Photo Credit: Mosman Library via Flickr, CCL 2013
I am going to say something bold:
Every school should host a significant author visit at least once every year.
In the same way that engaging children in the publishing process (and celebrating their accomplishments) is like a shot of B-12 for writing achievement, having a “real” author visit your school is just as powerful.
Professional authors are fascinating people who have learned to mine their own lives for stories worth telling. They are experts in the craft of writing and have much wisdom to impart. They bring firsthand knowledge of the writing (and publishing) process and offer an authentic, “real world” message to our students.
When I was teaching at Ashley River, we used to select a “big time” nationally known children’s book author or illustrator to visit our school each year. It was HUGE. Those days spent with folks like Jerry Pallotta, Chris Soentpiet, and Shelley Gill were some of the best days of my career. The atmosphere was electric. The children were riveted. The teachers were inspired. My students would leave the author’s assembly and beg to be allowed to write for the rest of the day. It was always magical.
Our celebrations were so awesome that one of our visiting authors even dedicated her next picture book to our students! (Shelley Gill: Big Blue)
While I am a big supporter of inviting local authors to visit our schools, it’s very important to sometimes bring in a “big name.” Why? Local authors usually only have a few published books to their credit and often they aren’t yet well known. Of course, all authors started this way and there is no shame in it! It’s just that when we bring in a nationally known figure with a catalog of books that can be found on the shelves of libraries around the country, it’s akin to bringing in a celebrity! If you wanted to pump up your school’s basketball team, who would you want to get? The local boy who played in college or a player from the NBA? Both will bring a valuable message but the NBA player has star power. So bring both at different points in the year.
The same is true for authors. Invite local authors whenever you can! They are “real” writers too and have a lot of knowledge about the writing/ publishing process. It’s also a great way to engage with the community. However, don’t neglect to bring in an author with some “star power.” Yes, they cost more, but it’s money well spent!
What to know the secret for an epically successful author visit? The key is preparation.
Here are my tips:
1- Read all of the author’s books with your children. (Assuming they are developmentally appropriate.) Learn everything you can about his/her life. (Most authors have excellent websites and some will send pre-visit materials.) Embed the books into your reading lessons. Why not use the visiting author’s books for your Shared Reading lessons or as a mentor text for Writing Workshop? Doing so makes the books seem even more “important” to the children.
2- Decorate the school for the visit. In the same way that reading the author’s books will whip up excitement about the visit, decorating the school in the theme of the author’s books elevates the visit from a mundane event to something special with a celebratory vibe! Options include wall displays, banners, student work done in the style of the author, etc. Door displays are nice too- just make sure that they can be seen.
3- Engage the children in writing projects that mimic the author’s style. Are you hosting Jerry Pallotta? Write alphabet books. Hosting Shelley Gill? Write adventure stories. Hosting Dan Gutman? Write “wacky school” stories. And if an author has a wide range of work, let the children vote on which book they want to use as a mentor text. Choice is a powerful motivator.
On the day of the author’s visit, display the student work on the walls or in the media center. That way the author can see it and affirm the children’s work when he speaks with them.
4- Make sure the parents know what is happening. Send messages home about the upcoming author visit and provide a list of his/her book titles. Usually, schools invite families to pre-order books to be autographed during the author’s visit. These become cherished books in home libraries because the child has a personal connection to the text and the author as a result of the visit.
5- Get the kids PUMPED UP about meeting the author. How do you do that? It’s very easy. Treat the author’s visit like a visit from a major celebrity. Post a school-wide countdown until his/her arrival. Excitement is contagious, so make sure you act excited yourself, “I can’t believe we get to meet Jerry Palotta! He is a famous writer! Look at all these awesome books. I can’t wait!” Talk about it on the school news show. Have students present a “fact of the day” about the author or give short book reviews. The more build up the better.
In my next post I’ll share some fun ideas for making the visit day extra special and exciting. Oh- and Jerry Pallotta is visiting my own children’s school next week. I’ll be posting some of the teachers’ wonderful preparations here- you’ll love them!