This article was written for the newsletter of African International Schools. I am posting it below for those interested in reading it.
Have Books, Will Travel – Author Visits to International Schools in Africa
As the author of many books for children, I started conducting school visits a long time ago. Regular talks about my books and my writing process soon let to creating workshops for students on how they can apply my ideas to their own writing.
These writing workshops for kids, soon led to workshops for teachers – helping them to tap into ways that make writing a fun, exciting activity for students.
And that, in turn, led to talks for parents about the importance of encouraging kids to be both readers and writers, and how to accomplish this.
After much travel across the USA and Canada to speak at schools and conferences, I was thrilled to be invited to my first international school. Word of mouth soon had me flying to China, Malaysia, Mongolia and many other countries. Working as an author at international schools is vastly different from doing school visits closer to home. It usually requires adjustment to a new climate and culture on top of long days in schools. No matter how exciting dinner with teachers is, doing it five days in a row after performing all day is exhausting. So I find that it takes a special kind of person to adapt to the demands and the excitement. I have, long ago, been bitten by the travel bug. Over the years I learned to ‘go with the flow’ at international schools and so I absolutely love this unique experience.
Having spoken at the ECIS Conference in Europe, I was recently invited to work at international schools in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. What an amazing opportunity! I had dreamed of Africa for most of my life so I loved coming to the continent. The sights, sounds and smells were enchanting. I learned so much. I had no idea that people in Ethiopia celebrate an elaborate coffee ceremony each day, burning incense and roasting popcorn, too. First graders made books based on my book Families Around The World while I was able to share stories about nonfiction research with fifth graders. Other kids honed interviewing skills and we talked about books and illustrations all week long.
I was able to bring some 55 pounds of books for Ethiopia Reads, an innovative library program that brings literacy to children across the country.
In Kenya, I enjoyed conducting presentations and writing workshops to hundreds of elementary school students. The parents seemed as excited as their kids! The teachers even coordinated a wonderful Authors’ Brunch whereby third graders enjoyed a breakfast buffet while listening to the guest speaker as if they were attending a university lecture.
Being in Nairobi allowed me the enriching experience of visiting an orphanage in the nearby hills, Creation of Hope, started by a Canadian author.
Sixth grade students wrote me letters, following my talks with them. Wonderful letters that demonstrate to me that author visits do have a lasting impact on kids’ attitude towards books. Aden writes:
“I was shocked to learn that it takes years to write a book. Your presentation gave me ideas on how I can be creative when I write!”
Ravi told me that “my previous small school only had one author visit in six years, so I am so glad that my school now offers things like this. Your book about libraries around the world (My Librarian is a Camel) shows me how lucky I am to have a school library.”
From Nairobi I flew, right along Mount Kilimanjaro, to Dar Es Salaam and into a very different, hot and muggy, climate. At the wonderfully enthusiastic school I worked with children on writing their own poetry and stories. Upper elementary students even formed a Poetry Slam Club following my visit.
The students may have been excited following my presentations, but I was just as excited to have the opportunity to travel and work with teachers and kids all over world. Just because I write books. I count my blessings.