I’ve been teaching English at the junior high level for twelve years. With an eye on who my students are as readers, I realized I had some insight to share with my Project Mayhem friends. And that insight is: If you aren’t already doing it, start scheduling school visits. NOW! It’s your first step to building a loyal audience and becoming a “rock star” in the eyes of your primary demographic.
Let’s face it, young children are impressionable (witness the gazillion commercials for kids’ products during the holiday season). Add to that the fact that most parents and teachers stress the value of reading to young children, and this translates into an early interest in reading for many kids. True, that early interest wanes if the child can’t find anything of interest to read, but the point is that young readers are there for the proverbial plucking, and this is why school visits can serve as a great way to market your work and build an audience. Besides the fact that you’ll get paid for your school visit, I’d like to submit two pieces of evidence in the case of “Take Me to School vs. Heck No, I Won’t Go.” *I’m not a lawyer, but I play one on a blog.*
Exhibit “A” is the million-dollar basketball. My first two years as a teacher took place in a tiny school district and I taught in a grade 7-12 building. During a study hall, I had this seventh grader walk in holding a basketball. I asked him what he was doing with a basketball in study hall, and he responded with, “This ball is going to be worth millions.” I asked him why he thought that, holding back some laughter, and he said, “Because I just had every player on the team sign it.” I asked what team he was talking about, and he replied, “The varsity team. They’re undefeated.” I held in more laughter when I realized he really believed what he was saying. His young mind saw the school’s varsity basketball players as rock stars, capable of transforming an ordinary basketball into a million-dollar piece of memorabilia with mere signatures. Like I said, kids are impressionable.
Exhibit “B” is the Ben Mikaelsen book. A few years back, a seventh grader came up to me with a copy of Ben Mikaelsen’s Touching Spirit Bear and asked if I had read the book. I told him I hadn’t but I’d heard it was good (a common response when a student asks me about a book I haven’t read). The student quickly opened the book, pointed, and said, “Look, I got him to sign it when he came to my elementary school. He even addressed it to me! This is the best book I’ve ever read.” I was psyched to hear him say this. I mean, this was a book, not a signed basketball. It was refreshing to hear that Mikaelsen’s signature and his school visit had meant so much to my student. I actually borrowed this student’s signed copy and read it, and I really loved the book (highly recommended). The student and I talked about it many times afterwards, and all because the author had decided to visit an elementary school. Mikaelsen was a rock star to this kid.
I urge all authors to schedule school visits, especially new authors. It serves you well to do so, and if you’re looking for some tips on things you can do to make your visits productive and worthwhile, I recommend you take a look at Dan Gutman’s advice. Or, how about my fellow Mayhemers? Anyone care to share some insight? Heck, we like to be all-inclusive here at PM, so we’ll take non-Mayhemers too. What say you, people?