Guest AuthorGuest Post by Dori Hillestad Butler
I had a new experience during a school visit last month. I happened to be there the day they scheduled an intruder drill.
I’d never seen an intruder drill before. We certainly didn’t have them when I was a kid. And my own kids didn’t have them when they were in elementary school, either.
At first the teacher librarian wanted to sequester me away in a back room by myself. And while I didn’t want to interfere with the drill or be in anyone’s way, I also didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to see what an intruder drill looks like. Who knows? I might put one (a drill or maybe even a real intruder?) in a book someday. So I asked if there was any way I could be with the students during the drill. My hostess was a little surprised, but she said there was no reason I couldn’t go sit in a classroom if that was what I really wanted to do. She said the literacy teacher would be thrilled to have me.
But we had to be careful. The students knew an intruder drill was scheduled for sometime during that week, but it wouldn’t be much of a drill if they knew exactly WHEN it would be happening. Which meant I couldn’t very well walk into that classroom and say, “Hey, I want to see what an intruder drill looks like, so I’m just going to hang out here for a few minutes.”
I didn’t even know how long I should plan on “hanging out” with the literacy class. The staff knew the drill was happening that day, but even they didn’t know what time it was scheduled. All they knew was it would happen sometime between 12:30 and 1:00.
So at 12:25 (the start of this period) I went into the classroom and told the students that I “wanted to know what it was like to be a 7th grader in 2015” and that I was hoping we could talk informally for a few minutes. As “research” for my books.
What an opportunity this turned out to be!
I took five pages of notes on things they like and don’t like about their school, what’s cool and not cool, what 7th graders stress about today…
Then the intruder drill happened.
They all knew what to do. The lights went off and the students immediately went to the far corner of the room and sat down. One or two of them snickered during the drill, but most of them took it seriously. Very seriously. Several were visibly upset.
I have to admit that as I sat there in the dark with them, watching and listening, I felt my own heart racing. It was easy to imagine that everything I heard was really happening.
When it was over, the teacher led a discussion on what had just happened and how everyone felt about it…which again, was great research for someone who writes for kids!
I felt funny about just getting up and leaving after that. I still had time before my next presentation, so we went back to the what-it’s-like-to-be-a-7th-grader-in-2015 discussion. I think I got even better “material” during the second half of this discussion…maybe because we’d just been through this intense experience together?
What turned out to be a “cover story” so I could see what an intruder drill was like turned into a valuable research opportunity.
The truth is…it’s been a while since I was their age. And it’s been a while since my kids were their age. I’m beginning to wonder if could build some informal chat/research time into all my future school visits?
It’s not just the kids who benefit from author visits. Authors benefit, too. Sometimes in ways we can’t ever predict.
Dori Hillestad Butler is an award-winning author who is eager to share her love of story with readers of all ages. She is the author of more than 40 books for children, including the Haunted Library series and the Buddy Files series. Her books have been on children’s choice and teen award lists in 19 states. The Buddy Files #1: Case of the Lost Boy won the 2011 Edgar Award for best juvenile mystery. Dori grew up in southern Minnesota, spent the last 19 years in Iowa, and now lives in the Seattle area. She is on a quest to do an author visit in all 50 states. If she hasn’t visited your state yet, you may be eligible for a discount. For more information visit www.kidswriter.com.