Virtual Visit with Stephen McCranie

How do you get kids even MORE excited about reading? Connect them with a real, live author! I always knew that was true, but I got to see it first hand when I scheduled my first ever "Virtual Visit".

Stephen McCranie, the author/illustrator of the Mal and Chad graphic novels, posted his idea for a massive Skype tour on the Nerdy Book Club site.  I desperately wanted to try it, but I was anxious that the technology in my district wouldn't be up the challenge. My students, though, are passionate graphic novel readers. (Which just MAY have something to do with the fact that I taught a unit on comics last year, and then spent the year acquiring as many different graphic novels as I could to put on the shelf... ) I knew this opportunity was just perfect for us, so I filled out the form.

The rush of excitement I felt when I got that initial email from Stephen convinced me I was right to sign up. He was even gracious enough to give alternate technologies a try, since my district doesn't support the use of Skype. We use Adobe Go Live - and with Stephen's willingness to give it a shot, we set up our virtual meeting.

I prepared by reading the two Mal and Chad graphic novels (once I could get my sons to relinquish them, that is). Several students got the chance to read them prior to the visit as well. Stephen assured me that the visit didn't require the students to have prior knowledge of the characters. We did take some time to create questions for him before we trooped down to the library.

The event began with small gasps of wonder as Stephen's voice piped through our speakers and his face appeared on our screen. Here he was - a real, live, actual person who makes the graphic novels they all love so much. Grins lit up every face as they settled in to interact with a practicing professional.

Stephen began with a drawing of Mal and Chad greeting us. Right there, on the screen, my students saw his characters take shape. Then we got to participate in creating a mini story. He discussed briefly how a story requires a character to have a goal, and an obstacle. He talked about how he always creates a rough draft first. The students nodded vehemently in agreement with his every word. Funny, it reminded me of the discussions I have with parents at conference time. Sometimes it takes an outside voice for kids to really listen, right?

We collaborated on a story about a girl who wanted a pony. I can't tell you how pleased I was that Stephen picked that particular child's ideas. It was the perfect little confidence boost for her, and her smile lasted for days.

After the lesson on plot, Stephen described the techniques he uses to draw his comics. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that many of my students request drawing books or software for the holidays this year! His simple tips about using basic shapes to create characters stuck with my students as they worked on their own drawings later in the room.

As our final treat, he drew a special picture for us while we did a Q&A session. I was pleased to learn Stephen's family has been very supportive of his desire to create art for a living, and to see the picture take shape so quickly under his expert pen (pen? he used Manga Studio software). I pulled questions randomly from our pile, and chuckled as each child exclaimed "that was my question!" as they recognized what they wanted to ask. I think their favorite answer, though, was when Stephen talked about some of his favorite graphic novels. Bone and Amulet top the list in my room, too. While he drew our "Yoda on a unicorn", my students got one additional life lesson. Stephen took a moment to do some quick visual research to help him get the look of Yoda right. See, kids - even artists do research! Thanks for that, Stephen.

When we waved our final goodbyes, the buzz kept on going. Some of the students had to head back to their homerooms, and some came back to finish their enrichment time with me. As we worked on creating thank you notes and cards, many of them tried out the "simple shapes" tip he'd shared with us.

All in all, this was an experience I am so thankful I was able to provide for my students. Stephen McCranie, you have definitely earned a slew of new fans!

Stephen McCranie tweeted the link to the first 40 pages of Mal and Chad's newest adventure - Belly Flop. I've already preordered my copy!


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