Entertaining in the ether – tips for virtual author visits

It was World Book Day this month, a time which is usually really busy for me, with two or three weeks of visits to schools, lots of preparation and driving about the country. Fun but exhausting! This year was a bit different. Visits were virtual, and I found schools were more interested in one or two short sessions than a day or half day so it was a lot quieter. But it was wonderful to still see the children and share my love of books and reading with them, and I still got to dress up in silly costumes, even if it was only from the waist up! Virtual visits can be challenging, so read on for some tips gleaned from what I’ve learned so far.

Meeting my book penpals at Woodlands Primary School last year
  • Preparation is vital so make sure you know which platform you are using (eg Zoom, Teams, Google Classroom etc), start and finish times and who will be there. Test out your internet connection in the space you will be in. Have a backup, eg a phone, just in case the worst happens!
  • A teacher should always be present for safety reasons, and if you ask them to send you the link it means they are in control of the session, with you as a visitor, and can ensure that everything is done to keep students safe.
  • Check your camera before you go into the meeting so you can see if you are adequately lit and what’s behind you. A simple swivel of your laptop can give you a more professional looking background by bypassing that teetering pile of toys that appears to be balanced on your left shoulder. Propping your laptop or device up with books to make it higher can help reduce the amount of chins. Remember you may be on a giant screen in the school hall so check for spinach etc between the teeth as well!
  • Have everything you need to hand and write a brief list of what you are going to do. It’s easy to go blank in the heat of the moment.
  • Keep it short and sweet. I find a quick chat, a reading, an interactive song or rhyme and some questions fill around half an hour and by then the children have probably had enough, although older children can cope with more.
  • Use props. Things like toys or puppets look great on the screen as you can play with perspective and the element of surprise. A hat is also appreciated!
  • The most challenging part for me is reading from a picture book while sharing the pictures and including myself in the frame. I don’t have any tips on this and usually end up craning around the book like Chad. However I think as long as you get some of the pictures in and deliver the reading with gusto your listeners will enjoy it!
  • If reading a picture book or illustrated book, credit the artist and talk about them and their work. Children are just as interested in that as they are in the words.
  • Leave plenty of time for questions. Everyone likes to have a turn. If you run out of time, offer to answer any outstanding ones by email.
  • Make sure you know where the exit button is so you’re not floundering at the end!
  • Enjoy yourself and your enthusiasm will shine through.

World Book Day fun

I had an amazing week last week visiting schools for World Book Day celebrations.  Did you know it was the twentieth World Book Day?  For parents the thought of concocting a costume for this sort of event can be stressful, but when you see what goes on that day and all the energy and enthusiasm that everybody shows, it’s so worth it (and if in doubt, wear casual clothes and go as one of the Famous Five!).

world-book-day-2017

First stop was Beech Hill in Luton, where I shared the story of Professor McQuark with the Early Years classes.  They then had the task of designing their very own wacky scientists.  I had a very tasty school dinner and then got to judge the designs and give out some prizes.  It was hard as they were all so fun and quirky!  I think my favourite was Professor Rainbow.

On Tuesday I visited St John Rigby in Bedford.  They had a very craft day making snowy pictures and spinners that pointed to the seasons inspired by The Snowflake Mistake, while the older years channeled their inner Professor McQuarks by making crazy vehicles.  Some even travelled in time!

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Any excuse to dress up as Professor McQuark.

Wednesday saw me going to Biggleswade to St Andrews (West) for a couple of big assemblies.  I had to project my voice as well as the book illustrations!  Everyone joined in with sound effects for the picture books.  After reading Letter to Pluto to the older pupils I explained to them the journey from an idea to a  published book.  We needed lots of volunteers to show how many people are involved.

On Thursday it was the big day itself – the twentieth World Book Day.  I was very excited to go to London and visit Surrey Square Primary School in Southwark the day.  The atmosphere was amazing and the teachers for each year group had co-ordinated their outfits so in one year the teachers were a set of crayons (‘The Day the Crayons Quit’) and in another year they were The Twits!  I did a mixture of assemblies, class visits and a workshop and felt like part of the Surrey Square family.

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I always stir my ideas with a wooden spoon.  Call me a traditionalist but that’s how I am.

Finally on Friday it was back to Biggleswade to St Andrews (East) where, after a short scenic detour (ie getting lost), I arrived at a beautiful newly built school like something out of Grand Designs.  The children had been waiting very patiently for me and eagerly volunteered to help me find the ideas in my ideas sack to make the stories.  After a reading of Letter to Pluto and a session with the older pupils about the journey of a book followed by some fabulous questions, my World Book Day week was over.

I can’t wait for next year!

Signed books winner!

Thank you to everyone to entered the draw to win signed copies of my new books The Snowflake Mistake and Letter to Pluto.   To be in with a chance, I asked you to comment with your favourite writing tip.  If you haven’t read the comments, there’s some brilliant tips there including keeping a compliments jar, listening to conversations around you (in the non-stalker sense!), using prompts, spending time with nature and reading widely.

The winner is…. Michelle Zal!  Michelle, please email me at lou dot treleaven at sky dot com with your address and the dedications you would like on the books and I will post them off to you.

I had a lovely time recently doing two workshops and some book signing at the Booktastic Bedford Children’s Book Festival, which was held this year at the Panacea Museum.  I got to meet author Guy Bass too, author of Stitch Head and about a million other books (would love to be that productive and talented!).   The event was sponsored by Rogan’s Books, a new independent children’s bookshop which is not like any other bookshop you will have been to – it even has a secret door!  Check it out here.

 

Waterstones author visits

I’ve just had a lovely time doing author events in three local Waterstones stores in Hertfordshire.  First I read Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip to the children, and then we made some crazy crafts that the professor would be proud of!  It’s so exciting even just being in a Waterstones – the buzz of having famous authors whispering to each other in the shelves, the enthusiasm and passion of the staff, the tantalising new titles laid out just begging to be bought… bliss!  It was hard not to go on a splurge and I finally caved in at the last visit and bought my daughter some cracking young adult titles including a signed Rainbow Rowell – what a find!

Thank you to all the children who came to St Albans, Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield Waterstones stores – you were stars and Professor McQuark is very proud of your gadgety glasses and extraordinary oojamaflips!