March 14, 2021: A School Author Visit- Finally!
It was almost a year ago exactly that I had my last pre-pandemic school author visit. It was March 13, 2020 and I was meeting with 150- 4th Graders who had read my book Saving Home as part of their Florida Studies curriculum. They had also just returned from a field trip to St. Augustine, so I was able to talk with them about the various locations in the book that they had visited. It was a crowded and rambunctious visit. After my official talk, the kids who had books for me to sign, lined up and we chatted and posed for pictures. No masks. No social distancing.
Fast-forward a year, and this week I made my first in-person school author visit since then. Also meeting with about 120- 4th Graders who had read Saving Home as part of their Florida Studies Unit. This group however, had not been able to take a field trip to St. Augustine, so many had no personal connections to the places in the book. Only about half of the students were there in person, and the other half I saw virtually. Masks were everywhere and social distancing was paramount. Even when I signed books after, we were careful to stay at least three-feet apart as we chatted and passed books back and forth.
The differences were clear. However, there were also many similarities. Looking at both events helped to confirm for me, the real benefits of actually meeting with readers. Even with all of the pandemic protocols in place, in-person author visits are so much better than virtual ones, especially if you write for children.
- Children connect better when physical proximity is part of the experience. When I am presenting in-person to large groups, I walk around. Moving forces the children to follow me with their eyes and bodies. That physical engagement is critical. It helps to keep my young readers from zoning-out or otherwise disengaging.
- There is so much more sensory input for the children in-person. Sitting alone in front of a computer screen is extremely different than sitting in a room with dozens of others. The feelings, the smells, the touch. All contribute to engagement. The atmosphere in the room can be felt and can feed their excitement.
- Nuances are sometimes missed when not in-person. My presentations are interactive and there is much give and take between me and the children. When in-person, those small nuances of giggles, smiles, shoulder shrugs, and winks, are much more natural and organic. During virtual visits, most times the participants are on mute and therefore it becomes much less participatory for the children.
- The connections between the students watching my presentation is missing if they are logged in virtually. There are not the shared laughs, the eye rolls, elbow jabs and other student-to-student interactions that happen so naturally when you gather a group of children together. These participant interactions are a valuable part of the bonding-as-readers process.
There has been much talk lately of the pandemic changes that may stay, even when the crisis is over. Speculation that many shifts to virtual and distance work and interaction may not fade away. All in all, ANY kind of author visit is better than no visit, but I believe when given the chance, in-person is far superior when dealing with young readers.