Authors and illustrators — it’s a no-brainer: before you visit a school, all the kids should’ve have heard or read your books. We know that the educational value of a visit is deepened when kids are familiar with the author’s or illustrator’s books and the visit is anticipated by the whole school.
But — is it just me, or is this happening less and less? I’ve even visited schools that don’t have my books for kids to check out from their library. (True!) And it’s not that I’m asking a lot. In my pre-visit printed materials and emails, I ask the primary grades to read two of my picture books (total read-aloud time = 15 minutes, max). I ask the intermediate grades to read two of my picture books (total read aloud time, 17 minutes, max).
You can state in a contract or letter of agreement that reading your books is required, but good luck with enforcing compliance! So what be done to greater encourage schools to read your books in advance of your visit?
1. Be realistic: don’t expect kids to have heard or read all of your books. Tell them which ones you will be featuring in your assemblies. And if you write novels, suggest passages or chapters for read-alouds. It might also help to do a one-sheet outline of how books connect to the points you’ll be making in your assemblies.
2. Be clear: In your letter of agreement, request that the school tell you how they plan to share your books with students. For example, will the librarian read them to all classes? Will teachers read them to their individual classes? Will a volunteer do this task (and if so, how will they reach all kids?) This will give you a better idea of how invested the school is in this task.
3. Be bold: ask which of your books the library already has on hand and how many copies. Suggest that they have at least two copies on hand of the books you’ll be featuring in assemblies. If they are short on funds for obtaining your books, suggest funding opportunities.
4. Be helpful: offer alternative ways to reach kids efficiently. The school might
• borrow copies of your book from other schools in the district or from the local public library
• have separate copies circulating among primary grades and intermediate grades
• ask the parent organization to provide a set of books for each grade level; and if they don’t have a budget for this, suggest they find funding through a local donor.
5. Be understanding: if your efforts to help don’t work out, roll with it. Have a Plan B in place for doing assemblies to kids who don’t know your books. And be happy that at least they’ll know about them by the time you leave!
Do you have any other advice to offer or anecdotes to share? I’d love to hear from you!