February 21


Taking the Book to the Next Level by Patrick Andrus

When looking back over my teaching career of twenty-three years, I am most proud of the read aloud books and book club selections I have shared with the countless students who have passed through my classroom.   It wasn’t until last year, however, when my world opened up and I realized I could take the “book” to the next level.

Sitting here a year later I can’t remember exactly how the idea of Skyping with authors came to me, but know it had to do with Twitter, The Nerdy Book Club, and all the wonderful educators I came in contact with.  Reading a great piece of literature to my students, or with my students, having a great discussion about that book, and sharing our thoughts, reactions, and feelings had always seemed enough.  It wasn’t until my class began Skyping with authors that I realized how much more powerful and alive a book can become.

A smile comes to my face when I think about the first Skype session my fourth grade class had last year.  After spending quite a bit of time on Twitter and learning how many teachers in the world were connecting with authors and illustrators, I gathered the courage to ask the first author.  Lucky for me, Kim Baker the author of Pickle, accepted my invitation and the groundwork was set in motion.  As soon as I shared with my readers that we would be chatting with Kim regarding her novel Pickle, the excitement was contagious.  The students got busy reading and sharing the book so as many of us could read it as possible.  The day we Skyped with her was electric .  What I didn’t anticipate was how many children who didn’t read the book before the Skype, wanted to read it after we were face to face with Kim Baker.

What followed this personal interaction was truly magical.  The class Skyped with Jacqueline Resnick about her book titled The Daring Escape for the Misfit Menagerie.  This was a book I choose for my “Breakfast with Books” book club.  We invited Jacqueline to join our “book club” while chatting over “breakfast treats.”   It felt like she was in the room with us.  The fun part of this Skype was that it was Jacqueline’s first Skype visit with a class.  We were novices together.

We were also able to Skype with Jody Feldman who is the author of the Gollywhopper Games and Dan Gutman after we read the first book in his Genius Files series.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think my students would be able to talk with Dan face to face (well via computer) and have such a personal interaction about his book.

The 2013-2014 school year brought a renewed sense of excitement about upcoming read aloud books I would share with my new class along with book club novels that would be announced over the next nine months.  I must say this has been an exciting year for both my student readers and myself.

We kicked off the year with a chat with Suzanne Selfors the author of The Sasquatch Escape.  This visit was pure fun.  The next visit was with Chris Grabenstein as we talked about his incredible new book The Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.  He stated he was excited to talk with us because we were the first class he was getting feedback from on the new novel.  As with all successes, there are usually some setbacks.  I choose the novel Flora & Ulysses as a book club book last fall.  This was before it won the Newbery Award.  I tried contacting Kate DiCamillo, but she was in the middle of her book tour and didn’t have time at that point to Skype.  The sweet part was how understanding my students were about this.  We were THIRLLED when it won the award!

The biggest coup was being able to talk with Sharon Creech about her newest novel The Boy on the Porch.  Being a huge fan of her books, I couldn’t quite believe that we were chatting with her and my students were able to ask questions of this award-winning author.  She was everything you would hope she was.  This is a day I will never forget.

The class has also connected with Jacqueline Resnick twice.  The first time was after I read the class The Daring Escape of the Misfit Menagerie .  She then Skyped again with the book club after we read the sequel called The Valiant Quest of the Misfit Menagerie.  It is amazing how after three conversations you begin to get to know an author.  I truly value the time and gifts that Jacqueline has given to my students and myself over the last couple of years.

Where do you go from Skype visits?  How do you take it to an even further level?   I guess having the author join your class in person is one sure fire way!   After reading The Quirks:  Welcome to Normal, I knew I wanted to use this book for “Breakfast with Books.”  While on Twitter, I was surprised to find out that Erin Soderberg lives right here in the Twin Cities where I teach.  We connected via Twitter and believe it or not, she will be joining our fifth ”Breakfast with Books” on Friday, February 21st.  I’m overjoyed and excited about the opportunity.  The readers have copies of the book, Erin has sent bookmarks, and we are ready to discuss “The Quirks” with her.   What a way to celebrate I Love to Read month!

It just occurred to me that the day we meet Erin Soderberg in my classroom is the same day that this post will go live on The Nerdy Book Club.  Talk about a full-circle experience.   Never in my wildest dreams did I think my students would be having these experiences, but they have brought more joy than I can even describe.  Taking the book to the next level has done more for me personally and professionally than I thought possible.

As Mikey would say, “Try it, you’ll like it!”

Patrick Andrus is a fourth grade teacher at Prairie View Elementary School in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  He has had twenty-three years of wonderfully liberating experiences teaching young children.  The biggest gift he gives his students is the gift of words, stories, and incredible characters.  It was about a year and a half ago that he took the risk to enter the world of Twitter, his own blog, and connecting with the incredible members of this book club. You can follow him on Twitter @patrickontwit and his blog http://readwonder.blogspot.com/.