Special Edition Literacy Café: Barbara Brauner & James Mattson

Today Roosevelt School hosted their first author visit.  When the librarian at the school approached me about inviting in an author, I immediately thought of authors, Barbara Brauner and James Mattson who have written two books in the Oh My Godmother series - The Glitter Trap and The Magic Mistake.

Barbara and James had never done a solo school event before, but I promised that I would make sure that both they and the students had a great time.

When Barbara and Jim arrived at the school, they were greeted by a sign outside and inside....

Previously, I had arranged for the school to receive 25 copies of The Glitter Trap.  The librarian, Ms. Cristina, held a book club and the students who attended the book club were invited to attend the author visit.

It was important that students have a chance to meet and interact with Barbara and Jim.  So, I met with them over lunch to discuss ideas.  They had made "glitter traps" before and thought that would be a fun activity to do with the students.  Barbara is a masterful shopper and must have a secret stash of glitter glue because she came prepared.

James led groups of students as they designed their own glitter traps on paper.

In another area of the room, Barbara had students working on a creative writing activity where they wrote about finding a magical moped and where it would take them. We provided each student with a blank journal which they used for the writing activity and also to redesign the cover of the book.

Another talent of Barbara that results from her resourceful shopping is amazing swag bags with magic wands, and frogs and bookmarks.  Since we always have a snack or food at a Literacy Café, I provided popcorn.  If you've read the first book, you'll understand the reference.

After the group work, students gathered around with their snacks and asked Jim and Barbara questions.  I loved when they asked if it was hard to deal with the paparazzi.  Yes, authors really are rock stars to kids.

After the question and answer time, we put Jim and Barbara to work signing all of the books.

Students also asked for their journals to be signed by the awesome writing partners. And of course, more questions were asked while in line.

All of the students had an amazing time visiting with our special guests.  And if anyone was wondering, yes, there were actually quite a few boys who participated in the book club and author visit.  They were just as excited about the book and the characters in the story and in meeting Jim and Barbara.

Thank you Barbara and Jim for such a fantastic visit and all of your wonderful goodies.  You are magical.

For more information about Barbara Brauner and James Mattson and their books check out their website: http://braunermattson.com/

Literacy Café: The Harlem Renaissance

Back in January, Angie (parent volunteer extraordinaire) and I were talking about possible themes/topics for Literacy Cafés.  Our conversation went a little like this:

Me: What about doing a Café for 4th and 5th graders on the Harlem Renaissance?

Angie: *Pause of silence*

Me: Really, we can pull this off.

Angie is a former high school social studies teacher.  Even after nearly two years of running Cafés with me, we surprise each other.  She amazes me with how she inspires children to engage in learning, and write amazing poetry.  She also has mad decorating skills that would put Martha Stewart to shame.  My job - to find the books, brainstorm, and help make the magic happen when the kids come in even when the topic might be a bit of a stretch.

(If you want more information on the hows of our Literacy Cafés, check out my article for Scholastic Book Fair's Newsletter - Bringing Books to Life with Literacy Cafés or my post today over at the Nerdy Book Club. )

Once I convinced her that we didn't need to teach them everything there is to know about the Harlem Renaissance - just give them an introduction - we were off and planning.  Our Literacy Café for the Harlem Renaissance was probably one of our biggest endeavors.  There was probably 80 hours of planning time for about 9 hours of instructional time. (Don't worry - most of our cafés do not take this much time to plan.)

First, we decided that instead of using a novel, we would use a variety of picture books to start discussion about this time period.  Second, we realized that the students needed a pre-teach session prior to the actual Literacy Café.  This was something we had never done before but we felt very strongly that they needed some background information on the basics of the Harlem Renaissance and who were some of the key players during that time.  Finally, we decided that for the actual Café, we would focus primarily on the poetry of Langston Hughes, and some of the art and music of the time period.

The Pre-Teach Café:
When I did the pre-teach café, I had a few things I wanted all of the students to walk away with.  What was the Harlem Renaissance?  When did it take place? Why was it important to history? and Who were some of the key individuals of the time period?

Thanks to technology, I was able to bring in audio and video clips that allowed children to hear Langston Hughes or Zora Neale Hurston read and speak about pieces of their work or to listen to the music of some of the greatest jazz musicians or to watch as dancers perform the Lindy Hop.

The Café:
When we did the actual cafe, we decided that we would split the class into two groups.  One group would begin inside with Angie.  They would look at Langston Hughes' poem - Harlem and then do their own writing response to what they could see or feel from the words of the poem.  The other half began outside with me (yes, in Southern California, we can do outdoor teaching in February).  I loaded up my iPod with different songs from Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Bassie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and more.  We had looked at various pieces of art from painters such as Douglas Aaron and Jacob Lawerence and Archibald Motley and Palmer Hayden.  They were to create their own Harlem Renaissance paintings inspired by the music of the time period.  After a designated amount of time, we switched groups.  At the end, we gathered together for a de-brief while we ate red beans and rice, corn bread and lemonade.  (Our school custodian was so excited about what we were doing that he actually made red beans and rice for the kids.)

Aaron Douglas - Jazz Roots

What did we learn:
Angie and I are never content to rest on the success of one lesson.  We did 3 pre-teach sessions that were all different in order to meet the needs of each group of students that came into the café.  This was the same with the actual Cafés.  As teachers, if we pay attention to our students, they will show us what we need to learn to better help them learn.  For example, we realized after the first session that the students needed assistance in focusing on what they were learning in the pre-teach and so Angie created a note-taking sheet to help all the students.  I learned that when children do not have a strong grasp of number lines they often don't have a good understanding of time lines.  Along with that, we have done such a good job of teaching about Slavery and Civil Rights that many of the students think it all flows together without seeing that there were years between one thing and the other. 

We were also struck by how this Café deeply impacted many of our students who were able to celebrate their own culture and history in a way they had never done before. We also learned that it was worth every hour we had invested into the prep time to make this Café a reality. 

I hope that you will consider the possibility of doing your own Café with your students.  For more posts on Literacy Cafés, and some of the books we used, type in Literacy Café into the search bar on this blog.  

Thank you Katherine Applegate

Last Wednesday, we had a special visitor in our Literacy Café, author Katherine Applegate.

 Five special readers were lucky enough to have lunch with Katherine where she shared with them about her first rejection letter, what kinds of notes her editor writes on her manuscripts, and all the books that she has written.  She also brought them each a stuffed silverback Gorilla with a special T-shirt that said "The One and Only Ivan".

After lunch, about 18 students from grades 1 to 5 had the opportunity to come into the Literacy Café for a special writer's workshop.

Katherine shared about her research for The One and Only Ivan.  And she told them all about how she creates her characters, and figures out the setting and the plot.  I loved that she referred to the plot as a "what if..." as in "What if your principal turned into a cat?"

Students had an opportunity to create some of their own characters, and figure out where their story would take place, and decide on their "what if's".  While they were doing this, Katherine came around and chatted with them.

I know that if I had been 10 years old and having lunch with Katherine Applegate or having her give me feedback on my story idea that I would be in some kind of book heaven.  Hey, I am way older than 10 and I was in some kind of book heaven as I watched the students enjoying their time with our very special visitor.

Katherine is truly wonderful and we love Ivan over at my school.  We are also thankful to Kris and Maureen from Once Upon a Time for helping to arrange for the visit and for providing volunteer help and ordering all of the books.  You ladies rock!

Check out the animoto of Katherine's visit and don't forget to order of copy of The One and Only Ivan from your local Independent Bookstore.

Special Edition Literacy Café: Scott Campbell & Zombie in Love

Back in September, I attended the Book Release and Art Exhibit event for Scott Campbell who illustrated Zombie in Love (written by Kelly DiPucchio).  You can read my post here.   While I was at the event, I chatted with Scott about possibly doing a school visit.  Amazingly enough for my school, he agreed.  (Yes, I did a happy dance when I found out.)

Once it was confirmed, I started planning with Angie who runs the Literacy Cafés for the school.  We knew we could do a great Special Edition Café for Zombie In Love and for Scott Campbell.

Angie started planning and creating decorations.

I had one of our students design a welcome sign.

The room was prepared.  Activities were thought out and prepped.

When Scott arrived, we had Rupert Holmes' Escape (The Pina Colada Song) playing in the background.  We asked him to read the story to the students outside on blankets. (It was a perfect fall day.)

When all of the children came in, Scott did some drawings and talked about his artistic process.  He even drew Mortimer and Mildred for us and we added them to the picture of Lucille Beatrice Bear (Yes, Peter Brown - Lucy is even happy to have Zombies for friends.)

After drawing for us, Scott had a chance to observe students as they worked on some writing and drawing activities that centered around the book.

We wrapped up with punch (yes, there was pineapple rings in it) and popcorn.  Every café has to have food.  And then Scott signed books for his new friends.

Thanks Scott for coming out to the school and hanging with us.  We had a blast. 

Check out this animoto of the Literacy Café.

Special Edition Literacy Café: Author Candace Ryan

This past week we hosted picture book author Candace Ryan in a Special Edition of our Literacy Cafés.  As part of the Café, we featured Ryan's picture book Animal House.  To read my review of Animal House, click here.

For the Animal House Café, we ran two multi-age group sessions:  one for kinder to second grade and one for students in grades three to five.  This was a special treat for children who were selected to participate.

Candace arrived with really cool props.  She met with small groups of students to discuss how she created her story and characters, and what it was like going through the publication process.

Students also had a chance to create different elements in making a group Animal House.

In the third group, students talked about creating animal hybrids and worked with partners to create, through drawings, new hybrid animals.

When all of the groups had rotated through the three activities, children had an opportunity to ask Candace questions about her book, writing, working with illustrators, and more.  During this time, children had milk with - yes - animal crackers.

Candace was a great guest in our Literacy Café.  She was wonderful with each group of students and they responded to all of the information she shared with enthusiasm and excitement.  Thank you Candace for such a wonderful visit!

Check out our animoto video:

For more information about Candace Ryan and her books, check out her website: http://www.candaceryanbooks.com/
You can follow her on twitter: @candaceryan
You can folow her on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/people/Candace-Ryan/1185104167