Monday, October 28, 2013

Checklist for Author Visits to Your School, Class, or Book Club

Author Visit Checklist
(Things we've learned the hard way, so you don't have to)

by J&P Voelkel, authors of the Jaguar Stones books and survivors of hundreds of school visits across America. J&P Voelkel are known for their theatrical school presentations, including the always popular teachers-eating-bugs scene, that pique students' interest in both reading and learning about Maya history (see also our earlier blog posts Author Adventures and Making the Most of Author Classroom Visits). If you're interested in scheduling them to visit your school (which is free for VT schools) see their website

1. Arranging the visit

Make sure you and the author are on the same page:

• What kind of event are you both expecting? (E.g. formal assembly, sit-down chat?)
• Venue? (E.g. cafetorium, library, classroom, gym, theatre?)
• What format? (E.g. multimedia, slides, whiteboard?)
• How many students will be attending?
• Grades/age ranges?
• How much time does the author need? (Min/ max/how much flexibility?)
• How many sessions will the author do in one day?
• What equipment do they need?
• Any time constraints - what’s the earliest they can arrive/latest they can leave?
• How much time do they need for set-up? (This requires the room to be empty
ahead of time.)
• Any posters, bookmarks, fliers available for publicity purposes?
• Is the author amenable to interviews with students or any other extra side events
you might like to build in?

2. Before the visit

Publicize the event:

• Make sure all faculty and parents are informed.
• Talk up the author's books to the students.
• Generate book sales by sending home order forms, putting up posters, and making
school announcements.
• Try to drum up local media interest.

If possible, build the author's work, or subject, into the curriculum:

• Make a display in the school library and/or hallways.
• Have classes read the books and write book reports.
• Ask students to think up questions to ask the author.
• Throw a contest and have the winners receive autographed books.
• Have an art class make welcome posters, banners, and bookmarks.

3. Arrival & set-up

The most stressful part of school visits for the author is usually finding the school and
setting up. Ways you can help are:

• Send email confirmation with date of visit, agreed details including timing of
presentation, number/grades of students, venue (eg library, auditorium) and the
equipment you are providing. Include address of school and your contact numbers.
• Provide helpful information - any tricky directions, where to unload if author has a
lot of props, where to park, how not to get caught in morning drop-off lines, etc.
• Make sure the main office knows an author is coming and who to contact when
they arrive.
• Have someone to meet the author and escort them to the room (authors love it
when students do this job!)
• If the author will be giving multiple presentations, try to hold them all in same
location so there is only one set-up.
• Have all the equipment ready and tested in advance.
• Provide drinking water.
• Have technical help on call (.ie. someone who knows how to work all the
equipment including the projector, sound system, lighting, curtains etc.)

4. The presentation

Timing is everything:

• Confirm start and end times for presentation taking into account time for the
audience to file in and take their seats.
• Check with the author how they want to be introduced. (If time is tight, they might
rather launch straight in to their presentation.)
• Don’t keep the kids on too tight a rein (author visits should be fun), but don’t
abandon the author to the law of the jungle either. It’s helpful to share any
recognized school symbols for quiet - such as the presenter putting hand in air.
• Help the author manage time - prearrange a signal at, say, ten minutes to go.
• Help control Q&A (e.g. "we just have time for one more question").

5. Make the most of the visit

• Authors love meeting with small groups of students such as book groups, avid
readers, or aspiring writers. This is particularly good way to use a lunch break.
• Have students interview the author for school newspaper, radio, or TV.
• Remember to take photographs for the school website, yearbook, etc.
• Build in time for book signing (the bookstore will help you manage this)
• Get an address/email for follow-up questions (or skype).

6 Skype visits

Although Skype lacks the drama and excitement of an author visit, it can be a good
solution for remote school districts, complicated schedules and travel-averse authors.
It's particularly useful for follow-up chats after an author visit and when the students
have read the author’s books. The best format for Skype visits is a short talk by the
author followed by a question and answer session, where the questions have been
prepared by students and allocated ahead of time.

Most authors are happy to mail personalized bookplates to accompany a Skype visit.
How to get started:

1. If you’re not familiar with Skype, practice at home with someone you know.
2. Make sure your school network allows it.
3. Make sure the equipment you need is available and working.
4. Plan details with the author - timing, format of visit, how long it will last, etc.
5. Prepare the students: talk about Skype etiquette, have them prepare questions, work
out a running order, plan where the student will stand/sit while asking question and
what they're supposed to do when they’re done.
6. Test the Skype connection with the author before the scheduled visit.

On the day:

• Test your equipment is working at least 20 minutes before you’re scheduled to
contact the author.
• Introduce everyone who will be speaking.
• If your connection is lost, don’t panic. Just call the author back. (Have kids bring
books for silent reading in case there’s an extended period of lost contact.)

7. Follow-up after author visits and Skype sessions

Authors are extremely grateful if you recommend them to other schools - by blogging,
tweeting, or good old word of mouth. (And notes of thanks/testimonials that can be
displayed on the author's website are always much appreciated.)


J&P Voelkel offer free school visits in Vermont. For more information visit: or email

Authors who skype for free:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Food, Farms, and Picture Books - Teaching Agricultural Literacy

Join us for a special talk on bringing agricultural literacy into the elementary school classroom - November 2nd, 11:00 am in the Children's Room at Bear Pond Books.

Exploring agriculture can be a hands-on way for students to learn about history, culture, nature, science, health, math, art. . . almost anything. In November, Agricultural Literacy Week encourages educators around the state to participate in activities that help students learn from agriculture.

As the Vermont organizers write "Agricultural Literacy Week is designed to educate Vermont citizens about the depth of our connection to agriculture in the landscape, environment and our personal health. People young and old will have the opportunity to rediscover the beauty of our state and the powerful role that farms play in its economy, energy resources, sustainability efforts and resiliency."

Vermont's Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross says "Ag Literacy is essential for Vermonters to understand and reconnect to Vermont farms and farmers."

On November 2nd, Abbie Nelson from NOFA-VT will talk about resources available in Vermont for teachers, librarians and community members who want to include agriculture in the elementary school classroom. She will share successful projects other Vermont teachers have tried, and we invite you to share your own stories, too. NOFA-VT is one of the partners in the statewide farm-to-school organization VT Food Education Every Day (VT-FEED).

Abbie will be joined by Vermont picture book author Gail Gibbons. Gail has written about farm-related topics from Apples to Veterinarians in the countryside (that's as close as we could get to "z"). She'll talk about young readers' responses to her books, her classroom experiences, and how teachers have incorporated this material into standards-based lesson plans.

There will be some great local snacks, using recipes from the New School Cuisine farm-to-school cookbook. Learn more about the New School Cuisine cookbook from this story on the VPR Cafe

We've put together a Pinterest Board of farm-related picture books - which is only a starting point. What would you add? Let us know by e-mailing helen.labun.jordan at

The Shelburne Farms learning barn gave us a starting point for our picture book list. The Shelburne Farms website offers more information about farm-based education, including upcoming events.

This event is free and open to the public. Please join us at 11:00 am on Saturday November 2nd. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Author Adventures

We recently noticed this tweet from Pamela Voelkel, part of the author team J&P Voelkel behind both the Jaguar Stones book series and our Ocotber 26th talk on making the most of author visits:
Look at this : Other authors visit schools, we INVADE them! (Thanks to .)
The post that she's referring to is found here from the blog Unleashing Readers.

All this talk of invading and unleashing leads us straight into the adventure side of author visits. There's a lot of excitement to be brought into the classroom when guests can share what they're most passionate about. Check out these intriguing tidbits from the Voelkel site:
  • An archive of video interviews with the "real Indiana Joneses"
  • Costumes and theater and replacement quetzal bird feathers
  • Larvets Worm Snax (yeah, these were mentioned in the last post, but they're going to keep being mentioned until someone gives us a bug to eat)

The Voelkels focus on Mayan culture and Central America. But other authors give a sense of adventure closer to home. Check out this post from an author-educator event where Natalie Kinsey Warnock talked about exploring our own communities and family history.

And for many students, simply being able to interact with the authors behind their favorite books is its own kind of adventure. We can often make those connections when authors happen to be local, and increasingly it's possible with non-local authors, too. Here is some great advice from Kate Messner (who will be speaking at Bear Pond in the spring) on virtual classroom visits. And Skype, a common technology to use for these visits, keeps its own list of classroom opportunities here.

How do you translate the excitement around an author visit into sustained engagement and learning lessons that fit with curriculum goals? Come to Bear Pond Books on October 26th at 11:00 am and join the conversation for finding out the answer.

On Saturday, October 26th, Beard Pond Books presents How to Get The Most of Author Visits with Jon and Pamela Voelkel. The event is free and open to the public. It starts at 11:00 am in the upstairs Children's Room. Non-bug-related snacks provided. The full author-educator talk schedule is available here.