I did about 25 assemblies at schools this past year. Add that to a previous 200-300 assemblies and you could say I've about seen it all. One visit I was picked up at the train station in a limo, treated to a lunch with a class of kids that had read my books and had an amazing discussion with them. One visit (many many visits) I've been thrown at the kids without their having any idea whatsoever who I was or why I was there and consequently not caring much either. [NOTE: You do NOT need to pick up the author in a limo! But the kids do notice if the author event is a big deal to the adult organizers. Any preparation and excitement lets them know this is important and amazing and they care about it more too.]
The visits and the travel have taken a significant toll on my writing and family time so I'm taking as much of a break as possible for the next two years. But I wanted to write down some things I've learned that may be helpful for school administrations, teachers, librarians, and parent organizations who organize author visits. For more info, here's a similar post I did a few years ago.
Tips for a great school visit:
Involve the librarian. If the visit is set up and hosted by the PTA, PTO, etc., it's still vital to involve the librarian. (and if the librarian organizes the event, involve the PTO!) Then the librarian involves the teachers. And all the school preps for this assembly. If the librarian is involved and the kids are prepped, the visit goes 100x better. Honestly, night and day.
If you don't have a librarian:
Seriously. First order of business: campaign for a full-time librarian at your school. Whatever it takes. Some school districts see librarians as book-checker-outers and make it part time or hire fantastic but untrained people to fill in in order to save money. But I've seen it hundreds of times and there's no replacing a professional, trained, MLS librarian in a school library. The librarian does SO MUCH MORE than check out books. They are the center of literacy for the school. This is very important. Do this first. And then prep for an author event.
Prepping ideas for the kids:
- Ideal: all the kids read one of the authors books
- during computer time, have the kids explore the authors' website
- do a read aloud of the first chapter(s) of a book in class
- students make banners, signs advertising the event
- make up games or competitions in anticipation
- challenge kids to read one of the author's books - all who do get to be part of a greeting committee or attend an after-assembly meet-and-greet or luncheon
- have kids write the intro for the author, submit it, and the winner introduces the author at the assembly
- find ways to involve the kids, make it a big deal, get the kids excited, caring, reading in preparation (and there will be 10x as much reading after!)
Why have an author school visit?:
Because sometimes an author speaking to the kids is the hook some kids need to get into reading, to fall in love with it, to discover they are a reader. Sometimes an author speaking to the kids is the hook some kids need to start writing. Reading and writing skills are the foundation of ongoing education and employment. Writing for fun leads to writing skills. Reading for fun leads to reading skills. And future success is heavily weighted on having those skills.
Recently a teacher told me after a writing workshop I did that in her decades of teaching she'd never seen the kids so engaged and excited to write and that the entire class's writing skills shot up in the months that followed.
A while back a couple of educators sent me their take on author visits:
"I had Frank Beddor visit the middle school where I was student teacher. He did 3 assemblies (one for each grade) and he discussed the writing process, his books, what it means to be an author, etc. He then sold his books outside as kids were picked up from school. He also spent lunch with my own students in an intimate gathering. They were riveted!
"The change in our school was palpable. We’ve always been a reading-oriented school, but after the assemblies kids were discussing books in the hallways, the library had LONG hold lists, and kids were sharing recommendations for future reads. Kids wanted to write their own books.
"I’ll repeat that last: KIDS WANTED TO WRITE.
"They talked about those assemblies for the rest of the year. Here’s a local newspaper article: http://www.theacorn.com/news/2010-04-08/Schools/AC_Stelle_teams_up_with_popular_author.html
"I teach completely online now (online high school English), but if I were in a brick-and-mortar I would try to host an author every semester. THAT’S how important I think those visits are. Those events can change lives." Ashley Benning
"I have been teaching for the past 13 years. The last two and a half have been in 5th grade. I was turned on to your books last year by a colleague and my students and I fell in love with them. I spent the summer reading the Bayern Series and the Princess Academy books. Last year, you were gracious enough to Skype with several classes from our school. The students saw you as a real person and realized they could write as well. Then reality set in when you told students it took you years to write a story.
"I am again teaching Goose Girl this year and because I "met" you on Skype I was able to share that with my students this year and they LOVE the book, so much so that I'm a little concerned as to how I'm going to top Goose Girl.
"Over my lifetime, I believe I've had 3 author's visits. Each time students and I were inspired to be better readers and writers." Jen Hess
In conclusion: Librarians! PTO! Teachers! Kids! Everyone gets involved, makes it fun, gets excited. Then sit back and watch what happens after.