Posted By Jacob Hope,
26 June 2020
Will Mabbitt is the author of multiple children’s books including The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones, This is NOT a Fairy Tale and I Can Only Draw Worms. After the summer holidays he’s launching the latest book in his Embassy of the Dead series, Destiny Calling, with an international virtual schools tour. We are delighted to welcome him to the YLG blog to discuss virtual author visits.
When my first book, The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones, came out, I was told I would have to do school visits. The idea of going into a school and taking the stage before an assembly of children and teachers filled me with the same dread that my hero, Mabel Jones would’ve felt when she climbed from her kidnappers child-sized sack and found herself facing a crew of bloodthirsty animal-pirates.
Happily for me, the actual experience of visiting a school was totally different to how I’d imagined, I loved meeting the kids and teachers, and I saw for myself that - with book-loving teachers and (for the lucky few schools) librarians - how useful an author visit could be to further develop or kick-start a reading culture within schools.
Since then I’ve visited over a hundred schools all over the world, everyone of them slightly different, every school with it’s own unique personality, and I’ve left every single school thinking that I have one of the best jobs in the world!
It will come as no surprise then, that recently I’ve been pondering on how I can continue to offer visits to schools and libraries in a post COVID19 world. With these challenges, though, comes the opportunities for schools to reap some of the benefits offered by virtual author visits. Something, I’ve actually being doing for a while now for schools and libraries either without the budget for a full day, or maybe outside the distance I can feasibly get to by train. Here are some of the benefits to schools, libraries or any other group thinking about a virtual author visit.
- They’re less expensive! Schools are no longer covering travel, accommodation or having to feed me biscuits and multiple cups of tea.
- They’re more flexible! Schools don’t have to commit to a full day. If you’re on a limited budget you can focus the visit on a particular year group or reading level. You can even have multi-author visits.
- They’re easier to book! Schools have more days to choose from, as authors can fit shorter visits around meetings, writing, and other work.
- More schools can take part! As the author, this is my favourite… Any school in the world (with the technology) can have a virtual author visit with potentially any author in the world! It’s great for authors, and it’s great for schools in areas not served by local authors.
Less washing up! I am no longer leaving biscuit crumbs and unwashed tea mugs in your staffroom sink.
Of course, there are a number of challenges faced by schools (and authors) looking to do an virtual author visit. Luckily, with planning (and an amenable author), these are easily overcome:
- "Our technology is rubbish” Schools all have different technologies, some less reliable than the others. So far I’ve visited schools, libraries, and even a Brownie Troop with Skype, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime and Zoom. All platforms have pro’s and con’s and usually teachers won’t have a say in which one to use, so it’s the authors responsibility to adapt. I think they key thing is to relax and not stress out if it doesn’t work for whatever reason. Unlike a usual author visit, it’s easy to rearrange and try again.
- “We can’t buy signed books.” Most schools want the opportunity for their kids to buy signed books. Just because the author isn’t at the school doesn’t mean this can’t happen. The author should be able to help you out with this so don’t be shy to ask before the event but be aware it takes some time to organise.
- “It’s not as good as a normal school visit” School’s would be correct in thinking that often a virtual author visit is a poor substitute for an in-person author visit. Mine certainly were when I started doing them. But that doesn’t have to be the case. In the same way I adapt my in-person visits to a schools unique set-up, so I’ve learnt to change my sessions to suit talking to people through a camera.
Fingers-crossed I’ll still be doing in-person visits next year, but I’m still really excited to offer virtual visits too. I can’t wait to meet loads of new schools from all over world!
Thank you to Will Mabbitt for the blog feature, you can find out about Will and his virtual schools tour and virtual author visits on his website www.mabbitt.co.uk. Follow Will on Twitter at @gomabbitt
The Embassy of the Dead: Destiny Calling
Author Will Mabbitt takes you on a virtual tour of the Embassy of the Dead and lets you into the grisly secrets of where he gets his ideas, the art of making mistakes, and how to write a story using someone else brain. So, welcome to the Embassy of the Dead. It’s your destiny to attend!
The Embassy of the Dead: Destiny Calling Event is a fun and educational session designed to be delivered over any platform (including and not limited to Teams, Skype, FaceTime, Zoom).
Sessions are 45 mins and are suitable for years 4 to 7.
Signed and dedicated books will be available to purchase before and after the event
Please register for these free events on http://www.mabbitt.co.uk/school-visits
Reading for Pleasure
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Posted By Jacob Hope,
22 May 2020
Updated: 22 May 2020
Chair of the Youth Libraries Group, Alison Brumwell, introduces us to the British Library's Discovering Children's Books site
When national lockdown began on 23 March 2020 it was difficult to envision where we were headed or grasp the unprecedented change children and their families would face as schools closed. Throughout this time, we’ve seen a range of teaching and learning take place online, with new blogs, Facebook pages and YouTube channels popping up to support parents with home schooling and librarians with outreach. There have been virtual tours of museums and art galleries, virtual literary festivals and free access to some brilliant online theatre productions and film experiences, not to mention author events and book launches. Library membership and e-book borrowing has burgeoned across the UK and more than 100 books worldwide have been published for children and young people in a range of languages about COVID-19.
As a librarian, I have been reading, viewing and exploring many of these, marvelling at the variety and range of material available online. One of the best new websites I’ve discovered and promoted is British Library’s Discovering Children’s Books https://www.bl.uk/childrens-books. There is a range of brilliant activities for children of all ages, each of which involves delving into the diverse heritage of children’s books; not just fiction but poetry, non-fiction and illustration too. Themes of belonging, identity and morality are explored and the ways in which children’s books have also changed the world is compelling social history; in fact, there’s so much rich content here it invites parents and children to dive straight in.
As I collect children’s picture books and illustrated material, and own quite a nice personal collection, I gravitated immediately towards the creative activities, like Make a Miniature Book. https://www.bl.uk/childrens-books/activities/make-a-miniature-book. The miniature books project was inspired by those created by Charlotte Bronte and her siblings as children growing up at Haworth parsonage, carefully crafted and hand-stitched. The website includes examples of mini books created by famous authors like Jacqueline Wilson, Katherine Rundell and Philip Ardagh, which they also read aloud. https://www.bl.uk/childrens-books/activities/miniature-books-by-your-favourite-authors. You can try making your own mini book: photos can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or shared on Twitter to @BL_Learning, using #Discovering Literature.
When Eva Eland, the talented author and illustrator of When Sadness Comes to Call and Where Happiness Begins visited Kirklees Libraries last year this was an activity she prepared for primary school pupils and they loved it. I still have my own unused resources from those sessions, so I am determined to find a way of combining my love of illuminated manuscript and traditional inks with manga and see what happens. It’s a wonderful introduction to books as interactive and “living, rather than just something to digest or as artefacts arranged on a shelf.
There is also an exhaustive archive of interviews to watch and listen to. I love Viviane Schwarz’s in which she gives an insight into developing character through illustration: it is magical how a few lines and colour (or not) can evoke so much. And it’s something which is very accessible to children. Likewise, Joseph Coelho’s brilliant tips for budding poets. Zanib Mian’s interview highlights the importance of own voice and lived experience – a child’s thoughts and ideas can have a powerful place in their own writing. But a highlight for me is seeing Sarah Garland’s sketches, research, dummy book and original artwork from Azzi in Between, held by Seven Stories in Newcastle. How fascinating to have an overview of the whole process from start to finish and to read about Sarah’s inspiration for this very moving book.
The articles included on the website are equally fascinating and range from fables and fairy tales in children’s books to fear (Kim Reynolds’ article on the subject is illuminating). My own favourite is food in fiction, and Imogen Russell Williams gives us a whimsical insight into the role food plays in children’s books. Nothing fills a reader with more delight or vicarious pleasure, whether it’s bread on a toasting fork, a picnic or a feast (or Mrs. Twit feeding her husband worms instead of spaghetti). One of my most pored-over books as a child was Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did at School. As a sequel to What Katy Did, it was perhaps unremarkable, but I will never forget the sumptuous food hampers Katy and Clover used to receive at boarding school.
I hope librarians, teachers and parents will take every opportunity to explore Discovering Children’s Books with children and young people, or just take time to click through this informative, interactive resource themselves. The gallery of activities alone makes it worthwhile, but there’s so much more to share and appreciate.
'Image © Philip Ardagh'
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