here. The classroom teacher and I were delighted by the results. Even the most reluctant writers all completed a three paragraph letter.
As a follow up to last months letter writing project, I will be discussing additional tips for connecting authors and readers.
1. Connect with authors through books and websites like Dear Teen Me. While serving on a panel at the Montgomery Book Festival in February, I met co-panelist E. Kristin Anderson and fell in love with the book she edited with Miranda Kenneally entitled Dear Teen Me. The book contains letters by various authors to their teen selves and includes entries by Ellen Hopkins, Lauren Oliver, Carrie Jones and Cynthia Leitich Smith. The various authors cover a wide range of topics including finding true love, discovering the true meaning of friendship, as well as surviving physical abuse, body issues, and bullying. The stories are sometimes funny and sometimes sad, but always close to the heart. I highly recommend this book as well as the website Dear Teen Me for connecting readers and authors.
While we anxiously awaited Cynthia's response to our letters, we read her excerpt from Dear Teen Me. Learning about Cynthia's experience of break up, heart break, and the girl bully who tormented, but ultimately admitted that she admired Cynthia, made it that much more meaningful when we received Cynthia's response to our student letters. She answered individual questions within a group letter and I made copies to hand out to all the students so they could follow along as I read the letter aloud in class.
2. Connect with authors through their personal websites and blogs. If you are interested in having students write letters to an author and want to know whether you should send the letters to an email or snail mail address, try finding the author contact information online. Most children's/young adult authors love connecting with young readers and provide a contact page on their website where you may generate an email directly to them. If you contact the author before you have students write the letters, you will also know the odds of the author writing back (before the end of the school year). Let the author know that you are hoping their response can be part of your classroom connection to their book. As an author, I have been in the awkward position of receiving a packet of letters in July that was mailed in March, but didn't reach me until mid-summer because it was sent to my editor who then sent it to my agent who then sent it to me. You might be able to avoid this type of time-lag by contacting the author directly.
3. Arrange a Skype or Classroom Visit. While you're at the author's website, see if they have a page with information about their availability for school visits. Talk to your school librarian to find out if you have the financial resources to invite an author visit your school. This can get expensive if you have to pay travel costs, but many authors are now conducting Skype visits at a greatly reduced price. Some are even free.
Imagine what an extraordinary opportunity it would have been to hear Lois Lowry speak! Don't let this happen to you. Get on the mailing lists for your local book stores and keep your students up on authors that might be of interest to them. We've also had such student favorites as Lemony Snicket, John Green, and Alyson Noel come through town. These authors talk about everything from the personal life experiences that inspire their stories to research and the writing process, and most of the events are completely free.
5. Connect with local authors through organizations such as SCBWI. You may be surprised to discover that you have many local children's and young adult authors living just within miles of your school. Many of these authors offer reduced rates for local school visits and might be willing to come in for an hour or two as opposed to a whole day. You may find out the names of local authors are by talking to book sellers or by contacting your local chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (scbwi.org). If you have an interest in writing for children or young adults, you may want to consider joining this organization yourself. Many chapters have monthly meetings that are open to the public where you could potentially meet some of your local authors.
The most important thing to remember is that reading is about forming connections... to other cultures, other ideas, other times, and other people. Some of the most interesting characters you will ever meet, are the authors who created the fascinating worlds we all love to visit.