THE HOME FRONT. This
presentation uses visual images to show how the author’s
experience, imagination and research contributed to her World
War II novel, My Friend the Enemy. She will share the
elements of her own life that led to the story’s inspiration
(including an adventure in Japan!), then move on to how she
had to imagine her main character’s attitudes after years of
exposure to wartime propaganda (from a name you’ll recognize).
Students will learn about rationing, salvaging and
air-patrolling on the home front. The presentation concludes
with a demonstration of the Japanese “Fu-Go Project,” a
little-known episode of World War II that figures in My
Friend the Enemy. You’ll be amazed! Suitable for grades
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS: History (World War II at home),
Multi-cultural (Japanese), Science (aerodynamics, air
currents, hot-air balloon technology)
WHERE DO STORIES COME FROM? Mrs. Cheaney’s
latest novel, The Middle of Somewhere, is the story
of a road trip. It’s also the result of “happy convergences.”
A lot of it really happened, including the
squirrel-in-the-toilet incident, but it took somebody’s
imagination to cut and paste old pieces together to make
something new. Through pictures, clippings, and interactive
readings, students will learn how an author uses everyday
experience to make stories—and along the way, they’ll learn
that their own lives are chock-full of story material.
Overhead projector required. Suitable for grades 4-6.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS: Composition (story structure),
Geography and maps, Personal development.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sounds like fun (you think to yourself) . . .
- We've never scheduled an author visit, and I don't know
- With all the budget cuts lately, we can't afford it.
- With all the standardized testing our kids have to
prepare for, we don't have time.
If you can relate to any of those "buts," this
little guide is for you.
1) HOW TO SCHEDULE, CARRY OUT, AND FOLLOW THROUGH
ON A SUCCESSFUL AUTHOR VISIT
First, contact Aquila at email@example.com
and let her know you're interested in a visit from J. B.
Cheaney. Information needed: grade levels; number of
presentations, time frame (morning, afternoon, or all day);
time allowed for each presentation (usually 45-60
Except in unusual cases, I request an opportunity to sell
my books, usually after each presentation. Many schools,
especially those in larger cities, like to order the books
through a local bookseller or national distributor. If you
have no experience with this, see * Book Business
* below. In certain circumstances, I may be able to
bring my own copies to sell.
If we arrange a date and time I will send a letter of
agreement for you to sign. Then the countdown starts . . .
6-8 weeks before the visit:
Order books for the library, if you don't have them
already. This will help teachers to read and become acquainted
with them so they'll be able to talk about them with the
6 weeks before the visit:
I will send a packet with classroom suggestions and
activities that teachers can use to prepare the students. The
packet also includes a "know the author" quiz, a sample
book-order form a full-color poster, and a reproducible flier
to tack up in classrooms.
Double-check lodging and schedule arrangements and line up
necessary equipment. "Necessary equipment" is merely an
old-fashioned overhead projector. Also a microphone, if we're
talking about a large room (such as a gym) filled with
Decide which of the preparation activities you'll have time
to do and work them into your lesson plan.
3-4 weeks before the visit:
Put up fliers in classrooms and begin to talk up the event.
If you are reading one of the books to the class, you might
want to allow four weeks. To give you an idea how long it
might take, The Middle of Somewhere is 218 pages long
with 19 chapters. My Friend the Enemy is 262 pages
long with 27 (shorter) chapters.
2 weeks before the visit:
Check with me to make sure we're coordinated!
Dust off the overhead projector and make sure it works.
Designate one teacher or teacher's aide to help with book
Hand out book order forms in class.
1 week before the visit:
Order books from bookseller or publisher.
Pick up rose petals at the florist's to strew on the
sidewalk (just kidding).
I'll take over from there!
* * * * * * * * * * *
2) HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON A SCHOOL VISIT.
(For many of these suggestions, I'm grateful to my friend
Sara Denson, who writes terrific picture books. See her site
HONORARIUM: My standard fee is $500 for a full day (up to
four sessions) or $350 for a half-day (up to two sessions).
You've already saved money! This rate is below the national
average, but even that may be too rich for your little
district. Don't despair; we still may be able to work
Network with other teachers or librarians in nearby
districts to see if any of them would be interested in a
visit. If schools are not impossibly far apart, I could do two
half-days at a cost (per school) of much less than a full day,
and more kids get the benefit. Often the local PTO sponsors
special events; ask what they can contribute. If your school
doesn't have an active parents' group, perhaps a local service
organization would be willing to contribute (especially if I
included a talk at one of their meetings). Or, do you have a
substitute teacher fund? Would the district allow you to offer
one or two days' sub pay in return for a visit? Some of these
ideas may spark further creative financing!
Lodging. Do any of your teachers or
administrators have a basement apartment or "mother-in-law
suite" standing empty? Though I need some time to myself every
evening to unwind, I certainly don't mind staying in a home,
backyard RV, or private guesthouse (I draw the line at gym
Or, consider asking a locally-owned hotel or lodge if they
would be willing to offer a free night or two in exchange for
advertising. Then, on every press release sent to the papers
and every letter sent home by the students, be sure to include
the blurb, "Mrs. Cheaney's visit is co-sponsored by
_________." You might even include the hotel's logo on fliers
Mileage. If driving, I usually charge a
nickel less than the standard business rate. This rate has
been averaging .43-.53 per mile, so $.45 is a good figure to
use for estimating the cost. If your school is less than fifty
miles from my home in Southwest Missouri, I often don't charge
for driving there.
Airfare. If the location is over 400 miles
away, flying might be preferable (and cheaper!). I can arrange
this, if you prefer not to. I always go for the least
expensive rate that fits with the time frame. We'll discuss
the best way for me to get around once I'm in the area. If you
can arrange chauffer service to get me to and from my lodging
and the airport, that's fine, but it might be simpler to
provide me with a car (and a good map!). A local dealership
might be willing to provide a car in exchange for blurbs
("Mrs. Cheaney's transportation generously provided by
_____"), or a teacher or board member may have an extra
vehicle they'd be willing to entrust to me. Like that rusty
orange pickup they use during deer season.
Food. During the day, I can lunch with
teachers or students. Would the student council or writers'
club like to order in pizza for private time with the author?
Could we arrange a coffee klatch in the teacher's lounge? If
you'd like to take me out for dinner one evening on the
district's tab, that would be great, and I eat practically
anything. For the rest, I can take advantage of the hotel
breakfast or pick up a salad at Wendy's at my own expense.
This may seem daunting: so we have to send an order form
home with the kids, collect the money, order books (from
where?), sort them when they arrive, distribute them to the
right students, and send back any that didn't get sold. Who
Well . . . the kids do. Getting to meet a real author in
person connects them to the world of books in a tangible way
("Authors are real people like we are! Maybe I could write a
book some day!"). Getting to own a book personally signed by
the author extends that benefit. Also, as all my books are
available in paperback the cost to the student isn't so great.
Very little of it accrues to me, incidentally--if the school
takes responsibility for ordering the books, I receive my
royalty and that's it. For paperback books, that's
surprisingly little! But I'm cool with that, as long as the
kids are reading.
So, how do we do this?
Ordering from a dealer. Many schools,
especially those in larger districts, have a working
arrangement with a local bookseller. If yours does not, it's
worth connecting with the community relations director of your
local Barnes & Noble, Borders, Half Price, BooksAMillion
or independent dealer. Any bookseller worth his salt will bend
over backwards to work with schools, and many offer school
discounts. You can either keep that savings for school
projects, or pass it along to your students. Most booksellers
will allow you to order the books on consignment--that way,
you may return any unsold copies without a penalty.
Ordering from the publisher. If there's no
local bookseller, it's easy to order directly from my
publisher, Random House. Their warehouse is centrally located
Indiana, and it's staffed with friendly, helpful people. All
the books I've ordered from them have always arrived on time,
or even ahead of time. If you decide to go this route, I can
provide you with contact information.
Purchasing directly from me. A few of my
hardcover books are out of print, meaning if the student
really likes hard covers, or the library would like to
purchase copies for the library, the best option is to buy
them from me. Also I sometimes bring my Wordsmith books to
sell. This is easy if we work it out ahead of time so I know
how many copies to bring.
General Procedure and Countdown
- We'll discuss how and from whom to order the books.
Remember, I will work with you on this!
- I'll include an order form in my packet of prep
materials. I can also e-mail it as a file attachment so you
can customize and print it directly from your computer. You
may photocopy as many as you need and send them home with
the students two or three weeks before my visit. (p.s., I've
tried to make the forms interesting enough so the kids will
at least look at them, though, let's face it, at least half
will end up at the bottom of the book bag.)
- Once you have a rough idea of how many students will be
buying books, you may place your order. One week (five
business days) is usually enough time for books to arrive,
whether you order from a publisher or from a local
bookseller. You may want to allow a few more days just to be
on the safe side. Also, it's a good idea to order a few
extra to serve those kids who forgot to return a form or
decide they simply must have a book after hearing me speak.
- Allow a little time after each of my talks to distribute
books to students who ordered them and to allow me to sign
them. I love having the time to chat with an individual boy
or girl while signing personal copies.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
3) DO WE HAVE TIME FOR THIS?
This is the most common complaint I hear from teachers:
with all the additional testing required these days, there's
just no time for the field trips, special assemblies and other
enrichment activities. That's a tough one.
But there's more than one way to skin a standardized test.
Here are some ways a visiting author can enhance learning and
comprehension for students:
- Can answer questions about writing and story development
- Can be a source of encouragement to aspiring writers
- Can encourage reluctant readers through personal
connection ("I met the author of this book . . . maybe I
should read it.")
- Reinforces familiar material from a new perspective (For
example, have you ever told your students to turn in a
sloppy copy? Real authors do this too! I'll show you mine.)
And here are some specific benchmarks
addressed in my presentations or preparation activities:
- Describe how an author creates mood by choosing words
[and details] with specific connotations.
- Analyze the influence of setting on characters and on
how the problem or conflict is resolved.
- Write [or discuss] responses to literary selections that
demonstrate an understanding of character motivation and
- Read aloud or recite literary, dramatic, and original
- Explain differences between literal and figurative
language in text.
Distinguish between main plot and subplot and
identify various types of conflict.
Generate ideas for writing by responding to stimuli such as
current events and magazine articles. (I share exactly how my
own experience contributed to my books, showing the students
how authors "get their ideas" and giving them ideas for their
(These apply to the "Home Front" presentation)
- Identify the effects of WWII on the home front.
- Students know topography and patterns of global and
local atmospheric movement influence local weather, which
occurs primarily in the lower atmosphere.
(These apply to the "All The World's a Stage"
presentation, which serves as a practical Introduction to
Shakespeare in one hour or less!)
- Define the Renaissance in terms of science and fine
- Explain how theater reveals information about other
historical periods and cultures.
- Explain the roots of theater in Western civilization.
So if you've never scheduled an author visit,
here's a good chance to give it a try. Click over to the "Talk
to Me" page, type your address in the email form and lets see
what we can do!