The Forgotten Girl: A Visit with India Hill Brown

Thanks to Scholastic Book Fairs our fourth and fifth graders were introduced to debut author India Hill Brown.  Her new book The Forgotten Girl releases in November, but it is a featured book on Scholastic’s fall book fair allowing readers to enjoy it well in advance of release day.

The Forgotten Girl is about 2 friends, Iris and Daniel, who leave their home one night to play in the first snowfall of the year. They sneak away into the woods to get to some fresh snow and to be out of sight. Iris decides to make a snow angel, and when she gets up, she realizes she has just made a snow angel on top of a forgotten grave. This action awakens a ghost named Avery, who needs help being remembered. Iris and Daniel launch into a research project to remember the deceased members of the segregated African American cemetery and to have the area cleaned up. However, Iris is put in some dangerous situations due to her new ghostly friend.

Our local Athens history has some interesting connections with this book. We invited local expert, Fred Smith Sr, to speak to students ahead of our visit with India. He shared the history of segregated cemeteries in Athens, including the slave burial grounds at the University of Georgia. He also shared how UGA moved some of the remains as well as built on top of the burial sites. Fred Smith Sr has been active in the process of acknowledging and honoring the forgotten graves.

He then shared about our 2 black cemeteries in Athens that were created after slavery ended. The Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery is where Harriet Powers is buried. She is well known for her Bible story quilts which now hang in the Smithsonian and the Boston Museum of Art. I brought in my replica of her quilt for students to see.

Scholastic sent books for pre-ordering ahead of the event, so we were also able to read the first chapter before the visit.

Our library windows transformed into the cover of the book with a the title sign, trees, and tombstones representing some of our Athens graveyard residents.

India Hill Brown spoke for about 30 minutes to our 4th and 5th graders. She shared some of her favorite books as a child as well as her love of writing from an early age.  She also surprised us by sharing that she really doesn’t like scary stories. However, she said one way to get over your fear of something is by doing it or by turning it into art.

 

India showed us pictures of the cemetery in her own community that inspired her to write the book. She wanted to weave in the history of forgotten cemeteries with a ghost story. We always love it when authors share the creative process of a story, and India showed us how the story went through multiple revisions and edits to reach the final version. I loved how she explained the different kinds of changes she made from the content of the story to spelling mistakes. Students are always surprised how long the entire process takes. Even though the first draft was done in about a month, the entire process of creating the finished book took over a year.

Students had a chance to ask India lots of questions about writing and her favorite things in life.  I even got to ask a questions about any ghostly happenings she has encountered in her own life.  After her talk, India took time to greet students as they exited. I loved seeing students making connections with her and even doing chants and hand clapping games with her.

Many times when we host and author, they are in a hurry to get to their next event. We usually do signing without students and then deliver books. India wanted to greet her readers, so we had students wait in the library and get in line for greeting and signing. I loved watching students glow as they met her and shared their excitement about her book.

Now that the visit is over, we have 5 copies of the book in the library and all 5 have already been checked out. Every classroom also has a copy in the classroom thanks to our PTA. I have a feeling many students who missed out on pre-orders will want to purchase the book at our fall book fair.

Thank you Scholastic Book Fairs for bringing India to our school.  Thank you India Hill Brown for sharing your historically important story with our readers. I can’t wait to hear the conversations that take place as students read this book.

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.

 

 

 

Sharing Books Through Google Slides, Shelf Talkers, and Book Talks

I’ve been working with Ms. Hicks and a group of 3rd graders to think about our reading lives, how we talk about books, and how we share our reading with our local and global community. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been thinking more about our school community and what we can do to share new book ideas with them.

We started our journey by creating a rolling slideshow that could be displayed on a hallway monitor that most students pass at some point during the day.

Each student created one slide about their book.  Their goal was to write a short blurb about the book to inform passersby about the book they had read. They were also supposed to include an image of themselves with the book or the book by itself.  I published this slideshow to the web and set it to rotate slides every 15 seconds and repeat the show when it reached the end.

It continuously plays in the hallway until we update it with new slides.  Then, I’ll need to publish it to the web again.

Next, we talked about other ways we could share our books with the readers in our school. We brainstormed a list, and rather than asking everyone to do the same thing, students chose from the list what they wanted to create. They could create a shelf talker like you might find in Avid Bookshop, a poster to hang in a strategic spot in the school, or a book talk that could be shared on our morning broadcast, BTV.

To get ready, we looked at some mentor examples. A few years back, we Skyped with Will Walton at Avid Bookshop, and he shared tips from writing shelf talkers. We took a look at his video clip and a few examples from the shop. I made an example of a book poster on a Google slide and had students point out things they noticed. For book talks on BTV, we revisited our 30-second book talk Flipgrid videos and reminded ourselves about a good hook, a tease of information, and a recommendation.

Students made their selections and got to work creating. Ms. Hicks and I conferenced students but also encouraged students to share their work with one another for feedback.

For posters, I created a blank set of Google Slides, which Ms. Hicks shared with the students. Each claimed a slide, chose a background color, added a short book talk, and chose images from Google Explore that represented their book.

As students finished, I saved each slide as a JPEG and printed them in color.

Students met together to brainstorm strategic spots in school to place their posters. They decided to pick spots where people would have time to stop as well as spots that were visible. This was spots like the water fountain, the hand dryer, and columns in the rotunda.

For shelf talkers, students displayed the book that they wrote about near its genre section and taped the index card shelf talker underneath.

For BTV book talks, students wrote out their script and practiced. Then, they scheduled a day to come to our morning broadcast to share their book.

As a part of the book talk, each student shared which section the book could be found in in our library.

Our hope is that giving student these authentic ways to share their reading lives within and beyond our school will get them thinking about even more ways they might share the books they are reading. We hope that it raises the awareness of other readers in our school to want to also share their reading lives within their classroom and around our school. We are hoping that are small group explorations will put a spark back into grade levels to incorporate this more into the classroom culture.  I know that I want to be more intentional about getting student voice out into our school in regards to sharing our reading lives.

 

 

 

 

Storybook Celebration and Parade 2019

We continued Read Across America Week this week by having our annual Storybook Parade and Celebration.

We started our day with 2 guest readers in every classroom. They read favorite books from home as well as books from our library collection. It’s always a great way to get kids excited about trying out some new stories in our library.

Next, we held an assembly in the cafeteria. This was our chance to come together as a school for a story and to see each other’s costumes.

Dressed as Jarrett Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady, I read aloud Everybody’s Favorite Book by Mike Allegra. Since I was reading to 600 students, I wanted something that could be a bit interactive, and this book has some great moments for choral reading, laughs, knock knock jokes, and saying yes or no. I projected the book up on the screen so students could follow along as I read.

Next, each row took turns standing to show off their costume and faced the back of the lunchroom before sitting back down. This allowed us to get prepped to walk out the door for the parade.

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I kicked off our parade with our 5th graders as we marched down the sidewalks by our school, the UGA athletic fields, and Lumpkin Street. Students chanted “Read More Books” and added in some rhythm along the way too. We loved seeing families waving along the route as well as UGA students walking to class or cars driving down the road. It is a great way to make our school and reading visible in our community.

Our 5th grade stopped by the Dooley garden to have some lemonade and donuts while the rest of the parade passed by.  Many group photos were taken based on themes of costumes.

Once we returned to school, grade levels held their own activities in their classrooms. As with any schoolwide event, it takes a village to pull this off. This tradition is one that students always look forward too and remember for years to come.

Now as we head into spring break, our students can spend some time reading more books!

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.

 

Who Will Win?: A Research Lesson with 5th Grade

Killer Whale vs. Great White Shark. T-Rex vs. Velociraptor. Scorpion vs. Centipede.  These topics grab the attention of so many readers in our library.

When the 5th grade language arts teachers, Ms. Freeman & Ms. Hinkle, asked me to brainstorm some lessons ideas about the following standard, my mind immediately jumped to these popular books.

ELAGSE5RI8: EXPLAIN how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text, IDENTIFYing which reasons and evidence supports which point(s).

I began to think about how students might create their own quick versions of these stories using books from our informational section.  Ms. Hinkle and Ms. Freeman scheduled each of their language arts classes to come to the library for 45 minutes.

We began our time together on the floor and took time to look at a selection of books from the Bug Wars, Dinosaur Wars, and Who Would Win series. I asked students how an author might go about comparing two animals who might not actually meet in real life. We brainstormed a list of categories that an author might use to compare animals: size, speed, abilities, classification, etc.

Next, we took a look at an interactive ebook from Capstone called Tyrannosaurus Rex Vs. Velociraptor from the Dinosaur Wars series. We looked at the structure of the book and how the author used size, speed/agility, weapons, and attack style to compare the two dinosaurs. In addition to the summaries at the top of the page, we saw how the author gave several pieces of evidence to backup the point of which dinosaur was superior to the other in a particular category.

This set us up for our work session. Ahead of time, I pulled multiple animals books from our library as well as a few other things that could be compared like weather events and landforms. When I pulled the books I considered which animals I might pair together if I was choosing, but I wanted students to have the choice of whichever pairings they wished to have.

With a partner, students selected two “things” to compare. This was a bit of a frenzy as students tried to quickly pair two animals or other things together before resources started to disappear to other partners.

Then, they used a brief graphic organizer to decide on 4 categories to compare the two things. I encouraged them to look at the index in the books to help them think about comparisons they might make.

Their goal was to find evidence for each thing in each category and then decide on a winner for that category based on the evidence.

After looking at the evidence for all 4 categories, students decided on the overall winner. Sometimes students couldn’t decide an overall winner, so I encouraged them to create some “what if” scenarios that might help them think about when one of the particular animals or things might come out on top. If time allowed, students could create a Flipgrid video explaining their comparisons.

The teachers and I circulated between the pairs of students and conferenced with them on their categories and pushed them to look for evidence. What we saw as we conferenced was that most students were excited and engaged.

They were really searching for information and putting books side by side to make comparisons. They were having critical conversations to determine which animal would actually win in each category based on the evidence they found.  They were even asking to see additional resources like websites and other books because they weren’t finding the info that they were looking for.

This project gave me lots to think about. The concept of competition between “things” was motivating for students. I didn’t give them a detailed graphic organizer with a bunch of pre-written questions they had to find answers to. They determined the categories and looked for the answers. I was surprised by how many students started asking for additional resources because they wanted to find the answer they were looking for rather than trying to make one resource work for everything as I’ve seen in other research projects.

Of course, everything wasn’t perfect and some students didn’t stay focused the entire time. However, I saw an engagement that I don’t always see. I saw students excited about diving into books without too many complaints that we weren’t researching on the computer. We also didn’t really have enough time for most students to record. The teachers are going to try to give time back in class to finish recordings.

I want to unpack this a bit more in my mind and think about implications for future projects. I definitely think that this project could be expanded to something much bigger. It was obtainable in a day, but it could be so much better with a little more time.

The students who were able to record so far would love for you to take a moment to watch their videos. If you decide to try this out with your students, I would love to hear how it goes and what modifications you made.

 

Book Character Costumes on Parade: Our February Makerspace

Each year, we hold a Storybook Parade to celebrate our favorite books. This is a long-standing tradition at our school. Students choose a favorite book, dress up as that character, and parade down the sidewalks near our school to advertise their books to the community.

Classroom teachers do a wonderful job of supporting students in making costumes if they are unable to do that at home, but this year, I thought our February makerspace theme could be about costumes so that students could get a jump start on preparing for the parade.

Ahead of makerspace, Gretchen Thomas had her UGA students practice making their own costume pieces based on book characters to get warmed up. I made an introduction video for February’s costume theme and a Google doc signup for teachers to signup students at 11, 11:30, and 12:00 on Tuesdays & Thursdays.

I also went through our makerspace and gathered possible materials that students might use for costumes: felt, fabric scraps, yarn, cardboard, plastic tablecloths, various glue, pom poms, beads, and more.

I pulled several costume and fashion books from our makerspace genre section of the library as well as a few possible examples of books that could become character costumes.

When students signed up, they were signing up for a 3-week session on costume making to meet on Tuesdays & Thursdays. If students finished early, they could take their name off the list to allow others to come, but if they needed all 3 weeks, they could come. Each week, a different group of UGA students came to support our makers in grades 1-5.

During week 1, I met with all students on the carpet to set the stage for our time together. We looked at past storybook parade photos to see the wide variety of costumes people had. I also held up some of the picture books I had pulled and we brainstormed together some possible costume pieces that could be made for each character as well as what we could use that might already be in our closets.

At our tables, I put paper and pencils for students to do some planning as well as all of our costume/fashion books for ideas. Our goal was for each student to have a costume idea before gathering materials from the material table. From past experience, we’ve seen students just grab everything they see because they like it rather than think about what they truly need. We wanted students to be conscious of our makerspace materials and not creating excess waste.

As students gathered their materials with help from our UGA students, they spread out in the library at tables to start working. It took a lot of energy from all adults in the room because every student was creating something completely different. However, it was amazing to look around and see the collaborative creativity between our young makers and our UGA helpers. Many hidden talents and problem solving skills began to emerge.

We watched as cardboard became hats, ladybug wings, ninja swords, and candy bars.

Plastic tablecloths became dresses, skirts, and shirts.

Scraps of fabric were tied together into ninja clothes.

Felt and construction paper became cheetah spots and Little Elliot polka dots.

Cardstock, construction paper, and pipe cleaners became masks.

We all learned how to be resourceful with the materials we had and all worked together to figure out how to be costume designers with limited experience.

With so many works-in-progress, our storage room is a bit of a mess. We have costume pieces drying and stored on every shelf, table, and corner. As students return each day, they locate their own items with assistance from adults and continue the process. Students are allowed to take their costume pieces home, but I’m encouraging them to keep them here at school until our parade on March 8th so that they don’t get lost.

This was our first try at a costume making makerspace. It could use some fine tuning. It’s always a challenge to have so many different projects going at once where every student needs different materials and skill sets to create. However, our extra hands from UGA helps this part a lot. I would love to have a better plan for getting students started and gathering the materials that they each need.  Maybe each student needs a box or a tray where they could keep their items. Then these could be stacked on top of one another. I’m not sure, but I would love to debrief the experience with our students and the UGA students to get ideas for next year.

We can’t wait to see these costumes on parade very soon!