Children’s authors live a bifurcated professional life. On one hand, it’s a solitary existence at the writing desk (or kitchen table) with only the company of imaginary characters, and perhaps countless cups of coffee or tea, for company. But unlike most other authors, they have a second role to play, the life of a travelling minstrel; entertaining and engaging children up and down the country as a special guest in schools for what’s generally called the “author visit.”

The author visit is a symbiotic relationship between author and audience. The children get a meaningful experience with a professional creative, a break from the school routine, and some outside inspiration and stimulus. The author gets to connect, directly, with the audience, try out new material, and get real-time feedback from the most honest of consumers, kids. It’s also an important source of income for many children’s authors, and authors and schools are advised to charge according the Society of Authors helpful guidelines.

For me, I cherish the experience to perform and connect with readers. I prefer giving talks to large groups (I think my biggest audience was >1,600 at the Hay Festival) because the energy is infectious. But regardless of the size of the group, the goal is still the same: to make a meaningful, life-impacting connection with a young reader. For me, someone who was a reluctant reader as a kid, my message tends to resonate when I share my love for other media like film, tv, and video games. But I bring it all back to the importance of story and words, challenging the audience to think differently.

However with schools closed, both children and authors are unable to connect in the real world. But we purveyors of kid-lit are an adaptable bunch.

On St. Patrick’s Day [17th March 2020, pre-lockdown], I started reading a chapter each day on my website of my middle-grade novel, ALIENATED: GROUNDED AT GROOM LAKE. Since then, I’ve been contacted by teachers all around the world who are using the videos as a virtual “class reader” during their remote learning.  I chose to read from ALIENATED rather than my other books because it’s set in a school, something I thought might appeal to kids in lockdown.

Jeff Thornton - Alienated

The unstoppable Sarah McIntyre wasted no time in hosting regular art videos dubbed #DrawingWithSarah on her website and YouTube channel. Piers Torday (author of The Last Wild) is doing live readings on Instagram and a regular #StoryStarter, where he invites kids (and kids at heart) to send in stories based on an inciting incident he provides over social media. And Vampirates author Justin Stomper is doing a daily #vampirateschallenge on his Facebook page.

Across the pond, Jon Scieszka (America’s very first National Ambassador of Children’s Literature) and artist Steven Weinberg (creator of the new AstroNuts books) have created a free, downloadable book (at https://www.si.edu/sites/default/files/how-to-make-a-collagasaurus.pdf) to inspire kids to make a ‘Collagasaurus’ using over 3 million open access images provided by the Smithsonian Museum (www.si.com/openaccess)

This is just a small smattering of what’s on offer. Helpfully, review and recommendation site Toppsta.com, does a daily round-up of many of the activities happening each day.

In these uncertain times, it’s inspiring to see so many different creative people offering to share their energy, enthusiasm, and creativity to help entertain and engage kids at home.

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