By Kelley Lindberg
April found me in Boise, Idaho, at an SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) regional conference that was held in conjunction with a conference for teachers. One of the best results of the combination, for me, was a panel discussion at the end of the conference that included teachers, writers, an editor, and an agent. The topic was “What do teachers want authors to know, and vice versa?”
It was clear that there is a strong relationship of mutual admiration between teachers and writers, who thanked each other profusely during the discussion for connecting kids with reading. But there were also a few specific suggestions that I thought were definitely worth passing on to authors who write for young people. Here are three of my favorites:
- “Maybe authors could include a note at the end of the book describing particular writing techniques they used in their books.”
- “We’d like to see videos on your writing process, how you work, etc.”
- “Kids still love to get paper mail, because the kid knows the author actually touched that paper! Always reply back when a kid writes to you.”
|My son with author John Flanagan in 2011
(My son wore the Ranger costume he created for a
school book report/presentation on one of
Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice books.
Mr. Flanagan was delighted.)
Some middle grade and young adult books are starting to include supplementary information at the end, such as book club discussion points, or the author’s comments on historical information they mined for the story, or an interview with the author. But that’s not common enough yet. It appeared from the panel discussion that teachers would welcome more book-specific information like that to help them make their curriculum more accessible. And if it can’t be contained within the book, teachers and students seem willing to go to an author’s website to find that sort of educational tie-in.
|My son with author Heather Brewer, at a school visit in 2011|
As more and more classrooms become technology-capable, there is a growing opportunity for authors to reach students with videos, photos, blog posts, or podcasts that explain different aspects of the story or the writing process. (Obviously, that goes for authors who write for adults, too.) If you’ve ever gone to an author’s book signing or reading and watched kids approach them with something like awe, and then watch them leave with big grins on their faces, you know how amazing it can be for a child to meet an author. They suddenly see the author as a real human being – someone who maybe struggled in school, or who wrote 37 revisions of the book before finally selling it to a publisher, or who, like the kid, just happens to have a deep love of dogs or pizza or Dr. Who.
|My niece with favorite author Sydney Salter|
That human connection brings the dazzling heights of authordom down to a more personal, “hey, maybe I can do that, too!” realm. And that is a magical moment. With technology, those magical moments can happen anywhere, anytime. While nothing will replace an actual author visit to a school where kids can shake an author’s hand and watch them sign a book for them specifically (or a paper letter that the author actually touched!), technology can still show unequivocally that the author is human, real, and not that much different from the rest of us. And a quick lesson on an aspect of writing might make more of an impression coming from a favorite author than it would coming from a teacher. Every step helps.
Connecting with readers is essential for an author. Sometimes we forget how important it can be for the readers, too — especially when those readers are young and still capable of believing in dreams.
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