Tag Archive for James Preller school visits

An Author Confesses About School Visits

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I was sent this photo after a series of elementary school visits in Hudson, Ohio. The boy’s name is Alex, we had the chance to chat, and I guess he came away inspired to write his own stories. His mother took the shot and passed it along to his teacher, who in turn shared it with me. I post it here with their permission.

The visit was particularly successful because these schools did everything right. I’ve said it a thousand times: “Authors don’t do school visits; schools do author visits.” 

They shared my books with their students. They built up excitement and a sense of anticipation. They thought in advance about questions the students might ask. They created artwork. And they read, enthusiastically. Clearly, the feeling in that school was: “We’re having an author visit! Isn’t this exciting!”

Parents got involved. Volunteers put in hours of work. Teachers carved out time from their challenging schedules. By the time I showed up, all the important work had already been done. I was just the icing on the cake. A real, live author.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because I’ve felt a gradual change in myself. School visits can be hard on an author. It’s not easy work. We leave our cushy routine, our home, our family, our kitchen full of snacks. We walk into schools we’ve never seen before and perform, calling upon an entirely different set of skills than we normally employ in our working lives. We’re good at being alone in empty rooms. So we get invited to talk to a sprawled group of 120 second-graders in a crowded cafetorium. Exhausting!

But like all good things in life, the more you put into something, the more you get out of it. Now that I’ve been visiting schools for more than 20 years, I can honestly say that I love these visits more than ever. I get it now; I’m all in.

I’m grateful to be invited, happy to interact with these young people, to talk about reading and writing — to answer questions — to listen — and to share with them my love of books. Because I believe in books, I believe that reading matters. I’m fortunate to have an opportunity to make a difference. 

Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll even inspire a few students along the way. Light a fire. Change a mind. It’s an incredible honor and — yes — it comes with great responsibilities and rewards.

Those kids, those faces. 

Our future.

I’ll confess: I’m cynical by nature. I tend to cringe when a rock star tells an audience that he/she “loves” them. “I love you, Houston!” I mean, come on, can you love 15,000 strangers? I’ve never quite believed it. But today, I’m not so sure.

I ask myself, “Do I love these kids?

And it kind of surprises me to sit here and conclude, “Yes, yes, I think I do.” 

I love what these school visits are all about, particularly the best ones. The visits when a school puts in the time and effort to make the day impactful, meaningful. You see it as the students walk into the room, the way they furtively wave to me in the hallway. I love their youth, their curiosity, their openness and sense of becoming.

It’s not about me. My books are fine, sure, but there are so many other amazing books out there. I’m just trying to open a door. Create some excitement. Share a positive message about literacy. The joy of books, and the value of self-expression. Of having something inside you that has to come out. Your own, unique fingerprint. It’s just an incredible feeling to be a part of that conversation.

To connect with these young people, and maybe, just maybe, to help them see that possibility within themselves. 

To dip their finger in ink. To make a mark.

So if you’ve ever invited me to visit your school, I’m here to say thank you.

Thank you very much.

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #271: Lilly’s Fabulous Letter

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Do yourself a favor. Take a moment to read one of my favorite letters, just exceptionally sweet & kind. 

You know, it’s not about me. It’s about Lilly, and kids like her. There are so many of them out there. Pure and good and excited about books, open and bursting with light.

It could be any author or illustrator who walks into a school. Who gets that opportunity to stand before these children, talk about reading and writing and our silly pets. On this day, it happened to be me, and I reached a receptive reader named Lilly.

Again: How lucky am I? 

 

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I replied: 

Dear Lilly,

I enjoyed my visit to your school, and was especially glad to receive a wonderful batch of letters from your class, taught by Ms. B.

I read each and every letter. But I have to confess that yours, in particular, stirred my heart. You were so kind, said such nice things, that I wanted to take a minute to thank you.

Writing is a quiet life. At this very moment, I am alone in silent room of my house, pecking away at a computer keyboard. Sometimes I will speak the words out loud so I may hear them, to know they are okay. My cats don’t talk much. I play music, daydream, try to write. It can be lonely at times. I sometimes fill with self-doubt. 

Even when I finish books and send them out into the world, I never really know what happens to them. That’s why school visits are nice; I get to meet kids like you. And sometimes, on very good days, some of those readers write letters. And that’s when I know I’ve made a new friend.

Please say hello to Cally, your bird -– and, of course, your terrific fish. 

Happy to be your new friend,

James Preller

Author Visit Revisited: Action Sequence!

I was recently sent a whole mess of photos from a recent school visit, so here’s a sampling. Note: I sit for very young readers (very quiet and calm for the kindergartners), stand for everybody else.

Of course, the best shots are of the faces looking up at me — eager, excited, bored, inspired, amused — but it’s perhaps not my place to post too many faces on the internet. So I humbly give you a Jimmy Overdose.

All I can add is that I consider it a great honor and responsibility (sort of like Spidey Powers) to enter a school and speak before young audiences. It is also, mostly, a lot of fun. One of the best parts of my job. I try to make a positive impact. Share my enthusiasm for reading, writing, thinking, literacy, creativity . . . and hope that my visit helps create a few sparks.

Now is the best time to start planning school visits for new year. In 2018, I’ve already spent a week in Texas and a week in Ohio, in addition to my normal circuit in New York, New Jersey, etc.

I’m ready to hop on a plane to visit schools near you.

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A Few Shining Samples of Student Art, via Texas!

It’s one of the nice things about visiting schools. After a presentation, teachers sometimes ask their classes to quick write “thank you” notes, which often include student artwork.

And, of course, who doesn’t love art created by young people? It’s so pure and open-hearted.

Let’s do this!

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This is by Loyi.

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From Bryant.

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A self-portrait from Kevin.

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Leonardo put us together in this one, both holding books.

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Jennifer drew this one. Don’t you love the red hair?

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Another smiling self-portrait, this one from Italiaim. (Hope I got that right.)

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By Fernanda. So lovely.

And once again all I can feel is fortunate.

Blessed, lucky, honored, grateful, touched.

All those things and more.

Thanks guys, and thank you to anyone who has ever drawn a picture for me, or just said “thank you” after a presentation.

I carry these in my heart.

Schools Do Author Visits — You Can Tell By the Art In the Hallway!

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I’ve said it a hundred times, “Authors don’t do school visits; schools do author visits.”

Like everything else in life, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.

It makes such a difference when a school is invested in an author visit. When they’ve been reading the books, engaged in art projects, talking and thinking about the upcoming visit. This sense of anticipation prepares the ground for learning.

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Usually I can tell what kind of reception I’ll get from the tone of the many emails (or not!) that pass back and forth between the contact person and me. But the telltale moment is when you walk into the school and there it is — that big welcoming sign, the artwork proudly displayed on the walls, the sense that these kids are excited to meet a real, live author. The message is: TODAY IS A BIG DAY FOR OUR SCHOOL!

Because it’s not always that way.

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I’ve had some schools where the visit is regarded as something extra, a side note, a little bonus, not central to the school’s mission. And yet, it’s never really about the guest author, it’s about literacy — a love of books, a love for learning. Nevertheless, the kids still have a great time, and many will still be inspired to read and (even) write, but it’s not the same amplification. The impact isn’t as meaningful or, I suspect, lasting.

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A long preamble to say that when I walked into Plattekill Elementary the other day, I saw a lot of artwork inspired by my books. I took a few snaps. Thank you to all concerned, especially the talented art teacher who helped make it happen. I’m sorry I didn’t get your name.

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And to the student artists? Thank you all, so much, even if I didn’t share your work in today’s post. Great job. I’m flattered and impressed!

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