UPDATE, JULY 2020:
I’ve enjoyed several Zoom and Google Meets Visits since schools were shut down. Some have been particularly meaningful, I think, making me a true convert to the value and impact of a properly structured Zoom Visit.
To me, the key figure in an online visit is the teacher. It is the teacher who inspires, who prepares, who builds anticipation, and who actively moderates (thank you, “mute button!”) an online visit. A Zoom Visit with one class can be a profoundly (and surprisingly) intimate experience. It is very much like stepping into a classroom for a loose, easy-going conversation between students and author. In addition, it can be specifically focused, tailored exactly to complement what is going on academically in that classroom (virtual or otherwise).
And guess what? In normal times, that never happens. There’s no time for a visiting author to move from classroom to classroom; instead, we present to entire grades or multiple grades: hundreds of students at one time gathered together in a big room. That’s awesome and powerful, too. But a Zoom Visit can be inspirational in its own unique way. A standard in-person presentation is a broadcast with a short Q & A tagged on at the end; a Zoom Visit is more interactive, featuring more of a direct one-on-one connection.
I recently heard from an enthusiastic teacher on Long Island who wrote to me after a visit with her class. She said:
“I had to share some more feedback I have received from parents . . . you truly have influenced many of my students. I realize the technology was a bit of a pain, but the outcomes are so worth it! I cannot thank you enough for your time and inspiring words!!”
She included some follow-up emails from parents:
“Danny was so jazzed up after this he wants our whole family to write a book. He has assigned us all jobs to do and he is the author. I never would’ve thought that he’d be so into this. Thank you again. I haven’t seen him this excited about something in a while.”
“Super inspirational!!! And so so patient. Like when they asked the author similar questions he just patiently answered! It’s inspiring us (at home) to maybe build a mini library!”
Note: I believe I talked about my love of Little Free Libraries, which I featured in Jigsaw Jones: The Case from Outer Space. Pretty cool if a family reads my book and turns around to build one of their own. That’s the literacy connection, how books bring us together and help build communities.
My point here is not to toot my own horn (though, obviously, I’m doing that), but to express again that I AM SOLD ON ZOOM VISITS.
I think we’ve still got to figure out the money — it has to be very affordable, but at the same time “more than free.” We can individualize visits, or even create recurring visits, around concrete themes. For example: haiku poems. We could talk about them, share them, learn together. Maybe I could help inspire and guide the creation of classroom collection of haiku? I could see that working, serving as a springboard for a classroom project. Or writing mysteries. Last week I enjoyed a visit with a Texas librarian that centered around dialogue.
In short, I think it’s more productive to think of a Zoom Visit not as “the James Preller show” but more of a unique way to bring an author into your classroom to directly connect with and inspire your students.
Feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss it. I’m open and flexible and eager to meet your students.
I enjoy getting email from readers — for me, it’s a faster, easier, and cheaper mode of communication than snail mail.
I can be reached at: email@example.com
If you would like my autograph, a signed bookplate, or a reply to your letter, write to me with your request and ENCLOSE A SELF-ADDRESSED STAMPED ENVELOPE! This is important. If you do not enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope, I cannot absolutely promise that you will receive a reply. I will try my best, and I answer most, but in times of stress there has been slippage. My snail mail address: 12 Brookside Drive, Delmar, NY 12054.
After answering a series of individual emails on this topic over the past two decades or so, I finally decided to get around to providing a general description of a typical visit. Hopefully it will help to answer questions in advance and give you some idea if I’m the right guy for your school.
If you want the best insight into how I feel about school visits, please read this: “An Author Confesses About School Visits.”
Before I go into more depth, please feel free to contact me directly. Shoot me an email. We can chat on the phone if you’d like. I’m glad to answer questions, discuss visits, and I’m genuinely grateful for your interest.
I very much enjoy speaking with students at any grade level, though, of course, the content of those talks varies according to age level. Fortunately, I’ve written a range of books that are appropriate for kindergarten up to middle school, almost all of them available in paperback at affordable prices.
Typically, I’ll do three 45-50 minutes presentations during a full-day visit. In addition, schools sometimes like to set up lunches with a small group of students, and I’ve always enjoyed that. Lately I’ve come to prefer a shorter, 25-minute Q & A session with a select group of motivated students over a full-blown lunch (and all that chewing). I am also very happy to sign books. It is understood that the sponsoring organization will handle all book sales.
For the best results, I’ve found that it makes a huge difference when students are familiar with my work and have thought about questions in advance. Like just about everything else in life, what you get out of it is in proportion to the energy that’s put into it. If the school leaders are excited and enthusiastic, that energy transfers to the students –- and we all have a terrific, rewarding experience.
I don’t juggle, blow bubbles, or stand on my head. I’m an author talking about what I do for a living, reading a bit, answering questions, all (hopefully) in an authentic and engaging and inspiring fashion.
Fees are available upon request. I do try to be flexible to the specific needs of each individual school. For schools that require serious travel, it works best for me if 3-5 days worth of visits can be arranged with different schools in your district. Sponsors should plan on paying for travel expenses, which can be shared with other area schools. I can’t tell you how often I am asked to visit a school in, say, Montana. For one day. And sadly, that just never works; there has to be more of a coherent, cohesive plan to get me from here to you, way out there. That said, in the past I’ve been to SC, FLA, CT, MA, NJ, PA, IL, MI, OH, OK and more. But my real dream is a week in Hawaii. So come on, folks, let’s make that happen!
Please Note, A Word About “Scary Tales” Series
July, 2013, saw the launch of a new series of books for me, called SCARY TALES. I am proud of these books, and I’m confident the books will reach even reluctant readers. They are best for grades 3-5, but these things are hard to pin down. As a visiting author, I fully recognize and respect that distinction between, say, a parent-purchased book in a store compared to a guest author in a school, where children do not have choice. If I do touch upon the series during a presentation, it will be in terms of using the imagination, asking “what if?” questions, story-building and characterization. I do not dwell on anything scary. Mostly grades 1-3 tends to focus on the Jigsaw Jones books, which are now back in print with more to come!
New Series: “The Big Idea Gang”
January, 2019, will see the launch of two books in a new chapter book series, “The Big Idea Gang,” for grades 1-3, possibly 4. The books feature four central characters who use their powers of persuasion — at times, gently guided by their teacher, “Miss Zips,” to make a positive difference in their school community. So far, those changes amount to a new school mascot, a buddy bench in the playground, and a “bee friendly” garden behind the school. The stories are intended to be light and entertaining — even funny, hopefully — while quietly demonstrating the key qualities found in persuasive writing as it is taught today in elementary schools. So far, three titles are planned for “The Big Idea Gang”: Everybody Needs a Buddy, Worst Mascot Ever, and Bee the Change! My wild hope is for teachers to see these stories as mentor texts, and that they might inspire young people to become actively engaged in making a positive difference in their world.
Middle Schools, Bystander, The Fall, Anti-Bullying
The popularity of the book, Bystander, opened up new worlds to me, specifically middle schools. In many schools around the country, Bystander has been widely read and shared, sometimes with an entire grade or school, featured in a “One Book, One School” context. The idea is that it can serve as a positive, educational springboard for conversations and activities about the dynamics of bullying, and the various roles we all play in those situations. But I stress: it’s a story, a work of fiction, and I have been a published writer of children’s books since 1986. (You remember ’86, don’t you?) So while I am thrilled and honored to speak to large and small groups about this book, and the issues within it, I am not an anti-bullying presenter. I don’t offer ten easy steps for bully-proofing your school. I don’t climb on the soapbox. I love to visit middle schools, I am fascinated and inspired by this age group (today, 2012, I share my home with a 6th-grader and an 8th-grader), and I care about this issue very deeply. But I approach it as a writer, if that makes sense.
Oh, please, just write to me and we can chat about it in more detail.
Book Availability, Beginning September 2020
Yes, it’s time to start planning for the 2020-21 school year. Here’s a list of 23 core books that will be readily available through my main publisher, Macmillan:
A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade (K-1, paperback)
A Pirate’s Guide to Recess HC (K-1)
NEW! All Welcome Here HC (pub. date June, 2020)
NEW! Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Hat Burglar (1-3)
Jigsaw Jones: The Case from Outer Space (1-3)
Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Bicycle Bandit (1-3)
Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Mummy Mystery (1-3)
Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Smelly Sneaker (1-3)
Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Glow-in-the-Dark Ghost (1-3)
Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Buried Treasure (1-3)
Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Disappearing Dinosaur(1-3)
Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Best Pet Ever (1-3)
Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Million-Dollar Mystery (1-3)
. . . and more (there are 14 revised and updated Jigsaw Jones titles currently available)!
The Big Idea Gang: Everybody Needs a Buddy (1-3)
The Big Idea Gang: Worst Mascot Ever (1-3)
The Big Idea Gang: Bee the Change! (Spring, 2019, 1-3)
Scary Tales: Home Sweet Horror (2-5)
Scary Tales: I Scream, You Scream (2-5)
Scary Tales: Good Night, Zombie (2-5)
Scary Tales: Nightmareland (2-5)
Scary Tales: One-Eyed Doll (2-5)
Scary Tales: Swamp Monster (2-5)
NEW! Blood Mountain (4-8)
The Courage Test (4-7)
Six Innings (4-7)
Better Off Undead (4-8)
The Fall (6-9)
Before You Go (7-10)
Click here for information of book-specific, Q & A-centered Skype visits. This is a good option for passionate teachers from far-flung locations where it’s unlikely I’ll be able to visit.
For more on a James Preller-styled school visit, plus some advice of running a successful author visit, you should click here. Really, that will tell you all you need to know. But if you really dig research, go to the “School Visits” icon on the right sidebar, under “Categories,” and click madly, deeply.
So, there it is in a clamshell. I look forward to hearing from you!