Tips for connecting with young readers
The publisher of my Thurston T. Turtle books recently asked me to present during an online event.
Of course, I jumped at the chance to present. All I had to do was reflect on how I've connected with 7-9 year olds and their families and teachers over the past decade and boil my experiences down to easily digestible tips.
My allotted presentation time was 10 minutes.
Here is what I shared:
Dress for the Part
As an author of children's books, I feel it's necessary to stand out in the crowd. That's why what I wear needs to be whimsical, fun, and eye-catching. Hats work well for this. I also match the color scheme of my clothes to the artwork in my books. Then there are the accessories. I have turtle earrings, turtle necklaces, and a big, gaudy turtle ring—and I wear it all! So use your works as your inspiration to dress conspicuously for the kids.
Find a Connection
Engage in conversation with young readers. As they drift by your table at a signing, log into a virtual visit, or surround you in a school auditorium, look at the child and start talking with them. I like to ask questions related to my books. When a child's eyes drift to a copy of Thurston T. Turtle and the Precarious Puppy, I'll ask if they have a pet? What is the pet's name? I'll tell them I have a dog named Lily. I like to also pull an excerpt from that same book:
"You look much more comfortable now. Maybe you're hungry, too," he went on, as if the puppy could understand his words. "May I step a little closer?" The puppy dipped his head and picked it back up, as if to nod yes. Mr. Turtle slowly moved toward the puppy and continued to talk in a soothing voice.
After reading, I'll ask questions like: Do you talk to your pets? Do they ever look like they understand you?
Engaging with young readers goes beyond conversation. Try to tap into as many of the five senses as possible. In person, I might have butter cookie and lemonade samples that tie into Thurston T. Turtle and the Legend of the Lemonade. In one of my Talkabook author sessions, we make Hubbleville's lemonade recipe. I can ask if they think the snacks are sweet or tart? We might talk about how lemons smell or feel. We might talk about their favorite family recipes. Here's an excerpt I might use from Thurston T. Turtle and the Legend of the Lemonade:
"Thanks again for the thoughtful treat, Mrs. Bunnyton." Mr. Turtle watched as the Bunnyton's walked away. Then he took another bite of his butter cookie, washing it down with a sip of lemonade. He noticed something familiar about the cookies and the lemonade. They tasted exactly the same as the butter cookies and lemonade the Squirrels often made. The cookies were buttery and sweet. The lemonade was slightly tart. As he finished his snack, he decided that the families must be using the same recipes.
You want the relationship to last beyond the author event, online visit, or school program. That's why I created bookmarks to give out with the books. They are a visual that reminds the child of my books and our encounter. They also include ways families can stay connected to me online through my website and social media.
When children do reach out with thank you notes from school, letters, or emails (sometimes sent on their behalf by parents), I always respond. Children love receiving mail, so if at all possible, I will write personal letters. The exchange is sure to make a lasting impression with the young reader.
When I talk about letter writing, I can pull the note referenced in Thurston T. Turtle Moves to Hubbleville:
Dear Mr. Possum,
We are throwing a surprise party for a new friend tonight. The party will be held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Squirrel at six o'clock. Please come and join us. And be sure to bring a covered dish.
Mr. Squirrel and Mr. Raccoon
By sharing the letter in the book, we can talk about using writing as a way to communicate with our friends.
The entire presentation, including reading the excerpts, lasted about 6 minutes. I talk really fast, especially when I'm nervous.