No two authors are exactly the same, so it makes sense to realize that no two author presentations are going to be the same either. However, there are certain hopes and expectations that the author visit will be good, that it will be relevant, and that above all, it will be inspiring, regardless of whether the visit is in-person in the classroom, or virtual via a web module like Skype.
As a teacher, I have the benefit of being able to understand both sides of an author visit. In today's economic environment where schools have tighter budgets and fewer teaching days, providing an author visit that meets and exceeds expectations is more crucial than ever before, especially if you'd like to garner additional visits. It's not enough to simply think that carrying the title of "I’m an author," and waving your books is all you'll need to bring your audience to their knees in rapt attention. In today's multi-media, multi-tasking world, unless you are a professional storyteller, the reality is that being just yourself by yourself probably won't be enough.
So how do you deliver a presentation that is good, relevant, and inspiring? Here are a few ideas that authors (and teachers) can use to help bring about a visit that will shine:
1) Identify your target audience. i.e., what grades would you like to visit? What age do you write for? What group size would you like to speak to? You'll want to specify this in your contact materials.
2) Identify the genre that your books fall into, and identify some of the other books/authors that will you be talking about in your presentation (aside from your own). Some schools are leery of bringing in authors who view school visits simply as a means to sell books. Your visit should go beyond this goal and include an obvious agenda of wanting to inspire young readers and writers as a whole, coupled with the realization that not every student will be a fan of your genre and writing style (and that's okay).
3) Identify the core curriculum that your presentation supports. For example, my book, Little Red Riding Hood, Into the Forest Again (which is a fractured fairy/folktale) fits in with the 3rd grade language arts program that strives to cover fables, folktales, and story structure. Therefore, part of my presentation includes having the students identify the elements that make my book a fractured folktale. A Google search of Core Curriculum for your state will bring you to web sites where this information is available. An example is shown here (Scroll down to page 11 in the pdf to see where the curriculum gets into specifics).
4) Provide a suggested schedule that is streamlined, specific, and succinct. For example, if the heart of your presentation is 20 minutes, follow it with 10 minutes allotted for questions and/or a writing exercise.
5) Keep the duration of your program age-appropriate. For example, it's difficult for some kindergartners to keep their attention glued to the reading of even one story; so these types of visits will be shorter and more engaged. Actually, engagement for any age-group is a must, but for kindergartners, allow no more than 5 minutes to read your story, followed by 3 minutes for questions, and then 10 minutes, if class time allows for coloring a related picture or putting together a story puzzle. Judy Torres, author of Duck, Duck, Moose, follows the reading of her story with a sing-along, where she teaches the students a simple repeating song that centers on her book and its characters.
6) Incorporate multimedia. This could include an accompanying power point presentation or book trailer, even if it's not your own, to highlight a discussion on plot elements or theme, for example. Again, utilization of a tool such as multimedia should be used for educational purposes, not simply as a sales pitch.
7) Above all, don't forget to find connections with the students you are visiting. Use student volunteers to help show specific concepts, such as demonstrating or acting out certain characteristics that the students would then need to put into words in an interesting way. Ask them what they like to read and write. Ask them who their favorite characters are and why. Plant the seeds for discussion and do a little digging, if you have to, with your own questions. Showing an interest in the students around you, rather than showcasing only your own work, is the greatest gift you can bring into a classroom setting. The best outcome will be that your inspiration will set the students moving forward with giant moon-steps as they pursue, develop, and share their own stories.
Shaunda Kennedy Wenger is a teacher and award-winning author of ten books, including The Ghost in Me; Reality Bites, Tales of a Half-Vampire; Little Red Riding Hood, Into the Forest Again; and The Book Lover’s Cookbook, Recipes Inspired by Celebrated Works of Literature and the Passages That Feature Them. She was the visiting author at the Annual USU Young Writers and Artists’ Festival in 2012 and schedules visits to schools when her time allows. She blogs regularly at www.shaundawenger.blogspot.com.