Guest Post by Author/Illustrator Leslie Patricelli
As a kid, I was painfully shy. I would hide behind my mom’s legs, and cringe when adults would talk to me. As a middle schooler, I would wait weeks before I wore any new clothes to school for fear that someone might notice, and, oh, how I dreaded haircuts. I hated attention back then, and, I hate it now. (Well, sort of. Actually, I love attention from afar. Which is why, like many authors, I am a stealth attention-getter — secretly relishing people’s enjoyment of my work, while alone, holed up inside of a dark room.)
Shyness is painful, but and when you think about it, it’s egotistical, too. A shy person imagines that everyone is paying attention to them, and actually cares! They feel like everyone notices what they’re wearing, or their hair, or whether what they’re saying or doing is intelligent, or stupid, or cool. It’s what most middle-schoolers feel like every single day!
Being so shy, I could have never imagined that I would become a public speaker, or that I might actually enjoy it. And I’ve noticed that the more I work alone in my studio, the less comfortable the thought of public speaking becomes. Luckily, I have my laptop computer. As a shy speaker, my laptop (despite the panic that usually surrounds hooking it up and getting it functioning at any presentation), helps me immensely with my presentations. Not only can I direct all eyes away from me and forgo worrying about forgetting my transcript, I can show my drawings; and I can almost always count on my drawings to make people laugh.
Laughter is like Zantac for a shy speaker, which is why speaking to preschool and elementary school students is so fun. They are so free-spirited, naturally interested, and involved, I hardly get a twinge of nerves before speaking. I know that they are listening, learning, and having a good time.
Although, I go into a complete dry-mouthed out-of-body panic before speaking to adults, the truth is that they’re usually a pretty easy audience, too. I recently gave a presentation to nine hundred people for the Learning Lab luncheon in Boise, Idaho. After a couple of line drawings, and a few videos of babies laughing over my books, the audience was in giggles and I could relax.
900 people supporting literacy in Boise, Idaho? I convinced myself that 900 was a typo and I’d be speaking to 90 people. Not so! This is the room at the literacy lunch before everyone came in to sit down. Impressive!
But, middle-schoolers are hard to crack. Usually, I’m treated to a room full of silence throughout my presentation. Are they bored?, I think, Can they hear me? Do they hate my shoes? Is there something in my teeth?
I once watched Lois Lowry speak to my child’s middle school. It was in the gym and the entire school was there to watch. She didn’t use any multi-media, or visual presentation at all. She sat on a stool in front of a microphone and spoke for close to an hour. You could have heard a pin drop. It was hard to tell if the students were bored or enthralled — until the Q&A at the end. The questions were thoughtful, insightful, and showed, that indeed the group was rapt. I was so impressed.
This year when I spoke to a group of middle-schoolers, prepared for the onslaught of discomfort from my shy audience, I came armed with a secret weapon: My board book, Toot. I planned to invite a willing kid up in front of the group to read it. While preparing for my presentation, I was nervous that my idea might flop, but I ran it by my own middle-schooler and she assured me that it was a good plan — so I entered the room, Toot in hand. It worked! Since the boy (of course it was a boy) was one of them — the group abandoned their self-consciousness and laughed along! Besides, it’s a book about toots! After that, the group was loosened up, and I spoke through the silence more confidently.
Though my illustration and writing style are extremely simple, they didn’t start out that way. I like to share with kids the path I took to become an author and illustrator. I enjoy leading them through the process of coming up with an idea, getting it on paper, then editing it down to it’s simplest form. I love to show them how changing a few lines in a cartoon can completely change an expression. The older the group, the more in depth I can go into my explanations and the greater the understanding. Those shy middle schoolers are a challenge to crack, but the rewards are rich.
Leslie Patricelli is the award-winning author of more than twenty books for young children, including Higher! Higher!,Yummy Yucky, Potty and Toot. She’s currently working on her first middle-grade novel, an illustrated story of friendship, frogs, fun and fear. She is busy sketching up her next two Baby board books, Kissy Kissy Night Night and Hair!. She is also illustrating a series of eight Greek myths for tots, written by Joan Holub, including Play Nice, Hercules!, Brush Your Hair, Medusa!, and Be Patient, Pandora!. She lives in Hailey, Idaho, with her three kids, drummer husband, two black kitties, a dog named Shep, and a hungry leopard gecko.
Schedule a visit with Leslie today!