Titanic Cover August 05

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TEN TIPS FOR A PERFECT AUTHOR VISIT by Michael Shoulders

When I was a student I thought every book in the library was written by dead people. I had no idea authors were “real live people” who breathed the same air as I did. When I grew up and became an administrator with fingers on pursestrings I decided to invite authors and illustrators to the schools I served. I witnessed the magical and instant connections they made with students and books. It also motivated students to read, write, and check out more books from the library.
Soon, several schools organized their annual “Young Authors Celebration” around an author visit. Principals and teachers found it so In ten years I brought 30 authors/illustrators to visit the students in my district.
I propose ten strategies to increase the chances to have The Best Author Visit Ever:

10) PICK THE RIGHT AUTHOR – The selection of potential authors who visit schools is as varied as the books stocked in the school library. But remember this: It’s not the success of the author that’s most important. Rather, the question is how successfully can the author inspire the students? Parents and teachers might be excited about the notion of a famous author coming to town, and that author may charge a particularly lofty fee, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she has any clue about how to talk to kids. I could name names, but I won’t. Ask around. Watch authors speak at reading conferences. Most authors write well. Find one who speaks well, too.

9) PRIME THE STUDENTS – Tell the children an author is coming to see them. As simple as this sounds, sometimes teachers don’t inform the students about the assembly. Students have asked me, while coming into the assembly area, “Who are you, and why are we here?” Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Teachers should prep students for an author visit as they would for a field trip. Sometimes, just as I’m strolling into a school, a student stops and says, “HEY! You’re that author guy, aren’t you?” When I can see that they’re excited about my arrival, I know it’s going to be a perfect day to teach students about writing books.

8) READ THE BOOKS – The school librarian or media specialist should be an integral part of the priming process. What better way to generate enthusiasm for a visiting author than by actually reading the works by that writer beforehand? It sounds obvious, but not everyone does it. Display the author’s books, too— on school office counters where parents see them; on lunch line shelves where hungry students see them, and especially at library checkout desks where READERS see them.

7) CELEBRATE THE VISIT – Make the author visit a HUGE event for the students. Contact local media (good press makes schools shine in the eyes of the community). Decorate bulletin boards with the author’s photo, books, and other design elements pertaining to the subject matter. My friend Brad Herzog, who has written a number of sports picture books, has arrived at schools to find all the students and teachers adorned in their favorite sports jerseys. I myself visited one school that had conceived a countdown to my visit by presenting one unusual fact about me during each of their morning television broadcasts. Thirty days: thirty interesting facts.

6) SCHEDULE SMARTLY – Remember: Most authors are not TEACHERS. They don’t talk for a living; they write. So smart scheduling is vital. Before scheduling times, be sure to confer with the author, who might have insights (from experience) that you might not have considered. Make sure to provide the proper equipment for the author (a standard list of materials might include a table, a microphone, a bottle of water, an LCD project, a white screen, and a power strip). And when scheduling the day, remember that most authors will only speak three (maybe four) times at most.

5) USE THE OPPORTUNITY – A visit by an author is a gift-wrapped educational opportunity. Authors support classroom instruction. I mention the words “rough draft” and “rewriting” and “research” when I talk, as do most authors. If teachers are not present to hear the message, they can’t reinforce it in classroom instruction. And they can’t build upon what the author has said. Sadly, some schools plan author talks during the teachers’ planning times. Yes, it’s easy to keep the school’s schedule intact, but it’s NOT a good curriculum practice. What good is a visiting author if, upon returning to the classroom, the students have to provide a summary for the teachers?

4) OFFER BOOK ORDERS – Provide families the opportunity to purchase autographed books. Sometimes school contacts tell me, “Our students are mostly poor and won’t buy any books.” However, the same school probably conducts two book fairs each year to raise funds for the school’s library. Perhaps a signed book from an author whom the student met will mean more in the long run to that child. Let the family decide if an autographed book is something they desire. It can be a great gift and a lifelong keepsake.

3) HAVE A CONTEST – Many schools have a contest where the winners have “Lunch with the Author.” An autographed book can be an added incentive to participate. A memorable contest one school had asked students, “What is the one question you’d ask the author if you had lunch with him?” The number in attendance will vary. Personally, I’ve had lunch with two girls at a table in the library and also with an entire 8th grade class of 18 students. I’ve also had lunch with one boy and one girl from every classroom.

2) VISIT THE AUTHOR’S WEB PAGE – Today, many authors have curriculum-rich content on their pages. This is the place to find information on the author’s life, a list of books, facts about the author’s family, and more.

1) HAVE FUN – An author visit is a special treat for teachers, students, and parents so don’t forget to have fun with it.

Mug ShotTitanic CoverMike Shoulders spent his childhood traveling in an army family to Fort Knox, KY, Fort Chaffee, AR, Germany, and Fort Campbell, KY. Mike taught for 14 years and then worked as an instructional supervisor until 2005. Mike earned his doctoral degree in 2004. Mike and his wife Debbie have three grown children: Jason, Ryan and Meghann; a grandson: Jonas Jeffrey; a standard poodle: Maggie; a cat: Audrey and a hedgehog: Dezi.
Mike visits nearly one hundred schools each year. In March, he returned to Germany for the third time, spreading the message that “Reading IS Magic!” His latest book is T is for Titanic. You can find him online at michaelshoulders.com.