Thursday, May 19, 2011

Props For School Visits

"There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book."
                                                                                                                        Marcel Proust


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."
                                                                               Elizabeth Lawrence



(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!)

25 comments:

Wub2Write said...

This is a really fun post, Lynn! I LOVE to take props to school visits and plenty of lollipops. I'm just a big kid! The bandage on brain's frontal lobe is hilarious. And I totally love the shadow box idea! And I agree, if possible, it's important to get out there and do school visits even if your book isn't published yet. Kids love to meet authors. And it's fun for authors to interact with their audience. :-)

Hobo Annie said...

Super post! The shadow boxes are such a cool idea, especially for souvenirs! I can't wait to get started making a few myself and what a great creative project for kids. School visits can be a challenge, and it is a really good confidence-building experience. :)

Sarah said...

Whoa! What an amazing bounty of creativity! Lucky lucky kids.

I am totally in love with the shadow box idea - yours are amazing.

But... seeing your great posts and all your props - I suspect your GOG is better than you think.

~Sarah

Lisa Gail Green said...

I've only visited my own daughter's class once. I guess I was waiting to be a "published" author. But it IS fun to interact with the kids. Looks like you really put a lot into it and I'm sure the kids loved it!

LynNerd said...

Thanks, Wub2Write. You're a master of props for author visits! All those years of being a Reading Buddy at the schools has paid off for you in a wealth of experience in interacting with kids.

Hobo Annie, I'm so glad you're going to make your own shadow boxes. They're so much fun and are a wonderful way to display souvenirs.

Thanks, Sarah, for the nice compliments. Being creative with other projects also helps with my writing, and I think it's important for kids to use their creativity, too.

Having props to prompt questions from the kids and remind me of things I can talk to them about are very useful for when I get tongue-tied and draw a blank. But I really don't have the G.O.G. (gift of gab).

LynNerd said...

Oh, Lisa, I hope you'll visit more classrooms. It's great experience, and kids will love to hear excerpts of your work. Take some cool props, and those kids will never forget you!

nutschell said...

Great tips, Lynn! I sure will keep this bookmarked for future school visits (whenever that may be!). Thanks and I am loving your blog!

LynNerd said...

Nutschell, You can start collecting the props now. I bet there's lots of cool stuff in your fantasy novel. Let's see, what color was that handkerchief? Next time I see you, remind me to show you a cute little handkerchief trick that my grandfather, the magician, taught me when I was a kid!

cleemckenzie said...

What a crack up and the props are fantastic. If I were a kid I'd be in the front row all ga ga!

LynNerd said...

Thanks, Lee! It was great fun entertaining the kids. They always give me more story ideas. And I hope I left them pumped up to read and create their own works!

D. U. Okonkwo said...

This is so cool. You obviously went to a lot of effort and it showed up. The fact that the kids wanted to see more of your book trailer is a winner, too.

It's hard to get kids' attention because they rarely keep sitll :o( but this is a great fun post, and something we can all get something from, whether we write for kids or not.

Gret job!

Amy said...

Hey Mom, I think this blog is awesome! You seem like you are having a blast. I am so happy that you are doing something that you love. The shadow boxes are a great idea. I can't wait to see them! I am very proud of you and I love you so much. Love Amy

blonde1_777 said...

LOVE the blogs Mom! You are sharing some great information. I love the idea of saving little items during the writing process to keep you motivated and also to build a supply of props for school visits.
The kids crack me up with wanting the treasure map and wanting to buy the shadow boxes! How funny.
Mom your blogs are awesome, creative, and informative. I know that when the day comes for me to make more time to write, I will definitely refer to all your great ideas! Love you, April

Hi Grendma! Itz me Punkin. I kan hear my momz heart beeting joyfully an she lafs a lot wen reading ur blogz, so i kant wait til i em born so i kan reed them tu. Luv u!

Alana said...

These are all such great ideas! I love the trailer for the book - great attention getter for kids to get them excited to read the book.

Also, WIP box - genius!

Thanks for sharing.

LynNerd said...

Hi Amy, I'm so glad you checked out the blog. Yes, I'm having a blast doing this. I'll be making lots more shadow boxes, especially for the grandkids, whenever they decide to join our crazy mixed up world. I'm already collecting fun stuff to put in them.

April, So glad you figured out how to leave a comment because it's quite an inspiring one. Yes, one of these days you'll be reading to Punkin's class and using props and having the time of your life entertaining the kids.

Punkin, so glad you're such a prodigy that you can communicate so well even before you're born. Glad you hear Mommy's laughter, because that's one of the best sounds in the whole world. When I get to babysit you, I'll help you work on your spelling, but don't worry about that right now. Just concentrate on growing big and strong. Then you'll be ready for the great adventure that awaits you!

LynNerd said...

Alana, thanks for taking a peek at the trailer and for the great feedback! Glad you like the WIP shadow boxes. They really do provide inspiration while writing and serve as a good reminder to get back to working on it!

Lynda R Young said...

I don't have GOG either, so that's definitely something to remember. I love your props and ideas. They are brilliant.

Heather Kelly said...

This is a great post--I love hearing how authors survive public speaking! Thanks for the insight. I'm going to send the link to a friend of mine...

LynNerd said...

DU - Thank you for your uplifting words. Yes, kids can be challenging, so anything that gets their attention is a big plus!

LynNerd said...

Lynda, Yes, it's hard for people who don't have the gift of gab to know what to talk about. I've found that props spark kids' interest and curiosity, so they ask more questions, which opens up more things to talk about, instead of having some awkward moments where you're drawing a blank!

Heather, thanks for sending the link on to your friend. I like your term, "surviving public speaking." Great way to put it! I'm always looking for tips to help make it easier.

Julie Musil said...

I can tell you that my two fifth graders would looooove to be a part of your school visits. Holy cow, you make it so fun for the kids. Love it.

missmel said...

Hi, LynNerd--it's Melanie from class. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your blog! Great job of designing it and the posts are fabulous--talk about a great voice. I am dying to use the shadowbox idea. In my other life, I'm a high school English teacher and this would be an awesome tool to use when I teach the autobiographical narrative.
As for your question on the camera, well, I only wish I had the fabulous Cannon T2i...mine, however, is a $99 Kodak. Also, if you want the blogs you follow to show up on the page, just click the Page Edit key (under design) and click on "Add a Gadget" to find the one on blog links.

LynNerd said...

Thanks, Julie! Fun is the name of the game. It gets the kids pumped up to read and write their own stories. It's the icing on the cake!

Hi Mel! So glad you stopped by. Yes, the shadow boxes are perfect for high schoolers. They can be as creative as they want to be and use old photographs, and items that tie in with the narrative. It's a great way to get them involved in a special project. I guess it was the other Melanie that got the expensive camera. Well your $99 camera takes great photos! I just bought a new Sony One Shot for $189. It will have to do! Gotta keep it simple.

Kristen said...

I'd love to see a post sometime on how you go about booking your school visits! So fun to read about what you do --

LynNerd said...

Hi Kristen,

Some schools are reluctant to have authors they're unfamiliar with come to do a visit. My co-authors and I have found that it helps to have a connection with the school, someone to refer us, so we just put out the word to friends, family, acquaintances, and teachers & librarians that we meet in various places. Pass out business cards with your website on it so school personnel can learn about who you are and what you write about. Thanks for the tip. I'll do a post about this!