The Importance of Author Visits

I got my real teacher education in an Alt Ed classroom.  The Oklahoma program, before it was watered down by politics, mandated arts education and life skills as part of the core curriculum.

A good grant writer and matching funds helped me bring workshops to my school, including a poet, a cartoonist, and a found-objects sculptor.  Volunteers and friends made other experiences possible.  Dan, who’d served three tours of duty as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, taught my kids to cook.  Mila, who owned a quilt shop, taught them to sew.

How valuable was this hands-on education?  One of my students is a professional chef with his own restaurant.  Another became a math teacher. What I learned was that all students have gifts if we make the effort to uncover them, and that outside experts are invaluable in helping your students develop their gifts.

When a new superintendent farmed the Alt Ed program out to another district in the county, I moved to the high school English department.  Fortunately for me, many of my friends were writers.

My students were fortunate because the board of the local education foundation was made up of readers and book lovers. That year I wrote my first author-visit grant.  The board loved my idea, a visit from Anna Myers and an all-school read of her historical fiction novel Tulsa Burning.

The next author was storyteller Tim Tingle.  The all-school read was his Walking the Choctaw Road.

The third year, when I asked students whom to invite, they wanted Anna back.  We read Assassin. I moved to the elementary school. There we had visits from picture book author Tammi Sauer and nonfiction author Kay Jackson.

When I moved to another district, it was the principal at our school who recognized the importance of school visits.  She raised funds for books and authors, including Tammi Sauer, Barbara Lowell, and members of the Doodle and Peck team, including Sandra Lawson and Una Belle Townsend.

After visits from authors and illustrators, we saw the results.  Kids read more.  They chose favorite authors and would read everything their favorite wrote.  They started asking for particular books. They wrote more.   Some students started calling themselves writers. The artists showed off their illustrations.

Getting to know writers and realizing they are real people helps students see writing as a real choice. I know, because it is what my sixth-grade teacher, an author named Healion Toaz, showed me.

The importance of outside experts can’t be overestimated, whether they are poets, authors, farmers, or cooks.  They give students options they didn’t know they had.  As for kidlit experts, Oklahoma has some of the best in the country, and they are available to inspire your students.

Interview with Artist Jerry Bennett

Jerry Bennett, thank you so much for stopping by!!! It’s great to have you. First of all, can you tell our readers a little bit about what you do?
Thanks for having me virtually here! Love what you did with the place!
I am a full time comic book artist and illustrator, creating work of all kinds.
Screen Shot 2019-04-08 at 4.44.12 PM
You do a lot of interesting mash-ups in your art. The Giving Treebeard is one of my favorites, i.e. The Giving Tree + Treebeard from Lord of the Rings = a perfect Jerry Bennett mash-up. What inspires you to play around with existing franchises and make them your own?
I love the idea of bringing characters or concepts from one story and involving them in another world that licenses keep them from interacting in, either because they make me giggle, or I feel that they completely belong together. Another fave of mine is the one where Godzilla is sitting in front of a city in flames resembling a campfire and roasting the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (from Ghostbusters) on a skewer.
It’s hard to make a living with any creative pursuit, art and writing included. How do you do it? Tell us all your secrets!
Hah! I’m not sure there’s a secret, per se. I think the ultimate one word answer is ‘sacrifice’. When I was working a full time job in a door and plywood company, I had to sacrifice time (and sleep) to create work, whether it was for a client, for my portfolio, or for comic cons where I’d sell my prints. I had to also sacrifice arrogance to learn ways to strengthen my skills in order to improve my craft. I also had to sacrifice timidity and be brave enough to put my art out there on social media for all to see, which I know can be very tough for us creators.
Close-up of Jerry’s official art for The Stan Lee Foundation
You have done work for a number of huge companies (Marvel, Lucasfilm, Dreamworks, Stan Lee). Tell us about some of your favorite projects.
Among my favorites, of which there are MANY, is the official art I created The Stan Lee Foundation. To know that he had seen my work, and had his people contact me to create that for him was a dream come true.
“Oklahoma Kaiju” from Okie Comics, issue 2
You’ve collaborated on a number of comic book projects, including Okie Comics. How does that process differ from doing commission pieces?
Great question. I’m discovering there are a lot of ways to collaborate on a comic project, but they are oddly similar to single commission pieces. My most common process is laying out and sketching all the pages, like I would with a single commission piece, and sending them off for review and approval. I’ll usually then move to the inking/coloring/completion phase. But that process can vary, depending on how much freedom you have, or how much collaboration you get.
What advice do you have for young people who are interested in becoming full-time artists?
Work and study HARD. Be prolific, which means not going back to erase so often, which I see too much of in young artists. Don’t be afraid to make some mistakes along the way. Sketch all the time. Every day. That’s how you grow as an artist. Experiment, which means drawing and practicing a lot. I mean A LOT (Remember that part about being prolific?).Always remember to enjoy the process!
In addition to your art, you have a number of other roles in the art community. You’re currently the Artist-in-Residence at the Skirvin Hotel and the Illustrator Coordinator for SCBWI. What can you tell us about these roles, and how can aspiring artists get involved?
Yes! My artist residency has been a fantastic opportunity that the Paseo Arts Association and the Skirvin has given me to show and share my love of comic art to the community, and allow for others to understand the process of creating comic art. It’s really been wonderful to have comic art accepted by the arts community here. My role as IC for SCBWI’s Oklahoma chapter has allowed me to encourage and support and create opportunities for children’s book illustrators in discovering how to break in the children’s publishing world.
For aspiring artists, I would encourage them to get connected and network with like-minded creators in your artistic pursuit. It not only gives you a chance to share your work with that community, but allows for you to learn from them, and later share that wisdom with future generations. Volunteer in those organizations to support those fields you want to work in, because they may open doors of opportunity to get you closer to achieving your artistic goals. Giving of your self will let others know you are serious about your involvement and they will, in turn, invest in you.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Jerry!!!
To learn more about Jerry Bennett and his art, visit him at: