The Familiars (well the authors) visit San Rafael School

On Monday, September 26th, 150 third to fifth graders at my school had a special treat. Andrew Jacobson and Adam Jay Epstein, co-authors of The Familiars series, came to visit.  They shared some fun videos they had created to promote their books and told about how they created the series.

The Familiars 2 is now available for sale.
There was some impromptu acting going on.

Some questions and answers.

And even books being signed and many happy fans.

Thank you Andrew and Adam for sharing with my students and getting them all excited about reading. 

Special Edition Literacy Café: Author Visit with Danika Dinsmore

As our Literacy Café has been growing, we have been offering up some specials on the menu.  For our latest Café Special, we hosted author Danika Dinsmore for a Creative Writing Workshop around World Building.  Danika is the author of Brigitta and I will be posting a review of her Middle Grade Fantasy novel, Brigitta of the White Forest shortly. 

On Tuesday, students welcomed Danika to the Cafe and learned about her book.  After an initial introduction, Danika creatively read several pages from her book to draw the children in and to set the stage for learning about World Building.

Danika has a very energetic and creative reading style.  She nearly acted out all of the scenes.  After she read the passage, she asked the children questions about what they had discovered about Brigitta and her sister.  Children learned that one important thing in writing is to show rather than tell.

When she talked about world building, she began to help students understand where you can start and what are critical things to remember when building your world.  First she helped them understand three different kinds of worlds:
Children then had to decide whether the world they were creating for their books was imaginary, an alternate reality, or a portal to another world. She set them the task of working as partners or table groups to share their ideas.  With heads together, students excitedly chatted about their ideas.  So much so that at times it was hard to bring them back.  How cool that a topic being discussed is so excited that they wanted to keep going.

After the children had created their worlds, they learned about about creating their characters. Would their characters be human?  Human with powers? Or completely made up?  Each table group had a challenge to create a new creature by combining to other creatures.  So what would you call a snake/eagle?  Or a scorpion/giraffe? 

Students also had a chance to see Danika's special notebook.  One of the pictures she showed students were her sketches for the wings of her faeries.  She encouraged them to keep their own notebooks of ideas, and sketches.

Danika's brought along a special Felt Faery that she had made in a workshop.  

Thanks Danika for visiting our school and providing students with such great information about writing.  Students generated such amazing ideas about their world and main character and what would happen in their stories.  I am certain we have some budding writers in this group and your visit will be something they remember for a long time.

Author Visit: James Burks

On Friday, March 11th, we had a very special visitor at our school.  Illustrator turned author, James Burks stopped by to chat and have some fun.

First Up: Lunch with Read-a-thon Winners -
The prize for the top four readers in our first annual Read-a-Thon was to have lunch with James.  We started off with a Gator Pizza (pepperoni) and a Gabby Pizza (Veggies) and a cheese pizza just in case.  Around the table, students asked James lots of questions about how he came up with the idea for Gabby and Gator.  And of course, why does Gator like to eat dogs.
James gave us all kinds of secrets at lunch.  I had to sit on my hands so as not to grab my camera and take pictures of things I can't post yet.  The students were so excited.  They got to see a book trailer James made that won't be out until September, and a sneak peak at his new graphic novel to be released in 2012, and he even flipped through his journal.  He then showed the girls how to draw Gabby & Gator.  There is some surprising talent in this group.
Next Up: Special Edition Literacy Café:
After lunch, we invited a group of students to participate in a modified Literacy Café.  We rotated groups of students through 3 activities.

One activity was centered around No Name Calling and how to respond when you are bullied (one of the themes in Gabby & Gator is around bullying and standing up to a bully).  Children created their own comic strips talking about how to respond to a bully.  They also made Gator bookmarks saying "My name is _______. Not _______." They filled in the last blank with a name that they had been called in the past.  (In the book, Gabby says to the bully "My name is Gabby. Not Freak.").

In the book, Gabby is very pro recycling and loves playing the Tuba.  Gator enjoys dancing with her.  Our Café participants made musical instruments out of recycled materials.  Gabby would be proud.

Of course, the students loved learning about how James' creates his characters and were mesmerized by watching James draw.

No author visit would be complete without an opportunity to get a book signed by the author/illustrator.  James was kind enough to sign books for students and draw in each book.

If you want to know more about James Burks and his art and books, check out his website here.  You can find James on twitter: @jamesburksart and on Facebook:!/james.burks

I leave you with a fun little video from our event:

Grandma's Pear Tree Part 2: The Author Visit

On Thursday, February 3, 2011, Suzanne Santillan made the trek up from San Diego to come visit students in Pasadena.  Santillan is the author of Grandma's Pear Tree a bilingual picture book that tells the story of what happens when a young boy gets his soccer ball stuck in his Grandmother's pear tree.

In preparation for Suzanne's visit, the children were exposed to the book not only through read alouds but also through a Literacy Café.  For more information about the Café, click here.  However, there was one thing that we didn't tell the Kindergartners to Second Graders about the book and that was the ending.  When reading the story, we held back the ending to build suspense and to allow Suzanne to reveal it when she came.

During her visit, she read the book aloud with young assistants and the help of props.  The children were very excited to finally discover how the book ends. 

Children had an opportunity to ask her some of their burning questions. 

And she even shared what inspired her to write the book Grandma's Pear Tree. 

 At one point, she had the children working together to explain the concept of teamwork and helping one another problem-solve - just like in the book.

We were so thankful that Suzanne was willing to come up and visit and share about how she writes books, and her ideas for new stories, and that just like students who have to edit their writing, so do authors have to revise their stories.  

Thanks Suzanne and we look forward to your next book!  Come back and visit us anytime!!