Tag Archive for School Visits

Three Rapscallions All In a Row

Avast, me hearties! This photo below was sent to me in anticipation of a school visit. These rascals must have been inspired by A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade and/or the sequel, A Pirate’s Guide to Recess.


The image below is by illustrator Greg Ruth, who is amazing, from A Pirate’s Guide to Recess.


The Note Pressed Into My Hand

When you do school visits, there are many pleasures — a few quiet moments spent in conversation with a librarian, the roaring laughter of a large group of kids, the student artwork in the hallways, a teacher who says something nice. It’s all too much for me to describe.

Today I cleaned out the large, stuffed book bag that I carry on school trips. In one zippered pocket, crumpled in the bottom, a found a folded sheet of looseleaf paper. A note. I remembered the blonde-haired girl who came up to me with it in her hand. A second-grader, I’d guess. I’d spoken to her grade earlier in the day and now, evidently, she’d sought me out. The girl did not talk, but looked at me with something close to awe. She pressed the paper into my hand, smiled shyly, and quickly walked away, if only because running was not permitted in school.

I don’t remember where we were, which school, which state. It was just one of those little moments that happen along the way when you are an author, and when you’ve been blessed to connect with a reader. Some kid somewhere who picked up your book.

Thank you for the note, Avairee. I LOVE IT.

Dear Teacher: An Author’s Take on School Visits

I have been enjoying school visits for the past 15 years. I’ve played a role in great successes and I’ve had visits that have felt flat and, for me at least, unrealized.

Same guy. What was the difference?

Which is another way of asking, “What makes a successful author visit?”

Here’s a clue: I don’t think it’s the author. I’ve given talks when teachers have walked into the room enthusiastic and eager — curious to meet me, to hear my talk — and I’ve seen teachers arrive late, who appear put-upon and vaguely annoyed. They flip through papers, check their watches, see it all as an inconvenience rather than something germane to their mission as teachers. Students feed directly off those attitudes; it’s what they are taught. I’ve seen kids enter a room bubbling with excitement. I’ve seen it in their eyes. They were going to meet a real, live author. Someone whose books they’ve talked about and read. Other times, other groups: it’s more like, “Why are we here again?” They may not even be sure.

Here’s what I’ve concluded: A school visitĀ isn’t something that happens to a school. It is something that a school does.

Let me put that another way:

Authors don’t “do” school visits.

Schools “do” author visits.

It’s an important distinction. An author visit is not passive for the school. It’s active. And it requires a lot of work, with a lot of different people pulling on the same oar. Schools make these visits happen — and by “schools” I mean the principal, librarian, teachers, service workers, and PTA/PTO. The author showing up? That’s after most of the real work’s been done.

At least 85% of what transpires for a visit is up the school, not the author. In fact, it’s not that much about “the event” itself, which happens in a flash and is soon over. A small part of a given day. The author comes and goes. Then it’s P.E. and lunch and recess and the math quiz. What endures is what happens in the school before and after the visit.

For an author visit to make sense, it has to be part of some greater context, a school’s emphasis on literacy, it’s fundamental belief in the value of reading and writing. The author is part of something much larger. Or else, seriously, don’t bother. Save the money.

Schools should think of a visiting author as a distant uncle they’ve invited over for Thanksgiving dinner. They’ve been preparing, shopping, cleaning, and cooking long before Uncle Jimmy ever shows up. Sure, he’s funny and nice and will add to the festivities, might even help make it a wonderful afternoon. But without all your work — if there’s no turkey! — then it’s not going to be much of a visit. And guess what? Uncle Jimmy isn’t going to hang around to do dishes. He won’t be eating the leftovers either.

What you get out of an author visit is in direct proportion to what you put into it — just like everything else in life.

There’s a wealth of practical “how to” information out there addressing every aspect of the successful visit. For some easy tips, try starting at these sites:

* How To Have Great Author Visits — from Pamela Curtis Swallow and Deborah Heiligman

* Planning, Fundraising, & Tips — from Scholastic

* Terri’s Tips for Terrific Author/Illustrator Visits — from Theresa Finch, Librarian

* Visiting Authors Dot Com — lots of good stuff here, start digging.

School Visits

Come Spring, school visit season begins in earnest, and my schedule becomes sprinkled with weekly visits to both far- and near-flung locales. I’m grateful for the work and the opportunity to promote my books, meet with students and teachers, and hopefully inspire somebody along the way. At the same time, it’s a fish-out-of-water experience. Writers work in solitude, clicking on keyboards in lonely rooms, trying to resist the sirens’ call from the Girl Scout cookies in the cupboard: “Take a break, have a seat, chillax, eat a cookie. Have two or three!

On the day of a school visit, we are plunked amidst dozens, even hundreds, of squirming school children and treated as celebrities. Suddenly we are entertainers, expected to be delightful, clever, wise, and talented. We even have to comb our hair. The irony is that we are placed in this role because we are good at being alone, unkempt, semi-successfully fending off cookies.

Still, I really do enjoy it, and sometimes even love it. But wow, that’s hard work.

Anyway, as some of you know, I was recently in Dublin, Ohio, visiting Bailey Elementary as the invited guest of Bill and Karen, the considerable brainpower behind theĀ  Literature Lives blog. They’ve been writing about the experience, and I think it’s a worthwhile read for any educator involved in author visits. In one particular post, Bill offers some excellent tips for a successful author visit. And believe me, every author I know wishes they could be treated as well on a visit. I’d like to take all the credit for its success, but honestly, I think the specific author contributes something less than 25% toward the overall outcome. The rest is up to the schools, the PTO, the teachers involved. The more you put into it, the more you get out; the more students bring to the session/s, the more they take away. It’s that simple.