This Month in Photos: March 2016


Spring is officially here, bringing with it all of the excitement of beautiful weather, bright flowers, and fun activities! Johnson is a flurry of excitement these days, and it’s all a librarian can do to keep up. March and April have been busy busy busy, and I’m happy to share a snapshot of some of the great things we’re sharing with your students.

March brought lots of excitement, with the Virginia Festival of the Book bringing some truly awesome visiting authors our way. Kevin Sherry, Timothy Young, and Julianna Morgan (with her rescue dog, Sashi) came to Johnson to share their books, while Johnson’s second and third grade students took the show on the road. We met with all of the second and third grade students in the city at St. Anne’s-Belfield to see Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg, authors of the mega-popular books The Stinky Cheese Man and Egg Egg Egg!, among many others. Scieszka and Weinberg did not disappoint their fans, relaying icky sticky stories and delivering jokes like a weathered comedy team. Students loved hearing about Scieszka’s childhood road trips with his brothers (spoiler alert: lots of carsickness involved) and getting a sneak peek at Weinberg’s new book, You Must be This Tall. Special thanks to St. Anne’s-Belfield for welcoming us to their campus for this special event, and to the Virginia Festival of the Book for all of their hard work in arranging these unique literary experiences.

You can read more about the Festival of the Book events at Johnson here.

Following our author visits, many classes were so inspired and excited that they felt the need to say thanks. Above are two thank you cards by Johnson kindergarteners for author Kevin Sherry. These adorable cards were inspired by Sherry’s book, I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean, which hasn’t stayed in the library for more than a few hours all month!

Fourth grade employees have really been proving their worth recently, completing more and more complicated library work during their lunch and recess shifts. Each day’s employees have different jobs – on Thursdays and Fridays you will find fourth graders checking in books, shelving, and delivering resources to teachers around the school, while Monday and Tuesday’s workers will monitor kindergarten and first grade classes, lending an extra hand to students in need. Above, employees show off their training with a first grade class; the first setting up the books for a first grade checkout period, and the next spending some special time reading with a younger buddy.

I love seeing the fourth graders take ownership in the library, and it has been so much fun to watch their library confidence and knowledge grow. Many are requesting extra shifts, extra responsibilities, and more extensive training. What started out as a small volunteer idea has now become one of the best parts of my day. Walker has some truly dedicated librarians coming up!

Speaking of mentors and helpers, have you seen the amazing videos that Johnson second graders created for their first grade buddies? I challenged second graders to think about the big changes that happen between first and second grade, and to create an instructional video to help first graders prepare for their upcoming transition. Second graders planned, wrote, shot, and edited the videos themselves (with just a little bit of help).

When the videos were finally finished, each second grade class hosted a special event for their first grade buddies, complete with a world premiere of their movies and a guided tour of all of the library’s best spots. You can learn more about this event and watch the videos here.

The Famous American Living Museum is always one of my favorite events of the year, and the fourth grade team knocked it out of the park this month! From Andy Warhol to the President and First Lady, Johnson’s fourth graders showed off their hard work and research skills with multi-faceted, engaging presentations about their Famous Americans. Posters, slideshows, monologues, costumes… you name it, our Museum had it. The traffic was heavy, but the exhibitions were worth the wait! Follow the link to view the PTO’s awesome blog post about the Famous American Living Museum.

Robotics, engineering, and Making are still front and center in the Learning Leopard Library, and it is amazing to see all of the things that our students can create. I can’t take any credit for the awesome light-up robot above, made only from tin foil, tape, and a watch battery – that was all HackMaster Jones! As an ITRT, Mr. Jones visits weekly with fourth grade classes to work on a STEAM and computer science curriculum. Their projects include amazing topics like Lego Robotics, circuits, MakeyMakey computer programming, Scratch, and more. I love my time meeting with Mr. Jones each week and hearing about all of the amazing things that our students are creating.


Fourth graders aren’t the only one catching the Maker spirit. This Maker project was a creative gift from a growing mover and shaker! Second grader Alexis re-purposed items from around her house to turn them into a creative project. The end product is a fun and imaginative farm that makes me smile every time I look at it. Way to go, Alexis! You’re a true Maker!


The beautiful weather has drawn us outside to talk about all things green and growing. Johnson students are so lucky to have our beautiful City Schoolyard Garden, and we love to peek at all of the plants growing in their flower beds. Above, pre-school makes observations about what they see, after reading a garden story about seeds and plants.

Pre-K isn’t just talking about growing.. we’re making things grow, too! This week, we read about Jack’s beanstalk and tried to build one of our own. In the story, the beanstalk is strong enough to carry Jack, the hen, the giant, and the giant’s wife… that is one sturdy structure! We experimented with what could make our beanstalk strong enough to stand, even with the giant making it shake. We tried lots of different bases and patterns to figure out, how can we make our beanstalk taller and stronger?

STEAM doesn’t have to involve fancy tools or computer coding. Sometimes it’s as simple as figuring out how things work, and then tweaking them to make them even better!

Lights, Science, ACTION! is still going strong on Thursday afternoons in the library. With help from our partners LightHouse Studio, students have been getting their feet wet in filmmaking AND their hands dirty in the garden. We are having a blast learning about camera and editing equipment and all of the work that goes into making a movie. And to put our new information to work, teams get to film our science experiments, documentary-style. On our last week in May, we will premiere the full film. I can’t wait!

Kindergarten is lucky enough to spend some quality time with the sisters of the Pi Beta Phi service sorority from the University of Virginia. Pi Beta Phi selected Johnson as the recipient of their CAR program (Champions Are Readers), which means that they come in every week to share their love of books with us. These ladies get cheers from the group ever week! You can learn more about our partnership with Pi Beta Phi here.


Stop by the library soon to check out the next teacher featured on our Mustache board (hint.. he’s hiding somewhere behind that large paper mustache…) and see what he’s reading!

There are LOTS of exciting events coming up at Johnson, including the Principal Search Forum THIS FRIDAY and the PTO Spring Picnic next week! Don’t miss out on any of the fun – keep track of all of the events by following the Johnson Elementary School PTO on Facebook. Parents can also sign up to receive convenient PTO Newsletters in their email each week to stay on top of all of Johnson’s news.

See you all next week at the PTO Spring Picnic!

Festival of the Book: Visiting Authors Kevin Sherry, Timothy Young, and Juliana Morgan


When I moved to Charlottesville, I had no idea that it was home to the Virginia Festival of the Book, an annual celebration of all things literature. Through my years here I have attended sessions by authors and illustrators, discussed childrens’ books and non-fiction texts, heard authors read their own work and watched graphic novel artists create magic before a crowd. The Festival of the Book is a treasure trove for book lovers of all ages and types, and (astoundingly!), many of the events are free to the public.

Just in case that wasn’t enough, the Festival of the Book also works closely with Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools to bring the magic of the Festival of the Book to our students. This year, hard working Festival organizers began the planning process back in November, working to provide schools with one-of-a-kind author experiences. And their hard work paid off!

First, we had a visit from Kevin Sherry, author of the hilarious and quirky favorites I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean and The Yeti Files, among others. I love sharing Mr. Sherry’s books with students because they get to laugh, learn, and participate in the story with me. They were thrilled as he hopped onto the stage, guitar in hand, wearing a giant bear head – and only got more excited when he started sharing bear knock-knock jokes!

With an intro like that, the auditorium was hanging on his every word. Mr. Sherry talked to us about why he writes, how he became an author, and some of his favorite things growing up that helped him to create his hilarious and quirky stories.

After we learned more about him, Mr. Sherry read some of his stories to us. These included a Johnson favorite, and the one that got the most audience participation – I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean!

We even got a sneak peek into his notebook, which included funny thoughts, ideas for new books, sketches, and all sorts of exciting author things.

Next, Mr. Sherry talked us through the writing and editing process for his awesome graphic novel, The Yeti Files. Leading yeti Blizz Richards didn’t start out as a vest wearing, exploring yeti hero – in fact, in the beginning, he was Betty the Yeti! But through the process of being edited and published, Mr. Sherry reinvented and reimagined the character until he became the Bliz we know and love. To celebrate all things Yeti, Mr. Sherry donned a yeti costume ended the presentation with a show-stopping yeti song.


We wrapped things up with some student questions. The group was curious about Mr. Sherry’s books, his inspiration, and, of course, his guitar! The group was so engaged and excited about his visit. They’re still buzzing about the yeti that sang them songs. I’m dying over the mesmerized little faces in the photo below.


Later that day it was time to greet our next visiting author, the wonderful Timothy Young. Mr. Young’s books seem to me like the perfect foray into a child’s mind – complete with mystery boxes, picture book tantrums, and penguin facts. Between his fun, silly stories and his beautiful illustrations, the students loved Timothy Young and his stories right away.

Mr. Young shared some of his favorites with us, including Do Not Open the Box, I Hate Picture Books, and zombie-loving crowd favorite They’re Coming. (The photo below was snapped during They’re Coming – only a spooky but hilarious zombie and creepy crawly story could get faces like that!)


Students and teachers both loved Mr. Young’s presentation because of his mix of stories, jokes, fun details, and information about what it’s like to be an author and an illustrator. The students were so impressed when they learned that the intricate drawings were done by Mr. Young himself, and he inspired many budding artists.

In case that wasn’t enough, Mr. Young left us with a beautiful, personalized piece of artwork to hang in our library! I was a little bit excited about it, in case you can’t tell.


On Friday morning, we had one last visitor – or, should I say, two. Author Juliana Morgan came to speak and brought the star of many of her stories, her rescue dog, Sashi.


Juliana was so inspired by Sashi that she became an author to share her story. Now, Juliana and Sashi visit schools to talk about the special relationships between dogs and their humans, how humans can make animals feel comfortable and loved, and all of the wonderful things that can come along when you choose to rescue an animal.

As an animal lover, I was so excited to see Ms. Morgan and meet Sashi in person. And I wasn’t the only one! When word spread that a dog was visiting, the auditorium filled up – some students had to pull up chairs behind the back row. Ms. Morgan helped us to sit quietly and explained the importance of using self control to help Sashi to feel safe. Despite the large number of students in the audiorium, Sashi sat perched happily on Ms. Morgan’s lap for the whole hour – Ms. Morgan told me later that that was because our crowd was so respectful during her presentation.


Students had lots of questions for Ms. Morgan and Sashi, wondering about her eating and sleeping habits, their school visits, and about how they found each other. My favorite question came from a first grader – “Does your dog lick?” Spoiler alert – she does!

Thank you so much to the hard working crew that puts together the Virginia Festival of the Book each year – you knocked it out the park again for 2016! These events are so special to our students, and they leave feeling so inspired and excited.

And thank you to Kevin Sherry, Timothy Young, and Juliana Morgan for traveling to Johnson to share your talents with us. You’ve always got fans in Charlottesville!



Visiting Author: Chris Barcomb


This week, kindergarten and first grade students got a visit from a very special guest – Chris Barcomb, who is a medically retired officer from the Albemarle County Police Department, a talented author, a comic book aficionado, and so much more! Mr. Barcomb is the author of the brand new Superior Sam series, and today he came to talk to us about the first book from the series, The Amazing Adventure of Superior Sam.




The Amazing Adventure of Superior Sam introduces us to Sam, a kid who is determined to be a superhero. His superhero identity, Superior Sam, is fast, strong, and determined – and he never backs down from a challenge! Unfortunately for Sam, when he accepts a dare to jump off of the tallest slide at the playground, his landing isn’t so super… and when he wakes up later in the hospital, his life is forever changed.

Students follow Sam as he deals with the difficult aftermath of his accident. How can he go back to school? Will his friends treat him the same way? Will he ever feel Superior again?

Mr. Barcomb’s presentation centered around Superior Sam, but it included so much more. He talked about his time with the Albemarle County Police Department, and brought his police badge and passed it around for everyone to see. As you can tell, the chance to hold a real police badge was a dream come true!



As students passed and watched, Mr. Barcomb talked to us about how easy it is to make assumptions about people, and how that can lead to bullying. He asked students to share assumptions that they might have about him after his introduction, hearing that he was a police officer, and that he is now retired. He challenged students to be open and speak directly to others about what might bother them, communicating and working through problems. And then, he pulled out his biggest surprise yet. Why does Mr. Barcomb feel so passionately about kindness, open-minded thinking, and inclusivity for all? Take a look.



Mr. Barcomb is an amputee, after an injury during his time with the Albemarle County Police Department. He introduced himself to students and got to know them before sharing his disability, and then challenged their assumptions by going to tie his shoe – and pulling off his prosthetic leg! I wish I could have better captured the reactions on students’ faces when he nonchalantly tied that bow. When many children think disabled, they think elderly or weak – Mr. Barcomb was a perfect example that things are not always what they seem, and that everyone deserves kindness and respect.

He even let students get an up-close look at his prosthetic, complete with an awesome Captain America socket. Mr. Barcomb is a huge fan of Captain America because he never gives up – sounds familiar, right?



After reading Superior Sam to the group – while standing on one leg, without even breaking a sweat! – Mr. Barcomb invited students to ask questions. I was so impressed with the thoughtful questions that students asked – from empathetic questions regarding pain and recovery to logical queries about swimming, sleeping, doctors, and the cost of the prosthetic. No matter how wacky or personal the question, Mr. Barcomb spoke to each child with respect, humor, and honesty. He was a perfect example of how hard work and determination can overcome any adversity – ideals that we work to instill in our children every single day. And in case that wasn’t enough, he challenged each class to a one-legged standing competition, to give them a short example of what he feels 24 hours a day, every day. What an incredible opportunity to inspire empathy in young children and challenge them to take a walk in someone else’s shoes – eh hem, I mean, shoe.


Mr. Barcomb’s is a perfect fit with the Johnson community. We were all so impressed by his bravery, humble and approachable attitude, and the good natured humor with which he shared his life. Mr. Barcomb even gifted a few copies of Superior Sam to the Johnson library for students to enjoy, which got a cheer from the audience! Mr. Barcomb’s special visit is one that students are sure to remember.

Thank you so much to local author Chris Barcomb for sharing this unique and invaluable experience with the Johnson Library! We can’t wait to have you back to visit soon.

You can buy your own copy of Superior Sam on Amazon, and keep an eye out for sequels. Superior Sam will have his own seven book series! Mr. Barcomb is an incredibly kind and friendly man who is so passionate about sharing his story with children. He welcomes contact from kids and parents and would love to hear from you if you have feedback about his Johnson visit, so don’t be shy! You can contact him via email at

Learning Leopard Library post published by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


This March, Johnson students were lucky enough to get to see Kate DiCamillo speak during the Virginia Festival of the Book. The experience was spectacular, and I wrote a blog post to share the wonderful things that we learned. Since then, the post has garnered hundreds of page views, been shared by Charlottesville City Schools and Virginia Festival of the Book social media, and read by teachers and librarians across the country.

Now, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities has published the piece in their biannual publication and shared with all of the organization’s members. Click the photo below to view a PDF copy of the magazine, or visit the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities website and register to receive your free print copy.

The Learning Leopard Library blog featured in the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities' biannual publication

The Learning Leopard Library blog featured in the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ biannual publication

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities biannual publication, featuring a post from the Learning Leopard Library blog

I’m proud to share this article and proud of the statement that it makes: Johnson students are proud readers, writers, and supporters of literature.
Pass the word along – young readers DO exist, and they are LOUD!

Visiting Author: Priya Mahadevan


This afternoon, local author Priya Mahadevan brought the exotic and colorful world of India into the Learning Leopard Library! Mrs. Mahadevan’s new book, Princesses Only Wear Putta Puttas, tells the tale of Fey Fey (based on a real Johnson first grade student!), who visits India and loves the colorful clothes she gets to wear to her cousin’s wedding. When she comes back to the United States, she’s not ready to put her beloved “putta puttas” (her words for the traditional long skirt and blouse) to rest. It’s fall and Virginia is getting chilly, but Fey Fey wants nothing to do with a coat – because princesses only wear putta puttas!

Priya with her beautiful family. Shreya, inspiration for the character Fey Fey, is in the front.

Priya with her beautiful family. Shreya, inspiration for the character Fey Fey, is in the front.

Mrs. Mahadevan shared her story with kindergarten and first grade classes this afternoon, and her multimedia presentation transported students into the busy streets of India, experiencing the culture and excitement firsthand. Students were delighted to learn exciting new Indian words, see photos of beautiful Indian jewelry and clothing, and experience other aspects of Indian culture through the story’s engaging writing.


You can learn more about Princesses Only Wear Putta Puttas or donate to the book’s Kickstarter page here. When you visit her page, pay close attention to some of the little faces in the video – can you recognize any other Johnson students who don’t want to wear coats over their putta puttas?

A huge thank you to Priya Mahadevan for generously donating your time and your wonderful story to the Johnson library this afternoon! We loved having you and can’t wait to have Princesses Only Wear Putta Puttas in our library collection.

Learn more about Priya Mahadevan’s story, Princesses Only Wear Putta Puttas, on her Kickstarter page. Or follow this link to find out more about one of Priya’s other passions, her delicious food!

Festival of the Book: Visiting Author Kate DiCamillo


Last Friday, students from all over Charlottesville City and Albemarle County zipped rain coats, boarded field trip buses, and made their way through the rainy city of Charlottesville to St. Anne’s-Belfield school. More than 1,200 students gathered in the STAB Convocation Center and sat, tapping their feet and twiddling their thumbs nervously. There was electricity in the air as everyone waited for the lights to dim and the speaker to arrive.

When the speaker finally stepped on stage, the applause nearly shook the ceiling. Students were on their feet yelling, clapping as loudly as they could, yelling phrases like “I love you” and “You’re awesome”. So who was this mystery speaker?

Rock star, setting up to play a set…?

NFL quarterback talking about his famous touchdown pass…?

Famous actress reciting lines from her newest film…?


The speaker that garnered so much excitement, electricity, and joy, was Kate DiCamillo, humble and hilarious author of some of the most beloved childrens’ books in recent history.

DiCamillo might not be a traditional rock star, but here in the Learning Leopard Library, she has achieved honorary rock star status – her Mercy Watson and Bink and Gollie series are constantly checked out, the cover of Because of Winn Dixie elicits squeals and sighs upon sight, and last year’s Newbery winner Flora and Ulysses has more holds in the library system than you can shake a stick at. When it comes to authors for children, DiCamillo is about as cool as it gets.

So when Ms. DiCamillo grabbed the microphone, dimmed the lights, and greeted us, you could hear a pin drop. DiCamillo spoke to her entranced audience honestly, highlighting the difficult and painful process that helped her to grow. She gave us the long list of illnesses that kept her in the hospital for months at a time during elementary school. She shared personal and touching truths with students, like the fact that she struggled to understand why her father didn’t live with their family for most of her childhood. She invited us to share some of her most difficult moments, like the recent loss of her mother. She described people in her life that seemed to be rooting for her to fail, and pushing her to settle. With each slide, she let us into her life, her heart, and her mind – and inspired students to keep moving, working, and striving.


DiCamillo as a baby, before her chronic illnesses began


Her best advice? If you want to be a writer, you have to WRITE!


473 – the number of times that DiCamillo’s first book, Because of Winn Dixie, was rejected before it was finally published in 2000, and named a Newbery Honor Book later that year.


Johnson 3rd and 4th graders in the audience, buzzing with excitement!

 Ms. DiCamillo made us laugh, made us think, and made us feel that the whole world was within our reach. But, to be honest, it wasn’t her words that made me tear up.

Towards the end of her presentation, Kate DiCamillo went through her complete works, giving each book its own slide and asking students for their opinions. The results were deafening. 1,200 kids were on their feet hooting, hollering, and cheering with all their might. The joyful noise grew with each slide until, when she finally reached Flora & Ulysses, I thought the roof was going to fall on top of us.

While the rest of the room roared, I grinned through tears. I have adults ask me all the time what it’s like to work with a generation of students that choose video games over picture books. The opinion seems to be that today’s children have lost their passion for reading in the digital age – but do you want to know a secret? That’s not true. Passionate readers still exist; I am lucky enough to work with approximately 350 tiny ones every single day. And when you combine these young readers with positive mentors and wonderful literature like that of Kate DiCamillo, something magical happens. They grow to become well-rounded, successful, and compassionate adults.

Sitting in that Convocation Center, I knew that those cheers weren’t for video games. They weren’t for MTV artists or basketball players. That cacophonous jumble of noise and memory and love was all about books that had opened our eyes, captured our hearts, and changed our lives.

I can’t think of a single better reason to stand up and cheer.

– Miss Messham

Thank you to the Virginia Festival of the Book, Kate DiCamillo, and the hardworking staff of Charlottesville City Schools for making this incredible experience possible for the students of Johnson Elementary School. 

Did you miss our other Festival of the Book posts? Check ’em out:

Meet our Visiting Authors

Virginia Festival of the Book Visiting Author: Sandy Pugh

Virginia Festival of the Book Visiting Author: Anne Marie Pace

All posts labeled Festival of the Book

Or prepare to be wowed by some aspiring writers right here at Johnson Elementary School:

Learning Leopard Library Student Book Review Archive

Festival of the Book: Visiting Author Anne Marie Pace



Thursday afternoon, Virginia Festival of the Book author Anne Marie Pace stopped by Johnson to teach our students what it’s like to be an author. She had some great insider details about the writing and editing process, and even showed us real drafts of her Vampirina Ballerina series!


Mrs. Pace started from the beginning, talking about where she gets her ideas and how these ideas grow to be books. She explained each step along the way, from the first idea all the way to the publisher.


LeUyen Pham’s adorable (and creepy!) illustrations from Vampirina Ballerina were a crowd favorite – even if they were just snippets from the editing process.


Mrs. Pace called on a helper from the audience to show off the recital page, which she said was her favorite illustration of the book.


Thank you to Festival of the Book author Anne Marie Pace for bringing Vampirina Ballerina – and the writing process – to life for Johnson students! Come visit us any time!

Virginia Festival of the Book Visiting Author: Sandy Pugh



This Thursday, author Sandy Pugh visited Johnson to put on a Peeper-ific show for our kindergarten, first, and second grade students!


Sandy introduced us to the Peeper gang, read us a few Peeper stories, and even gave us a sneak preview of some new books that she has in the works. In the picture above, she had Johnson students help us to get to know the Peepers using her Peeper Poem (you can hear it here).


Mrs. Pugh even showed us how to make our own Peepers, using a straw to blow paint around the page. She brought some detailed directions for us to take home, and each student that attended the assembly brough a special Peeper Paper home on Thursday.



 Mrs. Pugh even made us our very own, personalized Peeper – watch for this little guy to go up in a frame in the library soon!


Thank you, author Sandy Pugh, for coming to visit Johnson for the Festival of the Book. We loved your Peeper stories and laughs! We hope to see you again soon!