recruited to be picture book champions.

We also heard Dianne de Las Casas and Anne Marie Pace share some of their favorite picture books.  I wish we could have heard more from them, but they were gracious enough to step aside so that students could voice their love for so many wonderful books.

IMG_4427 IMG_4421

We heard titles, authors, and summaries.  One of my favorite things to hear from students was why picture books matter in our world.  To hear their own reasoning about why picture books matter was truly inspiring.

2014 Picture Book Smackdown Titles   Google Docs

Click here to see a full list of the picture books that were shared during the 2014 Picture Book Smackdown.

I would like to take a moment to thank our participating author, librarians, and schools for the 2014 Picture Book Smackdown.

Dianne de Las Casas, founder of Picture Book Month
Anne Marie Pace, author
Andy Plemmons, school librarian in Athens, Georgia
Jenny Lussier, school librarian in Durham, Connecticut
Cathy Potter, school librarian in Falmouth, Maine
Shawna Ford, school librarian in Weatherford, Texas
Julee Murphy, school librarian in Texas
Christina Brennan, school librarian in Pennsylvania

This will definitely be an annual event for me, and I encourage you to think about how you might host your own event like this to get kids connected and sharing their passions and interests.  Happy Picture Book Month!

Watch the archive!

It’s Picture Book Month….Let’s Have a Smackdown

November is Picture Book Month.  It’s a time to celebrate the power of picture books and why the matter in our lives no matter what our age.  Picture Book Month was started by author Dianne de Las Casas to bring awareness to the role of picture books in our lives.  Each year, multiple authors and illustrators contribute daily posts about why they think picture books matter.  The Picture Book Month website has a wealth of resources for you to celebrate picture book month with your students, including a calendar, logos, bookmarks, and certificate.

At our school, we host a Picture Book Month Shelf Challenge.  Students set their own goal for how many picture books they will read during November.  I like allowing students to set their own goal because it allows for differentiation and also allows for surprising goals from students.  Each student receives a sheet to document their reading for the month.

Shelf Challenge   Google Docs

At the end of the month, students turn in this sheet.  They receive a certificate, a bookmark, and get entered into a drawing to win picture books that I’ve collected for prizes. wp content uploads 2011 11 pbm certificate color.pdf

For the 2nd year, we will host our annual Picture Book Smackdown.  On November 18th from 1:30-2:30PM EST, students in multiple schools across multiple states will gather online with authors in a Google Hangout to share favorite picture books and why they matter in our lives.  The event will be a Hangout On Air, so it will also be archived for future enjoyment.

To prepare for the event, I’ve sent a Google form to students to identify students in various grades who want to participate.

Barrow Picture Book Smackdown

As students share their interest, I’m sending them a script to help them prepare for their sharing during the smackdown.  They don’t have to use this script, but many find it helpful to remember all of the pieces of sharing.  The day before the smackdown, they will gather in the library to do a quick practice.

Picture Book Month Smackdown Script   Google Docs

I hope you will join us on November 18th to watch the smackdown and help spread the word about the event in advance.  During the smackdown, students and authors will step to the microphone in their own states and share a favorite picture book.  We also hope to capture all of these recommendations in a Google doc.

Here are some things to know:

  • Tweet about the event and your favorite picture books.  Even if your class isn’t in the smackdown, they can still share their favorite picture books with the hashtag #pbsmkdwn  as well as leave comments for our authors and students.  You can also include the picture book month hashtag #picturebookmonth

Many thanks to all of the schools and authors who are participating in the smackdown so far this year:

Participating schools include:
Andy Plemmons, school librarian in Athens, Georgia
Jenny Lussier, school librarian in Durham, Connecticut
Cathy Potter, school librarian in Falmouth, Maine
Kathy Kaldenberg, school librarian in Solon, Iowa
Shawna Ford, school librarian in Weatherford, Texas
Julee Murphy, school librarian in Texas
Christina Brennan, school librarian in Pennsylvania

Participating authors include:
Dianne de Las Casas, founder of picture book month
Anne Marie Pace, author of Vampirina Ballerina

How are you celebrating Picture Book Month?  It’s not too late to get a plan together and promote the power of picture books with your students.

Picture Book Smackdown: Celebrating and Learning

Before the hangout started, over 200 people had viewed our Smore page.

Before the hangout started, over 200 people had viewed our Smore page.

Today was our Picture Book Smackdown Google Hangout On Air.  We had an amazing lineup of schools and authors to share their favorite picture books and talk about why picture books matter in our world.  This event grew from a seed of an idea on a Google Doc into a collaborative event.  Each participant and school brought their own talents, expertise, and connections to the table to make this event successful.  This was my first leap into Google Hangouts to do an event such as this.  I always tell students, teachers, and families that we have to be willing to take risks.  If we don’t put ourselves in a place of risk, then we’ll never learn.  We don’t do our best learning in places of comfort.  I certainly learned a lot today by taking that risk.  I want to thank each of these schools for preparing their students and taking time out of their day to connect and share with the world a love of reading and picture books.

  • Jenny Lussier, school librarian in Durham, Connecticut
  • Cathy Potter, school librarian in Falmouth, Maine
  • Kathy Kaldenberg, school librarian in Solon, Iowa
  • Shawna Ford, school librarian in Weatherford, Texas

I also want to thank authors Laurel Snyder and Ame Dyckman for joining us and sharing their own favorite picture books and why picture books matter.  They both have busy schedules and it meant so much to have them take the time to join us.  My adrenaline is finally coming down from the morning and I’m pausing to reflect on the experience.

smackdown (6)

What I loved:

  • Student voices from 5 different states were united.
  • Students were passionate about the picture books they were talking about.
  • Students had an opportunity to take a stance on talking about something that mattered to them.
  • Students were able to create an archived video that can be referenced for many purposes like inspiring readers of picture books or even showing a district’s technology department the power of Google Hangouts.
  • Authors and students had the chance to speak together on a level playing field discussing a common interest.
  • Students from multiple grade levels, backgrounds, and experiences made a connection to one another.
  • Students were engaged.  Each student had a role and purpose and were so eager to share even when technical difficulties happened.  My students stayed for a whole hour and were happy to wait and watch.
  • Even though only 10 people can participate in the hangout, we knew that many others were tuning in live or watching later, which connected us all with a very large authentic audience.

smackdown (13)

What I learned as the host:

  • Using a Smore page to advertise the event was a great choice.  We could all advertise the Smore, and then the actual hangout could be embedded right before we went live.  The page also gave analytics after a certain amount of views which allowed us to see where people were viewing the Smore and how they were sharing it.
  • In advance, communicate with all participants about what is expected during the hangout:  order of speaking, microphone rules, etc.  Make sure that all participants are added to your circles in Google Plus.
  • Prepare students in advance and practice.  As the host, there was no time to check-in with students today to see how they were.  They had to be ready to walk in the door and go live.
  • Have someone available to either facilitate students sharing or running the keyboard.  It was hard to do both.  Someone needs to click on each person in the hangout when it is their turn to speak if you are the host.
  • If you are broadcasting your hangout over speakers, then you should mute your microphone when you aren’t speaking.  If people are unmuted, there is feedback.
  • I’m considering having my control center be in a separate space so that I can click on who is next in the hangout and have students speak in a less noisy environment.  Then, I can have viewing of the hangout in another space.
  • If you have multiple modes of communication with your participants:  twitter, email, hangout chat, etc., it is difficult to manage and host.  Perhaps over time I might be able to juggle all of those roles, but I just ignored email and twitter during the hangout today.

smackdown (4)

What stressed me out!:

  • Feeling like everything had to be perfect and forgetting my own mantra that we have to be willing to fail in order to learn.
  • Having moments of panic when the connection was slow, the microphone wouldn’t mute, the main video wouldn’t switch to the right person, or when the audio had a lot of feedback.
  • Trying to host the event on air by verbally calling on each school.  Sometimes my microphone wouldn’t mute/unmute in time.  It was great when we got in a rhythm of our order and self-facilitated our speakers.


Take a look at how our event turned out, and please share your own learning about using Google Hangouts On Air in the comments below.

A Picture Book Smackdown is Coming!

Picture Book Smackdown! - SmoreI am so excited about a Picture Book Month event that I have planned on Thursday.  From 10-11:00AM EST, 6 schools in 5 different states and 2 authors in 2 different states will come together in a Google Hangout on Air to share favorite picture books as well as why picture books are for everyone.  The hangout will broadcast live on Youtube, but it will also be recorded.

How did this come about?

prep (7)November is National Picture Book Month.  It’s a month where I ask students, teachers, and families to read as many picture books as possible and to think about the importance of picture books in our world.  It’s also a month where a lot of educators make connections with one another to celebrate and explore together.  At the beginning of the month, Laura D’Elia, school librarian in Massachusetts, organized a Google Doc for librarians across the country to make connections with one another by having access to one another’s schedules.  The Doc also became a space for brainstorming  other ways to celebrate.

I suggested that we hold a picture book Google Hangout and share favorite picture books among schools.  This immediately started some focused brainstorming on Thursday’s event.  Several schools were on board and we pledged to meet together in Hartford, CT face to face at the American Association of School Librarians Conference.  Even before we arrived there, we had started our plan of how to advertise the event, how to structure it, how to involve students, and how to bring in authors.  Our Smore page began to populate with our ideas as they came together.  Each one of us had additional connections with other schools and authors, so we each invited others to join our hangout.  Cathy Potter invited Ame Dyckman, author, to join us.  I invited Laurel Snyder, author, to join us.  We are so excited that they will both be able to attend.

prep (6)In advance, students at each of our schools are preparing in different ways for the event.  My students filled out a short script to help them remember what to say.  They basically had to remember things like the title, what the book was about, why they liked it, and why picture books are for everyone.  They also practiced sitting in front of the camera and reading their script.  Their books are waiting in a stack for our hangout.  prep (1)

We’ve read.  We’ve recruited.  We’ve prepared.  We’ve organized.  Now, we are ready to connect and have a full hour of sharing as many picture books as we can.  It’s a smackdown!  We hope that you will join us by visiting the Smore page at 10:00AM EST on Thursday November 21st.  Just click on the video feed that will appear on the page at that time and enjoy.  You can also tweet about our smackdown using #pbsmkdwn as the hashtag.  If you can’t watch live, consider visiting the page and watching the archive of our hangout.  You’ll also find a post on my blog later this week detailing how much fun we had during our connection.

prep (5)This was so much fun to organize, and it really wasn’t extremely difficult.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Visit Our Smore Page for More Information!

2013 Picture Book Month Shelf Challenge

November is Picture Book Month.  It’s a month to study the fine art of picture books and their importance in our lives no matter what our age.  We’e been celebrating Picture Book Month since its creation 3 years ago by author Dianne de Las Casas.  Each year, she rounds up a month-long celebration with posts by numerous authors each describing the importance of picture books in our lives.

Each year our own celebration grows.  This year, we are holding a shelf challenge.  Last year, Matthew Winner (aka The Busy Librarian) did a shelf challenge for School Library Month, so we are borrowing his model and modifying it for Picture Book Month.    Here are our “rules”:

Who can participate:

  • Any students, teachers, or families at Barrow!


Where to find picture books:

  • Any book in the Everybody section

  • Any book in 398.2 or 811

  • Any book in the holiday section

  • Any book where the story is told through pictures or pictures & text.


What to do:

  • Set a goal for yourself.  Examples:  Read every book in the Everybody section A’s.  Choose a shelf and read every book on that shelf.  Set a specific number of picture books to read.  The possibilities are endless!

  • Write your goal on the back of this sheet and keep track of your progress.  Add sheets if you need to.

  • Turn your sheet in to Mr. Plemmons on December 2nd.


If you finish your challenge, you will get:

  • A certificate

  • A bookmark

  • A chance to win a hardcover picture book such as Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses, Bugs in My Hair, That is Not a Good Idea, Green, and A Ball for Daisy.  (Many thanks to Edie Crook for donating 2 of these books for our contest!)


In addition to our shelf challenge, we are recording students and teachers for our morning broadcast talking about their challenge goal and a favorite picture book they have read for the challenge.

We are also planning some connections with other libraries to share favorite picture books as well.  I love to see how this celebration grows each year.  I hope that this year we set our own record for the number of picture books checked out in November.

Our Staff Recommends: A Participatory Idea for Picture Book Month

November is Picture Book Month.  This is the 2nd year of the event, and we kicked things off on day one by starting a reading incentive.  Students & teachers are trying to see how many picture books they can read during the month of November.  To encourage their participation, each student and teacher received a sheet explaining the incentive with blanks for writing down each picture book read this month.  Each grade level had their own number of books with smaller numbers for lower grades and 25 picture books for upper grades.  All students who finish their sheet will receive a cool bookmark:  Scaredy Squirrel, Ladybug Girl, Elephant & Pigge, Babymouse, or Duck for President.  Students will also receive a certificate and be entered into a drawing to win autographed books by:  Kevin Henkes, Suzanne Bloom, Eric Litwin & James Dean, and Meghan McCarthy.  These incentives really inspired students because we have several sheets already turned in on this mid-way point of November.

On the Picture Book Month website, there are multiple resources for celebrating picture book month.  One of the tools is a shelf talker that says, “Our Staff Recommends”.  These can be displayed along a shelf for library staff to place books that they recommend to students.  At first, I wanted the shelf talkers to say something besides “library staff”, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that as part of the participatory culture of our library, I really consider every person who enters our library a part of our staff.  I ask students to be accountable for checking books in and out, placing books in the reshelving area, teaching other students how to use technology, etc, so why not consider everyone staff?

So….I made a quick video with iMovie and advertised to the school that anyone could put books on the shelf talkers just inside the library doors.

The shelf sat empty the first day, but it didn’t take long for people to start recommending picture books to one another.  Several students have checked out books from this area and several have replaced the books that they have selected.  It’s a small thing, but it gives one more opportunity for our school community to participate in our library.

Happy Picture Book Month!

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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More Barrow Media Center Persuasive Writing Contest Winners

Today, we want to recognize Natalie for winning the 1st grade persuasive writing contest.  Also, because we had 82 entries in our 1st persuasive writing contest, there were many outstanding essays that didn’t win 1st place.  Today, these students were recognized on BTV and had a chance to record their essays using the iPads.  Not all students chose to record their essays, but we invite you to listen to the ones that did.  Congratulations again to all of our winners and honorable mentions!

Natalie-1st grade winner:

Honorable Mentions:

Two students wrote pieces about why picture books are not important.  Here they are:

Barrow Media Center Persuasive Writing Contest Winners

We are excited to announce that 82 students entered our first Barrow Media Center Persuasive Writing Contest.  Students wrote essays about whether or not picture books are important for today’s kids.  Almost every essay was in support of picture books and students’ creativity really stood out in the essays.  After much deliberation, the winners have been chosen, one from each grade level.  Here are six of the winning essays.  We’ll post more “honorable mention” essays in the coming days.


PreK: Sam

Kindergarten: Andrew

1st Grade: Natalie

2nd Grade: Isabella

3rd Grade: Kniyah

4th Grade: Sarah

5th Grade: Clare