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Planning a First Book Program
by Kathryn Lay

When I finally got that long-awaited call from my agent that my middle-grade humor novel had been accepted, the first thing I did was scream the news to my husband and daughter and call everyone I knew (and had known). The second thing I did was think, "Can I do school visits with this book?"

Many in my critique group had gone before me in the adventure of their first book being accepted and published. One thing they were doing to keep their book in print and to create more income was to do school visits.

Yet, being terminally shy, I wondered how I could possibly perform such a feat and do it well. Over the next year 18 months, I worked toward a goal of becoming a visiting author for schools and libraries.

FIND YOUR BOOK’S LESSON PLAN

Somewhere in every book is an idea, theme, or focus that can be used to enhance a school’s curriculum or make learning an idea fun. It may be friendship, a concept such as counting/colors/alphabet, a historical event or time, nature, trivia, planting and growing, or using your imagination.

For my book, CROWN ME!, I found three main topics to use and emphasize and teach for school visits. It is about a boy who wants to be in politics, begins with 5th Grade Student Council President, is crowned King during a medieval history project, and learned many truths about leadership along the way. With the upcoming Presidential Election in our country, I found that I could use elections, medieval history, and leadership as my school visit theme. I also wanted to incorporate the importance of reading and writing, as these are used in the required state school tests for 4th graders in Texas.

CREATE A PROGRAM

My next plan was building a program that teachers and kids would both enjoy. Being the wife of a teacher and listening to other authors who do school visits, I knew that my program couldn’t be a lecture or time of just reading from my book. It had to have pizzazz. There should be action, kid’s involvement, and visual aids.

Over the next year, during rewrites and galley proofs, I set about putting together my props and program. I put together a mock election where students would write or say essays with the topic, "If I were king or queen of my school I would…" This went along with how my main character becomes king of 5th grade. I would have several ‘candidates’, just like in a real election. With several students representing the Electoral College, and the rest being part of a cheering rally, our king or queen would be elected and crowned.

It was fun finding crowns, jester hats and shoes with little bells, finding inexpensive American flags and creating banners to wave that proclaimed, "Huzzah!"

Unable to find crown stickers, I created my own as well as bookmarks. Later, my wonderful publisher created bookmarks with my book cover and information on ordering, so I have been able to use them in my press packet and visiting school packets.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Once I had my program figured out, I began sharing it with my writing buddies, my critique group, and friends who were teachers or librarians. Just as with my writing, I listened to critiques and ideas to make it better.

When an opportunity came up to do a school program, months before my book would be available, I accepted. It was an all day event with other authors and storytellers involved. I was given 4 groups of students, 1 hour per group, grades K-5 in each group.

This was the perfect chance to practice my program before I had my book in hand, to see if my idea worked.

I learned a great deal from that first program; what worked and didn’t work, what the kids responded to best, the times they were restless, the things that made teachers smile or look bored. I found what wasted time and what went too quickly. With such a mixed group, I also saw what worked better for the younger ages and what interested the older kids, as well as the parts of my program that appealed to them all.

I learned to be flexible. My original plan had been for teachers to have students write their "speech" ahead of time, send them to me a week before the program, and I’d pick 3 kids to be the "candidates" for each group. They didn’t have time to do it beforehand, so I had to pick volunteers at the time of the program. Some kids gave speeches; others said only a few words. I learned not to panic, but to improvise and let them have fun.

As the time nears for my book to appear, coinciding with the beginning of the school year and right before election time; I know that I survived my first school visit, it was fun, and the kids learned something new. My program will change as I learn from each school visit, but I am ready to take my book and program "on the road."

© Copyright 2004, Kathryn Lay

Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through rlay15@aol.com

Other articles by Kathryn Lay :

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