Sunday, April 13, 2014

So . . . What's a Skype Author Visit and Should I Do It?

The Sock Poem

Soft, Sweaty, Smooth, Slippery, Stretchy
Soggy and Soaked!

by the first grade at Cleveland Road Elementary School in Bogart Georgia

First graders recited this original alliterative poem for me when I visited them to read and talk about my book, DUCK SOCK HOP. They were in Georgia. I was at home in Massachusetts. For the last few months, I've had the pleasure of doing quite a few Skype in the Classroom visits with schools around the world. It's been remarkable to sit down at my computer in my office and be able to talk with students in Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, British Columbia, Texas, and Grodno, Belarus, to name a few. (Next week, Xiamen, China!) Though it takes a little while to get the hang of interacting through a screen, seeing the faces and listening to the thoughtful questions of students and teachers has been a valuable experience for me as a presenter, a writer, and a person. You send your books into the world and imagine children reading them, enjoying them, and thinking about them, but how else would I have the opportunity to see HOW children are interacting with my words, what they are responding to, what makes them laugh, what makes them bounce. They may be learning from me, but I'm also learning from them. Also, it's been said many times before, but writing can be a lonely vocation, and actually seeing my tiny impact is something to hold onto when things get hard.

Art from the Malta Avenue School in Ballston Spa, New York

I do want to say that electronic visits aren't a full substitute for in-person visits. They let me go to far-flung places that neither schools nor I could otherwise afford, they help me out as a person with a disability who has trouble traveling distances. There's nothing quite like an in-person visit, though, at least for me. When I go to my local schools and libraries, I can be more interactive, more kinetic, and even more creative. So if you're a teacher or librarian, have local authors come in person, and have far-away authors come by screen.

And here's some frank talk. I get asked a lot if I get paid for Skype visits. Right now I'm offering twenty minute visits free. I get asked to low-income schools, which now have an opportunity to have an author visit when they never would have before. I want to be there for those kids. But writers are people, too, and we rely on selling books. So I hope that if schools can pay, they will. I hope they buy my books so that students can borrow them from the library after our visits. I've had one teacher (that I know of) reach into her pocket to buy DUCK SOCK HOP for her classroom.  I'm going to send her the rest of my books. But I'm not sure we can go on this way. What do you think teachers? Authors?