Teachers, Librarians and Authors: Let’s Work Together To Make More Author Visits Happen by Polly Holyoke
After I received The Call and sold my first children’s book, I was ready to head right out the door and start doing school visits. I’d been a middle school teacher for many years, and I knew there was nothing more magical than an enthusiastic author sharing with students the joy he or she takes in creating stories. I couldn’t wait to share my tales of getting kissed by a dolphin, learning oceanography, and eating sea urchins to research my Neptune books.
I was dismayed when many of the authors I asked about school visits shook their heads and told me dolefully that funds for author visits were drying up. Yet this past year, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit eighty different schools, and every one of those schools paid me.
So, how did I do it? Well, I do have a teaching background, and I lucked out big time in making the state reading list down here in Texas. But there’s something smart I did, and I have a hunch that that something is why I’m already starting to get bookings for next year.
I reached out and asked librarians what programs they wanted for their students, and I listened. Librarians told me teachers at their schools were focused on state assessments. Their principals had money for programs that might boost test results but little money for the annual author visit. That got me thinking. Maybe I could offer workshops that would help students with basic writing skills, AND I could still present a magical author assembly that gets kids excited about reading and writing.
But I didn’t really understand what was on those state writing assessments. So next I talked to teachers in the front lines and asked them about the tests and what skills the kids need to demonstrate. I discovered that students in Texas have to write a personal narrative that is vivid and interesting. But I also heard teachers mention how frustrated they are to have so little time to let the kids write creatively. So, I cooked up a workshop in which I work with students on using more specific and descriptive language, and I talk about the basic elements of story and give the students a writing prompt that encourages them to write creatively. The students get so excited about their stories that they often want to write into their next period. Helping them to find joy in writing can only help kids to do better in the classroom and on those darn state assessments.
We all know that one of the best ways to get students psyched about reading and writing is for them to hear one of their favorite authors discuss how they create books, but that’s hard for a librarian to sell to a principal. Authors, if you want more school visits, you may have to get more practical. Consider packaging yourself in a way that will appeal to cash-strapped principals. Librarians, if you have a local author you’re longing to invite to your school, there’s a good chance that your author is dying to come and introduce more readers to his or her books. Communicate with each other and see if there’s a topic that author feels comfortable discussing, like using more vivid and descriptive language or how to write a dynamite opening.
Even though I packaged and sold my programs in a practical fashion, I still get to present that magical author presentation where I recount how I wrote my first book with my best friend Laurie Roe in fifth grade, and then I go on to talk about what students can do to become better writers: read, write, and unplug from their electronic gadgets to leave more time to daydream. I leave a school knowing I’ve helped lots of kids realize that in the long-term it might be possible to make a living writing fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, teleplays or screenplays. And in the short-term, I’ve convinced them that writing can be a ton of fun!
Polly Holyoke grew up in Colorado and was a seventh grade social studies teacher for many years. She now lives in Plano, Texas, with her husband, two daughters and sundry four-leggeds. The Neptune Challenge, the second book in her middle grade undersea duology, is being released by Disney/Hyperion on May 19. You can read more about her books and school programs at www.pollyholyoke.com.