I was invited to visit the first graders as an author-illustrator of picture books last week. It was the second rescheduling due to snow days. I was prepared, but somehow left my list of things I wanted to cover at home. I assembled that list after asking for tips in my 12×12 Picture Book Challenge group, and Deb Lund generously offered to talk to me about author visits over the phone. Deb stressed the importance of sharing something about yourself, and to let the kids feel like you are THEIR author.
My idea was to stress the importance of pictures in picture books – sounds silly, but I decided to read a few picture books that illustrate (ha, ha!) the parts of a story that the artist can tell, apart from what is being told in the text. So I am glad I had the books in my bag to start my talk, and hoped the rest would kick in.
But I got nervous. I don’t think it was the kids giving me secret waves, or the full 3 classes assembled before me, but my inner teacher took over and I started telling – that was my mistake. I don’t think the kids minded, but I should have nixed all the talk (esp. how an anecdote differs from a story plot – yeah, it got that bad!). I showed them some of my work (which I wish I could have done on a big screen so all the kids in the back could see too). And I got a lot of encouragement to create stories for my squirrel character.
But what I SHOULD have done, was to give the whole talk standing up and to draw as much as I talked on the big white board. Because in the end, when the questions started coming in (mind you, raised hands and random comments sprinkled the whole event) I realized they wanted to see how I do what they could relate to best at that age – telling stories in pictures.
Reading those books was what gave me something to take away in the end. Although I read between 75 and 100 picture books a week, I don’t get to read aloud them to kids. During my visit I realized, you don’t read TO kids, but WITH them! I somehow never noticed that with my own two. We read one wordless book, Bear Despair by Gaetan Dorémus, then Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins to read what was not in the text. Then, to discuss what the posture and facial expressions tells us, we read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. That’s when it hit me – their enthusiasm drove how I read, how I turned every page. It was marvelous to experience the book like a chorus does a song!