From the very beginning of my career as a school librarian, I’ve known that author visits were something I wanted to make available for my students. My school is located near Baton Rouge, home to our Louisiana Book Festival, and I’ve been lucky to have authors such as Nick Strong and Mariama Lockington visit my school while they were in town for the festival. My school is also fortunate to have a nearby local, independent bookstore, as well as hard-working Scholastic representatives who are willing to set up school visits with authors who are in town to promote their books. We have had visits from Tamara Ellis Smith, Raymond Arroyo, and Tommy Greenwald. It’s always an amazing experience to witness the wonder in students’ faces when they get to ask their favorite authors questions about a book they’ve read. One of my 6th-grade students remarked last year, “I can’t believe I got to meet a real author and she signed my book! Ms. Lockington actually signed my book!” The student’s mother e-mailed me to let me know she talked about the author visit non-stop for weeks. This is the magic and impact that authors can have, and I want students to make these connections as often as possible.
With travel up in the air and many schools in virtual or hybrid situations, it might seem like a difficult time to book author visits, but I’ve found that it is the exact opposite! Many authors are able to meet on platforms such as Zoom, Meets, Teams, and Streamyard, and prices are more affordable since they are not traveling. Is it as interactive and as exciting as an in-person visit? No. It’s not as personable, but it can be just as rewarding. When school buildings closed in March, I looked for as many ways as possible to still make these connections and reached out to several authors. I was able to host the LOM Author Chat every few weeks. I invited several students and teachers to sign up and meet their favorite authors. What ensued was a conversation between students, authors, teachers, and myself on everything from their writing process, upcoming books, and even pop culture with authors Rita Williams-Garcia, Jake Burt, Lamar Giles, Rebecca Petruck, and Alan Gratz.
My school is now back to 100% in-person learning, but many school librarians are still providing programming for schools that are hybrid or full virtual. Authors are now more comfortable with virtual visits and have tailored their visits to meet the needs of these schools. I urge you to visit authors’ websites and reach out to them. Author fees can vary. Some authors will waive fees if you are promoting their books in conjunction with a local bookstore. Some authors have higher fees than your program might be able to afford, but you never know until you look into it. I have found that author fees for virtual visits, especially in comparison to in-person visits that also factor in travel expenses, are extremely reasonable. So far this year, we have visited with Paula Chase to discuss her three middle grade books, along with the important work she does with the Brown Book Shelf; chatted with Pablo Cartarya on his experience as a first generation Cuban-American and becoming the author of his own story; and discovered the practice of entomophagy with Boy Bites Bug author Rebecca Petruck.
For those of you with zero budget, look for other opportunities. AASL offers an Inspire Special Event Grant. Think about creating special events including author visits. Write a Walmart Community Grant, or ask local businesses to sponsor your visits. There are also other opportunities out there in the form of contests. Many authors have contests offering free Skype sessions by retweeting one of their posts, and author Kate Messner has compiled a list of authors who will Skype for free on World Read Aloud Day. Follow publishing companies, education associations, and organizations on social media and you’d be surprised by some events they offer. My school was fortunate to be chosen by Every Child a Reader for a free visit with the Librarian of Congress’s Ambassador for Children’s Literature Jason Reynolds this year for his Grab the Mic Virtual Tour. I happened upon a website link to submit a proposal and was lucky enough to get chosen as one of the schools. Scholastic also offers opportunities for librarians looking for author chats on a budget.
If you have never had an author visit your school, you are in for a real treat. There is nothing better than watching a child interact with an author. If you do not have the budget, I urge you to fundraise, write grants, and ask for donations so you can host a visit this year. You will not regret it. Feel free to reach out to me if you need assistance and check out pictures of my school’s author chats at https://www.lomlibrary.org/author-visits–interactions.html.