An Author Visit with Nancy Krulik

nancy krulik (23)I love our local independent bookstore, Avid Bookshop.  They work very hard to bring children’s, young adult, and adult authors to our community.  They also reach out to schools and connect us with these authors.  Today, Nancy Krulik visisted 3 Athens Clarke County schools:  Barrow, Oglethorpe, and Stroud.

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Nancy Krulik is the author of more than 200 books!  The books that the kids get the most excited about are her 3 series:

  • Katie Kazoo
  • George Brown
  • Magic Bone

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She started her talk with a game between 4 students who answered questions related to the Magic Bone series.  The questions were all based on inferences and point of view.  This gave kids context for the section of the book that she planned to read aloud to the students since the dog doesn’t necessarily know the human terms for the things he sees in the world.  I loved how she set the stage for them to understand this part of the story.

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She spent some time talking about her writing life, her first book, and her 3 series.  Finally, she took student questions.  She really wanted to answer every single question that students had.  I think they could ask questions all day.  They had a great time learning that she wrote some of a George Brown book while she was in her hotel in Athens.

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They also loved burping like George Brown.

Students who purchased books from Avid were able to stay after the visit and get their books signed.  They loved sitting down with an author, chatting, and watching their book get signed.

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Many thanks to Avid Bookshop, Penguin, and Nancy Krulik for a fantastic visit.  I’m sure there are many new Katie Kazoo, George Brown, and Magic Bone fans in Athens.  In-person as well as Skype author visits always inspire our students to read more but also to write down their stories and work hard to make them the best stories that they can be.


A Visit with Barbara Walsh: Author of The Poppy Lady

Barbara Walsh (19)Over the summer, I received an email from Carole Langley, wife of a Barrow alumni.  She introduced me to the incredible story of Moina Belle Michael, an Athens area woman who is credited with making the poppy the symbol of remembrance for soldiers.  The children’s book is called The Poppy Lady:  Moina Belle Michael and her Tribute to Veterans by Barbara Walsh.  Until this book, I really didn’t know the story of Moina and her ties to Athens, Georgia and the world, but I am so thankful that Carole introduced me to this book and I’m even more grateful to Barbara Walsh for creating it.

After that email, I contacted Barbara and her publisher and began a long collaborative journey to bring her to our school.  Luckily, Barbara was already going to be in Decatur for the Decatur Book Festival.  She graciously agreed to come to Athens and present her work to our 4th and 5th graders, but just like Moina, Barbara wanted to do more.  She offered to visit as many schools as she could while she was in Georgia.  I arranged for her to visit 7 other elementary schools in Clarke County and Carole Langley agreedto be her chauffeur.

Before her visit, I read the book to all 4th and 5th grade classes.  We also watched the book trailer:

And we watched the video from the Georgia Women of Achievement:

All of this information was fascinating to the students and was a great tie-in to the 5th grade Veteran’s Day Luncheon that they do every November.  The students couldn’t wait to hear Barbara talk.

Barrow was honored to be  Barbara’s first ever school visit, and she did an incredible job sharing Moina’s story and the long process it took to write a work on nonfiction.  In all, it took 7 years to bring this book into the printed copy that we hold into our hands today.  Barbara shared how she interviewed numerous people, dug through archives at UGA and Columbia University, and used Moina’s autobiography as a resource.  She shared how her editor wanted her to be extremely thorough in her research.  I loved having this information emphasized for students so that they could see how hard authors have to work to research their topic.  Having this at the front end of the year will allow this visit to inspire our work for the rest of the year.  Barbara also shared many pictures of artifacts and the story of her 99 year old father who has a personal connection with Moina.

Barbara Walsh (6)As students left, Barbara gave each student a poppy that was made by a veteran.  She also gave them each a bookmark from her book.  Avid Bookshop sold copies of her book and those will be autographed and delivered to students soon.Barbara Walsh (24)

In the spirit of Moina Michael, Barbara Walsh doesn’t keep a penny of the profits from her books.  She donates everything to Operation Purple, which benefits the children of those serving in the military.  Barbara’s passion for Moina Michael’s mission is evident in every conversation that you have with her.  She truly lives up to Moina’s own phrase:  “Whatsoever the hands find to do, do it with all your might.”  Thank you Barbara Walsh for giving this gift of a story to all children, and thank you for your generosity in coming to speak to our Barrow and CCSD students.

An Author Visit in the 1st Three Weeks of School….Why Not?: Our visit with Gennifer Choldenko

These books will all be gone tomorrow!

These books will all be gone tomorrow!

I love our local bookshop, Avid Bookshop.  Over the summer, they contacted me about a possible author visit prior to the Decatur Book Festival.  This book festival brings in some of the top authors from around the world for 2 days of book celebrations.  This festival is actually connecting us with  2 authors in the 1st three weeks of school since they will already be in Georgia!

Today, thanks to Avid, Gennifer Choldenko visited our 4th and 5th graders.  Gennifer is the Newbery Honor award-winning author of the Al Capone series, Notes from a Liar and Her Dog, No Passengers Beyond this Point, and more.  Before her visit, I held a session for all 4th and 5th graders to get familiar with her books as well as the book of our other visiting author, Barbara Walsh.  I used two different Blendspace (formally Edcanvas) links to share excerpts from books, book trailers, and biographies of the authors.  Students also had an opportunity to pre-order books for signing.

During her talk, Gennifer talked about:

  • her inspiration for the Al Capone books from her time as a docent on Alcatraz
  • her research of looking at the most notorious prisoners to see who would be the most fun character
  • details of what she learned about Al Capone while he was a prisoner.  Her photos of his prison experience with antique furniture was amazing!
  • photographs of convicts doing laundry on Alcatraz and how that came into her books
  • cockroaches helping to make exchanges between prisoners
  • convicts coming to brunch at her house and sharing their stories
  • how she keeps a notebook with her ideas, including kids’ names
  • how she writes other books in between the Alcatraz books
  • going to Alcatraz Alumni Day
  • what historical fiction is… can you include an iPhone in a story set on Alcatraz?
  • how many books she is in the process of writing.  She’s a busy person!
  • And so much more
Gennifer spent time before and after her talk chatting with students.  Love this!

Gennifer spent time before and after her talk chatting with students. Love this!

As always, the kids left this session pumped up about reading an author’s books.  I have no doubt that kids will be knocking on the door in the morning to get these stories.  I can’t thank Avid Bookshop enough for making this visit happen for us and for Chase Street Elementary.  Bringing in authors is always inspiring, but it’s also very expensive.  Having the support and connections of our local bookshop is fantastic!  Also, a huge thank you to Gennifer Choldenko for sharing her time and talents with our students.  They were so engaged and probably could have asked questions for another hour.

Same, Same but Different: Skyping with Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

IMG_0605What an exciting day!  Mrs. Wright and Mrs. Ramseyer’s class had the chance to Skype with incredible author/illustrator Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw.  She was simply amazing!  Today’s Skype came about because a few months ago, Shannon Miller and I began a blogging project with our second graders.  The whole project was started with the book Same, Same but Different.  Our classes skyped with one another and began writing blog posts about our world to share with one another.  Shannon and I both shared this work on our blogs and shared the project on Jenny Sue’s Facebook page.  Jenny Sue reached out to us and wanted to connect with our students to share her work and talk about their work.  We had a few email exchanges and test call to prepare for today’s session.

For today’s skype, students wrote some questions in advance.  I went through and selected about 10 of them to have ready for today, but I let the students know that I would remove any questions that she answered during her talk.  Students in both classes also drew pictures of “their world” just like Kailash and Elliot do in the book.  They added a sentence to describe what was in the picture just like in the book.  The teachers and I selected about 10 of these for students to share during the Skype.

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We also took time to look at a Google map to see how far it was to Taos, New Mexico from Athens, GA.  (1,491 miles & 22 hours 47 minutes in a car)

FireShot Screen Capture #023 - '280 Gaines School Rd, Athens, GA 30605 to Taos, NM - Google Maps' - maps_google_com

IMG_0613 IMG_0612 IMG_0611Our session started with Jenny Sue sharing her process for making Same, Same but Different.  We heard about her travels to Nepal.  She reached over and pulled out her journals to show the kids how she collected ideas, sketches, and research in her journals.  After collecting all of these thoughts and sketches, she started working on the story.  She said she probably made at least a hundred different versions of the story before she had the idea that she really wanted.  Jenny Sue showed the students the book with the rough sketches of the illustrations as well as how those rough sketches changed in the final book.  She even pulled out an original painting from the book and shared it with us.  I loved how we felt like we were sitting in Jenny Sue’s living room and every time she thought of something to share with us she could just reach right out and get it.  I also loved that she was sitting on a bouncy ball while she Skyped!  We learned how her publisher didn’t really like the ending of the book that she sent to them and how she tweaked it just a bit to satisfy what they wanted in the book.  She shared that even the smallest change can make a world of difference.

Next was one of my favorite parts, students came up to the rocking chair that my dad made and shared their own art with Jenny Sue.  I loved how she took time to look at each piece of art, considering what it had to offer and what story it told.  She gave each student an acknowledgement of their hard work and pointed out a special quality of each piece.  She even took pictures of some of the artwork to remember.


We used a similar format for students to come up and ask questions.  I really liked having students sit in the rocking chair right in front of the camera so that they could be seen and heard.  It felt like they were having a 1 on 1 conversation, even though 2 whole classes were watching.

This will be a day I will cherish.  Same, Same but Different  has become a book that I love to use when connecting with other schools and in my lessons about culture.  I am so grateful to Jenny Sue for taking time out of her day and busy writing life and family life to share the love of reading, writing, and illustrating with our students.  If you haven’t read this book, please take some time to check it out from your library or better yet, purchase several copies from your local book stores!  You won’t be disappointed.

Listen to a snippet of our visit!

Skyping with Anne Marie Pace

IMG_0350Back on March 6th, we celebrated World Read Aloud Day with Skype sessions with authors and schools around the country.  On that very same day, a major winter storm was making its way across the country creating chaos, power outages, and librarians frantically rescheduling connections.  Anne Marie Pace was scheduled to Skype with Ms. Wright’s and Ms. Yawn’s 2nd grade classes.  We had read Vamperina Ballerina and written several questions to ask her about writing and the book.  However, the snowstorm knocked out Anne Marie’s power.  Fortunately, we were able to find a time to reconnect and the students were so excited to finally meet her on Skype today.IMG_0361

IMG_0351We did a brief “hello” and then Anne Marie read us Never Ever Talk to Strangers.  She had the book on a presentation so that the kids could easily see the pages as she read.  After that, the students begged to hear Vamperina again.  Because our schedule wasn’t so rushed today, we had time, and Anne Marie graciously gave the kids a 2nd reading of Vamperina Ballerina.

We printed all of the students’ questions from a Google Doc so that they were prepared to quickly ask their questions.  Here’s a look at our questions:IMG_0358

  • Natalie:  Who is your publisher?

  • George:  Why did you make Vamperina Ballerina?

  • Tykeria:  Why did she turn into a bat in the story?

  • Lucy:  Is it a long process to make a book or does it depend on the book?

  • Nikolas:  Do you only write picture books?

  • Olonix:  Do vampires change into anything else?

  • Grace:  How did you come up with the details?

  • Myles:  Why did you put the vampire into the spotlight?

  • Sam B:  What are your other books?

  • Sam G:  Why did you put a vampire in a ballerina class?

  • Miles:  Do you make chapter books or comic books?

  • Mr. Plemmons:  Do you feel like the illustrator drew what you were thinking when you wrote your words?

  • Ms. Wright:  Did you have to write multiple drafts of the book?

  • Harper:  How do you know so much about vampires?

  • Danny:  Do you ever have writer’s block?

  • Repp:  Have you ever messed up on a published piece?

  • Eddie:  Do you have more books than 3?

  • Jeremiah:  Why do you like books so much?

  • Diana:  Who inspired you to write books?

  • Ty’Najia:  How long does it take to make a book?

  • Tom:  How did you come up with these book ideas?

  • Xander:  If you do have chapter books, how many do you have?

  • Mrs. Yawn:  How young were you when you first started writing?

IMG_0359This year we have been so fortunate to make so many connections through Skype.  I can’t wait to incorporate it even more next year.  The students left this session energized about reading and writing.  I just know this will translate into what they do in the classroom.  Thank you, Anne Marie Pace, for making our day so special!  We can’t wait to read the Vamperina sequel!

Suzanne Bloom Author/Illustrator Visit

We were thrilled today to host author/illustrator Suzanne Bloom thanks to the community connections of Avid Bookshop and the generous publisher, Boyds Mills Press.  What a great time to have an author visit during National Picture Book Month!  This visit was exclusive to our 1st and 3rd grades.  We began planning the visit a few weeks ago, when Avid Bookshop emailed me to see if I was willing to host a visit.  I’m seldom one to turn down the support of a published author/illustrator because I know the kind of impact it can have on student enthusiasm and productivity in reading and writing.

All 1st-3rd grade classes came individually to the library for an introduction to Suzanne Bloom’s books.  We visited her website and learned a bit about her life.  One of the things that sparked the most conversation was how she wasn’t allowed to play with blocks and trucks when she was in Kindergarten just because she was a girl.  This led to other books in our library that break away from gender profiles.  Students were also curious about her messy desk and talked about how how messy writing and illustrating can be sometimes.  We laughed together as we read the Bear and Goose books and made connections to Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie Series.

Today during her visit, Suzanne shared some of her earliest drawings from when she was in Kindergarten, 1st grade, and 4th grade.  For the students, it was validating that Suzanne’s work didn’t start out as the polished drawings that we see in her books today.  She had to practice, practice, practice in order to develop her skills.  Students also heard how each of her books has a bit of truth in them such as how Piggy Monday is really about her son’s Kindergarten class and how A Splendid Friend, Indeed came from a conversation she had with her dad while working on her writing.  Suzanne also took time to read aloud to students and do a quick sketch.  She immediately molded into our participatory culture by having students select the crayons from the box that she used and having students give details and topics for her illustrations.  All along the way, she encouraged participation through sounds, comments, questions, and more.  She honored every student’s voice and tried to make as many connections to her audience as possible.

I was also impressed with the conversations I had with her outside of the presentations.  I learned how she overwrites her stories and then cuts away at the words to find the very best language.  She looks for language that feels and sounds right while it is read aloud.  What seems like a very simple text, actually has a tremendous amount of thought poured into it to create just the right effect in readers.   I even learned that she was a contributing author/illustrator to the Picture Book Month celebration which started last year!

Suzanne Bloom was a delight.  Many thanks to Avid and Boyds Mills Press for allowing this visit to be possible.  I know our students’ writing and illustrating lives are enriched because of her generosity of love for sharing her words and illustrations.

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A Visit with Meghan McCarthy

We had a wonderful day in the Barrow Media Center learning from author and illustrator, Meghan McCarthy.  She is the award-winning author/illustrator of books such as Pop the Invention of Bubble Gum, The Aliens Are Coming, and The Incredible Life of Balto.  She shared with every grade level during 3 sessions.  Her talk included a close look at her early writing as a child.  The students loved seeing that she made lots of spelling errors as a child and drew drawings that looked very much like things that they draw in school.  She showed them how her writing and illustrating evolved through High School and College.  We learned about her family stories and interests, which inspired many of her books.  She showed students how a book is published and walked them through what each step looked like in pictures and videos.  I loved seeing how her research impacted both her writing and her illustrations, like making sure the bathing suits were from the right time period in one of her books.  Finally, she showed students how to draw the dogs, horses, aliens, and birds in her books.  She included her signature “big eyes” in each illustration.

After today, Meghan will speak at the Georgia Conference on Children’s Literature in Athens, where I will also be presenting on Techno Poetry.

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Community Connection: An Author Visit with Donna Jo Napoli

I was recently reminded of how many opportunities for our students are probably hiding in our communities.  A parent reached out to our Kindergarten teachers and asked if they would be interested in an author visit with Donna Jo Napoli.  The teachers asked me about it, and I immediately jumped on board because author visits don’t just pop up everyday, epsecially with outstanding authors such as this one.  Donna Jo Napoli just happened to be in Athens to speak at UGA, and a parent at our school used to live down the street from her.  This parent said that she was willing to come in and speak to a class or the whole grade level.

I occasionally ask parents to share their talents and connections with us in the media center so that we can connect them to opportunities, but this made me think that maybe I should ask more often or that I should highlight ways people are supporting our students with exciting opportunities.

Donna Jo Napoli read her book Rocky the Cat who Barks.  She shared the process that it takes to get a book printed in physical form.  Students were also able to ask questions.  Many shared stories of their own pets or how they also wrote a book.  Along the way, we also learned about how much research and reading go into books such as Mama Miti.  Donna Jo spoke with passion about how she learned how much an ordinary person can make big changes in the world.  She encouraged the students to think about what they could do to change the world.  She also shared her thoughts about revision.  Her thought is that instead of writing one story over and over, you should write many stories.  Each time you write, share that story with a friend and have them tell you what they like and what they don’t like.  Learn from that, and use what you learned to write something new.  After you get several stories, pick one that speaks to you and spend more time making it better.

We also learned that she is doing a collaboration with author David Wiesner on a graphic novel.  We can’t wait to see how that develops!

What an amazing day for our Kindergartens.  Thank you parents and community members who reach out to schools and libraries to provide opportunities, and thank you Donna Jo Napoli for your amazing gift of story to our students today!

Shadra Strickland Illustrator Visit

We had a wonderful day hearing Shadra Strickland talk about her illustrating process.  She read White Water to grades PreK-3rd, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen to grades 2-3, and Bird to grades 4-5.  We saw thumbnail sketches and how those sketches move to larger versions that are transferred onto tracing paper before they finally make it to the paper that will be painted.  She shared several of her techniques with students including using saran wrap to create the ripples of the flood water in the large painting of New Orleans in A Place Where Hurricanes Happen.

As usual, I was amazed by the insight that students had into the stories.  They asked questions both about the content of the stories and about the process of illustrating.  Shadra entertained all questions, even ones about how much an illustrator makes.

A few students were fortunate enough to have a quick portrait sketched of themselves by Shadra.  Even though she gets nervous drawing in front of a whole group, Shadra willingly put herself out there and showcased her talent for drawing the human form.

Today was the culmination of many read-alouds, lessons expanding upon the stories, and discussions and comparisons of multiple pieces of art on exhibit for the past month.  We are very grateful to Shadra for her visit.  We are also grateful to the Auburn Avenue Research Library for supporting this traveling exhibit and illustrator visit.  

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Honoring Student Voices in the Library

Last year, I held the first Barrow Media Center Poetry Contest and was amazed by the response from students.  So many talented young writers entered their poetry into the contest that it was impossible to choose just two winners from each grade level.  Instead, multiple students were honored in a variety of categories.  One poem continues to stand out in my mind, and I copied it and held onto it for that very reason.

Hurricane Katrina

By David

One boy experienced a

bad moment in this state.  you could

hear yelling from everywhere, crying

from babies, shooting every five

seconds, police saying “stop”!

You could feel rain going into

your face like cats and dogs, wind

throwing down trees and light poles.

no electricity.

You see stealing, boats, buses,

bike, cars, tires,  you feel sharks

in the water.

no food, drowning, people passing

out.  you are waiting to be saved

at the Super Dome.

I can’t read that poem without getting chills down my spine.  I shared it with a group of educators this summer and we started a conversation about the importance of honoring student interests and voices as well as allowing students to write about the things that matter to them rather than assigning topics and requiring certain graphic organizers.  When David wrote this poem, he was very frustrated because he was supposed to be writing a poem about nature from a photograph that he took at school.  In my conferencing with him, I sensed his frustration at the graphic organizer in front of him and the topic he had to write about, so I flipped the organizer over and asked him to think about what mattered the most to him.

Because I know him so well from his media center visits, I know that he has a deep interest in hurricanes because of his experiences with Hurricane Katrina.  I suggested that he think about that.  His writing mood immediately changed and he proceeded to talk to me about everything he remembered about the storm.  While he talked, I made a list of his descriptions and handed them to him.  That was his organizer:  a brainstorm list.  With further conferences with his teacher, he crafted the poem above.

I’ve held onto that poem wondering if there was another way that his work could be honored, so I was so thrilled when our school was selected as the first stop of the Ashley Bryan Traveling Exhibit of Illustrated Africana Children’s Literature featuring the work of Shadra Strickland.  In the book A Place Where Hurricanes Happen written by Renee Watson and illustrated by Shadra Strickland, Watson shows the bond of 4 friends growing up in New Orleans and the stress and devastation that Hurricane Katrina put on their hometown and friendships.  The art exhibit on display in our media center through September 27 features 3 of Shadra’s illustrations from the book.  One depicts Adrienne and her Granny as they load into the car to head out of New Orleans.  Another shows the flooded streets of New Orleans with landmarks such as the Super Dome in the background.  Another features the joys of living in New Orleans and fixing jambalaya with family.  As I put the artwork on display, I thought, ‘This is the perfect spot for David’s poem’.  I pulled it out, rushed to his classroom to ask his permission, and had it on display by the end of the day for my first lesson using the exhibit.  It was so much fun to see the students flock to David’s poem at the end of the lesson when they toured the display.

This morning, David came up to the library to checkout books, but he also wanted to see his poem sitting on the shelf next to Shadra’s illustrations.  “She does really good work”, he said.  I could tell how proud he was of seeing his poem on display.  

I want to continue to seek opportunities for students to display their work in authentic, meaningful ways in the media center.  This seemed so simple and easy to do, but it meant the world to this student.