Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Literature Comes to Life When Students Meet the Author or Illustrator

“A visiting author is the living link between the child and the book. Careful preparation can forge a link that will last and last.”
Susan Fletcher, Author of Dragon’s Milk, Shadow Spinner, Alphabet of Dreams (and many more)

Few things can compare to the experience of meeting the person who wrote or illustrated a favorite book. According to the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI ) an author visit can:

• Connect kids to books in ways far more powerful than reading and sharing.
• Give kids an appreciation of the process used to create the books they love.
• Offer kids the opportunity to interact with people who make writing and illustrating their careers, thereby modeling this possibility for students.
• Significantly forward a school’s literacy efforts.

My personal experience bears out the idea that meeting a “real-live” author (or illustrator) inspires ideas, creativity and aspirations. With this in mind, and the belief that all kids (and their teachers) will be enriched by special opportunities, I asked Susan Fletcher, (friend and) award winning children’s book author and experienced “visiting author” for suggestions on how to make the most of an author visit. These are her ideas, based on long experience.

1. Prepare your students:  The single most important thing you can do is to read at least one of the author’s books to students before the visit. Provide other books (where available) to those kids who would like to read more. You might ask students to write down several questions to ask the author. (Note: Create individual lists, or brainstorm a list of questions as a group.)

2. Prepare the author:  Send a letter or email confirming the date, time(s), financial arrangements and directions to your school. It is helpful to specify exactly when each session will begin and end, what grades will attend each session, and any special information, interests or needs that will help make the most of the experience for your students. Also, don’t forget to include the name of the author’s staff contact for the day of the visit.

3. Prepare to make the most of the day. As you plan, consider:
  • Group Size:  Some authors prefer to works only with small groups, others are comfortable with any size group. Be sure to ask.
  • Schedule:  Don’t over schedule the author. Too many presentations in one day can wear down the author and the quality of the presentation. Find out ahead of time how many presentations and activities the author feels comfortable with.
 4. Prepare the facility:  Find out what equipment the author will need, e.g., table, access to a computer or electrical outlets, microphone, darkened room, etc. Try to have the room set up before the author arrives (and before the kids enter so that any testing and fixing can happen.)

5. Beware the autographing trap:  Autographs are fun, but can get out of hand. You might set aside a time just for autographing and consider limiting the number of autographs per student. Some authors provide a pre-autographed bookmark which can be copied and distributed to students.

The Funding Challenge

Funding an author or illustrator visit can be challenge in this economy. SCBWI offers the following suggestions and resources for funding school visits.

First and foremost, consider SCBWI’s Amber Brown Fund Grant, which funds a deserving school’s author/illustrator visit. To learn more about this singular opportunity click on "Awards & Grants" on the menu above, then chose "Amber Brown Grant." Click here to download an application.

Also consider:
Additionally, check out:

Share the costs with other groups:
Consider piggy-backing! Check with local and state SCBWI Chapters, local and state Reading Councils and Libraries, area education associations, area bookstores, community book fairs and literacy events, newspapers, radio and tv stations and publishers to learn of already-booked author/illustrator appearances. Offer to share expenses in exchange for a visit to your group!

Do you have any other ideas or suggestions? Share them here please.