Parrott Middle School media specialist Crissi Brandhuber was at a Florida Association for Media in Education conference a year and a half ago when she met James Ponti. He has since become a vital part of the reading program for her students.
Ponti has written two zombie books. One of those is Dead City, and Brandhuber encouraged students to read it.
"I got them hooked reading it," she said.
That's where Ponti stepped in.
At the conference, he learned that Brandhuber is from the same county as Weeki Wachee, upon which he loosely based his first book, Animal Attraction. He took an interest in her students, and they were able to videochat with him via computer and ask him questions.
In December, when the school asked her to try something a little different to encourage reading, Brandhuber started two book clubs, the Zombies, who read Ponti books, and the Wizards, who read Harry Potter books.
Something else she added was a schoolwide book fair, modeled after science and history fairs. The students read books and did projects on them with displays. The fair was open to families and coincided with the Scholastic book fair. The Zombie book club did a project as a group.
As a special treat, Ponti came to the school during the day before the March 5 event and signed books.
"With a little bit of flexible planning, James Ponti and 50 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders met in the media center and talked zombies and the writing process," Brandhuber said.
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Book fair results
Best of show: Alison Pager for Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.
Individual projects: Hailey Hughes, first place, for Lost Boy by Greg Ruth; Jourdan Cunningham, second place, for Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.
Group projects: Zombie Book Club - Zander Easton, 13; Jacek Easton, 12; Elisabeth Perez, 13; Michelina McFarland, 12; Andrew Knight, 14; Steven Taylor, 12; Alyssa Carlson, 14; and Kayla Ruwell, 13, first place, for Dead City by James Ponti; Wizard Book Club - Alaysha Diaz, 14; Madison Muniz, 14; Hannah O'Brien, 14; Alison Pager, 14; Russel Doucette, 14; Kayla Ruwell, 13; Ricky Howard, 14; Jordan Avery, 14; and Riley Brandhuber, 12, second place, for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling.
Book fair participants: Alison Pager, 14; Jourdan Cunningham, 14; Mary-Kate DiFresco, 14; Nathan Verrier, 13; Alexis Barnes, 14; Hailey Hughes, 12; Elisabeth Perez, 13; Kate Telford, 13; Jacob Towe, 12; MacKenzie Ward, 13; and Breanne Ward, 13.