Friday, 27 November 2015

A school visit to remember - Tips on how to have a successful school author visit

A month ago I had my first school visit for Animania at my children’s school. We had a whirlwind afternoon of visiting all of the key stage 1 children in the space of 2 hours. For my American friends that covers all years within the 4 to 8 age range, which is the perfect age for learning the alphabet

The visit was a huge success and I owe a lot of that to Critterish Alllsorts who Animania sponsors. You can read more about the organization in my earlier post Animania Sponsors Critterish Alsorts Dale from Critterish Allsorts kindly offered to come down for my first school visit so that we could read the book and introduce the children to some of the critters. I didn’t tell the children about Dales visit, it was all kept hush hush. So a couple of weeks before, I gave the school a load of posters and leaflets to pop into the kids school bags to tell them about the author visit. I mentioned Critterish Allsorts and said that all percentage of the sales will go to them. I said that it would be an author visit with a twist, but that was as much as I gave away.... I do like a tease.

We only had 20 minutes in each classroom which was a bit tight, so I decided the best thing to do was for me to go in and read some of the book to the children. After this I mentioned that Animania was sponsoring Critterish Allsorts and that I had a surprise for them. That’s when Dale came in with one of his critters. We had Stoosh the skunk, Connie the boa constrictor and Shiver the Blue Skink. Well, you can imagine the excitement that caused! The looks on their little faces was absolutely priceless!  Dale was amazing with the kids and told them all about what the organization is about and then gave a little talk about the animal he had bought in. The children then had a chance to handle the animals briefly before we rushed off to the next room.

The whole experience was so much fun! The children’s excitement was infectious and I felt like a big kid again. It was so rewarding to finally share my work with children and I was blown away with their enthusiasm and interest. Sadly due to distance issues this combined author visit will be the only one of it’s kind as we live quite a distance away from each other. Such a shame as we made such a good double act and the interest was definitely there for both the book and the organisation.

My plan with future visits is to use my artistic abilities to add the extra factor. Animania is about completely made up animals so I thought at the end of the session the children can help me create their very own Animania character which I can draw out for them. We could have a lot of fun creating a new character and discussing what their characteristics would be, what we should call them, what they will look like etc…hey you never know, it could well trigger a new book concept he he.

Another success was introducing the colouring book. At the end of Animania I included a couple of colouring sheets and some blank sheets for kids to create their own Animania character with. So when I finished reading the book, they saw the colouring page and there was alot of excitement over that. So when I heard the “oooo a colouring sheet” response it was the perfect opportunity to show them the colouring book which I had recently published. The colouring book is basically the entire book republished in line art so that the children can colour in their own version of Animania. The colouring book did very well and I took many orders that day so another little tip, colouring sheets go down very very well!

So how can you have a successful author visit?

Find something that stands out from the norm

I can’t thank Dale enough for helping me with the first visit. The combined double act really added a little something special to the visit and made it a more memorable experience for the children. Try and think outside of the box a bit. Have a think about what your book is about, is there anything you could utilise that would be a fun little twist on the visit? There could be organizations or people out there that could help out. So for example, say your book includes a magician… get a magician in to do a couple of tricks. If it’s about an animal and you know someone who owns said animal then ask if they could come in with you. You might want to dress up or have some friends that are happy to dress up for you, you might even have some budding actor friends who would like to act some of the scenes out.  The possibilities really are endless, you can be as crazy and whacky as you like, that’s the beauty of children, you really can’t put a foot wrong. They will enjoy whatever you do but giving them something that leaves a lasting impression will make the occasion more memorable.

Another fellow author Rosie Russell shared with me what she does with her school visits to make them tailor made for her.....

I go and do a reading of my Maggie, Millie, and Merrie's Magical Adventure" book. There is an art project in the back so the art teacher I know invites me to do this with her 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. The students really love this project. I give them each a bookmark and they all enter a chance to win a box of school supplies. (The supplies are in the story.) I also talk to them about how they can become authors and illustrators.
Twitter @RosieRrbjj /  Facebook

Interact with the children

Kids love interacting with you so ask lots of questions throughout the reading and get them involved with the story.  Ask them if they can guess what happens next, or if any of them can relate to a scene in the book. You will find this happens naturally anyway, kids will certainly put their two pennies worth in.

Another indie author AJ Cosmo has recently had a school visit and I wanted to share one of his pictures with you.  I loved how AJ actually sat down on the floor with the kids, making himself at their level so that he in essence was just a big kid there inspiring them.  I thought it was a great idea for AJ to actually get on the floor with the kids, I am going to have to pinch that idea he he.  So  let your inner child out and be one of the kids for the day.

AJ also gave some invaluable advice on self publishing in a past blog post 

Twitter:  @AJCosmokids /

Dress to impress

You could go the whole hog and go for the full fancy dress costume, you will certainly get noticed that way and guaranteed to make quite an impact. If like me though you are a little more introverted than that, then choose an outfit that stands out. I am a bit of a girly girl hippy chick anyway so my style is a bit in your face at times. I chose one of my favourite long skirts, a bright purple layered number and the little girls loved it, they made me feel like a princess. I was sitting there reading and these little fingers kept playing with the ruffles on the bottom of my skirt, it was very cute. So go for something bright and cheery and if you are brave enough to go for a costume then go for it, they will love it!

Set some tasks so that the memory of your visit lives on

You want your visit to leave a lasting impression so set some tasks for the children so that they are still talking about the visit days after. For our one Dale came up with the idea that each of the classes were to create an Animania character based on the facts they had learned for each of the animals. They could draw the character or come up with a verse for it and then they could share it on the board outside of the classroom so that other classes could see each others ideas.

This will encourage the children to carry on discussing the book and characters after the visit too. Again be inventive and think of a task that specifically relates to your book.

Everyone loves a Freebie

You can’t go wrong with freebies. I went for colouring sheets with mine, they are the most affordable option and kids love them! I have supplied a few sheets to other authors I have worked with in the past by using the preliminary line drawings as a basis for a colouring sheet . From an illustrators point of view creating colouring sheets are super easy to do. So have a chat with your illustrator and see if they can do some bespoke sheets for you. Or like Rosie Russel did for her recent book launch reach out to people to ask if they are happy to donate some colouring sheets.

There is a fantastic group on face book called Colouring in with Colour. This group is packed full of amazing creatives and are always offering free colouring sheets. I gave Rosie some of mine and so did Karen Emma Hall founder of the colouring group and the fabulous Kid Literature Authors group. I am sure there will be people on there happy to donate some of their colouring sheets, I am more than happy to share mine too.

Other inexpensive ideas are stickers, bookmarks, badges etc.  You could even bake something , again chose something that relates to your book.

Have you any other tips you would like to share with fellow authors on what particularly works well with your school visit? If so then please do leave a comment below.

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