As my years as an author and illustrator fly by, I realize I have probably done writing workshops with well over 100,000 children. What a privilege.
There have been many highs (like a little boy running down the hall after school, catching my hand, looking up and saying ‘I love you’), and a definite low (the freebie where the teacher had me confused with another author).
I think of myself as a sort of Literary SWAT team, helicoptering into elementary schools to bolster interest in reading and writing. (OK. I admit I usually roll up in a car.) My program includes the herky-jerky clips from my childhood home movies that inspired Zelda and Ivy, ukulele sing-alongs ala Frank and Izzy, and a sprinkle of REAL fairy dust fresh-made with crayons on my cheese grater. It’s about writing and reading and living in the astonishing world of stories.
I love meeting all those great teachers and librarians. All those great kids. One student asked me, “Are you going to be here tomorrow?” and I said, “No, just today.” Another kid piped up, “She’s once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
As fun as it is to be someone’s once-in-a-lifetime experience, I am often left wishing I got to hear the endings of the kids’ stories, to watch them grow as writers. I have made some wonderful teacher and librarian friends whom I continue to be in touch with, but I rarely see the kids again. It’s a fleeting experience. And although school visits are well compensated, they are also exhausting and they take time from my ongoing work.
Lately I have limited the number of school visits I take on each year. And as I look forward to the next school year, I find myself wondering: Do author visits have a lasting impact on students?
Luckily, a Society of Authors survey asked that very question in 2014. They contacted 163 school respondents who had hosted over 1,471 author visits, of which 377 were in primary schools. The report included this encouraging finding:
“99.4% (all those who had organized an author visit) considered author visits to be an invaluable enrichment that encouraged reading for pleasure, wider reading and creative writing. Visits were described as having ‘a profound and lasting impact’. All pupils were positively engaged including (and particularly) reluctant readers and those with Special Educational Needs. Teachers also detailed the benefit to their own teaching skills.”
Time to fire up that imaginary helicopter.