My favorite present ever is when writers and illustrators tell me of how I helped them be successful in some part of their career. So in the spirit of the holiday season, I’m sharing this happy ending “gift” I received from Elizabeth Van Steenwyk.who sought my school visit advice this past summer. (See post on 09 01 10, “Case Study: Designing a Program for First and Second Graders”)
Elizabeth was invited to speak at her hometown school in Galesburg, Illinois. But she “felt out of touch with my audience,” she wrote to her agent. “After hundreds of school visits over the years, I suddenly needed guidance so I called my friend, Alexis O’Neill who has become an expert in the field. Over the telephone she said, ‘You’ve got a lot of dogs in your body of work.’ And she was right. In the space of fifteen minutes we crafted a presentation around dogs in my books and the rest was a piece of cake.”
In a library setting, Elizabeth gave three talks to students in grades 2-6. Each talk changed slightly with the age of the children.
She began her presentation with a PowerPoint scrolling as the kids arrived. The visuals showed dogs and their owners — teachers, family, movie stars, rock singers, and historical dogs. Elizabeth writes, “It kept the noise level down and attention locked in place. The PowerPoint, created by the librarian, was absolutely great and kicked off my talk perfectly.” Elizabeth then talked about her dogs books and segued into what she always includes: constructing a book with suggestions from her audience, a Q and A, and a conclusion which included an invitation to everyone to come up and pet the stuffed animal version of Fala (the subject of one of her books) on their way back to class.
“Every child, all 370 of them, even cool fifth graders came up and petted my stuffed Fala dog,” she says. “That way, I was able to talk or say hello to each and every child.
At the luncheon with the teachers, all the decorations were dog-related: dog biscuits (for people), paw candy, and tablecloths imprinted with dog pictures. Afterwards, she signed books. “I would call it a successful day all round,” Elizabeth writes. After being out of the loop for a few years, this experienced writer appreciated a little creative brainstorming to get her presentation back on track.
Elizabeth found a way to engage the kids in a new way, focus their attention at the opening of her session and connect with each child individually, eyeball to eyeball.
I love that the word “present” is in “presentation.” This happy ending is truly a wonderful present!
Joyful holidays to you all!