Don't squander a precious resource. Learn how to transform a school author or illustrator visit from an hour of entertainment into a life-long connection to reading and writing. Education World writer Leslie Bulion talked to Toni Buzzeo and Jane Kurtz, children's authors and co-authors of Terrific Connections with Authors, Illustrators and Storytellers, about how to help students get the most out of meeting the folks who write the books kids love to read. Included: Tips for teachers, administrators, and library media specialists plus more resources for great author visits.
"Authors and illustrators are the ultimate literacy initiative," said Toni Buzzeo, author, and library media specialist at Longfellow Elementary School in Portland, Maine. "When a kid has met an author of a book, he owns that book more than anything else he's ever read. It streamlines the approach to encouraging kids to read. You don't even have to encourage them," Buzzeo said, laughing.
"I want to go into a school and walk away feeling it has been an exciting experience for everyone," Jane Kurtz, author and lecturer at the University of North Dakota, told Education World. "In one school I visited, the kids were supposed to put their names on these sticky tabs for me to sign their books. One girl, in her little second-grade handwriting, wrote me a note that said Please I want to remember you forever. A great school visit is a lot of work for me, for the librarians, for the teachers, and for everyone," Kurtz said. "But I keep that note in my planning calendar as a reminder of just how worthwhile it is."
The main ingredient of that worthwhile work, pointed out by the many authors and illustrators Buzzeo and Kurtz interviewed for Terrific Connections with Authors, Illustrators and Storytellers, is preparation! Teachers, library media specialists, administrators, and the visiting authors and illustrators themselves all have an important role to play in preparing for a truly memorable visit.
"When students are familiar with my work, that far outshines everything else. It turns the visit into a wonderful experience!" Jane Kurtz told Education World. "I have never had a bad experience where the teachers and librarians have put the time in to help kids connect with my work. The teachers are a really important part of my presentation," Kurtz added.
"The very best visit I ever made was in a rural school in Sebeka, Minnesota," said Kurtz, who has written many books based on her childhood experiences in Ethiopia. "Each teacher had spent time in the classroom helping kids become familiar with my books. The art teacher had them make big, wonderful banners that hung in the gym, and the music teacher taught them music from Africa. We had presentations during the day, and the parents were invited at night to see the banners and hear the music. I told some stories. Every person in the school was invested in making the visit a rich reading and writing experience."
"In order to ensure that there is excellent preparation, you have to have someone who is the organizer, the visionary," Buzzeo said. "In some schools that is a teacher, and in many, like mine, it is me, the library media specialist. I try to make the connections between the curriculum and the themes and topics of the authors' books. I gather the author's books -- and books related to those books -- for the teachers and help with curriculum ideas. You need someone to orchestrate the whole visit so it is meaningful.
"Without a cheerleader, it's really hard for teachers to do a whole school collaboration," Buzzeo told Education World. "Teachers have a thousand content standards on their plates. It's so hard to think of an author visit if you are just thinking about it as one more thing you have to do."
"I also do a lot of talking with the person who's coming to visit," Buzzeo continued. "I always do a preliminary schedule and run it by all of the teachers. Maybe there is someone who can't stand to shift math because they've had to shift it one too many times. I help make the switches, then run the final schedule by the author or illustrator."
"More than anything else, an administrator has to value the visiting author program," Buzzeo told Education World. "There must be an underpinning of support and expectation. If the administrator values the program, and has the power to influence the staff, the staff will be behind it too."
Buzzeo asks her administrator to sign a written contract with the visitor ahead of time. (See "Contract Basics" at right.) "I want to make sure that someone with higher authority is responsible for what the author and I have agreed upon," she told Education World, "and that the school's needs and the visiting author's needs are protected."
Authors and illustrators can help prepare for their school visits by finding out what curriculum they can address in their presentations.
"Authors have a responsibility to find out why they are being hired," Buzzeo said. "What are the school's learning objectives for the visit? How can the author best adapt his or her program to meet those particular needs? Everyone has strengths, but if the program is not tied into what's happening with the kids in the school, their visit verges more on a magician's act than a learning opportunity."
Kurtz's Web site is chock full of exciting ideas for teachers who are looking for classroom projects and activities. "When a school has done something really great in preparation for my visit, I try to pass it on," Kurtz told Education World. "The Web site is a lot of work, but that's something an author or illustrator can do with a really terrific visit -- take some of those ideas and share them with other schools."
For a detailed, comprehensive, and entertaining compendium of resources and ideas for great author and illustrator visits, read Terrific Connections with Authors, Illustrators and Storytellers, by Toni Buzzeo and Jane Kurtz, Libraries Unlimited, Inc., Englewood, Co. 1999. In addition, you might want to take a look at some of the following on-line resources: