Author Visit Addict by Lindsey Anderson
Confession time. I am an author visit addict. Is that a thing? You can decide as you read this, but know that it’s contagious, and it’s a good problem to have. Need proof? I started this school year with one confirmed author on the books, and before the first semester ended, I’d hosted six. With another visit planned this spring, seven may be the lucky number it’s rumored to be.
Ten years ago, I held the first author event at my school library. I was in the process of revamping book fair week. Tired of just rolling out the cases, hanging up a few decorations and signs, and hosting lackluster family nights, I took it down to the studs and started over. We were going to celebrate and stir up excitement about reading in a big way. There’d be games, prizes, and the highlight of the week- the author visit.
I had a shoestring budget, which the parent organization graciously matched, and I invited Vivian Vande Velde and Candie Moonshower. I’d enjoyed talking with Vivian at a librarians’ conference the previous year, and she was a nominee for our state book award. Candie lived nearby, and she’d just released a book based on a part of our state’s history, so it seemed like a great way to start. Sales boosted, families actually came out for family night, and students were sad to see the squeaky metal cases go.
For once, the excitement of book fair week lingered. It wasn’t the games, kitschy prizes, the catchy themed decor, or the bonus book fair dollars earned, but the author visit did more than I ever expected. It was like a part of our library sprang to life, as we sat at the feet of our guest authors. We were mesmerized by their stories as they shared how the spark of an idea grew into the very books we held in our hands. It was like getting to peek behind the curtain of the written word. Nothing short of magic. I was hooked.
Ten years and forty author visits later, my students have heard some of the most amazing storytellers in children’s and young adult literature. Roland Smith shared how he helped save the red wolf from extinction. Tim Green told about the dedication it takes to play in the NFL. Ruta Sepetys worked in the music industry, yet she wondered about her Lithuanian roots and it lead her to write. CJ Redwine and Soman Chainani transported us to other worlds, and we time traveled with Margaret Peterson Haddix. We made origami Yodas with Tom Angleberger, and we laughed our heads off with Chris Grabenstein. We were a-buzz when the news broke that Bill Finger would finally be acknowledged for his role in the creation of Batman because Marc Tyler Nobleman told us Bill’s story. We walked the red carpet with Wendelin Van Draanen as we saw how Flipped became a movie. You could hear a pin drop as Alan Gratz described the endurance of Yanek Gruener, and we rollicked in our seats as Nathan Hale sketched a super special Hazardous Tale for us.
It’s really not the number of author visits. I’m not attempting to shatter any records, but it’s the experience that our school shares. It’s the looks on the faces of the students as they listen. It’s the questions they ask, like, “What did you have to give up in order to follow your dream of being a writer?” It’s the quiet student who brought his foster parents to family night to meet Alan Gratz and get his copy of Prisoner B-3087 signed. It’s the Holocaust survivor who showed up at our school to hear Ruta Sepetys because she saw the event advertised in the local newspaper. It’s the former student who stopped by to say hello and recalled the year her favorite author came, and she got to have lunch with her, on her birthday. One of my students was the first kid in America to receive a copy of I, Even Funnier, courtesy of Chris Grabenstein. A framed original sketch by Nathan Hale of the Lewis and Clark expedition hangs in my library. There are so many wonderful memories, and I’m always looking ahead with wonder to the coming school years as to who will bring their magic through our doors.
I wish I could say all of this easily happens and there aren’t countless hours spent behind the scenes. I once counted 112 emails exchanged over a single date. I worry about how to afford future speakers, and if testing will edge out the next event I’ve planned. Worries and extra work aside, I’ve seen the remarkable returns on my investment of planning, hard work, and enthusiasm. I can’t take the whole school on a field trip, but this is as close as I can get, and perhaps, even better.
So, if you’ve never hosted an author, or it’s been a while, look up the authors of your top ten most checked out books, see who’s on your state award lists, see who lives nearby or who will Skype. Schedule a visit for your school or share a visit with a school in your district. Then, watch as your readers read even more, those stuck in one genre venture into another, your reluctant readers finally connect with a book, and nonfiction is no longer boring. Before you know it, you might be an addict, too.
Lindsey Anderson is a teacher librarian at Woodland Middle School in Brentwood, Tennessee. She’s a former English teacher, writer, and mom to four sons and four pets. She loves reading as much as she loves Nashville indie music. Connect on Twitter: @LindsKAnderson or check out her library’s website: http://edublogs.wcs.edu/wmslib/