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.

SHORT STORY TIME

Short stories are a great read anytime anywhere. But who are those short story authors, how do they write the perfect stories and where can you find the best short stories?

Anyone can write a short story. Students usually write many while in school. Lots of people journal the short stories of their daily lives. And professional authors write to entertain or inform their readers.

The best short stories are those that connect with the reader. The author first asks a series of questions:

  • Who is the reader?
    • Is the theme based on the author’s own interests or experiences or does he/she need to research the subject?
    • Is it about discovery or conflict?
    • Is it fiction or non-fiction?
    • Which point of view (POV) is it in? 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person or omniscient? It’s best to use a single POV in short stories.
    • Is it in present tense or past tense?
    • Identify the Who? What? Where? When? characters, plot, setting and time period
  • Every story must have a beginning, a middle and an end.
    • The story is like an arc. It grabs the reader’s attention from the very first line. The middle of the story includes events that increase tension (the character struggles with troubles or dilemmas) and successfully reaches a climax (an unthinkable decision or action). Don’t give away the lesson learned or best summation too soon. Save it for the end. Then the story comes in for a smooth landing, bringing it back full circle with the protagonist making a decision or a discovery through realization that could be life changing.
    • You can guarantee this arc by outlining the story first OR making it up as you go and checking it later to ensure that the tension builds to a climax.
    • The body of the story is concise in setting, has crisp dialogue and ensures that the narrative moves the story (plot) forward and has a single, powerful effect on the reader. It does not include subplots.
  • Every word counts. The writer writes without thinking about using the wrong words. Then he/she gets rid of unnecessary words such as adjectives, adverbs, passive words and weak words.

Once a short story is finished, it can be published in many places. You’re probably most familiar finding them in blogs and magazines. An anthology is another place to find a collection of short stories. The stories can connect by theme (ex. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dog Lovers) and/or age group (ex. Highlights or Ranger Rick).

A new anthology written by Oklahoma authors and published by Oklahoma small press Doodle and Peck is ready to hit the shelves just in time for Christmas. It has a Christmas theme and it’s a wonderful read for all ages. I asked Editor, Susan Meyers, to describe the anthology. Here’s what she said:

A Christmas Anthology for Doodle and Peck is a little different from most anthologies. Since it showcases the authors and illustrators of Doodle and Peck, it varies in content more than the usual short story anthology. I chose stories/artwork that give a good example of the writing/artwork of each contributor – to show what you can expect if you pick up and read one of their books. To that end, we have short stories, essays, poems, illustrations, and longer stories. These works range from stories for children to stories for adults.  

I put the anthology together to be visually appealing with the artwork interspersed throughout. Most of the works for younger children are in the beginning. The adult stories are towards the back.”

Short stories can be funny, action-packed, heart-warming or even scary. Whether you’re writing them or picking up the collections that you enjoy reading, the best short stories are those that will leave you feeling content and, hopefully, wanting more.

DARLINA EICHMAN is the author of her picture book SPACE STATION VACATION (2018 Doodle and Peck). She is a contributor to the several anthologies, including A CHRISTMAS ANTHOLOGY (2019 Doodle and Peck), SUMMER SHORTS (Blooming Tree Press), THANKING OUR TROOPS (Dorcas Publishing Company) and CENNTENNIAL STITCHES (Dorcas Publishing Company).

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