Friday, September 5, 2014


I wish an author had visited my elementary school back in the day. I was just beginning to become enthralled by the written word—Judy Blume and Roald Dahl and J.R.R. Tolkien. The chance to see a real live author, up close and in person? I’m sure I’d still remember it.

It is that thought that drives me when I visit schools as a guest author, telling students about how I became a writer, about the fun stuff I get to do as a writer, about where my ideas come from. When the kids and I create a goofy story together, and I see their eyes light up, it sustains me. It makes up for the occasional times when the school seems to regard my visit as an afterthought. Or when the librarian hasn’t bothered to stock my books. Or when some first graders are intent on playing with the Velcro on their shoes.

Yes, an author visit is—in my humble opinion—a fantastic way to inspire young readers and writers. But not every author visit is created equal. And it is often the efforts of the host that make the difference.

With that in mind—and now that school is back in session—we at the Why Not 100 are turning this post over to an author who is to school visits what cheerleaders are to school pride. Michael Shoulders is energetic. He is fearless (you’ll see what I mean if you ever get to see him rap one of his books). And he loves his job. A former educator who has written more than a dozen picture books (including T is for Titanic, G is for Gladiator, and Say Daddy!), he is the kind of author every school librarian dreams of finding.

Take it away, Mike…

As a school administrator for fifteen years, I saw the connections authors made with the students I served. Several schools organized their annual “Young Authors Celebration” around a yearly author visit. In ten years I brought 30 authors to visit the students in my schools.

Now, in retirement, I’m a full-time children’s author and make the same connections at nearly 80 schools each year. Most of the time things go exceedingly well. Other times, not so much. When districts devote the kind of time and money it takes to bring authors to their building, the event should be highly anticipated, well planned, and creatively merged with curriculum. 

Most schools invite authors to visit their campuses to share how “Real Live Authors” create the books students read. This instructional strategy connects students to books in extraordinary ways. Teachers and students become “insiders” to the writing/publishing process. Students are inspired to read and write and even begin to consider writing as a career. They also recognize that library books don’t just “drop out of the sky.” 

I propose seven strategies to increase the chances to have The Best Author Visit Ever:


The selection of potential authors who can visit your school is as varied as the selection of potential books that might be stocked in the school library. But remember this: It’s not the success of the author that’s most important. Rather, the question is how successfully can the author inspire the students? Parents and teachers might be excited about the notion of a famous author coming to town, and that author may charge a particularly lofty fee, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she has any clue about how to talk to kids. I could name names, but I won’t. Ask around. Locate references. Watch authors speak at reading conferences. All authors can write well. You want to find one who speaks well, too.


Tell the children an author is coming to see them. As simple as this sounds, sometimes teachers don’t inform the students about the assembly. Students have asked me, while coming into the assembly area, “Who are you, and why are we here?” Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Teachers should prep students for an author visit as they would for a field trip. Sometimes, just as I’m strolling into a school, a student stops and says, “HEY! You’re that author guy, aren’t you?” Sure, it’s a bit nicer when they say, “You’re Michael Shoulders!” But either way, when I can see that they’re excited about my arrival, I know it’s going to be a good day. Teachers should visit the author’s web page. This is the place to find information on the author’s life, a list of books, facts about the author’s family, and more.


The school librarian or media specialist should be an integral part of the priming process. What better way to generate enthusiasm for a visiting author than by actually reading the works by that writer beforehand? Again, it sounds obvious, but not everyone does it. Display the author’s books, too—on school office counters where parents see them; on lunch line shelves where hungry students see them, and especially at library checkout desks where READERS see them.



Make the author visit a HUGE event for the students. Contact local media (good press makes schools shine in the eyes of the community). Decorate bulletin boards with the author’s photo, books, and other design elements pertaining to the subject matter. My friend Brad Herzog, the man behind this website and the author of a number of sports picture books, has arrived at schools to find all the students and teachers adorned in their favorite sports jerseys. I myself visited a school that had conceived a countdown to my visit by presenting one unusual fact about me during each of their morning television broadcasts. Thirty days: thirty interesting facts. An author visit is a special treat, so have fun with it.


Remember: AUTHORS are not TEACHERS. We don’t talk for a living; we write. So smart scheduling is vital. Before scheduling times, be sure to confer with the author, who might have insights (from experience) that you might not have considered. Make sure to provide the proper equipment for the author (a standard list of materials might include a table, a microphone, a bottle of water, an LCD project, a white screen, and a power strip). And when scheduling the day, remember that most authors will only speak three (maybe four) times at most. But you can maximize the author’s time. Some writers provide a “Lunch with the Author” for selected students. The number in attendance will vary. Personally, I’ve had lunch with two girls at a table in the library and also with an entire 8th grade class of 18 students. I’ve also had lunch with one boy and one girl from each class.


A visit by an author is a gift-wrapped educational opportunity. Authors support what teachers tell students in classrooms about writing. I mention the words “rough draft” and “rewriting” and “research” when I talk, as do most authors. If teachers are not present to hear the message, they can’t use it as reinforcement for classroom instruction. And they can’t build upon what the author has said. Sadly, some schools plan author talks during the teachers’ planning times. Yes, it’s easy to keep the school’s schedule intact, but it’s NOT a good curriculum practice. Discipline is also better when classroom teachers are present instead of “specials” teachers. What good is a visiting author if, upon returning to the classroom, the students have to provide a summary for the teachers?  


Provide families the opportunity to purchase autographed books. Sometimes school contacts tell me, “Our students are mostly poor and won’t buy any books.” However, the same school probably conducts two book fairs each year to raise funds for the school’s library. Perhaps a signed book from an author whom the student met will mean more in the long run to that child. Let the family decide if an autographed book is something they desire. It can be a great gift and a lifelong keepsake.

So there you have it. There are few ways that connect students to books as powerfully as getting to meet an author. By following this handful of suggestions, your school can have a terrific experience.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah Mike!!!!! Not only have I had the amazing opportunities...note, opportunities, see Michael Shoulders in action, I've had opportunities to share the stage, so to speak with Micheal. What a motivator he is!!! If you get the chance to invite Michael Shoulders to your school or event, you'll be literally blown away with his excitement and how he makes kids laugh and become a part of his experience. Oh, and how these kids learn about this tremendous author, Micheal Shoulders!!!