Ester de Boer (illustrator) and I were very privileged to be asked do a whole school Author/Illustrator visit during Education Week on the 17th of May, by our good friend and fellow writer’s group member, Jacqui. She is a teacher at Kosciuszko Street Primary School. Bonus!
Ester had already done a few Illustrator talks, so she was quite comfortable. She knew what she wanted to do and what to expect.
As for me, I had to put my thinking cap on for a while. I asked myself, ‘What do I want to achieve during this visit?’
Being in schools and, mixing with children was not foreign to me. I had helped out in schools for years as a parent helper. I also have a Diploma in Education Support and I spent may hours in various schools on placement. In the past, I had run a youth group for teens for about ten years. I figured that I could do this. The only thing that I was concerned about was how my body was going to hold up for the day. (I have fibromyalgia).
The day dawned cool and gusty. The wind nearly whipped my display out of my hands on the way to the office. I was shown to the library where I set up my display. The bell rang and an excited group of preps were ushered in and were seated on the floor. This was it. Sink or swim.
I was a little nervous at first. But then I got into the swing of things and I was on a roll. To every class I announced that they were the first children to hear the story that I had written and was sharing with them that day - that no other child on the face of the planet had heard it.
The kids seem to listen intently as I shared my story growing up with Dyslexia. I told them about the books I loved then. I encouraged them not to give up even if it is hard to read and write.
I shared my story for 4-8 year olds, Saving Sophie. It is about two dogs that go missing, and it is based on a true story. The preps loved it. As they were little, and I didn’t have an illustrated book, for those that are more visual, I found photos off the net that I used throughout the story. Some were of the original dogs.
I had made copies for them, as well as a copy of the manuscript, so that they could have an activity to do when they got back to class. We then looked at where ideas for stories can come from. Then we brainstormed an outline for a story...with hilarious results. (I think that a story about a dancing elephant and some chickens going for a picnic on the beach maybe in the future).
Onto the 2/3 and 3/4 grades. I shared my story growing up. Then I shared a story that I had written 5-8 year olds, Riley and the Fear Monster, about overcoming fear, which got applause and thumbs up from all. Then onto the writing of stories and, ‘Stories are everywhere’ workshop. The kids were keen to take back to class with the story outline that they had completed.
Next up were three grades of 1/2 classes which followed the same pattern as the last class.
After recess, two grade 5/6 classes. I read them my story for 7-11 year olds about overcoming fear, Raymund and the Fear Monster.
You can read more about why I wrote Raymund and the Fear Monster here.
Raymund came before Riley. Riley I wrote after I did the Picture Book course through the Australian Writers Centre late 2015. It was my attempt to make Raymund fit the rules that I had learned. Riley works. Raymund needed to be written in a different way, and the grade 5/6 classes loved it. (Insert Happy Dance! here.)
There was a great deal of excitement in the air - a lot of questions about my other stories. One of my favourites was, ‘I like your writing. Have you written chapter books?’ When I said no, he looked disappointed. When I said that I have a couple that I am working on, he was happy again. Another was, ‘I really like your stories, especially the one that you just read. When will it be a book?’
So that is how the day continued. Each followed the outline, the plan - yet each was different, especially in the responses, and the stories that each group came up with. I loved the look of surprise and astonishment when I announced that they had just created an outline for a story. At the end of each session they would take what we had worked on back to class as an activity, with a reminder that the outline was just a place to start. You can change things if your story needs it.
I finished off the day with another 5/6 class. Rather than be quiet (which is why Jacqui gave me these guys at the end of the day because she thought that I would be exhausted), they got so super excited during the workshop, they kept forgetting to put their hands up. They were talking to each other about ideas for setting, characters and plot scenarios. It was not a quiet room. Buzzing with excitement and lots of questions. Brilliant! Loved every minute!
By the end of the day I was exhausted, and could barely walk, but walking on Cloud Nine.
Was it worth it? You bet! Why?
From my experience:
Feedback from the school:
Michelle Hibbert: Principal
Jacqui Johnson: teacher grade 2/3
Cameron Tingay: teacher grade 5/6
So this was a wrap-up about my visit. In the next couple of weeks I will share about the prep as well as for some useful sites that I found during my prep. I do like research. Fun! Fun! Fun! But not everyone does, so I hope that this will help someone out.
Here is the main site that I used. The website Primary Education and Teaching Association Australia has some great hints and tips for authors preparing to do author visits.
If you are one of the students, a parent of a student, or teacher from Kosciuszko Street Primary School, feel free to leave a comment.
If you are an author and have had a successful author visit, feel free to share your experience as I love hearing other peoples stories.
UPDATE: 7 Tips to Ace Your School Author Visit
Everyone else, feel free to share or comment. I love hearing from you.
Recently I have had the privilege of interviewing Karen Tyrell.
So Karen, tell me a bit about the development of your latest book, Jo-Kin Battles the It.
Goof ball Josh Atkins aka Jo-Kin wins the Super Space Kid contest alongside nerdy Sam Jones aka Sam-Wich. Their first Super Space Kid mission is to save the galaxy from deadly alien called the It. When the It kidnaps Captain Astra, it’s a race against time.
Can Josh save Astra, the galaxy and us all … before it’s too late?
“Brilliant, Action-packed, Humorous, Creative.” - Buzz Words
Themes: STEM science & astronomy, brain power, humour, perseverance, teamwork, self-esteem, family, friendship.
What made you decide on the sci-fi genre for this novel?
Since I was a child, I loved sci-fi. First, I was enthralled by TV series Lost in Space, Superman, Jetsons, Thunder Birds and Get Smart. Later, I read Jules Verne and Emily Rhoda and am avid movie fan of Star Wars and Star Trek. My favourite school magazine story in Grade 6 was about the IT, a mysterious fantasy creature, whom children discovered living in their backyard sandpit.
What is the underlying message of Jo-Kin Battles the It.?
It’s all about perseverance, working as a team, and never giving up. Use your brain to solve problems. Keep on trying no matter what: until you succeed.
How does this book fit in with the other books that you have written?
All my books have positive resilience messages of perseverance and hope from my viewpoint as a teacher. I wrote two empowering memoirs on my recovery from parent-teacher bullying and mental illness, ME & HER: A Memoir of Madness and Me & HIM: A Guide to Recovery.
Books to empower kids to live strong: STOP the Bully, (bully prevention) and Bailey Beats the Blah, (coping skills for anxiety).
Harry Helps Grandpa Remember (memory skills) is an endearing story about Harry who never gave up on helping his grandpa remember.
What makes Jo-Kin different from other books sitting next to it on the bookshelf?
Jo-Kin is bursting with wacky humour, incredible gadgets and robots, gruesome monsters and funky food. Parents often discover their kids, reading Jo-Kin in their rooms, cackling. Jo-Kin delivers positive messages that science is FUN, as well as themes of hope, perseverance and team building as mentioned before.
I know you do a lot of author visits in schools. I will be doing some writing workshops later this year. How do you make your visit memorable?
For an author visit: I dress up in character including costumes and wigs, acting out a thrilling or a humorous part of the story. I invite children to respond to a creative challenge, giving out bookmarks and postcards.
You have self-published your books. What is some advice that you would give an author considering self-publishing?
Make sure your books are the highest standards possible, that they are actually BETTER than a traditionally published book. This guarantees your books will be bought by schools, bookshops and libraries http://www.karentyrrell.com
Ok. A fun question. What are three fun facts about you?
1. I love hiking at 5.30 am in the morning, listening to the kookaburras.
2. I own eight brightly coloured wigs I wear at school and library talks.
3. I eat Tim Tams by nibbling round the edges, round and round until the whole thing is gobbled up.
So there you have it. Absolutely fabulous advice from Karen. I have read her children's books and they are chocked full with memorable characters and great story lines.
If you or someone you know is going through a tough time and need to talk, please ring or connect with someone as soon as possible.
Kids helpline: https://kidshelpline.com.au/ or phone 1800 55 1800
Beyond Blue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/ or phone 1300 22 4636
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