Award-winning author visits Elsmere and Hamagrael

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Students at two of the district’s elementary schools recently celebrated reading in a big way when they welcomed award-winning children’s author Adam Gidwitz to their schools.

Gidwitz visited Hamagrael Elementary School on Monday, Feb. 6 and Elsmere Elementary School on Tuesday, Feb. 7. Students at both schools recently finished reading the same book, The Unicorn Rescue Society: Creature of the Pines. The book was written by Gidwitz and illustrated by Hatem Aly.

Every student at Elsmere and Hamagrael received a book, courtesy of each school’s PTA organization, as part of those schools’ One School, One Book program.

The Unicorn Rescue Society is a series of children’s books written by Gidwitz about adventure and friendship. Each book in the series features a mythical creature from a different part of the world.

Gidwitz spent two full days with the students, meeting with different grade levels throughout the day. He read excerpts from his books, described the creative process behind his books, and answered lots of questions from students in grades K-5.

One of the most popular questions for the New York Times best-selling author was, “How long did it take you to write your books?”

“That depends on the book,” said Gidwitz, who has written 11 books for children.

For K-1 students at Hamagrael, Gidwitz tried to add some perspective when answering.

“Is anyone here six years old?” asked Gidwitz. As several hands went up, he said, “Well, it took me your whole life to write The Inquisitor’s Tale.”

The Inquisitor’s Tale earned Gidwitz a Newbery Medal honor in 2017. The Newbery Medal recognizes distinguished contributions to American literature for children. Another of Gidwitz’ books, A Tale Dark and Grimm has been turned into an animated series for Netflix. The series debuted last fall and was nominated for a first-of-its-kind Children’s and Family Emmy award for Best Animated Series.

During his visits to Elsmere and Hamagrael, Gidwitz said he was impressed by all the preparation and research students and staff did as part of the school-wide book reads.

Learning about mythical creatures from different regions and different cultures across the world was part of each school’s lessons. The lessons were facilitated by library media specialists Jaimee Meyer at Elsmere and Cailie Hafener at Hamagrael.

“Classroom teachers were invited to share the book with their students as a class read-aloud,” said Hafener. “Many classes read the entire book while some younger students listened to excerpts geared to their age.”

Hafener said in library class students also learned about the roles of authors and illustrators in the creative process.  She said they also used research skills, collaborative activities, STEM and artistic skills to learn about the mythical creatures in the Unicorn Rescue Society series. 

“One of our art teachers, Julia Montepagani, worked with students to build their knowledge of fantastical art and the elements involved in creating images based on the books’ themes,” said Hafener. “We also had a visit from artist Andrea Hersh who spoke to our fifth graders about the power of community art and the foundations of mural creation. This culminated in our school-wide collaborative banner — featuring the students’ artwork — which we displayed to welcome Adam Gidwitz to the school.”

At Elsmere, the school-wide book project began on January 16 with each family receiving a copy of  The Unicorn Rescue Society: Creature of the Pines. 

“While reading the book, there was daily trivia based on the previous night’s chapters,” said Elsmere Library Media Specialist Jaimee Meyer. “In library class at Elsmere, students also learned about the mythical creatures, read fairy tales and eventually created their own mythical creatures.

“We presented Adam with a bound copy of their incredible beings so he’d never be out of ideas!” said Meyer.

Meyer even got her own mother involved in the school-wide book adventure. A retired teacher from the New York City public schools, Margo Allen made a giant stuffed “Jersey Devil” for her daughter to share with students as a cozy reading partner.

The Jersey Devil is the mythical character featured in The Unicorn Rescue Society: Creature of the Pines. The book is set in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey.

Meyer invited educators from the Albany Pine Bush to talk to students about the unique features of both the New Jersey Pine Barrens and the Pine Bush here in the Capital Region. 

Thank you to everyone, especially our PTAs, library media specialists, teachers and special guests, for helping to make special memories for our students.