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You've Scheduled a Virtual School Visit...Now What?

So, the pandemic has brought a lot of disruption to the traditional ways of doing things. Gone are the days where one could market their book by doing in-person school visits. Usually authors would contact local schools, tell them about their book, and offer to read it in-person to the targeted grade level audience. But nope, no more! 🙅🏽‍♀️Now with the pandemic, everything has shifted to virtual platforms. And actually, this is a not-so-bad thing in the sense that we are now able to reach BEYOND our local schools and libraries! We're now able to visit schools ANYWHERE! We can connect with so many people in so many places and in so many ways with little cost or expense to us. I mean, we don't even have to leave our homes 😆

And this brings me to February 3, 2021. On that day, I had the honor and privilege of reading my book, Andrew Learns about Actors, to a kindergarten class at a low income based academy in Richmond, VA called Smart Cookie Learning Center II, via Zoom. But first let me tell you how February 3 came to be. Remember those Facebook groups I mention in nearly every blog post? Well, one of the members of the group, Amirah-Helen, is the children's book author of Mighty Miles The Major Problem, which is a book about a little brown boy navigating his way through the new pandemic norms; and a kindergarten teacher at the aforementioned school. Amirah-Helen posted to the group page: Let’s support each other this Black History Month! I am looking for fellow African American Authors who write children’s books with black/brown main characters for virtual author visits/read alouds from February 1st to 28th! I followed Amirah-Helen's instructions on expressing interest in her amazing project, and she selected me to participate!

Slots were filling fast and I wondered should I "visit" at the beginning of the month, middle or end. Then I thought what the heck, let's be in the first week! But not the first author, just in case kinks needed to be worked out.

Okay, so I had my virtual school visit scheduled. And it was happening miles away from my home in Texas. But, now what? I felt excited, but also anxious because not only was this my FIRST school visit ever, let alone first virtual school visit, but I have NO experience with little kids outside of my son, Andrew. 😯 So, I wondered, would I be able to relate to the kids? What do we talk about? How do I talk about the book with them? How do I keep them engaged? What do little kids care about? And the many questions of doubt and self imposed confusion continued. Until, I consulted none other than my mama. She has been an elementary school teacher for over 20 years! Surely, she knows kids and she knows a thing or 2 about book readings! I told my mama essentially that I have no idea what I was doing. I recited the list of uncertainties that I had created for myself. And this is what she advised:

  1. Author visits are not long, and should not be too long. Author visits last about 10-15 minutes on average.

  2. Author visits usually include the book reading, and likely a question session after the reading.

  3. You begin the author visit by introducing yourself and your book, and provide a quick blurb about your inspiration for the book. Similar to what you have done at your other author events.

  4. You can ask the kids icebreaker or engagement type questions. So for example, as your book is about acting, you could ask them, "Do you all like TV?" "What do you like to watch on TV?" "Do you know about TV characters and actors?"

  5. Read your book and interact with the audience while doing so.

  6. You will be fine; do not overthink it!

So, on February 3, 2021, armed with the sage advice from my mama, I was so ready for my author visit! I introduced myself and the book. As the book is inspired by my son, I showed them a picture of my son (especially since they were around the same age) and told them that Andrew loves TV. This functioned as a segue to the icebreaker questions suggested at advice point #4 above. During the reading, I discussed certain illustrations such as Andrew sitting on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and his puppy. I asked them if they like popcorn. I also pointed out favorite parts of the book by Andrew. After the reading, I asked them questions from my free downloadable literacy lesson (available on the Free Downloads page on this website😉). Last, we had a fun conversation about Paw Patrol.

I had the option of holding up my book to the camera and reading the book that way, or showing a PDF version. I decided to share my screen of the enlarged PDF version of Andrew Learns about Actors. I thought this would be the better option for the kids' eyes and less awkward overall. I also did not do split screen because I wanted the book to show as large as possible. I mean, that was the purpose of the visit: to show and read the book. The only thing is when I shared my screen and did not split the screen, I could only see the book and could not see the kids. I could hear the kids, but I could not see them. 😕 That's the only conceivable downside to my chosen approach.

Amirah-Helen did an excellent job as the kindergarten teacher and event host, facilitating the reading and kids' engagement, and she had awesome classroom control! 👏🏽 The total experience was about 10-12 minutes. And remember NO photos or recording for the privacy of the kids!

Then, as a forever appreciator of positive affirmation, the affirmation came just moments after my visit ended. Amirah-Helen emailed me and said,

"Thank you so much for visiting our class! I love your book and the illustrations are beautiful! I’d love to stay connected to learn more about your series..."

And I, of course, gave her some positive affirmations/words of encouragement in return!

FYI, if you are interested in Amirah-Helen, her book Mighty Miles The Major Problem, and her efforts, she and her book can be found here:

@Mightymilesofficial (Instagram)

@Amirahtheauthor (Instagram)

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