something to hoot about

Three Big Hoots and a Woo Hoo Hoo!!

I was thrilled to learn recently that the Scholastic 2011 Kids Are Authors Grand Prize for Nonfiction was awarded to a team of first and second graders at Lane Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia!

Yes, that’s right! The Perfect Place for an Elf Owl was chosen from thousands of entries from all over the U.S. and U.S. International Schools, and is now available for purchase through Scholastic book fairs.

Co-coordinators Libya and Nicole (back row)

Writer friend and teacher Nicole Groeneweg and art teacher Libya Doman served as Project Coordinators for this very talented group of 24 students, who, in addition to having their book published by Scholastic, received framed certificates, medals, and copies of the book. The school also received $5000 in Scholastic products which will be used in a nonfiction reading program called “Everyday Literacy.”

The Perfect Place for an Elf Owl is a charming story about a baby owl who wanders away from its nest in search of its mother. A strong wind blows the owl to various habitats and ecosystems, such as the tundra, forest and swamp, where he meets the different owls who live there (snowy owl, spotted owl, barred owl). Gorgeous collage illustrations and Fact Boxes for each habitat provide a fun and engaging way to learn about these fascinating creatures.


I caught up with Nicole recently, who graciously agreed to tell us more about the project, which took about 5 months to complete:

Congratulations to you, co-coordinator Libya Doman, and all the students who worked on this book! How did you find out you had won the Grand Prize for Nonfiction and what did you do to celebrate?

We were invited to a surprise assembly for all first and second grade classes (apparently our principal had known for two weeks and arranged the ‘surprise’ assembly). A lady (later we found out that she was the local Scholastic Book Fairs’ representative) was introduced and said she had a proclamation to read to our school and that there would be a lot of ‘whereases’ so we all should listen carefully.

The first whereas mentioned Scholastic Book Fairs’ Kids Are Authors Contest and immediately Libya and I realized we had won! We were really SURPRISED! Of course I had tears in my eyes. The kids, however, had no clue. They sat politely listening until what seemed like 10 minutes later, when the lady said the last whereas and mentioned their title The Perfect Place for an Elf Owl. They whooped and cheered and clapped for quite a while. They were on cloud nine!


How and why did your group decide to write about owls, and why was the elf owl chosen to be the main character?

At the time, we had just finished learning about the desert habitat and one of the favorite animals we learned about was the elf owl. We had a long list of ideas, but the elf owl was most popular.

Could you briefly describe each major step toward completion?

Prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing were all done in a whole group ‘editorial meeting’. We sat in a large circle and I recorded their ideas and stories on chart paper. There was a lot of discussion and much voting for every sentence/idea/and sometimes word included in the story.  I would then type up the draft manuscript. Each child would take their own copy of the draft and make notes or put question marks where they thought the story didn’t make sense.

Then we would gather as the group again (usually the following day) and hash out the questions, etc. That repeated at least 20 times (this was noted by the children when they looked back on the process). During the process I would teach mini lessons on writing skills that I thought might help them in their writing (i.e., alliteration…this came into play when they wrote “fell into the tundra”, “fell into the forest”…after that particular lesson, they changed some of the ‘fells’ into tumbled, jumped, etc.).


The art is gorgeous. Why paper collage?

We used Eric Carle as the mentor for the story and the artwork.  Libya showed them different techniques for making papers (painting and textures) and they made all the paper for the book. They used all of their own papers to cut the shapes for the illustrations.

What part of the project do you think the kids enjoyed most? What was their biggest take-away from the experience?

I asked each one at the end of the project to share what they had learned. There were a wide variety of responses including what they learned in their research of the owls… “I learned that snowy owls were diurnal”.  My favorite was from a first grader who said, “You have to read a lot of books to write books.”  It was sent as a quote on the dedication page of the dummy, but not included in the final publication.


Thanks so much, Nicole. We’re thrilled and proud of all of you! Go, Virginia!

♥ Check out this Springfield Connection article to meet some of the young authors.

♥ Find out about more about the Kids Are Authors Contest at the Scholastic website. Every year, prizes are awarded in the categories of Fiction and Nonfiction, and the contest is open to grades K-8. Postmark deadline for next year’s competition is March 12, 2012.

**Don’t forget to look for this book at your next Scholastic Book Fair!!

***Special thanks to Nicole for the group photo, and to Ellen Kazimer for sending me the book :)!




Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

18 thoughts on “something to hoot about

  1. Gob. Smacked.
    Wow. GO 1&2 graders. How awesome is that!?!?!
    Any teacher (and every parent) would be button-popping proud, but what a lot of work that must have been!!

    Go, Virginia!

    (Also: your eye candy made me laugh RIGHT OUT LOUD.)


    1. My Eye Candy thanks you :).

      I love that they made their own paper and everything. And from what Nicole said, they truly learned about the rewards of many revisions, weighing every single word to make things perfect.


  2. Yay, us! That school is some kind of terrific! This gives me so much heart, knowing kids are actively writing and making art, and those two amazing ladies took them on that journey!


    1. Totally agree. Very heartening and inspiring! I love that group photo, too — love the diversity of the group. Lots of different ethnic backgrounds represented; so nice they all produced something so wonderful together.


  3. By far one of my favorite posts. What a truly inspiring story. Such dedication from the mentors/teachers and hard work/ingenuity from the kids. You’re right, there is much to “hoot about” in this beautiful project. 🙂


    1. When you hear about such great teachers, you wish you could be in the first or second grade again :). I’m sure the kids will remember this great experience the rest of their lives.


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