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I’ve done several dozen classroom Skype visits and I keep refining my techniques. (Yes, I have actual techniques!) I found that many author friends were nervous about doing Skype visits and I’m here to tell you—they’re the best thing since sliced smoked-meat knishes from Caplansky’s! (What can I say, I’m hungry and I just saw them on Food Network.)

Skype visits allow you to stay at home while spreading the joy of reading all over the world! I’ve visited Sicily, Brazil, Kuala Lumpur, and yes—even Canada—from the comfort of my laptop.

Here are my best tips for planning a fun and memorable author Skype visit…

skypevisitscreen

FOR AUTHORS

Create anticipation.
I love Skype visits because I don’t have to get dressed up. I can stay in my jammies all day! I tell the kids as a children’s book author, pajamas are my “office uniform.” No suit and tie or fancy-schmancy pearl necklace for me!

I have several pairs of cute themed jammies and I let the class predict which ones I’ll be wearing for their visit. Some teachers use this as a math exercise, plotting the results on a chart, like this Kindergarten:

jammiechart

And I wore purple owls that day!

Other classes have even worn jammies to school on the day of my visit!

Sometimes a teacher will read one of my other books prior to the Skype. Suggest something the class can do in advance to create anticipation! Goodie, goodie gumdrops!

Add magic and secrets.
Besides reading my book, I perform a magic trick during the visit, but I won’t tell you what that is. A magician never reveals her secrets.

But, I promise to tell the children a secret about the book once we’ve read it. Every book has at least one. Mine typically have to do with the book’s creation. For instance, I let the illustrator choose what kind of animal NORMAL NORMAN should be. I was giddy with glee when S.britt made Norman a purple orangutan! And the character “Mr. Scruffles” is named after my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal. Speaking of stuffed animals…

Norman with Merideth and Meredith 2

Sterling Children’s Art Director Merideth Harte and Executive Editor Meredith Mundy with NORMAL NORMAN. He’ll be joining me for Skypes soon.

Be spontaneous.
When I visited a school in Florida, it was snowing here and most of those children had never seen the fluffy white stuff. So guess what? I took my laptop outside! I threw a few snowballs at my husband’s car. They loved it! (Husband, not so much.)

I’ve showed the kids my bookshelves, made popcorn and even interviewed my own children. There are a ton of fun things to do—you’re only limited by your imagination. And if I know you, you have one outrageous imagination!

I do Skype visits in my jammies--whichever kind the kids pick. This time it was ice skate jammies!

Ensure the teacher/class has the book you’re reading.
It’s difficult to hold up your book for the webcam. And if you display an electronic copy from your screen share, the kids aren’t seeing YOU. (I make tons of funny faces while I read dramatically.)

It’s preferable for the teacher to have a copy (or two or three for a large group) to show to the kids as you read aloud. Do character voices! Comment on the illustrations!

Back in the 70’s when we viewed slide shows at school, the recording beeped, signaling the teacher to forward the slide. Now I beep for the teacher when it’s time to turn the page! (Because sometimes I comment A LOT on the illustrations.) Plus, the kids get a kick out of it.

monstoreopening

How could I NOT comment on this page?

Have the kids participate.
I prompt the kids to knock when reading THE MONSTORE at the “knock five times fast” part, which happens twice. I also ask them to read the repetitive refrain with me. With LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, I ask students to listen for the other nursery rhymes and fairy tales and count how many there are. Other authors have kids act out character parts. Create some way for the kids to interact with your story.

Have the class develop author questions prior to the visit.
I used to open the floor to questions at the end of the visit, but then I might have kids asking repetitive questions, or, with the preschool and Kinder-crowd, just making statements. (My favorite: “My grandpa has hair in his ears!”) It works best for the class to arrange questions ahead of time. I ask them to come up with about 4-5. The teacher can pick students to ask the questions.

Reading my book, performing my schtick and answering five questions usually takes up the entire 20-minute time slot. (I’ve been known to go over!)

Provide a follow-up activity.
Email the teacher afterwards with a thank you and an activity sheet for the class to do following the visit. (Or you can email the activity in advance.) Some authors also send bookplates, bookmarks or other SWAG to the class.

skypecontestsierrav

Coordinate your visit with special days.
Is your book about doughnuts? Well, promote Skype visits on National Doughnut Day! Ninjas? International Ninja Day! Of course, there’s also World Read Aloud Day and International Literacy Day for non-doughnut-and-ninja books. (“The Doughnut Ninja” should be my next project.)

Don’t limit yourself to an age group or group size.
I write picture books but I’ve done Skype visits for middle schools and high schools. With older students, I share writing tips and talk about life as a children’s book author. I adjust my presentation for the age group.

Many schools display the Skype session on a large screen or Smartboard, so you’re really not limited to the size of group you can accommodate. All the kids can see you well. I’ve Skyped with over a hundred students at once and it’s been no different from a class of 18.

Ask the teacher to share your info with parents and other teachers.
You’d like the parents to know that you visited, right? Ask the teacher to provide that info in their class newsletter or other missive. Some teachers will even send home a book flyer so the parents can purchase your books. Create one to have ready should they request it.

 

FOR TEACHERS AND LIBRARIANS

I’m not the only author who will do Skype visits for free. Check out Kate Messner’s list and education.microsoft.com for the Skype Education site. Subject matter experts are also available.

Have the book ready the day of the Skype visit.
Ask the author if you should read the book with the class in advance or not. I often have the teacher read one of my other books prior to the visit.

Test out your Skype connection in advance.
Many authors will visit via alternative services, like Facetime or Google Hangout. Just ask.

Create an activity the students can do prior to the visit and/or afterwards.
Ask the author if they have ready-made activities or suggestions.

If you enjoyed the visit, let others know.
Tell teacher friends, suggest that author for an in-person visit or a paid Skype seminar, write a testimonial or tell the parents about the visit. Do whatever feels right. Authors are taking time out of their day to do these visits and they appreciate the support.

So, do you want to Skype with me for free on World Read Aloud Day on February 24th? I’m available for any grade or preschool and can adjust my content to meet your needs.

Just email me at tarakidlit at gmail dot com to schedule it! Should I run out of slots on the 24th, I’ll gladly do a Skype visit another day that week.

I also do more in-depth Skype sessions to teach writing concepts, for a nominal fee.

If you have questions, suggestions or knish recommendations to add, please leave them in the comments.

SKYPE ON!

First, let’s announce some winners!

The winner of the LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD F&G is:

 NATALIE LYNN TANNER!

The winner of Dev Petty’s I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG is:

JHAYSLETT!

Congratulations! Be on the lookout for an email from me.

boatload

…So this week I did a boatload of Skype visits for World Read Aloud Day. Almost TWO DOZEN! Phew. My own kids are fed up with THE MONSTORE, as evidenced by my elder daughter’s video—mouthing the words and rolling her eyes while I read in another room. (She thought she’d get away with it, but I found it on her iPad! Oooooh! BUSTED!)

One of the most frequently asked questions during these Skypes was: “Out of all your books, which is your favorite?”

Now I know some authors claim—like parents of multiple children—to love them all equally, to not to have a favorite. But I do. And I’m not ashamed about it!

It’s whatever I just finished writing. My newest manuscript.

Once I complete a new story that my agent approves, I just go NUTSO with excitement. I dream of who may acquire it, which rock star illustrator will be tapped to illustrate it…plus I imagine Merry Makers creating the must-have accompanying plush toy. (Or maybe even a stuffed me!)

taramerrymakers

Yeah, I told you I go NUTSO.

There’s something about a fresh story. It’s a feeling I wish I could recreate as I BEGIN a new story, but often with a new manuscript, there’s a lotta chewing of fingernails (which is why I haven’t been able to put on my new Jamberry nails).

jamberrynails

How can you recreate that newly-subbed, fresh-and-juicy, shinier-than-Turtlewax feel?

The best way out is always through. Write something new and get-r-done. If writing were easy, then everyone would have a published book. There should be joyous celebrating once something is finished and submission-ready. If you’re feeling just ho-hum, that manuscript is not pumped up full of YOU.

Photo credit: Scott Beale

Photo credit: Scott Beale

That’s another thing I want to talk about today, finding YOU as a writer.

Years ago, when I was writing flash fiction for adults, I stumbled across a marvelous piece in an anthology. It was about two young women with a strained relationship going back to their parents’ house to pack it up. Their mother was fading away, doing strange things, leaving herself bizarre notes to capture pieces of her memory. The sisters found one of these notes in the bookshelf, held each other sobbing, and then laughed at the absurdity of it all. The story was so lyrically written, and so poignant. Why couldn’t I have written that?

So I tried writing something based upon that style—that lovely, lilting, poetic style. Like a sunset watercolor over the rippling bay. And you know what? It stunk. Worse than the bay.

Even though it was stilted and forced, that story taught me a little about who I was as a writer…by showing me who I WAS NOT. It was one step in finding my true voice.

I always say no piece of writing is wasted time. It’s all practice. Even the junk is worth something!

So, tell me, out of all that you’ve written, what is your favorite?

Please leave a comment (with a link, if appropriate).

May you share a boatload.

7ate9

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As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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Disney*Hyperion
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HarperCollins
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