7 Ways to Make an Author Visit Fabulous

7 Ways to Make an Author Visit Fabulous 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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Author Visits Inspire Young Writers

Author visits inspire young writers 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!

PS- Author Dan Gutman has a great page on his website titled “The Perfect Author Visit.” Check it out for more tips.

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