November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Six Things That Made my Patrick Ness Author Visit a Knockout Success

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Patrick Ness in the auditorium at  Riverside High School in Leesburg, VA.

In November, I had the remarkable opportunity to host the Carnegie-award winning author Patrick Ness at Riverside High School in Leesburg, VA, where I am a librarian. Ness is the author of several award-winning YA books includingThe Chaos Walking Trilogy,” A Monster Calls, More Than This, (all Candlewick, 2008-2010; 2013, 2014) and his newest book, The Rest of Us Just Live Here (HarperTeen, 2015). The visit was an astounding success and had a big impact on our students and staff.

Several critical steps helped this author visit succeed. Here are some tips to get the most out of yours.

1. Find the right author

Identifying a relevant author to connect with your students takes research. Actively meet YA authors, either virtually through social media, or physically at conferences and book events. Consider whether the books are relevant to the students you serve.

Look for opportunities for collaboration outside your school walls. When the chance to bring Ness to our school through our public library materialized, I was familiar with his work as a talented author. However, I did some further research and learned that he had even more to offer our students. In addition to his tremendous success as a YA author, he wrote the screenplay for A Monster Calls—the movie (October 2016). He is the creator and co-executive producer of a new Doctor Who spinoff series called Class, hitting the screens in North America and the UK next fall. Ness is also active (and often hilarious) on Twitter and his website, which has several videos of him in interviews. Ness is a funny, engaging, and candid storyteller, and I knew our students would relate to his humor.

2. Get buy-in from administrators

Before undertaking the author visit, make sure your principal and other key administrators are on board. I reached out to my school’s principal, assistant principals, and the English department chair for their support, which they enthusiastically gave after reading A Monster Calls over the summer. It’s a brave, insightful young adult novel about a boy who is visited every night by a monster, who helps him face the reality of his mother’s terminal illness. Ness’s writing is gorgeous and powerful. We all agreed it would be a phenomenal opportunity to connect students with high quality literature.

3. Find the funding

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Thanks to a gift that allowed the local public library to buy 13,000 copies of “A Monster Calls,” students had read the book before Ness’s visit.

eFunding for author visits is potentially available from a number of sources, including literacy/educational grants, your PTO/PTA, crowd-source funding, or your public library. Ness’s visit to Riverside was made possible through a gift fund to the Loudoun County Public Library (LCPL) through our county’s “1Book 1Community” program. The 1Book 1Community initiative, which models the “One Book” movement started by Nancy Pearl in 1998, is a county-wide event that promotes community dialogue and understanding through the shared experience of reading and discussing the same book. Through the Irwin Uran Gift Fund, LCPL purchased 13,000 copies of A Monster Calls and brought Ness to visit two county high schools, a juvenile detention center, and a book-signing event. The public library coordinated with Ness and his publisher, Candlewick Press, on the logistical details of his visit, which allowed more time for me to work with my school community to promote Ness’ book and his other work; a key component of the “One Book” movement.  According to LCPL youth programming coordinator April Shroeder, ”working with school librarians and educators gets the book…in the hands of more readers than the (public) library alone could reach.”

4. Collaborate with your staff
Ness led a school-wide assembly of approximately 1,000 students and faculty members. To make the large-scale event relevant and impactful, students needed to know his work. My goal was to work with our staff to create an ideal environment for Ness to interact with our community of learners. As an instructional team, we devised a plan to promote the book through the school and public library and teach the book through the ninth grade English curriculum. We requested 400 copies of A Monster Calls for our school, which we promoted through library book talks, class read-alouds, book discussions, posters, and displays. I ordered extra copies of his other books to circulate. We worked on sound, lights, and music, and prepared auditorium seating charts and positive behavior expectations. Likewise, we recruited National English Honor Society students as ushers and photographers. English teachers worked with students to craft thoughtful questions for Ness.

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5. Find opportunities beyond the classroom walls

Prior to the event, I reached out to Ness via Twitter to find out the specifics of his presentation to prepare our staff and students. He informed me that he would talk about himself as a writer and how students can become writers themselves. With this information, I coordinated with our public librarians on writing and publishing opportunities for our students, including promoting LCPL’s upcoming youth creative writing competition, the It’s All Write program. Additionally, Ness’s Syrian Refugee Crisis Campaign on Twitter inspired our Multicultural Club to write letters to embassies to promote peace, and inspired our library volunteers to raise money for Syrian refugees through a used book sale.

6. Promote, promote, promote

This is critical. We promoted the event on Twitter and Instagram and invited our school district’s public information office and our local news stations to cover the event, which also yielded positive PR for the library media program.

Lauren McBride is a high school librarian at Riverside High School in Loudoun County, VA. She has a Master’s of Library and Information Science from Pratt Institute and tweets @bravelibrarian.

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Comments

  1. Doug Anderson says:

    Lauren, you rock! Thanks for being the best:)

  2. Tripp Di Nicola says:

    Awesome advice from an amazing librarian! Your contagious enthusiasm makes reading incredibly enjoyable for an entire school community!

  3. What a great example of the public library working with a school library to enrich the lives of an entire student body. Kudos to the One Book One Community program, the Loudoun County Library and also to the Riverside High School library.

  4. Sapna Venkatachalam says:

    Amazing job, Lauren! You make us proud:)

  5. If only more librarians could think like you! There are funds out there to bring authors in. Find them! It’s worth it for your students.

    • Thank you! Yes, I am a huge advocate for connecting students with authors. Author visits spark creativity and get students fired up about reading. I have seen it happen time and time again.