Polar Express 2018

Our Polar Express tradition continued this year in the library. Every year we host a Polar Express Day where every class comes to the library to enjoy hearing the story read aloud. Students and teachers get to wear their pajamas to school.

When they enter the library, they find hallways that have been transformed with special decorations thanks to a special team of elves (teachers) who come back to school at night to create some magic. In the library, the lights are turned off and our tables have been flipped on their sides to form a train that students board. The hot chocolate song comes on and a team of servers (parent volunteers) bring out hot chocolate for all.

A conductor (teacher) holds up the book while we listen to a recording of the story. At the close of the story, our parent volunteers come out and place a bell around each student’s neck and whisper “always believe” into their ears. Students receive a candy cane as they exit.

Many classes take a class photo together by the Barrow tree or with the new backdrop that Ms. Vaughn magically discovered.

This is a special day that takes so many people to pull off. It ends up being one of the many memories that students come back to again and again when they think about what they love about our school. We are so happy to continue this special tradition.

Thank you to:

  • Kim Ness, parent, who purchased bells, string, cups, marshmallows, hot chocolate, and candy canes. Thank you for also organizing our volunteers for the day and for organizing volunteers to prepare bells.
  • Families who donated their time to help the serve hot chocolate, punch tickets, and hand out bells.

  • Renee Williams, lunchroom manager, and the lunchroom superheroes who prepared our hot chocolate and let us borrow carts and trays.
  • Ellen Sabatini, principal, who created our schedule for the day.
  • Sarah Britton Vaughn, Phyllis Childs, Allyson Griffith, and everyone else who helped transform our halls
  • The team of parent volunteers who donated a morning to string over 600 bells.
  • Teachers for being on time, preparing students, turning pages, cleaning up spills, throwing away trash, and sharing your love with our students and families.
  • Katherine Byrne (family engagement specialist) & Lauren McElhannon (counselor) for organizing pajamas for students who didn’t have a pair to wear to school.
  • Our wonderful PTA for providing funds to purchase all of our supplies.
  • Anyone else I may have forgotten. If your name or job isn’t listed, it’s not intentional. This day takes so many hands. Please remind me and I’ll edit this post to include you.

Building Community: An Avid Bookshop Storytime with Philip and Erin Stead

Philip & Erin Stead (37)

We have an amazing independent bookshop in our community called Avid Bookshop. Our library has been collaborating with Janet Geddis before the storefront of Avid existed, and it has been so much fun to watch how this community-focused bookshop has changed over the years. They have been hosting some dynamic authors and illustrators for children over the past few months. When I saw that Caldecott medal-winning duo Philip and Erin Stead were coming to the shop, I was over the moon excited and didn’t want to miss the chance to see them. Then, I got an email from Rachel Watkins asking if our school might be the site of the pajama storytime. We’ve never hosted an event specifically for Avid that wasn’t an author visit for school, but I didn’t hesitate in exploring how to make it happen.

The opportunity aligned perfectly with my goal of supporting the reading interests and curiosities of students, teachers, and families. I’ve been thinking a lot about the family part. What do I do to support families and reading? It’s something I need to work on, but offering a nighttime event for the community with Philip and Erin Stead was the perfect opportunity to show families at our school and in the community an amazing author/illustrator team they may not have heard of, exploring some new books together, and taking a look at the illustration process. Our students have benefited from many author and illustrator visits thanks to Avid, but I loved that this gave families a chance to have the same experience alongside their child and ask questions and learn together.

Avid and I advertised the event heavily. Students did book talks of one Stead book each day on our morning broadcast along with a reminder about the pajama storytime. An electronic flyer went home to all families. I posted the flyer on the doors of our library. Numerous tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram pictures were shared. We had no way of knowing how many people would actually show up, and by 6:20PM we were pretty nervous that no one was coming. Suddenly at 6:25PM people started pouring in and they just kept coming. We even delayed until 6:35 and they still kept coming in.

If you’ve never met Philip and Erin Stead in person, they are just a delight. Both are soft spoken, which has a naturally calming effect on the wiggly small ones. Phil did most of the talking, but I loved that at the beginning he started by telling about how Erin is shy and had all the kids say their names aloud to introduce themselves all at once. Erin replied, “It’s nice to meet you”, which just felt right. It showed the kids that it’s ok to be quiet and that you can do amazing things to put your voice into the world without actually speaking the words out loud.

Phil read A Sick Day for Amos McGee and had the kids participating along the way with movements and chants. He knew just how to keep their attention.  At the close of the book, they paused for questions. I loved that several parents chimed in with their own questions which were peppered with comments and questions from the kids too. We had questions about the red balloon in Amos McGee and whether it was an homage to Good Night Gorilla.  There were questions about the process of creating a book together as husband and wife and whether or not the illustrations or the writing came first.

Next, Phil introduced us to his new book Ideas Are All Around and we found out we were the first group that he had actually read part of the book to. He teased us with just a few of the pages and gave us a taste of how the book takes us into the head of a writer and illustrator on a walk and that ideas are really hiding all around us.  Then came probably the most special moment of the night: an art demo.

Phil invited all of the little kids to come up and gather around a table where he had his art supplies. Then adults gathered around behind the kids.  It was a large group and yet somehow most people found a spot they could see.  Kids seemed to be literally on top of the workspace, but Phil worked his magic and made the art come to life. He talked through each step of his art for Ideas Are All Around and modeled it as he went. Some kids even got to help a bit during the process.  In the end, he created 3 illustrations of a bear: two he was happy with and one not so great.

I loved this! It connected so well with the book that an artist goes through many pieces of art until the right one is created. Lots of versions go in the trash or at least to a “fail” box.

To close the night, Phil read aloud Special Delivery and we learned that the idea was really something that he dreamed about. Once again, he had the audience participating along the way even while they were bouncing on cushions around the library.

The crowd lingered for a long time looking through the books from Avid, making purchases, and getting autographs. So many families left with new books to take home and share together along with the personal experience of meeting the author and illustrator that created the book.

Philip & Erin Stead (30)

I’ve often encouraged families to attend Avid events or to go to author events in nearby Decatur such as the Decatur Book Festival, but I don’t really see that encouragement pay off as much. There was something about the familiarity of the school community, a place where we have connections to one another, to host an event like this. I think we’ve tapped into something we need to explore even more in the future.

Thank you so much to Avid for trying something new for an author event. Thank you for bringing the Steads to our community. Thank you to Philip and Erin for your long travels to reach our community and for sharing your inspiring work with us all. Thank you to the Publisher who makes these kinds of book tours and events happen for independent bookshops, schools, and communities. Finally, thank you to our families.  Whether you were a Barrow family or a visitor from another school or county, thank you for spending a night with us in the library connecting with one another through art and story.

Happy International Ninja Day!

Did you know there was a day dedicated to ninjas?  Well, I didn’t either until my friend, Matthew Winner, pointed it out.  International Ninja Day is December 5th, and even though it’s a Saturday this year, it doesn’t mean you have to pass by the opportunity to read some ninja stories in December! Over at All the Wonders, you’ll find a whole toolkit to celebrate the day at home, in your classroom, or in your library.

International Ninja Day is December 5th! Celebrate at All the Wonders.

Yesterday, I had 4 Kindergarten classes in the library who wanted to have a storytime and checkout, so it was the perfect opportunity to talk about ninjas.  We started by sharing all the things we know about ninjas.  Words like sneaky, training, ninja moves, and fighting were of course brought up.  Then, we thought about characters we knew who were ninjas.  The overwhelming favorites were Ninja Turtles and Lego Ninjago.

This connected us to our read aloud of choice for the day which was Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Scwartz and illustrated by Dan Santat.  Since we were already talking about characters, we took some time to talk about Red Riding Hood and what we knew about most Red Riding Hood stories.  We held onto these ninja and Red Riding Hood ideas to see how they unfolded in the book.  Once the book was complete, students picked out some of their noticings.  They were so observant, and there were many memorable moments.  I think my favorite was when a student talked about how Ninja Red Riding Hood didn’t need a woodsman to help her.  She saved the day with her ninja grandma.

After our quick but rich conversation, we hurried to tables to make our own ninja masks.  I printed off an online template and students used crayons to decorate their masks in any way they wanted.  Some chose the Ninja Turtle route and colored with their favorite character colors.  Others chose to create patterns on their mask like a rainbow ninja.

This was a whirlwind time in the library because all of this along with a checkout happened in 30 minutes, but I guess that goes with the ninja theme.  We didn’t have time to finish our masks, so the teachers were gracious to take the masks back to class to finish.  As I was in the halls during dismissal, I spotted a student who was proudly carrying her finished mask to take home for the weekend.  She stopped me and said, “Mr. Plemmons…I forgot my backpack at home, but I’m carrying my mask home.”

I’m often asked if I do “traditional storytime” because I do so much with technology.  The answer is a huge YES!  It’s not about print vs digital.  It’s about how all of the tools we have available to us come together to help us experience the world.  Sometimes it’s an iPad, and sometimes it’s a box of crayons, a paper mask, the power of our imagination, and our curiosities about becoming a ninja.  Happy International Ninja Day!