Last Thursday afternoon, thirty-nine seventh graders crowded into my classroom. I handed them index cards with the questions they’d prepared ahead of time, signed on to Skype, and set up the projector. Soon, Kate Messner’s face appeared on the screen, and we began our virtual author visit.
The day before, we’d finished Capture the Flag, the first book in Kate’s middle-grade mystery series. During our Skype session, students asked great questions about how Kate handles writer’s block; where she gets her ideas; whether she has a dog that inspired the dog in the novel; whether she likes Tootsie Rolls as much as another character in the novel does; and why we can’t yet buy Hide and Seek, the next book in the Silver Jaguar Society mystery series, when she already had a copy in hand to show us. Then they got to hear the beginning of Hide and Seek, which is due out in April.
Kate Messner is truly a virtual author visit pro. She taught middle school English for many years, so she has experienced Skype visits both as a teacher and as an author. Our Skype visit was valuable not only because it was an exciting opportunity for students to connect with the author of a book they’d just read, but also because it gave me some ideas about Skyping best practices, for future virtual author visits I coordinate for my students…and maybe even for author visits I conduct myself some day, I hope!
Kate has written some articles in School Library Journal about virtual author visits: this one from 2009 includes a list of authors who Skype for free, and this one from 2010 expands on the benefits of virtual author visits. Kate also emailed me a book order form before the Skype session; interested students filled out the form and brought in a check, and then I sent all of the forms and checks to an independent bookstore Kate chose. She will go to that bookstore to sign my students’ books (as well as books that students from other schools have ordered), and then the bookstore will send the personalized, signed books to me before the holidays. So we’re really getting almost all of the perks of an in-person author visit at no cost to the school and with minimal hassle. Amazing!