Around this time of year in Australia, school visits go berserk. It's because of Children's Book Week, which starts on Sunday. It's great that schools want to make a whole week of book activities and have authors in, but it does mean things get very hectic! I'm going to be travelling far and wide, from Kallista in the east (just on the other side of the Dandenong Ranges) to Simpson in the west, which is about 2-1/2 hours drive from Melbourne. But I do love small country schools and meeting kids who are (I guess) a lot like I was at that age, i.e. brought up on a farm.
It's easy for authors to assume that schools are used to author visits, but this is often not so. Some city schools have authors in on a regular basis, and know how to explain what they want - either a talk about writing and books, or a writing workshop. Many children's authors can offer a range of topics to talk about but the burning question is always - what does the school (and the teachers) think is valuable for their students?
I have one talk about how a book is published, with lots of rough drafts, typeset pages and galley proofs. Another talk is about research, using all my photos and collectibles that help me write. Another is about my writing life - a general talk that covers lots of stuff. Writing workshops can be a bit of a minefield. A school that wants an author to teach writing in order to assist with NAPLAN testing is a worry. I'd say most authors don't write anything like Naplan requires kids to write, which is why I think it's stupid, and a poor indication of writing ability.
I've recently discovered (thanks to a fellow Hamline student) some books by Katie Wood Ray, who has a wealth of experience in working with children and encouraging them to write. She has given me, in turn, a whole new way to approach writing in the classroom that is close to how I write myself. I know it works, so I feel confident in talking about these methods and passing them on to young writers.
But any room full of young people who've been told "You're going to do some writing" can be scary! Some will be keen, some will be so-so, some will think At least it's better than maths and some will believe that writing is the most boring thing in the whole world. When you come into a classroom "cold", knowing that this is who you will be working with, a good toolbox of writing ideas and strategies are worth their weight in gold! All the authors out there in the next few weeks - travel well and enjoy it!