Sunday, December 5, 2010

Successful Author Visits - Do You Have Them?

Lately I have been pondering author visits. We don't do a lot of author visits during the school day at my school, and I would like to start a couple of programs, one per division. I researched a bit (thanks AISL and ISS listservs) and decided that for the middle school a two day approach would work well, with an assembly and then in-class workshops. A teacher and I decided to write a proposal (which I have submitted) adapted from Dorcas Hand's master teacher program at Annunciation Orthodox School in Texas, which she wrote about in Knowledge Quest (Adolescent Literacies: Reading, Thinking, Writing, September/October 2006). Essentially, I proposed that the 7th graders read the author's book over the summer, then have a fall visit where the author helps teach a creative writing segment to get the students engaged in the creative writing process, hopefully making the author visit more meaningful for the students.

While I was thinking about the proposal, I was asked to speak on a panel to a local children's book writing group about author visits. As the school librarian on the panel, I talked about potentially integrating into the curriculum, but I also emphasized that author visits are really great when the speaker is authentic and real, and has something to say. I need it to be worth the valuable class time lost when the author visits. A local independent bookstore owner shared how she approaches finding venues for visiting authors, and I am happy to say, I "got on her list" so now maybe we can have more impromptu visits too.

Then, I was lucky enough to have Ned Vizzini visit my upper school, as a guest of my book club. Many students came to the special lunchtime event, and the kids and faculty loved him. He spoke of his YA novel, It's Kind of a Funny Story, but he also spoke with humor about how he began writing as a teenager, and his struggle with depression which is in his book. He tried to answer all the kids' questions, but sadly the lunch bell rang and the event was over. Although this visit wasn't connected to the curriculum, the students loved it and it did have meaning for them. He connected so well with the students in fact, that they want him to return for another presentation.

Most author visits have value to the students, but depending upon the author, the age of the student, and the goal of the visit, meaning for the students could vary. How to decide when to host an author and what to have them do (assembly or smaller gatherings) may depend on the popularity of the book and the context of the visit. Should you have any author just because he or she is in town? Probably not. Should you research these opportunities and carefully select ones your students and teachers would like? Probably. But how do you decide?

How do you decide what author visits to have? Does the age of your students impact your decision? And have you had any especially great author visits via Skype?

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