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How to Make The Most of Your Author Visit in Primary

Get more bang for your buck by organising three terms’ worth of activities, says author Ali Sparkes

  • How to Make The Most of Your Author Visit in Primary

Authors. We’re not cheap you know. Well, actually, we’re incredibly good value, but if you’d like us to come along to your school and whip up enthusiasm for reading and writing, you normally have to pay us. Sorry about that.

It’s not that we don’t want to visit – it’s just that it takes up a lot of time and then there’s the dull old business of mortgage paying and family feeding. This means most of us will charge and some of us might even be reassuringly expensive (*ahem*).

So you’re going to need to lock the PE teacher in the sports cupboard to stop them bidding for new bean bags, butter up the PTA for some fundraising (tears can be effective) and, most importantly, work that author visit like a pro. Here’s how.

September

Draw up a shortlist of children’s authors who visit schools and check them out. Many of us go via event agencies such as Authors Aloud UK, where you can find information about types of presentation and workshops.

Some will have websites where you can get in touch directly. Other schools may make recommendations. Once you’ve established what’s on offer and at what fee, offer up a shortlist to the children at your school.

Launch it in assembly and make sure you have a good stock of these authors’ books in your library. Ask your young readers to check out the books and, between them, decide which author they’d like to invite.

October

Just before half term ask champions for each author and their books to make a presentation to the rest of the school that will persuade them to get behind their choice. Then give the rest of the school half term to read up a bit more themselves (encouraging use of the local public library if you have one).

November

On the first week back let the voting commence. Once your school or year group has chosen, get in touch with the author and invite them in during spring term or early summer term.

As a rule of thumb, avoid World Book Day week.

Unless you’re very lucky, the author will already be booked – and even if they’re free, they may be frazzled by the time you get them. March can be mayhem! The best time, in my opinion, is early summer term, just after Easter.

December

Having booked your author, ask them if they’d be kind enough to email a small writing challenge for the Christmas holidays. It can be as simple as providing the first line of a story to kickstart young writers. 

January

Make a display of the shortlisted stories written over Christmas break (alongside the display on your visiting author which will hopefully be taking shape by now). Ask your writer if they’d be willing to judge the shortlist but please don’t be horribly offended if they decline.

We do sometimes end up with an avalanche of judging requests just when we’re approaching deadline, and it’s really difficult to give it the time it needs. Making sure you sift your shortlist down to just a few entries will make it more likely your visiting author will say yes.

February

Announce your challenge winner and runners up – prizes might be books by the visiting author or book tokens. Ask your author to dash off something congratulatory you can read out in assembly. Also ask if they’d be willing to record a quick video message on their phone to run on World Book Day.

March

On the run up to World Book Day, set a challenge for children to research the author via their website and other trusted resources.

Then, on World Book Day itself, run a quiz for the whole school – and maybe even a Mastermind-style contest for the really keen readers. That video message you asked for? It could even contain one or two quiz questions from your visiting author.

April

Encourage more reading over Easter. Set a challenge for pupils to come up with interesting questions for the imminent author visit: ones that will really make an author go, ‘Hmm!’. These are quite rare, you know!

May

The author visits! He or she is delighted with all the preparation you’ve done; the displays, the quizzes, the enthusiasm. It all goes splendidly and your school’s reading and writing levels soar overnight (obviously).

See if you can record an interview with the author in a break and get your young journalists to write it up for the school newspaper. If you haven’t got one, this would be the time to start one!

June

Make a fiction web. Choosing three of the authors’ most appreciated books, get the children to link them to another book by a different author, through plot, character names or other elements.

Display the books and short reviews, connecting them all with string. For example, in my book Frozen In Time I mention Enid Blyton in the story, so you could connect to one of her adventure about smugglers, then onto another story by a different author about a similar topic.

Readers can follow the threads and then create their own webs.

July

Can you ask your author back for end-of-year prize-giving? If that’s not possible, why not name a prize after them and ask for a written congratulations to the pupil who has done really well in all the author-related tasks you’ve set them this year?

Let the author’s publishers know about this too; there’s a good chance they may send some goodies.

August

Rest.

September

Repeat! If every school I visited did the above, I’d be thrilled, amazed and horribly overworked, so let’s just keep these tips between ourselves, OK?


Ali Sparkes is an award-winning children’s author who meets over 15,000 school children a year. Find her at alisparkes.com and follow her on Twitter at @sparkesali.

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