In the last blog, we talked about using visual aids or props to grab the kids’ attention. Once you’ve got it, you want to keep it.
- Practice reading your material aloud beforehand. You’ll sound polished and it helps perfect the pacing. Pause for a second to emphasize certain parts. For example, a line or phrase that’s spooky. The pause adds drama and anticipation. (I sound like the Queen of Alliteration here!)
- Introduce yourself. Tell them you’re a children’s writer and what ages you write for. Even if you’re not published yet, you’re a writer. They’ll be impressed. Add some interesting, fun, or silly facts about yourself.
- Give a quick explanation about what you’ll be reading. If it’s an excerpt from your book or anthology, give a brief orientation as to what part of the book you’re reading from. For example, if I’m reading from Secret of Haunted Bog, I tell the kids, “This is the part where AJ Zantony and Freddy ‘Hangman’ Gallows are lost deep in the bog.”
- Make eye contact often.
- Mark the spot you’re reading from with your finger or thumb so you don’t lose your place.
- Avoid speaking in a monotone voice.
- Speak loud and clear so everyone in the room can hear you. I get a big kick out of startling the kids when I read a short excerpt from Curse at Zala Manor that begins with a loud “Arrggh!” from Musky, the zombie.
- Be dramatic. Kids love it, and they’ll pay closer attention. Use different voices for the different characters. I love doing Stumpy the peg-leg skeleton’s scratchy voice when he says, “Give me back me key, wench!” from that same Zala Manor excerpt. It always gets a good reaction from the boys!
- Keep it short. The length should vary according to what grade levels you’re dealing with.
- Variety is the spice of school visits. Depending on how much time you have, switch it up and read a few different things.
- If you’re speaking into a microphone, it’s much easier if it’s propped up in the stand instead of trying to juggle it plus hold the book or papers you’re reading from.
- Keep making eye contact and try to cover all areas of your audience so they feel like you’re talking directly to them.
- If you make a mistake, smile and shrug it off. Kids don’t expect you to be perfect. We all mess up when reading something out loud. They’ll take your cue and follow your example the next time they stumble over the words when reading out loud in class.
- If you have props that go along with the reading, don’t forget to use them or gesture. I had a cheap plastic pirate’s hook from the dollar store that I held while reading Shel Silverstein’s poem “Captain Hook” from Where the Sidewalk Ends and made sure to reach to my toes and put it up to my nose as I read those parts. Arr! The rascals loved it!
Use as much eye contact as possible. Be dramatic. Project your voice.
These are pretty basic tips. I started reading aloud to classrooms when my children were in elementary school, just to promote literacy. Dressing up in a costume or wearing a cool hat that tied in with the story made it loads of fun. Like I said in my last post, props are a big help.
A picture book that can be read in five minutes or less is perfect. Be sure to hold the book up with the pictures facing the audience. That means you have to read it from a side angle, so be sure to practice ahead of time.
Share one of your own short stories or an excerpt from your novel, and if you want the kids’ input on it, tell them ahead of time so they can listen carefully and tell you what part they liked best.
I’m more comfortable speaking to a classroom instead of an entire school. The only time I had to speak to an auditorium full of kids was with my two Monster Moon co-authors, Kathy Sant and Maria Toth. Being part of a team was the only way I could pull that off since just the thought of speaking to a large group makes my heart race, my hands shake, and I even get lightheaded at times!
The more school visits I do without my co-authors, the more I learn what works best with the different age groups and what works best for me on my own. This is all preparing me for the day when, (gulp)
I speak to a school assembly. Just me, myself, and I. So, baby steps, toe by toe, inch by inch, word by word. It keeps me moving forward. And kids are great to interact with. Author visits are truly rewarding and they give you get lots of fuel to keep your stories going.
People sat way in the back in the plaza (which made reading the excerpt less intimidating), but this little girl made my day when she came right up to the stage and listened as I poured my heart into reading “Cyclops Clyde.” Hey, if we can make a difference in one child’s life, that’s a big deal in my book!
This is one of my favorite photos from events we’ve participated in.
I’m always looking for good ideas or tips for author visits. Do you have any? How about a funny incident that happened when you were speaking to or reading to kids?
The next post will cover different topics and ideas to talk about at school visits.