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

A post shared by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

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.

The dance we do as writers. Captured by Ms Thompson. #avidevents #avidinschools #barrowbuddies #writing #author

A post shared by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

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.

What a great visit this morning with Caleb Zane Huett, author of Top Elf. #avidinschools #avidreader #christmas #elf #author #writing

A post shared by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

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.

Let’s Talk Writing Process with Cassie & Kate Beasley

Our fourth grade is immersed in the writing process using Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop. They are looking at mentor texts. They are studying author’s craft and developing their own style of taking a story from an idea to a published piece of writing. During this exploration, the fourth grade team reached out to ask if there was any possibility of connecting with an author to talk about the narrative writing process.  I immediately thought of the dynamic sister duo from south Georgia, Kate and Cassie Beasley. Both of these talented authors have visited our school in the past for their books, so I reached out to them to consider the possibility of connecting for an informal chat about writing.

Our @fourthgradebarrow learned so many tips about writing from Cassie and Kate Beasley. #author #skype #writing

A post shared by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

They enthusiastically said yes, and the whole fourth grade came to the library with writing journals and index card questions in hand.

Cassie Beasley is the author of Circus Mirandus and the recently released Tumble and Blue.  Kate Beasley is the author of Gertie’s Leap to Greatness and the upcoming Lions & Liars.  During our connection, they started out with an informal conversation about writing. They each took turns asking questions about writing process from the beginning to the end.  I loved how it was like a mini-interview conversation between the two of them and how we discovered that they both have different ways that they accomplish the same task of writing a story.

We learned many writing tips from the Beasley sisters including outlining. #author #skype

A post shared by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

Cassie shared that she often starts with an idea for a story and Kate often starts with a character and tries to put that character into a setting and a problem.  Both sisters shared that they do a good bit of outlining when they are getting ready to write.  One of the most surprising things to all of us was the amount of writing that they do that never makes it into a novel.  Circus Mirandus, Tumble and Blue, and Gertie’s Leap to Greatness all went through multiple rewrites. Kate even shared that she thinks that about 75% of what she writes doesn’t get used.  After our connection, we spent a bit more time talking about this and came to the conclusion that even though that writing doesn’t make it into the novel it wasn’t wasted work. The 75% was what was needed in order to discover the best story that was hiding underneath everything else.

 

I’ve heard several authors talk about how much they rewrite, and it’s important for students to hear that too because it’s really hard to start over.  I casually asked Kate and Cassie how they feel when they have to start again. I asked if they scream or throw things.  I mostly asked because that’s a bit how I feel when I have to start over.  I think it’s important that students know that it’s not always the best feeling to start over even when you know it’s the right thing to do.  Kate and Cassie both talked about the frustration. They shared how it’s a moment of panic. Cassie relies on Kate to talk her through the frustration so she can start again. Some deep breaths are involved and maybe some chocolate too.

Students had a chance to line up and ask their own questions to support their writing. One of the questions was about “where”.  Where do you write?  Kate has a very specific place where she writes.  It’s a house that doesn’t have phone or internet so that she can stay away from distractions.  Cassie also writes in that place but she does writing just about everywhere: a coffee shop, the pool, outside.  It was an important reminder to us all that sometimes it’s tricky in the crowded classroom to find writing spaces that feel supportive. I hope we can think more about how to give students a space where they feel productive in their writing process.

Another student asked about how many books they hope to write, and it was so great to hear that they have many more ideas for stories that are waiting to be told or are in the process of being drafted. Even though writing takes time and has frustrating moments, it still comes down to that magic of escaping into someone else’s life or some other magical place on the page.  It was so refreshing at the end of our skype to hear students who were excited to go back to class and write after hearing from published authors.

Thank you Cassie & Kate Beasley for taking time out of your writing lives to share your wisdom with us.  We can’t wait to celebrate all your future stories.

To purchase their books, visit here:  Circus Mirandus, Tumble & Blue, Gertie’s Leap to Greatness.

To learn more about Kate’s upcoming novel, click here.

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.

So fun to hear @bethanwoollvin read Little Red #author #illustrator #skype #childrensbooks @peachtreepublishers

A post shared by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

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.

Such a treat to hear Rapunzel. Coming soon from @bethanwoollvin @peachtreepublishers #author #illustrator #childrensbooks

A post shared by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

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.

When students talk directly to an author/illustrator, magic happens #author #illustrator #childrensbooks

A post shared by Barrow Media Center (@barrowmediacenter) on

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.

First Grade’s Fun Skype with Crabtree Co-creator, Jon Nichols

IMG_3166Our community amazes me.  Every year, new people within our school community step forward with ideas for our library program.  People share their talents, their connections, and their love of education.

This year, Rachel Gabara, a parent of a 1st grader, introduced me to a new book called Crabtree by brothers Jon and Tucker Nichols.  I’ll admit that it was my first time hearing of the book, but when I looked at the praise for Crabtree on the McSweeney’s website, I was floored.  Authors like Jon Klassen, Maira Kalman, Lemony Snickett, and Jon Agee all raved about the book.  I immediately ordered it from Avid Bookshop.  When I got it, I was raving about the book as much as the reviews.  It is jam packed with illustrations of all kinds of things.

Here’s the official trailer:

Crabtree loves to collect things.  The problem is that he has so much stuff he can’t find anything.  He begins to organize his collections of stuff in order to find his false teeth.  Each object on the page is labeled with its name, so kids are introduced to all kinds of tools and gadgets that they’ve probably never heard of.  It’s a great books just for the sorting, vocabulary, and potential research opportunities.  However, the humor and gadgets of the book are what really make it so much fun to read over and over again.  Even the dust jacket of the book has a collection of gadgets and unfolds into a poster.  At the end of the book, there’s a game where you can go back through the book finding various objects.  You need to order a copy of this book today.  It’s so much fun.

IMG_3169 IMG_3170

When Rachel introduced me to the book, she told me that she was friends with the co-creator, Jon Nichols.  She offered to reach out to him to see if he would Skype with us.  He agreed, so we got to work preparing for our visit.  All of the 1st grade classes read the book in advance and pulled in some categorizing and math standards along the way.  Students also spent some time writing out questions for Jon.

IMG_3173 IMG_3175

Today, the whole 1st grade came to the library and we connected with Jon in California.  He was a fantastic Skype author full of energy.  He told the kids a bit about how he and his brother made the book together.  Both of them were involved in the writing and illustrating process, and it was their first book.

Then, Jon showed the kids how he draws Crabtree.

IMG_3176 IMG_3177 IMG_3178

The students loved it when Jon let them ask him some questions.  When authors do this, the teachers help me a lot.  They start choosing students from the audience to start forming a line to the side of the screen and camera.

IMG_3186

As they get in line, we try to check to make sure the questions are all different and are actually questions.  I move the camera down to student-level.  Then, students take turns speaking to the author directly into the camera.

Today, students asked Jon questions like:

  • What kind of paint did you use?  He showed us the pens used to draw the illustrations and we learned that the colors were created by computer at the publisher because they didn’t like how real paint looked on the paper.

IMG_3183

  • Why did you call him Crabtree?  We learned that it was a mixture of a favorite place to visit but also the idea of 2 things that don’t really go together: crabs and trees.
  • Can 1st graders write books?  Jon was so enthusiastic in his answer and told them that they could absolutely write books.  He ran through the whole writing process and got them excited about their ideas for stories.

IMG_3459 IMG_3189 IMG_3188

There were many more wonderful questions.  I was really surprised by how well 1st graders asked questions.  The teachers did a wonderful job giving students time to think and write their questions down before they came.

We are so thankful to Jon for taking time out of his busy day to connect with us.  If you haven’t read Crabtree yet, we highly recommend it.

 

Kindergarten Narrative Writing Using Chromville Augmented Reality (and a little Skype too)

IMG_2789 IMG_2804Kindergarten is revisiting narrative writing at the close of the year.  This year, they have also worked very hard on the standard

ELACCKW6 Production and distribution of writing: With guidance and support from adults, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.

With this standard as our guide, we have explored tools such as Storybird, Padlet, and Flipgrid to publish our writing.  We’ve also used digital tools such as Pebble Go and the Capstone Interactive Library to gather information for our writing.

The Kindergarten teachers wanted to try one more digital tool, so I met with them to brainstorm.  We tossed around a lot of ideas, but we ended up deciding to try a brand new tool called Chromville.  Chromville is an augmented reality app that was just released this year.  It offers 6 different coloring pages.  Five of the coloring pages have a setting and a character and the sixth coloring page is a “create your own” character with no setting.  First you color your page.  Then, you use the Chromville app to select the matching setting and scan the page.  Once the screen turns green and you wait 3 seconds, the character and setting come to life on the iPad and the character begins to move around and interact with the setting.

IMG_2928 IMG_2933

From my own experience with Kindergarten students, I’ve seen how visual they are, and I thought that seeing their character and setting in an interactive way might give them enough ideas to begin imagining their own stories.  The teachers and I mapped out what we would do in the library and in class.  It looked something like this:

  • In class, choose a setting and color it.
  • In the library, use the iPads and the Chromville app to see the setting come to life and brainstorm what to write about.
  • In class, begin the writing process by describing the character and setting as well as thinking about 3 events and a reaction that might happen in the story.
  • In the library, use the iPads to look at the Chromville character and setting again for more brainstorming and continue the writing process, including revision and publishing.
  • In class and in the library, share the final stories.
  • In the library, do a gallery walk of the all the stories by scanning the Chromville setting and reading the accompanying story

Four of the Kindergarten classes went through this process and it was very exciting to watch.  I saw some of the longest stories by Kindergarten students that I have ever seen.  Chromville was an exciting and motivating tool for them to use and they were full of energy when using it.

IMG_2932 IMG_2921 IMG_2778

We did learn a lot about what to do differently next time.  For example, we will probably opt to use crayons or color pencils next time rather than markers.  We will also avoid black as a color since the lines of the coloring page are black.  These black lines are the instructions for the iPad to read in order to generated the augmented reality scene.  Students also need to be careful not to cross over too many of the lines or color so dark that the black lines can no longer be seen.

IMG_3053 IMG_3052

Along the way, we shared our success (and our failures) with Chromville, and they were eager to learn with us.  We sent them images of pictures that didn’t scan for us and they started taking a look at them to better improve the app.

chromville skype (2)

Today, Mrs. Boyle’s class Skyped with them all the way in Spain.  It was so much fun to Skype with someone in another country, but it was even cooler to see the improvements that they are working hard to create for the next update of Chromville.  We even got to see some upcoming Chromville projects as well as other augmented reality projects that the team is working on.  We loved seeing how even a t-shirt could be a part of an augmented reality project.  During the Skype, we also heard them talk about the improvements that they are making to the app.  This was such a great connection to the writing revision that students had just gone through.  It also validated all of the feedback that students have given about the app over the past few weeks.  They heard from the developers that their feedback was making a difference.

chromville skype (4) chromville skype (5)

We selected one student from each of the Chromville settings to share their stories with the Chromville team.  Each student showed his/her coloring page first and then read the story.

chromville skype (10) chromville skype (15) chromville skype (13) chromville skype (12) chromville skype (17)

Chromville currently has a narrative writing contest going on using the Greenland setting but Kindergarten is not eligible to enter.  This was a way to still honor their work and let the good people at Chromville hear how fantastic a Kindergarten story can be too.

chromville skype (19)

This is definitely a project we will try again.  I’m thankful for Kindergarten teachers who took a risk with me to try something totally new.  As usual, things didn’t work perfectly along the way, but that’s usually where some of the best learning happens.  Even though there were some tears, it was a great lesson that things aren’t always perfect and we have to push through failure and learn from it in order to be innovative.