Little Iffy Learns to Fly…and Rocks an Author Visit! by Carrie Davies
Little Iffy is a bitty griffin, and he stars in Aaron Zenz’s newest picture book, Little Iffy Learns to Fly. In this post we’ll not only be talking about Little Iffy, but also highlighting the power of author visits.
This Nerdy Book Club post is part Carrie Davies, part Aaron Zenz, and all true.
Little Iffy is a bit more scaredy-cat than lion, and he’s a bit more chicken than eagle. Flying means “up,” and Little Iffy much prefers “down.” Fortunately, Iffy has a band of friends who are willing to stick by their buddy in his time of need.
Recently, Little Iffy has been learning how to fly, learning how to be brave, and learning the value of friendship — but he has also been very busy learning how to absolutely rock an Author Visit and get kids excited about reading.
Teacher Librarian, Carrie Davies: Little Iffy visited our school this fall with lots of anticipation from staff and students. You see, Little Iffy was accompanied by a friend of North Oakview: his creator Aaron Zenz. Over the past 4 years, an incredible relationship has formed between Aaron and the students, staff, and families of North Oakview, through books, creativity, reading, ArtPrize, and 3 author visits. Our readers truly view Aaron as a friend and a part of our school culture. I even had a student ask if Aaron should have a school ID badge because it’s almost like he works at our school. (Still dreaming up a way to make that happen… with his time split between library classes and art classes… hmmm…)
Author/Illustrator Aaron Zenz: The growing relationship with North Oakview has been a delightful one, and has led to some dynamics I didn’t expect! I’ve been doing School Author Visits for 12 years now, and it is not uncommon for me to make return visits. But usually those come when a school says, “Hey, it’s been 4 or 5 years and we have all different students now — We’d love to have you back so these new kids can experience your visit too!” But recently, there are two schools that have invited me back multiple times in consecutive years. I never would have expected that these closely-spaced trips make for a COMPLETELY different school visit experience! The excitement of the kids is palpable. The energy levels are through the roof. Instead of taking the first half of the presentation to explain who I am and what I create, we pick up where we left off and we hit the ground running. Instead of connecting by the end of the presentation, we’re connected from the start. We’re all friends in that room — and outside of it!
Carrie: Aaron’s visit with Little Iffy this fall made his story and his book come to life before our students’ eyes. Aaron shared openly and honestly about his journey in creating Little Iffy and the obstacles he faced along the way. He showed students a thick folder full of sketches and ideas that he had created over a decade ago but weren’t brought to a fully realized book until recently. In a sense, Aaron shared with students not only how Little Iffy learned to fly, but how he learned to fly, also. How he was persistent and resilient and optimistic in seeing Little Iffy move from a seed of an idea to the reality of a book. But it wasn’t an easy or magical process that just happened on its own. It was marked with hard work, determination, and flexibility.
Aaron: I think that’s an important thing for kids to see — the stories and characters that we love don’t come into the world because an author plopped down and cranked out a book in one sitting. There are rich but difficult journeys behind our favorite stories, full of false starts and wanderings. In the case of this new book, way back in 2002 I developed an entire world full of creatures and backstories called The Little Mythix. It now lives only in my filing cabinet (unless it tags along on a school visit!) Years later, I realized my favorite part of that whole epic landscape I had created was one little character, a bitty griffin. So I zeroed in on him, gave him some focused care and attention, and Little Iffy was born!
Carrie: Little Iffy’s story was also further brought to life as Aaron shared his own griffin collection with students. Out of his bag, he pulled griffin after griffin from his own personal collection of toys and trinkets, and he told the story behind each one, to many “oohs” and “aahs” from his audience. He was allowing students to see that he used things from his own life that he was passionate about to inspire his own writing and his own art, and that they could do so too.
Aaron: I want kids to be encouraged to write about the things they love. When you love your subject matter, you are much more likely to love the writing process too. I’ve loved griffins from the time I was young. I wrote a poem featuring a griffin in elementary school and a series of chapter books with griffins in junior high. During the school visit, it was fun to show off the griffins I’ve collected over the years, as well as the griffin drawings my own kids have given me for birthdays and Christmases and Father’s Days. Imagine my utter DELIGHT weeks later when kids from North Oakview sent me their own griffin drawings! I love the note one student added to her picture:
“Wan you showd thos Griffins
that inspierd me to like Griffins to
so I drwed this for you
In a simple words, I think this hints at the profound connections an Author Visit can foster.
Carrie: Aaron’s visit to our school this fall took place in conjunction with ArtPrize. Aaron was making 150 pieces of hand-crafted monster artwork based on designs submitted by kids for an entry called “Monsters Go” at ArtPrize 9. Some of the designs he was using were created by students at our school. He wanted to celebrate with the students and share the results before the exhibit opened to the public, and this meant his visit to our school occurred in mid-September, a month before Little Iffy’s release on October 17.
When Aaron revealed to our readers that he had just received his advance author copy of Little Iffy Learns to Fly in all it’s hardcover splendor, the news was met with cheers and celebration. A hush fell over the room of nearly 200 students, as Aaron began to read Little Iffy Learns to Fly to an audience hanging on his every word and page turn. They knew they were in for a treat, as they got to hear a book read by the author and illustrator himself, nearly a month before it was published. You could feel the magnitude of this moment, as everyone in the room appreciated and valued this magical experience.
Aaron: Yes, that was the first day I had ever read the book to an audience! I admit, there was nervousness about how it would be received. But it was fun (and a relief!) to see which pages the kids reacted to and how. There were some unexpected responses along the way — I remember one group repeatedly laughing and saying “Oh no… OH NO!” as they anticipated the surprises to be revealed with the coming page turns! As an author, you’re clapping inside as you think, “Yea, the story works!”
Carrie: Readers at North Oakview have come to know and love everything created by Aaron Zenz, and Little Iffy is no different. There is currently a hold list a mile long at for Aaron Zenz’s latest book Little Iffy Learns to Fly, and I don’t see that changing any time in the foreseeable future.
The length of that hold list is part “incredible book,” part “inspiring author visit,” and all “helping kids to fall in love with reading.”
Carrie Davies is passionate about connecting books and readers, and has done so for 4 years as a Teacher Librarian and 10 years as a 4th grade teacher. She and her husband and their 2 children live amongst stacks of books in their home in West Michigan. Connect with her on Twitter at @readwithdavies.
Aaron Zenz is the author and/or illustrator of 33 books for kids. Aaron travels all around the country getting kids excited about reading and writing and creating. He lives in West Michigan with his lovely wife and 6 creative kids.
You can read more about Little Iffy Learns to Fly at these stops on the Little Iffy Tour:
Mon Jan 1 : Picturebooking Podcast