Tips for Author Visits in Schools

Tips for Author Visits in Schools

Posted on October 27 by Sylvia McNicoll
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“Where do ideas come from?”

“What is your favourite colour?”

“How old are you?”

“How do you get kids reading with so much screen distraction?”

As I watch class after class of grades 4, 5 and 6 file into a Weyburn, Saskatchewan, gym — there will over 400 students listening to my presentation — I wonder about that last question. Has anything really changed? Isn’t our best answer still giving young readers a positive experience with a book? At every encounter with parents I encourage them to read out loud to their children for as long as they can. I tell teachers to read to their students. 

Today I will aim to make their author visit the most fun experience they can imagine. I smile and laugh and enjoy this opportunity to meet them. We talk about beginning a story and yes, I read to them. Reading out loud is a gift, they will always hear my voice in their heads when they read the rest of the book. Just as when they’re adults, they will hear their parents’ voices and feel their arms around them long after they’re gone.

Next I bring up as many volunteers as I can so we can interact, one-on-one. First I dress up two students as my dog characters Ping and Pong: they wear spotted white sunglasses with dangling dog noses. I explain how Ping is bouncy and yappy and Pong is strong and silent. We practise barking and joke about how dogs can talk differently: bow-wow, rouff rouff, bark bark. These students choose the latter.

One by one I bring up more characters from the story, dressing them up and explaining how the reader needs to be introduced slowly to all the suspects. Then the students receive scripts and act out a scene. Some have difficulty reading and I talk them through it. Some are big hams and perform beautifully. Everyone receives an autographed bookmark as a souvenir of the interaction.

More students hold up place cards for the structure of the story, they all receive parting souvenirs too.

I show students photos of the real life setting, dogs and robot that are behind the story;
also images of the cover development: first the pencil sketch, next the cover with images and colour only, finally the images complete with title and author name. They see the final draft of my story with all colours of track changes on it. I tell them about the various creative jobs involved in publishing a book.

I read them another short excerpt. We have a question-and-answer period.

“Ideas come from your brain; it’s a toaster. What you put in you get out,” I tell them.

“My favourite colour is red,” I answer.

“I’m very old but I’m also very wise.” I waffle on this question.

The hour goes quickly. Finally I watch them all file out again, some begging for a bookmark that I happily give them. Positive experiences are the aim after all. When I’m alone writing, perhaps hitting a snag, wondering if anyone really cares, I will recall meeting all these future readers and the great fun and responsibility of being their personal author.

Do you want your children to meet a real live author? Bookstores and libraries host launches and readings all the time. Ask. Or you can help your school raise money and organize one. The Writers’ Union (writersunion.ca) offers grants under the heading Programs.

Who knows, maybe my next author visit will be to a school in your neighbourhood.
I hope so.

Sylvia McNicoll

Posted by Kendra on April 12, 2016
Sylvia McNicoll photo

Sylvia McNicoll

Sylvia McNicoll is the author of over thirty novels. Bringing up Beauty, her guide dog story, won the Silver Birch Award, launching her to international success. Sylvia lives in Burlington, Ontario.