When Kelly Milner Halls arrived for a school visit, the librarian warned her about a quirky third grader who would be at every one of her six sessions that day. He had checked out only one book each week: Milner Halls’ Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures That May or May Not Exist.
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“He sat with me at lunch and got suddenly quiet,” says the author. “Then he said, ‘I never thought this day would come.’ I asked, ‘What day is that?’ and he said, ‘I never thought the day would come when I would meet someone like me.’ Those are the days when you know you’ve got a good life.”
School visits such as the dozens Milner Halls does allow authors who write for children to increase both readership and book sales. Best of all, writers have a chance to interact with – and learn from – their target audience. “My life is about curiosity,” Millner Halls says, “and we get to celebrate that curiosity together.”
Schools across the country pay for dynamic speakers to offer presentations to small and large groups. With thousands of authors eager to connect with their audiences, how can you ensure that your performance stands out as more thrilling than the Kidizoom Smartwatch DX?
Preparation is key
Picture book author Kim Norman runs a blog called Cool School Visits. When she receives contact information for a school’s event coordinator, she sends guides to her books with activities that teachers can do before or after her visit. She offers a poster that coordinators can download from her site and bookmarks for distribution. She also provides a video compilation of book-cover images and pictures of her Newfoundland dog for organizers to run as students assemble for her presentation.
“In advance of my visits,” she says, “I send coordinators a ‘scavenger hunt’ of my website for students to do before I come. It’s a fun little quiz about images and factoids that they can find on my site.”
Young adult author Maria E. Andreu notes that the more prepared the school is, the more successful the author’s visit will be. Before one of her events, administrators got a grant to buy copies of her book The Secret Side of Empty for English classes. “They prepped students by having them write questions ahead of time, planned a breakfast and reception and involved their school media team in an on-camera interview with me,” she says. “The kids were excited and engaged because they’d been so involved in the planning and execution of the event.”
Rock it in real time
“Performing to a group of 300 students is like a Springsteen concert,” says David Biedrzycki, author and illustrator of the Ace Lacewing Bug Detective series. “You’ve got to rock it. Do something that no one else does. Be educational without appearing to be.”
Biedrzycki visits more than 60 schools a year and engages students with real-time creations of digital art on a laptop and graphic tablet. Milner Halls, whose topics are far-ranging, shows a PowerPoint presentation as she talks. She brings fossils and artifacts for students to touch. “I engage at least three of their senses, connecting with kids who learn in different ways,” she says.
Most authors agree that a successful presentation includes humor and gets students laughing. Some show funny pictures of their dogs. Others show funny photos of themselves as children. “Humor is the great icebreaker,” Biedrzycki says. “It gets kids on your side.”
Expert tips on school visits
- “Encourage teachers to read a chapter or two of one of your books aloud to the class. Share book trailers in advance. These fun, short videos are an easy way to hook the kids’ interest in books and in the author.” —Julie Berry, The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
- “Discussion guides are great, especially if they’re aligned to the Common Core.” —Maria E. Andreu, The Secret Side of Empty
- “Preschoolers have very short attention spans, so my best word of advice is to gather in a classroom setting, rather than an assembly, and to keep your story sessions short – 20 minutes at the most.” —Laura Sassi, Goodnight Manger and Goodnight Arc
- “Because many of my books have to do with sports, the school has the kids wear their favorite sports jersey on the day of my visit. It adds to the excitement and increases engagement from the students. —Brad Herzog, Count on Me Sports series
Melissa Hart is the author of Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family and Avenging the Owl.
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