This is an updated version of a post that was published on July 21, 2014.
As a former teacher librarian, I loved connecting my students and school community to authors, illustrators, publishers and others in the book industry. Our guests told their stories about becoming an author or illustrator, read their books and answered student questions. We might do a fun activity together, such as create poetry or finish the ending to a story that we started in class.
Peter Reynolds, author and illustrator of The Dot and other books, even gave us a tour of his studio where he created all of the wonderful illustrations we just love. And Michael Buckley, author of The Sisters Grimm series, Skyped with our fourth and fifth graders after they read his books in literature circles. Students led the conversation, and Buckley deepened the learning experience and made it one they won't forget.
Finding people is easier than you think
How did I find these connections? I made hundreds of contacts through Twitter, Facebook, conferences, websites and friends. Here are a few easy ways to get started.
Twitter. You can search for authors and illustrators and even follow hashtags, such as #kidlit, #yalit and #childrensbooks, to make connections through conversations around these topics. I also follow publishers and educational companies to see what they tweet and who they follow. I have found some neat people who've come to my schools by using these sources.
Facebook. You can follow authors and illustrators on Facebook and share their pages with your students. I always find lots of interesting things on their Facebook pages, such as new book trailers, illustrations they are working on, announcements and much more.
Facebook also offers a way to contact authors directly, which is how our kindergarteners met Mercer Mayer, who writes and illustrates the popular Little Critter books.
A kindergarten teacher in our district suggested we try to connect with Mayer because the kindergarteners focus on his work in September. We created our very own Just Little Critter collaborative story using Little Bird Tales with an illustration and spoken story from each student. We then put our story on Mayer's Facebook page, along with a note asking him if he would like to connect with our students in Van Meter, Iowa.
He agreed, and in February our K-3 students Skyped with Mayer. It was so special for all of us, and based on the image on Mayer's Facebook page, he had fun with us too!
He even drew us our very own Little Critter, who now lives in our library. Give it a try and you'll find that many authors would love to be invited into your classroom.
Websites. There are two websites that are helpful for finding authors to Skype with. Author and teacher Kate Messner has a page on her blog listing authors who Skype. Messner states on her blog that she compiled the information to help cash-strapped schools connect with authors. "I realize that many schools facing budget troubles don't have the option of paid author visits," she wrote. "With that in mind, this is a list of authors who offer free 15- to 20-minute Q&A sessions with classes and book clubs that have finished reading one of their books."
The second website is Skype an Author Network, created by author Mona Kerby. The mission of this site is to provide K-12 teachers and librarians with a way to connect authors, books and young readers through virtual visits.
Share the experience with others
I hope I've convinced you to reach out to your students' favorite authors and illustrators. If you're willing to give it a try, I have one more tip.
Skype in the Classroom has a lot of free resources for educators who want to Skype with other classrooms. You can invite other schools to join the conversations with authors.
When we Skyped with Mayer, we brought in my sister Heather Fox's school in Amana, Iowa, so we could both enjoy the connection. It is easy to do and so much fun to bring even more students and teachers together with authors and illustrators.
My students, colleagues and I have been fortunate to meet Sharon Creetch, Seymour Simon, Tom Angleberger, Mrs. P, Robert Forbes, Laurel Snyder, Libba Bray, Peter Reynolds, Ruth Spiro, Susan Reagan and many other special authors and illustrators.
Shannon McClintock Miller is a former educator and a Skype Education Ambassador. She is a conference presenter and speaker on topics ranging from student voice to classroom collaboration tools.