My First School Visit!

In my dreams, I imagine schools and book groups calling me to come talk about my novel and about what it’s like to be a writer.

First, though, I should probably get my book published.

While that process continues, I got my feet wet with my first official school visit as a writer, and I absolutely loved it.

My husband’s cousin, Kate, teaches 4th graders at W.C. Petty Elementary School in Antioch, Illinois.  We’ve talked at family gatherings about teaching and children’s books, and she asked if I’d be willing to come talk to her students about my writing process.  I’d assumed she meant 20 or so students — but she arranged for me to meet the entire 4th grade — over 100 eager readers.

It. Was. Heaven. I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more.

I brought a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted who I am and what I like to do.  I tried to include some fun photos, like me on a dune buggy, sailing, and holding my dog, just to demonstrate that I don’t sit at a desk all day and make up imaginary stories. I talked about some of my favorite books, including Rules, Kira Kira, Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself, So B. It and two by Brenda Ferber: Julia’s Kitchen and Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire.

The kids asked a ton of questions and gave me lots of feedback, and every comment meant the world to me:

How’d you get started writing?

Does your hand get cramped?

Do you use a typewriter? (I think that kid figured I’m a lot older than I am).

Do you wear a lifejacket when you go sailing?

My personal favorite:

You know, you’re kind of like J.K. Rowling, before she got famous.

My second personal favorite:

Can I get your autograph?

The kids actually lined up for my autograph.  Aside from signing credit card slips, I’ve never been asked for my autograph by anyone.  I wanted to cry, especially when some kids chose not to use paper and have me sign their arms.

I’m never washing this arm again, they said.

The experience reminds me just how important it is to bring this book to market.

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Before I made my trip to W.C. Petty School, I put out a request to fellow SCBWI-Illinois writers, asking for any advice they had for me on my first school visit, as well as what I could tell 4th graders what some of my published author-friends feel like (I can only hope to join their ranks).  Here’s what some of them said:

Christine, your very enthusiasm – your excitement about writing – will carry through to the kids. You’ve probably already experienced that connection – that spark – through your talks to the Scouts and your Book Club. What you want to convey to kids is what it is that intrigues you so much that you want to capture it in words to share with others – that’s writing. 
And yes, this is what I hope I’ve done with my books – especially my middle-grade historical novels, Sean’s War and Sean’s Quest. With these books I wanted to show 12-yr.-old Sean’s struggle to understand the “whys” of conflict, whether political, as in the Black Hawk War of 1832 between the settlers and the native Americans, or personal, as in the “war” between his father and stepmother – and make it as relevant to today’s young people as it was to Sean in his time. 
Write on! 
Leone Castell Anderson

Good luck on this!  I have not been in class with this age group, so no wisdom to share, except…  DO make sure you areready to wander around and not stay in the same place the whole time… I think it keeps them awake! At least for middle school that seemed important.
Have fun
Lisa B.

Good for you for getting out there!  I spoke before I had a book too, and the kids don’t really care. I find that with fourth graders, it’s great to speak to them as “fellow writers,” and show them that you do the same things they do — revise, make mistakes, feel frustrated sometimes, etc.  I always tell kids that they’re just as much writers as I am.  I’ve just been doing it longer!
Good luck!!
Sara Shacter

Hi Christine:
Congratulations on your school gig.  I think they’re great fun, and 4th grade is the best–kids still interested in what adults have to say and awed by authors to ask questions and be excited yet old enough where you can explain more sophisticated ideas.
I, too, had a former life as a special educator.
As for what it feels like to be an author, I think it feels like I’m on an amazing roller coaster.  There’s the slow, steep climb that involves research, writing and rewriting, the exhilaration of reaching the top when I finish something I’m proud of or when a box of published books arrives (which never gets old), to the quick drop of receiving a rejection or not quite writing what or how much I intended on a given day.  Bu thten I start over on another day and begin my climb anew with the same ms. or another new one.
Hope this is helpful.
Enjoy,
Marlene
Hi, Christine,
I’ve spoken to quite a few schools and the best advice I can give is you have to be more expressive with slightly younger middle graders. When I spoke in Joliet’s junior highs, they had me talk to the grades separately, and I found younger kids don’t get dry, subtle humor. You have to smile and let them know you meant it. They’re sharp, but not yet very good at reading expressions.  I found the same thing talking to Girl Scouts. They may all be in the same organization, but there’s a huge difference between a fifth grader and a seventh grader.
But don’t go the other way and hit them like you would second grader.  So it’s a bit of a fine line.
My presentations are all humor, and if they aren’t laughing, you’re bombing.
Hope this helps.
Norm
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9 responses to “My First School Visit!

  1. Awesome Christine! In my mind, your path to publishing your book is all lit up and this was one great stop along the way. Figures, you’re inspiring others as you go.

  2. Christine, I don’t know which I was more struck by — that one of the kids knew what a typewriter was or that you autographed an arm! (I would have cried, myself!) And not bad being compared to AJ Rowling, either. And even better for getting up in front of the 4th grade before you had become as famous as she, too! Delightful post!

  3. Francie Arenson Dickman

    What a great experience! And, you have fans!! So exciting. I love their comments. Thanks for sharing.

  4. It sounds like the kids (and you!) had a great time! And I LOVE reading the advice from other writers. Great post.

  5. Diane (wesley writer's)

    Enjoyed reading about your ‘speaking engagement’ adventures with the 4th graders. Years ago I did a career day for 5th graders and they were a lot of fun… a few drew crayon-pictures of me working in the hair salon that I still have in a scrapbook. Many wrote thank-you’s. My favorite was,”Your job sounds like a lot of fun but my mother and father are making me go to college to be a lawyer.” Steve and Sharon encourage all of us to write… and as we all have learned from the workshops, public speaking about your writing is part of that. It sounds like you had fun and a young crowd is as tough to entertain as any. This really will prove valuable as you tour the country promoting your book after it’s published. !!! Great info… thanks for sharing.

    • Diane,
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I really did enjoy the experience, and I can’t wait to get out and do it again. I love that you still have mementos from your own experience. My favorite moment from my school visit was when a fourth grade girl asked me, very quietly, if I have a Twitter account — I do, but I couldn’t remember it for a few moments. At that moment, she and I both realized I’m OLD.

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