|Virtually visiting a school in Atlanta|
Like many authors I charge a fee for my school visits to cover the time spent preparing my sessions as well as the time spent at the school. Unfortunately, with budgets being tight in most state schools, such fees deter many schools from booking author visits. The problem is particularly acute for small schools in rural communities where the cost of the visit on a per child basis can be three or four times that for a child attending a larger urban school. I’m a picture book author, so I visit primary schools. The last primary I visited told me that I was their first author visit in four years. At some primaries the gap has been even bigger and it’s not uncommon for a child to go through all seven years of school without an author or illustrator visit.
So how do we get authors and illustrators interacting with schools more regularly and with less expense? One solution that’s become popular in the US is virtual visits. Many US authors use Skype video software to read their books and talk to children in US schools. While many authors charge for longer in-depth virtual visits, most offer short visits for free and I think this is one reason that virtual visits have become so popular, so quickly in the US.
A few of my picture books have been published in the US and eighteen months ago an elementary school in North Carolina asked if I would virtually visit to read one of them. It went so well that in June last year, I started offering a limited number of free virtual visits through my web site. Since then I’ve visited lots more US schools but so far very few UK schools have shown any interest.
|And another in Pennsylvania|
To get the ball rolling, I’ve decided to follow Kate Messner’s example and only list authors and illustrators who offer free 15-20 minute visits — although authors and illustrators can obviously offer longer, paid-for virtual visits in addition to this. At present I’m restricting the directory to authors and illustrators who have had their work traditionally published in the UK (not at the author's expense and not solely in print-on-demand/ebook format). There is no charge for being listed on the site.
My aim is to kick-start virtual school visits in UK schools, so I’d like to get as many authors and illustrators listed on the site as possible. If each author or illustrator offers just one free 15-20 minute virtual visit a month during school term time, that's potentially 10 schools a year, some of which may never have had an author or illustrator visiting them before.
|A school in Vermont from my end.|
Here’s what a couple of UK schools had to say about my virtual visits with them:
"The Skype session was fantastic and the children really enjoyed it. It was great to be able to get the children to write questions and then have answers to them. I would certainly recommend it to other teachers. The parents all heard about it when their children got home from school and it certainly impressed them." Cossington C of E Primary School, Leicestershire, UK
“We thought the session was fantastic - just what we needed, a real life author to give out the messages we continually say … It is a brilliant opportunity to speak with you virtually and move into the 21st century! … The session was very clear and just the right time for year 3.” Corrie Primary School, Manchester, UK
I’m hoping that virtualauthors.co.uk will encourage more schools to invite authors and illustrators into their classrooms. Virtual visits are no substitute for an author or illustrator visiting a school in person but, who knows, once schools have seen the benefits of a quick virtual visit, they might book a few more actual visits too
Jonathan Emmet is a children's author, paper-engineer, part-time astronaut and full-time fantasist working from home in Nottingham, England. You can find out more about him and his books here.