The Many Formats of Book Club

For the first quarter of the year, I’ve been exploring how to start book clubs in our school in a variety of ways.  I hoped that by offering a variety of ways to engage with a book, that we would support many different interests, availabilities, and format preferences.  Our book for quarter 1 was The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall.  I offered 2 main ways of participating in our quarter 1 book club: 1 was reading the book during a lunch book club with me and another was a family book club where students and families read the book together.

For both book clubs, I created a shared Flipgrid where readers could leave thoughts, questions, favorite parts, etc for various segments of the book.

My lunch book club met every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to chat about the book as well as listen to me read aloud.  Then, they would continue a set number of pages before we met again.  The students enjoyed this time out of the noisy lunchroom.  We got to know one another better through our discussion of the hard topics of the book, and we had many laughs and sad moments as read aloud.  Many students read way ahead in the book because they were so excited and eager to know what happened, but they continued to come and listen to me re-read the parts they had already read and continued to contribute to the conversations.

Nine other elementary schools in our district also read the book.  We decided that at the end of our school-level book clubs, we would use Skype and Google Hangouts to connect our schools together across the district so that our students could talk to one another.  My students connected with Angie Pendley’s students at Gaines Elementary.  We used Google Hangouts and a set of slides to guide our conversations.  Students took turns at each school stepping up to the camera and sharing their thoughts about the questions. It was fun to hear from students in another school and see a different perspective on the book as well as many connections to what we experienced when we read.

All ready for family book club at 5pm. #barrowreads #barrowbuddies #bookclub #reading #librariesofinstagram

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The family book club read at home on their own and we held one face-to-face meeting at the end of the book.  We had about 21 families reading the book, so I hoped to have a large group discussion.

However, due to many schedule conflicts, we had a very small group.  Even though it was a small group, it was a mighty discussion.  We chatted as we gathered and shared some snacks. The author, Shelley Pearsall, offered to connect with us for a few minutes over Skype, so we took time to connect with her and ask some questions about the book.  We learned how the title of the book started out as “Metallic”, but the publisher changed it to the title we see today.  We learned about the research that Shelley Pearsall put into the book to match the 60’s time period as well as learn some facts about the life of James Hampton and his art piece.

Some of our families asked about the other characters in the book and how their stories came about.  We even got to see a brainstorming page that Shelley Pearsall used to map out the 7 things and their connections to Arthur and the story.

After our Skype, we used the same questions that our lunch book club used to have a rich discussion.  I loved hearing parents and children talking together on equal ground and sharing their wonderings, excitement, and sadness from the book.  I definitely want to build upon what we experienced because it was a wonderful first experience that I would love to see more people be a part of.

Fourth grade lunch book club continues with What Elephants Know. #bookclub #reading #barrowreads

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For quarter 2, I’m trying to build upon our book clubs.  With the help of 2 UGA students, I am continuing the 4th grade lunch book club and adding on a 5th grade group.  I’m also expanding he family book club to included more grade levels in the hope that more people will be able to attend our in-person event.  This time we are using 3 different books instead of the same one.  As always, it’s a work in progress, but our reading community is growing.  One of the things I loved hearing from some of the parents is how excited they were to read together as a family. I also had family members tell me they had never been a part of a book club and they were excited to finally try one out.

Onward we go.

Exploring Themes & Goals at the Decatur Book Festival

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I’m no stranger to the Decatur Book Festival.  This Labor Day weekend tradition always has a prime spot on my calendar each year.  It’s not often that you get the opportunity to connect with so many profound adult, teen, and children’s authors in one location.  Each year, the festival seems to take on new life and I gain something for myself, for my own children, and for my students every time I attend.

This year, the children’s stage featured panels of authors and illustrators rather than single speakers.  Panels were organized around themes and were facilitated by a children’s author or literature-loving moderator.  I loved this revision to how the festival worked in the past because the facilitators of each panel made sure that the audience learned about each author/illustrator, each book, the process behind how it was created, as well as exploring the theme of the panel.

Here are a few of the sessions I attended.

Bugs, Birds, and Birthday Cake!

This panel was all about the fun of animals and humor in stories.  Mac Barnett shared his upcoming book Telephone.  LeUyen Pham shared her book A Piece of Cake.  Angela DiTerlizzi shared Some Bugs.   One of the quirkiest things about this panel was when each author/illustrator shared 2 truths and shenanigan about themselves.  Each author/illustrator shared some pretty off the wall examples, so it was really hard to decide which of the 3 examples was truth and which was made up.  This brought about so much audience participation and engagement, but it also revealed to us each speaker’s personality which in turn revealed something about their work as an author/illustrator.

Pure Imagination

This panel explored the power of imagination in children’s books and kids’ lives and featured Matt Phelan (Druthers), Amy Krouse Rosenthal (Uni the Unicorn), and Kelly Light (Louise Loves Art).  This panel reminded us all of the importance of taking time to imagine and dream even as an adult.  Panelists also emphasized the importance of play and tinkering without judgement.  We each hold within us the power to dream and imagine and have to give ourselves permission to let the ability continue to shine through even in constraints that we face.

All in the Family

This panel featured family teams of author/illustrators including Frank Morrison & Connie Schofield-Morrison (I Got the Rhythm) and James & Kimberly Dean (Pete the Cat and the New Guy).  It was interesting to hear how married couples collaborate with one another on a project.  The speakers revealed that it can definitely be a challenge and a blessing to work with someone that you are so close to.  Each collaborative partnership seemed to have developed strategies to push one another while at the same time respecting one another’s creative talents.  Author Elizabeth Dulemba moderated this panel, and I loved how she highlighted each creative duo equally well.  She also took time to bring up the conversation of diversity by specifically pointing to I Got the Rhythm and it’s pages where so many people can find themselves within the illustrations.  The Decatur Book Festival had many aspects of diversity represented this year.  I will nudge that racial diversity wasn’t at the top of the list.  I hope that diversity will continue to be explored at this festival along with many other kinds of diversity so that readers will continue to find themselves in the books and in the authors and illustrators in attendance.

Great Books for New Readers

This panel focused on newly released books to hook a variety of readers including Jon Scieszka (Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor), Jennifer Holm (The Fourteenth Goldfish), Tom Watson (Stick Dog Chases a Pizza), and Mike Lane (The Vanishing Coin).  This was a really interesting panel full of fun and laughs.  Each author had a unique way of presenting his or her work.  Mike Lane performed a magic trick with the audience.  Jenni Holm shared stories of how her father kept bacteria cultures in the fridge.  Jon Scieszka performed his own magic trick by growing hair on his head right before our eyes.  It was easy to see why new readers would gravitate toward these authors.  They write stories that connect with readers, especially readers who want to read about magic, fun, experimenting, and just plain silliness.

This Really Happened: Graphic Memoirs for Kids

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This panel explored how real life events can be relived in a graphic novel format and featured CeCe Bell (El Deafo) and Jimmy Gownley (The Dumbest Idea Ever).   I had already heard lots of buzz about El Deafo, but when I watched CeCe Bell stand up and share the very personal story of where her graphic novel came from, I was inspired.  To take a life changing event that some people might look at as tragic or confining and turn that story into a graphic novel superhero story is a true artistic gift to readers.  So many students will find themselves in this character and feel strength in their own disabilities.  I can’t wait to put this book in students’ hands to read for enjoyment but also as a strong example of how our life experiences become the stories we tell.

All the Girls in the World

 

This was a panel of women authors who write about strong girl characters and featured Jennifer Holm (The Fourteenth Goldfish), Laurel Snyder (Seven Stories Up), and Megan Jean Sovern (The Meaning of Maggie).  The always-profound Deborah Wiles moderated this panel with carefully crafted questions.  Her wonderings explored the true stories behind the fictional novels as well as the hard topics that each author chose to explore in her writing.  This panel was the perfect way to end my festival experience because it left me with so many wonderings as well as so much wisdom.  Multiple times kids in the audience raised their hands to express that they experience sadness in their lives and survive that sadness, which reinforced the idea that authors need to include sadness in books.  We can’t shield our young readers from a world where sadness and heartache exists.  Books can show readers how they might persevere through these trials just as the characters in these 3 novels do.

 

How did the festival inform my library goals?

My library goals for this year really are proving to be something that I carry with me wherever I go.  To me, this means that they really are goals that matter.  In the past, I can’t recall writing goals that I could recite with memory or goals that I could connect to so many experiences throughout the school year.

As I experienced the Decatur Book Festival, I couldn’t help but think about my goals.

1.  To provide students, teachers, and families opportunities to dream, tinker, create, and share

Dreaming. Tinkering. Imagining.  These words kept surfacing throughout the whole festival.  Kelly Light talked about how she let her daughter pick 2 books at bedtime as well as share one story.  She believed in the power of using the imagination to create soemthing new as well as be inspired by the stories created by others.  LeUyen Pham created individualized illustrations in each book that she signed in her autograph line.  I heard her ask one person if she had a picture of a baby that a book was being signed for.  She drew an image of the baby in the book by looking at a cellphone picture.  She made my own daughter feel like a rockstar while signing her copy of Vampirina Ballerina and drew Alora as a ballerina in the book.  Throughout the festival, there were opportunities for families to spend time together dreaming, tinkering, and making from booth with cardboard boxes and art supplies promoting the new film The Boxtrolls to the Decatur Makers booth where a variety of maker opportunities existed for families.

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2.  To engage in global thinking and global collaboration

The panels organized by themes really pushed my thinking.  As I listened, I started to think…..what if global collaboration revolved around themes?  When I think about connecting around a particiular book, I mostly think about American-published books.  I honestly have no idea about books, authors, etc from other countries.  What if we concentrated on a theme, connected with other schools around the world, and read books and created content around that theme?  I imagine that we would experience new authors, new books, and new perspectives that we never dreamed of before. I really don’t have a definite path because of this, but it has sparked something in me that is listening and watching for opportunities for global collaboration and thinking.

3.  To empower student voice

During the “All the Girls in the World” panel, a girl stood up and talked about The Fourteenth Goldfish and Seven Stories Up.  She shared how reading those stories shows her and other girls that it is ok to feel they way that they feel and that there are other people in the world struggling with those same topics.  I wish I had captured her exact words so that I could carry them with me because she reminded me of how much wisdom our students are carrying.  That panel gave her an opportunit to stand up and make her voice be heard and she reminded me that I need to continue to think about the opportunties that I’m providing students to stand up and make their own voices be heard.  So many students need so many different kinds of experiences to find their moment to speak up.  My hope is that I can maximize those opportunities for the students of our school.

4.   To support the reading habits and curiosities of students, teachers, and families

Visitng this festival always exposes me to authors and books that haven’t been on my radar before.  By listening carefully to each author/illustator’s story, I have a personal experience to share with readers as they make decisions about the next book that they will explore.  Listening to each author/illustratore share they journey they have made to publishing the works that we hold in our hands makes me even more aware that every book on our library shelves holds a story of how it came to be and makes me want to know that story to share with readers.  I wish that more authors would use blogs and social media to share their stories of their journey to publication so that we could connect these backstories to readers.  Hearing these stories makes me want to dig a little more to connect readers with the stories of the authors that are hiding on our library shelves.