Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bringing The Secret Zoo to Life

 I am SO excited!  Bryan Chick, the author of The Secret Zoo series, is launching Book 4 tomorrow!  Below is something I wrote 2 years ago when his second book was launched!  

Animals hanging from the ceiling,
And shelves of books,
Come inside,
And take a look!

            At the start of the school year, my coworker and I began reading The Secret Zoo to our students, as we often do at the beginning of the year.  (It has been one of the most exciting and well received books I have ever read aloud to my students.)   In my class, I enjoy inviting guests to Skype in with us.  I invited Bryan Chick to Skype with us, and we were fortunate enough to be his very first Skype experience ever.  During the Skype we had discussed how authors celebrate the launch of their books, as in the movies there always seems to be some type of gala event.  We discovered that in reality, celebrations were more on the modest side and often planned by the author.   Wheels began to spin in my head, as I knew that we could help with the celebration…and the magic began!
            Beginning in January, the students in my classroom and my coworker, Kim Hamlin’s classroom, started brainstorming on how we could create a celebration for Bryan Chick.  It was decided that we would bring a scene from Secrets and Shadows to life, using an extra room in our hallway to transform. ( We were fortunate enough by HarpersCollins to be given a galley copy of Secrets and Shadows ahead of the launch!)   In Chapter 7, The Library of the Secret Society is introduced, and Bryan uses precise details to allow the reader to visualize this setting.  It was a great teaching tool, as he describes the library over 7 pages, something a typical third grader would do in 1-3 sentences.  In fact, I now even tell the kids, “Go all Bryan Chick out in your writing,” encouraging them to infuse glorious words and dynamic descriptions in their pieces.
            Once our classrooms had a setting in mind, it was then time to brainstorm ways the room could be transformed.  Each class came up with a list of ideas, and it was neat as different ideas were discussed in both classes.  Kim and I discussed the plans, and began delegating the creative tasks to the kids.  Fortunately, I have an intern teacher for the year, so I was able to monitor the students and act as the project manager.  For three weeks, small groups of students worked in the room, often even giving up their recess to be part of the excitement.  One particular student did a lot of work bringing the characters from The Secret Zoo to life at home.  Students would ask everyday, “Are you going to take kids in the room today?”   While working in the room, many learning opportunities arose.  With shelves of books to create, the concept of parallel lines and measurement was addressed.  Quality work was focused on, something several students needed a bit more direction with, yet were receptive of…as they wanted only the best for Mr. Chick (as they called him.)  Reflections of favorite books were discussed, as titles were written on the spines of books.  And one very special teaching and learning opportunity came unexpectedly to a student in my coworker’s class.
            One particular afternoon I had a group of students from Kim’s class in…5 boys.  They were some of the more active boys that took awhile to get focused, but once they were all on-task, they started having great conversations. They began to talk about how they thought Bryan Chick would react the first moment he walked into the room.  They talked about the excitement he would have and the pride as well.  Ryan, one of the boys said, “Bringing The Secret Zoo to Life!  Hey…that sounds like a poem.”  I said, “It does.  You should write a poem.”  Shrugging his shoulders and looking down, he replied, “Oh no…I am not good at writing poems.”  I went on to tell him that poems are great because there really isn’t a right or wrong way to write poems.  I then encouraged him to look around the room and observe.  It was then that the first stanza of the poem was created, with the help of myself and the other boys in the room.  Ryan had a sparkle in his eye, as he realized it really wasn’t that hard.  Another boy grasped the excitement and created a book cover for the poem.  A few days later I pulled Ryan out to work on the rest of the poem.  He looked around the room and created rhythmic stanzas to finish the poem…effortlessly!  He was so proud of himself and left the room excited to share it with his teacher.  He was now able to see himself as a poet…something he hadn’t recognized in himself before! 
            Actually, this whole experience allowed kids to see a potential they have never realized before.  Bringing Bryan Chick’s words to life…lifesize…was an awesome way to honor children’s literature and great writing.  They were able to see how important word choice and descriptions are when they write.  They were able to see how 42 students, 2 teachers, and 1 intern teacher could work together to accomplish a project.  They were able to see how hard work can turn into pride…even if along the way some things were hard.  I am confident that when these students think back to their third grade experience at Glengary Elementary, they are going to remember bringing The Secret Zoo to life! 
            I am also confident that when Bryan Chick thinks back to his launch of Secrets and Shadows, he is going to remember coming to Glengary Elementary, doing an assembly, and then being led down the hall past Wordles of The Secret Zoo, zoo exhibit signs, the shadow master, and pillars with a banner stating, The Library of the Secret Society, he is going to remember being blindfolded and surprised as he opened his eyes to his words honored.  He will remember the costumed monkeys walking around the room with books in their hands.  He will remember the excitement in the students wanting to share every detail and every bit of their handiwork.  He will remember the zoo themed snacks, including animal crackers and gummy bears.  He will remember the poem created by Ryan being read to him. He will remember sharing this experience with his wife and young daughter. He will remember how much his books meant to the students and teachers in these classrooms!
It was an amazing experience, an intimate experience, and one that cannot be replicated!  Well…at least until we help him celebrate the launch of Book 3 with a new group of students!  I can only imagine that Bryan’s descriptive delights will allow us to showcase our creativity…and allow students to experience learning in a highly motivational, meaningful, and magical way…yet again! 
(Post created in 2011 and shared with Bryan Chick.)

Bryan Chick uses amazing word choices!  We captured them on a chart (see below) and then created a bulletin board! 

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