The Power of a Picture Book Author School Visit
Lynn Plourde | The Children’s Book Review | October 17, 2016
If you create picture books, get thee to a school—pronto! And if your school wants to host an author, invite one who writes picture books. Why? Because picture books are the energy drink of stories. There’s so much power packed into 32 pages and a few hundred words—plot, character, voice, setting, climax, oh my! Picture books are perfect models for writing, master mentor texts.
I’ve personally seen the power of picture books during my nineteen years of author visits to schools. Here’s what has worked for me . . .
Start with an Assembly—If You Dare!
I love to kick off a school visit with a whole-school assembly as a way to introduce myself to everyone at once and as a way to celebrate books and reading and the fact that we all are authors (yes, I started out as a kindergarten author too). I’ve had as many as 700 kids in a gym, with Pre-K through sixth graders all packed into one place. I show my books on slides on a big screen and share them interactively, which means I invite students to join in with gestures and with reading during the repetitive parts of the story (one of the beauties of picture books is that most have repetition built in).
And so, while reading my book Bella’s Fall Coat, I teach students their interactive role before I even begin reading the story. I say, “This book has two words that repeat throughout the story and every time they come up, I need you all to help me read them in a dramatic way. Have any of you ever acted in plays? (hands go up) Great! Then you’ll be good at reading words dramatically! One word is ‘favorite.’ When we read the word ‘favorite,’ I want you to put both hands up to your chest as if you’re holding or hugging a favorite thing of yours and then say “favorite” like you really mean it. Let’s practice (and we do). The next word is ‘forever,’ and for this word, I want you to pop both hands up into the air almost like you’re tossing confetti so that we can show ‘forever’ means that something goes on and on. Let’s also stretch out the word ‘f o r e v e r’ too when we say it. Let’s practice that word (and we do).” You get the idea . . . whatever words you want students to “join in” during your story, teach them gestures for the words as well as model how to read those words with expression whenever they come up in the story—that way they have an active role as you read aloud to them.
In assemblies, I also invite students to echo me at times, repeating words I say in the story (I simply hold a hand up to my ear as a signal that it’s time for them to echo). And so in Bella’s Fall Coat, I invite them to echo the whoosh, whizz, zoom, and swoosh words (even making a five-second reference to onomatopoeia or sound words).
Also, in assemblies I may show art samples of an illustrator’s process for a book, such as these by Susan Gal in Bella’s Fall Coat. Picture books have PICTURES, that’s a bonus to have visuals to keep students’ attention. And picture book illustrators can draw “live” in front of students during an assembly for a maximum WOW factor.
Then Onto Small-Group Mini-Lessons
After an opening assembly, I meet with two classrooms at a time (decide what size group works best for you) and share a writing mini-lesson that’s grade-level appropriate. I have a whole batch of lessons I’ve developed over the years. I teach kindergarteners to write Copycat Stories modeled after my Dino Pets books, and first graders to be Pattern Detectives and find all the patterns in A Mountain of Mittens (and then I challenge them to start using patterns in their own stories), and second and third graders to write 3P-Problem Stories (see below) such as Pigs in the Mud in the Middle of the Rud, and I teach fourth and fifth graders to write Graphic Novel Scenes modeled after Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness, and sixth graders to write Poetic Stories like At One in a Place Called Maine. By using my picture books as models during mini-lessons, I am helping students to learn a new kind of writing with a model that is right before their eyes. Then we “practice” the new kind of writing together as a group, and finally, I leave an organizer for the lesson that I taught with teachers to follow-up and have students do that kind of writing after I leave.
The Bottom Line—You Have the Power!
If you write picture books, you already have what it takes to do school visits. Everyone loves pictures books—everyone! I’ve seen the squirmiest kindergarten kids settle down when a picture book is read aloud to them. I have seen too-big-for-their-picture-book-britches sixth graders sit mesmerized when a picture book is read aloud to them. Then when you move onto teaching these students a writing lesson, you have your book as a model—short, sweet, manageable—for them to try their own writing. When it works, it’s magical and that is POWERFUL!
About Lynn Plourde
Lynn Plourde (www.lynnplourde.com) is the author of more than thirty picture books including her newest for 2016: You’re Doing THAT in the Talent Show?!, Bella’s Fall Coat, Baby Bear’s NOT Hibernating, plus her first middle grade novel Maxi’s Secrets (or, What You Can Learn from a Dog), which is also new in 2016. Lynn has done hundreds of author visits to schools through the years. She lives in Winthrop, Maine.
Written by Lynn Plourde
Illustrated by Susan Gal
Publisher’s Synopsis: Bella loves the sights and sounds of fall–the crinkle-crackle of fallen leaves, the crunch of crisp, red apples, the honking and flapping of migrating geese. She wants the season to last forever. She also wants her fall coat–the one her Grams made especially for her–to last forever. But the coat is worn-out and too small. . . . With a snip and a whir, Grams makes sure Bella will be warm when the first snowflakes fall. And Bella finds a perfect use for her old favorite coat–on the first snowman of the season.
Ages 3-6 | Publisher: Disney-Hyperion | 2016 | ISBN-13: 978-1484726976
Lynn Plourde, author of Bella’s Fall Coat, wrote this article about picture book author school visits. Discover more articles on The Children’s Book Review tagged with Changing Seasons Book, Fall, Picture Book, Season Books, and Writing Tips.