The Impact of an Author Visit

I feel deeply moved as a result of today’s experience. Getting to read my book, Strum and The WIld Turkeys, is always a privilege. In the almost year since it was published, I have read it to close to a hundred classrooms and communities of children. It never gets old for me because I love the story, the vibrant illustrations by Alana McCarthy, and the messages I get to share through the book. I can see many ways to use the story in school, and I happily created the content on our website to enable teachers and kids to use the book across the curriculum. Having the honour of reading my book to kids in Ukraine made my day because of what I may be able to contribute to their lives and because of what it makes me feel.

Even though I created him, Strum makes me feel a part of something bigger than myself, and he gives me courage. Strum is a peacock with an imperfect plume. His siblings treat him like being different is bad, so he feels ashamed. Through self love and a sense of belonging, he finds his voice and his band and rocks his differences. He connects with readers on a deeper level, and he is someone I look to for reassurance, inspiration, and connection.

As a teacher and author, reading the book to kids around the world and introducing them to Strum fills me with an elevated sense of purpose. It is sweet and fun to do an author visit. You hear questions from children that are unexpected and funny, and you learn a bit about the similarities and differences of students in different places. My visits are multi-modal, sharing a picture walk where kids can sense how the characters are feeling from the illustrations alone. I teach the chorus for the song I wrote to go with the book, and the children sing Different is Good with me when we get to the song part of the story. At the end, I invite them to contribute their own story or drawings to the Creative Corner of our website. The readings are not just about selling the book, though they’re about that, too. They are about connecting the messages of the books to learners: be yourself, find your band, rock your differences. Reading my book to children across the world gives me the chance to give many kids avenues for inspiration and an outlet for their creativity.

This year, I have read to different groups of kids, and I have enjoyed each one immensely. Two of these opportunities, though, have really stood out. They were both facilitated through the connections and relationships built by Dr. Ilene Winokur. The first was during my Rock Your Differences experience for DigCit Summit. Thanks to Marialice Curran, I read the book to students in Canada, the US, the UK and Africa. When I was preparing to read to the students at the Kakuma Vocational Center in Kenya, I felt a sense of panic rush over me. I altered my author visit plans to add pictures of a Congolese peacock and a map to give a sense of place and to show that I knew to whom I was reading. I thought I was ready, but then one of the students me asked how to write a story. I felt a sense of panic rush over me- wondering how I could answer the question of someone whose lived experiences were so vastly different from mine and whose context felt more limited. I hope my answer was sufficient, but that experience continues to be humbling and memorable.

When Ilene told me that she had read my book to some children in Ukraine, I happily offered to do a reading if it was ever possible. She arranged everything, and Alana McCarthy and I joined a Zoom this morning where a translator helps us share the story and so much more. I was really nervous leading up to it, reading articles on trauma informed teaching to try to ensure that nothing I did triggered anyone. I couldn't see many of the children, so I don’t know if some were in shelters or bunkers. Ilene was encouraging and reminded me that the messages in the story already do what I was hoping to do. As Alana was showing them how to draw a peacock using simple shapes, I had to hold myself back from tears of solidarity and empathy. We were doing something that felt more important than any money or emergency item I had already donated. One child wrote, “Wow,” repeatedly in the chat and even the interpreter seemed to enjoy the experience. This felt special.

Being able to make a difference is one of the reasons I love being an author. There are limits to things I can do as a classroom teacher, which is why I do that part time and work on my consulting practice which includes The Mentoree and my work on Strum and The Wild Turkeys the rest of the day. All of my work is in education, and the reach I can have as the author of a book that I am so proud of means something different than my other accomplishments in the education community. Strum and The Wild Turkeys is an addition to the plethora of children’s books out there, and the author visits are a way that I can really affect others. I hope that my short visit makes a lasting impact. It has certainly made an impact on me. I feel proud to stand behind this story to support something so much bigger.