Last month I discussed a "Letter to the
Author" project I conducted with freshman and sophomores at the high
school where I work as a speech-language pathologist. Students read the
graphic novel Tantalize and then wrote letters to the author,
Cynthia Leitich Smith. My article included several tips on how to
brainstorm content with students and incorporate goals and objectives
into the letter writing process. A copy may be found here. The
classroom teacher and I were delighted by the results. Even the most
reluctant writers all completed a three paragraph letter.
As a follow up to last months letter writing project, I will be discussing additional tips for connecting authors and readers.
1. Connect with authors through books and websites like Dear Teen Me. While
serving on a panel at the Montgomery Book Festival in February, I met
co-panelist E. Kristin Anderson and fell in love with the book she
edited with Miranda Kenneally entitled Dear Teen Me. The
book contains letters by various authors to their teen selves and
includes entries by Ellen Hopkins, Lauren Oliver, Carrie Jones
and Cynthia Leitich Smith. The various authors cover a wide range of
topics including finding true love, discovering the true meaning of
friendship, as well as surviving physical abuse, body issues, and
bullying. The stories are sometimes funny and sometimes sad, but always
close to the heart. I highly recommend this book as well as the website Dear Teen Me for connecting readers and authors.
While we anxiously awaited Cynthia's response to our letters, we read her excerpt from Dear Teen Me.
Learning about Cynthia's experience of break up, heart break, and the
girl bully who tormented, but ultimately admitted that she admired
Cynthia, made it that much more meaningful when we received Cynthia's
response to our student letters. She answered individual questions
within a group letter and I made copies to hand out to all the students
so they could follow along as I read the letter aloud in class.
2. Connect with authors through their personal websites and blogs. If
you are interested in having students write letters to an author and
want to know whether you should send the letters to an email or snail
mail address, try finding the author contact information online. Most
children's/young adult authors love connecting with young readers and
provide a contact page on their website where you may generate an email
directly to them. If you contact the author before you have students
write the letters, you will also know the odds of the author writing
back (before the end of the school year). Let the author know that you
are hoping their response can be part of your classroom connection to
their book. As an author, I have been in the awkward position of
receiving a packet of letters in July that was mailed in March, but
didn't reach me until mid-summer because it was sent to my editor who
then sent it to my agent who then sent it to me. You might be able to
avoid this type of time-lag by contacting the author directly.
3. Arrange a Skype or Classroom Visit.
While you're at the author's website, see if they have a page with
information about their availability for school visits. Talk to your
school librarian to find out if you have the financial resources to
invite an author visit your school. This can get expensive if you have
to pay travel costs, but many authors are now conducting Skype visits at
a greatly reduced price. Some are even free.
4. Give students extra credit for attending author events put on by local bookstores. You
may be surprised to learn how many well-known authors are coming
through your town. I live in Albuquerque, which is by no means a
literary hub, but we are always having authors visit or local
bookstores. This fall Lois Lowry gave a free one-hour talk at the
University of New Mexico in promotion of her new novel, Son. It was right after the seventh graders at a local Charter School had finished reading The Giver. Unfortunately, the teacher didn't know about the event until after it was over.
Imagine what an
extraordinary opportunity it would have been to hear Lois Lowry speak!
Don't let this happen to you. Get on the mailing lists for your local
book stores and keep your students up on authors that might be of
interest to them. We've also had such student favorites as Lemony
Snicket, John Green, and Alyson Noel come through town. These authors
talk about everything from the personal life experiences that inspire
their stories to research and the writing process, and most of the
events are completely free.
5. Connect with local authors through organizations such as SCBWI. You
may be surprised to discover that you have many local children's and
young adult authors living just within miles of your school. Many of
these authors offer reduced rates for local school visits and might be
willing to come in for an hour or two as opposed to a whole day. You may
find out the names of local authors are by talking to book sellers or
by contacting your local chapter of the Society of Children's Book
Writers and Illustrators (scbwi.org). If
you have an interest in writing for children or young adults, you may
want to consider joining this organization yourself. Many chapters have
monthly meetings that are open to the public where you could potentially
meet some of your local authors.
The most important thing
to remember is that reading is about forming connections... to other
cultures, other ideas, other times, and other people. Some of the most
interesting characters you will ever meet, are the authors who created
the fascinating worlds we all love to visit.
Dean has made numerous appearances as a guest poet/author at schools,
libraries, poetry events, and teacher/library conferences. She holds
a master's degree in communicative disorders, and has spent over a
decade working in the public schools as a
Her first novel, Comfort,was nominated as a Best Book for Young
Adults, was named the Best YA Novel of 2002 by the Texas Institute of
Letters, and was on the TAYSHAS (Texas Library Association) reading
Take Me There is a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.
Her paranormal verse novel,
Forget Me Not, was published by Simon Pulse in October of 2012.
She conducts teacher trainings on inspiring reluctant writers
including "The Secret Language of Stories" and "Random Act of Haiku."
Starr Rose spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New
Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other.
She's taught English and social studies to upper elementary and
middle-school students in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana.
Back in NewMexico, Caroline now writes middle-grade novels and picture
books full time.
To find teacher's guides, writing activities, and information about author visits, go to my website.
Kimberley Griffiths Little has won the Southwest Book Award, The
Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010, and the author of the highly
acclaimed, The Healing Spell and
Circle of Secrets published by Scholastic Press. Look for her books at the Scholastic Book Fairs
lives on a dirt road in a small town by the Rio Grande with her
husband, a robotics engineer and their three sons. Kimberley is a
favorite speaker at schools around the country, presenting
"The Creative Diary", a highly successful writing workshop and has been a speaker at many conferences.