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School Visits: An Author's Serendipity
by Mary Emma Allen

Return to Writing for Children · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

Sharing your stories with young readers adds an exciting dimension to your life as a children's writer. Seeing your work in print is very rewarding, but the ultimate satisfaction comes from working with young people, inspiring them to read and write. It's particularly exciting when a child proudly shows me a story he's written after hearing my presentation, and the teacher says, " Ricky doesn't like to write. How did you get him to do that?" There's a thrill when a second grader asks for your very first autograph after a presentation and you realize, "Yes! I am an author."

Develop your trademark. A distinguishing characteristic helps students and teachers remember you. One writer I know wears long, flowing skirts and dangling, colorful jewelry as her trademark. Perhaps you might wear a hat. Or appear in costume as one of your characters. Other writers travel with a doll or puppet from their stories as a mascot. You could develop a slide presentation that shows your writing life. Do sketches as you talk and leave a signed original for the class. Don't sketch? Simply have the children illustrate your story as you read to them.

Establish two to four types of programs. Decide what types of programs you'll be presenting for each age group. Some authors feel comfortable working with primary grades only. Others want to work with middle grades or high school. I give presentations for any age group, from pre-school through adult. You can be flexible and vary programs-I try to adapt to any requests from the teachers. Or stick to your original plan, if that makes you more comfortable. Prepare short descriptions of your programs and develop a brochure.

Keys to great presentations.

You'll discover a number of ways to help make this a fun time for you and the students. While unexpected things do happen, generally school presentations are delightful. Preparation -- yours and the school's -- is imperative to a great experience for you and the youngsters.

  • Develop a distinctive style to establish yourself as an unforgettable guest author.

  • Use visuals aids to bring your stories to life. Are you sure you can hold the students' attention?

  • Practice telling your stories with expression and actions. Don't read in a boring monotone.

  • Prepare handouts for the students. I give bookmarks with my illustrations printed on them, something for young ones to color and a keepsake for the older kids, especially if you autograph them.

  • Prepare worksheets for children in workshops. I use them as an outline, for taking notes, and holding their attention.

  • Sketch pictures to keep them spellbound. If you're not an illustrator, ask them to draw pictures as you tell your story.

Planning your programs

As you find different methods of presenting programs that work for you, consider these important questions:

  • Will you discuss your writing, how you write, where you get your ideas?

  • Will you have visuals? Illustrations? Dolls? Puppets? Slides?

  • Will your format be mainly question and answer? Bring a list of FAQs to get things moving, in case the kids sit mute and stare at you.

  • Will you conduct workshops with hands-on activities?

  • Will you critique manuscripts? If you do, ask to have the manuscripts sent to you beforehand and be sure to adjust your fee.

  • What size groups? I've given presentations to as few as 10 children and as many as an auditorium of 250 students. A different format is required for each of them. If you don't feel comfortable working with large groups, then avoid them.

  • How many groups will you see during a day's visit? Some authors limit the number of groups to four and charge more if the school requests additional presentations and a teachers' workshop.

Helping the school prepare

Through gentle reminders make sure the school officials who invited you are prepared and notify teachers and students about your visit. During one of my school visits to a high school, the first class went smoothly. When the teacher arrived for the second class, he asked, "You're here today? I thought it was later in the week." Fortunately he was able to get the computer lab at the last minute so I could proceed with the workshop he requested. I learned some easy preparation to keep that from happening again.

Provide informational handouts for teachers ahead of time so they can prepare students-and be aware of the date of your visit. Will the school send notices to parents that you'll have books to sell? If they don't usually do this, prepare a notice they can photocopy and distribute. Ask the coordinator to fax or send you a list of FAQs the students would like answered. Call a day or two before the visit, if the coordinator doesn't call you, to go over the details. Have a back-up plan!

School visits mean extra money for an author and bring you and your stories together with your audience. Seeing children enjoy your work is the extra bonus that makes you glad you're a writer.

Helpful Sites:

Authors and Illustrators Who Visit Schools

Author School Visits By State

Copyright © 2001 Mary Emma Allen
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Mary Emma Allen is a children's writer and teacher. She is a graduate from the Institute of Children's Literature and has had more than 200 stories published in magazines and anthologies. A number of her stories and poems, along with her illustrations, appear in her book, Tales of Adventure & Discovery. Visit Mary Emma's web site: http://maryemmallen.blogspot.com/.


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