GINJER CLARKE writes fun, fact-filled nonfiction beginning readers about weird, wonderful animals. She loves that her job entails visiting zoos and aquariums, reading lots of books, and even watching TV for research. Ginjer is an experienced and lively school, library, and conference presenter, who has appeared at more than 200 elementary schools, regional reading and writing conferences, statewide book festivals, many bookstores and libraries, and even a zoo. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, young son, and several silly-looking pets.
If you are interested in hosting an appearance by Ginjer Clarke at your school, library, or conference, please use the online request form, send an email to authorvisits[at]us.penguingroup.com with possible dates, your school name, location, details about the day, and your contact information.
Author Appearance Q&A with Ginjer Clarke:
What can a school, library, or conference expect when you are making an appearance? What do you do differently with audiences of varying sizes, ages, and interests?
They can expect plenty of weird science and lots of enthusiasm for reading, writing, and research. I use a PowerPoint presentation to provide visual interest for my performances, but my emphasis is on making connections with students and showing them that my love for these topics began at their age. I stress that I am not a scientist, and I learn about animals in many of the same ways that they do.
Every single one of my presentations is tailored to the audience in front of me. For example, with kindergarteners I play a fun true-false listening game where the kids try to earn points after listening to me read my book Platypus! These sessions are fun and silly, just to instill an early love of reading and recognize the limitations of this age group's attention span. At the opposite end of the spectrum, with fourth and fifth graders I take them through a detailed discussion of how a book gets made, including where ideas come from, how we do research, and the revision and illustration processes. Then we do a quick writing workshop using a simple guided story starter, students share their writing, and we end with a reading of some of my favorite animals and Q&A.
I have provided everything from focused writing sessions for one class at a time to Family Literacy Night performances for hundreds of parents and children to teacher inservices to conference talks. I have a background in Theatre, and I'm comfortable with groups of all sizes, although I do prefer to keep in-school sessions to no more than 150 students each to make the groups intimate, interactive, and successful for everyone.
What makes your author appearances unique?
I talk about poop and vomit! Seriously, I use nonfiction and the many unusual creatures featured in my books to engage students. I am not afraid to talk about gross stuff in an effort to connect with kids. I think the stories I share that I wrote in the third grade, as well as photos from my time living in Florida and traveling around the country to do research are unique and exciting to help kids see how an author thinks and works.
Do you enjoy making appearances for adult audiences? What do you do when presenting to adults?
I enjoy being asked, and I enjoy when I am finished. I do sometimes find large audiences of teachers, librarians, and/or writers daunting, but they always seem to provide good feedback about my talks, so I guess my nerves don't show as badly as I fear. I talk about how to get inside the mind of a seven-year-old boy, share my background as a children's book editor and author, and try to convey my passion for research and writing, including asking them to try their hands at a story starter. I love hearing about the ways in which educators are using my books and other nonfiction to reach reluctant readers, and I especially enjoy seeing familiar faces from schools I have visited when I'm presenting at statewide or regional conferences.
What can schools and libraries do to ensure a successful appearance?
Please read the detailed agreement I send with my author packet. It's a little frustrating to try to provide all of the information that will be needed for a successful visit only to find when I arrive that the information clearly wasn't read. I'm pretty flexible and roll well with the punches when it comes to technology glitches, schedule changes, interruptions, or whatever, but the day goes much more smoothly when these plans are taken care of in advance. I also provide a free signed set of my books for the school to use as publicity in letting students know about the visit (and to keep afterward for their library or reading room).
Do you enjoy traveling to other parts of the country for appearances?
For now I have kept my travel to mostly within Virginia and a few of the surrounding states because I have a son in elementary school and don't want to be away from home too much. But I'm interested in expanding my travel some over the coming years and would be happy to consider requests (especially in New York, Florida, and California, where I have friends and travel to frequently anyway).
Do you ever make appearances at more than one school in an area? Could schools and libraries from one area join together to bring you to their institution?
Yes! Smaller schools that are close together often invite me to do a half-day (two 45-minute sessions) at each school. Also, when a school is too far for me to make a daytrip, I suggest that they ask another school to join forces for a two-day event so I can stay overnight in the area, and often a joint evening event is part of the appearance as well.
What do you hope your audience will come away with from your presentation?
I hope they will be energized and excited to learn more about the natural world. I don't pretend to have all of the answers or to be an expert in biology. I try to find bizarre, intriguing facts that will keep kids coming back for more and pique their interest to do their own research and write their own stories. The best thing I hear is "I'm going to be an author too!" because I didn't know that was a viable career path in elementary school, although I was writing stories about weird, imaginary animals even then. I want them to know that learning is fun, and grown-ups get to have some fun too.
What was your most memorable appearance experience?
My most memorable appearance was the largest presentation I have given to date. It was a Family Literacy Night for Title I students from a group of Catholic schools. I was up on the stage with a glitchy microphone, without my usual book display (because there wasn't enough space on the stage) and PowerPoint presentation (because there wasn't enough time to cover all that). There were so many small children on the stage with me that I was afraid to move and possibly step on one.
The entire cafetorium was filled to standing room only with parents and kids of all ages. Everyone was eating their pizza dinner, and I was really worried about holding their attention. But with all of these potential stumbling blocks, I just launched in with a few of my favorite animal stories, and I must have been on my game that night, because I had the audience laughing and asking lots of great questions for much longer than the organizers had planned.
Then I sat at a table for almost two hours signing all of the books these lower-income families purchased as they patiently waited for their turn. I always try to make a connection with each student at a signing, and there were lots of memorable moments that evening, but the best quote came from a young boy who said, "I knew about your books, but I didn't realize you were real." That's why I do school visits and other events: So kids can meet real authors, experience the power of words, and possibly become more interested in reading and writing on their own.
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