Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Author School Visit: Why Writing a Book is Like Cooking

Last week I had the privilege of conducting my first school visit as an author! My son's second grade class read "Tall Tales with Mr. K" and the teacher asked me to come speak to the students. Of course, I was delighted! But I wasn't sure how to structure the visit. What do I talk about other than the book? I did a quick Google search and didn't come up with much. So, I just had to figure out my own plan.

The teacher said I'd have 30 minutes during the class writing time. I decided to divide it up into 10 minutes segments: have a discussion the first 10 minutes; answer questions the next 10 minutes then have the students do a short writing assignment the last 10 minutes. That way, I really only had to plan the first 10 minutes. I didn't want to just talk about the book; I wanted to give the kids something they could relate to. After some thought, I chose the theme "Why Writing a Book is Like Cooking."

1. The first thing you need to do when cooking is decide what to make. The kids had fun sharing their favorite foods to cook and eat. I explained that authors do the same thing when writing a book; They decide what to write about. I shared with them how I came up with the idea for "Tall Tales with Mr. K."

2. The second thing you need when cooking is ingredients. Some recipes are simple, like cereal, which requires only cereal and milk. Other recipes require more ingredients, like baking a cake. I explained the ingredients in a book are the settings and characters. Some books have a few characters and others have many. I went on by explaining that often you have to mix ingredients together. In a fiction novel, "mixing" ingredients is like combining things that can happen in real life with things that are made up. I also told the kids that when I invent characters for my books, I take the names of people I know and change them around, or mix them up to invent new names. (The kids thought that was pretty funny and offered their own ideas for character names.)

3.  The last thing you need to do when cooking is actually bake the food. For a book, the last thing you do is write it. This involves creating a beginning, middle and ending. (This tied in nicely because the class had practiced writing beginnings, middles and endings earlier in the year). I also included that books can be as short or as long as you like. The important thing is that they include all the ingredients and to make sure it's completely done baking.

At the end of the 10 minute discussion I did a quick review and asked the kids what the three things were you need to write a book. They easily remembered all of them! The next 10 minutes I let them ask questions. Twenty hands went up in the air at once and bombarded me for the entire 10 minutes! Surprisingly, most of their questions had to do with the publishing process. "How do you make a cover?" "How do you get a book printed?" "Where do you sell your books?" Their enthusiasm was overwhelming!

For the last 10 minutes I had the kids return to their desks and gave them a writing assignment. In each chapter of "Tall Tales with Mr. K" a different student has an adventure in the teacher's lounge. I asked the kids to write one or two sentences describing an adventure they'd like to have in the teacher's lounge. Answers ranged from having the teacher's lounge turn into Disneyland to having it turn into a castle with a dragon where you could take dragon riding lessons. These were some creative kids!

The visit went great and I had a blast! I was really impressed with these second-graders. But the best part was hearing 20 students tell me how much they enjoyed reading my book and asking when the sequel was going to be available! Now that I have 20 suggestions for new adventures in the teacher's lounge, I think my next book just might have to be titled, "Taller Tales with Mr. K!"

If you have experiences with school visits you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them!

--KSR Writer

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