An Author’s Study

So you have always wished you could have a well-known author come to visit your stu­dents in your class­room. Then your dream is very sim­i­lar to mine. How I wish I could visit every classroom!

While it is not always pos­si­ble to have authors visit class­rooms, every class­room can have a spe­cial con­nec­tion with an author by mak­ing an Author’s Study and shar­ing it with the author, or even by cre­at­ing a vir­tual visit using the author’s videos and tapes.

Intro­duc­tion

This sug­gested frame­work will help teach­ers carry out a suc­cess­ful Author’s Visit or Author’s Study. The goal is to pro­vide many ideas that will enable the teacher to max­i­mize the ben­e­fits from the Visit or Study. The qual­ity of either, and its ben­e­fits, will be greatly enhanced by spend­ing an appro­pri­ate amount of time prepar­ing for the event.

Ben­e­fits

Of course, one of the pri­mary ben­e­fits of an Author’s Visit or Author’s Study is to arouse a child’s inter­est in lit­er­a­ture. Children’s inter­est in read­ing is stim­u­lated when they are made aware of the peo­ple behind the cre­ation of the books: the authors, illus­tra­tors, and trans­la­tors. An Author’s Visit or Author’s Study is one of the most effec­tive ways to develop this aware­ness in chil­dren. If the author is a woman, the visit con­tributes to elim­i­nat­ing sex-role stereo­types. If the author is a minor­ity per­son, it assists in erad­i­cat­ing prej­u­dice and racism. Above all, the Author’s visit should bring to the chil­dren five very impor­tant messages:

  1. Good books are fun and can be great friends to every­one. All we need is to find those appro­pri­ate for each moment.
  2. Lan­guage belongs to all of us, and we can all use it cre­atively to enhance our lives.
  3. Sto­ries, val­ues, feel­ings, ideas, and infor­ma­tion can be shared with many peo­ple via writing.
  4. All chil­dren have the poten­tial and the right to become any­thing they want in life.
  5. Two lan­guages are bet­ter than one. Devel­op­ing the abil­ity to trans­late can lead to a use­ful and reward­ing profession.

Prepar­ing for the Visit or Study

The qual­ity of the visit or study, and its ben­e­fits, will be greatly enhanced by the advance prepa­ra­tions made by the teach­ers. An impor­tant aspect of prepar­ing for the visit or study is to have the chil­dren become famil­iar with the author before­hand: The more famil­iar chil­dren are with the author, the more value they are likely to gain from the visit. The stu­dents will be more at ease and are apt to have a more provoca­tive exchange with the author when they already know the rudi­men­tary infor­ma­tion about the author.

As an author, I wel­come stu­dents’ let­ters and try to answer them. How much more sig­nif­i­cant they are when instead of ask­ing about the few already known bio­graph­i­cal data, they ask per­sonal ques­tions about the cre­ative process or relate what they have read to their own lives! Fol­low­ing are some use­ful sug­ges­tions for the preparation:

I. EXHIBITS:

Pre­pare an exhibit of the author’s books in the class­room, and/or the school library.
Cre­ate a bul­letin board or wall dis­play with book cov­ers, pho­tos of the author, quotes or say­ings by the author, etc.

II. READING AND RESPONDING TO THE LITERATURE

Read the author’s books, or selec­tions from the books, to the chil­dren for sev­eral days or weeks before the visit.

Have the chil­dren read the books. If pos­si­ble, allow them to bor­row the books and take them home.

Com­ment about the books with the chil­dren. Develop units using the books as a spring­board. For use­ful ideas on using lit­er­a­ture in the class­room you may want to refer to: Alma Flor Ada, A Mag­i­cal Encounter: Latino Lit­er­a­ture in the Class­room. Allyn and Bacon, 2004.

III. PLACING THE FOCUS ON THE CHILDREN

Make the Author’s Visit or Author’s Study become an oppor­tu­nity for chil­dren to expe­ri­ence the visitor’s cre­ative tasks first­hand. The ben­e­fits are mul­ti­ple: The chil­dren will be explor­ing their cre­ative tal­ents; their exchange with the author, whether in per­son or through let­ters, can be on a plane where the cre­ative process that both have expe­ri­enced can be shared and dis­cussed; and finally, the appre­ci­a­tion for books and the cre­ative process they require will be enhanced.

Explain to the chil­dren that the author (or illus­tra­tor or trans­la­tor) has made an effort to share her/his tal­ent with them. Invite them to pre­pare their own cre­ations as a response to the books they have read so that they can share them with the author either in per­son or by send­ing let­ters and pho­tos. The responses from the chil­dren may take many forms:

Visual arts creations:

  • posters
  • murals
  • dio­ra­mas of favorite moments in the story
  • T-shirts painted with scenes from a book
  • masks of characters

Ver­bal creations:

  • poems
  • debates

Musi­cal creations:

  • songs
  • dances

Dra­matic creations:

  • plays
  • read­ers’ theater

IV. FACILITATING INTERACTION

Pre­pare the chil­dren for dia­logue with the author by hav­ing them pre­pare ques­tions for the author. Learn­ing to ques­tion is a very impor­tant aspect of learn­ing to think and reflect. Encour­age each child or each coop­er­a­tive group to come up with dif­fer­ent inter­est­ing questions.

Whether the author is phys­i­cally vis­it­ing the school or not, encour­age the chil­dren to assist in design­ing and cre­at­ing ban­ners or dis­plays either to wel­come the author to the school and/or class­room or to let oth­ers in the school know the class is study­ing an author.

Have the chil­dren cre­ate their own orig­i­nal nametags, with very vis­i­ble let­ters. This way the author can refer to them by name.

V. BECOMING AUTHORS

Turn the Author’s Visit into a Meet­ing of Authors. Take advan­tage of this oppor­tu­nity to encour­age chil­dren to become authors. Have the chil­dren respond to some of the books they have read by cre­at­ing indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive books.

Books which respond to a par­tic­u­lar book by the author could be a con­tin­u­a­tion of the story or may have

  • the same char­ac­ters in a new story
  • the same set­ting with dif­fer­ent characters
  • the same structure.

Chil­dren and teach­ers can cre­ate their own orig­i­nal books.

Some good resources that pro­vide ideas for types of books which can be cre­ated in the class­room are:

VI. MAKING THE VISIT OR STUDY A WHOLE-SCHOOL EVENT

If you are hav­ing an Author’s Visit, find out from the author what size group is most effec­tive for her/his par­tic­u­lar style of inter­ac­tion and/or pre­sen­ta­tion. Keep the group to that pre­ferred size.

Whether you are hav­ing an Author’s Visit or an Author’s Study, you can involve the whole school by having:

  • An assem­bly where some of the chil­dren can show their own books or per­form their response to the author’s books
  • A Stu­dents’ Book Fair, where the orig­i­nal books of all the chil­dren in the school will be displayed
  • An exhibit of children’s art done in response to the books read
  • A trea­sure hunt, or a mys­tery game, posted along the school’s hall­ways. For exam­ple, some data from the author’s biog­ra­phy or from the author’s books can be used as clues. The hunt or game can cul­mi­nate in the school library or one of the class­rooms, where there may be a book exhibit.

VII. PURCHASING BOOKS AND AUTOGRAPHING

Whether you are hav­ing an author present in the school or you are doing an Author’s Study it is a good idea to help make it pos­si­ble for chil­dren to pur­chase their own copies of the books. Usu­ally, paper­back edi­tions are eco­nom­i­cal and more acces­si­ble. You may want to send home order forms before the Author’s Visit or Author’s Study.

If there is going to be an auto­graph­ing ses­sion with the Author, make sure that all the chil­dren receive some­thing that can be auto­graphed, so that those who do not pur­chase books will still be able to ask for an auto­graph. Book­marks are par­tic­u­larly nice. They can be cre­ated with an illus­tra­tion from one of the books and/or a say­ing from the author.

Even bet­ter is to have the author write a com­ment on the books cre­ated by the chil­dren. You may pre­fer to spend the time with the author in a dif­fer­ent way than hav­ing an auto­graph­ing ses­sion, and yet have the books auto­graphed. In that case, place a slip of paper with name(s) of the person(s) to whom the ded­i­ca­tion should be addressed inside each book. The author may then sign the books dur­ing a break, at lunchtime, and even dur­ing the evening.

If you are doing an Author’s Study, you could have the chil­dren write a nice com­ment in each other’s books about what they espe­cially like in that book.

Other adults can also be invited to par­tic­i­pate in the Author’s Study and write their com­ments in either the books authored by the stu­dents or the ones they have pur­chased. Librar­i­ans, the Prin­ci­pal and Assis­tant Prin­ci­pal, other teach­ers or school staff, par­ents and vol­un­teers can all enrich the Author’s Study with their presence.

Enjoy your Author’s Visit or your Author’s Study…and do share some of your high­lights with me. I would love, in turn, to share them with oth­ers. Have a great time!

SOME EXCITING ACTIVITIES CARRIED ON IN REAL CLASSROOMS AS A RESPONSE TO LITERATURE

CHILDREN BECOME FLOWERS AND TREES

After lis­ten­ing to Como una flor, a song with lyrics by Alma Flor Ada and music by Suni Paz which appears both in the cas­settes Apren­der can­tando and the cas­sette Como una flor, sec­ond graders learned to read the words. Dressed with con­struc­tion paper petals and leaves they became the flower and tree of the inspi­ra­tional song and acted out the song for a par­ents’ meet­ing. Teacher: Aida Molina, Galt, California

VIDEO

The Rooster Who Went to His Uncle’s Wed­ding has been a favorite story to enact. Chil­dren in Bak­ers­field, Cal­i­for­nia, acted it out enthu­si­as­ti­cally dur­ing their 1995 Author’s Fair, and chil­dren in Stock­ton were so proud of their act­ing that their teacher recorded their per­for­mance in a video.

BIOGRAPHIES / “AUTOBIOGRAPHIES”

It was a great sur­prise for the author to dis­cover nuances of her life she never imag­ined she would ever find, in the biogra­phies and auto­bi­ogra­phies chil­dren from the Coral Way Ele­men­tary School in Miami, Florida had writ­ten. The chil­dren used infor­ma­tion from the videos Escri­bi­endo desde el corazón and Writ­ing from the Heart and com­ple­mented this research by look­ing at the ded­i­ca­tions of the author’s many books. They wove some of the names they found there into the “auto­bi­ogra­phies” and then enjoyed imper­son­at­ing the author.

AUTHORING THEIR OWN VERSION OF NO FUI YO / IT WASN’T ME

After read­ing the books No fui yo and It Wasn’t Me, boys and girls in first and sec­ond grade at Holt Union Ele­men­tary in Stock­ton, Cal­i­for­nia, cre­ated won­der­ful col­lec­tive book. They were each given a blank page with bor­ders. The page had a short blank line in the upper left cor­ner where they were instructed to write either “No fui yo” or “It Wasn’t Me”, and three longer lines along the bot­tom for writ­ing their text and their signature.

The children’s words were won­der­fully reveal­ing. Here are some samples:

No fui yo…
quien aventó los mar­cadores
en el piso
Rocio

It wasn’t me…
I didn’t shoot my Math beans
at my friend
Jessica

No fui yo…
quien agarró las reglas
para jugar como espadas.
Juan

It wasn’t me
I didn’t run through the
sprin­klers
Joshua

AUTHORING A BOOK FOLLOWING THE PATTERN THE GOOD NEWS IS…

After read­ing The Kite — El papalote chil­dren used the book’s struc­ture to cre­ate a won­der­ful col­lec­tive book in prepa­ra­tion for the author’s visit.

Here are sam­ples of some entries:

The good news is…
Alma Flor is com­ing to our school
Alma Flor writes good books.
Tomor­row we get to meet her.
She gets to read us a book.
She can translate.

The bad news is…
She’s only com­ing for one hour.
She doesn’t know how to illus­trate.
We have to wait 24 hours.
We don’t know if it’s Eng­lish or Spanish.

Holt School, Stock­ton, Cal­i­for­nia, Facil­i­ta­tor: Dr. Nancy Jean Smith

AUTHORING A BOOK IN LETTER FORMAT REAR… QUERIDO…

As a response to Dear Peter Rab­bit and Querido Pedrín, stu­dents from Salón 4 wrote a won­der­ful col­lec­tion of books, which their teacher lam­i­nated and made into one book by spi­ral bind­ing them together. Here is a sample:

Dear Snow White:
I am sorry because you had to eat that poi­soned apple.
How could you stand clean­ing the queens cas­tle?
Which one is your favorite dwarf?
Do you still Love the prince.
P.S I am 8 years old
Your friend
San­dra Calderón

RESPONDING TO AMIGOS / FRIENDS

Inspired by the books Friends / Ami­gos / Zanmi, first-grade chil­dren in San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia, illus­trated with geo­met­ri­cal cutouts the favorite things that they like to do with other chil­dren. To present to the author the book formed by the col­lec­tion of their indi­vid­ual pages, the teacher cre­ated a house with mul­ti­ple square win­dows and in each of the win­dows pasted a small school pic­ture of one child–-A mag­nif­i­cent gift!

STUDENTS DEBATE

After read­ing Me llamo María Isabel and My Name is María Isabel, third-grade stu­dents set up an excit­ing debate. The chil­dren were divided in two larger groups (one rep­re­sent­ing par­ents, the other teach­ers) and a small group (rep­re­sent­ing the School Board) which served as arbi­tra­tors and ruled on the mer­its of the argu­ments. The issue was whether teach­ers should change their stu­dents’ names or respect them. The reflec­tions of the stu­dents’ showed their excel­lent rea­son­ing abil­ity as well as their per­cep­tion of the world around them. Teacher: Ms. Clau­dia Del Toro-Anguiana, School: Val­ley Oaks, Galt, California

READERS’ THEATRE

After read­ing The Gold Coin, a fifth-grade bilin­gual class cre­ated a bilin­gual script to read as read­ers’ the­atre. Teacher: Araceli Flo­res, Galt, California

ARENA THEATRE

The same book, The Gold Coin, was pre­sented by a group of Zapotec stu­dents in Teoti­tlán del Valle, Oax­aca, Méx­ico, in the town plaza. The stu­dents ana­lyzed the struc­ture of the story and decided to fol­low its cir­cu­lar design. They con­structed a cane hut and accom­pa­nied the move­ments of the two main char­ac­ters with spe­cific sound effects: a wooden drum for Juan, a rain stick for doña Josefa. Direc­tion: Sylvia Dorta-Duque de Reyes, San Diego County Office of Education

Watch Video from Meet­ing An Author


Down­load Friends Mini-Lesson as Word Document