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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.

worldreadaloudday2015

As I was preparing this post, my daughter said, “Mommy, you always read LOUD!”

She’s right. So if you’d like a LOUDMOUTH to read to your class on World Read Aloud Day this March 4th, look no further.

I’m offering free, 20-minute Skype sessions throughout the day. I’ll read my picture book THE MONSTORE, answer questions from your students, and give everyone a sneak peek of my upcoming books, I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK and LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD. I’ll also wear the jammies of your class’s choosing. (I’ve got five awesome pairs from which to choose.)

jammiechart

Kindergarten classes from Mahomet, IL tried to predict what jammies I’d wear.

If you’re interested, email me at tarawrites at yahoo dot com. Suggest a time (be sure to include your time zone so I can calculate if I’m living in the future or the past) and I’ll book you! If for some reason your school does not allow Skype, I can do a Google Hangout or Facetime, too.

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

I do Skype visits in my jammies. This time it was ice skate jammies!

Not interested in me? I understand, I’m not necessarily everyone’s cup of Earl Grey. Check out Kate Messner’s list of authors who Skype for free and contact one of them instead!

Everyone should be celebrating World Read Aloud Day!

Visit LitWorld.org/wrad to learn more.

You know, picture book authors and teachers have oodles in common. We all love kids, we’re often underpaid, and we deal with constant parent criticism. Really, we could be twins. Except teachers must get groomed and dressed every morning while we authors get to lounge around in jammies all day. (Sorry, it’s one of the professional perks.)

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

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

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That’s why I was surprised when I spoke to a group of 50 teachers last week and not a single one had ever used Skype in the classroom. We’re not so twinsy after all?

I connect with a lot of teachers online, so I mistakenly assumed that a majority already took advantage of this technology. But I learned that lack of time and resources—plus occasional lack of the internet—means Skype doesn’t get utilized. Some schools even have privacy concerns and other rules preventing its use.

But that’s too bad! Why should it be?  If schools can’t afford to bring an author in to speak, Skype provides a free next-best-thing alternative. Author Kate Messner maintains a list of authors who offer free 15-minute Skypes, and a searchable database of Skype-able authors is available at skypeanauthor.wikifoundry.com. With World Read Aloud Day approaching on March 5, think of how excited students will be to hear an author read their own book. It’s magical. Kids consider authors the “rock stars” of the written word.

shannonmmillerJust ask Shannon McClintock Miller’s students. She’s District Teacher Librarian at Van Meter Community School in Van Meter, Iowa and has invited authors/illustrators into her library via Skype for the last six years!

I asked Shannon a few questions to help other teachers get started with their own Skype program…

Shannon, what can a teacher do if their administration is skeptical about Skype?

If the administration is resistant, teachers need to show examples, show the importance, show the impact it can have on the students. They also need to reassure them that the kids are safe, that they know what they are doing…that they understand the “digital citizenship” impact.

When we started out, we practiced Skyping into each others’ rooms. I would read from my library office to the kids down the hall over Skype. We were then able to teach them about Skype, how to behave, that it was just an “extension” of their classroom. All those silly behaviors that we see at first when kids are put in front of a camera can be talked about and addressed. Make sure your administraion knows this.

The impact of bringing in not just authors, but other experts and professionals, takes the library or classroom outside of the four walls and into the world. It brings the children experiences that they might not have otherwise.

skypeWhat is your Skype set-up like?

We have a computer with a camera and that is what I use. I have it connected to a projector so the kids can see the author or visitor. You don’t have to have a fancy set up to make this work. It can be simple. And kids can also gather around the laptop on the table, which is what we usually do because they like to be close to the author. Also, it’s very important to have speakers set up. Have the kids be able to come up easily and ask questions, too.

I love how mobile my set-up makes me. I can go anywhere with my laptop…and make connections happen naturally. I also use my phone and iPad with Skype, too. Last year took my phone to our pasture for a class of Kindergarteners to see our horse. It works—the connection, the relationships are what is important.

Also, it’s important to have the author’s book available. We have even read the book along on our iPad if the book is an eBook, too. Or I have printed off papers from the Skype visitors to have for the kids.

We are renovating our library and this is a very important part of the new design. But I want people to know—you can have it be very simple, too.

What have been some of your most memorable Skype author/illustrator experiences?

We have had so many wonderful Skype visits.

  • Mercer Mayer was very special because being one of the favorite of all kids (and teachers)… And my cousin (with whom I teach) asked me for her kindergarteners.
  • Michael Buckley led an hour-long discussion as a culminating event with our 5th graders and also had fun with us on the last day of school last year.
  • Tom Angelberger has Skyped with us several times to create Origami Yodas.
  • Robert Forbes and Mrs. P read poetry together for our Poetry Summit with five other schools around the world.
  • Peter Reynolds Skyped from his home studio. Being an artist and friend of Peter’s, this was very special.
  • Loren Long Skyped for Read Across America Day 
  • This fall we have been Skyping with Capstone Publishing Art Studio. And LOVED this one
  • I know I am leaving out so many of my favorite friends and visits…I could go on and on.

vanmeterHow do you feel these visits have impacted your students?

I feel that these visits bring great experiences and connections to our students. By Skyping with authors, they can discuss writing, publishing, reading, brainstorming, etc. By Skyping with illustrators, they can discuss being an artist for books, for authors, how they got involved and the process.

A lot of times the authors talk about writing when they were younger—how they went to school, where they trained and how they got better at writing.

We have Skyped with publishers to understand the process of writing and publishing a book.

We get to bring the world to our children through these virtual visits.

Thank you, Shannon! It’s interesting to hear from a school system that has been utilizing Skype to its full advantage!

So, how about YOU?

Are you a teacher, educator or librarian eager to try Skype? I’m offering free 15-minute Skype sessions for World Read Aloud Day on March 5th!

monstorefrontcover

I will read my book THE MONSTORE, tell students a SECRET about the book and then answer their questions. (I also perform a magic trick made possible only by this amazing technology and the warping of the space-time continuum.)

Just email me at tarawrites (at) yahoo (dot you-know-what-else) and we can set up a time slot!

Happy Skyping to all!

Wow, I was blown away by the creativity of the kids who entered my Halloween Skype monster contest! I asked them to draw the monster they’d like to purchase at The Monstore, and they came through with some very useful companions, just right for doing tricky things around the house. In fact, I’d like to borrow all of them!

It was tough to pick just five finalists, as I received nearly 200 entries! But here they are, in no particular order.

Please leave a comment voting for your favorite entry #. The monster with the most votes will win a Skype classroom visit with me on Halloween! 

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MONSTER #1
REPRESENTING MS. ROSENBERG’S 2nd GRADE CLASS
MS. GO EYES by JULIA B.!

skypecontestjuliab

I like how Ms. Go Eyes can dance with Julia whenever she pleases, plus this monster can reach high to get the most coveted snacks in the cabinet. Of course, Ms. Go Eyes loves THE MONSTORE book, too! Congratulations, Julia!

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MONSTER #2
REPRESENTING MS. MELLIN’S 2nd GRADE CLASS
TRASH MONSTER by SIERRA V.!

skypecontestsierrav

Well, Trash Monster can certainly find a welcomed place in my home. I like how neat and environmentally conscientious he is. And he’s so brightly colored, he’ll fit right in with my decor. Congratulations, Sierra!

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MONSTER #3
REPRESENTING MS. MACCRI’S 2nd GRADE CLASS
BULLEYE by NATHAN H.!

skypecontestnathanh

Considering that October is National Bullying Prevention Month, I think everyone could use a friend like Bulleye right now. He’s so fierce-looking, he just has to stand there and bullies will steer clear. Congratulations, Nathan!

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MONSTER #4
REPRESENTING MS. ABATE’S 1st GRADE CLASS
SPARKLES by KATIE F.!

skypecontestkatief

As Sparkles is already aware, we could all use a little more sparkle in our lives. Everything she touches glitters and shines. What a happy-making monster! Congratulations, Katie!

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MONSTER #5
REPRESENTING MS. BROWN’S 1st GRADE CLASS
DAGA BY DOANH!
skypecontestdoanh

Ms. Brown’s class got very creative and used shapes to create their monsters. They even counted up all the shapes. I’m impressed! This monster’s needed in my house because my daughter does not like to eat meat. It merely touches her tongue and she spits it out.  What’s a mom to do? Maybe she will follow Daga’s example. Congratulations, Doanh! (And wow, what neat handwriting!)

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Thank you to everyone who participated in the Skype monster contest. It was so difficult to choose the finalists because all the creations were terrific. I’m sincerely blown away by the creativity expressed in this exercise!

Kindly comment below with your # monster choice by SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27th and I will announce the winner on the 28th!

GOOD LUCK TO EVERYONE! I HOPE TO SEE YOU ON HALLOWEEN!

winaskypevisit

In THE MONSTORE, Zack just wants to buy a monster to spook his pesky little sister, Gracie. (As you may know, things don’t work to plan.)

manfredkeepout

But when I do school visits, I’ve found that kids have all kinds of things they’d like a monster to do for them.

  • Shoot cupcakes from their feet.
  • Hide under their bed and scare away OTHER monsters.
  • Walk their pet pot-belly pig.
  • Eat clouds so it stops raining.
  • Reach the shelf where Mom keeps HER chocolate.

And even more outrageously clever tasks.

So here’s your child’s chance! What would THEIR monster do? What would it look like?

Print out this MONSTORE coloring page (courtesy of illustrator Wendy Martin) and then email me a pic of your child’s monsterly creation by October 17th. (My email button is in the top left column of this blog.)

I’ll pick 5 finalists and post them here, then you’ll have a week to vote for the winner.

Monstore-Draw-your-own-monster (1)

(Click on the image for larger version, mouse over for a + magnifying glass, click, then you can then print 8 1/2 x 11. Or, click here for a PDF: Monstore Draw Your Own Monster.)

The winner will earn their class a signed book and a SKYPE VISIT from me on HALLOWEEN(And if the child is homeschooled, I’ll Skype with them at home or anywhere they choose.)

The contest is open to kids through age 12. Whole classes can enter. If I had a lawyer, you might expect a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo to appear here. But I don’t. So there isn’t. (PHEW!)

Any questions? Ask away below.

Happy creating and I’ll hope to SEE YOU on HALLOWEEN!

monstorefrontcoverTo celebrate the release of my debut picture book THE MONSTORE on June 4th, I am offering free Skype visits with your class the week of June 10th. (Yes, I know school will be out for a lot of you, but I live in Jersey, where school drags on into summer.)

For the Skype visit I will:

  • Read THE MONSTORE
  • Wear the pajamas of your class’s choice (Scottie Dog, Hot Cocoa, Conversation Hearts, Figure Skates)
  • Answer questions about the book/writing/spending the day in jammies
  • Play a trick on the class (with your help and a red delicious apple)
  • Saw a lady in half
  • Send your class a signed bookplate with limited edition “Grand Opening” MONSTORE sticker
  • Accomodate your ideas to fulfill a classroom initiative

Skype visits will take place from June 10th to June 14th and last 30 minutes.

Whoops, and I will not saw a lady in half. Sorry ’bout that one. I got carried away.

To set up the Skype visit, please email me at tarawrites (at) yahoo (dot) com with “Free Skype Visit” in the subject line. Please include the following details:

  • Class grade
  • Location
  • Three available days/times, listed in order of preference
  • Contact info, including Skype username

I will try my best to schedule everyone who requests a Skype visit, but please note if I cannot, you will be selected on a first come/first served basis. Also, for reading purposes it’s best if you have a copy of THE MONSTORE in your classroom, but it is not a requirement.

Let the Skyping begin!

P.S. I apologize in advance for my northeast accent.

P.P.S. It’s not as bad as the cast from “Jersey Shore”.

P.P.P.S. Most of the “Jersey Shore” cast is from New York.

What kind of monsters do Mrs. Mozer’s 3rd graders have for us today? Well, they envision small, furry, cute monsters…except for Nick. I wouldn’t want to mess with Nick’s creature–he’s fierce!

So what do you prefer: a monster you can cuddle, or one who will protect you from evil-doers? I’d like a little of both!

Thanks again to these creative kids for sharing their Monstore merchandise with us. This is the last installment of Monster Monday…until I visit YOUR CLASS NEXT!

Does your class wanna Skype with me? I’ll visit any classroom via Skype in June. All you have to do is ask! I’ll give an advance reading of THE MONSTORE, lead you in a creative writing exercise, and of course, ask you what monster you’d like to buy at the Monstore!

Ethan:

Jenna:

Matthew:

Meredith:

Nick:

Sophie:

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

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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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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