School Author Visits
As a writer of children’s books, School Author Visits are one of the most enjoyable ways to connect with readers. Most times the children have either already read the book, or are in the process of reading the book. This makes for some wonderful questions!
These last two weeks, I have had three different School Author Visits; one at an Elementary School, one at a Middle School, and one at a High School. This has presented a very interesting opportunity to compare the experiences, the readers, and the nuances of the presentations.
The Elementary School visit was to take place in the cafeteria, and there were going to be 120- 4th Graders. I arrived a few minutes early and as I walked into the cafeteria, I was greeted with a Rock-Star welcome. Kids squealed, pointed, and waved. They rushed to get positioned and when they caught my eye, the grins and thumbs up filled my heart with joy.
Middle Schoolers are a different animal. I was set up in their Media Center, and as they filed in, they were clearly trying to size me up. Was I worthy of their time? Was I going to have anything worthwhile to say? Their looks were challenging me to make their day.
The High School students’ attitude seemed more in line with my college students on their first day of class. I have to be here. I know you have something worthwhile to share. I guess I will make the best of it.
Within every group, there is a wide range of readers. From the passionate to the reluctant. As writers, there are those who dream of being a writer and want to hear every detail of my journey, to those that find writing torturous and avoid it at all costs. And among every level, there are those who feel that history is nothing more than dates and dead people, to those that are already drawn to learn more about the stories of the past.
My job, as a visiting author, is to meet them all where they are and do everything possible so that they all leave feeling seen, heard, and understood. To feed their passion; to satisfy their curiosity; to challenge their thinking; to surprise them with ideas, perspectives, and insights they may have never thought of before.
As you might suspect because of the age differences, the groups were not reading the same book. The elementary students had read Saving Home, my historical fiction novel set in St. Augustine during the Siege of 1702. The historically accurate siege is told through the eyes of factious 9 and 10 year olds.
The middle and high school students though, were reading my book, Forcing Change. Also historical fiction, this one was set during the Civil Rights struggles of 1963-64 in Florida. These historically accurate events were told through the eyes of a fictitious 15 year old. While the book is not overtly violent, the topic is much more suited to mature readers.
With all of the groups I talked about the process of research and the power of historical documents. I shared details of the specific research required for the book they were reading, and shared the role several historical experts had in helping me to fact-check and verify. I talked about the process of planning and drafting; of the critical role that revising has in helping to uncover your best work; and the heartbreak and joy of seeking publication. I talked about the power of perseverance, the importance of goals and dreams, and striving for excellence.
I answered questions. Tons of questions. From the most general- What inspires you? To the most specific- Why did you include the scene with Lobo and his injury?
Did they all enjoy my visit as much as I enjoyed visiting with them? I will never know. Of the 320 students I met with during the three combined presentations, I am sure there were some who tuned me out, disengaged, and left feeling it was a waste of their time. But my hope is that somewhere in those crowds, were also students who left more excited about reading and who will look at the books they are reading a little differently now that they know the process involved. That somewhere in there, were budding writers who were stirred to keep on writing and inspired to share their stories. That there were students who will now look at primary documents and the history they tell, just a little bit differently.