Sunday, January 8, 2012

Author Visit: Carmen Agra Deedy

One of most special traditions at Chets Creek is Media Specialist's KK Cherney's commitment to bring a children's author or illustrator to our campus each year.  This year the children and staff had the opportunity to hear the delightful children's author, Carmen Agra Deedy.  The children were captivated by her stories.  She was born in Cuba and came to the United States when she was three years old.  She told the primary students about leaving Cuba and about her first year in school in Decatur, GA as a first grader and as a second language learner, and about finding common ground in baseball and the peanut man.  Not only was her story heart-wrenching but it was so funny!  She had the children in the palm of her hand!  She told other stories to the assemblies of older students and even met with a group of second language learners during lunch.

Principal Susan Phillips used one of Carmen's books in the morning to provide monthly professional development for the teachers around her book-of-the-month.  This month the teachers walked in to find the Cuban folktale, Martina,The Beautiful Cockroach as their selected book for the month. The table was set up with Cuban coffee ( which was wonderful!) and Cuban bread!   However, the beautiful book was written totally in Spanish!   The Principal asked the teachers in groups of three to read the book and figure out what the story was about as the author watched from the back of the room! 
It was quite interesting to watch the teachers - responses mirrored what we see from our second language students on a daily basis, from those that simply gave up because it was too hard, to those that tried to figure out the story from the few words that they knew (often incorrectly), to those that used other strategies such as looking at the pictures to figure out the story.  The point was to put teachers in the place of a second language student... and it worked quite well.  Principal Phillips then gave the teachers a list of researched based strategies for teaching second language students and asked each group of teachers to write ways that they would use the book to reinforce one of the strategies.  Those teacher-generated ideas will be housed on the school's book-of-the-month wiki so that teachers can return to and use this book, that is now part of their classroom library, each year.
Carmen Agra Deedy with
my kindergarten granddaughter
Students were allowed the opportunity to order one of the author's books before the holiday, so after lunch each of those children was invited to the Media Center to meet with the author and have the book signed.  What a thrill it is for these young students to actually meet a published author!  I loved hearing some of the older students talk about how they have a signed book from each year they have been at Chets Creek!  What a treasured gift of memories.

It was such a special day for the teachers and the children, especially some of our second language learners.  Many of our students heard books by Carmen Agra Deedy for the first time and others revisited books they have loved and had been hearing for the weeks leading up to her visit.  For many this will be a day that is pressed into  their  memories for a long time to come and it will help them realize that authors are real people and help them visualize the possibility of becoming an author themselves! For some of our second language learners who are struggling each day to comprehend what is going on around them, I think this visit must have renewed hope as they look at how well things turned out for Carmen.  Amazing day!

Check out this delightful retelling done by a Cuban-American (former teacher) mom with  a kindergartner in Mrs. Mallon and Mrs. Dillard's class!  People just wouldn't believe what happens at our school!

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