Monday, November 11, 2013

J&P Voelkel & Successful Author Visits

While Bear Pond Books takes a brief break from our monthly author-educator talks, we're turning our attention to sharing information from past talks and what's sent to us through our network of educators and authors. We're lucky to be in a state with so many creative, engaged people who are passionate about education, about the subjects they write about and teach, and about how children learn to always inquire and discover new things.

It seems appropriate during this vacation from educator events to start our blog posts with information on . . . well, educator events. It's a guide to arranging author visits to your school, classroom, library, book club, etc. . .

J&P Voelkel are known for their ability to make Maya history and culture come alive. You can get lost on their website In fact, I just lost 15 minutes reading up on Maya math (did you know they were one of the first civilizations to get the concept of zero?). Their teachers' materials include a full CD of information compiled with input from archaeologists, middle school teachers, and contemporary Maya people. And that's before we even get to the books themselves, an adventure series called The Jaguar Stones that Booklist describes as “a fact-packed, thrilling ride."
So, who better prepared to give us an author's eye view on crafting events that both catch children's imagination and match up with a teacher's lesson plans?

It turns out, nobody is better prepared. And the Voelkels left us with both a checklist for author visits and full notes on their presentation about how to arrange a successful visit.

These materials have great information - so we'll close this post and let you switch over to what the Voelkels have to say. One important thing to note: J&P Voelkel are available to do presentations in Vermont schools and you'll see from what they've written that they're enthusiastic about it! E-mail them at info @

Do you have useful resources, questions you'd like to see answered, or other information on connecting authors with educators? Let us know by e-mailing helen.labun.jordan @

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Agriculture in the Classroom

On November 2nd, Bear Pond Books hosted a talk about food, farms and picture books, with a particular focus on preK-4th grade classrooms. Abbie Nelson, Education Coordinator at the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-VT) and picture book author and illustrator Gail Gibbons led the conversation.

This event came ahead of Agricultural Literacy Week (November 18th - 22nd). It was an hour packed with information, and we've gathered some of it below:

This was our last author-educator talk for 2013, but we're back with more in 2014! See the schedule here. If you want to receive announcements of educator resources and events from Bear Pond Books, please contact helen.labun.jordan -at- with Subscribe in the subject line.  

Muffins with local carrots, flour, eggs, butter, cream cheese & maple syrup

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Abbie Nelson and Ag in the Classroom

In Franklin County, four libraries participate in tractor days - when farmers bring their tractors out for preschoolers to explore and learn about farming.

Some schools are using Farm-to-School grants from the Agency of Agriculture to get cooking carts, which can travel from classroom to classroom for cooking projects.

Many schools participate in a farmer correspondence program, receiving letters from a local farmer during the winter, then visiting the farm or bringing their farmer correspondent in as a speaker in the spring.

One Vermont teacher has found a simple way to pull more food education into daily schedules - she brings in a whole fruit for snack time, letting kids identify the fruit, taste test it, looking at the parts of a fruit, or discussing where it comes from and how it's raised. A lot can be learned in a ten minute snack.

There are a lot of ways to build agriculture into classroom education. On November 2nd, Abbie Nelson from the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-VT) shared some of the resources available to educators in Vermont. Her organization is part of VT Food Education Every Day, which "works with schools and communities to raise awareness about healthy food, the role of Vermont farms and farmers, and good nutrition." They have resources available online that include guides to bringing local food into schools, lesson plans, guides to taste testing, program evaluations, and how to involve the whole community in learning about farming. 

Two new resources that will be available in November are the New School Cuisine cookbook, which emphasizes healthy, local foods and practical ways to incorporate them into cafeterias, and a comprehensive guide to health and wellness in schools developed with VT-FEED and the Agency of Education. These resources are going to every school in Vermont. They're also being distributed nationally through the Child Nutrition Program.

These guides reflect both lessons learned in Vermont schools, and changes happening federally. Changes to school lunch guidelines mean that children will be introduced to more varied foods in the cafeteria, which in turn is an opportunity to teach them about these foods, health, and farming. Some changes include 'eating the rainbow' (many different colors of vegetable), more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, legumes and tofu is now recognized as a protein source.

Right now, NOFA-VT is gearing up for Agricultural Literacy Week, November 18th - 22nd. You can use their webpage to find out about agricultural activities happening in your region that week, to list ones that you know, or get inspired about ways to get involved.

We got inspired through picture books. Picture book author and illustrator Gail Gibbons joined Abbie on Saturday, and you can read her thoughts here. We also used books Gail and Abbie referenced, recommended reading from Shelburne Farms, and favorites from Jane in the Children's Room to put together a virtual display of some great farm-related picture books - check them out!

(And don't forget that teachers get a 20% discount on purchases for their classrooms).

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Where Gail Gibbons Gets her Picture Book Ideas

Gail Gibbons has written 169 picture books, and she's got no shortage of ideas for the next hundred either. While they aren't all about farming (her topics range from gorillas to sky scrapers), many of them are, and she came in to talk about her books as part of the Bear Pond Books author-educator discussion ahead of Agricultural Literacy Week (November 18th - 22nd).

Gail's first farm-related book was The Milk Makers, which became a Reading Rainbow book. She chose that topic because her normal driving routes went past many Vermont farms, and one day her young daughter asked why she hadn't done a book about cows. So, she did a book about cows.

Traveling around the state and country, talking with her young students, Gail quickly realized how much information about basic things like where milk comes from is missing from what children learn. "Kids in cities don't know where milk comes from, it comes from cartons, that's all they know. . . that's what really grabbed me," Gail said.

Even in Vermont, where most kids live near farms, there's a lack of understanding about where food comes from. One teacher shared a story of taking students out to dig sweet potatoes from the school garden. Students had a hard time guessing what the dug potatoes were. "Some of them guessed tomatoes!"

Gail's picture books can help fill those gaps. She starts with the basics and builds from there. Potatoes, for example, grow in the ground, tomatoes do not. So what are the vegetables we dig up from under ground? Gail gave other examples of basic ideas everyone should know, but many people don't. These are the ideas that find their way into her books. For example, there's the question of how to grow flowers (what grows from a seed? what grows from a bulb?) or the difference between corn, which you harvest then replant the next year, and apples, which you harvest then care for the same trees year after year.      
Once Gail chooses a topic, she reads up on it, with "piles of books". Then, she checks with experts in the field. She's surprised at how many books pass along bad information - one book can make an error, and it's found replicated in other books later. Field trips and conversations with people who work every day on the topics she writes about are important ways to double check the reading material. On these trips, her husband will also help by taking pictures that Gail uses to make accurate illustrations later.

Students can follow a similar path of inquiry. It starts with looking at the food around them and asking, where does that come from? Then tracing that food back to the beginning, through reading about it in books, talking to the people who prepare the food, maybe even visiting the farms where it's grown or trying to grow some things for themselves! There's a lot to learn and Gail's books can be a great starting point.

For more resource ideas to support learning about agriculture, see Part 2 of this post with Abbie Nelson from VT Food Education Every Day.