Education Through Entertainment

Mobile Ed School Assembly Guide Pt 14 – Authors and Writing Programs

Posted on Mon, Jun 10, 2013

school assembly guide resized 600Rod Serling, writer and host of the fabled Twilight Zone television series, once observed that "Every writer is a frustrated actor who recites his lines in the hidden auditorium of his skull".

Well... oh, boy. I can hear them already. Here we go. An actor writing a blog about writers. Yes, this will likely provoke some sarcasm, eh? Well, here we go...

So here you are, the eager PTO rep in charge of arranging school shows. And you are going about the business of picking out which shows to host the following year. The subject turns to authors. Specifically, authors of books written to be read by children. And be advised, the subject will arise. Be ready.

Assemblies for schools by authors and assemblies for schools about reading/writing may or may not be the same thing.

School Author visit resized 600Are you looking to encourage students to read more or to get excited about the concept of writing? These are not necessarily the same thing. Or are you looking for a feel good event with a celebrity where everyone gets a chance to take home a signed book. While the latter may promote reading or writing, it also may not, though it may still be exciting and fun.

The first thing to determine is your goal. Are you trying to promote reading? Are you trying to promote books in general? Are you trying to promote writing and writing skills? Or is your goal to be close to a favorite writer and practice a little celebrity worship? Your answer is important, and you must examine your motives in this area carefully.

reading enrichment programs resized 600When we become parents of young children most of us (hopefully) read to our children. Of course, when they are young we read books to them written for young people. Many of these books have wonderful illustrations. Many are very funny, or wonderfully cute or tender. Many are written with great skill. As a parent it is easy to become enthralled yourself by the skill and art with which these cherished books are put together. It is natural to wish to meet the author of said book or books, and equally natural to desire some souvenir of the meeting, such as a copy of the book signed by the author themselves.

But is this the best way to promote a love of reading in the child?

Moreover, is an author the best person to hold the attention of a large group of young children for an extended period of time? Writing is most often a solitary art form, practiced in seclusion by writers who may or may not have the completely different skill set necessary to enthrall a live audience. When I was in charge of lining up cultural enrichment programs for the school which my kids attended, I was often asked to arrange a visit from an author. And I would always dutifully do so. But this was not always easy. Many authors, it seems, have some reason for not wanting to visit schools. Else why would they make it so difficult and costly to arrange said visit? Though I did run across authors who were easily scheduled, I also found that many were exceptionally costly, and many placed outrageous demands upon the school. Lodging and travel costs aside, there were some individuals who demanded the proverbial kitchen sink. As in the case of rock stars demanding that certain colors of candy be removed from the candy bowls backstage, authors would often insist upon the strangest things. Personal drivers. Certain types of hotels, or hotels providing certain services. One author would not even speak to me unless I, myself, arranged a visit for not only my school but an entire cluster of schools. In essence, I had to do her promotional job for her.To be plain, authors were often not the easiest people with whom to work.

School Enrichment Programs resized 600And once these lauded individuals arrived at the school, the event turned out far too often to be short, somewhat rushed, and not particularly entertaining. The main purpose of their visit, I discovered, at least from the point of view of several authors, was to sit and hold court after the assembly, while they hastily signed and sold as many of their books as possible. I watched on several occasions, as basically bored children were pushed through the line to obtain the coveted autographed book, so desired not by them but by the star struck parent. This, I thought to myself, was why I carefully picked out all those green M&M's?

If this is your cup of tea, more power to you. It was not what I was seeking in terms of “bang for my buck”.

Now, this is not to say that there are absolutely no good or wonderfully talented authors and illustrators out there, who will entertain and enthrall a young audience. There are. And many, as well, who are not difficult or prima donna like at all. They are not, however, by any means the rule but rather the exception, at least in my experience. Your experience may be different.

On the other hand, if you are truly seeking an assembly or show that will encourage reading, or a program that will promote writing, and one that is entertaining and exciting while not so costly as to “break the bank”, alternatives do exist.

School Enrichment reading ProgramsThere are many fabulous assemblies presented by multi talented performers who, while not writers themselves, do know how to instill in children a desire to read or write. Whether they be magicians, mimes, ventriloquists or some other kind of performer, they are just that... a performer. They know how to work an audience. Their show is brought to you by someone who is trained and experienced in performance, rather than someone who knows how to craft a phrase or two on a page but who has no idea of how to mesmerize an audience.

Examples are many, but one in particular may be useful here. Tom Johnson is a very skilled classical mime who, following professional training in dramatic arts in a highly regarded actor training school in the United States, spent a full year in Paris under the skilled guidance of acclaimed French mime Marcelle Marceau. Creative Writing Assemblies for SchoolsFor more than twenty years since, Tom, who goes by the mime name of Toma, has utilized his great skills to excite children about the wonders of creating writing. By performing stories written by the students themselves on the day of his visit, Toma offers an incentive for writing, assistance in the process of writing, and a wonderful reward for writing. The day is an intensive and totally awesome experience for children, and one that is not just filled with laughter and fun, but is also jam-packed with interactive hands-on involvement for the kids themselves. No author could do as much or in any way approach the results.

Other examples, of course, most certainly exist.

The point here is that when faced with a desire to encourage writing, turning simply to an author may not be the best alternative. And the same is true for encouraging reading.

Don't simply follow the herd. Don't settle for expediency. Seek out the best, the very best, alternative for the task at hand. If you do insist an obtaining the services of an author do your homework first. Check references. Speak to represntatives from other schools where the author has appeared. Oh, and make sure the person with whom you speak is not just an author "groupie". There are some truly gifted individuals out there who not only create wonderful books for children but also are remarkable adept at conveying their own love of books to children in ways that do truly inspire children to want to read. They are worth seeking out, and worth the trouble. Just watch out, though, as they are not common at all.

Just for grins, here are some programs in this category that are offered by Mobile Ed:

Reading! More Than Words!

Books Made The Man:Lincoln and Reading

Young Authors Day

The Treasure of the Six Traits (An Adventure in Writing)

Geoff Beauchamp is the Regional Manager of Mobile Ed Productions where "Education Through Entertainment" has been the guiding principal since 1979. Mobile Ed Productions produces and markets quality educational school assembly programs in the fields of sciencehistorywritingastronomynatural sciencemathematicscharacter issues and a variety of other curriculum based areas. In addition, Mr. Beauchamp is a professional actor with 30 years of experience in film, television and on stage. He created and still performs occasionally in Mobile Ed's THE LIVING LINCOLN. He also spent ten years coordinating assembly programs for the elementary school where his own children went to school.


Topics: School Shows About Reading, Guide To School Shows, Guide To School Enrichment, School Author Visits, School Assembly Programs About Reading, School Assembly Programs About Writing, Author Visits To Schools