The idea to visit my classroom in person was actually her idea. I hadn't ever met her before, but I emailed her to find out if she would be willing to find some time to Skype with one of my three creative writing classes. I usually book authors for 30-45 minutes, some do it for free, some ask for what I consider a reasonable fee if we ask for an hour (anywhere from $50 dollars to $125 dollars). I'm finding that you never can tell who is going to offer things gratis or ask for a fee--reputation, awards, name recognition do not seem to play much of a part in that. I'm also finding that all you have to do is ask--several colleagues and strangers from the internet have asked, "How do you get these great authors?" I ask. It's that simple.
In this specific case when I asked Williams-Garcia for a Skype session she immediately replied:
Thank you so much for this invitation. Is it at all possible that I could visit with your class in the flesh? I'm speaking from my disastrous Skype experiences and my need to get out of my apartment and see trees along the eastern landscape.Knowing that having any author come to school would cost well over a thousand dollars, my reticence came through in my response. Yet a very generous counter came back at me--basically, she'll visit with all three of my creative writing classes for the cost of what I normally pay for one 45 minute Skype session. We usually record the Skype sessions when permitted and then show them to my other classes--so I try to book my authors at different times of the day so all of the kids have an opportunity to interact live with an author. Our PTO is covering the expense of this visit through their special projects budget, and has covered most of my other author sessions through another budget which they set aside for teachers. Our PTO offers each teacher $250 to use on their classroom each year--you can spend it in almost any way you see fit as long as it benefits your students. Some of my colleagues offered me their $250 to help cover the expenses of my author sessions as well. As of Wednesday when Rita Williams-Garcia visits, she will be the 8th author out of 14 scheduled this school year to work directly with my classes.
Our writing activity on Wednesday is something I posted previously, I believe. I'm going to have the students sit in a large circle. In the middle of the circle will be several objects: a dirty garden glove, an worn wooden chair, a chipped old brick, a spool of yarn with needle in it, and so on. There will be many to choose from. Then, Williams-Garcia and I will lead the students through the journal entry--find the story inside one of these objects. We will save some time to share and process which I will defer to our guest to lead and comment.
I, along with several of my students have read her most recent book One Crazy Summer which has garnered many awards and distinctions: 2011 Coretta Scott King Award Winner; 2011 Newbery Honor Book; 2011 Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction; 2010 National Book Award Finalist; Junior Library Guild Selection; and a New York Times Editor's Choice distinction.
I plan on offering a follow-up blog with some pictures after our big day on Wednesday.