March 13 was the day COVID-19 changed everything for school librarians in my school district. Like other school librarians across the globe, we quickly transitioned from our beloved library spaces to an unknown virtual world. Like the character Lucy in Peanuts, we created our virtual libraries and flipped our open signs to, “The School Librarian is In.” Once this was accomplished, the initial and immediate question became, “How do we transfer the roles we successfully managed in our traditional library spaces over to our virtual spaces and still impact student learning?”
While school librarians in my district have managed many roles during the pandemic, it was in our newly created virtual library spaces that we decided to do what we do best: promote reading. However, we soon discovered we weren’t doing this amazing accomplishment alone. We had extraordinary help through the online presence of children’s authors stepping into the virtual world and bringing the ultimate student engagement possible during a pandemic. Talk about a mega partnership! Quite simply, authors and school librarians go hand in hand making the virtual world a happier [reading] place.
My first author experience was with Lindsay Lackey, author of the middle grade book, All the Impossible Things. Ms. Lackey took notice of the posted activities my students were doing as we read her book in a virtual classroom during distance learning. She then offered to join me and my students in one of our Zoom sessions. I was positively geeked and couldn’t wait to surprise my students. Ms. Lackey’s generosity created a memorable and positive reading experience that my students will never forget during an unprecedented time. She was personable and engaged in conversation with the students for the entire class period. The students were enthralled to learn about her writing process, how she created the characters, and of course they loved hearing about her new puppy, Galileo.
I admit, I hang out on Twitter a lot and so naturally, I follow several authors. Learning about new releases and seeing book cover reveals is inspiring. It’s also how I made contact with author Jennifer Nielsen. As I casually scrolled through my Twitter feed, I came across a tweet by Ms. Nielsen offering to do free virtual visits with students during the month of October. I was simply amazed with her cordiality, and I was extremely ecstatic when she replied accepting my request. Ms. Nielsen has written several series, and her newest release, The Captive Kingdom, released this month. My students had also recently read her historical fiction book, Resistance, a Georgia Children’s Book Award nominee. So, it was a perfect author and school librarian match!
Along with virtual class visits, several authors have stepped up to be active participants in online bookfests. I have attended FREE online literary bookfests, each with an incredibly rich cast of authors. This past May was my very first bookfest, and the one that got me hooked was Everywhere Virtual Bookfest. One of the keynote speakers was Georgia’s very own, Nic Stone, author of Dear Martin and the newly released Dear Justyce. In addition to Ms. Stone, theffest also included pre-recorded sessions with Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, and Meg Medina, as well as live sessions such as a picture draw-off by book illustrators, like Tom Lichtenheld, Raúl the Third, and Chloe Bristol. Plus, so many other sessions, such as Putting Story in History and Home and Belonging: Immigrant Stories in Middle Grade Literature, to name a few (Everywhere Bookfest 2020). Another bookfest, The Middle Ground Bookfest, was hosted by authors Shannon Doleski, Tanya Guerrero, Lorien Lawrence, and Janae Marks, and it is still available on YouTube where you can watch topics such as “Brave Girl Characters,” “Curating Books as Windows & Mirrors,” and “Finding Truth: Non-fiction and Realistic Fiction” (Middle Ground Bookfest 2020).
Bookfests are an amazing way to engage students by introducing them to the authors that write the stories they read. As a school librarian I have always found it important to engage students in experiences that provide important real-world connections. Bookfests are great exposure for students because of the potential to discover authors and new genres, and it certainly doesn’t hurt if it helps them realize reading is cool. I suggest you invite students to attend through an advertisement and then create a fun activity for them to do as an attendee. I created a Goosechase scavenger hunt for students at my school to complete while attending these fests. It’s such a great way to reinforce the use of technology, communications, building online presence skills, teaching digital citizenship, and more.
I definitely have to mention how adored Jason Reynolds is in the school librarian world, and we love and appreciate his quote from AASL’s celebration of School Library Month in 2018:
” …if I were in school today, I’d practically live there [the school library], because there’s a good chance the coolest person in the building works where the books are. Not only can the school librarian help to curate a comfortable and welcoming space for all students, not only can they usher them to a vast array of books and reference materials, librarians also usually have the ability to connect with students on a personal level, because, well, they’ve read the most stories, which makes their potential for empathy and openness ceiling-less.” (2018)
Mr. Reynolds is the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature, and through the Library of Congress, he has hosted “Write. Right. Rite.,” a series to engage students in storytelling. You can check out the series at Write. Right. Rite, and I suggest adding it to your virtual library space.
The virtual world has become the new norm at my district, as we teach virtually and face to face. With reading a priority as a school librarian, I highly recommend getting to know the authors writing the stories for our kids. Many are on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Most have websites with links to their books, and sometimes, there’s bonus material from the publisher, such as book discussion activity guides. The greatest thing about entering the virtual world is that authors are more accessible, and it has allowed more exposure to interact and engage our students.
AASL. 2018. “AASL Celebrates 2018 School Library Month with Spokesperson Jason Reynolds.” http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2018/02/aasl-celebrates-2018-school-library-month-spokesperson-jason-reynolds (accessed Oct. 28, 2020).
Everywhere Bookfest. 2020. https://everywherebookfest.com/ (accessed October 28, 2020).
Library of Congress. n.d. Research Guides.https://guides.loc.gov/jason-reynolds/grab-the-mic/wrr (accessed October 28, 2020).
Middle Ground Bookfest. 2020. https://www.middlegroundbookfest.com/ (accessed October 28, 2020).
Author: Lori Quintana
Lori Quintana, Ed.S. earned her Master’s and education specialist degrees from the University of West Georgia and is a library media specialist at Griffin Middle School in Smyrna, GA, for the Cobb County School District. She began her library career as a library media paraprofessional and is now in her fifth year as a school librarian. She is an active member of her local, state, and national school librarian organizations, CCALMS, GLMA, and AASL, servicing on the Board, Leadership Team, and as the Affiliate Liaison. She is also a member of her district’s library media leadership team (MLT) and graduated from Cobb’s first school librarian teacher leadership cohort. Lori is a strong supporter of GLMA’s mission to serve, advocate, and connect. As part of her advocacy, she is a member of the podcast trio for Overdue: Conversations from the Library. Follow her on Twitter @linthelibrary.