Are you a writer? Illustrator? Teacher? Librarian? If so, you know that a good school visit is uplifting and inspiring for everyone involved.
But what makes a “good” school visit? To me, there are three tenets:
Based on my experience, here are some points to consider when creating a school visit or looking for a speaker.
Every kid wants to have fun when an author comes to visit. It’s a break from class! A special day! There are many ways for a school visit to hit the fun mark.
- Laughter. If kids laugh during my presentation, I know they’re with me. Sometimes they laugh at the book I’m reading. Sometimes they laugh at the stories I tell. Aaaaaand, I just might dance in a toilet paper wedding dress. It’s not about unending hilarity, but a good chuckle makes a visit resonate.
- Participation. For me, this comes in many forms. I ask kids and teachers to help me on stage. I give crazy true/false quizzes, during which students get to guess the answers. They help me generate similes and metaphors during the aforementioned TP wedding dress dance. I’ve seen other speakers invite kids to sing or help create a story. Students will have a much better time if they’re part of the action.
A school visit is a lost opportunity if students don’t learn about writing/creating. If you’re a writer/illustrator, think about what you most want to share. If you’re a teacher/librarian, what will advance your curriculum? Either way, keep the following in mind:
- Preparation. My school visits are more meaningful, for everyone, when students know who I am. When they’ve read some of my work and/or visited my website, they’re more invested and the day feels extra special.
- Skills. My presentations tend to focus on revision, figurative language, and the joy of research. Other speakers might focus on the main components of a story or on how an illustrated character evolves on the page. Be sure students are walking away with concrete information they can use in their own work.
- Props/Visuals. Each component of my visit has a visual to go with it. This helps kids focus. Whether it’s my clothesline of revisions, examples of my illustrators’ work, or the TP wedding dress, keeping my presentation visually interesting is essential.
Why bring a book creator to a school if kids won’t have a chance to make a personal connection? Consider the following:
- Small Groups. Huge assemblies can be cost effective for schools. However, smaller groups often make more of an impression on kids. In a small group I can chat informally, answer a larger percentage of questions, and change things up, depending on a group’s interests.
- Golden Nuggets. I always share facts about myself that kids can’t find in online bios. Those nuggets feel special.
- Questions. Kids love asking questions, and I love answering them! There’s nothing wrong with taking questions at the end of a presentation. But it can be nice to collect questions in advance of the big day, via email. By previewing, I can select several that are distinctly different.
Finally, a school visit is about mutual respect and admiration. Book creators must recognize that when a school opts to spend scarce dollars on a speaker, that speaker has an obligation to deliver a presentation that will be enriching.
Schools must recognize that speakers are professionals, and most authors/illustrators cannot subsist on publishing contracts alone – speaking is vital to making a living (surprising, but true!). If your school’s resources are limited, consider supplementing an honorarium with book sales or media coverage. Avoid the temptation of querying many speakers and choosing the least expensive – you may not get the experience you desire.
SCBWI’s Read Local efforts (https://illinois.scbwi.org/read-local/) will help you find just the right author for your school.
Schools visits can be magical for a child. With proper preparation, you will ignite their imaginations.
— Sara F. Shacter, author of Just So Willow