Last month, I went home to Los Angeles where I did some free school visits to practice my author presentations, and to prove to myself that I would not become a big ball of nerves and die when faced with a room full of 4th graders. Spoiler alert: I survived! I think you could even say I thrived. It was amazing!
I visited two schools in person and two schools virtually (for a total of seven presentations). The night before my first visit I couldn’t sleep. I kept asking myself why (“Why? Why?! WHY?!?!”) had I offered to do any school visits at all. Never mind that I had taught preschoolers and homeschoolers and presented at conferences. It didn’t matter that I had trained as an actor many moons ago or that I’d been a member of Toastmasters and had the blue ribbons to prove it. I was sure I would bore the kids to tears. And I felt there was a good chance I might cry, too.
But thank goodness for wise and funny friends who are authors. When I shared my concerns, Kelly Carey told me, “At least if you poop your pants, you’ll be on brand!”–which is horrifying and true. And Elisa Boxer said, “Focus less on the presentation and more on connecting with [the students].” This combination of levity and simple, straightforward advice on making connections rather than “presenting” turned out to be just what I needed.
Each school visit was different, but the one thing they all had in common, was that I LOVED every second of interacting with the kids. At my first in-person visit–a class of 4th graders–I gave the students some handouts that offered five sentence-starters and asked them to critique my presentation. This turned out to be a stroke of genius on my part because the students’ feedback ran the gamut from helpful to hilarious–and it included lots of very welcome praise, too.
Here’s some of the feedback I received:
Something I liked about the presentation was…
…it was packed with info on how you made your book.
…I liked that you had the confidence to come and tell us about your life.
…that you told us about how you get inspired.
…when you explained how you found the topic.
…when you answered questions and when you showed some of your challenges and how you fixed those.
…the amazing details.
…I loved all of it.
I started to lose interest when…
…you passed around the pictures because it took a long time for everyone to see them.
…you told us about the research–it was just a lot of information.
…when you called on so many people.
…I didn’t lose interest.
I wanted to know more about…
…why you wrote about a poop problem out of all the things.
…how you found the research.
…how you wrote all your drafts.
…your struggles because I struggle a lot in writing.
…what was the main thing that keeped you going when you were writing this book?
…your trip to London.
…the first time you wrote.
I was confused when…
…I wasn’t confused because you explained everything in your presentation, so keep doing that.
…I thought that you drew the pictures.
…you said that writing the whole book was hard because there has to be at least one part where you felt really good and strong about.
…I was not confused. You said it clearly. Don’t be nervoes you did amazing.
…the guy was swimming in the poop.
My favorite part was…
…when the guy was swimming in the poop.
…when you talked about where you traveled to write “The Great Stink.”
…when you shared great tips for writing.
…when you told us how you organized your research because it was very strong.
…when we got to see the original illustrations.
…when you showed us the super stinky draft.
…when you showed us your cat.
…everything. No joke.
It turned out to be really valuable information–and not just because so much of it was positive! The next time I presented to a class, I changed the section on research, based on what some of the kids had said. I think the presentation was better because of it. I also know now not to pass around pictures while I’m talking. It’s too distracting. So the kids let me know what I should think about changing and what I was doing right. I couldn’t have asked for anything better from my own critique group!
Now that I’ve conquered author visits in California, I’m taking the show on the road to London! I’ve already got three author visits lined up for late March, as well as a book reading and signing event at the Crossness Pumping Station on March 20!
If you know any teachers or librarians in the UK who would be interested in a free virtual visit (entire UK) or an in-person author visit (greater London area only) the week of March 21-25, please let me know. And if you’re not too far from Crossness, I hope to see you there on the 20th!