School Visit Central: Fuel Me Up

I’m in the middle of school visit season, and it bears repeating:

Authors don’t do school visits; schools do author visits.

By the time I arrive, 90% of the work is done. The students are either primed and ready, or not. The magic in not the author, it’s the shared energy and enthusiasm that librarians, teachers, administrators, and school volunteers put into the event. When I walk into a building, I can feel the difference. I can tell how much the school has invested in this moment.

Sure, it helps me when the kids are prepped and excited. I walk down the hall and see them pointing, whispering to each other, “That’s him!” My job becomes easy. But that’s not the point. Like everything else in life, the students get so much more out of an author visit when they’ve put something into it. When they’ve read and discussed books. Talked about them, thought about them, made meaningful connections. And at the end, when they bring home a book that’s been signed by the author, a book they are eager to read, well, that’s when the circle is complete and we can all call “the day” a success. Except it’s not a day . . .

An author visit doesn’t happen in a day. The author’s arrival is the cherry on the top. It is a culmination of your effort, time, and energy. Weeks and weeks of anticipation. Art projects. Research. Classroom discussion. Reading. Writing. Thinking. All of which happens when the author is off somewhere else.

Anyway, busy time of year for me. It’s wonderful (and disruptive) and inspiring to visit with students, to see and speak with readers. It makes me want to write more books. The irony is that when I’m out on school visits, I’m not at home, in my office, doing my job. I’m in a hotel and kind of groggy and usually a little bit sad to be away from my family.

But here’s the thing. I get a lot (a lot, a lot) of questions about “ideas.” Where they come from, etc. And to me, writing is not so much about ideas as it is about energy. I’m like Santa’s sleigh in the movie “Elf.” Unless the needle on the meter vibrates with life, there’s not going to be any liftoff.

More than anything, those visits to schools fuel me up. Thanks for the inspiration.

As an author, I’m fortunate in that I’ve written a range of books for ages 3-up, so I do entirely different presentations from Pre-K to 8th grade. Here I am with a K-1 group at Ballard Elementary. The kids standing to the left are my Greek Chorus of Hiccuppers. Seriously.

Look at this cast of characters! When there’s time and the inclination, I’ll enjoy lunch with a small group of students. It’s often the best part of my day.

My special thanks for the above photos go to Katie O’Donnell, the Library Media Specialist at Ballard Elementary. I mourn the fact that elementary-school librarians are not mandated positions in New York State. It’s insane. In these days of budget cuts, I worry that many schools are going to dismiss these essential educators. Great people will be out of jobs. And our children will suffer because of it. These are hard times, indeed.

Here’s a quick scene from “Elf.” Authors can’t compete with Santa, but sometimes when I walk into a great school, I almost feel like I arrived pulled by eight reindeer.

Isn’t that how we want our children to feel about reading?

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