Article, English Teaching, Reading

Engaging with Authors: Powerful Inspiration for Young Readers and Writers

Meeting Vashti Hardy at School

Engaging with current and active children’s authors and illustrators is a powerful way to promote reading for pleasure in your school. It allows children to interact with positive Literacy role models and inspires both reading and writing skills. Here are some easy ways to make contact and bring authors into your classroom.

1. Write to them

Many children’s authors love to hear from young readers and will often write back, sometimes sending postcards, bookmarks or posters. Children may ask questions, share ideas or send their own writing and drawings. You can usually find authors’ contact details on their websites or write to them through their publisher.

2. Look at websites and newsletters

An author’s website is an excellent place to find out more about the author, their inspiration for writing and resources to accompany their books. You may find a goldmine of ideas about how other teachers have used their books. You’ll also be able to find out about other books by the same author to take children’s reading further.

When visiting an author’s website, be sure to sign up for their newsletter if possible. This will mean you are among the first to hear about events, new publications and resources linked to their books.

3. Communicate on Twitter

Many authors and illustrators are very active on Twitter. It is a quick and easy way to ask a question or share what has been happening in your classroom. You may find that the author replies with an encouraging message or shares your post with others. Relaying these messages back to children is empowering for them as they realise they’ve been heard and appreciated by someone they admire. Some teachers run a twitter account just for their class which they use solely for sharing their classroom activities and communicating with authors.

Authors who are very active on Twitter: Vashti Hardy, Peter Bunzl, Sophie Anderson, Maz Evans, Christopher Edge, Liz Flanagan, Michael Rosen and many others.

4. Contact your local School Library Services

Your local school library service is an excellent first port of call for information about authors. They may be able to provide you with a list of suitable authors, links to websites and on-line resources, book boxes containing books by a particular author or group of similar authors and contact details for authors themselves. They will be able to advise you on how to promote authors in your classroom or school library. In Leeds, the SLS regularly contacts schools with details about upcoming author visits and events. On occasion, they even put on author visit competitions. I have been lucky enough to win free author visits for my school which have been such a treat for children and staff!

Click on this link to watch a short video about the work done by Leeds School Library Service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYHIarkhFlc

5. Plan an author visit

Nothing is more powerful than meeting an author in person. With a school author visit, children are able to listen to a skilled story-teller and ask their own, pertinent questions.  Author visits are incredibly inspiring as children see how an “ordinary” person has used their writing skills to share their ideas with the world.

After the author’s presentation, there is usually an opportunity to purchase a book and have it signed by the author. That brief, one to one chat can be so encouraging.  

Author visits may be booked through your school library service, the author’s website, publishers or using the Authors Aloud UK website.

6. Participate in local book awards

There are countless book award schemes around the country every year. Some school library services run local awards and encourage school groups to become involved in nominations, book reviews, voting and the awards ceremony itself. These events are tremendous opportunities for children to read a range of books (which they may not usually choose), discuss, reflect, vote and have their opinions heard. Attending the awards ceremony gives children the chance to hear from a group of diverse authors, meet them and have their books autographed. The Leeds Book Awards is a great example of this type of award. The website is a useful resource in itself: https://leedsbookawards.co.uk/home.php

National book awards such as the Blue Peter Book Awards, the Lollies Book Awards, Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize, Costa Children’s Book Awards, the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize provide useful lists of high quality books to explore with your class.

7. Arrange a studio visit

You may be fortunate enough to have a local author with a studio near you. A few years ago, I was able to take my Brownie unit to visit Kate Pankhurst, author of Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World, at her studio in Farsley (Leeds). She showed the children her books, how she organises her workspace and finds inspiration in her surroundings and what her typical writing day is like. The girls were given the opportunity to learn about the women in Kate’s books and how to draw them. The memory of sitting and sketching with a brilliant author will stay with them for a long time.

8. Attend local events and literary festivals

Every year there are many local literary events: local library workshops, school library services events and literary festivals. Sometimes there will be weekday events for schools before the weekend festival begins. If possible, take your class or encourage them to attend with their families. Often the weekend workshops are free of charge and very family friendly.

My own family is really looking forward to Leeds Lit Fest where we will be attending a workshop with Liz Flanagan and the Northern Young Adult Literary Festival and KidLit Festival in Preston where we will be catching up with Vashti Hardy and others.

A quick internet search for “children’s literary festivals” will show you what is happening around the country and near you.

9. Find a School Patron of Reading

Some schools are fortunate to have a School Patron of Reading. This is a special relationship with an author in which the author supports the reading programme of the school, provides inspiration for the children and promotes reading for pleasure. Enquire about a patron of reading through the Patron of Reading website https://www.patronofreading.co.uk/

10. Enter competitions and request sample chapters

If you are active on Twitter and follow authors, publishers and book sellers, watch out for competitions and special offers. There are often competitions to win a book for your class. Some authors also offer class sets of sample chapters of their new books so children can read it before anyone else. This creates a buzz around an author and eager anticipation of a new book.

11. Listen to podcasts

There are podcasts on almost any topic imaginable. Education podcasts are current, interesting and an easy way to stay up-to-date with authors, new publications and ideas for your classroom. Listen at home, on your commute, in your classroom while doing prep or while exercising. Some podcasts are also appropriate for children so you can share them with your class.

Podcasts are available by searching the internet or via various apps such as the Podcast app, audible.co.uk, iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts.

Interviews with authors are a great way to hear from the authors themselves and be inspired to try new ideas. Try Library Girl and Book Boy, The Teachers’ Podcast, Fun Kids Book Club, The Guardian Children’s Book podcast, Down the Rabbit Hole and In the Reading Corner.

12. Follow Primary School Book Club, Reading Rocks and Classic Children’s Book Club

#PrimarySchoolBookClub is a twitter-based monthly book discussion for primary school staff, librarians, ITT & PGCE students led by Scott Evans. After each chat, the next book is chosen through an on-line vote. There is a month given to read the book then an hour-long discussion often including the author. Participants answer a series of questions with an opportunity to respond to each other’s comments and ask further questions of the author.

Primary School Book Club is a fantastic way to chat with authors about their inspiration, writing process and next projects. It promotes high quality books and authors and a chance to hear from other teachers. Not only is the book of the month an opportunity to discover an excellent new book, but the shortlist highlights many more. Previous books of the month include The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson, Frostheart by Jamie Littler and Nevertell by Katharine Orton. Join in on the last day of every month.

Reading Rocks (@_Reading_Rocks_) is a twitter page dedicated to promoting reading in primary schools and libraries. It includes links to authors, new books, teaching ideas and upcoming reading events. It is worth following for inspiration and a chance to share with other schools and teachers.

#ClassicChildrensBookClub is a monthly Twitter book chat about a classic children’s book. Each month, a new book is chosen. Participants read the book then tune in at 8pm on the first Sunday of the month to answer questions and share ideas. @ClassicChBkClub

13. Contact local bookshops

Try speaking to your local independent or bookstore chains. They will have links with a variety of authors and will be able to tell you which will be the best fit for your school. If an author is visiting their shop for a book signing or workshop, it may be possible to take children along to the event or plan a school author visit while they are in the area. Waterstones has a good relationships with authors. It’s always possible to find signed copies of books on their shelves and they promote author events on a regular basis.

14. Try V.I.P. Reading

V.I.P. Reading is a brand new website promoting reading for pleasure and providing resources for hundreds of authors. Their patron of reading is the wonderful Onjali Rauf @OnjaliRauf. For an annual subscription, member schools will have access to quizzes, biographies, author videos, bookmarks, posters, reward charts and much more. For more information, go to https://www.vipreading.co.uk/ or @VIPreading

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