Reading might be one of my favorite past times, but it’s not often a favorite activity for my students. At the start of every school year I hear at least one, but usually, many more than that, say, “I hate to read.” They like to really reiterate their point with follow up comments such as, “books are boring” or “reading makes me fall asleep.” For years I used to respond by informing them that they just hadn’t read their favorite book yet. This can sway a few kids, especially when a classmate does suddenly find a favorite, but ultimately my toughest haters of reading have been transformed by the authors of books. There is something special about hearing the behind-the-scenes secrets to a story.
Meeting author Suzanne Collins at the Hunger Games premiere party in Los Angles was a true fan girl moment for me. Walking into the massive tent felt exactly as I imagined walking into a Capitol party might feel like. Celebrities mingling about and here I was in awe of the decor and dedication to making it feel as if I’d stepped right into the book. An English teacher’s dream come true courtesy of my brother who was working for Lionsgate at the time.
The night introduced me to several of the actors and actresses where I learned their thoughts on playing particular characters. The young tribute actors felt like my people and we had great conversations about reading the books. About halfway through the night, we found ourselves standing in the center of a crowd, all trying to get a selfie with Taylor Lautner. That’s when I spotted her. Suzanne Collins was being ushered through the crowd. If I was going to meet her this was my only chance. I pushed past the few people standing between us and introduced myself. I remember telling her, “I’m a middle school teacher from Ohio and my students have loved reading the Hunger Games trilogy. Could I get a photo?”
She was so gracious and let me take a quick photo before rushing off out of the party. To me, she was the greatest celebrity in the room. Meeting an author to thank them for sharing their talent and expressing the impact they have made on readers is part of what I love about my job. It’s not a requirement of course, but it’s a super cool part of being a teacher of readers.
The experience of meeting or hearing an author talk about their work feels a lot like being at a concert. Hearing music played live adds new connection and emotion to the songs. Meeting author in person has always had the same effect for me.
In 2010 I had the privilege of attending the NCTE conference where I was introduced to several of my favorite authors. Some of the authors I met were debuting their first novels at the time and they quickly became beloved authors for me. I’m reminded of my conversation with author Sarah Weeks. She shared her book So.Be.It. and her heart for people with disabilities. Her book was the first one I read from the pile of books collected from the conference.
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After meeting all the authors that first day of the conference I wanted to devour every book they had ever written. I can remember specifically walking up to Laurie Halse Anderson and using every ounce of my energy to not lose it right there in front of her. Another major fan girl moment for me. I had read her book Speak several years before and it’s definitely in my top ten reads. Meeting her in person made me want to read every book, short story, and poem she had ever written. Laurie sat at her table signing my book and casually talking with me about life. After that conversation I was convinced if we lived near each other we would be best friends. At least the invention of social media now lets me pretend to be friends with my favorite authors.
All of these encounters have convinced me that everyone needs to meet their favorite author or any author. As an English teacher, these have been some of my favorite experiences. Events, where I have been able to meet an author, help me feel a stronger connection to a favorite story or introduces me to their new novels. Sometimes it’s a new introduction altogether.
Sharing opportunities to meet authors is even more fun when given the chance to introduce students. Authors can feel like untouchable celebrities to the voracious reader. But the truth is like any celebrity they are human. In fact, they often do their own marketing which includes book signings or meet and greets. If meeting an author can make a reading impact on me it’s possible to have the same effect on students.
Follow a Local Library
Libraries often invite authors to talk about their books or share a writing workshop. I’ve made it a habit of checking nearby library calendars for author events. Some even have an email subscription that will send events to your inbox. Another great way to stay on top of these events would be following them on Facebook or Instagram.
My first student group to meet an author was an hour’s drive to a major city south of us. My colleagues thought I was crazy, but my students had just finished Brandon Mull’s latest book Fablehaven. Several of them mentioned never loving to read until reading that book. When I learned that Brandon would be at a nearby library I began making plans to take students. The hour drive seemed completely worth the time if students could meet the author who helped them identify themselves as readers.
We drove down on a school bus immediately after school let out with about 12 kids, one parent and myself. Brandon talked about his experience with writing Fablehaven, answering all the questions from kids who asked where he got such funny ideas and interesting characters. He signed copies of books and other swag for the kids. Some of my kids had never owned their own book, let alone a signed copy. After this experience, many of the kids who went ended up finishing the seven-book series.
Another great place to meet authors, especially local authors, would be your local bookstore. Our small town doesn’t have a bookstore so we have to keep in touch with stores from nearby cities, but like libraries, they usually have website calendars, social media, and email lists.
My favorite local bookstore, Main St. Books, often brings authors to share and sign books. One April they had invited my co-teacher’s favorite Ohio YA author, Mindy McGinnis. My co-teacher raved about her novels and often shared them with our classes. At the time I had not read any of her books but of course, I was up for an evening out to go hear her share about her latest book, Heroine.
Mindy talked about how she collects ideas for stories and some of her process for writing those stories. Many in the audience had specific questions about her books and they all made me want to rush out to read anything she’d written. I bought two of her books that night!
We struck up a conversation about teaching, Mindy is a former school librarian and exchanged emails. That night was the start of a very long conversation about how I could bring her in to meet my students. Almost a full year later we are finally making that a reality.
Thanks to a grant through the Buckeye Book Fair that helps teachers and librarians bring Ohio authors to their schools we are able to host Mindy for a full day. In anticipation of her visit, our English department has planned a special giveaway each month.
Thanks to my fully funded Donors Choose project my students now have copies of Not a Drop to Drink, which we will read as a whole class, and five copies of her other novels for our monthly reading assignment. If you’ve never tried Donors Choose I highly recommend creating a project. Use this link to get started and possibly snag a boost to your project. They are always working to find donors that want to help with different projects. You never know what supplies or events might get funded. Did you know you can now ask for funding to attend professional development or field trips?
If you are looking for a way to engage students with reading or help them make connections to the stories you read in class talking to authors in real life is a great place to start. Sharing student quotes or projects with authors through Twitter is another great way to connect. Some authors are willing to video conference with classes as well. Bringing the story to life by learning how it was written and the background about its inception can turn kids on to books.