Case Study: A Happy Ending

FAla & Roosevelt in Car

F.D.R. and his dog, Fala - the subject of one of Elizabeth Van Steenwyk's books.

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!

5 Comments on “Case Study: A Happy Ending”

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by SCBWI CA-Los Angeles. SCBWI CA-Los Angeles said: RT @AlexisInCA: A happy ending is the best school visit present ever! Check one out at […]

  • Hey Alexis! I got your message giving me both of your addresses, but my email just keeps bouncing so I’ll paste it in below. By the way, I love that we can subscribe now–perfect for somebody like me who always forgets to check for updates!


    Alexis, I just wanted to tell you how incredibly helpful I have found your site! I recently started doing school visits again after several years’ hiatus, and the resources you offer have been an absolute godsend. I’ve referred back to them over and over as I planned my programs, drew up my contracts and other communications with schools, and got ready to go out.

    I’ve gotten nothing but glowing evaluations from teachers at the schools I’ve visited this fall, and I credit much of that to I can’t believe the quality and quantity of information you provide, and all for free!


    Mara Rockliff

  • I love this story! It is an opportunity for all of us to “paws” for reflection and inspiration to rethink our school presentations and keep them fresh.

  • Mara – Thanks so much for your compliments about I’m so happy to be providing useful information to colleagues — and that colleagues are sharing theirs with us!

  • Carolyn – Keeping fresh is the name of the game, isn’t it! Sometiems we get stuck in the same routine and it’s nice to shake it up a bit and try something new.