Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Connecting With Authors

Just recently I had a conversation with a student. One of those conversations that you embrace. One where time seems to melt away and then you are left realizing that a three-minute reading conference has stretched far beyond your intended time. One where you are fine with that, because you have left with a great feeling inside.

My student had an iPad in hand when I came up to him. He looked up from Twitter when I sat down to talk. He mentioned in passing that he wondered why I loved Twitter and how cool he thought it was that I allowed them to tweet authors. Before I began, I asked him why he thought I did that. What benefit could be gained? He shrugged. I then looked around at the students in the area around me who were pretending not to listen to our conversation. I asked them all, what authors had they “met” through Twitter. They began to rattle off a list of names that made my heart swell with pride. Messner, Urban, Larson, Angleberger, Bell, O’Connor (both Barbara and George), Korman, Scattergood, McMann, Kibuishi, Nielsen, Auxier, the list goes on.

Then I asked another question – how many of my students want to be an author or illustrator? At least half of their hands went up.

And I turned back to my original student and smiled. This, this, is why I let them tweet. When they tweet authors or illustrators and those folks tweet them back, connections develop. My students begin to see these jobs as real jobs. They realize they could, if they desire, do this for a living. I never had that. No authors were traveling to central Illinois when I was a kid to talk to children in a farming community about reading and writing. Most still don’t. I loved reading. I loved writing. I just didn’t see that as a real profession. That was for my idols – Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, not for me. Not for real people. So my dream stayed a dream. I want more for my kids.

I also want them to have authors they love and know by name, have connections with. I think if they have that, they will keep that close to their heart and continue to develop as readers and writers after they leave me. If they know that Jonathan Auxier is an author they admire, if they know his work, his sense of humor, his talent with a yo-yo, they will look for his books when they leave my classroom. They will imitate his writing style in their own writing. They will look up to someone who is a great role model for them. That’s important to me.

I know these connections first hand. While I might not have known any authors as a kid, I do now, and it is all thanks to Twitter. I smiled yesterday reading the Nerdy Book Club post from Kate Messner (HERE). When I joined Twitter in 2009, Kate was one of the first people I followed. Funnily enough, I followed her because she was a teacher, I had no idea she was an author. In September of that year, I walked into Barnes & Noble and saw her book, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. on the shelf. I immediately tweeted Kate and told her it was there. She asked me to take a photo and tweet it back, it was the first time her book was seen out in the wild. So I did just that.

After reading it, I shared Kate’s book with my librarian. She built our family reading night that fall around the book. Kate Skyped into my school that night to talk to kids and their parents about her writing process. It was so cool.

I met Kate the following year at IRA in Chicago. She was incredibly kind and it was like meeting an old friend. She doesn’t realize it, but that connection through Twitter—and her kindness ever since—has created a fan for life. I will buy anything she writes. It doesn’t hurt that her books also cause reactions like this with my students. (HERE) I was beyond excited to see on Nerdy Book Club yesterday that she has written more with Gianna and Zig. I will be purchasing that eBook for sure in just a few weeks.

My relationship with Kate is one I can share with my students. I can also tell them how I joined Jo Knowles and Linda Urban last year for a plank challenge for the month of November. I can share how Kwame Alexander did a model walk complete with posing while I talked to him at NCTE. How kind and welcoming Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell are each and every time I meet them. These connections are important, but so are the ones my kids make on Twitter on their own. To them, these authors aren’t strangers, they are friends. And if my friend can be an author or illustrator, I can too. Twitter has opened up a new world to my students, and for that, I am beyond grateful.