2014 Virginia Festival of the Book

This year was the 20th anniversary of the Virginia Festival of the Book, and the events did not disappoint! From buzzing bees to fluffy puppies and all the way to knocking on the door of opportunity, the sights and sounds at Johnson Elementary this week were all about books, books, books. Johnson students were lucky to have THREE visiting authors come and share, and each presentation was absolutely fabulous.

On Wednesday, Mr. Alex-Zan, a member of the original Charlottesville Twelve, gave a wonderful talk to our students about the importance of hard work, respect, and perserverance. Mr. Alex-Zan was not only an incredible speaker, but a truly kind person to chat with before and after his presentation. If you’d like to know more about Mr. Alex-Zan, you can check out his website here, or read more about his presentation to Johnson students here!

Friday morning, kindergarten, first, and second grade students came to the auditorium to hear a spirited and fascinating presentation from author Alison Formento, whose focus on nature and preservation fit perfectly with the goals and interests of the Johnson community. Ms. Formento began her presentation with telling us a little bit about herself, including that she came all the way from New Jersey to come and visit us! She had a great slideshow of information about her books, her research, and her favorite things. My favorite slides were the pictures of things like trees, oceans, and planets. Ms. Formento has written lots of books about things like oceans, bees, rocks, and trees, and she let us in on a little secret – she has more in the works! She is interested in writing books about space, animals, and other pieces of nature.



Our younger students truly knocked my socks off with their behavior during Ms. Formento’s presentation. They were excellent listeners, participated with thoughtful questions and comments, and some even came onstage to help Ms. Formento with examples. Maybe my favorite part of the presentation was when Ms. Formento showed us the importance of honeybees… by turning three students into a bee, a flower, and a bee-keeper!



As if honeybees, bee-keepers, and talking flowers weren’t enough for a fabulous assembly, Ms. Formento also brought out some more costumes to talk to us about sea creatures and life beneath the waves.



Ms. Formento did an excellent job of fielding questions after her presentation – and there were quite a few! Johnson students were curious about everything from future manuscripts to honeybee habits, and everything in between. On their way out the door, students had one last chance to ask Ms. Formento questions and say hello in person.


Before she moved on to the next stop on her book tour, Ms. Formento took a few minutes to tour the Johnson Library and our City Schoolyard Garden. Ms. Formento is a big supporter of school library programs and of rewarding and educational extracurricular activities, and she really seemed to enjoy the opportunity to learn about the unique services that Johnson provides to its students. To learn more about the student-lead garden tour, check out last week’s Friday Photo. The photo below shows Ms. Formento and myself exploring the Johnson library – she was a huge fan of the beautiful view coming from the windows! (Please forgive the pajamas, but I am not one to miss out on Spirit Week, and our author visits happened to fall on pajama day!)


In her hands, Ms. Formento is holding a special gift created for her by Johnson Elementary School students. After reading Ms. Formento’s books together in class, kindergarten and first grade students used their imaginations (and their best coloring skills) to draw their dream garden. I bound all of these gardens together with a short thank you note for Ms. Formento, and we presented the book to her at the end of her presentation. Although some of the plants might not be found in nature (Spaghetti Trees and Book Bushes aren’t quite ready to be planted in the real world yet), I hope that Ms. Formento will enjoy the way her books inspired Johnson students to appreciate and take a closer look at the nature around them.

Friday afternoon, we were lucky enough to have another fabulous author come to visit our third and fourth grade students. Deborah Heiligman, author of more than thirty books, has been the talk of the older grades since we finished reading her newest biography, The Boy Who Loved Math, a couple of weeks ago. This incredibly interesting story of Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos captivated our third and fourth grade students, and since they read the final word, Deborah’s visit was all they could think about. We drafted questions to ask the author and researched details about her career and body of work in library class. By the time she came on Friday afternoon, the auditorium was buzzing!


Ms. Heiligman absolutely did not disappoint. From the very beginning, her lively presentation was packed with details, humor, and valuable information about the publishing industry. With so many passionate readers and writers here at Johnson Elementary, it felt almost like she had tailored her presentation just for us! Ms. Heiligman took us through the process of writing a book, from the very first idea (which, we learned, can strike during a nap, a meal, or even while in the shower!) to the very last draft. She gave us invaluable advice about drafting, editing, and refusing to ever give up. She also shared personal details about her life and her work that made the students see this famous and successful author as a regular person – making many of their goals seem more attainable. She also gave us plenty of behind-the-scenes info on our favorite biography, The Boy Who Loved Math, and a fascinating peek into Erdos’ world.



 Ms. Heiligman was kind enough to provide us with plenty of time for a great question and answer session, which was perfect because the audience was bursting with questions. Students asked her about her writing process, about her feelings during the difficult steps of revision and publication, and about future books that she’s planning. They asked questions about her characters, her inspiration, and her favorite authors and illustrators. I was very impressed with the depth and thought that the students put into their questions, and I think Ms. Heiligman was, too!


Many of our students closed their Friday with an out-of-this-world visit to Reading Under the Stars night, an event put together by the Johnson reading team that went perfectly with the week’s reading and literacy theme. I’ve never seen so much excitement coming through the doors as Johnson students and families received their Stargazer Passports and entered a solar systems of crafts, activities, games, snacks, and one-of-a-kind experiences. The planetarium and solar-powered telescope were a huge hit, and I loved seeing my students posing with the rocket ship! The evening closed with students reading their prize-winning star poems in the auditorium, and I was so proud of all of the hard work that our winners put into their poems. Congratulations to all of the winners, and to their families and friends! And BRAVO to the reading team for putting together such a wonderful event!

I hope that you took advantage of some of the increidible activities, programs, and panels that took place in Charlottesville over the weekend. I saw a few students on the mall Saturday and Sunday, heading to and from Festival of the Book events with book-filled bags in their hands and smiles on their faces. I even saw some students at the Lois Lowry event on Sunday, which was a dream come true for this Lowry-loving librarian!

Stay tuned for an update on our Kiss the Pig fundraiser, including a photo of the adorable little piggies that will be visiting us on Friday!

-Miss Messham

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