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.

 

 

 

Poem In Your Pocket Days 2019

We just wrapped up 2 days filled with poetry readings. For many years, we have been celebrating poetry month and national poem in your pocket day by hosting a poetry cafe in the library. During this 2-day event, every class in the school comes to the library for a 20-minute session. Students sit in a specially decorated area of the library filled with soft cushions, lighting, flowers, and a fancy microphone.

Every student has a chance to come up and share an original or favorite poem into the microphone and we celebrate each poet with snaps and quiet claps. This even is broadcast via Youtube Live so that family and friends can enjoy our poetry from afar. Ahead of the even, I setup each Youtube event and put the links to every class on a Smore page for easy access and sharing. As we broadcast each event, it immediately archives to Youtube and the Smore page.

One of my favorite parts of these days is that it is one time where every single student in our school has an opportunity to be seen and heard. While not every students chooses to get in front of the microphone, they all have the opportunity.

There’s always magical things that happen: kids who are shy have a friend who encourages them and stand with them, a poem is tucked away in a special place like a shoe, a student creates an unexpected poem that stands out in a beautiful way, a student reads a poem in a different language, a parent or teacher shares a favorite or original poem.

I invite you to listen to some of the student poetry by visiting the Youtube links on our Smore page. You can continue to leave comments for the students on Youtube or on Twitter by using the hashtag #barrowpoems

Happy poetry month!

The 2019 Student Book Budget Orders Have Arrived!

After surveying our entire school, analyzing data, setting goals, meeting with vendors, creating consideration lists, and narrowing down orders to meet their budget, the hard work of our student book budget team has paid off.  All books from our 3 vendors have arrived and it’s time to get these books out into the hands of readers.

The book budget team met to unpack the books. Across 90 minutes, all of our books from Capstone and Gumdrop were checked on the packing slip, sorted into genres, labeled with genre stickers, and scanned into subcategories in Destiny. Every student on the team took a role in the process and I walked around to assist with questions and tricky genre decisions. I also helped students make sure they were sorting books into the right categories such as chapter book, picture book, or informational book.

Our books from Avid had to be cataloged so I “volunteered” to do this step for the students and some of our library volunteers have helped with getting the barcodes and plastic wrap on the books.

The book budget team met one final time to display the books for readers to see. It was hard for us to find a time to meet to get the books displayed so we all came one morning right after morning broadcast before our school day started. Students worked efficiently to get all of the books displayed in the windows, counters, and tables in the library. It was amazing to see all of the books out together and see all of our hard work pay off.

The real payoff comes when the book budget students get to check out some of the books and then see the rest of the school pour in to the library to check out books. It doesn’t take long for the tables full of books to be reduced down to a couple of tables and then a single table. These books are always popular with readers and I love knowing that our library collection truly is “our collection”. We build it together.

A Walk to Avid Bookshop with the Student Book Budget Team

Our student book budget team has made quite a long list of books to consider for this year’s student book budget purchase. So far, they have met with Capstone and Gumdrop Books. Our local independent bookstore is within a mile of our school, so we also take a walking field trip to Avid Bookshop.

I split the group into two days. Third and Fourth grades went one day and Fifth grade went another day. Before we walked, we reminded ourselves about the types of books we were looking for. We also reminded ourselves that we were in a place of business so we needed to be respectful of the space and the other customers.

When we arrived, we snapped a quick photo in front of the shop.

Kate Lorraine, bookseller, met us at the back of the bookshop and gave us some book talks on picture books, informational books, graphic novels, and middle grade books that met our purchasing goals. We also showed students where these areas were located in the store so that they didn’t venture into adult sections for our list of books.

We took some shelf markers with us so students could remember where books went on the shelf. Each time a book was found to be of interest, students checked with me to see if we already had it in the library. If we didn’t, they scanned the ISBN into a spreadsheet on my computer and added the title and price. Again, we weren’t worried about cost at this point, we were just adding books of interest.

I loved that students could check with the Avid booksellers for information on prices, age ranges of books, series sequence, and more. They are so used to asking me questions, that sometimes I had to remind them that the Avid booksellers were there to help us and were happy to answer questions.

As usual, it was a challenge to stay focused in a bookshop with so many interesting books and gifts to look at. Students had a chance to look all around, but did need reminders to stay focused on our most important task of finding books. I also noticed that our oldest readers also needed reminders to visit the picture book sections in addition to the areas that they were most attracted to.

I have some more thinking to do around these walking visits. Avid has such a great selection of titles to look at and I feel like students could have spent more time really looking at what was there. Maybe I need to assign certain students to certain sections. Maybe there needs to be more guidance on how many books they should try to evaluate.  I don’t want to take power away from the students, but I do want to equip them with some tools to help them get the most out of their visit to this useful resource in our community.

Now, we are at our most challenging task, which is cutting down our lists to fit our budget. Wish us luck.

One-Page Comic Contest: Prepping for a Visit with Lincoln Peirce

We are still in shock that next week we will be visited by Lincoln Peirce, the author of the bestselling Big Nate series. Lincoln is touring the country to promote his newest illustrated novel, Max and the Midknights. I can’t wait for students to be introduced to this new book. It has a little bit of everything: surprises, humor, medieval fights, mystery, magic, zombies, and more.

When an author/illustrator visits, I love to fill our windows and/or hallways with student work inspired by the author/illustrator. Sometimes there’s just not enough prep time, but luckily for Lincoln we knew a couple of months in advance.

When I read the Advance Reading Copy of Max and the Midknights, I saw that it opens with a one-page comic to setup the story. I thought this would be a great concept to invite students to try out. Instead of hosting class after class in the library, I made this a choice contest. In the contest, I invited students in any grade level to create a one-page comic on any topic. That’s pretty much the rules. They could create the comic on their own paper or use a pre-printed page of comic boxes that I provided in the library.

I introduced the contest on our morning broadcast and also made a video that teachers could share.

Students had a little less than 2 weeks to enter the contest and it didn’t take long to see that this was a high-interest topic. By the deadline date, we had over 100 entries in our contest from almost every grade level. It was impossible to pick winners by myself, so I had the help of Allie Melancon, SST, and my high school intern, Andrea Aramburo. I also had a few students, teachers, and my wife read a some comics too.

In the end, we picked 12 students to receive an autographed copy of Max and the Midknights. Thanks to a local organization called Books for Keeps, I had some other items I could hand out as prizes for about 50 honorable mention students.

These students received their choice of several doodling books, coloring books, magnetic storytelling kits, and comics.

Every student who entered a comic also has his/her work displayed on the windows of the library. As soon as the display went up, students, teachers, and families were stopping in the hall to read comics. We can’t wait for Lincoln Peirce to see them next week too.

I loved having this choice contest. It’s something I would like to try again with other author visits. It gives students one more way to interact with their library, one more way to make their voice heard, and one more way to be creative regardless of grade level, language, or background. I met some students in a new way through their art or writing. I saw some hidden talents that I didn’t realize were there.

We never know what opportunity is going to be the spark that students need in order to connect.

Matching Readers to Books: A Reader’s Advisory Exploration

In the library, we see all kinds of readers: those who still haven’t found a book they have fallen in love with, those who read everything in sight, those who need a nudge to try something outside their comfort zone, those who wander around and just can’t choose, and more. Even though one of my favorite things to do is talk individually with students about their interests and connections with reading, the busy library program that we have sometimes gets in the way. My time is pulled between numerous classes I’m teaching and collaborating on projects with, collaborative planning with teachers, keeping our collection up to date and organized, exploring new tech with students, and the list goes on.

This quarter I’m working with 2 different groups of 3rd and 5th graders to explore our reading lives. Some of the students I’m working with have not found a book they connect with enough to finish. Others need a nudge to try something maybe a little more challenging or stretch the breadth of their genre choices.

Prior to meeting with both groups, I tweaked a reading interest survey in Google forms. The questions included:

  • What are you reading now?
  • Would you rather……have fun with friends at recess or go on adventure in the jungle?
  • Who are some of your favorite celebrities (yes Youtubers count)?
  • Would you rather…..cast a spell on an evil creature or battle an army in a war?
  • Who is your favorite superhero?
  • Would you rather…..be scared by a ghost of a girl who drowned in a lake or play a prank on friends?
  • Do you like……just the facts, a far out story, or something in between?
  • What book did you NOT enjoy?
  • What are some of your hobbies?
  • What are some of your favorite movies, shows, or Youtube channels?
  • What are 3 books that you loved?
  • Why do you read? to escape, to be entertained, to learn something new, because you have to, something else
  • What is your preferred length of book? short and sweet, long and detailed, in between short and long, depends on the book
  • If you could visit any time or place, where would you go?
  • What is your favorite series or genre?
  • What else would help me match you with a book?

When students arrived, we had a quick conversation about how you make a decision on whether a book is right for you. Conversations were mixed. Some groups had lots to say. In other groups, I had to share some things that I do for myself to match to a book. We talked about looking at covers, reading the description, using Novelist for reviews, and reading a few pages. One interesting thing that came up was that several students did not like someone telling them what to read. Can you blame them? I want to pick my books too.

This part put me in a bit of a dilemma. I told them that I wanted them to give me some information through a survey so that I could pull a possible stack of books that matched their answers. However, I also let them know that I wasn’t forcing them to read any of the books. If none of the books matched, I would work with them to explore other books until we found something they were actually interested in reading in class.

Next, students answered the survey. Once students left, I went through their answers and pulled out key words from student responses and wrote them onto post-it notes. I used these notes to walk through our chapter book genres and pull stacks of books for each student.  I tried to match the book length that students suggested, but I also mixed in some varying lengths of books too.  Several students mentioned that they wanted at least some illustrations in their chapter books or even that they wanted an illustration on every page. This also gave me a challenge because most chapter books aren’t going to fit this description unless I’m pulling from graphic novels. Again, I tried to meet their requests but also throw in some surprises too.

In general, each student had between 6-8 books to choose from. On day 2, students returned to the library and we reviewed what readers do when they are deciding on a book. Each student took the personalized stack of books and found a private spot in the library to go through the stack. Most started by looking at all of the covers. Most students then picked a few of the books to start reading a few of the first pages. In a few instances, students dismissed most of their stack based on the covers alone. For these students, I sat with them and actually walked through some extra steps with them so they could at least give some of the books a chance. Most of the time, having me read the description or the first page for them was enough to get them started back into their stack.

By the end of the 2nd session, every student found at least one book they were going to read in class during “read to self” time and also outside of school too. Most students had 2-3 books. For those students, I took their post-it and left it on the books they were interested in so they could check them out next time.

Ms. Hicks, 3rd grade teacher, shared with me that one of her students said “This is just like heaven” as she was referring to the opportunity to just sit with a stack of books curated just for her and spend time reading. It’s such a simple concept, but it’s so powerful for students to show them that their interests matter. Reading books they have selected matters. We can’t just put kids in guided reading groups all day long and never give them a chance to select books they want to read. Some students get to 5th grade and despise reading. I can’t blame them when their main experience with reading is sitting in a group reading a book they aren’t interested in that they had no hand in choosing.

Reading skills and strategy groups are important, but they can’t replace the power of hearing a great story read aloud and discussing it or finding a book that connects with your soul and having time just to read it.

This was very time consuming, but every time I do it, I’m reminded and how much interest and choice matter in reading.  My next steps are to check back in with these students in a week to see how the books are going.

Student Book Budget: Meeting with Vendors

Our 2018-19 student book budget team is hard at work creating consideration lists of books for purchase. So far, they have created an interest survey, surveyed numerous students in our school, and set purchasing goals. I sent their goals to vendors and setup some appointments for vendors to meet with the team.

Our first vendor was Gret from Gumdrop Books. Gret brought in fiction and nonfiction and split them into separate groups on tables. She gave each student a pad of paper to write down item numbers for books or series they were interested in. They gave Gret each of their papers at the end of their time and then she put them into a consideration list in Excel. One of the things I love about what Gret does is that she has a printed list inside each book that shows other books in the series. Students can easily see if there are other books they are interested in.

Since Gret only had a sample of books to peruse, we had the Gumdrop website pulled up on the big screen so that Gret or students could search for books that weren’t represented on the tables. At the close of Gret’s time students in the 3 groups had made a list that totaled over $6,000! That’s not unusual for this group. It will become a good lesson later into how you get critical and purchase the very best of what you’ve found with the money you actually have.

Our second vendor was Jim Boon from Capstone. Jim has worked with us since the very beginning of this project. He’s great at bringing in a variety of books in fiction and nonfiction and splitting them into 2 displays that students can easily access. He also has catalogs and pens shipped to the school prior to his visit so that students can look through catalogs for books that aren’t found in his displays. Jim does a quick overview of what he has brought, how to use the catalogs, and any promotions Capstone currently has. Then, he spends time assisting students in looking at books and finding specifics in the catalogs.

My favorite feature in the Capstone catalog is the barcode listed on each series. Students can scan the barcode and it pulls up the entire series on the screen. Then, students can check the books they want to add to the list.  It’s so much faster than having to write things down or bookmark pages in a catalog. Then, we can easily go into the list later to delete the books we don’t want.

Jim gets right in with the students and helps them find whatever they are looking for. He’s so fun and keeps them laughing and shopping. He even brought them a special treat bag to go with their Capstone pen and bookmarks.

Now, students have a lot of work to do after the break looking through their Capstone catalogs and cutting books from their Gumdrop list. Then, we’ll meet with one more vendor before making final decisions.

I love watching this group work and seeing what stands out to them.