Monday, June 1, 2015

Guest School Visits During Children’s Book Week

Guest School Visits During Children’s Book Week
by Susan Stephenson and Friends,

Children’s Book Week is a wonderful time to ask special guests to visit a school and help celebrate books and reading. Such visitors may include children’s book authors and illustrators, local celebrities, parents and other family members, and people associated with the children’s book industry like publishers, book shop owners and book reviewers. Hopefully, each visitor will share their own enjoyment of reading, and help ignite a corresponding passion in their audience.

Recently I asked some friends - teacher librarians and authors - to share their best tips for making such visits go smoothly. Almost all stressed the importance of being organised, being flexible, and of promoting the event well. Some authors spoke sadly of students who had no idea who the author was, or why the students needed to listen to them. Other wrote joyously of wildly enthused children who hung on their every word. Can you guess which kids gained the most from the occasion?

Below you’ll find their insights and advice:

General Comments

When I was working as a teacher librarian in the states, I found the most beneficial visits were the ones that encouraged kids to be writers themselves and that everyone has a story to tell. Authors can be glamorized in the eyes of their young readers, so to make the kids see that they too can write stories and books is something really special and holds potential to impact futures.


It can be extremely off-putting when you’re attempting to engage a group of kids to have adults in the same room talking on mobile phones, marking books or having conversations. Students seem to respond so much more when their teachers and helpers are listening too.


Kids LOVE it when visitors bring relevant props and costumes, and use audience members to help tell stories or present information.


Get the students to pre-write the questions - and then ask them. After all they are the readership. Conduct a session with the kids about the author – research about person, background, research about his books, reading snippets out loud, working in teams to come up with some questions that interest the kids – depends on the age group of course. With younger ones, do a story reading and get them to come up with questions they want to ask the author which you put on coloured pieces of paper with the child’s name and then select them and ask when they are there. The author visit then becomes much more than just a visit – it becomes a teaching and learning experience. With older kids, they can work in groups and report back to the class and the class makes a list of questions. Work with a classroom teacher so it can become a research project in English.

If you are in a school with particular guidelines re dress and behaviour then these need to be forwarded to the author in question before the visit takes place. If you intend to record the event then you will need written sign off by the author before the event takes place. (Personal communication, Dr B Combes, CSU.)


Narelle Adams is a teacher librarian who does a Children’s Book Week show along with a song (this year’s is almost ready). She is only available to visit schools on Fridays or night time/weekend shows. Find out more via her website.


The Story Crowd is an innovative concept for literature in schools, founded by author Sandy Fussell and author-teacher librarian Jodie Wells-Slowgrove. The Story Crowd provides a complete in-school festival experience, inclusive of all students from K-6,  with author and illustrator presentations, book sales and signings, craft activities and lunchtime entertainment tailored to suit the needs of individual schools. The current list of speakers is available on The Story Crowd Website, which also has a contact form for enquiries.


Ford Street Publishing /Creative Net also offers authors and illustrators as speakers in schools, as do Lateral Learning and The Children's Bookshop Speakers' Agency.

For Authors

From Nell:

We are an independent P-12 school in Queensland and we have 3 visiting authors a year – one for each sub-school. We’ve never had any disasters apart from one time which was out of the author’s control – his rental car broke down on the side of the highway – but some author visits have been more successful than others. The ones that the kids really responded to were interactive, used visuals to engage the kids (could be objects, drawing, video, PowerPoint etc) and were entertaining. The least successful just stood there and talked at the kids. That might work with adults who are interested in reading and have chosen to be there, but it doesn’t work for a roomful of teenagers who are being forced to sit and listen.

I would suggest to authors:

· Be on time – schools run on a tight schedule.
· Be flexible – schools have different lesson lengths and your one hour presentation won’t work in a school with 45 minute periods.
· Be entertaining – if you’re boring, why would the kids think your books would excite them?
· Don’t be pushy about wanting to sell your books on the day – it might be against school policy or, in my case, I’m just not comfortable with it.
· Check the technology beforehand – we’re a Microsoft school and we’ve had problems before when authors have brought their presentations in on Macs.
· There may be a long gap between sessions, depending on the timetable. Take something to do. The library staff are busy and have work to do and although they’re interested in talking to you, they can’t always entertain you.
· Wear your visitor’s badge. It’s a child safety requirement of many schools.
· Tailor your presentation to suit the ages of the kids and the culture of the school.
· If you can, send information/posters/a link to your web site/book trailer to the school beforehand to help staff prepare and excite students for your visit.
· If you’re going to read from your book, select the passage carefully and don’t make it too long.

From Aveen:

I have found it helpful for authors to:
*make direct contact once a booking is made, even if it is somewhat in advance
*make direct contact say two weeks prior to the visit, mentioning items they may require, eg interactive whiteboard, plain whiteboard, specific powerpoint version, internet access, paper, markers etc etc
* state if their books will be available for sale on the day, prices, titles etc so these can be promoted
If authors are offering signings, these can be pre-organised with payment in a paper bag with specific signing request written on the front eg love to XXX

For Secondary School Librarians


Once you've okayed the Author visit with relevant Co-ordinators, leadership, etc. and everything is confirmed, send a warm, brief message to all the subject teachers involved so they can pre-plan for that day. It is a good idea for a message like: 'Please bring your students immediately (or meet your students there) to the Auditorium- they should not bring any items. It will take the entire period. Please remain with your students for the duration and enjoy.....' or whatever message suits you best.   Then remind them personally and  by email as it all gets closer and have messages in Student Bulletins as well as reminding students and talking up the visit.

If it's an after lunch visit, give students some guidance. For example, you might state, “Do not go back to lockers, go straight to auditorium. Your lunch boxes and footballs can be put under your seat.”

Let the Office know in case of latecomers, and on the day, give the Office a specific hard copy sign that says (for example): All Year 9s, after Recess, in the Auditorium for Author Visit. Put other copies of these signs where students will see them eg on the stairs / locker bays.

Booking Agencies will usually indicate a small list of requirements - anything from whiteboard and whiteboard pens to a small table and  glass of water. I also add a box of tissues. With the requirements in mind, go to your auditorium and check out beforehand where everyone will fit, and how you can get the requirements in there. Count the seats and check this accords with your student numbers.

If the auditorium/presentation room has paper thin walls, pre-assess if the adjoining space could be problematic. For instance, our auditorium is next to our indoor basketball court, and the balls bouncing against the wall are loud. Any of our PE teachers are happy to give up the indoor court while the Author visit is happening, as long as they are given enough warning.

Posters: Make or acquire posters promoting the visit, including websites. It's nice when you walk through your library or a corridor with the author to see your posters up there!

Print off the class lists for all the students who will attend, and take that with you on the day so you can do a silent roll call (or get the teachers to) so you know exact numbers and who is absent.

Print a one or two sentence introductory spiel for your introduction on the day - keep it super brief. Or, some authors prefer no intro at all, just get straight into it.

Take a pen and pad with you. This might be handy if you suddenly have to write a note for a student to go to Sick Bay, or need to note a follow-up that arises.

Invite any staff who are free to come and enjoy the experience. For many, it is a novelty and something which really moves them.

Invite one of the students who will be present to stand up at the end and give a brief thank you on behalf of the cohort.


When the author arrives, they are usually anxious to see the venue first, then maybe visit the Rest Room and have a tea or water if time permits. As they settle in, I ask if they mind a photo being taken and sometimes they stipulate, 'Yes, but not in the first 10 minutes please'.

The author always wants to hear from you the precise timing - I ask them to leave 10 mins at the end free, for questions and for any kids to then queue up and have a chat. Always special and often a great photo opportunity!

When students arrive, make them fill all the front row, then the second and so on. Keep a spare chair beside you in case a child gets very unsettled (extremely rare).

Have a bottle of water at the author's table (can take it with them) and any of their books from your library - have them in a basket ready (they often bring their own books but can't bring them all sometimes.)

If your author needs to travel between school campuses (ie drive), then print the driving instructions, and provide a chocolate or health bar for the car in case s/he gets peckish (but often a morning/afternoon tea is waiting for them when they arrive at the next campus.)


Sort through the photos and select what would be nice for the Parent Newsletter and for the end of year School Annual. If you organize it (and a blurb) while it's fresh, then it's a job done.

Thank everyone concerned!!!!

For Primary School Librarians

Be sure to ask if visitors have their own transport, what they require for each session - computer, data projector, paper and pens etc. Do they have any food preferences for snacks and lunch?


You need to mention to visitors such as authors :
* parking arrangements, check-in with the office first? directions to the library, need help carrying books from car?
* offer morning tea, lunch asking re food allergies
* ask re possibility of involving local media eg newspapers, TV, radio (I organised all three for an author one year)
* possibility of addressing teachers after school sessions

Glitches can happen. Once an author missed his plane and had to move forward the two days he had with us. There was a huge problem with back order of signed books, pre-paid by our kids, then the author didn't have enough stock with him. It took a couple of months literally to receive the correct titles signed to the correct child, despite it all being in writing before he left our school!

We had a very special visit with Bruce Whatley. Bruce apparently had no use of his right hand from birth (apparently amputation was mentioned) but thanks to his mother's perseverance (and his own) he gained movement. We had a student who was without his right forearm from birth (obviously not to be regained but ...). this particular student had not actually paid for the author visit, but after Bruce recounted this tale from his youth, i of course made sure the student was present for the next session. We had an individual photo with Bruce and the student, and Bruce very generously sent the boy a signed book after the visit. The student and his family were very appreciative, and the message of not giving up easily but following your dreams despite obstacles came through brilliantly.

The most enthused I have seen our kids was with a visit from Michael Salmon a couple of years ago. He incorporated cartoon caricatures of some of our students into his talk. We had these to keep and his books became very popular.

A student asked Andrew Daddo which text type he preferred writing in - Andrew laughingly said he wasn't familiar with text types - we thought it a very clever question from a student who was listening in class!

Overall, I think promotion is the key - advance notice too. Give the kids and parents plenty of notice and market the visit enthusiastically to students and teachers. (Aveen)


My grateful thanks to everyone who contributed to this article. (Lack of attribution was by individual request.) I hope this excellent advice helps both staff and special guests to schools make thoughtful preparations and plans so our young people can benefit from any special guest visits.

The CBCA(NSW) offers excellent guidelines for author/illustrator visits to schools.

The Book Week for Beginners Wiki also has great advice.

PETAA have a long list of Australian children's authors and illustrators, and a guide to authors and illustrators presenting in schools. 

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