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A New Brand of Author Visit March 14, 2010

Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.
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I visit a lot of schools, and interest in the old-style author visit (with an author speaking to an auditorium full of children) seems to be flagging. These visits typically consist of an author or authors speaking about overcoming obstacles such as rejection to reach their dreams. The authors intend to motivate students and might spice up their speech by singing, dancing, playing a musical instrument, or using whatever other talents they possess.

With the No Child Left Behind Act and other legislation, I’m finding teachers would rather have author visits that directly apply to or complement instruction in the classroom. Schools are under pressure to attain high test scores, and teachers view all instruction time as precious.  If an author can teach children to write better, that’s more valuable than discussing the road to authordom.

This is fortuitous for me. I’ve never enjoyed being “on stage,” speaking to large groups primarily as an entertainer. I enjoy a smaller audience I can interact with. The two presentations I conduct most in classrooms might be more accurately called “workshops.” In my “You Be the Artist!” presentation, I speak to younger children (usually kindergartners through second graders) about the process of publication and they take part in illustrating a page for a book. In my “Great Aunt Mabel’s Sweater” presentation, I speak to older children (usually middle schoolers) about descriptive writing and they perform two writing exercises and volunteer to read their work in “share time.”

I led both of these workshops at a public school last week, and a teacher said to me, “This is what we need. The kids were more interested than they usually are in author visits, and they learned more.”

I’m going to pass this along to my author friends. Some despair about visiting schools because they “have no talent but writing.” But writing talent is precisely what many teachers and schools hope authors can spark in students. Increasingly, schools are looking at authors more as mentors for students than as entertainers.


Getting Boys to Read March 4, 2010

Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.
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Boys don’t read. I’ve heard that countless times, but as an author and a mother of two sons, I expected my boys to be different. I nearly cleaned out my library’s picture book shelves by reading to my oldest son. He always seemed eager to curl up with me and a book. But he’s in middle school now and rarely reads for pleasure. Same with my son in elementary school. They text and e-mail friends and read snippets from magazines such as Sports Illustrated for Kids, Boys’ Life, and National Geographic Kids. I’m glad they read magazines and read and write text or e-mail messages, but I’d like to get them more interested in books.

And I think I’ve discovered a mistake I’ve made over the years. I supplied my boys with a wide range of fiction, including nearly all the Newbery Award winners. My boys turned up their noses or expressed a dislike for these books, even calling the award winners “boring.” Then I noticed the books my youngest son chose from the school library:  Guiness World Records, biographies, and nonfiction of all sorts. I had generously supplied my boys with fiction–the types of books I like to read–but little nonfiction.

I should have gotten a clue from the magazines they were reading, all nonfiction. And, as a writer, I knew that boys tend to gravitate toward nonfiction and genres of fiction like sports, adventure, science fiction, and westerns. Still, I slipped into my own reading habits when purchasing books for them.

So, these past two months, I’ve allowed my sons to order whatever books they want from the book clubs at school (Scholastic, Troll, and the like). My oldest son has yet to order one, but my youngest son has ordered two. Both books are full-color, highly illustrated books about athletes and their accomplishments. Snore city, I’d say.

Only I’ve caught my son reading them in bed at night. 🙂