Jedi of School Visits
You're welcome, Dionna. Happy to be here!
I must confess, while being present during one of your author visits, I was absolutely amazed at your ability to fill the room with electric-fun! The kids were soooo excited to engage with you (and your character drawings). It was obvious to me that you love doing school visits!
You're right. I absolutely love doing school visits!
Any advice for us kidlit creators who might be hesitant about doing school visits, or who are afraid of boring the kids to tears?
First, I'd say, don't view doing school visits as an obligation. View them as an unmatched opportunity of getting energized by kids! I recommend doing them even for authors who are just getting started. View your visit as a chance to just talk to kids about books, writer's block, or whatever else the kids want to talk about. If you're not ready for a whole gym-full, try talking to a single class or even a small book club.
I don't think educating is my purpose at all. My job is to energize everybody—to read, to write, to draw. The kids don't need to remember anything I said as long as they remember that I have a great time making stories and they can, too.
Since the Pandemic, have you missed doing in-person school visits? How have virtual visits worked out for you?
I do miss the in-school visits, but I don't miss the travel and hassles that can go with it. It can be absolutely exhausting, especially at schools with bad microphones. I do not miss the bad microphones! But I totally miss the direct connection with the kids.
Virtual visits have their technology problems, too. But now that EVERYBODY knows how to use Zoom, it's a lot different than the days when I might be the first Skype visit a school had ever had. Also, I can do so many more visits in one day! I think my record is twelve in one day! But six is a much better number. Meanwhile, four in-person visits in one day are too many.
Twelve Zoom visits in a single day? That’s incredible! What works for you when doing an in-school visit? What doesn't?
I don't think the hard sell works. Don't try to be a commercial for your book. Instead, be a champion of reading in general!
Something that works great is this: “I love to write books, but I also love to READ books. I'm looking for a new one to read, can anybody tell me about their favorite book?”
Using a white board, you can either make a list or make a mash-up drawing with characters from each book. I tell kids I'm going to take the list to the library so I know what to check out. They are SO excited to tell me what to read next. (And, of course, it's a lot of fun to pretend I've never heard of the books or that I've misunderstood the title.)
Tom, it’s been so fun having you here! Thank you so much for sharing some school-visit tips, and please, do tell your talented wife CeCe Bell I said “Hi!” and congrats on El Deafo becoming a cartoon series!
It’s been my pleasure! And will do.