When I founded the Reading for Research Month (ReFoReMo) challenge and blog in 2015, I shared my belief in the power of learning from picture books as mentor texts. My full-time gig as an elementary school librarian also allows me to experience mentor texts in action with the child-readers in our target audience. We are lucky to add another impact-layer when we host author visits. Just like we learn from picture books as mentor texts, we can also learn from author visits as mentor visits.
This year, my students and I have been lucky to learn from eleven author visits. During a pandemic and distance learning model, we appreciated the opportunity to connect with the world beyond our bubbles. So what did we learn from these texts and visits? Today, I would like to highlight two:
The theme of this book focuses on emotional regulation, and we read the book and practiced ways to emotionally regulate ourselves in library class prior to the visit. The greatest mentor text elements of this story include:
Theme: Emotional wellness is handled in an age-appropriate, non-didactic way. With child-trauma being prevalent in our school population, social-emotional wellness is #1.
Character: Mootilda the Cow represents every kid and their feelings all wrapped into one relatable, comical character.
Plot: A clear traditional plot arc that encourages re-readability and story retell.
Rhyme: Perfect rhyme. Period.
Three key factors made this visit impactful for our PK-2 students:
Emotional resonance: The authors capitalized on how feelings go up and down and it’s okay to name those feelings and find ways to regulate. They offered a free Mood-O-Meter to every student.
Music: The authors performed a song that was written especially for this story, and encouraged students to join in.
Drama: The authors’ storytelling was dramatic and interactive.
Down-to-earth honesty: The authors answered student questions honestly and handled technical difficulty with patience and grace. And let’s be honest, in the world of distance learning, lots of grace is needed.
Our kids will never forget the way Kirsti Call and Corey Rosen-Schwartz made them feel. The catch-phrase, “I’m in a bad mooood!” means it’s okay to experience negative feelings as long as we have ways to cope with them. The authors brought this cow-racter to life and the admiration shines in student artwork:
The greatest mentor text elements of this story include:
Theme: Equity and Activism
Poetry: Each child-activist is highlighted through poetry that captures the importance of their actions to stand up for the issue each is passionate about. The featured poets are stellar!
Illustrations: Given that the activists are children, the visuals allow the child reader to more aptly put themselves in the shoes of the child-activist. The humanity and tenderness of the illustrations allow them to capitalize on the importance of their own voices as they connect to the activists.
As the Breonna Taylor tragedy rocked our community, students were already experiencing the direct impact of standing up for their beliefs. The author visit cemented the idea that their voices matter, and further impacted our fourth and fifth grade students.
Connection: Jeanette Bradley read a few of the real world poems while speaking about the down-to-earth inspiration for the anthology (her daughter). This served as an affirmation that kids’ voices are big and important and sparked lots of heartfelt questions. Since an author is essentially a stranger coming into the students’ trusted world, creating that safe-space is a true gift.
Presentation: The slides featured artwork/text from the book and illustrator Jeanette Bradley drew with the students!
Engagement: Author Keila Dawson grabbed her bullhorn (by the horn) and motivated students to commit to what they believe in!
Resources: The authors offer tons of resources to inspire kids, from a jam-packed Teachers’ Manual to video clips from child-activists and poets, and even a FlipGrid page and beyond. They inspired our kids to voice what mattered in different ways, from speeches, to songs, raps, and poems.
Our kids felt validated and voiced their concerns loud and proud about issues they are passionate about. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Fourth-grader Kentel says it best:
Fifth-grader Jacey also voiced her feelings and connection to the message perfectly:
Some things that happened that were not fair is
black lives getting killed for no reason.
Police brutality and criticism.
Yes, all lives do matter ,
but are all lives mainly endangered than black lives?
We need justice and hopefully
are going to get justice.
We can show our love and care by protesting.
We can show love by even catching up with the news.
It is not fair that families are grieving for their loved ones.
Parents , siblings , cousins , aunts , uncles , grandparents.
This world needs a change.
All the violence cut out.
Racial inequality has been going on for decades
and it still has not changed.
Say their names and speak loud
and proud of their names.
Always cherish your family and friends,
because you never know what may happen.
As I said all lives matter,
but so do black lives.
I just hope there is a conclusion.
At the end of the day, this fight won’t end
until justice is served.
Rest in peace to all the beautiful lives lost to racism!
Just as these stellar texts are mentors, so are the choices that went into these amazing author visits. What choices do you feel make an author visit impactful?