Saturday, April 22, 2017

Connecting With Young Readers Via School Skypevisits: A Basic Intro For Children's Book Illustrators - by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

When my first children's book came out was published, I was torn. Part of me was excited about talking to young readers about it but the other part was terrified about talking to young readers about it. Why the latter? Because having no children of my own and little experience talking to crowds of young people, I didn't know where to begin. Other factors: I don't drive, which limited the number of schools I could reach locally. My work schedule is pretty busy these days, so using a local transit to visit a school on the other side of Toronto could mean spending 3 hours on subway and buses for a half hour visit.

And this is where virtual visits using Skype or Google Hangouts are so great in my situation. I can work in the morning, take a break during my lunch hour to do a Skypevisit with a school that is thousands of miles away, then go back to work.

As a nervous newbie, I found that speaking to kids from the comfort of my home office was easier than jumping into in-person appearances right away. I've since grown to love talking to kids in person and actually do prefer in-person appearances now. In fact, I leave on my Sea Monkey & Bob Book Tour tomorrow, woohoo!

Though I prefer in-person visits now, I find that time and geography still make Skypevisits my go-to when it comes to connecting with schools.

I am SO grateful to my children's book author friend, Lee Wardlaw, who generously offered me advice when I first started using Skype to connect with schools. Lee was actually my very first professional mentor as well! I strongly recommend you check out her Presentations page, where you'll find her tips for having a successful Skype visit. Her advice is geared toward educators, but children's book illustrators can learn a lot from this info as well.

Here is what I use for my own Skypevisits:

- A Logitech HD Pro webcam hooked up to my Mac. I am VERY happy with this webcam. Good quality video and sound, and I can tilt the camera.

- A Parrott headset microphone. Sorry for not including a link or model number, but I bought it many years ago, and I don't think it's available anymore. You can do Skypevisits with just your webcam microphone too, of course! I like the headset, though, because I figure it improves audio when I'm talking.

- A portable easel. I keep this folded up in the corner of my office and just take it out for Skypevisits. For the paper, I bought a couple of these easel pads in the beginning but since they're expensive, have just kept one for the backing and use other/cheaper paper for presentations instead -- I use painter's tape to tape up sheets in advance. My husband also found a giant roll of blank newsprint paper for me to use, and I've been ripping off sheets from that.

- Sharpie flipchart markers. I like these because the ink doesn't soak through to the next sheet of paper.

You also need to make sure you have a reliable Internet connection. I always try to do a brief test Skypecall with the educator or librarian ahead of time (also a fun way to connect with educators and librarians!).

Also double-check timezones when scheduling a visit! When a librarian and I were scheduling my talk with her students in Hong Kong (see above photo), we had to account for not only the time change but also the date difference!

What I include in my Skypevisits:

It depends on whether I'm giving a free 15-minute Skypevisit Q&A or a regular paid visit. Sometimes I do a reading (and if the school's connection is good enough, I sometimes have the students help me), talk about how I write and illustrate books, show sketches and materials and things in my office (another advantage of virtual visits), do a drawing demo or fun interactive drawing exercise, answer questions. I've also done art workshops, where students are prepped with their own clipboards, paper and drawing materials.

I lack the time and post space to include the details of how to do a Skypevisit, but there is a ton info online. Also see my post about what I learned after doing my first Skypevisit. If people are interested enough (please comment below if you are), I'm happy to do follow-up tips in future blog posts with more info including how to let schools know you're available for a virtual visit, etc.

If you're curious, you can find out more about how I do Skypevisits, what I talk about, what I charge etc.  on my virtual visits page. And if you have anything to share about your own experiences, please post below! Also feel free to comment below if you'd like me to post more about Skypevisits.

While nothing can replace in-person visits, I do believe that virtual visits can have an impact on young readers. Plus they're FUN. :-)

Some related resources:

Presentations by Lee Wardlaw (includes great Skype visit tips)

(Note: these are 15-20 minute free Skypevisit Q&A sessions. Most authors charge a regular fee for longer visits. Be aware that there are many authors and illustrators out there who make part of their living with paid school visits.)


Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? She has four new books coming out in 2017: Sea Monkey & Bob (Simon & Schuster),  Mitzi Tulane in The Secret Ingredient (Random House) Ruby Rose, Big Bravos (HarperCollins), and her second solo picture book Sam & Eva (Simon & Schuster). You can find Debbie on Twitter: @inkyelbows and Instagram at @inkygirl.

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