Visiting schools and connecting with students is rewarding and inspiring, especially if the kids have read your book and are excited to meet you.
Every speaker has a mouth; An arrangement rather neat. Sometimes it’s filled with wisdom. Sometimes it’s filled with feet. ~ Robert Orben
I’ve found using visual aids or props (such as a funny hat) works well in grabbing the kids’ attention . Once you’ve got it, you want to keep it.
Here are a few simple tips that can help to engage your audience while you read short excerpts or whatever you’ve chosen to share:
- Practice reading your material aloud beforehand. You’ll sound polished and will nail the pacing. Pause for a second to emphasize certain parts. For example, a line or phrase that’s spooky. The pause adds drama and anticipation.
- Introduce yourself. Tell them you’re a children’s writer and what ages you write for. Even if you’re not published yet, you’re a writer. They’ll be impressed. Add some interesting, fun, or silly facts about yourself.
- Give a quick explanation about what you’ll be reading. If it’s an excerpt from your book or anthology, give a brief description about what part of the book you’re reading from. For example, if I’m reading from Secret of Haunted Bog, I tell the kids, “This is the part where AJ Zantony and Freddy ‘Hangman’ Gallows are lost deep in the bog.”
- Make eye contact often.
- Mark the spot you’re reading from with your finger or thumb so you don’t lose your place.
- Avoid speaking in a monotone voice.
- Speak loud and clear so everyone in the room can hear you. I get a big kick out of startling the kids when I read a short excerpt from Curse at Zala Manor that begins with a shouting “Arrggh!” from Musky, the zombie.
- Be dramatic. Kids love it, and they’ll pay closer attention. Use different voices for the different characters. I love doing Stumpy the peg-leg skeleton’s scratchy voice when he says, “Give me back me key, wench!” from that same Zala Manor excerpt. It always gets a good reaction.
- Keep it short. The length should vary according to what grade level you’re dealing with.
- Variety is the spice of school visits. Depending on how much time you have, switch it up and read a few different things.
- If you’re speaking into a microphone, it’s much easier if it’s propped up in the stand instead of trying to juggle it plus hold the book or papers you’re reading from.
- Keep making eye contact and try to cover all areas of your audience so they feel like you’re talking directly to them.
- If you make a mistake, smile and shrug it off. Kids don’t expect you to be perfect. We all mess up when reading something out loud. They’ll take your cue and follow your example the next time they stumble over words when reading out loud in class.
- If you have props that go along with the reading, be sure to use them. I had a cheap plastic pirate’s hook from the dollar store that I held while reading Shel Silverstein’s poem “Captain Hook” from Where the Sidewalk Ends, and I used it to touch my toes and put it up to my nose as I read those parts. Arr! The rascals loved it!
Each visit is different, and getting the students’ feedback on their interests and ideas can turn out to be a gold mine for you! So have at it. And pat yourself on the back for taking the time to make a difference and touch young lives.
Her first chapter book, Curse of the Double Digits, debuted in October 2012. Under the pseudonym BBH McChiller she and co-author Kathryn Sant write the fun, spooky Monster Moon mystery series for ages 8 to 12. Book 1 – Curse at Zala Manor, Book 2 – Secret of Haunted Bog, and Book 3 – Legend of Monster Island.