Saturday, 13 October 2018

Skyping Author Will Mabbitt

Last term, we had a Skype visit with author Will Mabbitt.  It was the first time we've ever done one, and it was so successful I hope that it won't be the last!  If you haven't done a Skype visit before, here's a bit of information on how it came about and what we did.

Setting up the visit

The visit was set up through social media.  I had tweeted to Will when his books were in our Picture Book World Cup earlier this year.  'I Can Only Draw Worms' made it to the semi-finals of the Year 5 & 6 Picture Book World Cup, and 'This is Not a Bedtime Story' (with Fred Blunt illustrating) got to the semi-finals of the Year 1 & 2 Picture Book World Cup.  I hadn't heard of Will prior to that, but after both his picture books did so well I tweeted to Will that I was going to seek out his other books.  He mentioned that Year 5 & 6 students would like his Mabel Jones series and that he did free Skype visits for schools reading them.  Fortunately, I found an enthusiastic teacher who agreed to read "The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones", which her students loved (I listened to the audiobook version, which is hilarious - Toby Jones, who narrated, does great voices for each of the characters).

Once the class had finished the book (and confirmed that they liked it!), I contacted Will again and we set up a time to Skype with him.  He's English so there was a big time difference to contend with.  We arranged to start at 9.15am our time, which was 10.15pm for him.  I was REALLY careful to get the dates and times right for both of us.  It was Tuesday for him and Wednesday for us and I didn't want that to cause any confusion.

Will sent me his Skype details and I made sure that Skype was working on my laptop (I tried to Skype with someone outside the school).  I'm glad I did as there were some network issues that our I.T. guy had to fix.  On the morning of the Skype, before class started, I gave Will a quick call to make sure everything was still working.

Skyping with Will

I won't lie, it was a bit awkward to start with.  There's a delay while you wait for a reply and Skype is not my favourite medium of communication.  I also had technical problems!  Argghhh!  I had to reconnect twice before I stopped airplaying to our TV and just used my laptop.  It wasn't ideal but at least the connection stopped cutting out.

Once we got going, the Skype visit was a huge success.  The kids had thought of some good questions to ask, and Will was as funny as his books are.  We learned a lot about things like what changes are made when his books are published in different countries, why it's good to be the author AND the illustrator of a book (you get more money!) and why Will writes about pickled onions.  Will then read from his picture book "I can only draw worms" and talked about his latest book "The Embassy of the Dead".  Afterwards, Rebecca, the class teacher, talked with her class about what they had learned and then shared that learning, and some photos, on Seesaw (our school platform for sharing learning with parents).

The kids really enjoyed having Will's book as a class read and then being able to talk with him about it.  The following week we happened to have a Scholastic Book Fair in the school and luckily for Will his "Embassy of the Dead" book was available.  I had to order in extra copies as it proved to be very popular.  There are also still reserves on the library copies of the other two books in the Mabel Jones series.

I love this photo - doesn't it look like Will has just worked out he's trapped in a laptop?!!

More authors to Skype

On Twitter recently, I found a link to an old article about authors who Skype with classes and book clubs for free.  Given it was written in 2009, I would use this as a starting point and investigate the authors further on their own websites.  If you're in NZ and belong to the NZ Book Council, they offer Skype visits as one way of bringing a writer or illustrator to your school.  Nothing beats a real live author/illustrator visit but Skype is a great alternative when a personal visit isn't possible.  Talking with an author straight after you have read their book is a special experience and definitely worth the effort if the author is willing to give up their time.