Category Archives: Classroom Visit

Tweens Rise to the Occasion

Ballroom at Tween ABC

For the last six years, a group of authors I work with have held a writing conference for teenagers (ages 13 to 19) called Teen Author Boot Camp.  It is a daylong event and often we have people ask us how we dare spend 8 hours with a bunch of crazy teenagers. Yet we have never had a problem (and we’ve had as many as 750 teens at TABC). I fact, I’ve met teens  who I consider genuine friends and fellow authors.

This year, I felt the desire to put on a writing conference just for tweens (ages 9 to 12). I had a couple of people tell me I was absolutely insane—what with all of the ADHD, bullying, lack of respect, and such. After some of the feedback, I started to worry a bit as well.

dogtagLast night we held the first ever Tween Author Boot Camp. Almost 250 kids came to a conference for nearly five hours to learn how to write better. And guess what? They sat in their chairs. They listened. They took notes. They asked a very intelligent questions, and they gave brilliant answers.

I was impressed!

The kids did just as well as the teenagers in paying attention. The authors who taught were lively, and the classes lasted only 25 minutes instead of 40. The evening went by quickly.

Granted, the “Lost and Found” was HUGE, but other than the tweens were outstanding students. With all that goes on in America and in the school system and in society, we tend to think that kids are headed on a downhill spiral. In reality, we have some amazingly intelligent young people in our society.

Lois Class at Tween ABCKudos to these parents who are raising such bright young minds. My favorite part of the evening came during teaching my class called “idea invention.” I showed the kids a picture of a man in a kayak with the darkened image of a large shark looming in the water about 20 feet away. I then asked the kids to pose a question using “what if?” The kids came up with a lot of great “what if” questions:

  • What if the shark eats the man?
  • What if the man survives the shark attack?
  • What if the shark is the man’s best friend?

But the one I loved the most, the one that I thought a New York Times best-selling author could easily write a book about, was the answer from a 10-year-old kid who said, “What if the image of the shark is really just the man’s shadow?”

Wow! Doesn’t that sound like an intriguing novel?


Tips For Reading Aloud at School Visits

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.

Werewolf hands and storytelling cloak piqued kids’ curiosity at this reading.

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:

Screen shot 2013-11-20 at 7.16.35 PM

  • 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.
Make eye contact.
  • 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.
Be dramatic and animated.
  • 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.

Do you have any other tips to add? Do you have a favorite anecdote from one of your school visits? Do you love connecting with kids? 

Lynn Kelley Author, Curse of the Double Digits, BBH McChiller, Monster Moon mysteries
Lynn Kelley worked as a court reporter for 25 years while she and her husband, George, raised their four little rascals, but nowadays she’s a goofball in the highest degree who’s susceptible to laughing jags. She tries to control herself out in public, but it’s not easy. She’ll jump at any excuse to wear funky get-ups. For instance, making wacky YouTube videos, entertaining her grandkids, or hanging out at  a costume party.

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.

Reading Isn’t Dead — And Middle Schoolers are AWESOME!

I did my first classroom visit this week. It was a seventh grade English Literature class that my daughter attends. And if I had one word to describe it, I’d say “Surprising!” Those kids just blew me away with their enthusiasm and creativity.

shutterstock_142487863I started out by asking the kids what their favorite video games were. I had a smattering of hands go up and kids throwing out names of games I’d never heard of (I thought I was somewhat up on such things, but apparently not.) Then I asked what their favorite movies were. A few more hands went up. Hunger Games, Iron Man, Beautiful Creatures and more. At least I’d heard of these. Finally, I asked about favorite books.

I went into this exercise thinking I’d do some kind of “Books can be every bit as exciting as the video games and movies you threw out.” You know, some kind of argument for why the kids should consider reading as something worthwhile. Boy was I in for a surprise. When I asked for their favorite books, the hands just flew up, and the room erupted in a chorus of noise. Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, Divergent… I had a hard time picking out the names because they were coming at me so fast.

After a minute or so, the teacher finally quieted the students down and I told them I was shocked at how enthusiastic they were about reading. One boy raised his hand (it took me a while to get used to the idea of kids asking permission to speak,) and he said “It’s because we’re all nerds.” It was true that this was an advanced English class, so I guess I can’t extrapolate what I learned here across all middle-school students, but I loved, I mean LOVED to see these twenty to thirty kids so excited about books.

I then talked about how I write. Starting with how I get ideas, how I outline (or don’t outline,) the actual writing, editing, and publishing. The most fun, I had was when we talked about coming up with ideas for stories. I started out by saying that there really is nothing new under the sun. So if they start a new story thinking they will write something that has never been written before, then they will only end up frustrated. I talked about how most of my ideas are basically twists on other stories. Noah Zarc is a future, time-travel twist on the story of Noah’s Ark. A new book I’m writing is a twist on the story of Joseph and his Coat of Many Colors. So I asked them to think of various old stories that maybe we could put a new spin on.

Again, ideas started flying left and right. Some were way out there, but all of them were awesome. It shouldn’t be surprising, after my two examples, that we settled on creating a story based on David and Goliath. Then we talked about how to make that story our own. How could we make the characters different? Some suggestions included lasers coming out of Goliath’s eyes. There were ideas about Goliath being a bully in school. On and on they went. At last we settled on Goliath being a small kid, and David being a giant (I had said how it can be fun to reverse roles.) And the setting was a school in space.

So for a while (not too long, I was running out of time) I asked them to think about what kind of story could happen with just these basic elements. The kids said it’d still be cool to have the small Goliath be the bully, and the giant be afraid of him (again lasers from the eyes was a good way to make that happen.) There wasn’t a kid in the room who didn’t throw out some kind of idea to flesh out the story.

I just stood there grinning, watching these kids debate and flesh out the story. I think the teacher felt like maybe they were getting out of hand, but I absolutely loved it. It gave me a renewed sense of why I write for kids. They are so free and willing to explore fantastical characters and worlds. But I also loved seeing their hearts, especially when they talked about making Goliath a bully. I could totally see a story like this being a whole lot of fun, but also able to address important topics.

If you’re an author who hasn’t had the privilege of doing a classroom visit, I totally recommend it. If you’re a kid who loves reading, THANK YOU! And, if you’re a kid who loves writing, keep at it! I’d love to hear what kind of crazy, funny, meaningful things you have to say.

DRobertPease500x500D. Robert Pease has been interested in creating worlds since childhood. From building in the sandbox behind his house, to drawing fantastical worlds with paper and pencil, there has hardly been a time he hasn’t been off on some adventure in his mind, to the dismay of parents and teachers alike. Also, since the moment he could read, books have consumed vast swaths of his life. From The Mouse and the Motorcycle, to The Lord of the Rings, worlds just beyond reality have called to him like Homer’s Sirens. It’s not surprising then he chose to write stories of his own. Each filled with worlds just beyond reach, but close enough we can all catch a glimpse of ourselves in the characters.

D. Robert has published three books in the Noah Zarc Trilogy: Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble, Noah Zarc: Cataclysm, and Noah Zarc: Declaration, as well as the complete Omnibus Edition of Noah Zarc with all three books in one volume along with twenty-two pencil illustrations from the author.

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