I’ve written before of school visits I’ve done in the capacity of an author. I’ve done author visits at brick and mortar schools and done virtual author visits to online schools. Whether a physical reality or virtual experience, the presentation is largely the same, and the audience is always kids. Recently I had another opportunity to visit a local school and do something a little bit different.
Eagle Rock Multi-Age school is an alternative elementary school in the Riverview School District, and each year the school holds a week-long program known as “Young Author Week”. I was flattered to be one of the authors invited to present at this years’ event, even after I realized that “Young Author” was not in reference to the authors themselves. The kids learn about what it is to be an author, so the “Young” designation pertains to the kids themselves. Still, I was honored to be able to participate over the course of two days.
Day One: Rather than talking about the Olive the Woolly Bugger series of books from the standpoint as an author (the writing part), I talked about creating the books from an illustrator’s angle (the drawing part). The kids seemed to get a kick out of hearing how I got the idea for the books (while mowing the lawn) and seeing how the characters in the book came to be (my hope is that kids will come to see mowing the lawn as more than just an arduous chore forced upon them by their parents). After presenting a brief slideshow in which the kids see the progresion from early pencil sketches to finished art, it was time to teach the audience how to draw Olive the Woolly Bugger.
Sweating under the lights and pressure as a classroom of eager young artists watched and waited for me to make a mistake, the lesson began as a demonstration in which I quickly drew Olive on a whiteboard. “This is how Olive looks,” I announced to the kids. The next step was to erase my masterpiece, much to the horror of my onlookers. “Now I’ll draw her step-by-step.” As I did so, the kids followed by copying each line in a systematic process of duplication until their papers all bore the likeness of Olive. The third step was to turn the kids loose to draw Olive without my guidance. As the young artists each branched out on their own, I walked around the room and admired their creative interpretations. It was great fun to see the varying results of their individual efforts. All were excellent and enthusiastically created.
I did this demonstration in front of three different classrooms, each room filled to capacity with kids of different ages. After the workshops had concluded, we broke for lunch. Following that the kids were given an opportunity to have books and other items signed. The other items included post-it notes and body parts. Yes, it’s true–scores of eager autograph-seekers presented pens and extended arms which they requested be decorated with the signatures of the authors in attendance. One little girl asked to have her forehead signed, which I politely declined to do. As a parent myself, I may not have appreciated my kids coming home from school with the signature of some author scribed across their forehead with a Sharpie. Sound judgment won out of youthful enthusiasm in this case.
The second day of the Young Author Week presentation involved an actual physical demonstration of something pertaining to the books. Showing the kids what fly fishing is seemed an obvious choice, so we moved outside for a casting demonstration. My first thought was to have the kids stand a few paces away with an inflated balloon clenched in their teeth. I proposed to demonstrate my casting prowess by tossing a woolly bugger at them and popping the balloons*. This idea was met with less than lukewarm reception from the school staff, and my insurance policy is not that good, so I decided to eliminate the balloons and keep the kids at a safe distance while I did a casting demonstration. I also cut the hook off of the woolly bugger just for safe measure.
*For those who have their sarcasm filter turned on, I’m kidding and never actually planned the balloon-popping stunt.
Under cool, drizzly skies I showed each group of kids what various flies looked like and talked about the different fishing situations in which dry flies, nymphs and streamers are used. Most of the kids had gone fishing before, but only a couple had ever gone fly fishing. Those who had were very eager to tell me about it. Those who hadn’t were very interested in how fly casting delivers a fly to fish in the water, or in this case to grass that held no fish. Obviously I didn’t catch any fish, so in that regard it wasn’t much different from actual fishing. There was less than 10 minutes for each group to spend at my station, so I wasn’t able to have each of the kids try their hand at casting. Still, they got a sense of what it was all about and nobody got hurt so I’d say it was a success.
When the second day concluded, one young girl rushed up to me, stuck something in my hand and ran off. Intended for Olive, the post-it note reads: “You Rock!”
No, Emma, YOU rock. And so do all the kids at Eagle Rock.
Thank you everyone for the opportunity to participate in Young Author Week!