I was in my hometown Jackson, Mississippi last week for the Mississippi Book Festival and spoke to a variety of audiences, ranging from 3-year-olds to senior citizens. This was quite a contrast from my days in Brooklyn spent in quiet contemplation—either reading, writing, or illustrating. I liken these public events to jumping in the frosty ocean at the start of summer: you know it will be a complete shock to the system, but you get used to it once you jump in.
Still, many sunbathers waver by dipping their toes into the frozen salt water before retreating back to the sand. My advice is to mentally prepare yourself and just dive in.
For writers and illustrators that lead internal lives, diving in can be a nightmare. But it doesn’t have to be if you’re prepared. Here is a list of a few simple steps I go through before presenting my work to any audience.
1. Put together a visual presentation. I like to use a combination of still photographs and video with sound. Some people like to write out everything they’ll say, and that is fine if you’re delivering a paper about someone else’s work to scholars. When talking about your own work to kids, the sequence of visuals can serve as reminders for points that you wish to make. You may have to go over some vocabulary with students, depending on their level of comprehension, so it’s best to be flexible.
2. Practice reading your book to your friends- or better yet, your friend’s child. Be sure to do all the voices if there is dialog, and practice reading the narrative so that it holds the child’s attention. Using arm motions and looking up from the text will help. The goal is to “perform” the story to keep the child engaged.
3. Pack something physical for the students to see and touch. If your story is about a favorite doll you had when you were a child, bring the doll for them to see. For The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring, I bring along my Slinky to show the students.
4. Practice from start to finish and time it. You should have an intro, a slide/video presentation, and a reading to begin with. 30 minutes is the typical length of a presentation. Any longer and the young ones will be squirming. If you’re an illustrator, you’ll be expected to draw for the students. Knowing how much time you have left to draw can help you rehearse what you plan to draw on the large pad of paper.
5. IF you finish early, there are always question and answers. I try and leave five minutes for this. Occasionally, the students may be shy, so you may ask them how long they think it takes to create a book and tell them about the processes.
I gave three presentations at McWillie Elementary for different age groups. I hadn’t tried this before, so I prepared different slide shows targeting the age group that was attending. For the youngest ones, I showed an animation as I read my first picture book, Flying Lessons, which is no longer in print. I did some drawing and concluded with a reading from the soon-to-be-released, How The Cookie Crumbled, because EVERYONE loves a chocolate chip cookie. Then I answered questions.
For the older students, I read The Marvelous Thing That Came From A Spring and showed my process video for creating it, which they seemed to enjoy. Then I gave an art lesson on symbolism using the illustrations from Soldier Song and my book covers to illustrate these concepts. The 5th and 6th graders seemed to really get this presentation, especially with the middle grade book covers, and took to the concepts and tricks of the trade I shared with them.
The next day, I visited my mother’s pre-k class and read Flying Lessons to them. This was the three-year-olds’ first time to sit as a group through a presentation, which pressured me to hold their attention. You can see in the photo that the students’ attention span is a lot shorter while I draw for them.
On Saturday, I attended the Mississippi Book Festival and participated in a panel discussion on picture books, moderated by Ellen Ruffin, curator of de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. I enjoyed discussing and sharing ideas with Margery Cuyler, Peter Reynolds, and Matt Smith on the panel. They all had wonderful insights to contribute and it was a pleasure to meet all of them!
Below is the first mostly good review for How The Cookie Crumbled, out in October.
HOW THE COOKIE CRUMBLED
The True (and Not-So-True) Stories of the Invention of the Chocolate Chip Cookie
Author: Gilbert Ford
Illustrator: Gilbert Ford
A chocolate candy bar cannonballing into a possessed mixer. Baking chocolate suddenly going AWOL. These are just a couple of the persistent myths orbiting the origins of America’s quintessential dessert: the chocolate chip cookie. Thanks to Ford’s kid-friendly exposé, Ruth Wakefield’s smarts and business savvy are revealed to be the true sources of the cookie’s invention. Not only was Wakefield the chef for the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts, she also managed the restaurant. Daring to start a business with her husband just as the Great Depression hit, Wakefield’s dedication to quality paid off. In 1938, wanting to change up her popular butterscotch cookie, Wakefield added bits of a Nestle’s chocolate bar to the dough and—voilà! From kitchens across the country to the care packages sent to homesick World War II soldiers, the chocolate chip cookie was soon everywhere. In fact, Nestle created the chocolate chip specifically for Wakefield’s recipe. Ford’s illustrations successfully evoke the 1930s and ’40s, down to the comic-strip half-tone dot effect of the different cookie-genesis scenarios. However, Ford misses the opportunity to depict among the diners the famous personages mentioned in his author’s note, and his pictorial rendition of the cookie queen is strangely unsympathetic—staff grimace behind her back as she critically frowns at their work. Quibbles aside, pastry chefs in the making will be fascinated by this accessible tribute to a true American icon and will be tempted to try the appended cookie recipe. (Picture book/biography. 5-9)
I will be headlining story Hour at Greenlight Books in both Fort Greene and Lefferts Gardens on Saturday, June 24th where I will read and draw from The Marvelous Thing That Came From A Spring.
I will begin in Fort Greene at 11:30 AM
686 Fulton Street
Then I will be at the Lefferts Gardens store at 1:30 PM
632 Flatbush Ave
In case you were wondering, yes, I do school and skype visits.
I have done a variety of presentations for schools, ranging from kindergarten through college.
For elementary visits, my presentations tend to be 30 minutes that include a slide show, a reading from the book, some drawing time, and a Q & A. I can do up to three presentations in a day.
I visited Washington D.C. to promote Soldier Song with author, Debbie Levy. We began the book tour with a school visit at Mt. Rainier Elementary set up by An Open Book Foundation. An Open Book schedules author and illustrator visits in underserved schools around the Washington D.C. area and purchases a book for each child to take home with them.
Then Debbie and I showed the 5th graders Soldier Song. Soldier Song is a timely, important book that tells the story of a divided America that finds common ground through music during the Civil War. Debbie began with a history lesson slide show on the Civil War, which included sound clips of bugles and the popular song of its day, Home Sweet Home. Then I joined in with a short art lesson. I talked about the three artistic elements that went into developing the book: symbolism, warm and cool colors, and emotion, giving examples of each in a slide show. After that, I drew for the students, calling on suggestions from the crowd for symbols that represent “Home.” Once the symbolic picture was completed, Debbie and I answered questions about the book.
After that, Debbie read from I Dissent to the 6th graders and gave an inspiring lesson on Ruth Ginsburg.
The next day, we made three more stops in Virginia, promoting just Soldier Song. We began at Belle View Elementary, presenting for 200 students, grade 3-5. Then we stopped by Alexandria Country Day School for 70 students, and completed the tour at Congressional School of Virginia for 70 students. The students at all three schools were engaged and asked good questions.
We ended the day with a quick visit to Politics and Prose and a celebratory dinner with children’s book writers from around the D.C. area. Washington has a truly vibrant and eclectic writer community!