Bringing a professional children’s book author to your school is a wonderful way to build school-wide momentum and enthusiasm for writing! (See my previous post on gearing up for an author visit.) Here are seven ways to make the experience extra-amazing.
1. Begin the day with a big bang. As soon as the children are settled for the day in their classrooms, there should be an “Elvis is in the building!” moment. The principal can make an announcement, “Boys and girls- Jerry Pallotta just pulled into our parking lot! It’s almost time to meet him!” Another option is to launch the day with a school-wide assembly. At Ashley River we used to march the classes past the author (so he/she could see all our costumes*, hats, signs, etc.) and into the cafeteria where there was a brief “pep rally” welcoming the author to the school. It was short and sweet. The key components were a welcome from the principal, the Pledge of Allegiance, a cheer, and a song or two by the chorus. We would set up a “throne” on the stage where the author sat and sometimes had different classes or grade levels present the work they had done to prepare for the author’s visit. The important thing is to keep it brief, purposeful, and energetic! It usually ended with a few remarks from the author to the entire student body and faculty before we resumed our normal day. (If there is such a thing as a “normal day” when a REAL AUTHOR is in your building!)
* Costumes make everything seem more celebratory. My fellow teachers and I always would “sign up” for one of the author’s books and have our students dress in the theme of the book for the assembly. It wasn’t too fancy- just simple paper hats or basic costume pieces did the trick. The kids loved it!
2. Interview the author on the school news show. Often an author has a pre-planned presentation to deliver during his/her time with students, so a Q and A on the news show with questions submitted by the students works very nicely. Older students are great in this role!
3. Present the author with a gift/ memento from the school. It doesn’t need to be expensive or lavish- just a little something that represents your school or city. Being from Charleston, we used to present our authors with some tea from the local tea plantation, some benne seed wafers, and a small sweetgrass basket (part of our local cultural heritage.)
4. Find a way to memorialize the author’s visit. This is a special moment in the history of your school! Document it! Here are some ideas:
- Have the author sign the wall in your library. I’ve seen many school media centers that have a special spot set aside for author signatures. Worried your district will paint over it in a few years? Have the author sign something else- a school mascot statue, a plaque, etc.
- Buy a picture frame with a wide mat in advance. Take a good photo of the author with some of your students that will be hung on a special “Author’s Wall of Fame.” Ask the author to write a brief message to the school on the photo mat and sign it before he/she leaves.
- Document the visit with a photo book/ scrapbook. Take lots of photos- of the author throughout the day with students, signing books, giving his/her presentation, etc. Also take photos of special work/ displays created by the students and teachers and assemble a book for the school library. You can set aside a special shelf just for these kinds of books and can keep a set of the author’s books (signed to the school) next to them on the same shelf!
5. Don’t forget to ask the author for a list of their own favorite books and authors. By the end of the visit, the visiting author will be quite a celebrity with your students- capitalize on it! Obviously he/she recommends their own books, but remember that authors are usually vociferous readers too. His/her book endorsements will carry a lot of weight with your students!
6. Make sure teachers get some time with the author. The easiest way to accomplish this is to arrange for an afterschool meet-and greet or presentation especially for the teachers. It’s also nice to bring in lunch for the author and invite some teachers to join him/her. (We used to draw names out of a hat to make it fair.) Authors have lots of good ideas for how to motivate and guide our young writers. Make sure you get their tips! (And if only a few teachers are privy to this information, make sure they share it at the next faculty meeting.)
7. Schedule a “Writer’s Intensive” with selected students. If you can make it work in the schedule, authors are often quite happy to meet with a group of students and talk with them about the craft of writing. Sometimes teachers select their most dedicated young writers for this experience. Other times, it can be powerful to send a reluctant writer to this special class. Authors might share thoughts on keeping a writer’s notebook, the revision process, where they get ideas, tips for conducting research, etc. There might even be a time for the author to give students some specific feedback on a few of their pieces. No matter how it is structured, these kinds of experiences can be life-changing for young writers.
In my next post I’ll feature a favorite author of over 20 alphabet books, Jerry Pallotta. (Pictured above.)
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