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I visit schools and libraries throughout the U.S. (and occasionally abroad) to talk to children about my books, the process of writing and what it is like to be an author and illustrator. I emphasize that the process I go through when writing and researching a nonfiction book is similar to the process that kids go through when writing a school report. I also give talks and workshops for teachers and librarians in which I show ways to use books like mine in the classroom. Once a year I teach a course on writing books for children at UCLA Extension in Los Angeles.
Contact Information: For more information about my school visits, talks or class, click here: Caroline's email
Video: To see a short interview, click here: Video
On a typical school visit I spend the day at a school and make three or four presentations in an auditorium or library setting. I talk briefly about how I started writing, give a Powerpoint presentation about my books and my research, and demonstrate the steps in the making of a book. If there is time during the day I also sometimes visit classrooms, meet with groups of young writers and sign books. For school visits longer than one day, I usually do classroom writing workshops, each designed to be appropriate to the age of the students.
When schools ask you to visit, are they more interested in your sharing with kids the *content* of your subject matter or in your process *as a writer*?
Teachers say that they want me to share the process of writing with the kids, but it is the content of my books (animals) that draws in both kids and adults. Almost everyone finds the natural world fascinating, and that is the hook for talking about the writing process.
In your assembly, about what percentage of time do you devote to the content/subject matter of your book(s) and what percentage to the writing/researching process?
I would say that it is about 50/50. My emphasis is on the research process. I show, through my slides and "show and tell" objects, how I get ideas and gather information for my books. I touch briefly on the writing process at the end of my presentation, spending more time on that with older kids. If I do workshops with smaller groups in addition to my large presentation, then the kids do actual writing projects.
What is your assembly goal? What do you want kids to be able to *do* as a result of participating in your program?
My goal is to show that the process I go through in getting ideas, doing research, and writing books is basically the same process that kids to through in school when writing reports. Teachers tell me that after hearing my presentation their students want to rush back to the classroom and start working on their own stories and reports.
Anything else you'd particularly like to share with me?
I always finish my presentation by emphasizing that writing isn't easy and that nothing turns out perfect the first time. I show them my messy, crossed out drafts and talk about how many times I revise. Teachers love to hear me say that I revise my manuscripts at least ten times before I think they are done. (Kids are not so thrilled.) But I also emphasize the joy in the finished story and how wonderful it feels to know that everything is just right and ready to be shared with others.
What kind of writing projects do you do in your workshops?
I teach several different writing projects but the one I do most often I call "Pyramid Animal Poems". (They don't rhyme but are concise word pictures.) I pass out pictures of wild animals. Then adding one word per line, each student creates a pyramid poem. It is an opportunity for me to discuss parts of speech with them and show how to create a lively "word picture." Kids love this project because it breaks down the writing process into manageable steps. Most school visit schedules don't allow enough time for workshops like this unless it is a multiday visit to the same school.
Cut Paper Art Workshop for Grades K-5: Using the cut paper illustrations in the books in the Caroline Arnold's Animals series as a model, students create their own cut paper animal pictures. For younger students, I provide an animal template; older students make their own. Students create an environment for their animal and learn how placement on the page, size, and overlapping pieces can create the illusion of three dimensions. This project complements the natural science curriculum.
Pyramid Animal Poems: I bring pictures of animals and we talk about how to use different parts of speech to describe the animals and what they are doing and then use those elements to build a pyramid poem by adding one word per line. It is a device that shows how to use good writing to make the animal "come alive" on the page. This project encourages close observation of detail and reinforces elements of good writing.
Mixed-Up Animal Art and Writing Workshop: For Grades K-3: After reading The Terrible Hodag and the Animal Catchers, students create their own mixed-up animals and use prompts to write their own description or short story about them. For Grades 3-6: After reading The Terrible Hodag and the Animal Catchers, students create their own tall tale character and write a story using the "Magic Story Builders" prompts as a framework. Alternatively, they can write a sequel to the Hodag book. This project encourages use of the imagination and teaches basic elements of good story telling.
Waste Basket Archeology, Grades 5-6: After reading books such as Easter Island or The Ancient Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde, we discuss how archeologists learn about ancient cultures by excavating ancient trash heaps or middens. Then we look at three lists of trash items and use them as evidence to draw conclusions about the people who threw them away. Students then form small groups and make their own lists from assigned time periods; they then share their lists with the group. This project complements the ancient culture social studies curriculum.
Wiggle and Waggle Puppets, Grades K-3: After reading Wiggle and Waggle, children make stick puppets (template provided) and use them to perform a play based on the Wiggle and Waggle stories. This project fits well with spring gardening units.
My talks to teachers. librarians and parents at conferences and workshops focus on my books and how they can be used to reinforce learning in related areas. I provide handouts and give a Powerpoint presentation in which I share ways that students have used my books in the past. Because each situation is different, I tailor each presentation to the needs of the occasion.
I expect to be teaching a class at UCLA Extension sometime within the next year. For more information, call 310-825-9416 or go to www.uclaextension.edu/writersMy course in writing for children in the Writers' Program at UCLA Extension is both lecture and workshop. In the lecture portion I cover the range of genres for that age group and show examples from current books. In the workshop portion we discuss the student's own writing projects with the goal that each student will have a manuscript in progress by the end of the course.