‘I Met a Real Writer!’ Planning a Classroom Author Visit
In 2009, my daughter met Tyler Whitesides, author of “The Janitors” series. In the school gymnasium, he regaled students with stories about what he did before becoming a writer, shared the inspiration for his characters and had students play basketball with wadded paper and a trash can.
Five years later, she still tells her brother stories of that visit and mentions her time with Whitesides when she writes. She was so delighted by this author visit at school that she has deliberately sought out other authors in our local bookstore and the public library.
For many students, meeting an author and hearing stories about their characters and writing process can make books profoundly personal and, better yet, turn writing into an achievable goal for students themselves. Meeting authors increases student engagement in writing and helps students to take control of their own literacy.
How to locate authors
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Seeking out an author your students are studying can sometimes be difficult. However, authors who are releasing new books may be traveling through your area and willing to schedule visits with your school, so collaborating with local bookstores can be helpful. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has a helpful tool for finding any of their members who might be available for author visits.
Book tours and virtual visits
If financial resources or schedules don’t allow, many authors are willing to visit schools through Skype, webcasts or other electronic methods. Virtual visits are becoming such a popular way of connecting students with writers that even J.K. Rowling has participated. Such events benefit both students and authors, so often the cost of an author classroom visit is lower than you’d expect, with some authors even visiting (physically or electronically) for free.
Making connections with books: preparing students for a classroom author visit
Preparation and planning are key to successful author visits, as is incorporating it into the curriculum. One very simple way is to advise students of the impending visit. It sounds silly, but reading the author’s book and asking students to think of questions they might have before the author visit can really increase anticipation for the big day.
Some schools dedicate art time to creating banners or hold a schoolwide competition that rewards winners with lunch with the author or another special activity. Toni Buzzeo and Jane Kurtz have written the book “Terrific Connections with Authors, Illustrators and Storytellers” to help educators and administrators prepare for author visits.
They advise increasing student engagement with schoolwide collaboration between specials and grade-level teachers or between different grade levels, and having teacher or librarian cheerleaders to prepare the whole student body for a visit. Other technical issues should be addressed before an author visit, particularly if it is a virtual visit, so ensure that the IT department or the individual classroom teacher is prepared to deal with potential glitches.
Author visits leave a lasting impression on students
The impression an author can make on the students is lasting and important. Classroom author visits make writing seem possible and accessible and increases students’ interest in the books, particularly when there is schoolwide excitement and preparation for such meetings.
My daughter probably never would have picked up the “Janitors” series if she hadn’t met Taylor Whiteside and heard him speak. It is now a beloved series that she has passed along to her little brother. Her fervor is catching; he, too, is addicted to the series and interested in writing his own similarly themed stories. This is exactly the sort of literacy engagement we want from our students — and well worth the relatively small investment it takes to make it happen.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.Learn More: Click to view related resources.
- "Speaker's Bureau," Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
- Kate Messner, "Authors Who Skype with Classes & Book Clubs (for free!)," katemessner.com