Thursday, May 26, 2011

Reading Aloud at School Visits

I needed a weird photo to get your attention. Did this work? Here I am dressed as "Funny Bones" for the Riverside Ghostwalk event just before Halloween. My husband and I stopped in to visit our grandbaby on the way.

What do you think? Will she like fun, spooky stories when she gets old enough? Haha! 

In the last blog, we talked about using visual aids or props to grab the kids' attention. Once you've got it, you want to keep it. 

Here are a few simple tips that can help to engage your audience while you read short excerpts or whatever you've chosen to share:

  • Practice reading your material aloud beforehand. You'll sound polished and it helps perfect the pacing. Pause for a second to emphasize certain parts. For example, a line or phrase that's spooky. The pause adds drama and anticipation. (I sound like the Queen of Alliteration here!)
  • Introduce yourself. Tell them you're a children's writer and what ages you write for. Even if you're not published yet, you're a writer. They'll be impressed. Add some interesting, fun, or silly facts about yourself. 
  • Give a quick explanation about what you'll be reading. If it's an excerpt from your book or anthology, give a brief orientation as to what part of the book you're reading from. For example, if I'm reading from Secret of Haunted Bog, I tell the kids, "This is the part where AJ Zantony and Freddy 'Hangman' Gallows are lost deep in the bog."
  • Make eye contact often.
  • Mark the spot you're reading from with your finger or thumb so you don't lose your place.
  • Avoid speaking in a monotone voice.
  • Speak loud and clear so everyone in the room can hear you. I get a big kick out of startling the kids when I read a short excerpt from Curse at Zala Manor that begins with a loud "Arrggh!" from Musky, the zombie. 
  • Be dramatic. Kids love it, and they'll pay closer attention. Use different voices for the different characters. I love doing Stumpy the peg-leg skeleton's scratchy voice when he says, "Give me back me key, wench!" from that same Zala Manor excerpt. It always gets a good reaction from the boys!
  • Keep it short. The length should vary according to what grade levels you're dealing with. 
  • Variety is the spice of school visits. Depending on how much time you have, switch it up and read a few different things. 
  • If you're speaking into a microphone, it's much easier if it's propped up in the stand instead of trying to juggle it plus hold the book or papers you're reading from. 
  • Keep making eye contact and try to cover all areas of your audience so they feel like you're talking directly to them. 
  • If you make a mistake, smile and shrug it off. Kids don't expect you to be perfect. We all mess up when reading something out loud. They'll take your cue and follow your example the next time they stumble over the words when reading out loud in class.
  • If you have props that go along with the reading, don't forget to use them or gesture. I had a cheap plastic pirate's hook from the dollar store that I held while reading Shel Silverstein's poem "Captain Hook" from Where the Sidewalk Ends and made sure to reach to my toes and put it up to my nose as I read those parts. Arr! The rascals loved it! 

Project your voice. 
Be dramatic.
                                                   Use as much eye contact as possible.

These are pretty basic tips. I started reading aloud to classrooms when my children were in elementary school, just to promote literacy. Dressing up in a costume or wearing a cool hat that tied in with the story made it loads of fun. Like I said in my last post, props are a big help.

A picture book that can be read in five minutes or less is perfect. Be sure to hold the book up with the pictures facing the audience. That means you have to read it from a side angle, so be sure to practice ahead of time.

Share one of your own short stories or an excerpt from your novel, and if you want the kids' input on it, tell them ahead of time so they can listen carefully and tell you what part they liked best.

I'm more comfortable speaking to a classroom instead of an entire school. The only time I had to speak to an auditorium full of kids was with my two Monster Moon co-authors, Kathy Sant and Maria Toth. Being part of a team was the only way I could pull that off since just the thought of speaking to a large group makes my heart race, my hands shake, and I even get lightheaded at times!

The more school visits I do without my co-authors, the more I learn what works best with the different age groups and what works best for me on my own. This is all preparing me for the day when, (gulp)
I speak to a school assembly. Just me, myself, and I. So, baby steps, toe by toe, inch by inch, word by               word. It keeps me moving forward. And kids are great to interact with. Author visits are truly rewarding and they give you get lots of fuel to keep your stories going.

Below, storytelling cape and werewolf hands for props, reading an excerpt from the first Monster Moon book at the Downtown Riverside Kids Jam. 

People sat way in the back in the plaza (which made reading the excerpt less intimidating), but this little girl made my day when she came right up to the stage and listened as I poured my heart into reading "Cyclops Clyde." Hey, if we can make a difference in one child's life, that's a big deal in my book!
This is one of my favorite photos from events we've participated in.

I'm always looking for good ideas or tips for author visits. Do you have any? How about a funny
incident that happened when you were speaking to or reading to kids?

The next post will cover different topics and ideas to talk about at school visits.

(Don't forget to scroll down to the footer and vote for the book trailer that you like the best. Thanks!)

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!)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Help! Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone – Can You Share Some Blogging Etiquette?

How silly is this, writing my very first blog post and I don’t have a single follower?
I might as well be writing to a black hole in cyberspace or talkin’ to an invisible wall. I’ve been following a few blogs to see what it’s all about. A bit overwhelming, to say the least.

There are millions of you out there. I’m but a tiny speck, smaller than the itsy bitsy spider on your local  web. It reminds me of one of my favorite Dr. Zeuss books, “Horton Hears a Who.” Hello, hello, is anyone there? Can you hear me?

I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective, and one should keep in mind, after all, that a blogger’s a blogger no matter how small!

Anyhoo, if you’re there, anyone, anywhere in the worldwide blogosphere, before getting my feet wet, I need help from you. The last thing I want to do is to start off on the wrong foot, step on your web toes, and be written off as a cyberspace case who's throwing a party, but nobuddy comes. So, do you have any tips for good etiquette in blogging?