Don Tate Comes to Robinson!

I LOVE when I get to use that title.  It’s usually the same one I use for every author visit. Ok, I should be more inventive, but hey, that’s what happened, right?

Anyhow, Robinson (and especially Rm. 202) LOVES their authors, but this one seemed extra special.  Most of the authors we’ve hosted have been amazing, but most of them have also been women (yes, I’m talking about you Mary Casanova, Deborah Hopkinson, Kate Klise, Betty Birney and Lisa Campbell Ernst!). Oh, ok–we have had a male visit us before, and although not an author, Mr. Schu was equally amazing.  But this time our new author friend was an African-American male!

We’ve been learning so much about diverse literature this year and have made many new friends (both in text and real life).

I already told you a little about how we were introduced to Don Tate when we visited the library.  We also spent several weeks reading (and loving) his books and admiring his illustrations.  The other day we even tried our own hands at art like Bill Traylor in It Jes’ Happened (which we learned today was his FIRST BOOK!  Man–what a great way to start your career!  This book won awards!!).


After we read the book, we collected the information we’d learned about Bill from the story:


Then we decided to do the same thing!


First we made our way to the recycling station to find some discarded things on which to paint.

We found our canvases, got our paint (only blue, red, yellow and brown!) and got busy sharing things we had kept deep inside (which was a line from the story).

We ended up with some quite fantastic masterpieces!

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If you want to see what some of us said about this experience, check out our blogs here.

Ok, so the day finally came and this was us:

We headed down to the library to FINALLY meet our new friend and learn some amazing things about being an author and illustrator.  He talked to us about being gritty and not quitting, about how everyone has their own special talent, about how to make masterpieces out of your mistakes and also how it TAKES A YEAR TO MAKE A BOOK! You better believe I’ll mention that the next time a first grader tells me that they’re done after 10 minutes! LOL  I went live several times during the visit and the easiest way to share that is through this link to our Periscope channel.  It’s totally worth a few minutes to click on that link!

He talked, he listened, he answered our questions, and he DREW FOR US!!

We listened, we laughed, we learned and then…

Thanks for your time, your books, and your inspiration Don Tate!


Don Tate is Coming!!

We have a love of diverse books in Rm. 202 (thanks to some book gifts from our district, some great blog posts I’ve read this past year and thanks to Eyeseeme and their amazing bookstore FULL of books with diverse and powerful characters), and so we were DELIGHTED to hear about how Don Tate is coming to visit our school at the end of the month!

As with most of our visiting authors, Mrs. Meihaus works hard with teachers and kids to get us familiar with the author’s (and in this case illustrator’s) work beforehand so we have something to base our new learning upon.  We can also really raise the level of excitement and anticipation as they day draws near and help kiddos think of what they might want to talk to our visitor about when they are here.

We gathered in the library classroom and Mrs. Meihaus introduced us to our new friend, Don Tate.


She started with a short bio, and showed us some of his books.

While he has written several books, he is mainly know as an illustrator.  Our next step was to learn more about how he tackles his images.  We uses primarily paint, and we learned more about the differences in how illustrations look when he uses watercolors versus acrylic paints.  He also has some images that include pen and ink on top of those colors.  We took a look at many of his books with our partners and tried to identify how they were similar to each other.

What’s great is that this was easier work for us because we’ve been working on “getting to know” authors and illustrators all year with our #classroombookaday challenge.  I LOVE that my kiddos can see a book and name who wrote it or drew the pictures just by sight.  I love that they can name and appreciate the people who took such time and energy to create the amazing texts we read and enjoy.  They had great ideas about what they saw that was the same in different images and could name the medium he had used to create them!  Great job, Rm. 202 kiddos!

Before we left, she read one of the books I’d been wanting to share with the class anyway–Ron’s Big Mission— and we loved it.  What an inspiration to hear about a little boy who did whatever it took to get a library card, and what a tragedy that in AMERICA he was not able to get one.  I think it’s important to tell his story.  Reading took him so far in his life!


Mrs. Meihaus shared many titles with us, and while I’d LOVE to read them all, there are LOADS of other books in our to-be-read pile that we want to get to, as well.  Here’s the plan for the ones we’ll share this week and next in preparation for his visit (and just because they’re GREAT BOOKS!):

We are excited to meet our new illustrator friend in person and talk with him about how he does his great work!  Stay tuned for more of the story after he visits us on January 31st. 🙂

The Greatest Star on Earth: Kate Klise

I love introducing kiddos to authors.  Whether it’s via Twitter, a new book or an actual author visit, helping students connect with the “real” people who write the stories or information they love is a great treat.  Perhaps the best part is how special and important they feel when we send a question or comment to a writer and they answer.  Ralph Fletcher is particularly special to my class as we have read both Marshfield Dreams and Fig Pudding by him this year (and he responds to all of our tweets!), but my students have also personally connected with Lisa Campbell Ernst, Maribeth Boelts, Marla Frazee (who I just realized illustrated Clementine!), Mary Casanova, Betty Birney, and also Kate Klise (who was just at our school this week!).  The way they feel so special and important when an adult responds to their words is pretty priceless and immeasurably motivating. The way these writers have both encouraged and inspired my students to some of their best work is pretty amazing. 🙂

So when I heard that we were having an author visit shortly after Winter Break I was really excited….but then I heard the name of the author and thought how completely strange it was that I had never heard of her; I pride myself on being up on books, writers, reading and things of that nature (by the way, Twitter has been HUGE in helping me with this–you should totally check it out!).  Luckily this was not a problem, because our amazing librarian, Mrs. Meihaus, works hard to introduce us to the writer and their books so that when they do come, we’ll be ready. 🙂

Our class read just a couple of her picture books (and since then I’ve found out she has written over 25 others!), and found that we really enjoyed her writing voice, as well as Sarah Klise’s (her sister is her illustrator) pictures.  We tried out Shall I Knit You a Hat? and Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother of Earth, and when she was here she read us Grammy Lamby and the Secret Handshake.

Once she got here, we were all abuzz, excited to hear what she would tell us about herself and teach us about writing.  A couple of friends took their Writers’ Notebooks to be sure to catch Ms. Klise’s smart words.

Basically, her presentation was a workshop where she taught us (2nd and 3rd grades) the necessary elements for writing a good story.  She told funny stories, made us laugh, and most importantly got us involved in the show.  We hung on her every word!

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And, because authors are rockstars in our world, we had to take a minute for a photo opp!  Thanks SO MUCH, Kate Klise, for taking time out to spend the morning with 2nd graders who are working to grow as writers and share their stories with the world!



The World According to Betty Birney

One thing our school does really well is support readers and writers.  One way that happens is by inviting “real” authors to come and share their journeys with us.  They share their love of words and we are inspired to do the same. 🙂 (Remember when Lisa Campbell Ernst came a couple of years ago,  or Mary Casanova last year?? Amazing, I tell you. 🙂 ).

Well, last Friday we were treated with a last-minute visit from Betty Birney, courtesy of a fabulous indie bookstore near us called The Novel Neighbor.  Once we found out that she was coming, I had to find out if I could make a connection.  So of course I checked her out on Twitter.  And yes, I found her!

Screenshot 2015-10-12 21.27.58I love that there is a way to “meet” people before you meet them, connect in meaningful ways and help kids see what “real” authors do.  And yes, I only say “real” like that because kids do.  All of my students are authors, but to them you’re not a “real” one unless you’ve actually published a book.  You know, it’s how you think when you’re a kid.  Well, ok, I’ll be honest….some adults think that way, too.  But nope, I’ll teach you–if you write, you’re a writer.  If you write things, you’re an author.  There.  Now you know. 🙂

Anyhow, Betty showed up and gave us a FABULOUS presentation of her journey as a writer, showed us some great pictures (like of her writing house where she works–I mean, what??  A little blue house in the backyard for your office?  I’m a little jealous.  That sounds like a dream. 🙂 ), and told us some incredible stories.  Like how her first writing job was for hot dog advertisements (or hot dog buns or something like that, but food….), and how she worked for Disney.  Um, yeah, you heard me–Disney (you’ve heard how I am kind of obsessed with it, right??) .  Like she wrote promotional posters for the opening of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and got to spend a whole day just riding the roller coaster over and over and over.  She wrote for a little TV show you may have heard of called Winnie the Pooh (wrote lots of books of Pooh, too!), and got has written loads of other things, too.

I don’t have a picture of it, but one of my favorite things of this author visit was that all of my writers brought their Writers’ Notebooks with them so they could capture anything inspiring and brilliant that Betty said.  And because “real” writers take their notebooks with them everywhere!

Oh, and did you see in those tweets that we planned for pictures?  Of course, because that’s what bloggers do!


First me. And yeah, I know–I look crazy excited. Guess because I was. Kind of like I was with a celebrity. I wouldn’t mind having her job. 🙂

And then it was everyone’s turn:


I know you can’t hear them, but when we were taking the picture, we were saying, “We love Betty Birney!”  What a great morning. 🙂

Mary Casanova–An Utterly AWESOME Author Visit!

I really couldn’t decide if I should use that title or Mary Casanova–She’s SOME Author, but either way, we were super lucky to have some time with author Mary Casanova last week.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 9.31.16 PM(picture from

I don’t know how I hadn’t heard of her before recently, she’s written over 30 books, and have been nominated for many awards–including Show-Me Reader Awards right here in MO!  Some of our favorites of hers that you might know (and that inspired the post titles) are:

We’ve had many other awesome authors and poets visit Robinson over the 15 years I’ve been here, like Lisa Campbell Ernst (she’s actually been here twice in my tenure!), Douglas Florian, Kristen O’Connell George, John Reynolds Gardiner and Eric Kimmel to name a few.  There really is nothing better than listening to a real, published author talk about what they do and how they feed their soul (and their writer’s notebooks!) so they have things to write about.  If you’ve been around here for even a little bit, it’s no secret that I would love to be included in that list of names someday.

Before she came, our fabulous librarian helped us share her books with our kiddos, and she did a little author study about Mary’s life and home in Minnesota.  They even made a bulletin board to welcome her, with a canoe filled with at least a hundred animals you would find living near her home in the North:

CAM01708When she came, she did such a GREAT job of keeping our kids engaged and learning, including them in her presentation by having them do voices and parts of the books she read to us.  As she read a favorite, Some Dog, to us, the boys played George (loyal basset hound), and the girls played the part of Zippity (energetic new addition to the family):

You could definitely tell that Ms. Casanova has experience speaking with young audiences by the level of engagement in the room.  I had to take a picture at one point that probably says it all.  She had them on the edge of their seats (er..carpet spots):

CAM01771Besides reading some of her books, she told us about where she lives in Minnesota, and gave lots of great advice about being a writer.  She said something that I’ve heard most every author say, but that is super hard to get kids to believe sometimes: the best ideas for stories come from your life and what’s going on around you.  She told us about how most of her stories were based on things that had happened to her, people (or animals) that she knows, experiences she’s had, things she’d wondered or thought about.  Somehow, though, I find myself trying to convince a roomful of kid writers every year that the stories you share don’t have to be epic, grand or splashy–they just have to matter to you.  What you ate for breakfast, the scene you saw outside your bus window on the way to school or something funny that your brother did to you last night can all be the basis for a great piece of writing.  Someday they’ll believe me, right?  Help me continue to spread the message, will you?  Oh, and help me remind them that the way to be a better writer is to write. 🙂

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Then lastly, as if she hadn’t already been great enough, she had one more piece of amazingness up her sleeve: she let us act out One-Dog Canoe with puppets, an oar and a giant canoe she had brought with her!  What fun!  The best part?  Our friend Landen got to play the bear!  He rocked it, let me tell ya. 🙂

CAM01776 CAM01778   CAM01781 CAM01782Wow!  What a great way to spend a Thursday morning–entertained and inspired by a REAL LIVE WRITER!  Thanks, Mary Casanova for taking time with us.  Rm. 202 friends LOVED IT!! 🙂

Lisa Campbell Ernst Visits Robinson!

Remember how I told you that this last week was CRAZY BUSY and full of great opportunities?!  Here’s another: we had an amazing author (who is from MO, which we love!) visit us on Wednesday–Lisa Campbell Ernst!

This was extra exciting for me, because she was the featured author the first year I was at Robinson.  As a new teacher, I was unfamiliar with her work, but because of that visit (and since then), I’ve become a big fan! She’s had a special author box in our class library for years now, too.  She’s one of my favorites. 🙂

So when I heard she was coming, I was over the moon!  My kids hadn’t really heard of her yet, so Mrs. Meihaus (our FABULOUS librarian) helped us get to know her a little better with a short bio lesson, and by finding us piles and piles of her books to read (she’s published over 30!).  We particularly enjoyed:

We loved this twist on the original!

We loved this twist on the original!

This is the first L.C.E. book I ever heard and is now one of my all-time favorite books!  5th graders love it, too!

This is the first L.C.E. book I ever heard and is now one of my all-time favorite books! 5th graders love it, too!

Another twist on a beloved fairytale: what would happen if Goldilocks came back to the scene of the crime, 50 years later?

Another twist on a beloved fairytale: what would happen if Goldilocks came back to the scene of the crime, 50 years later?


This one is nominated for the MO Show-Me Reader Award (which primary students vote for), but big kids love it, too! While they weren't intentional, we saw many connections to Disney's Up.

This one is nominated for the MO Show-Me Reader Award (which primary students vote for), but big kids love it, too! While they weren’t intentional, we saw many connections to Disney’s Up.

We were ready for her, and February 27th was the big day–the big day that almost didn’t happen because of a blizzard in Kansas City the day before.  Luckily she made it here and was ready to present to us!


See that fox? It’s the villain from The Gingerbread Girl and she was showing us how to draw him! She even made one for our school to keep! It’s on display by the library now. 🙂

Some of the best parts were the stories she told about how she decides on the ideas for her books.

Some of the best parts were the stories she told about how she decides on the ideas for her books.

Pictures of actual candy to help with drawing the Gingerbread Girl's candy body

Pictures of actual candy to help with drawing the Gingerbread Girl’s candy body


And drawing a Gingerbread Girl is harder than you think!

We really enjoyed listening to hear talk about her process as a writer.  She showed pictures of her studio, too, which was also loved (and wanted to actually see the inside of in person!).  There was a lot of time left at the end for questions, and many of ours were answered.  Most wanted to know where she gets her ideas, how long it takes to write a book and how she got started as an author (and answer is that she used to be a graphic designer, which led her to illustrations, which led her to writing–something she’d loved doing since she was a little girl!).

Once the presentation was over, and everyone else left, we found ourselves the last ones in the library and could not pass up a photo opportunity!

Say cheese!

Say cheese!


And I couldn’t either, when we ate lunch together later that day:

Gotta love being in the same room with a mentor author that you love! What great a conversation I got to share!  It's amazing how much you can learn in 20 minutes!

Gotta love being in the same room with a mentor author that you love! What great a conversation I got to share! It’s amazing how much you can learn in 20 minutes!

Oh, and one more thing I couldn’t pass up was asking Lisa if she’d be willing to Skype with us for World Read Aloud Day tomorrow–which she was willing to do!  We’re excited to continue our conversation tomorrow afternoon.  I’ll be sure to share soon!