Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Youth Media Awards Therapy™

A couple weeks after the Youth Media Awards announcements and the buzz and conversation continues to grow. I'm also still gleeful from my first ever YMA viewing party with my students, declaring the importance of children's literature together in the midst of finals. So, no, YMA Therapy isn't about debating the winners or questioning the committees. There are plenty of blogs and resources to discuss all the feels, especially if you want to talk about the 2016 Newbery award going to two picture books (Lookin' good, Roller Girl! I knew these Trading Cards would come in handy!).

I had the privilege of reading Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson, to a group of 5th graders and they blew my mind with their keen insights. One of my favorite moments was when one student connected the rush of the city to the city of Reality in The Phantom Tollbooth, which disappeared when people stopped noticing it. Last Stop on Market Street calls us to notice the beauty in everyday life and ordinary people, to find wisdom in the journey, and see the world with fresh eyes. I am excited to hear how these conversations are happening across all grade levels. I can't wait to read it to my college students during our storytelling class. And can I just say how excited I am for Jacqueline Woodson's May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture? I am determined to road trip it to the library lucky enough to host this incredible storyteller.

My kind of YMA Therapy is inspired by the Third Coast International Audio Festival's Podcast Therapy, their listener's advisory service that matches people with audio wonders that meet their moods and interests (and solve their problems) during fantastic live events. According to TCIAF's explanation, "Our Third Coast Podcast Therapists ™ - highly trained listeners with a vast trove of audio delights – are here to help. We work with listeners (individuals and couples) in all stages of life: from those who confuse podcasts with peapods, to the self-assured ear-bud wearer in search of new sonic horizons. Bring your problems, your smartphone, and your ears, and leave with the perfect podcast prescription." As librarians, we're all about connecting people with material they're interested in and helping them find that next great story. (I can't be the only one who immediately thinks of a podcast to share when someone comes to me for a reading recommendation or research project.) Thinking about those who have diligently and selflessly served on the committees, after intense, magical, perhaps heated, but always thoughtful deliberations, after months of reading (and re-reading and re-reading...) and note-taking and taking notes on the notes, they may want to take a break from books or at least have more time to explore media beyond what's eligible. I offer my YMA Therapy™ services to help suggest podcasts to some of these committees. Whether you are a podcast aficionado or just starting to explore this Best-Thing-Since-Sliced-Bread, hopefully there's something in these recommendations that you'll enjoy. And if you mocked like a rock star, are eager to dive into audio storytelling, or just enjoy bookish things, these suggestions are for you, too. Feel free to share your own YMA Therapy™ suggestions for various committees in the comments. Which podcasts would you recommend? Like the YMAs, they are just some of the phenomenal stories that we can share with our reading communities.

                     Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature

The Printz focuses on the literary merit of teen literature using open-minded and flexible criteria that allow committee members to think outside the box. The best young adult literature takes risks, tries new things in format, style, and narrative structure, and offers innovative and fresh voices. This year's award winner, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, was one of the most original and captivating stories I have ever read, one that lingered in my mind long after the last page. It's a book that made me desperately want to talk about it with others. For a podcast that leaves a long-lasting impression, using extremely well-crafted writing and superb plotting, my YMA Therapy™ recommendation is The Truth, produced by Jonathan Mitchell.

With the tagline "Movies For Your Ears," The Truth offers radio drama as you've never heard it before, so headphones are definitely a must. When you listen to The Truth, you are there, whether it's an underground city, the campaign trail for Santa, an alien planet, or spin class. Artfully playing with the conventions of storytelling, The Truth always has twists and turns that leave me guessing - just like the best YA. Excellent episodes to begin with are False Ending (A satire within an enigma within a film within a radio story), The Extractor (The sounds we make don't just fade away; they're embedded in the wood around us), and Chaotic Neutral (A game of Dungeons & Dragons is thrown into chaos, in this story about fantasy, reality, and a chaotic neutral wizard named Nicholas Cage). But my all time favorite The Truth episode is Silvia's Blood, based on Philip K. Dick's short story "Upon the Dull Earth." In it, "A young couple performs a strange blood ritual to invoke angels." Whenever I walk down by the street when I first listened to this story on my way to Skokie Public Library, I am back in that foreboding forest with an impossible choice to make. Such is the power of immersive storytelling that engage all of our senses. For teens, The Truth episodes could also be great mentor texts to help them create their own audio dramas or short stories. Who knows what innovative literacy programming will be inspired by binge-listening The Truth? You'll have to try it to find out.

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal & 
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults 

The Sibert and YALSA Excellent in Nonfiction for Young Adults committees understand the craft of carefully organized informational texts and how well-designed nonfiction stands out. True stories told well can stir the imagination and make us see the world in new ways or worlds we didn't even know existed. Podcasts helped me realize that I love informational texts, that I constantly consume nonfiction and relish documentary storytelling, which made challenge my own genre preferences.

 If you're craving more informational materials that pursue the truth, there are many incredible podcasts for you! For those working with youth, I think Radio Diaries' Teenage Diaries Series, founded by Joe Richman, should be required listening. Young people were given tape recorders and the space to create documentary accounts of their lives. It's an intimate window into teens' lives that is rarely shared. There are even accounts from some of the teenagers as adults showing where their lives have taken them. Teenage Diaries reveals the incredible gift of giving someone the tools and opportunity to tell their story. 

Another exceptional podcast that shows the power of giving someone a forum to be heard is Strangers, produced by Lea Thau. She describes each episode as "an empathy shot in your arm, featuring true stories about about the people we meet, the connections we make, the heartbreaks we suffer, the kindnesses we encounter, and those frightful moments when we discover that WE aren’t even who we thought we were." Listening to Strangers feels like eavesdropping on a deeply personal conversation that somehow is connected to you. It feels like Humans of New York - actually Humans of the World - for your ears. I recommend starting your journey with The Teacher who Couldn't ReadHenry and Jane, and the very first episode, A Father's Story

If you're in the mood for something scientific in your informational media, check out the Hidden Brain podcast, hosted by Shankar Vedantam.  From switchtracking, resolutions, compassion, and motivation, Hidden Brain offers fascinating commentary on how we work (or epically fail). I particularly enjoyed the Students and Teachers episode and the Christmas episode about the science of generosity. 

Another incredible podcast that is a must-listen for nonfiction fans is Invisiblia, co-hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, which examines "the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.. interweav[ing] narrative storytelling with scientific research that will ultimately make you see your own life differently." As that old MTV Diary tagline goes, You think you know... but you have no idea. Listening to Invisiblia is like discovering a new country that you never heard of, yet makes perfect sense that it would be there. It shakes ingrained beliefs and pushes me to examine new ones, like how thoughts work.

But if you're burned out on nonfiction and want something completely different, like stories that blur the lines between truth and fiction, podcasts are the perfect medium for these narrative adventures.

One of the best podcasts that stretches the art form is Serendipity, produced by Ann Heppermann and Martin Johnson, which deliberately play with reality and offer stories as I have never heard them before. They also encourage new radio creators through the Sarah Lawrence College International Audio Fiction Award, aka The Sarah Awards. I've been listening to Ep. #3: Sleeping Girl, which was written and produced by Eliza Smith and Mark Ristich, on repeat.

Another fantastic podcast that makes me think differently about what's possible in audio is the Radiotonic podcast from RN’s Creative Audio Unit in Australia, offering documentaries, radio dramas, meditations, and more. You know you'll have to listen to The Search for Tiny Libraries in New Zealand. Equally satisfying are the radio serials based on real events, Highway of Lost Hearts (A woman, a dog, a campervan and 4,500 km of wide open road. What do you do when your heart goes missing?) and A Thoroughly Wet Mess (Sophie and Marc have been invited aboard a replica of the Mary Celeste, the famous ghost ship whose captain and crew disappeared into thin air in 1872. Now they’re about to recreate their ancestors’ fateful voyage, with other descendants of the original crew. What could go wrong?) Each piece offers something entirely different, which makes each listening experience a new adventure.

The Randolph Caldecott Medal

I expect things never look the same way again after serving on the Caldecott committee. I wonder if after their deliberations, committee members feel like Dorothy entering Oz when they spot new picture books, their understanding transforming it into technicolor. They appreciate the hidden language of design, the important choices illustrators make to convey meaning, and the power of visual storytelling. 

So my YMA Therapy™ recommendation for Caldecott committee members and picture book enthusiasts must be 99% Invisible, hosted by Roman Mars, "a tiny radio show about design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world. Each episode is a sound-rich deep dive into a single topic." If you want more Dorothy moments that make you see the world in a new light, 99% Invisible will blow your mind with its revelations about the built world. Think of it as Molly Bang's Picture This for your ears. It illuminates the ways design shapes our lives and impacts our society, with both an individual and global scope. Picture book advocates appreciate the power of a visual experience on young minds and its far-reaching effect. They also recognize the power of wonder - and 99% Invisible operates on a steady diet of curiosity. Warning: You will want to dig deeper after each episode and dive into research mode after listening, but I think that might be your jam as information professionals. But it's also the beating heart within each episode, the larger social themes of the story, that compel me to keep listening. Everything around us is made up of story - and we just need someone willing to discover what it is. Like a beautifully made picture book, each episode is expertly crafted and sound-designed to make you visualize the world. Even places I've seen most of my adult life became new after listening to 99% Invisible, so I'd recommend starting with Purple Reign, the fantastic saga of the famous/infamous Purple Hotel in Lincolnwood, IL with many different stories to tell. I was lucky enough to purchase a purple brick that benefited Lincolnwood Public Library - and it means so much more to me because of this story. My understanding of cities and the urban landscape was transformed after listening to The Arsenal of Exclusion and Names vs. The Nothing. And if you are in the mood for a scrappy undergrad students' research saving the day through math story, you must listen to Structural Integrity. A fellow nerdy librarian and I agreed it's 99% Invisible at its best during a conversation about the design of Australia's capital, as you do. I also appreciate the episodes focused on moments that are magnified like Game Over, the story of the end of The Sims Online/EA Land and the community that formed around this massively-multiplayer online game. I often play the episode for my students and we talk about how stories inspire empathy.

Note: This episode originally aired on Snap Judgement, which is another exceptional podcast that you should definitely check out. Also, you should listen to every episode that discusses Vexillology (and also watch Roman Mars' TEDTalk). Picture book fans can dig a well-made flag.

For all of you who searched for the best of the best, the literature that will engage and inspire young readers, including all of the extremely dedicated people who put together the incredible selected book and media lists, like YALSA's Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, Best Fiction for Young Adults, Great Graphic Novels for Teens, Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and ALSC's Children's Notable Books, Recordings, and Videosone final recommendation about a podcast that seeks out distinguished stories too.

The Third Coast International Audio Festival collects the best radio stories from around the world and shares it on their show, Re: Sound, produced by Dennis Funk, hosted by Gwen Macsai.  I have discovered some of my favorite podcasts and audio producers and developed my appreciation for this art form because of Re:Sound. You will love listening to The Stories from Childhood Show with stories about Dr. Seuss, L. Frank Baum, and Margaret Wise Brown. You may think about childhood in a new way after listening to The Kids' Secret Places Show, produced by Katie Mingle. I am particularly fond of The Quiet Show, which offers a meditative treatise on whispering that shows how loud we can be when we listen. With an infinite assortment of stories shared each week, you're bound to find something pleasing to your ears. And when you find something you adore, please share it and continue the YMA [Podcast] Therapy™. After all, that's what we do as librarians.

Happy listening!  

A YMA Therapy™ Extra....
I love when podcasts have extra content or previews at the very end of their episodes, filling in the minutes with as much excellent content as they can, so I figured I'd list some of my favorite children's literature podcasts. It's incredibly exciting to see the growth in this field over the past couple years and I hope more people decide to make the podcast of their dreams. Podcasts led me to where I am now, so I know firsthand how powerful they can be. 

Brain Burps about Books, hosted by Katie Davis
Episode to start with: What is Literacy? The First Three National Ambassadors for Young People’s Literature

Kids Comics Revolution, hosted by Dave Roman and Jerzy Drozd
Episode to start with: Zita the Spacegirl (Book Club) 
Episode to start with: A Conversation with Kazu Kibuishi
Episode to start with: Tim Federle 
Episode to start with: The Little Mermaid 


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Counting by Mock Newberys

In our book club, we measure time in Mock Newberys. We began our love fest with children’s books on January 12, 2014 with an informal discussion of children’s books that had been gaining buzz over the year. We shared book trailers and plot summaries, discussed characters, and created our own rules by asking participants to vote for the book they would most like to read next.

After our event, our students clamored for us to continue the conversation. The winner of our Mock Newbery, One Came Home by Amy Timberlake, was selected as our first book club selection. We purchased copies of the book for the students because I felt it as important for the students to have this treasured book as their own. Since then, we have continued to meet monthly to discuss children’s books, which inevitably lead to larger conversations about our students’ experiences and feelings – and of course, references to Harry Potter. When we read Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, we had a frank conversation about the ways our community’s educational system failed them. When someone questioned the importance of our book club, we read The Giver by Lois Lowry and discussed the dangers and lures of Sameness. 

During this fall, we read Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm and it was a powerful experience discussing the hidden lives of children.
We had to move to another room because there were too many people. That's a librarian's dream!
Thematic food is a big part of book. Enjoy a delicious "Big Al!" 
Candy fish in cupcake trees! 

They asked questions about shame and silence and isolation and friendship – and we discussed them because they deserved honesty. Throughout the intense conversation, I could sense empathy and compassion growing in my students – and their younger siblings who became our latest members to our club. It has been gratifying to see how our community has grown with colleagues and students and alumni and authors and this year, actual children who are the reason we do this work. Their thoughtful responses to the books inspire and delight us. I hope they enjoy it as much as we enjoy having them become part of our community. 

For this year’s Mock Newbery, we took it to the next level. For each book, we had a John Newbery Product Placement ™ item that we gave away. (John Newbery included a pin cushion or ball to record children's good deeds with the book, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly.) Here are the products we shared:

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia, courtesy of Dr. Shira Roth
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, courtesy of Dr. Shira Roth from Constructive Playthings
The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Lovely jelly created by student's sister

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Kind words can change lives.

Fish in a Tree by  Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper
Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle
Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
You can access the StoryCorp guide here
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson - created by Anna S.
Roller Girl Trading Card - back

Make your own Roller Girl Trading Cards using this template

Adults and kids signed up to introduce books from our list and shared their insights. I was so impressed by the caliber of the introductions, as everyone rose to the occasion to engage with these texts. They made powerful connections between each of them and made me see them in new ways. I also appreciated how some participants sought out texts outside their usual genres and were pleasantly surprised with the wonders they found there. And of course, during our discussion of The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, our traditional Harry Potter reference was shared when we thought about Ada’s captivity in the cupboard and Harry’s room under the stairs. Most of all, these stories made us think and wonder and debate. They brought us together once more as a community.

This year’s Mock Newbery winner was Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, which, as is our tradition, will be our first spring book club selection. 

Our Honor books were The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai, and Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley. 


I can’t wait to discuss Echo with our bookish community (with treats related to the story) and continue to measure time in the stories that connect us.

If you are interested in a John Newbery Product Placement ™ 2016 Mock Newbery bag, leave a comment and I'd be happy to share our extras as long as supplies last. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Creating Dots & Building Community (Dot Day 2014)

I dreamed big for our Dot Day celebrations, hoping that faculty would provide Celebridots, students would participate in our Dot Day celebrations, and our community would begin to connect. At the college the library is the only communal space where students can hang out, eat lunch, and study. Since its foundations are pretty old school, it was my goal to show that the library offers more than just books (don’t get me wrong, I like books), research assistance, and studying space. I wanted to transform the library into a place where people can create and play and make things. I wanted to bring a little magic into the stacks.

I rearranged the library from rows into combined tables, covered them with butcher board paper, and provided a cornucopia of art supplies. While our Dot Day programs were scheduled for 12:30pm each day, students and faculty trickled into the library all day to use the art supplies and create dots. Each time I regaled them with my “Make your Mark” shpiel and urged them to share their ideas for ways to make our mark as a community. I read The Dot several times to the college students, which amused me to no end. I’d read The Dot all day if they let me. While I created my own dot alongside them, I also had a chance to observe them and see how they engaged with each other. Any divisions between freshmen and seniors melted away in the face of watercolors and glitter. (Honestly, who can be apathetic in the face of glitter?) While we were creating dots, we were building a community. Students shared stories from their summer break, discussed their expectations for this semester, and found common ground. Throughout the week, I challenged my students’ and faculty’s schemas about being creative. So many students claimed that they were not creative, but when prompted, they expressed outside the box and critical thinking. Something happens to us as we grow up that makes us stop identifying as artists and creators, something that is a defense mechanism to avoid being vulnerable. When my students created dots this week, they rejected self-doubt and embraced the freedom in getting messy and trying new things. We can all be creative in our own way. The arts are one way – but they’re not the only way. Making dots was a symbol for all the ways we can be innovative and express ourselves. 

Like Vashti, I wanted my students to recognize that their creations are notable and worthy of being shared. With this in mind, I rearranged the library into a new kind of space, from an art room into a gallery. I displayed the dots with the honor they deserved on golden tables that showcased the variety of styles and interpretations. The first dot urged people to “Start small. End big” and the final dot said “the journey begins,” which I hope expressed the message that this is just the beginning. I also created a display of “Celebridots,” dots created by our faculty and staff. We ask our students to share their opinions and writing in class, to push themselves beyond their expectations, so I truly believe that teachers need to model this kind of bravery and push themselves outside of their comfort zones. By showcasing the faculty’s dots, my students could see that we are all learning together. Faculty across the disciplines shared their thoughts about making their mark and put their own distinct spin on the theme. One faculty member even created a 3-dimensional “Dot Product,” based on that famous opening passage from A Tale of Two Cities and the properties therein. Yes, math is creative and how wonderful for her to help our students think about math in new ways!

I also placed a blank canvas in the middle of the room and asked people to each add a dot to create a unique, collaborative piece of art. As each person added his or her mark, the image revealed itself as a solar system of creativity. I will be displaying this painting in the library throughout the year as a testament of our collaboration.

Looking back at these experiences, I know we have a foundation for an incredible year of making our mark. One of my students remarked that “our library looks amazing and it's because of the compilation of all of our unique work. Thank you for taking the time to create non-academic, stress-free, and fun activities to enhance our experience.” Comments like these inspire me to provide more opportunities for self-expression in the library. We will have programs that help students learn to listen and share, see the wonder in ordinary things, find ways to manage stress, and know that they can make their mark in extraordinary ways.

Dot Day is just the beginning.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Celebrating International Dot Day All Year

A new school year begins full of possibility and promise. It feels like a fresh page in an unwritten book, a chance to start over with optimism and excitement.  We decided to dream big this year and try something innovative and just a little crazy. Each year my library staff and I choose a theme for our school’s bulletin boards and add a little signage to liven up the college. This year we’re going all out. This is the year for us to make our mark.

After this past spring’s inspiring Peter Reynolds Author Study and Skype visit, I decided that all of my students could benefit from his powerful message to make a difference in their own way. Our theme for the year is “Make Your Mark – and See Where it Takes You!” I introduced the theme to my new students during freshman orientation when I read The Dot to a wonderfully engaged audience.  We will be using The Dot as a framework for our college to think about the ways we make our mark, not just in our academic work, but in our personal and emotional lives.  A graffiti wall has been set up for everyone to share their own thoughts on how they will make the most of their time this year.  This was inspired by Monica Harris’s keynote address during the ILA Youth Services UnConference where she discussed participatory culture in libraries. Her library started an Idea Box where patrons could interact with the space that changed every month from chalk walls to maps to green screens. I may not have a room that I can use, but I do have a bulletin board. We all start somewhere...

In addition to our Dot-themed bulletin boards (See how they resemble Vashti's framed picture?), I've also blanketed the walls of the college with Dot Day Precepts, inspired by Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  Dot Day is the perfect time to think about the principles we live by - and create new ones.

Our celebration of creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking starts on International Dot Day this Monday.  I have raided the art room (and my own craft nook) for materials of all shapes and sizes for students, faculty, and support staff to join together to create unique, beautiful dots. So much time in college is spent running from work to class to homework, so it’s vital to provide time to play and create. In the process of creating dots, I hope to get to know my students better and for them to get to know each other better. Dot Day should be a community-building experience where the divisions between teacher and student blur and we become just people. 

I have also reached out to my faculty to create their own “Celebridots” to model creativity and risk taking. During our Skype visit with Peter, he discussed the importance of creating art along with our students to “create a culture that supports creativity and sharing ideas.” We have taken this challenge to heart as we work to make the library a safe place for all kinds of creative expression. During lunch every day this coming week I will provide programs for students to unleash their creativity from dot making to found poetry to cardboard challenges. At the end of the week, I hope to host a gallery of their artistic creations and work on a collaborative mural we can showcase in the library.  I hope that students will share their interests and preferences during our programs so I can customize events especially for them. I want to provide all kinds of programs for the rest of the year to help students continue to make their mark. At the same time, I hope that students will rise to the occasion and take the initiative to offer programs based on what they know.  I want to switch the expected roles and let them be the teachers. We’re going to spend the year creating and learning from each other. 

I recognize that I have absolutely no control on how our ambitious plans will go.  Unlike a regularly scheduled class, our Dot Day events are completely voluntary, and take place during lunch. But Dot Day is about planting seeds, about trying new, frightening ventures – and signing our names to them. And no matter the result, if one student is inspired to take chances of her own, then we have made our mark. 

This is my ALA Annual 2014 Dot. I've been trying to find a way to express the joy of my experience. Words failed. But I think a dot better shows the whirlwind wonder of this summer's conference.

Dot Day Resources 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Ishful Thinking: Our Marvelous Skype Visit with Peter H. Reynolds

As individuals we are powerful, but together, we are limitless. Like Captain Planet, our combined strengths create something new and incredible. We uphold this value at the college I teach at, consistently quoting the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards (Goal #8, to be more precise), but it’s one thing to stand on a soapbox and another to teach by example. And we know which one has a lasting result…

Student-created art from Education through the Arts course

This semester I had the opportunity to collaborate with my new colleague, Rena Grosser, a licensed Art Therapist, who is teaching our Education through the Arts course. Rena is all about experiential learning, finding new and innovative ways to bring the arts to life in her classroom. Rena dreams big and as we brainstormed about connecting her Education through the Arts class and my Children’s Literature class, we came up with the idea of connecting virtually with an author/illustrator who could perfectly capture the value of the arts in the classroom. It was a no-brainer; we knew we had to invite Peter H. Reynolds to join us. All future teachers (and current ones, too) should be familiar with his work.

As an author and illustrator, Peter H. Reynolds creates powerful, beautiful, authentic stories about creating art, going on journeys, expressing ourselves, taking chances, and the endless possibilities within. As an entrepreneur, he co-founded FableVision, a company that seeks to make the world a better place using storytelling, films, programs, and teaching tools that engage all learners. As an advocate for arts in education, he is a passionate and thoughtful voice for creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and compassion. As future teachers, I hoped my students would be inspired by his work and accomplishments.

However, while I was familiar with Peter Reynolds’ famous ode to self-expression, The Dot, I didn’t know much about his work before this experience. In order to prepare for our author visit, we engaged in an Author Study. Think of it as Peter H. Reynolds Con minus the cosplay. (Oh, actually The Dot cosplay sounds amazing!) Author visits are only as successful as the effort put into preparing for them. I put aside a collection of books by Peter Reynolds in our library so students could easily access and read his books. (Thanks, Skokie Public Library, for your extensive Peter Reynolds collection!) Working in pairs or individually, my students chose from a selection of topics to research and present to the class. Topics included:

Personal Biography and his work

Professional Biography and his work

Inspiring the Creative Spirit: The Dot and Ish

Peter’s Art and Creative process

Following your Dreams: The North Star and Rose's Garden

Peter’s Illustrations for Other Writers (Megan McDonald, Judy Blume, Alison McGhee)

International Dot Day and Dot Activity

Innovation and Creation: Going Places (co-written by Paul Reynolds) & Sydney’s Star

Connected and Disconnected: I’m Here + So Few of Me

For each topic, the students provided the essential background information to familiarize us with the topic. They shared suggestions for how to bring each topic into the classroom and how to help readers make text-to-self and text-to-world connections. And they prepared questions for Peter in anticipation of our author visit.

During our Author Study, I was not the holder of knowledge, the arbiter of understanding, the queen of content; my students were. While I provided resources and support, my students became experts in their topics and were given a forum to share this knowledge and passion. It was a joy to behold as my students took the reins in my classroom and became the teachers. This kind of authentic learning gave them ownership of the information and helped them feel prepared to engage in critical analysis of Peter’s work and connect with him over Skype.

When we were done with the Author Study, it was time to switch classrooms and join Rena to Skype with Peter Reynolds. We knew that his work was beautiful and inspiring, that he was an passionate advocate for literacy and the arts, but we had no idea just how generous and supportive he would be. Across the hundreds of miles that separated us, we connected in incredibly meaningful ways. He asked us to be brave – and help our students become brave. He issued a challenge to us to “create a culture that supports creativity and sharing ideas” by not putting down our own abilities, but instead, engage in creating art along with our students. Just like The Dot, he emphasized the importance of displaying student-created work in our classrooms and supporting their artistic endeavors. We were captivated by his behind-the-scenes stories about the publication of his books. I felt gratified when he touched upon ideas that my students had mentioned during our Author Study; I could see the gears in their minds click together as we listened. We were particular moved by his story about his math teacher who noticed Peter’s drawing skills and realized that Peter could use his gifts and talents to teach. He asked Peter to create a comic to teach math concepts. This led Peter to create his first animated film and showed him a new world of possibilities. This teacher planted the seeds for all that came afterwards. As teachers, what could be more powerful?

While our Skype visit had to come to an end, Peter urged us to think of him as a friend and stay connected. It’s hard to put into words, but just by connecting with him for a brief time, I felt more hopeful about the world and my place in it. I don’t think I was the only one. Peter’s message about the impact that teachers can have has planted seeds now that are sure to bear fruit in my students’ future classrooms. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are some of my students’ responses to this experience.

“It was so helpful that we had done all that background information.”

“I want to write!”

“[I love his idea of] doing the unexpected.”

“He’s amazing – and I really think he’s changing the world. I hadn’t heard of Peter Reynolds before this class, but he really touched me, and I’m inspired!”

“I really like how he said you can be creative in lots of [different] ways.”

“I felt so prepared and knowledgeable when it came to ... our Skype visit with Peter Reynolds. Meeting him was a really cool, especially because we spent so much time studying his work.”

In the end, all the time and effort we put into collaborating on our Peter Reynolds Author Study and Skype visit is small compared to the impact that this experience has had – and will continue to have for our students. This experience will be a touchstone for our community of future teachers who will draw inspiration from it and light the way for their students.

Peter H. Reynolds Resources 

Collaboration is not limited to our classrooms. It is my hope that the work we have done can be useful for other teachers and communities. I truly believe in the value of creating work - and sending it out into the world. Feel free to share other resources in the comments, too - and continue the conversation.


Peter Reynolds' Biography by Faygie C. and Batsheva N. 

Creative Space: Peter H. Reynolds Art and Creative Process by Ariella W. and Anna S.

Connected and Disconnected: I’m Here + So Few of Me by Eti Berland (Feel free to use, reuse, remix.)

Peter Reynolds' Illustrations for Other Authors by Sarah M. 

Creation and Innovation: Going Places and Sydney's Star By Chava S. 

Resources for Author Study

Peter Reynolds’ Website

Peter Reynolds’ blog 


Peter's Store: Bluebunny Books

The Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning and Creativity

Fable Library


Children's Book Author Peter Reynolds Author and illustrator ("The Dot", "Ish") Peter H. Reynolds talks about why he does what he does.

I'm Here


He was Me
"A quiet story about the inner child in all of us, and the eternal struggle to retain our sense of self in a busy world."

Above and Beyond
"A story about what is possible when communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity take center stage in schools and transform learning opportunities for all kids."


The Educator's Guide for The Museum, by Susan Verde, Art by Peter H. Reynolds

The Dot/Dot Day

The Educator's Handbook for International Dot Day 

A Guide for Classrooms using The Dot and Ish

Brain Burps about Books Podcast: Interview with Terry Shay 

The Dot Club 


Bildungsroman Blog: Interview about Sky Color 

EdTech Digest: The Fabulous Peter and Paul Reynolds

General Author Study Resources 


How to Get your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell 

Something about the Author

Reading Rockets Author Study Toolkit 

Scholastic's BookFlix 

Author Visit Resources

Youth Services Librarianship Wiki: Author Visits

Scholastic’s Author Visit Kits

Skype an Author Network