By Ellen Myrick
Not every school or library has the resources to bring in an author to spend time with students and inspire a love of reading and art in person. Skype visits can be a workable substitute that, in many ways, can improve upon the original.
Take Jarrett Krosoczka for example. The author/illustrator of The Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute finds that Skype visits enable him to give students not only a glimpse of his studio but also creates a more personal, up close experience. In addition to the camera on his computer, the artist has positioned a second camera that gives children an over-the-shoulder look at what he is drawing at the moment. While Skyping, the busy artist is creating an original drawing that will be sent to the school afterwards. This provides a nice tangible touch to the virtual experience.
What is the best way to prepare for a virtual visit? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Do the same preparation as you would for a physical author visit.
2) Test the technology ahead of time. Download Skype, Apple iChat, Google Video & Voice or a similar service, check the microphone and the camera. Do a test with the author in advance of the actual conversation.
3) Plan the length of the visit, who will initiate the call, how you will structure the viewing (will students gather around a monitor? Will you have a projector of some kind?).
4) Take advantage of the intimacy of the Skype visit. A good virtual author experience will be more of a conversation and less of a lecture.
5) Explore all the resources the author has to offer in advance. Jarrett has several short videos that answer the most common questions on his website. By taking time to view these beforehand, the kids will be able to ask more considered questions.
6) Prepare questions beforehand so that time is used effectively. Know that connections can be temporarily lost so have a backup plan in place. At the very least, have copies of the author or illustrator’s books on hand so downtime can be spent reading.
7) Allow for some spontaneity and happy tangents. Jarrett mentions that he appreciates being able to pull a book from his bookshelf to illustrate a point during the conversation. Virtual visits allow the author to talk with the kids and have a multitude of resources and tools within reach.
8) The session host can make all the difference between the ordinary and the truly memorable. Jarrett sends yellow lunch lady aprons to his moderators ahead of time. This creates a bond between moderator and author. You don’t need a costume to be prepared, but do be alive to the possibilities and share your enthusiasm.
Publishers often have information about school visits on their websites. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (scbwi.org) can help you connect with authors and illustrators not only virtually but in your own backyard.
Today’s technology can bring the author into the classroom while also providing a path for students to the author’s workplace, underscoring that reading is a two-way street. A book on a shelf is just an inanimate object. A book being read completes the connection that can be life-changing.