Are you sitting comfortably?

24th February 2006 at 00:00
On the eve of World Book Day, Kate Lee offers some advice on how tomake a visit from an author an enjoyable and memorable event

World Book Day is coming up on Thursday, March 20; you've impressed yourself (and your head) with your pro-active approach and vigorous research skills and you've booked an author visit for your school.

Whether it's for a relaxed storytelling session or a series of workshops from reception right through to Year 6, there are a number of dos and don'ts that will help make it an enjoyable experience for all.

First, remember that although the author may be used to schools, he or she won't be used to your school. Make sure that reception staff are fully briefed on the author's name and arrival time, and any special requests (a flip chart or CD player, for instance).

If it's his or her first visit to your school, look at it through fresh eyes: is iteasy to find? Easy to park? Pre-empt any practical difficulties, for instance by offering to collect the author from the station, making sure you have their mobile number in case they get delayed, and so on.

If you're the author's main (or sole) point of contact, make sure you have a plan B in case you go down with the lurgy the day before the visit.

Most authors who enjoy working with children in schools are not on an ego trip and won't be looking for recognition or adulation. However, it makes sense to ensure that not only the children, but staff and parents too, are properly briefed.

Many authors have websites easily located through Google, or a slot on their publisher's or agent's website. Try contacting their publisher's publicity departments for information and lists of the author's work.

If you want to organise a book signing session, you'll need to discuss this with the author and make sure enough time is allowed for books to be delivered.

Why not use the visit to generate some publicity for the school? Tell your local paper about the visit, and have your digital camera charged and ready to go. An account of the visit might also make a fantastic article for the school newspaper.

Many authors are covered by special insurance for their work in schools.

The terms usually stipulate that authors must not be left in sole charge of children, or spend time alone with a child. Clearly, this is for the protection of all, so make sure your arrangements facilitate this.

Authors hate to feel that they have been brought in simply to keep children amused while the teacher tootles off to catch up on some admin or tidying up (it does happen).

He or she deserves your attention, and the children will get far more from the visit if you are fully engaged too.

Don't leave authors to fend for themselves in the staffroom (hissing hot water machines and mugs labelled "Use your own!" are enough to make anyone nervous).

Encourage the children to write a thank-you letter (one group of children made a sparkly card and even baked a cake) and, if you feel the author's visit was a success, say you'll be happy to give a testimonial.


* To find an author try, your local library; the arts development officer at your local authority, or a literature development agency.

The Children's Discovery Centre (tel: 020 8767 6377) and Speaking of Books (tel: 020 8692 4704) both specialise in author visits.

Other useful contacts include: and

* Writing Together, an umbrella organisation based at Booktrust (www.booktrust. org.ukwritingtogether) offers advice and some funding.

* Our Thoughts are Bees: Writers Working with Schools by Mandy Coe and Jean Sprackland, published by Wordplay Press pound;10, is a practical, comprehensive guide for writers and teachers.

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