As the school gates open again properly for the first time, for many, life in the classroom will be very different. The global pandemic has made industries and organisations completely shift their ways of working and be more agile and adaptable than ever.
The impact of that has been enormous, but especially so for schools and teaching staff with tremendous challenges to overcome; whether it is teaching remotely, navigating school hours for vulnerable children or children of key workers or managing the personal impact and risks of Covid-19, none of us could have predicted how dramatically our day-to-day life would have shifted.
To make things that little bit easier for families at home, BookTrust joined forces with a host of the nation’s favourite children’s authors and illustrators to launch our BookTrust HomeTime hub to help keep children engaged and having fun with stories at home.
We also launched Cressida Creativity Summer Camp, with the current Waterstones Children’s Laureate.
After a term of unparalleled disruption to children’s education, Cressida’s Creativity Summer Camp inspired families to embrace books, reading and creativity over the summer holidays to inspire magic ideas and for entertainment, learning, as well as to support mental well-being.
Check out more information and all the creative activities that so many authors and illustrators have on offer for families.
We understand that it won’t be the first priority when teachers and pupils are back in the classroom, but having a school visit from an author, poet, illustrator or storyteller is an incredible way to inspire children and help to bring reading and stories to life and re-engage those readers who may not have picked up a book over the past few months.
An author visit really can make all the difference, especially for a reluctant reader, so you’ll want it to be the best it can be, having an engaging author speak to children about their job – who are always surprised to learn it’s a real job!
They will discover all about the ideas behind a story, how the characters came to be and see the fun side of reading. It truly can have a big impact on children, getting them excited about books may well improve their love of reading for life. But as with everything, the key is in the planning.
Aims and objectives
What is it you want to achieve with the author visit? Do you want to increase reading enthusiasm for instance or concentrate on a particular genre or encourage a celebration of reading? Giving the day some direction and focus will be a great help to the author/illustrator.
Consider how you would like the visit to be delivered. With restrictions in place, these are likely to be hosted virtually, at least for the foreseeable future.
Virtual events are hugely impactful though and you could choose to preempt these with video content and resources from the author to help build excitement for the virtual event.
For when in person events do resume, consider whether you want to hold an assembly for the entire school, should the author/illustrator give a speech or perhaps run smaller group workshops or live readings. Do you want them to sign books, run activities or create resources?
Find your author/ illustrator
Authors and illustrators are in demand and do get booked up quickly. There are a few different ways to find and get in touch with an author or illustrator. If you’ve never had an author or illustrator visit before, I’d recommend getting in touch with Authors Aloud (authorsalouduk.co.uk), they can help to find the right author for your school if you don’t have a clear idea.
Another tip is to get in touch with authors on Twitter, a website, where most authors and illustrators have a contact me area, or you could try going through the publisher or agent.
Also check out The Society of Authors’ advice on paying authors when they visit your school. School visits are an important part of author and illustrator’s salary so they should be paid for their work, unless it is part of their promotional tour organised by their publishers.
Inclusivity is important, so think carefully about who you approach. BookTrust believes that what children read can transform their lives and change our society. It is vital that children see themselves within the pages of a book or represented by the authors and illustrators who create them.
Our BookTrust Represents programme works to ensure that all children get to see themselves within the pages of a book or represented by the authors and illustrators who create them.
BookTrust partnered with Speaking Volumes and Pop Up Projects to publish our Breaking New Ground brochure celebrating 100 British writers and illustrators of colour producing quality work for children and young people in the UK. This guide provides lots of ideas of authors and illustrators who you could invite to your school.
Also see our website booktrust.org.uk/represents.
Books, books, books
Ensure there is a good supply of books, so that children are able to read the story either individually or in groups. At BookTrust, when we visit schools with authors and illustrators, we work closely with publishers to ensure every child in the class gets to take their own copy home, for free!
We understand that schools are on tight budgets, but we’d suggest that where possible, funds are allocated to bringing in authors and illustrators to visit children because a memorable learning experience can have a long-lasting impact on student’s engagement and overall attitude to learning and reading, which helps with so many life outcomes, not just educationally but socially and emotionally too.
Where an in-person visit isn’t an option, think outside the box. Could you have a virtual visit, using online videos or commission an author at a smaller cost to send a video that’s tailored to your students?
On the day
You want to make the actual day as smooth as possible for everyone involved, including the author, especially if they’re newer and haven’t had years of experience visiting schools. They can be quite intimidating – think back to when you were a Teaching Assistant and how daunting walking into a classroom full of bright bubbly children was.
A picture is worth a thousand words, so if you can take photos then do. Just double check the author is happy to do so, which more often than not, they are. With all the GDPR rules and regulations, you want to make sure you don’t fall foul of any guidance, so make sure you have permission forms all agreed for any children in the photos, especially if you want to shout about it with the local press, who are always looking for good news stories.
It’s important to make your visiting author or illustrator feel welcome and comfortable. If they are at ease from the start, the day will run a lot sooner. Building relationships with them and ensuring they form bonds with the children and the school can pay dividends in the longer term, especially if you’re planning on inviting them or their counterparts back. It is a small world and people talk, so treat them as you would any other important visitor.
- Authors Aloud – an organisation run by ex-librarians who can help with school visits. They’ll do all the hard work, from arranging the logistics, to discussing fees etc. So well worth the investment if budget allows authorsalouduk.co.uk.
- Direct contact – some authors are happy for you to get in touch with them, so try the contact section on their website.
- Social media – also a great place to connect with authors and illustrators, find out about the work they are doing and what activities, events and tours they have coming up.
- Bookshops are always a great to work with, your local bookshop can help to organise an event where books are sold, so it’s beneficial for all involved.
Emily Drabble is the head of children’s books at BookTrust.