» Posts in School Visits
October 24, 2012
Speaking to students for “Read Across America Day”
Whenever I attend a book festival, people invariably ask me the same question: “Do you ever do school visits?”
I do. I do indeed.
Like many authors of children’s literature, I find that the best way to share my love of books is to talk about them with curious young readers and enthusiastic teachers. But how would people know this about me? Because, until now, I’ve barely mentioned the fact on my web site. Well, it is a fact, my friends. And if you’re a parent, a teacher, an administrator, a librarian, an independent bookstore owner, or anyone else who’d like to arrange for me to visit your local school(s), then please drop me a line. I am available for any or all of the following:
- Presentations — Give me 40-60 minutes, a podium, and a whiteboard/screen with a digital projector and I will do my darndest to keep a cafetorium full of kids not only awake but enthralled by pictures of me in footy pajamas and tales of inspiration, embarrassment and poisonous snakes. Please note: unless contractually obligated to, I will not enter the room to the tune of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.
- Readings — I will happily read passages from DWEEB, The Only Ones, and even the soon-to-be-published The Legend of Fiona Loomis. These passages may involve humor, intrigue and/or a character named Chet.
- Q&As — This is always the easiest way to connect with inquisitive students. They can ask me almost anything about my books and my life as a writer and I will answer honestly, only occasionally uttering the phrase: “Wouldn’t you like to know, tough guy?”
- Workshops — Does your English class want to discuss and practice writing and revision techniques? Learn about the publishing industry? Cook some top-notch enchiladas? I’m there.
- Signings — If you have a local bookstore on board, I will definitely stop by to sign and sell inventory and meet readers one-on-one. Be warned, though. My handwriting is abysmal and still haunts the nightmares of my middle-school teachers.
- Skype Talks — If you don’t have the time or resources, an alternative to an in-person visit is a virtual pow-wow. Quick. Easy. Fantastically futuristic.
So there you go. Every school and situation is different, but I can adjust to your needs. Just contact me and we’ll hammer out the details. The only thing I require is that your students read, or start reading, at least one of my books. It makes the experience much more enjoyable for everyone. And, let’s be honest, you’re not inviting me to your school to show off my tap-dancing skills. (Or are you?)
February 6, 2012
I have a folder in a box under my bed. It’s bursting with rejection letters from publishers, agents, movie studios, theaters, colleges, literary magazines, employers, societies and probably even the Columbia House Record Club (trust me, children, this is funny). I started the folder in my ambitious teenage days, and I guess at first it was an enemies list, or a “big mistake, pal, you haven’t heard the last from this kid, no sir, not the last by a long shot, and you can be sure I’ll bring your name up at Nobel Prize ceremonies and in a chapter titled The Clueless Ones in my five volume autobiography” list.
Now the folder is just something I bring on school visits, to show kids that the world is full of rejection, but that doesn’t mean they should give up on their dreams. Unless they have a folder thicker than mine (Pynchon-thick at this point), they’d be fools to throw in the towel. It’s hokey, of course, but it’s effective in sobering up a world drunk on overnight sensation (note to self: if I ever create my own brand of malt liquor, call it Overnight Sensation).
A rejection letter (or these days, an email) always beats a good old-fashioned lack of response, and a good rejection letter is something to savor. I’ve received a few good ones, including a gem from a university that basically said, “if you do well in life, please let us know we made a mistake.” So lovely in its smug passive aggressiveness, that letter. And no, I haven’t yet informed aforementioned university of the number of heart pieces I’ve found in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. A man must be bigger than these things.
So while you can stuff most sorries in a sack, there are a few you might want to frame. If only, if only, if only, my book The Only Ones had received this one that my old pal Gertrude got:
May 26, 2011
My novel DWEEB, silly as it is, touches on some weighty issues regarding education. Specifically, the role of standardized tests in the lives of the squeaky-voiced, acne-plagued future of our fair land. Look at the cover, for crying out loud. It’s a scantron sheet! I’ve never claimed to have any answers, however. Because I’m far from an expert. I only know that the anxiety surrounding tests can affect administrators, teachers and students alike, and undoubtedly shapes the lives of most of the people who walk through the front doors of our school houses these days.
Last week I walked through the doors of Manhattan Charter School on the Lower East Side of New York City. It was my first experience with a charter school, aside from watching Waiting For Superman and 60 Minutes. What I found there was what an author hopes to find in any school:
Welcoming, bright and hard-working teachers and staff, as well as enthusiastic, curious and friendly young readers. I was especially honored to meet Ms. Bennett’s 4th grade class. They had all read DWEEB but had held off on reading the last chapter until my arrival. I sat down and read it to them, then we talked about it book club style. Their questions were both astute and flattering. Many were curious about the possibility of a movie (Hear that, Hollywood? I personally think the talky, nerdy hi-jinks might be a good fit for Richard Linklater). They were all bummed to hear they’d have to wait until September for The Only Ones. To top it all off, they had drawn life-size pictures of each of the main characters from DWEEB, and those fantastic works of art are displayed in the hall of their school. Some of the pictures might have even have been larger than life-size. I believe the term is heroic-size.
I didn’t come away from the day with the answers to our educational woes, nor did I formulate a rock-hard opinion on the importance of standardized tests. But I did walk out of that building knowing that 9-12 year-old kids who get excited about books–ones they’ve read, ones they want to read–are kids who care deeply about their education, even if they’re not quick to admit it.
The Manhattan Charter School likes to “celebrate curious minds,” and I can’t think of a better thing to celebrate. Don’t listen to the old adage. Curiosity doesn’t kill cats. Cars, old-age and rabid raccoons do. And don’t ever think that success, in the traditional mold of wealth and prestige, means anything without a healthy diet of curiosity. You can’t possibly be happy and you can’t possibly change the lives of others for the better if you aren’t curious. The teachers and kids of Manhattan Charter School reminded me of that.
It’s my job to keep myself curious. I can’t fall into the trap of complacency. My writing will suffer and kids, curious and clever, will toss the books aside and say “well, if this is as good as education gets, then lobotomize me and book me a train to Lazytown, because I’m out.” Well, maybe they won’t say that, but they might put a check-mark in the “reading is lame” column of their brain and their curiosity will dim just a little, and to me, that’s much worse then them dropping a few percentiles on a test. That’s a stand I’m more than willing to take.
March 4, 2011
This week I had the distinct pleasure of visiting two schools in Washington Township, NJ, a charming little community in the northwest corner of the state. According to Wikipedia, Jean Shepherd, author of The Christmas Story, once lived here. I didn’t see any leg lamps in any windows or kids with tongues stuck to poles, so I can’t confirm that fact. But I can confirm that the kids of Port Colden Elementary and Brass Castle Elementary schools are a welcoming and inquisitive bunch, and about the best audience an author could imagine. It was Dr. Seuss’s birthday, otherwise known as Read Across America Day, and the kids were decked out in homemade shirts and hats celebrating the late, great master of Whos, and Yooks, and Sneeches, and Zooks. Too many people complain about how kids have no attention spans. Not so with this crew. They sat quietly and cross-legged in the Auditoria (or perhaps it was a Cafetorium?) and locked eyes with me as I gave a presentation on writing. I could see what they were thinking:
“Entertain us, old man. Tell us something we don’t know, because we are culturally refined and our intellects are not to be trifled with.”
When I finished, they hounded me with brilliant questions. I hope I lived up to their expectations. Don’t believe it? Proof lies in this collection of photos from the kind folks at Lehigh Valley’s Express Times. My favorite question?
“What happens at the end of The Only Ones?”
I informed the young man (probably a junior blogger angling for an unprecedented scoop) that I can’t give out such spoilers, especially since the book doesn’t hit shelves for another six months. But I respect his guts and his willingness to get right to the point. To reward that, I am offering a teaser. The Only Ones ends like this: