We’ve gathered some noteworthy examples of how authors are tailoring their outreach to meet the needs of students and educators during the pandemic.
Following an effective formula, Jonathan Auxier developed a new presentation for Willa the Wisp (Abrams), combining a readaloud with different character voices, a peek at the drawings in his personal journal, a brainstorming session to create punny animals with students, and q&a elements.
Friends since age eight, longtime racquetball partners, and first-time picture book collaborators Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris have a natural rapport that translates well to their virtual visits for A Polar Bear in the Snow (Candlewick). According to senior publicist Jamie Tan, the two “have gotten their comedic beats down.” In their presentation they’ve mastered small silly touches like turning a camera strategically off to pretend one can’t hear the other. Blue Willow Bookshop’s children’s and YA events coordinator Cathy Berner says, “Watching them develop a school visit is like watching jazz musicians improvise.”
In her virtual presentation for If You Come to Earth (Chronicle), Sophie Blackall shares a time-lapse video of herself creating a page consisting of 50 tiny paintings of a comet, which appears in the book. As she can’t visit readers in person, she has sent those comet paintings in her stead, to 50 independent bookstores, where they will be placed randomly within copies of her book, for lucky readers to find.
Chris Grabenstein (The Smartest Kid in the Universe) is among several Random House Children’s Books authors to provide virtual author visits in the Story Pirates After School program, a series of classes to help kids stretch their imaginations as they explore new ways to create stories, art, and various projects.
On the fall virtual school visit tour for Remy Lai’s Fly on the Wall, the author used “custom-illustrated overlays and live drawings to bring her sophomore novel to life as she presented to middle-grade students across the U.S. from her home in Brisbane, Australia,” according to Molly Ellis, v-p and executive director of publicity for Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.
Sy Montgomery’s virtual visits in support of her latest picture book, Becoming a Good Creature (HMH), are designed to accommodate the flexible scheduling needs of remote learning and help reduce screen fatigue for students. “The good part is now I get to welcome children into my office,” she says. “I get to show them where I write, and all the cool artifacts I have: my moose antlers, my octopus beak, my stuffed grouse. I get to introduce them to my dog [her border collie Thurber, who also appears in the book’s trailer]. I think they like that a lot.”
For each visit, schools receive a package of prerecorded videos: a book trailer, a video of Sy reading Becoming a Good Creature overlaid over the book’s pages, and a Zoom-style video presentation from Sy and illustrator Rebecca Green on the creation of the book. A digital activity kit further expands the lesson possibilities. According to HMH publicity associate Anna Ravenelle, “Being able to include Rebecca, who is currently living in Japan, in the prerecorded presentation was one positive of pivoting to this format; the time difference would have been prohibitive for her to participate in live visits, but now students can hear from both creators about how Becoming a Good Creature came to be.”
Innosanto Nagara has embraced the virtual sphere to promote his title Oh, the Things We’re For! (Seven Stories). “Given that so many kids don’t see anyone but their cohort and their teacher on Zoom day in and day out,” he says, “I think my showing up as a fresh voice in their class gets their attention. Readings feel very focused, and the kids are more confident—perhaps because I’m visiting their house, not the other way around.”
In January, LeUyen Pham kicks off her virtual school visits for her new book Outside, Inside, which celebrates essential workers and the community coming together to face the challenges of the pandemic. The author-illustrator “plans to do a ‘reverse q&a’ with the students, asking them questions that focus on the kids’ experiences during the coronavirus crisis,” Ellis at Macmillan says. “The book is meant to have the readers self-reflect, and that’s how LeUyen had the idea.”
On December 1, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Jason Reynolds kicked off a two-week virtual tour during which he is connecting with middle school and high school students in underserved communities across the country. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing has donated 5,500 paperback copies of his book Look Both Ways to the host schools to support the effort. He spoke with CBS This Morning about the tour. “Ultimately, if virtual is the way we have to do it, then that’s the way we have to do it,” he said. “But not doing it at all is not an option.”
The goal is to run the visits as originally structured. Reynolds described it as “an open interview, lots of discourse, giving the kids an opportunity to tell me about their towns and what they’re proud about, and really create a human moment even through a digital sphere.”
Christina Soontornvat has created a virtual author visit brochure outlining the range of presentations she can book for schools. Middle grade novel A Wish in the Dark and the nonfiction title All Thirteen, about the 2018 cave rescue of a Thai boys’ soccer team, both published by Candlewick, are her most recent titles. She explains her approach: “As much as I miss meeting with students in person, I also view the shift to virtual author visits as an opportunity to keep doing good work—we just have to do it in a different way.”
Susan Verde leads students in guided meditation, breathing, and yoga exercises during her virtual presentation. Her fall picture book I Am One (Abrams), illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, focuses on the power of action. In her presentation she describes how small actions, like wearing a mask to protect others, can lead to big results.