Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Better Book Readings For Kids

I recently gave a book reading at a local Montessori school here in Johannesburg for a middle-grade audience eager to find out more about my book. My previous reading at a literacy centre had been great because the teacher organized a fancy dress parade and the kids had worked on some creative writing to read to me. All the children arrived in Egyptian costume with poems and prose for me to hear. There was such fun and excitement that much time was taken up with the judging of the writing and the costumes. I read a chapter, they loved it, and that was that.


This time I wasn’t going to get off so easily. This particular teacher asked if I could chat to the kids about creative writing, plots, characters, and structuring a story of their own. I had recently written a blog post on that very subject, but writing and explaining it out loud to kids are two different things. My task that day was somehow to initiate a discussion on creative writing and to use my book to illustrate my points. I discovered that using simple but effective items to enhance your topics adds interest to the reading and contributes to the fun!

I had already turned to my book and website illustrator Lori Bentley for some ideas on accessories such as bookmarks and postcards to give away. Lori’s ideas were so stunningly effective that I was able to tell the assembled kids the entire story of the book and discuss creating a plot just by using the bookmark. I hope you’ll read Lori’s account of how she came to create her magnificent illustrations.

Some ideas to enhance your author readings for kids at schools, libraries, or bookstores:

Chat to the teacher, librarian, or organizer in advance and find out if they’d like an educational theme (a school probably will) or an artistic theme such as kids coming in costume, doing their own illustrations of your book’s themes, or even some creative writing to read out aloud.

Encourage the organizers to put a mention in the local newspaper or community press. Often newspapers will send a photographer along for some local newsworthy events. This will help spread the word about your book. You should also publicize it using your own social media outlets.

Bookmarks and postcards are a fantastic yet simple and cheap way to promote your book. If your book is illustrated, you can (like Lori did) use thumbnails on the bookmark, with tantalizing hints of the plot outlined next to each picture. Postcards are effective with the book cover image on the front, a brief plot synopsis on the back, and don’t forget to include either your contact details or author website or the book’s website details. Parents will want to know where they can buy your book if your reading is not at a bookstore.

Posters are also cheap and effective to promote your title. If you’re having some kind of contest then a signed poster is a great prize for an excited child. Don’t forget to give one to the venue hosting your book reading. A school or library will definitely put the poster up in the venue. That way your book will linger in their minds long after you have gone.

Have a pen ready for the unexpected. I was astounded that all the children at the reading wanted to have their bookmarks signed so be prepared for that as well. Remember, to your audience you are an amazing creature – a real live author – and that’s incredibly exciting for them. They’re going to want a little piece of the excitement to take home. This is particularly pertinent if you are reading at a bookstore because parents will more than likely purchase the book right there and the child will want you to sign it.

A visual impact is important. If your book is set in a different location and you have photographs then take them along. Kids love to know where something ‘really happened’ and images are important. If you have artifacts related to your book, even better. A bit of ‘show and tell’ will fix your book in every child’s mind if there is more to it than just words. (I have some painted papyrus so was able to use those pictures to explain how the ancient Egyptians made paper.)

• Once you’ve had your initial intro, discussion, and answered questions, you can focus on the book reading. Choose the most exciting chapter possible. Kids don’t have to know everything in advance and a brief outline of the story will be enough. Using my bookmark, the kids chose the image of the giant cobra menacing my two heroes for a riveting 20-minute read. (Have your glass of water at hand – you’ll need it!)

During your reading make sure you interrupt yourself to ask the kids questions such as “Where is so-and-so place?” or ask them if they know what particular words mean. My book is set in Egypt so talking about an exotic country was great, and asking them to explain words like ‘sarcophagus’ kept us busy. You’ll find plenty of interesting material in your own work. You can also keep an eye on their level of concentration.

Don’t forget to thank the organizers for inviting you to read and give them your business card so they never forget you. After all, you’ll be reading your next book there, won’t you?

A captivating book reading is an excellent way to create interest in your book, the kind of interest that remains unforgettable because it is both innovative and fun. Come up with creative ideas of your own based on your book’s themes and what resources you have available.
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