Authors Inspire! A visit with John Thompson

One of the very best things about being an online, connected educator is the "connectedness" of it all. When I read a book I love, I can shout about it from the mountaintops.

Well... tweet about it. Which is actually better, because mountaintops are hard to reach and generally quite cold, and getting there involves an awful lot of walking and sweating and... *coughs* Back to my actual point.

Even better?  Those shouts sometimes become conversations with the actual authors and illustrators. I've noticed a huge increase in reading engagement since I have been able to say things like "I tweeted a question to Tom Angleberger and he replied".

Last year my librarian and I both read and loved a brand new mystery for middle graders, The Girl from Felony Bay. When we were chatting about it via Twitter, John Thompson graciously offered to Skype with our students. Unfortunately, it was the very end of the year, and things were just too crazy.

This year, though... this year we were going to make it happen! As luck would have it, John was going to be actually IN our area. He offered to come in person to chat with our fifth graders and we jumped on the chance.

I even managed to organize with my local independent bookstore to offer students the opportunity to get a book signed by Mr. Thompson while he was here!

John started off his visit by chatting briefly with my younger students while we waited for the entire fifth grade to arrive. They talked about books, of course! My kids were just thrilled to give him ideas about their favorite authors and what they think he should read next. The funniest part was when John was sharing some titles HE loved and my librarian started jotting down some notes. One of my third graders whispered excitedly to her friend, "He's giving MRS. ROBERTS book ideas!". I guess it never occurred to them that even avid readers are happy to get book recommendations from other readers!

As the fifth graders packed into our library, I could feel the excitement. Unfortunately, some of that was due to the proximity of the upcoming winter break, and we had to remind them to settle down several times (especially during the Q&A time).

John shared about his writing history, including how he got excited about poetry in college. I loved looking at their faces as he talked about the fact that he didn't realize until much later in life that you could actually make a living as a writer! They were astonished, because we've made a point of connecting them with writers every year in elementary school.

Another thing that surprised them was how many rewrites it took him each time he wrote a novel. I love it when authors share tidbits like this, because it is so important for our students to understand that we aren't treating them like NON-writers when we ask them to revise and rewrite. We are treating them like REAL writers.

They also loved hearing about John's transition from writing for adults to writing for kids, and how his daughter gave him a list of her favorite five books to read for inspiration. (In case you are playing from home - they are Hoot, Holes, City of Ember, Lightning Thief and Hunger Games).

John spent some time reading to the group from The Girl from Felony Bay, sharing some of his tips for incorporating dialogue into a story before he started reading. Of course, John also made sure to leave us hanging, ending his reading just as the bully got off the bus!

When John finished reading, he took some questions from the crowd. They were excited to ask their questions, but sometimes struggled to listen to others as they asked! As we dismissed, the students who purchased books to be signed lined up, and others rushed our librarian to borrow the copies she has in the library. One of those students (who is not usually excited about reading) told Mrs. Roberts, "I just HAVE to know what happens next!"

I loved watching the students line up to get their books signed. Almost every single child stood in line with an open book, reading while they waited.

THAT is the power of an author visit. Students were chatting about books. Students were excited to read.

A HUGE thank you to John Thompson for a wonderful visit.

I'm participating in the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by the amazing educators at Two Writing Teachers. We write and share on Tuesdays. Stop by to see what others are posting!

Also - if you stop by and comment, and you are also slicing - PLEASE feel free to include your URL in the comments. With over 200 people slicing, it is often hard to go find your specific link on the Two Writing Teachers page, and I'd love to come read YOUR slice too!


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