Friday, May 15, 2015

Author Skype Visits in the Library

Students pose with author, Andrea Cremer, during April 20th  skype visit
The students in my two book groups had the opportunity to Skype with four different authors this past school year. I have been asked before if it is easy to find an author to skype. I always reply that it is, and that I have never paid any of the authors to talk with my students. I had met three of the authors who spoke with us this year face to face, but only one of them did I ask about the possibility of skyping at that time. I usually run all my author skypes the same way. I schedule the event for 30 minutes. I ask the author to talk about themselves and their book/s for the first 10 to 15 minutes, and then I allow the students to ask questions for the second half of the session. The students walk up to speak right into the microphone which allows the author to see who is speaking to them. This also makes it clear who is suppose to ask the next question. Very often the author is willing to talk longer, but I always end after 45 minutes. After that amount of time, the students start asking questions that border on the inappropriate. Even Grabenstein was impressed with wonderful questions that my students asked.

The balloons were to celebrate Mr. Lemoncello's birthday
I was at a library conference where Chris Grabenstein gave a speech during the school librarian's luncheon. His presentation was hilarious, and I knew that the kids in my middle school book group would get a kick out of him. I asked him during the book signing if a skype visit was a possibility. He said to email him about it. It took lots of emails between myself and his assistant to plan the visit and lots of time, too, as we scheduled the skype four months before the date of the event. I was right about the kids liking Grabenstein. They all read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library to be prepared for the skype. It was one of the most successful visits because almost everyone in the group had read the book. Besides reading the book, almost all of them loved, loved, loved the book. I asked the students ahead of time to send me the questions that they wanted to ask. It really was a lot of fun. 

I received an email from Ellen Hopkins' publicist asking if I had received an Advanced Reader's Copy of Hopkins newest book, Rumble. I had met and spoke with Hopkins at two library conferences. I knew that she was happy to engage in conversation with teens. I asked the publicist if it would be possible to schedule a skype. She said that it was. This also took many emails back and forth to work out day and time, but in the end, we scheduled the event during one of my high school book group's regular meetings. I have many of Hopkins books on the shelves of the library. Some of the members of the book group are real fans of Hopkins. I encouraged the students to read one of her books. Unfortunately. the majority of the students did not heed my encouragement of reading one of the author's books before the event. Even though the students did not have a lot of questions, I carried on the conversation and asked questions that I thought would engage the students. It did, but I was disappointed that the students were not as involved as I was.

Student asks Vince Vawter a question

The middle school book group, BRiMS, meets monthly to talk about one title that all members read. I had selected Vince Vawter's The Paperboy for February. One of the students came into the library early in February to ask if there was a sequel. She really needed to know what happened to the characters after the story ended. So we did some investigation and looked at the author's website. I read that he had skyped with several schools, so I sent him an email. I asked if he was available during our scheduled meeting on the last Wednesday of the month during the student's lunch period. He was, and he agreed to talk with us. It was another successful skype because so many of the students had read the book. They had lots of questions for Vawter.

Student asks Andrea Cremer a question
One day I was looking at the skype in the classroom website. Skype was advertising virtual visits with authors for School Library Month in April. I followed the link to see if there was an author with whom I was familiar. I saw that Andrea Cremer was available to talk about The Inventor's Secret. Penguin, her publisher was promoting this skype. I was able to schedule the event during a regular meeting of the high school book group, but the book seemed appropriate for middle school, too, so I invited both book groups to this event. I knew that many of the high school students had mentally checked out of school, especially the seniors, and I figured that there would be plenty of room for the middle school students. The only stipulation from Penguin was that the students either read the book or a 40 page excerpt online so that all attendees would be engaged in the author and the book. If the students were like me, then that excerpt only whetted their appetite for more. Some of the students checked out the book and finished it. The middle school students seemed the most thrilled about talking with author, Cremer, but all attending got something out of the interaction with the author. When Cremer mentioned that there are scenes in New Orleans in book two and three of this series, that really got the students attention.

To see more pictures and read more about the skype visits, open here on the library website.

I have not made any plans yet for skype visits for the next school year, but I will keep my eyes and ears open while reading twitter, reading promotional emails from publishers, reading posts on listservs, and attending author events. You have to be proactive in scheduling skype visits, but once you have had one, you will realize that it is an easy way to connect authors and readers. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I Should Have Been the One to Write a Thank You Note

Picture taken by their daughter in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve

My school has been very lucky to host over 24 live author visits since 2011, and almost as many Skype visits. J & P Voelkel have visited our school three times and skyped twice. I adore them and their energy, and they really put on a show for the students with lots of props and audience participation. They came to New Orleans on this last visit in March because book four in their series, Jaguar Stones, that was recently published had some important scenes set in our city. Just the other day, I received this wonderful card thanking us for opening our doors to them. Actually, I should be the one doing the thanking as they traveled so far to be with the students at Patrick Taylor for just a couple of hours. 

Jon and Pamela, you are our rock stars. Thanks for visiting us for a third time. The students and teachers were blown away and had the most marvelous time during this last visit. You are welcome back any time. 

Thank you note from J & P Voelkel 

The loud librarian standing with J & P Voelkel outside PFTSTA

Thursday, May 7, 2015

App Reviews in SLJ for Digital Bird Guides

Collins Bird Guide

Today I got an email that a review that I wrote for School Library Journal in September was just published. The review was for an app that helps you identify birds. You can open here to read the review. In 2013, I reviewed the National Geographic bird app which I think is much more useful. than the one by Collins. You can open here to read that review

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ninth Ward Trip with 7th Graders Gets Better Each Year

Taken at the Flood Wall in the Ninth Ward, New Orleans, by Emily Gibbons, 7th grade PFTSTA
Last week, the seventh graders with their English teacher, Ms. Ritter, the librarian, that's me, their math teacher, Ms. Klusendorf and another ELA teacher, Ms. Bordelon traveled 30 minutes from school to visit the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. This is our fourth annual trip to walk in the footsteps of the characters in Jewell Parker Rhodes' book, Ninth Ward. After the first reading of this book, we realized that the students really had no clue about the Ninth Ward, and this group was only about three years old the year that Hurricane Katrina made landfall, so a visit gives them a first hand look at the devastation and reconstruction wrought by the hurricane.

Before embarking on the field trip, the students are asked to complete a pathfinder that I created. I made a Livebinder with video, audio, and text describing and explaining all the stops that we will be making on the field trip. This is an important piece to this project because it gives the students a chance to get some background knowledge. You can find the Livebinder with the pathfinder, links to resources, and rubric for the product that they create upon returning to school here.  

Ruby Bridges walking into Frantz school with the federal marshals in 1960
We begin in the upper Ninth Ward at Frantz School. This is an historic site because, Ruby Bridges, an African American, was the first to integrate New Orleans public schools in 1960 when she was in 1st grade. Ms. Bridges fought to keep the school from being razed after Hurricane Katrina. The facade was kept, and a brand new building was constructed behind the front of the school. Today it is home to a charter school, Akili

The facade of the school is still the same Art Deco seen in the 1960's

The next stop on the trip is about three blocks away, and we can walk there. That is where Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis built the Musician's Village with help from Habitat for Humanity. The homes all look very similar in style and are raised off of the ground out of harms way from flooding. This stop is always a highlight because the students like to play in the pocket park. You may think that 7th graders are too big for a playground, but they don't think so. We give them about 10 minutes to play in the park. 

The houses stand in a row and were all built with a similar architecture plan

Having fun at the playground
Next, we take the Industrial Canal bridge and travel to the Lower Ninth Ward. The first stop is the area that Brad Pitt created for his Make it Right Foundation. In this section very near where the levee was breached, you will find a cluster of homes designed by architects from around the world. The students were surprised that each of the homes looked so different. There are still many empty lots in this area because all damaged houses were torn down in anticipation of new construction. We spent about twenty minutes here walking up and down the streets looking at the homes, walking to the levee, and visiting the small memorial park. 

The entire 7th grade and the teachers pose for a picture

Standing near one of the Make it Right Houses

Another Make it Right House
After leaving this area, I text the librarian, Gertrude Romero, at Dr. King Charter School. I tell her that we are on our way. Two years ago, Cheryl Bordelon (ELA teacher) wrote a service learning grant with the local Brown Foundation to help us keep this field trip alive. One purpose of the trip is to see the Ninth Ward, the other purpose is to visit King and tell stories to the 1st graders there. We first walk into the MLK Public Library which is attached to the school. There we find out how badly the library was damaged during and after the storm. 

The library manager tells us what happened to the library before and after the storm
We bring all 75 students in 1st grade a copy of the Dr. Seuss' book, The Sneetches. Two students put on a brief Sneetches puppet show, and then we had a student read the book and others act out the whole story. The school's library is filled with 75 1st graders and 87 7th graders. It is crazy crowded. For those sitting under the air conditioner and unable to hear the reader, they just followed along in the book. 

Puppet show

Both of these Sneetches have stars
The whole cast
Writing in the blank book made the experience fun

Some happy book buddies
Once the play was over, each 7th grader worked with their 1st grade book buddy to write a story in the blank books that we brought for them. Some of the 1st graders dictated to the 7th grader, some of the book buddies wrote together, some of the 1st graders wrote their story on their own. Snacks were given to everyone provided by King. We spent about 45 minutes in the school working with the little ones. It seemed to be an extremely positive experience for everyone. Next year, we talked about having the King students visit our school. 

I was presented with a card for our school signed by all the 1st graders
This is a collaborative project from start to finish. We are very proud of how it has grown and developed since the first time that we read Rhodes' book in 2011. Collaboration happens at the school level, the city level, and in the past, we have collaborated on this project with schools out of state. That didn't happen this year, but we will be on the look out for teachers or librarians elsewhere who are interested in having their students learn about our town because we are certainly interested in learning about them. Let me know if that is something you might like to do.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

2015 Mock BOB Round 2 is Done

The following books will be competing in Round 3:

Battle 1:
Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett     16    55.2%
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander         13    44.8%

Children of the King will go up against Grasshopper Jungle

Battle 2:
El Deafo by Cece Bell                             10      34.5%
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith   19      65.5%


Battle 3:
Poisoned Apples by Christine Hepperman 19    65.5%
The Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston           9    31%

Poisoned Apples will go up against We Were Liars

Battle 4:
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki    9    31%
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart                                         20    69%

Unfortunately, Round 2 voting fell during spring break. I was happy to get 29 votes, but I was really hoping for closer to 45. I gave the students an extra two days after our return from break to vote, but I still could not get the numbers up. I think that the SLJ Battle Commander picked great books, but I don't think that they had as much kid appeal as the books in the 2014 BOB. That is just my opinion, but in terms of students checking out books in the 2015 BOB. The books that have been checked out multiple times are El Deafo, Poisoned Apples, This One Summer, and We Were Liars.

I have not decided yet how I will broadcast the books for voting in Round 3. I know that I have students who have read every book in that round except, Children of the King. I would really like having the students record an audio with their recommendations for each of the books so that I can insert it into a video. We did that using the Tellagami app last year. It would be fun to do that again this year. I may ask someone who is a fast reader to read Children of the King so that they can be it's champion. When we get to Round 4, we will be adding El Deafo that was selected by SLJ to rise from the undead. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

2015 Mock BOB: Winners of Round 1

SLJ Battle of the Kids Books

For the 2015 Battle of the Books or Mock BOB, the students made their selections of their favorite books in Round 1 by completing a Google form that I created.  I was hoping to get more kids to participate this year by asking them to vote virtually rather than last year's battle when students made live presentations defending each of the titles. Only 45 students cast their vote in this first round, which is 10% of the school and about the same number as participated in each round in 2014. I sent the students a link to the form via email, put the link in the daily announcements that are sent to all students and teachers, and gave the students five days to make their selections.

The Google form was an easy way to set up the voting because I could insert a picture of the book covers with blurbs. I had students help me create the blurbs about each of the books. You can see two examples of the 8 battles below. 

Battle 4
click the picture to enlarge it

Battle 8
click the picture to enlarge it

I like using the School Library Journal brackets with 16 books for our battle because the Battle Commander always selects outstanding books. Some of the books we may have in the library, but if the book wasn't on my radar, it probably is a title that I should have on the shelf. There is usually a mix of middle grade and YA which suits the age level of my students, and the mix of genres means there is something for everyone. Also, the students can follow along to see if they make the same choices as the author judges of the SLJ Battle. 

Here are the students' selections in Round 1: 
Battle 1
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson1942.2%
Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett2657.8%

Battle 2
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander2351.1%
Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire2248.9%
Battle 3
El Deafo by Cece Bell2453.3%
The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming2146.7%
Battle 4
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith2453.3%
The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos2146.7%
Battle 5
The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis1737.8%
Poisoned Apples by Christine Hepperman2862.2%
 Battle 6
The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin1022.2%
The Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston3577.8%
Battle 7
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki2964.4%
A Volcano Beneath the Snow by Albert Marrin1635.6%
Battle 8
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart3475.6%
West of the Moon by Margi Preus1124.4%
Only two of the books selected by the PFTSTA students went on to Round 2 in the SLJ Battle. Those are El Deafo and This One Summer. These are graphic novels that several of my students have read and loved. 

Tuesday, SLJ will post their overall winner, but we will continue with our battles until a winning book can be declared. Round 2 will also be done virtually and will be sent out early next week. Follow at the end of the week to see the students' choices in that round. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Authors, J & P Voelkel Make a Third Visit to PFTSTA

On March 17th, the middle school students were treated to a performance by authors Jon and Pamela Voelkel that kept the kids enthralled from the moment it began to the action-packed conclusion. The Voelkels have become friends of mine as well as friends of our school. They were traveling because the last book in the Jaguar Stones series was published last month, but their publisher, Egmont, sent them to the West Coast, not New Orleans. Since both New Orleans and St. Louis are featured in the journey that Max and Lola take to save the world from Ah Pukuh in the book, The Lost City, the Voelkels decided to plan a trip to our area on their own. I am so glad that they did. 

Their visit began with dinner at Pascal Manale's. An uptown institution that specializes in delicious seafood. Not only did we have a great meal that night, but there was a celebrity sitting at a table next to ours. Singer, Harry Connick Jr., was enjoying a meal with his family. We really wanted to get a picture but did not want to intrude, so Lulu, the Voelkel's daughter, posed with the book she was reading. 

Lulu shares her latest read, while Connick shares his phone 
The Voelkels had warned me that many of the activities and bits that they were going to share with my students included much of what we had seen on their previous two visits. Since the audience was made up of students who did not attend PFTSTA in 2010 and 2011, all that the Voelkels said and showed was brand new to this crop of 6th and 7th graders. Pamela introduces the students to the characters, Max and Lola, and the fictional aspects of the book. Like when Max disguises himself as a member of a rock band to hide out in book two. One of the highlights of the visit was the chance for so many students to get on stage with inflatable guitars to act out a little of their inner rock star.

Jon shows the students some classic rock moves
Jon teaches a couple of students how to use a blowgun to destroy one of the death lords trying to destroy Max and Lola. 

Learning how to use a blowgun

The Voelkels also share information about the Mayan culture. Jon grew up in Latin America visiting Mayan ruins, but as adults the two have returned to Central America with their own three children to study, learn, and get some fuel for the adventures their characters encounter when they meet the Mayan death lords in the books. I really liked some of the enrichments and additions that they made to the multi-media of pictures and video that they present to the students. Pamela states that the fictional Indiana Jones is her favorite archaeologist, but then she introduces several real life archaeologists and shows video of these adventurers describing some of their real-life exploits while traveling through jungles looking for artifacts. There are also plenty of pictures and videos of the Voelkels' trips. Jon eats some interesting creatures on their travels. At the end of their presentation, I made sure the students heard how Jon passed on the creatures that I had eaten the night before when I had joined them for dinner. Manale's is known for their raw oysters, and I never pass up a chance to eat them. Jon declined to taste, but Pamela popped one in her mouth and declared them tasty. 

It was bittersweet to say goodbye to Jon and Pamela, but I had to wish them well as they are going to be spending the next few weeks traveling and sharing with other students across the country. Find more pictures of this author visit on the library website here

More about The Lost City, the last book in the Jaguar Stones series:

When the Voelkels were researching for this book, they visited New Orleans to see where their characters would actually travel that made sense to the story and to the city itself. They really wanted to be true to the geography and culture of the city. I met with them on that visit, and I also consulted with them after their first draft on the pages about New Orleans. When the book arrived in its published format, I found myself in the acknowledgements.

Click the picture above to enlarge it 
While searching on the web, I found a blog post where Pamela Voelkel was interviewed about the new book. During the online interview, she describes how I helped her find locations for her book

Friday, March 20, 2015

Teen TECH Week 15 Was Huge Success

I think that this year's events for Teen TECH Week (TTW) were more successful than any other year. Not sure why, but I tried to simplify which made my life easier. Since the kids seemed to enjoy the daily activities, I am thinking that my plan worked. I designed one lunch time activity each day, and I sent out a research riddle by email each day.

One of our TTW traditions is to show the animated shorts that are nominated for an Academy Award. I started this a few years ago because TTW fell about the same time as the awards, so there is always some buzz in the media about the shorts. This is an easy activity to plan, and all I need is the movies and popcorn. I usually start the week off with the movie. 

On the second day of TTW, the students put on their engineering hats to design towers made from marshmallows and toothpicks. I was really hoping that the students would be inspired by the books that I had available, but none of the books enticed them. I am sorry about that because I think that design-wise the students structures may have stood up better if they had followed patterns used by real architects and engineers. It was a whole lot of fun for everyone who participated, and it is important sometimes to just play, so I am not complaining. 

I decided to take Wednesday and make it an anti-tech day. I invited my friend, Whitney Stewart, to school to teach the students about mindfulness. Taking their time to smell, taste, and eat chocolate chips seemed to be the highlight of this exercise. When students visiting the library the next day could be heard saying, "let's go to the back of the library and meditate," I knew that Whitney's visit had impressed them. 

Possibly the most popular activity of the week was our photography event. I am not sure how I came up with this idea because I found out about it in the fall and had been saving it for TTW. The students found books with heads or hands on the cover and filled themselves in with the rest of the body. It is harder to explain than show you. You can see some examples below. This was so easy and fast, but the kids really got into it. The only drawback was that I had to catch them quick with my camera because they were using their own cameras to grab shots, and I wanted to record each and every book cover for the library. 

On the last day, we played Game of Phones. It was a game I created, and I blogged about it here with detailed instructions. When I tweeted about it, I heard from someone who has created a card game by the same name. Their game is slightly different from mine, but the idea is similar. The kids had a blast with this game, and I am glad it was played on Friday because I needed two days off to recuperate. 

The research riddles that we play is also a TTW tradition. You can find pictures from the day and the riddles all on the library website here

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