I grew up in The Netherlands where we didn’t have school libraries and certainly no author visits. I loved books, read everything I could get my hands on but it never occurred to me that I could become an author. Many writers of children’s books didn’t discover that you can grow up to be a writer until they were older. Perhaps that’s why we love to help young readers discover that books are written and illustrated by real people just like them. And not necessarily that much older—Gordon Korman was in Grade Six when he wrote his first book.
Authors and illustrators are powerful allies of teachers and librarians to bring excitement and enthusiasm to reading. Tim Wynne Jones, in Making an Author’s Visit Your Best ‘Good Time’ says: “There is no better way to inspire students with the personal rewards and gratification of a writing career than by having an author describe the ropes.” I conduct school visits almost full time during the school year. It’s hard work—flying across the country, trying to find schools in unknown cities, lugging around bags and books, keeping a library full of wiggly children spellbound. But it’s also the best job I can think of— sharing stories with readers, encouraging them to rewrite their first drafts, showing them how to get ideas, how pictures and words are put together to make the books we love. Eric Walters, author of many award-winning books, says, “When I’m doing a presentation at a school I feel like a literacy evangelist—I’m there to inspire them to want to read and write. It’s wonderful when, at the end of a presentation, kids who tell everybody that they hate books, fight over the books they want to take out.”
Many Canadian authors and illustrators hit the roads during the school year to speak at schools across the country. Not just during Book Week, but throughout the year. How do you coordinate and host a successful author or illustrator visit? Here are some steps to help you along.
1. Decide Who To Invite
Research the creators of your favourite books, then check their websites. Are they available to come to your school? You can find most Canadian children’s authors through CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers: www.canscaip.org).
Ask colleagues in other schools about who has conducted good presentations at their schools. Writing is a solitary profession and not all writers are great speakers. Think about the age level you’d like to reach. I do readings with picture books for young children but adapt my talks to include information on the writing and publishing process for older students.
Also check your budget ahead of time. How will you fund the speaker’s fee and any associated costs? Many schools use the library budget or book fair proceeds. Often parent associations will fund programs such as this. There may be grants available to help fund an author visit. Check the website of the Writers Union of Canada (www.writersunion.ca) for grants in your province.
2. Planning Process
Once you have made contact with the guest of your choice, find out all details before making a firm commitment. Then start your planning process:
- How many presentations will she/he do in a day?
- What group size and grades is the author/illustrator comfortable working with?
- What is the fee? Does this include all costs such as GST?
- What equipment is required? (e.g., screen, projector, cart, extension cord, microphone)
- Can you have the presentations in the library or gym?
- Does your author, or the publisher, or a local bookstore, offer order forms for students to order books?
- Will your guest autograph books during the day? If so, build this into the time schedule.
- Should you share all books with the students beforehand or does your visitor want to introduce some books during the presentations?
- Meal requirements. If she/he is your guest for the day, count on providing lunch. Will you bring a brown bag? Have a staff potluck? Or whip over to a nearby restaurant?
- Schedule sessions, allowing sufficient time for groups to come and go.
3. Include Your School Staff
Once you have agreed on all these details, be sure to include other staff in your planning. Make sure they all know the date and times well ahead. Share books by your visiting author with all classes, including the teachers. Schedule sessions so that all teachers accompany their students, not during prep time. If teachers are not part of the presentation, it is impossible for them to follow up. Ask teachers not to bring chores such as marking to a presentation but to be engaged in listening.
4. Pre-Visit Activities
Invite all classes to create art based on the author’s books. Nothing is more exciting than hallways full of chickens, bulletin boards of dogs and drawings of trains to welcome your guest and prep the students. Have a contest, using the author’s books as a prize. Count down the days on your library bulletin board until the Big Day arrives. I have been to schools where the entire library was decorated as a barn (Emma’s Eggs), or as a forest complete with tent, campfire and canoe (When We Go Camping). I have seen many creative alphabet books based on my own alphabet books. At a school I recently visited, older students did Internet research and wrote an annotated biography about me.
Ask your author if teaching guides are available for his/her books.
5. Supply Necessary Information
Make sure the author has the address and directions to your school. Provide phone numbers of how to reach you if needed. Send a schedule ahead of time.
6. Greeting Committee
Have students greet your visitor by the door to offer help carrying bags and books. Have all equipment, chair arrangements, etc. ready before your visitor arrives. Introduce your speaker to the principal. Hopefully your principal will be involved and attend a session.
Following the presentations, be sure to have payment ready. If your school requires paperwork before issuing a cheque, be sure to do this ahead of time. You may want to present the speaker with a school pen or t-shirt or other small token of your appreciation.
8. Follow Up
Encourage students to write their own stories following the visit. Have them write letters to your guest and keep the momentum going by reading and writing more books. Linda Bailey, author of Stanley’s Party, advises students during her school visits to “Read! Read, read, read.” She says, “Read for the love of it. And some of the time, try to read-like-a-writer. As you read, try to figure out what the writer did to make you care. Try to see the ‘skeleton’ of the story. Try to see how choosing certain words made a difference.” That’s the message authors can get across to students during a school visit, supporting librarians and classroom teachers in what they preach daily.
Anne Lyle, teacher/librarian in Burnaby, BC, says, “Author visits are an unforgettable experience for students.” I am often told that books are not on the shelves for two years following a school visit. And that’s exactly why we do it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Margriet Ruurs is the author of 27 books for children and educators. She has lived in the Yukon, Alberta and British Columbia. With a master’s degree in education, Margriet is a popular speaker in schools and at literacy conferences. Her latest book is In My Backyard, illustrated by Ron Broda, Tundra Books. www.margrietruurs.com
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s January 2009 issue.