Making an Author's Visit Your Best 'Good Time'
Follos, Alison, Teacher Librarian
AUTHOR VISITS MAKE CONNECTIONS. THE AUTHOR CONNECTS WITH THE LIBRARIAN, THE FACULTY AND THE STUDENTS, AND IN TURN, WE CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR. WHEN STUDENTS AND STAFF ARE OFFERED UP A STRONG DIET OF ONE AUTHOR'S WORK, IT CAN CREATE A UNIFIED INTEREST THAT TRANSCENDS GRADE LEVELS AND BRIDGES CURRICULA.
Stories speak to people in different ways. Yet it's the person behind the story who pushes the literature into a malleable body of imaginative possibilities. Author visits transform quiet written words from a private exchange between reader and author into a lively community discussion.
North Country School, in northern New York, sits in the middle of the 6.2 million-acre Adirondack State Park. Each January, here at our farm boarding school in Lake Placid, students from all over the US and as far away as Korea, Rwanda, Poland and Ecuador meet a visiting author whose work has been well introduced to them. Language is never a barrier and conversation is curious and stimulating.
We've hosted numerous author visits over the past 15 years. So successful are these visits that the school recently established a Visiting Author Program (VAP), supplementing an annual budget and committing classroom instruction time toward the program.
The following article focuses on visits in recent years. In 2002 we hosted Carol Plum-Ucci, the 2001 Michael L. Printz honor recipient for The body of Christopher Creed. In 2003 we invited Canadian author Tim Wynne-Jones, the 2002 recipient of the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Boy in the burning bouse and Boston Globe-Horn Book winner for Some of the kinder planets. Jack Gantos, noted Newbery honor author and 1998 National Book Award finalist for Joey Pigza swallowed the key, visited in January 2004. Gantos received the 2003 Printz and Robert F. Sibert Informational honor awards for his autobiographical Hole in my life.
Authors who personally deliver their stories make a lasting impression. Tim Wynne-Jones brought several of his titles published in other countries. Immediately upon arrival, he gave one of our students a copy of his short story The book of changes in her native Japanese language. Her face lit up and she threw her arms around him.
MORE REASONS TO HOST AN AUTHOR VISIT
It bolsters faculty morale in the dead of winter. Professional creativity is definitely sparked by bringing in talent from outside the school.
The author supplies weight and history in sharing the "story behind the story." For students, a story is given further dimension through discussion with its author.
An author visit can transform the way the library (and the librarian) is perceived. Rising above a mere 'study zone,' the library becomes energized with this personality. The excitement generated by a visiting author places his/her work into what were previously the most resistant hands. Sceptics are won over and infused with this positive energy. After Jack Gantos' presentation, students lined up to shake his hand, one saying, "I'll never wash this hand again." Can you envision cool middle school student faces pressed to the windows madly waving goodbye? It was a great moment.
Writing is a real job. An author chatting with students about the profession helps illustrate an art that otherwise remains mysterious and private. When writers come before students and describe their dreams, failures, daily routine, structure, writing habits, gruelling number of drafts, submissions, rejections and finally publications, the reality of the craft carries tangible possibilities for the young audience. There is no better way to inspire students with the personal rewards and gratification of a writing career than by having an author describe the ropes.
Jack Gantos knew early on that he didn't want to spend his life working at a job he hated. He highlighted the joys of an author's life: being your own boss, working at home, going to work in pyjamas, having a refrigerator in your office and being able to eat anything you want, at any time, all day long--in short, all the perks that students immediately relate to. …