"There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book."
In my last post, I asked you to guess what G.O.G. stands for, but meanie me made you wait until now to find out. There were lots of great answers, and Sarah Wones Tomp actually guessed it! My G.O.G. stands for Gift of Gab.
I don't have the Gift of Gab, so that makes doing a school visit challenging. I've learned to compensate by using visual aids. You can, too. Whether it's a funny hat, a honking horn, or a small poster-size photo of your kids, grandkids or pets, use something with child appeal to get the kids' attention.
I had about 20 minutes to talk to each class, Grades 1 through 6, as they came in for their library time. One class lost out on the fun due to a fire drill. You never know what's going to happen at school visits.
The photo below shows a book trailer that one class is watching on the pull-down screen in the library of Village Elementary School in Victorville, California. The trailer of Secret of Haunted Bog is less than two minutes long and made for a great attention grabber before I started speaking about writing.
A fifth-grader said he wanted to see the whole movie. "It's not a movie," I told him. "You'll have to read the book!"
I put together two book trailers but still don't have a PowerPoint presentation. Go figure. When the day comes where I have to speak to an auditorium full of kids, a presentation with cool pictures will sure come in handy. Schools with large screens like the one in the photo are perfect for PowerPoint shows.
The photo below shows a display of props that convey the storyline of some of the books and short stories I shared.
Next to the chair is my Bag'O'Bones. There are silly jokes written on the loose bones in the bag. Curse at Zala Manor has a pirate skeleton villain, so the bones tie in with the story. These worked out well for the younger grades, first through third.
There's a treasure map on the left side of the display. A fifth-grade boy asked if he could have it or at least get a copy to see where the X is that marks the buried treasure. He was serious. Kids crack me up!
Of course, you can't haul in all these props for every school visit. This was a three-day visit, and I needed lots of visual aids. And lots of water. Be sure you take something to drink. If you're like me, you'll get very thirsty. I also take throat lozenges or hard candy to help keep my mouth moist so I don't lose my voice.
Pictured below, one of my favorite props - pet brain on a leash (brainchild of co-author Maria Toth for a PBS Homework Hotline episode, "Brainstorming in the Rainstorm"). Brain likes to go to schools and help sniff out good story ideas. Poor Brain has a large bandage on his frontal lobe. A box fell on him. For reals!
Many of the kids wanted to take Brain home, but I told them they could make their own Brain out of paper mache and buy one of those "invisible dog leashes" at the fair or joke store.
I made some shadow boxes while writing the Monster Moon books. It helped spark more creativity and ideas for the stories.
Kids love shadow boxes. They wanted to know how much I was charging. "Sorry, not for sale. Make your own shadow box using things that tie in with your own story. You can use a shoe box. It's fun, just like drawing a picture to go along with what you write."
Below, this class wanted a closer peek at the shadow boxes, even though everyone got a good look at all the props as they filed in and out of the library.
Pictured below is a shadow box with Freddy's gag jokes, which was a big hit. It was a cool way to introduce the kids to one of the Monster Moon characters, Freddy "Hangman" Gallows. His pranks tend to get him in trouble.
Freddy's whoopee cushion was too big for the shadow box, but some of his other tricks fit inside: a stick of gum that zaps you when you pull it out of the package, a rubber pencil, a fart whistle, fake ketchup splatter, nail-through-the-finger, and real-looking puppy poop!
Secret of Haunted Bog is set in New Raven's Old Chinatown, a fictitious city on the East Coast. My co-authors and I buy small souvenirs for each other or dollar store treasures that apply to our WIP. Things like chopsticks, a fan, fortune cookies, bug in a lollipop, or a small toy skull, are little surprises that delight us, draw out the inner child, and get us hyped up to work on our children's series.
The shelves in my office got too cluttered, so that's when I decided to make shadow boxes. Now I hang them on the wall. They're great conversation pieces.
Try collecting things that reflect your own WIP and keep them near you when you write. You'd be amazed how they can inspire you to keep working toward your goal. Plus, you'll have some visual aids all ready for when you do author visits.
This shadow box has a pirate theme in honor of Vlad, the 300-year-old talking pirate rat, who's a character in every Monster Moon book. He's always singing pirate ditties. "Yeo-heave-ho and a bottle of rum! ARRR!" Visuals like shadow boxes provide a nice lead-in for introducing your book, work-in-progress, short story, poems, or whatever you're reading or speaking about.
Zala Manor is the old mansion next-door to the graveyard, where generations of the Zantony family are buried. It's the setting for the monstrous showdown at midnight on Halloween in Curse at Zala Manor.
Props and visual aids help me connect with kids at author visits. How about you? What works best for you when you visit a school and interact with kids?
You don't have to wait until you're published to do school visits. If you have a hard time speaking in public, maybe you can partner up with a writing buddy and do it together. I not only have a great time when I do visits with my co-authors, but I also learn a lot from the way they present themselves and the interesting things they share with the students.
Whether I'm on my own or working as a team, interacting with kids is a huge treat for me. After all, reaching kids is what makes being a children's author so worthwhile.
In my next blog, I'll cover helpful tips for reading aloud to groups of children.
"There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again."
(I hope you'll take a look at the two book trailers I made for Secret of Haunted Bog in the footer of the blog and vote for the one you think works best! Thanks!)