Monday, June 6, 2016

Skyping with Jeff Gottesfeld

On Wednesday, the fourth graders at Williams Elementary School were fortunate to have the opportunity to Skype with Jeff Gottesfeld, author of the beautiful picture book, The Tree in the Courtyard.  To say that our video chat was incredible would be an understatement!

Jeff actually attended Colby College, so he is quite familiar with our local area.  After chatting with the students about McGrath Pond and his love of fishing, he offered to read the book to our five fourth grade classes.  Although the teachers had read aloud the book to their students prior to our Skype session, it was powerful to actually hear the author read the book the way he intended.  You could have heard a pin drop, even though we were sitting in the cafeteria with more than seventy students.  Everyone in the room was moved as Jeff became emotional at the conclusion of this beautiful text.  It meant the world to us when he shared that reading aloud to us was his favorite time sharing The Tree in the Courtyard.

For the next thirty minutes, students took turns asking Jeff questions about his process and The Tree in the Courtyard.  We could tell he was impressed with the depth of our students' thinking!
Our readers wanted to know:

Why was the tree a she?

You used third person narration but it also seems that the story is told through the tree's point of view.  Why did you decide to write the story that way?

Why was the girl so important to the tree?

Why did people try so hard to save the tree, but not the girl?

Why did you choose to write about Anne Frank?  What inspired you?

How long did it take you to research this topic?  How did you get all of your information?  Did you have help researching this book?

How old were you when you decided you wanted to write this book?

When did you become an author?  How many books have you written?

Why did the illustrator choose to do the illustrations in black and white?

When/how did you become interested in becoming an author?

For thirty minutes, Jeff provided our readers with detailed answers to each and every question.  He made each child feel important as he continued to say "That's a great question!"  In his responses, he shared many inspirational messages that will stay with our students for days and years to come.  The hour passed in the blink of an eye.  At the end of the session, Jeff explained a few things that he would like to revise in the book.  Our advice would be to not change a thing, as we love The Tree in the Courtyard just as it is!

On Thursday, I sent Jeff an e-mail to thank him for his time and for making our readers feel so special.  He responded with the following message:

I will tell you what I told the Morning Sentinel in the letter-to-the-editor that I submitted to them yesterday afternoon: I am no rookie at the book biz. I've done hundreds of school visits over the years. I have never, ever had an encounter with a group of students who were as thoughtful, well-prepared, focused, and interested. Those questions! I really had to think about some of them, because they were probing into the deepest and most fascinating depths of the creative process. Those kids were just delightful in every possible way, and all credit goes to them, to the educational treasure that is you, and all of their teachers. 

Here's a link to Jeff's letter-to-the-editor that appeared in our local newspaper this morning.  Jeff is right; our students are lucky to have outstanding teachers at WES who model a love of learning each and every day.  Thank you, Jeff for your time and for inspiring our students to be better readers and writers.  We will be forever grateful for the opportunity to "meet" you!  I can promise you that The Tree in the Courtyard will be a treasured read aloud in our classrooms.

If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it!

Goodreads Summary:
Told from the perspective of the tree outside Anne Frank's window—this book introduces her story to a young audience.

The tree in the courtyard was a horse chestnut. Her leaves were green stars; her flowers foaming cones of white and pink. Seagulls flocked to her shade. She spread roots and reached skyward in peace. 

The tree watched a little girl, who played and laughed and wrote in a diary. When strangers invaded the city and warplanes roared overhead, the tree watched the girl peek out of the curtained window of the annex. It watched as she and her family were taken away—and when her father returned after the war, alone.

The tree died the summer Anne Frank would have turned eighty-one, but its seeds and saplings have been planted around the world as a symbol of peace.

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