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.

The Story of Our Names: A Grandparent’s Day Experience

Last year, our PTA started hosting a Grandparent’s Day coffee hour at our school. Grandparents gather in the cafeteria for coffee and donuts, chat with their grandchildren, and listen to a short program. Following the program, there are opportunities for photos and school tours.

I love being a part of this special event. Both years, I’ve read a grandparent-related story during the program. Last year, it was Last Stop on Market Street. This year, I read Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal. It is a story of a girl who thinks her name is way too long, but then her dad tells her the story of each part of her name. Alma realizes that she has connections to every part of her name and no longer feels like it doesn’t fit. I loved that when I read this special story about where a name comes from that the cafeteria filled with hundreds of grandparents and grandchildren got silent and attentive.

At the close of the book, I shared the author note at the back which ends with a question: “What is the story of your name? What story would you like to tell?” With that question, I invited grandparents to stop by the library to chat with their grandchild about family names and where they came from. We tried to capture a few of these stories on video, but the more important thing was just having the conversation.

I also selected several books to place on tables for grandparents and grandchildren to read together. It was so special to look around and see families huddled together around books reading. Even though it was crowded an bustling in the library, families were having special moments all around the library.

So many people came up to me to tell me how special the book Alma was to them. I loved that we all made our own connections around this story and the importance of names. I hope this created a spark for many families and they will continue to talk about family traditions and names with even more members of the family.

Wolf in the Snow Puppets and Storytelling

In just 2 weeks, we will welcome author/illustrator Matthew Cordell to our school. Small groups of our Kindergarten students have been coming to the library to work on a special project. This project came about because our Kindergarten classes are unable to attend our regularly scheduled makerspace times. I wanted to offer them some special opportunities throughout the year because of this. Thankfully, I now have a high school intern, Andrea Arumburo, who is collaborating with me in the library most afternoons. Her focus is art, so I knew she would align perfectly with Kindergarten makerspace opportunities.

For this first round of classes, groups of 5 students from each Kindergarten class came to the library to create puppets based on Matthew Cordell’s Wolf in the Snow.  We began by refreshing students’ memories on what happened in the story with a quick flip through the book. Then, Andrea talked with the students about creating characters on paper plate circles. She offered that they could replicate the characters in the story, or they could design a character that looked more like themselves.  She had several examples to show them.

Next, students moved to tables and sketched out their characters on paper plate circles and colored them. We placed examples on each table as well as a copy of the book. As students finished a puppet, they glued a tongue depressor stick onto the circle to create the puppet. Most students chose to make a 2nd character so that they had one human and one wolf.

Once students finished, we sent them to spots around the library to practice retelling the story. Kindergarten talks a lot about 3 ways to read a book: read the words, read the pictures, retell the story. This was a great opportunity to practice retelling.  Some students referred back to the book. Others remembered every detail. Others used their artistic license to completely change the story and make it their own.

After practicing, they found a partner and shared their puppet show story with a partner.  For many, this was the stopping point in our time limit of 40 minutes.  However, a few students were able to come over to the green screen and practice retelling their story in front of the camera.

In one session, we decided we didn’t have enough time to film anyone so instead, we all sat on the carpet with our puppets and we walked back through the pages of the book together. I told the story and students used their puppets to act out the story.  I loved watching them hide puppets behind their backs when that character wasn’t in a scene.  This unexpected closing was actually something I wish I had done with the other groups because it made a connection between the puppets and the story.  I think it would have helped students in making their own puppet shows.

Our hope is that Andrea and I can continue to offer these opportunities throughout the year. Some will be low-tech, high-tech, or a mix of it all.

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.

Celebrating Stories with Our Annual Storybook Parade

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The day before fall break is always a special day at our school.  It is our annual Storybook Celebration.  Organizing this day takes a tremendous amount of work, but the students have such a great day. Students and teachers are encouraged to dress as any storybook character.

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We spent about 2 weeks ahead of the event advertising various costume ideas on our morning broadcast.  I wanted to encourage students to think about how they could use things they already had around their house or things they could make in order to create an awesome costume.  Some of my BTV crew chose books and shared some simple ideas for creating an awesome costume.  An example was Max from Max the Brave where you could just dress in black and tie a red cape, blanket, sheet, or towel around your neck.

Students poured into the library for the past 2 weeks to ask for assistance finding a book for the parade and costume ideas.  We had students coming in right up until the parade actually started, which was definitely a little crazy without much help.

Also ahead of the event, I sent out a Google spreadsheet to all of our resource and specials teachers to offer special opportunities during the day for classes to have literature-focused activities and a chance for teachers to have a planning time.  Resource and specials teachers blacked out times that they weren’t available and teachers signed up for the rest.

My volunteer coordinator, Courtney Tobin, created a Signup Genius to recruit 2 guest readers for every classroom to kickoff the day. This was sent out to grade level parent representatives who encouraged people to sign up.  I also shared the link with my own list of past guest readers as well as CCSD board members and district leaders.  I also published it on our library Facebook page.  We didn’t quite reach our goal of 2 readers per class, but every class had someone to share a great story with them at the start of the day.  These readers gathered in the library, chose from a selection of books, took a photo, and were off to classes to read.

After guest readers, we gathered in the cafeteria for an assembly.  We broadcast students onto the big screen as they entered using Google Hangouts.

Evan Bush from the Athens Clarke County Public Library came and told several interactive fall stories to almost 600 students.  I loved how he took the energy of the crowd and got them all snapping, clapping, and sharing parts of the stories.  It kept them focused.  I reached out to Evan about 2 weeks before our event, and he graciously agreed to come.  I love that he gave our students a great storytelling experience and also one more connection to the public library and what it can offer.

After Evan, each class stood up twirled around to show off costumes, and sat facing the back of the cafeteria.  This prepared us to go out on our actual parade as well as gave students a chance to show one another their costumes.

It was during this time that I found out all my preparation for the parade route suddenly had to be changed.  I was so organized this year and provided maps of the parade route to families and community ahead of time.  However, Georgia Power had to do some work and closed part of the sidewalk on our route.  I had to make a last minute change, but it all worked out.

We took off into the community shouting “Read More Books!” and showing off our costumes.  It was fun to see community members, families, UGA students, construction workers, and more cheering us on along the way.  Our 1st-5th grade took a longer route and our Prek/K took a shorter route around the school.

Our 5th graders have a tradition of stopping along the parade route for a special treat, and for the past few years we have stopped at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education for hot chocolate.  Mimi, our family engagement specialist, organizes this piece for us by having the cafeteria prep the hot chocolate and taking the hot chocolate to setup.  Students have some time to just hangout, talk, and enjoy their treats before heading back to school.

Finally, back at school we go to our special classes as well as do more literature activities in class.  In the library, we focused on pirate stories since I was dressed as Captain Hook.  I also used the great pirate video from All the Wonders.

Students moved to tables and colored a pirate sheet or designed their own pirate using Chromville augmented reality.

Somehow in all the craziness, we also organized a big book giveaway.  In the back corner of the library, there were tables of books that had been donated or weeded out of various collections and needed a good home. Courtney Tobin and other volunteers helped get the books put out, and teachers brought classes or small groups of students to pick out new books.  It was fun to glance over and see so many students excited to add books to their home libraries.  We will keep these tables going next week since there are still books left.

It seems that each year something new comes along for storybook celebration that makes it a little more special.  This year I loved seeing so many creative costumes: Little Elliot, the Bird Woman from Circus Mirandus, Minecraft creepers, Martin Luther King, the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and more.

I loved seeing our reflection in the glass of the UGA coliseum.

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I also loved that our public library was involved in the day and I want to think even more about how community is represented on this day.

Until next year…

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Allen Say’s Kamishibai Man and Tinkering with Puppet Pals

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Third grade has been working on an Allen Say author study.  In class, they have read multiple books, compared and contrasted, and started identifying what marks a book as Allen Say’s work.  In the library, we also read a book by Allen Say to fold into this class conversation, but we used the library lesson for another purpose, too:  tinkering.

Our read aloud was Kamishibai Man, which tells the story of an old man who has retired from his work of traveling into the city to sell candy and tell stories.  A kamishibai uses a wooden box mounted on a bicycle to display beautiful paintings which inspire oral stories.  The stories are told in a series so that audience members want to come again and again.  At each storytelling session, the kamishibai man would sell homemade candies which was how he made his living.  During the story, we had great discussions about how technology has impacted our lives in positive and negative ways because in the story the kamishibai man has to quit his job because people would rather watch tv.

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Following the story, we practiced our own way of oral storytelling using puppet stages, characters, and backdrops in an iPad app called Puppet Pals.  This app allows you to select up to 8 characters and 5 scenes.  You can upload your own images for the characters and scenes or choose from the library of options.  Users can move their scenes and characters off stage when they are not in use.  With a record button, every movement and voice is recorded as long as it takes place in front of the backdrop.  Puppet Pals lets you record up to 2 minutes of audio which sets it apart from some other apps that only let you record for 30 seconds.

We did a quick demo on the board by having 2 students come up and make a quick story in the moment.  Then, students split into groups of 2 or 3 with an iPad and spread out throughout the library.  They quickly got to work figuring out how puppet pals worked.  Most groups made multiple stories because they would think about something else they wanted to try once they finished one story.  It was fun to step back and listen to all of the voices that students were creating for characters as well as how they were moving characters in and out of the set and making them larger and smaller on the screen.  The students were trying this app without fear of failure, and they were learning so much about how the app functioned.  Some of them even created some pretty decent videos in the short time that they had to tinker.

Our closing time was once of my favorite times.  I asked students to think for a moment about what they might want to do if they made a longer video and had a longer time to work on it.  They listed out several things that probably would have come from a teacher checklist or instructions, but the difference was that they came to the realization of why these checklist items were needed because of their tinkering.  It wasn’t just something the teacher or I was asking them to do.  Instead, the checklist served to improve their work and organize their product.  They named things like:

  • Write a script for the characters.
  • Include instructions about when to change the backdrop
  • Write notes about when to shrink or enlarge a character.
  • Pause the recording in order to switch out characters or scenes. Put this in the script too.
  • Practice before recording.
  • and much more.

Third grade is about to launch into a study of folktales.  I think Puppet Pals has great potential to be a part of this project, so I intentionally used this tool as part of our Allen Say project to have a purpose for tinkering but also to make sure that tinkering happened before we asked students to create a more polished product.  Now, I feel like the stage is set for all 3rd grade classes to create a folktale Puppet Pal project if they want to.  I want to think more about how tinkering opportunities can be built naturally into lessons prior to larger projects beginning.  This type of model takes knowledge of the upcoming curriculum and early conversations about the kinds of collaborative projects that will be taking place each quarter.  I love this new thinking that has potential for future planning with teachers and students.