Friday, May 8, 2009

School Visits Redux

On Wednesday May 6th, Vicki Cobb posted an interesting, insightful entry about making a living, which, thank god, includes school visits. But I thought I might spin off of Vicki’s post to mention a few more school visit advantages.

1. Isn’t it great to get OUT OF THE HOUSE?!? I love my profession, but it’s a solitary one. I love writing, but on bad days I wonder how I got into the position where I am, in essence, spending my life doing term papers (albeit very good ones). Going on school visits is still working, but you get to talk to people.

2. As I say when asked, a writer’s ideas come from everywhere. I always add that some of my ideas have been inspired by school visits. Four, in fact. Two original ideas that each led to companion books as offshoots.

For the first, I was looking for a way to make part of my presentation about my book Ultimate Field Trip One: Adventures in the Amazon Rain Forest more interactive. So instead of just showing images of the animals we saw in the jungle and telling kids about them, I started explaining about adaptations and having the kids tell me the different ways these creatures had adapted to their environment. They really seemed to really enjoy it. The result?

The other time I was doing the same presentation and a picture of a little three-toed sloth flashed on the screen. I was talking to third graders and went into my sloth routine, showing them how slowly sloth actually move. And because I knew they would enjoy it, I added another fact I knew, that sloth don’t just move slowly, they poop slowly—or infrequently at least. About once every 10 days or so. The kids laughed and then we moved on. After the assembly, the principal who had been in the back of the gym, came up to me and said, "Mrs. Goodman (that’s when I knew I was in trouble), that was a wonderful presentation, just wonderful. Now, for the 10:30, drop the sloth fact."

Of course I did, it was her school. But in that moment there were two people listening to her. The grownup me was thinking, Isn’t it strange that we have this taboo? That was a perfectly reasonable biological fact, we all do this activity everyday, blah, blah, blah. And the six year old me mentally put her hands on her hips and said, “Oh yeah?” Not long after, The Truth about Poop and its companion were born.

3. I have gotten emails from kids years after a visit saying that something I said struck a chord and they had never forgotten it. Sometimes it encouraged them to work harder on writing or ultimately want to be a writer. Once it started an interest in biology. Those notes were a REAL gift.

4. Sometimes kids say something so funny it just makes your day. A little while ago, I was standing at the front of the school library watching the kids file in and sit down. One fourth-grade boy, who thought he was too cool for words, looked at me and said, “You the author?” “Yup.” “You famous?” he asked. “Not really.” He was quiet for a second and then asked, “But do you still get to live large?”

I nodded—and then added, “You better believe it!”

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