This post is written by member Amy Estersohn.
One way to help students connect with books is to engage with the authors who write them. Here are five easy ways for the readers and writers you see every day to learn more about the names on the spines in the library.
Look up an author’s website.
This is not only good for fun facts about authors, but it’s also an opportunity to learn about an author’s past and future books, professional life, and upcoming author appearances. If authors are active on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, their websites are a good place to start. Did you know that teen author e. lockhart and nonfiction picture book author Emily Jenkins are the same person?
Connect with independent bookstores and libraries.
Independent bookstores and libraries are terrific resources for learning about author events. Some bookstores and libraries may hold major author events and author panels, while others may have programs like “Comic-Con,” where comic book fans and creators congregate.
Do you want books signed by YA celebrities like John Green, Cassandra Clare, and Holly Black? That’s easy if you know where to look. Check out the signed book inventory from Odyssey Bookshop in western Massachusetts and Books of Wonder. You can also call these bookstores to see if a favorite author has stopped by to sign books!
Become part of the fan community and make an online presence for your reading life.
Write fan letters, create fan art, and make fan fiction based on favorite books and series. Some fans use blog platforms like Tumblr to talk to authors (check out Maggie Stiefvater’s tumblr as an example of an author engaging with fans) and other authors will post fan art to their website, like Gina Damico.
I’ve also experienced authors reaching out to readers. Some authors have offered via Twitter to Skype with book clubs where their book was a selection, and one award-winning author offered to Skype with our book club after she saw an announcement online that we were reading her book!
Attend festivals and conferences.
If you have ever been to a national conference like NCTE or ALAN, you already know that it’s an enormous author party, drawing authors from around the globe together for a few days. There are also smaller events, like the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival or a #nErDcamp event. Some of my favorite author memories include attending #nErDcamp Long Island eating a turkey sandwich in a middle school cafeteria next to one of my students’ favorite authors. A conference doesn’t have to be big or far away to be rewarding.
Use what you learn in lessons with students.
Authors can be honest about their writing process in front of a crowd, and a lot of what I learn from listening to authors becomes part of the wisdom I pass on to students.For example, Jason Reynolds watches a lot of movies when he is writing. Steve Sheinkin wrote an entire book because he saw a photograph of a filing cabinet and started asking questions. Janet Taylor Lisle writes by sound rather than image. Kelly Barnhill writes in her head as she runs and can remember up to two pages at a time. The author of a book that won two major awards mentioned how painful the writing process for the book was, that it constantly felt like the book was going to kill her before she finished a draft. These writers remind us that there is more than one way to write and no one right way to do it.
Make engagement personally meaningful to you and your students.
If I am going to an event, I look at the author list carefully, plan out the authors I know I want to see and talk to, and think about what I want to say before I get starstruck or too nervous. I also have little games. For example, I collect signed copies of books that I think will win a Printz or a Newbery Award. If an autographing line is short, I will sometimes ask authors to include an encouraging note to young writers in their personalizations. I have some lovely notes from Newbery medalists that were written just to my students.
If you’re taking students to an author event, consider passing along the following bits of advice: Bring a sticky note so you can handwrite your name neatly and an author can personalize it. Depending on the event, the line might be 100 people long or it might be zero people long. Some authors will ask lots of questions and engage in conversation with every reader in a line, while others might be more efficient in keeping the line moving. Asking for a selfie is okay, but don’t ask for free books or free stuff—that’s not the author’s job to give out stuff for free!
Authors are the silent partners in helping our readers grow. By helping students know them better, we are adding to the conversations we are having with students and the conversations that students are having with the world.
Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York. She blogs at Teaching Transition and is on twitter @HMX_MSE.