An Author Visit To Remember

Yesterday, Shelley Moore Thomas, author of the Good Night, Good Knight books and the middle grade novel The Seven Tales of Trinket visited our school. It was phe……wait for it….nomenal.

It all started sometime last February. I’m always trying to think ahead when it comes to author visits. Who can I get next year, what about the year after that? Authors are busy people, so it never hurts to book them way ahead of time. My favorite book of 2013 was The Seven Tales of Trinket. I loved the Irish folklore throughout the book, and I really felt like I could relate to Trinket. I loved the book so much that I added Shelley to the list of possible authors for our 2014 Spring visit.It didn’t take long for me to decide that Mrs. Thomas was the perfect fit. Her picture books are adorable and I knew the younger ages would love her. Her novel is terrific, so the older students would get a lot out of her talking about that. She’s a professional storyteller and knows how to captivate a crowd, and she’s a third grade teacher, so she knows how to speak to children. I sent her an email, and we booked a visit for sometime between April 7-11 (California’s Spring Break).

Throughout this school year, since the summer session really, I’ve been pumping the kids up, throwing the Good Night, Good Knight books into my story times (something I would have done anyways) and telling them they would be meeting the author in April. I’ve been selling Trinket to my 4th and 5th graders hard. A lot of the third graders have read it, too. The last few weeks especially, I’ve pushed her books extra hard, with good results.

Things got a little complicated last month when it came time to order books for the students to get signed during the visit. In my experience, I’ve found that it’s very rare for the authors to have copies of their own books on hand to sell and sign. That means that I have to  send home an order form with the students featuring the author’s available books. A few days later, the parents send me the form back with the books they want selected along with the money to pay for them. Then I order the books through our local, independent bookstore. This is always the most difficult part about planning for an author visit, for me at least. During these weeks, there are always order forms and sheets with titles and tally marks strewn about my office. This time it was a little more difficult than usual. I got an email sometime in the middle of our Spring Break from the book seller letting me know that they had made a mistake. One of the books that they had told me was available actually wasn’t. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if we had known before hand. I just wouldn’t have put the title on the students’ order forms, but since I already had, and 35 students had ordered and paid for the the book, we had to figure something out. When we got back to school after the break, I sent a letter home with the 35 kids, giving them two options. They could replace the book with a similarly priced book or they could get a refund check. It was a major headache, but I finally heard back from the parents with mixed responses. (some wanted new books, some wanted a check) It finally all got sorted out right before the visit.

Last week, I had the 3rd and 4th graders (the 5th graders were at a nature camp all week) make welcome posters for the visit. They were all very excited and worked hard. Friday, after school, I hung the posters all over the library, and went to pick up  the books from the local bookseller. Finally, everything was in place. Saint James was ready for Shelly Moore Thomas.

Monday morning arrived, and the weather was terrible. It was flooding all across the county, and there were tornado watches in nearby counties. I knew Mrs. Thomas was from California, and I didn’t know if she had ever experienced a tornado watch or warning, or rain for that matter. (I’m joking, of course) My mind immediately went to the worst case scenario. I pictured the tornado sirens going off during one of her presentations, and us all having to hunker down in the hallways for the rest of the day. Luckily, the severe weather passed and Shelley arrived at Saint James without any trouble. She didn’t seem bothered by the weather at all.

The day started out with a bang. We had 130ish 3-5 year olds crammed into the library, and Shelley brought the house down. There were literally rolling on the floor, laughing. They loved her puppets, her storytelling (She told a hilarious, interactive version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”) and her reading of Good Night, Good Knight. Afterwards, she signed tons of books for the students, and before we could catch or breath, the 1st and 2nd graders were filing in.

This session was similar to the first, but not really. Each one was unique for the age group. She still used her puppets, but instead of Goldilocks she told a very funny version of “Fin M’coul: The Giant of Knockmany Hill.” I usually read this story to the older kids, but not the 1st and 2nd graders, so they got to hear it for the first time from a much better storyteller than myself. She then read her book Take Care, Good Knight, took questions from the audience, and then allowed her herself to be mobbed by eager students wanting their books signed.

We took a break after that for lunch, and returned just in time for next session, a mixture of the third, fourth and 5th graders. For this session, Shelly shared some of her 2nd grade writing and artwork. talked about writing and finding inspiration, and then told a haunting version of “The Stolen Child”, an Irish tale about fairy kidnappers. She then talked about how she used folklore and mixed it into The Seven Tales of Trinket and still and made it her own. After thatm took questions and signed for the students.The mood for this session was different, a little more mature for older children, and they loved it as well.

The last session was for 4th and 5th graders, and one third grade class.It was much like the session before, but a little different. Shelley told “The Woman Who Flummoxed the Fairies” for this group. The students had all heard me read the book before, but you couldn’t tell at all. Shelley’s version was so unique and interactive, they all acted like they had never heard it before.

When the last session was over, and Saint James had to say goodbye to Shelly Moore Thomas, I sat down in the empty library. I knew that for me, the day was a huge success. Every single child seemed incredible happy. Usually, at this point, I breathe a sigh of relief, glad that the day is finished, but it wasn’t like that. I was sad to see it go. It had been so much fun, and I wish that every day could be like that.

We had a faculty meeting after school, the teachers all raved about Mrs. Thomas and how awesome she was. They all agreed that it was the best author visit they had ever witnessed, and I agree. I’ve met several authors, and heard them speak to children, but Shelley Moore Thomas did it like no one I’ve ever heard before. She’s a wonderful mixed concoction of author, storyteller, teacher, and avid reader, and she was exactly what I wanted for our students.






My 45 minute crisis

I shouldn’t be allowed to deal with numbers before noon. This morning, at about 7:30, I had a major life-changing crisis for about 45 minutes. I got to school, put my lunch in the fridge, put my stuff down, and logged into my computer, and pulled up the circulation system. I got a notification that the circ system subscription was due for renewal. “No problem.” I said to myself. “I’m careful with the library budget, and I have plenty of money left for the year.” I pulled out last year’s budget, and looked to see how much it was going to cost me. I found the entry for the subscription renewal, and ran my finger over to the dollar amount. My eyes almost bugged out of my head when I saw that it was going to be several thousands of dollars. I remembered renewing my subscription last year, but I didn’t remember it being that much. The numbers were right in front of me,though, and numbers don’t lie. I pulled out this years budget, and saw that my fears were correct. I didn’t have enough money left to cover the renewal.

1,000 things hit me at once. First, I started panicking. How did this happen? Did I just not pay close enough attention?  Would I have to cancel the author visit that I’ve already announced? How embarrassing would it be for me to have to explain why she wasn’t coming? “You see guys, I’m just not very good at math. I didn’t know I didn’t have any money left.” I would hate canceling the visit. I’m so excited about her coming, but even that wouldn’t work. The author has already booked her flight, and probably her hotel as well. The visit is in 3 weeks. I wouldn’t be able to have my usual end of the year pizza party for the class that read the most. I wouldn’t be able to purchase prizes for summer reading like I did last year. Of course, I thought of all the books that were coming out soon that I wouldn’t be able to buy. I thought about having an impromptu spring book fair, but even that wouldn’t raise enough money to pay for the subscription renewal, the author visit, and the things I have to pay for the rest of this year.

It finally sunk in, that there was no way I was going to be able to make the ends meet. I was just going to have to explain what happened, and I would probably be fired. I love this job, and that would have been sad, but I didn’t know how I was going to get another job when I explained that I couldn’t handle something as simple as a library budget. (It’s not really that hard. Just don’t spend more than you have.) I was having some kind of panic attack, and I didn’t know what to do. (My heart rate just sped up thinking about it) Students started coming into the library asking for my recommendations, and I tried to put all of my worries aside to help them, but I’m afraid I was very distracted.

Finally, the morning wave of students all checked their books out, and I collapsed into my seat. I sighed, and pulled the budget back out to see if there was anything I could do. I was pretty hopeless, at this point, but there had to be something I could do. I pulled last year’s budget back out, and found the subscription renewal. I traced my finger back over to the dollar amount, and started laughed hysterically. Before, I had been looking at the amount remaining in the budget instead of the amount that I had subtracted from it. That meant that instead of several thousand of dollars, the subscription renewal was going to cost several hundred. Which I could definitely cover.

I don’t know the last time I felt that relieved for something work related. I was going to be able to keep my job. I was going to still have the author visit. I wouldn’t have to do a spring book fair, and maybe most importantly, I still had money to buy new books with. Sheesh. Like I said, I shouldn’t be allowed to deal with numbers before noon. I can accidentally work myself into a frenzy over nothing.

Starting the Day off With a Bang

This morning, I got just what I needed.

I started the day off irritated and grumpy. Yesterday, class pictures were in the library, and it was kind of annoying. I had to move my morning classes around, and no one came to get the risers (they’re like mini bleachers without the mini part) out of the library, so I spent the rest of the day trying to keep students off of them. When I got to school this morning, and saw that the risers were still in the library, I wasn’t happy.

I immediately, got all huffy and walked off at a brisk pace to find someone to complain to. I saw the principal outside greeting K3 and K4 parents, and continued  through, what I thought was an open door,  to let him know that  I wasn’t happy about the risers.

Well, it wasn’t an open door. It was a very tall, very clean window, next to the open door. I thought it was the left side of a set of double doors, and someone was coming in the right side, so I stepped around them and tried to walk through the glass.

Like I said, I was walking at an angry, brisk pace, and I hit the glass head on with a very loud BANG. There were several teachers hanging around. A couple of them laughed, more of them ran over to me to check to see if I was OK. (Some did both actually.) I paused and collected myself, then hurried through the open door (it really WAS a door this time) to tell the principal about the risers, and ask that someone come get them. All my fire was gone, and I hurried back through the giggling teachers to hide in the library.

A few of the teachers who had been laughing came to me and apologized for laughing. Really they had nothing to apologize for. I would have had a hard time not laughing at an angry librarian speed-walking into a window. I told them that, and told them that you really couldn’t take yourself too seriously. They told me that the exact same thing had happened to a grandfather just a few weeks ago, so to not feel bad. But I did feel bad, even though I was trying to laugh about it. I felt foolish. I mean, who walks into a window? I don’t see it happen that often.

I tried to push the incident into the back of my mind, and got on with planning for my day. I was going to read  Pete The Cat I Love My White Shoes to the k3 students. Every time I read that book, I listen to Eric Litwin performing it first, so I don’t forget the tune of the singing part in the middle of the story. As I was checking books in, I hummed the song to myself, not really thinking about what I was listening to, just trying to keep the tune fresh. But then Eric Litwin read the closing line, and it changed my perspective on my day.

“The moral of Pete’s story is: No matter what you step in, keep walking along and singing your song…..because it’s all good.”

I talk about kid’s books being for adults too all the time, but I don’t think I could have gotten a clearer, better message for me at that moment anywhere else. It was perfect. I had stories to read today, songs to sing, and a bump on the head (and a small headache that’s still there at the moment) or some dumb risers that someone forgot to move wasn’t going to put me in a bad mood. I have a great job. I just need to get over myself every once in a while.

After thinking about Pete, and his shoes, I laughed at myself for real. For getting so worked up over the risers, for not looking where I was going, and for being so embarrassed about it. Maybe it doesn’t happen to everyone every day, but it’s still hilarious.

My first class started filing into the library, and we had a great storytime. While I was reading, someone came and got the risers. I tried to give him a wink in thanks, but I don’t think he saw it. I’m not a great winker anyways.


When you’re just plain wrong.

A few days ago, there was a student checking a book out. I noticed that he had a book about the U.S. Marines on his record that hadn’t been returned and it had been a few weeks, so I asked him about it.

“I turned that in!” he swore. “I know I did. Didn’t I?” he asked turning to his classmate behind him who just shrugged his shoulders.

We walked over to the military section, and looked for it to no avail.

I asked him to keep on looking for it, and promised that I would too.

” I turned it in. I’m sure I did,” he insisted.

“Just keep looking for it,” I replied.

“Mr. Martin, when you find it, I’m going to laugh so hard.”

“We’ll see.”

Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t just check the book in since he was so insistent that he had turned it in, but you have to realize, I have this exact same conversation with many different students several times a week. The student is ALWAYS sure that he or she turned the book in, and later, sometimes even months later, the book shows up in their classroom, bedroom, or in a classmate’s desk. But 90% of the time, the book shows back up.

Well, when I had some free time, I decided to do a more thorough search for the  book. The book could have been shelved without being checked in, and my high school shelvers don’t always put books back exactly where they go. Sure enough, after a few minutes of searching, I found the missing book wedged in between some books about the Titanic, about four shelves down from where it was supposed to be.

I had a dilemma to solve now. With any other kid, I would have just let them know that I found the book, and apologized for the mix up. That wasn’t going to work for me with this kid. He had already told me he was going to rub it in, and believe me, this kid definitely would have. He would have rubbed in in for week every time he saw me, in front of his classmates. Maybe I’m evil, but that just wasn’t going to work for me.

Instead, I recruited one of his classmates to slip the book back into his desk when he wasn’t looking. She was very excited about completing this “Super secret spy mission” which is how I described the task to her, and she was marvelous. About 45 minutes later, the boy slunk into the library with the Marines book.

“I found the book,” he mumbled.

“What was that?” I asked.

“I found the book”  He replied.”It was in my desk.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. I thought I checked there. I guess I didn’t look good enough.”

The look on his face was priceless, like someone had force-fed him sour lemons. I couldn’t contain it any more. I erupted with laughter, and confessed everything.

Surprisingly, he wasn’t that concerned with rubbing my mistake in. He was more surprised that he had been tricked.

“You tricked me?!”

I grinned. “Yup.”

“I can’t believe it! Nobody tricks me!”

I heard him in the hallway on the way back to his classroom. “Mr. Martin tricked me!”

I smiled, glad that I had changed the narrative from a triumphant”I was right and Mr. Martin was wrong!” to a “Can you believe it? Mr. Martin tricked me!”

A Frozen Frenzy

Every morning, when school first starts, before I start having my regular library classes, while a few kids are returning their finished or abandoned books and choosing some new ones, I play some kind of music in the library. Most of the time it’s classical (If it’s raining, a lot of the time I’ll play Billie Holliday as a tribute to Navigating Early, but no one gets it except for the one 4th grader who has read it this year. It’s her favorite book now, though!) Yesterday, however, I shrugged my shoulders and thought Why not? Let’s give the kids what they really want. I went to YouTube, cranked up the volume on my computer and blasted out the Frozen soundtrack. At first, nothing changed. Four or five students came to return their books and browse, but once they recognized the music (which didn’t take long at all) the girls all jumped up and down and screamed like One Direction had just stopped by the library to say hello. They all checked out their new books and hurried back to class like usual. I thought to myself I just made their day, didn’t I?

Well, word spreads quickly in a private elementary school. Next thing I know, I had about fifteen 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade girls running into the library. They had to act like they were browsing the books, as an excuse to be there, but really they were just listening to the music. I was really glad that they were so excited about something that was so easy for me to provide, but it left me with a problem. I had 6 classes coming into the library yesterday, and I didn’t have lesson plans made for any of the classes. Tuesday mornings are usually pretty slow and I always have time to make those plans. The morning wasn’t shaping up to be that way, though. More and more girls kept coming into the library, and pretty soon boys were coming in too, just to just to mock the girls,and their excitement.

I gave it some time, but it became pretty apparent that I wasn’t going to get any planning done, so I cut the Frozen music, and put on some Mozart. The girls gave a collective “Awwwww!” and slowly returned to class.

I felt kind of bad for cutting the music off, so I searched for new Frozen books, and saw that a few more had come out since my last book order, so I purchased those books to ease my guilt a little.

In a few years, I’m sure that I’ll be weeding, and I’ll wonder Why did I ever order so many Frozen and Minecraft books? Well, future self, right now those books don’t ever make it off of the hold shelf and onto the regular books shelf. For the present, they are wise purchases. 2014 kids love Minecraft and Frozen.

What happened to the Battle for the Beard?

I know, I know. I haven’t blogged in quite a while. Things have been pretty busy, but that’s not a good excuse. The main reason is that the Battle for the Beard has slowed waaaaay down. Our main contender, doesn’t seem that interested in beating me. He simply isn’t taking that many AR tests on the books that he’s been reading. He’s taking just enough to make his goals. This makes me really happy, because he hasn’t stopped reading by any means. If anything, he’s reading more, and would rather keep reading during the time that he could be taking the tests. (I’ve offered him library time to take some tests, and he politely declined, and put his nose back in his book.) This also gives me more room to read some new books that don’t have AR tests yet. At some point, he could decide that he wants to take tests on all the books that he’s been devouring, and catch up to me (probably pass me) really quickly, but at the moment I have about a 100 point lead on him, and over 400 points on everyone else.

Like I said, all of this thrills me. I don’t like AR. Not even a little bit, and the fact that my top readers don’t care about it at all, and read because they want to, not because of some dumb contest, or for dumb points and prizes, suits me just fine. Reading is its own reward. It doesn’t make for good blogging though, at least not about the Battle for the Beard. I might just have to find new things to blog about.

Battle for Beard Update- Christmas Edition

In 3 and 1/2 days, we will be finished with the first semester, and the Battle for the Beard will be halfway over. Last year, I was racing a student who would go on to break the school record for AR points. At the Christmas break she had 566 points. Our school leader right now has 786.5.That’s 4 more points than I have. If the contest ended today, I would be going beardless. The student even sent me a Christmas gift, cookies he baked himself, with a little note, taunting me. Merry Christmas, everyone!Image

Battle for the Beard: The Week After Thanksgiving

I was able to get a little bit of reading done over the Thanksgiving break, but apparently, my 4th grade adversary read even more. He returned the entire Hunger Games series this morning, having read all three over the week off. The race is now closer then ever. As I’m typing this, I have a ONE POINT lead. That’s the equivalent of two picture books. 

Here is how the race is going: (the top 5)

Me: 695.6 points

4th grade boy: 694.5 points

5th grade girl: 413.2 points

3rd Grade Girl: 256.3 points

4th grade boy: 230.1 points

I would also like to mention a 2nd grade girl who currently has 120 points. This is a phenomenal feat. Most 2nd graders are lucky to get to 50 points by the end of the year. This girl has over 100 three weeks before Christmas. I’m very proud of her and of the amount of books she has devoured.

Battle for the Beard (quick update)

I haven’t updated about this is a while, but there hasn’t really been much to say. The main competitor, the hope of the entire student population, quit taking his AR tests. I was confused about his sudden drop off in points. He was still reading lots of books, but he simply wasn’t taking the tests. I asked him about it, and he just shrugged and said that he was really busy with classwork. Before too long, I was over 100 points ahead, and I thought that the contest was pretty much over.

Well, I’m in the middle of the annual book fair right now, so the Battle for the Beard was the last thing on my mind until a friend asked me about it last night.  I checked this morning, and not only was I no longer 100 points ahead, but the race is very, very close . I guess someone finally sat down and took tests for all of the books he has been reading. I now have 643 points and my 4th grade nemesis has 639. As soon as I saw that I sat down and read a few pages in between book fair customers. The battle is back on!

PS. In case some of you didn’t see it, the Battle for the Beard got some local publicity. You can read the article here.

Small Victories

Every day, at the end of every class (1st through 5th grade) I take the students upstairs  to our “reading area” for 10-15 minutes of quiet reading. I usually take a book too, and act like I’m reading it, to set a good example, and because it’s a good opportunity for me to read, but the truth is that I rarely get more than a page or two read. I’m usually too busy getting on to the few kids who are trying very hard to disturb everyone else. 

Today, at the end of a 4th grade class, I started reading like usual, and got really into my book. Before I knew it, I had finished the chapter. I froze. I never get to read a whole chapter during class. Something was very wrong. I quickly scanned the class to find out who was being sneaky, and causing trouble while I was distracted. What I saw amazed me.

The whole class, all nineteen 4th graders, were engaged in their books. The kids who love reading, the kids who struggle with it, the calm kids, the hyper-active kids, ALL of them, every single one, were sitting on their rugs and beanbags, and quietly reading their books.

When I came up with the quiet reading time idea a year and a half ago, this was the picture I had in my head. Students across the room quietly devouring the books they had just checked out, oblivious to the world outside of their book. Up until today, it hasn’t really worked out that way. There’s always one or two students crawling around putting boogers on their classmates, or fighting over a certain rug or beanbag, or untying a classmate’s shoes. It’s really just kids being kids, and I’ve accepted that. I do the best I can to keep it quiet so the kids who want to read can, but I also don’t get insanely furious when kids can’t sit still. I have a toddler. I understand kids not being able to sit still. 

But today! Glorious, beautiful today, I had nineteen kids all sitting down reading their books, lost in them, to such an extent, that I actually got to read my book too. It was beautiful. It might not ever happen again, but I wanted to mention and celebrate the fact that it did.