While this might be the school year of the virtual author visit, in anticipation of better days ahead I would like to share some of the most impressive and memorable author visits I’ve experienced as a school librarian.
There is just no one like the inimitable Nathan Hale. In case you don’t know his work, Mr. Hale writes and illustrates graphic novels, most notably the nonfiction, history based Hazardous Tales series, ideal for students in grades three through five. He also writes and illustrates science fiction graphic novels and illustrates books for a variety of other authors. Nathan Hale is smart and quick; he “gets” kids, and knows how to keep them completely engaged. He draws “on the spot” requests, gifts his incredible autographed artwork to the library he’s visiting, and tells the funniest (but historically accurate) stories. Teachers in the audience laughed so hard, I saw tears. He is non-stop “on it” all day long and earns every penny of his commission. We plan to have Nathan Hale visit again, and I know many of you have had him visit your school more than once as well because he is just so entertaining and creative. And his books are exceptional!
Another absolutely hilarious author is Aaron Reynolds, and our day spent with him was positively delightful. My students have not forgotten his uproarious retellings of his Caldecott winner Creepy Carrots! and the ever popular Creepy Pair of Underwear! I am a huge fan of all of his books, and more importantly, my students are too. Mr. Reynolds was truly “in the zone” during the entire visit – role playing with the kids, engaging them with games, involving the teachers; smiles all around. He is one of the authors that was visibly sweating with the effort of enthusiastically and continuously sharing his talents.
Lauren Oliver came at no cost to the high school where I worked seven years ago. She was gracious and very sharp. She shared her outstanding writing strategies with a very large group, and outlined how her career as a writer evolved. The audience really liked her, and I thought she was quite friendly and her presentation very relevant for our group of “would be” writers.
Chris Grabenstein also came to us at a very discounted price. I had filled out a contest entry on his website and sent it to his agent. Once it was accepted, our school was responsible only for his travel expenses. Mr. Granbenstein is all about the kids. He wanted to eat lunch with them, visit classrooms, offer extra writing workshops – and he did all of those things along with his three fantastic presentations to large groups. Mr. Grabenstein has a background in advertising, television and radio and this is most evident in the comedic spirit of his delivery. I am a huge fan of his work and his commitment to kids and reading. He is a kind, funny, multi-talented author.
James Ponti came to our school last year and he is definitely one of the most kind-hearted people I have ever met. His books are outstanding and enormously popular at Oakridge. Mr. Ponti wanted to provide a useful and memorable experience to our students. We visited classes together and ate with a group of students in the lunchroom. Mr. Ponti also spoke to a group of upper school students currently taking a writing seminar, and were expected to complete a novel by the school year. He thoughtfully spent some time with a staff member who was in the midst of self-publishing a book, answering some questions she had. Now that the New York Times bestseller City Spies is on the market our students were thrilled because he read the first chapter to them before it was published. We have all of his books and this one is consistently checked out in ebook and print.
Jerry Palotta came last to our school year also, another exceptionally big-hearted person. His Who Would Win books are “top checkouts” in our library. He also ate lunch with the kids in the cafeteria, and graciously went out to dinner with a second grader and his family. Another first grader was sick the day of the visit, and devastated because Mr. Pallotta is his favorite author. In response, Mr. Pallotta sent the student a video introducing himself, reading one of his books, and subsequently sending him one of his signed books.
Sarah Weeks came to our school right before So B. It: A Novel was being released in theaters. A group of middle school students and I met Sarah at a local theater showing the movie in its early release. She is so smart, articulate, great with the kids, and someone I would enjoy hanging out with! She shared a cool story arc activity with the students that I’ve used repeatedly with my classes. We met another school librarian for a leisurely dinner which included wine and casual, comfortable conversation. It was a terrific evening, Ms. Weeks is the most down to earth, transparent and genuine person.
We were thrilled to have Gordon Korman visit us two years ago because our lower and middle school students voraciously read everything he writes. Restart is my personal favorite, and while I appreciate his incredible talents as an author, he didn’t impress me as much as a guest presenter to our middle school students. He was the most expensive author we’ve hosted yet we did not feel we received our “money’s worth.” While other authors arrived with interactive slide shows and activities and spent as much time with the students as possible, Mr. Korman did not connect with the kids in these ways. Yet he certainly fulfilled his contract obligations.
Finally, I have to give a shout out to Fort Worth Country Day Librarian and AISL member Tammy Wolford. She arranges many of these events so that local independent school librarians can share authors and costs. I would love to hear about the authors and illustrators who inspired your students, whether in a virtual or on site visit.