Why the Best Author Visits Aren’t Really About the Author

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 11.45.02 PMGuest Post by George Shannon

While each children’s author and/or illustrator brings a different voice and style to her day as “Visiting Author,” I believe most fall into one of two categories. Author visits that focus on the author. Or, author visits that focus on the students and their writing. It’s like an actor doing an interview on “Good Morning America” compared to the same actor being interviewed on “Inside the Actors’ Studio.” The first is about the actor and the product. The second is about what the actor has to share about the process that relates directly to the audience of younger actors.

Keeping both students and curriculum in mind as a school considers authors for a “Visiting Author” day; it is valuable to decide if you want to focus on product or process. It’s only sensible to invite the possible author/illustrator to articulate how she will share meaningful tools about the process that children might find helpful. In other words, at the end of the day will the students be left with a sense of awe or a sense of possibility and ways to explore their own writing?

Many years ago I looked at children’s books that featured young writers. These included HARRIET THE SPY by Louise Fitzhugh, SOUND OF CHARIOTS by Mollie Hunter, and DEAR MR. HENSHAW by Beverly Cleary. These titles and most others shared a common theme. The young writers were not so much inspired by writers as by adults who shared their love of language, story and poetry. Once again, it is only sensible to invite the possible author/illustrator to articulate how she might share her love of language, line, and color.

The award for Best Performance by a Visiting Author must surely be given to Angela Badger in DEAR MR. HENSHAW. When Leigh Botts, the young protagonist, meets Mrs. Badger he expresses disappointment at only receiving an Honorable Mention in the writing context. Visiting Author, Angela Badger rises to the occasion and above it when she says:

“Judges never agree. I happened to like “A Day on Dad’s Rig” because it was written by a boy who wrote honestly about something he knew and had strong feelings about. You made me feel what it was like to ride down a steep grade with tons of grapes behind me…You wrote like you, and you did not try to imitate someone else. This is one mark of a good writer. Keep it up.”

No one believes spending a day with a “Visiting Author” will turn every child into a published author. But a day with a visiting author has the opportunity to make them more comfortable with writing (which they’ll be doing throughout their school years and beyond) and offer more tools for their toolbox as to how to get their writing done and find pleasure in the process.

Yet, to my mind there is a residual benefit that far out-strips the rest. When a child truly grasps the idea that his own daily life is a font of story ideas and a link with the world, he is far less likely to feel inferior to others. He has less need to judge others as inferior in an effort to boost his self-esteem. All lives become valid.

Hosting a visiting author is certainly about authors and writing, but when done well it can become so much more.

About George Shannon

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 10.29.15 PMGeorge Shannon began his professional work with children in 1973. After experience as a children’s librarian and professional storyteller, his first children’s book, LIZARD’S SONG, was accepted by Greenwillow in 1979. Since then he has had over 40 books published including 30 picture books (among them DANCE AWAY, CLIMBING KANSAS MOUNTAINS, WHITE IS FOR BLUEBERRY, THE SECRET CHICKEN CLUB and WHO PUT THE COOKIES IN THE COOKIE JAR). TIPPY-TOE CHICK, GO! was selected as a Charlotte Zolotow Award Honor Book for picture book writing in 2003. 2008 brought both the Washington State Book Award and the Worzalla/Burr Award for RABBIT’S GIFT, and the “Life time Achievement Award” from PNWA. His most recent book, HANDS SAY LOVE, has just been given an “Honorable Mention” by in the “Best About Family” category of BEST PICTURE BOOKS OF 2014.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 10.30.21 PMGeorge returned to part-time library work four years ago at The Island School in Puget Sound. He continues to write and work with children around the world on their own creative writing. Conferences, workshops, and author visits have taken him to schools from the Arctic Circle to Jakarta, and Kuwait to Japan.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 10.31.48 PMHis website about his work with students, his perspectives on teaching writing and information about his own books can be found by clicking here.

His blog for adults interested in writing picture books can be found at: www.georgeshannon.wordpress.com

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