Back in the mists of time, I’d think how cool would it be if I could see the person I was talking to on the phone (or thank God that other person couldn’t see me in my curlers and Noxzema). That’d be the day! Cars would drive themselves, meals would be ready in an instant, people would send messages around the world just by pressing a button…
Sometimes now I wish the world would slow down a few beats, but that’s not going to happen. Besides, what’s not to love about something like Skype? Last week I visited with eleven different schools, in Texas, Arizona, Utah, Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio. My favorite coffee mug and my cat got to come, too. Here’s what a visit’s like.
The teacher or librarian and I set up a time, and exchange contact info. Usually I wait for them to call me, since they’ve got a room full of kids to get ready and all I have is me. I put on my pretty scarf, sit here at my work desk and wait for the merry, bloopy Skype music to play. When I accept the call, mirabile dictu, my screen fills up with a sea of smiling, waving kids. I can never get over this! I wave for a while, too, until the teacher reminds us it’s time to get down to business.
Skype visits are much like real live ones, only compressed. I talk about how I became a writer, and the different stages of making a book. I’ve gotten better at remembering to look at the camera and not my little talking head down in the corner of the screen. Last week I read “Phoebe and Digger” to a few groups, and I got very good at bringing the illustration of the mean girl slowly, menacingly closer to the camera. In the midst of using this technology, I suddenly remembered how one of my favorite parts of “Captain Kangaroo”, was when they’d share a book exactly this way: a reader, a close-up of the pages. I heard “Mike Mulligan” and “Make Way for Ducklings” for the first time this way, and still remember sitting spellbound on the living room rug. I’m here to tell you, it still works!
The Q & A is my favorite part of any visit. With Skype I miss the chemistry you can only get truly face to face, but it’s fun to share the mic with the students, and I think they like seeing themselves on the screen, like miniature reporters or talk show hosts. Habibi made a few unscheduled visits to my desk, and of course stole the show every time. The first question one school asked: “What is your cat doing now?”
Some schools order books; I personalize them and ship them back. This is a very good thing, but not why I Skype. I’m still waiting for them to invent teleportation–what is the hold up, guys?–but meanwhile this is the next best thing for schools that can’t afford the expenses of an author visit. And for me, it’s an invaluable way to connect with young readers and writers I’d otherwise never meet, while never having to change out of my sweatpants.
If your school or library group would like to arrange a free Skype visit, please get in touch.