Top Elf: An Author Visit with Caleb Zane Huett

We have a magical bookshop in Athens called Avid Bookshoop, and in that bookshop works a talented author named Caleb Zane Huett.  Caleb’s new book, Top Elf, which is published by Scholastic, is the hilarious journey of a group of elves as they compete against one another to be the next Santa Claus.

It’s filled with a cast of characters that bring something for every reader, and numerous jokes fill the pages to keep you laughing along the way.

Ready for an elf visit. #author #authorvisit #avidinschools

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I was so excited when Caleb offered to visit our school this December.  Thanks to him and Avid Bookshop, our 3rd and 4th grade got to come to separate sessions to hear him speak.  He started each session with a reading of the first chapter. If you ever get a chance to hear him read, do it!  He brings every page to life with voices and movement and keeps the audience totally focused on every word.

After reading, Caleb facilitated the students in a collaborative story.  He wanted to model this story after some of his own thought process as he writes. Kids were raising hands and shouting out ideas all along the way, and Caleb masterfully wove their ideas together into a story that he told along the way.

Teachers were also excited because they knew that his mini writing workshop directly tied back to what they were doing in their classrooms and now students can go back to class and create their own stories using a similar process.

At the close, we heard a bit about how Top Elf followed this same type of process and students got to ask Caleb questions. I always love to hear students ask authors about how long it takes to write, how many times a book was rewritten, and what inspires them.  These become common questions but they make the author a real person to our readers.  It creates a connection between the author and the students because the process they go through is very similar.

I want to thank Caleb Zane Huett for taking time to visit our school. I also want to thank Avid Bookshop for this opportunity and the presales of books. Finally, I thank our wonderful PTA who makes sure that every classroom gets copies of the book to add to their classroom libraries.

I know we will now have many readers of Top Elf at Barrow, and I love that our readers can walk down the street and visit with Caleb if they want to share what they’ve discovered.

Library Orientation for Third through Fifth Grade

mirandus

Just as I did for the early grades, I pondered what message I wanted our upper grades to take away from library orientation.  I wanted to of course give them some reminders about routines and procedures, but I wanted them to leave with a sense that the library was a place for all readers to connect with books.  I wanted them to know that if they had never found a book that they connected with that I wanted to help them find that book.  If we didn’t have the book or topic in our library, then I wanted us to make sure that we did.

Over the summer, I saw John Schu post on his blog about a new site from Scholastic with the motto “Open a World of Possible”. On the site, there are several videos and resources about how reading opens possibilities for us all.  One of the best videos is the one asking kids of all ages to talk about why they read.

I asked students to first think about what their answer to the question “Why do you read?” would be.  I didn’t take any answers from them since I felt like it was a personal question at that moment in time and that some students may have never thought of the answer.  Then, we watched the video to see if we connected to anything the students said or if their ideas sparked some of our own.  At that point, instead of asking students to share aloud, I gave them an opportunity.  I created a Flipgrid with that same question and told them it would be available for the next two weeks.  I hoped they would think about their answer and share their voice with others in our school.  I loved that some of them did this before they even left the library.

I shared with students that one of the reasons that I read is to walk in other people’s shoes, especially people who are different from me. I also love to experience things in a book that I know I would never do in real life.  Books are my safe place to go into the spooky unknown, the thrill of the Hunger Games, or the magic of a schools for wizards.

Next, I shared a bit of a book that I connected with this summer called Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley.  These grades will all have an author visit with Cassie in September, so this lesson was also a way for us to start diving into her text.  I chose to read aloud starting on p. 65, which is the part where Ephraim first visits the circus as a young boy.  He is a believer, so he is able to find the circus.  However, he still needs a ticket to get in.  It is on these pages that Ephraim discovers that every person’s ticket into Circus Mirandus is different.  You can’t pay to get in but instead must offer something to the ticket taker that has a connection with who you are or simply what you have to offer.  For one boy, it’s a spool of thread and for Ephraim it’s a fish.

mirandus 1

I loved seeing so many students connect to this part of the story and want to read on.  I knew they wouldn’t all connect because it’s so hard for us all to connect with the exact same book.  However, this part of the story helped us talk about how we are each different.  We each have interests that we bring into the library when we search for a book, and those interests are our tickets into the books on the shelves.

Beyond “why I read” and connecting through interests, students have an opportunity to explore the library and refresh their memory on checking out books, using Destiny, and finding the various sections.  As in the past, I made some videos connected to QR codes.  Students used iPads to watch these videos and then start checking out books when they were ready.  I was able to talk to students about their interests rather than focusing on how to check out books.

I hope that students continue to think about why they read and that I can think of more ways to find out their interests and showcase their voices in the library.

 

We are Honored to Receive a James Patterson Partnership Grant!

Back in March, James Patterson and Scholastic announced an incredible opportunity for school libraries around the country.  From the official press release:

March 9, 2015 — New York, NY — As part of an ongoing effort to keep books and reading a number one priority in the United States, James Patterson has announced that he will donate $1.25 million to school libraries this year. In the first-ever partnership of its kind, Patterson is joining forces with Scholastic Reading Club to administer funding applications to their network of 62,000 schools and 800,000 teachers. Scholastic will match each dollar with “Bonus Points,” which teachers can use to acquire books and other materials for their classrooms, at every school that receives an award. Applications to nominate a school library for a donation can be found here: www.scholastic.com/pattersonpartnership.

James Patterson is donating this money because he believes that fewer children are growing up in a household full of books – and that the effects of this absence could have a profound impact on a child’s future, and on the future of our country. Every child in America should have access to books and a functioning school library, and he believes that improvements in school libraries will foster children’s love of reading and boost their academic achievement overall.
I immediately took advantage of this opportunity by writing a 300 word or less application for our library. My hope was to get a $10,000 grant to support our student book budget project.  Here’s what I wrote:
Each year, I reserve $1000 in the library budget for a project called “Student Book Budgets”. This money is completely controlled by students to purchase books for the library that matches the reading interests of the entire school. Over time, we have developed a dependable process.  A group of students is chosen based on a variety of criteria, including students who have trouble finding books.They create a survey in Google forms and use iPads to survey all grades.  The students analyze the data to see what the top reading interests are. They establish goals and divide the budget among these goals. We send our goals to library vendors who bring in matching book samples and catalogs. Students make wish lists that exceed our budget. Students narrow the list to match our budget. Tough decisions are made about which books to keep and eliminate. I order the finalized lists. While we wait, students come up with a marketing plan. The students unpack the books and get the honors of the first checkouts. Within hours of putting the books out, they are all checked out and remain among the most popular books.I have shared this process on the national level and many libraries have benefited from the idea. The problem with this process is that we obtain an entire school’s reading interests, but our limited budget only allows us to honor a few of them. If we have $10,000, we could expand our reach to include more student interests and not feel that all of our work creating lists of books is whittled away during the budget process. I am confident that we could spend the money in a way that values the reading interests of our entire school.
Unpacking (10)
In May, I received an email letting me know that I was a finalist for the grant, but I of course had to keep that a secret, which was very hard to do!  I submitted some additional info and waited some more. Then, in late May, my principal received the call.  Our library was award a $5000 grant from James Patterson with a $5000 matching grant from Scholastic Book Clubs, so we essentially have $10,000 between vendors of our choice and Scholastic Book Club to support our student book budget for the 2015-2016 school year.
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I plan to start this project very early in the school year and involve as many students as possible so that students can enjoy the books that we purchase throughout the school year.  Thank you James Patterson for believing in the power of libraries.  Thank you Scholastic for amplifying this opportunity and matching it with your own resources.  Congratulations to all of the libraries who received grants in this first round of announcements!  I can’t wait to share the news with this year’s book budget students and blog about our process in selecting books.
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Kicking Off Summer Reading with a Visit from Author Sarah Weeks

A few weeks ago our local independent bookshop, Avid Bookshop, emailed me with an opportunity.  Sarah Weeks, author of Pie and many other great books, was coming to Athens, and they wanted her to visit our school.  Hooray!  I try to jump at every author visit I can get.  For the visit, I needed to presale some books, which I always do, but this time we wanted to try something new and crazy. I’ve always wanted to do a school wide read, but I have never gotten the idea off the ground.  I saw this as a perfect chance to try it with a smaller number of students rather than the whole school. This author visit focused on upper grades. Our 5th graders would be gone to Skidaway on a field trip, so 3rd and 4th grade would be the classes coming to the visit. Rather than asking every student to buy a copy of the book, I decided to try a GoFundMe campaign to raise enough money to give every 3rd and 4th grader a copy of Pie as well as buy a few copies of Honey to give away to a few students.

Summer Reading w Author Sarah Weeks by Andy Plemmons   GoFundMe

In just under 1 month, 28 donors funded our project.  These donors included community members, grandparents, families, and friends from around the country.  Thank you to each one of these donors who made this crazy idea a reality.

When Sarah Weeks came to visit our school, I got to make the exciting announcement and tell them about the 28 people who took time to donate money to the project.  I also told them that the deal from me is that I want each one of them to read Pie.  I want them to share it with families and spend time talking about it.  I also want them to make things together like family recipes or even pies.  My hope is that they will document this over the summer on a Padlet.

Sarah Weeks was phenomenal in her visit and I highly recommend her to any schools looking for a great author visit. She built so many frequently asked questions into her talk such as “What was your first book?”, “What is your current book?”, “Do you get writer’s block?”, etc.  Each question was answered with slides filled with great photographs, personal stories, and lots of funny moments.  The students laughed so much at Sarah’s stories about boys painting their fingernails, kids doing puppets shows through the shirts, and dogs joining.

She talked about a story arc and had students moving their hands to show the flow of a story through beginning, middle, and end.  She also told them a story about a cowboy on a horse in the airport and paused along the way to point out what part of the arc she was in during the story. What a great connection to what they are learning in writing class!

She showed them the many revisions that her work goes through and how important it is to listen to her editor. She connected this to all of the notes that students see on their writing papers and stressed how they needed to listen to their teachers’ comments because it helps make the writing better.

Sarah has so many books that she couldn’t talk about them all.  She started with books like the Oggie Cooder books and how he charves cheese into the shapes of states.

We had one student who knew every state she showed a picture of!

Sarah’s two new books are Glamourpuss and Honey.  She treated the students to a full reading of Glamourpuss and the high-energy students were mesmerized.  I loved how she showed Honey to the students.  She showed several slides with single words that helped students know some things the books was about, but then she showed students several characters from the book along with text from the book that gave the students a taste of the character.

Then, she showed the students how she had to do research to learn about how nail polish is made.  This story connected with a great story about how some girls in a library were painting their nails and several boys were very curious.  The librarian at the school hosted a nails at noon session in the library and it was attended by mostly boys who painted their nails and posed for some fierce pictures.

I couldn’t believe how much Sarah packed into an hour long presentation.  There was even time for Q & A.  She was engaging, funny, and a pro at keeping the student’s attention.  I loved getting to hang out with Sarah Weeks even for a brief time.  She is a fun person and a talented writer.

Thank you Avid Bookshop and Scholastic for bringing her to our school. Thank you to all of the donors who got Pie into the hands of all of our kids.

As I went to car riders today, I saw several students in the hallway already reading their books while they waited.  That’s what it’s all about!

It was a really fun day!