Sunday, May 26, 2013

Secret Teddy Society in the classroom

Something happened that was rather serendipitous. While I was doing a Goodreads book giveaway (Goodreads is a social website for readers) for STS, I randomly contacted a person that had entered the drawing. I don't know what prompted me to reach out to this individual. His icon was a stuffed pig, plush toy and at the time he didn't have any social connections on Goodreads. I simply wrote to say thank you for entering and I hope you win. I also mentioned that if he didn't win I would be happy to send him a free ebook. He wrote back thanking me for the generous offer but confessed that he was more of an old school guy that preferred the feel of paper. I appreciated his candor and told him that if he didn't win that I would be glad to send him a paperback.
Well, he wasn't one of the winners so I sent him a copy. He responded with a wonderful review of the book plus he mentioned that his students would also enjoy STS.
What? He's a teacher? He never mentioned it. This could be interesting.

As I have said many times, I didn't exactly know the proper age for STS. It seems as though a younger audience would find it appealing. True. Unfortunately, I have since received a few comments stating that readers under the age of 11 or 12 tend to struggle with the vocabulary which creates disinterest in the story. It's not that it's filled with large words but I didn't dumb the book down just so kids could read it. This was to be a book that was geared more for anyone that can allow themselves to be a kid again and enjoy a childlike story that has a more serious tone of consequence for ones actions. Why can't a teddy bear story be cute and serious?

The man's name is Mr. Henderson. He is a 5th grade teacher in Orlando, Florida. We have been keeping in touch because I am curious about the responses from a younger audience. Not to mention the age group he was dealing with was on the cusp of understanding the diction in the book.
He thought enough of STS to offer it to several of his students. I asked if he would let me know their reaction. Mr. Henderson agreed and thought it might add incentive to read if the students knew that the he was communicating with the author. He was right.
Because I had asked about their reaction he told his students that they could write a note that he would forward to me.

With their permission, I would like to share the comments I received.

Some of the comments divulge details that may spoil surprise or scenes.


Ally wrote:

"Secret Teddy Society: Breaking the Code

Secret Teddy Society is a great book. It was fun to read, but some of the vocabulary was hard. This is a book that I very much enjoyed reading. :) I liked the part when Waldo faced the Zombie bears and also when he and Bobby Bear would come to life when the house was empty. I think the vocabulary was a 6th or 7th grade level and I think it would be easier to read if you either explained in the book what it meant or used an easier word.

I think you should really write a sequel because the books are really cool and you say in the last sentence of the book that there are more adventures around the corner. I think you should write about Waldo and Bobby Bear's family traveling and they get lost and meet new bears with different cultures. Also, my 3rd grade brother thinks the book looks interesting and wants to read it next.
I'm glad my teacher gave it to me to read.

From, Ally"


Callista wrote:

"I LOVED THE BOOK! It was my favorite book out of everything I have read. I liked that Waldo and Bobby Bear liked... no LOVED ice cream and milk. And marshmallows. The book made ME believe in Teddy Bears! I have one question though, where did you get the idea to write a book about teddy bears? Anyways, I think that the book doesn't have any parts that I didn't understand. It was good for a fifth grader in my opinion. Is it okay if I could have a sneak peak on the next book? The parts that I liked were when the zombie bears were trying to say "I'm going to take all your stuffing" in a nice way! I also liked when Waldo ran in front of the dog to help his friends get out of the dumpster. It really shows true friendship. I loved the character Bobbie and how she believed they were real from the beginning. But, the funniest part was when Waldo stuck his tongue out at Tiffany at show and tell and she said, '......Blah blah blah..-Tongue.' I hope you add some new characters to the second book and I really enjoyed the first book!

From Callista"


Emme wrote:

"Altogether the book was great.  I didn't want to put the book down.  I got confused when the book switched perspectives in the beginning then after a page or two I got it.  The best or memorable parts would have to be the chapter that has Chompers in it.  The part when James took the bears to the school.  When the bears had ice cream for the first time, the zombie bear chapter.  Last of all would have to be the ending.  I liked how you left suspense at the end of the book.  I can't wait to read the sequel when it's done."


First of all, I was delighted to receive notes from these students. 
After the book was released I had an uneasy feeling regarding the audience. I was afraid that by using a slightly larger vocabulary that I would be creating a bigger problem . . . that no one would find interest in the story. 
My daughter's old second grade teacher tried to read STS to her class then sent a note back explaining that she had to stop reading it because it was "...WAY over their heads."
I wasn't surprised yet her comment added to my confusion about age group.

The first reviews to crop-up on Goodreads and Amazon for STS were exactly what I had hoped for; adults that enjoyed the book as a good story of loyalty, courage and love. But the question still on my mind was: what is the starting age group?
Mr. Henderson's class helped tremendously with the answer.

Now, after having contact with Mr. Henderson and his 5th grade class, the audience was becoming more defined. Some advanced younger readers even at age 10 will do fine with STS but it does seem that on an average the age starts around 11 to 12 years old.

The excitement that was felt with Mr. Henderson's few students got me thinking. What if we started an STS School Club? A place where we could display comments, suggestions and impacts from other students. With each note I read from his class, I noticed that they all found different things about the book they liked. Wonderful. What a great way to create even more excitement; let them be a part of it.

Secret Teddy Society School Club begins with STS Club Henderson. 

A personal flaw I suffer from is over-generosity. I wanted to thank the girls for their notes and kind words. I reciprocated by sending a letter that Mr. Henderson then framed and gave to the students. I understand that I can't do this for each student. True. But for now, I can. It is an honor to impact someone's life in a positive way and a personal note was the least that I could do.

Mr. Henderson told me that he plans on working with the book throughout next year, plus he started an STS binder in class where he inserts a copy of the letters I have written to each student and their comments to me. I was taken with his gesture. I wanted to include him in the building process of STS School Club.
Because I am offering shirts on the website I thought I would ask for some input on some new designs. When I asked what some of the feedback was he replied, "Ally told me that she drew a picture for a shirt but she hasn't brought it to school."
That wasn't what I asked. She was to look at the designs I had come up with and select from those.
Oh-well. This could prove interesting.
He forwarded her design and it was adorable. I took what she drew for a design and used her layout.
She had a phrase that read, "Do you know the real deal about teddies". She had a carton of milk, an ice cream cone, a Zombie bear and a glass of milk with a straw scattered about. I was able to utilize actual book chapter graphics that my daughter had drawn and create her design. Why not print the shirt and send it to her as a surprise?
You got it! That's what I did.

Here's how it unfolded as told by Mr. Henderson:

The shout happened around 9:15 this morning?  Did you hear it?  I'll try and recreate the scene for you...

Once the class settled in I went through the normal routine (this is what we're doing today, this is why we're doing it...) I paused so I could point out something Ally forgot to mention during her book talk about STS.  Then, still standing in front of the class, I had Ally explain how she knew going in to reading the book that she would be writing something that the author would read.  I then explained to the class how you wondered what type of t-shirt design a 5th grader thought would be cool (I kind of made some of this up so she didn't know about the shirt at the time) so she drew a picture that I emailed to the author.  I then called her to the front of the class, which she didn't want to since she didn't know where I was going with this, and pulled out the letter you sent now in a frame.  I held the letter up to the class and began to explain the conversations we had while she was reading the book and how you wanted to do something for her.  

I need to pause here to let you know that ... (other) students were now sitting up straighter and hanging on my every word wondering what the letter said. she came up front and I read the letter to the class (I stopped when it got to the part about the next book b.c. I thought that was something that would be special if only she got to read).  I handed her the frame and I started to scratch my head.  I told her that there was some kind of padding in the envelope with the letter and I wondered if she wanted it to keep the frame safe in her book bag.  I walked to a closet I have in my classroom and took out the shirt which was hanging on a hanger.  Of course, as soon as I came out of the closet I could already hear the murmurs about her getting a shirt. So, I held the shirt up high and turned it around and showed the class that the shirt Ally had just described to the class was the same as the one I was holding up.  I explained how the shirt was not only one of a kind but also signed by the author (this got several more jaws dropping and gasps throughout the room).

I then took a picture, its fuzzy :(, and explained to the class how a teacher tries to match students with books they enjoy and they should give those books a chance because they never know what a teacher might have up their sleeves.

The funniest thing, at least to me, was listening to all the students tell me they wanted to read the book next and some of them asking the girl currently reading it to hurry up and finish it.

Mr. Henderson.

Here is the picture of Ally with the shirt she designed and framed letter. How adorable is that? Seriously!


That would have been fun to see. Mr. H did a great job describing the scene. I couldn't help but smile while reading.

I thought it might be fun to keep posting a few comments from students and share their perspectives about the Secret Teddy Society.

One more thing.
I asked Mr. Henderson if he could take a picture of Ally and Callista together posing like Bobby Bear and Waldo (Arms folded back to back). He was able to get them to pose and sent me the picture.
I then made a new picture from that one. I thought it might be fun to have them posing with BB and Waldo to be the welcome picture for STS School Club. (To be clear, the parents are always asked permission before using images)

This is what I came up with:


If any teacher wants to involve their class please contact me.