Never Fear the Fifth Grade: An Author’s Guide to Creating Book Talks that Rock!
Guest Post by Holly Moulder
School visits provide willing authors with great exposure for their books and a nice little supplement for their income. But before you stand up in front of a group of one hundred ten-year-olds, you’d better know what you’re doing!
Schools demand interesting, dynamic programs. Students are not satisfied with an author who sits on a stool in the middle of the gym, blandly reading boring excerpts from his book in a voice so whiny and weak even the most devoted bookworm tunes him out. Ten minutes into his talk, the students will sense this author’s fear and get restless.
First, Velcro straps on sneakers will begin making their annoying ripping sound (creuch, creuch).
From somewhere in the back of the room, bubble gum will start popping and cracking.
Soon lunch money will begin jingling. A multitude of ballpoint pens will start their frantic clicking.
And then, a fifth grader in the front row will pass gas. Pandemonium will ensue, and that author will find himself without an audience.
Don’t let this epic failure happen to you. Twenty years of classroom experience has taught me lots of ways to keep elementary students focused and interested. Here are my four basic strategies to help you conquer your fear of fifth graders.
F: Fascinating facts will entertain and amaze your audience.
When I present my book, Eyes of the Calusa, to elementary school students, I explain that in the 1700s, the setting of my story, a special liquid was used to create a beautiful dye from indigo. I invite the audience to guess what that liquid could be, and I give them two clues: it’s a liquid present in 1720, and it’s a liquid you see every day. After a few teacher-approved guesses, you’ll spot the correct answer written all over the face of the fifth grade troublemaker. He brazenly shouts out, “Pee!”, and the entire audience erupts with glee. (Anything related to bodily functions entertains fifth grade boys. They’ll pay attention to every word you say!)
E: Speak with Energy and Enthusiasm.
Look your audience in the eye. Kids will not tolerate the author who’s sitting in a rocking chair, making a milk-toasty speech. You’ve got to be on your feet, firing questions, making students laugh, keeping them entertained! If you want to inspire kids, you’ve got to show some excitement. The bottom line? If you’re not exhausted by the end of your presentation, you haven’t done it right.
A: The Atlatl effect.
Have at least one amazing prop to share with your audience. In my study of the Calusa Indians, I learned the Calusa hunted with a weapon called an atlatl. I purchased an atlatl and dart to use as the centerpiece of my program. When I present to school groups, I point out the basic parts, talk to them about the atlatl’s use in hunting and in battle, and invite them to watch a video clip of an atlatl in action. A prop like the atlatl will even have the teachers looking up from their stacks of papers! (By the way, in this age of ‘zero tolerance for weapons’, I’ve never been questioned about my atlatl. It’s all in the way you present it. Audience safety is absolutely essential.)
R: Readiness is the key to success.
Readiness involves being on time for your program. And, by the way, ‘on time’ means arriving thirty minutes early. Teachers have planned their day around you. Do not be late. Readiness also means that you’ve supplied your host with a list of the items you’ll need for your presentation. I send this list two weeks ahead of my scheduled visit so my host will know that I need a computer, a white board or some kind of projection screen, a six-foot table for display items, and a microphone. The school staff wants to be prepared for your visit. They don’t want to scavenge for these items fifteen minutes before your program is scheduled to begin. When your day at school goes smoothly, you create the impression that you are organized, efficient and professional.
With proper planning, creativity, and enthusiasm, you can turn your epic failure into a wonderful presentation that will even get you invited back next year. Students and teachers will search out your books. New contacts will be made, and your program will be in great demand.
It’s all about conquering your fear of the fifth grade!
Holly Moulder taught elementary school in Newnan, Georgia, for over twenty years. In 2006 she left the classroom to write historical fiction for middle grade students. She has published two award-winning novels, Eyes of the Calusa and A Cord of Three Strands. Mrs. Moulder’s third novel, Crystal City Lights, is being published by Blue Marlin Publications and will be available in spring, 2013. For more information, please visit her website at www.whitepelicanpress.com.