Franklin Countys First News

Words on Words: Author presentation at schools an art form

Great performances always contain an unexpectedly exceptional element.

Take author school assembly presentations, for example. As booksellers who work school visits know, author presentations at assemblies are a distinct art form. Some things are crucial. A good powerpoint is de rigueur otherwise kids in the back can't see. Also, it allows a young audience to divide its attention from the speaker to the screen, alleviating the natural strain of attempting to be a model audience which a school authority figure has outlined for them.  Pacing, organization, interactive engagement, reinforcement that writing is a messy process, humor, only one or two photos of the author as a child, all these things play a role.

A solidly constructed and strongly executed presentation will always be well received, but the best presentations do indeed contain some unexpected element that lifts them into a different category. Let us look at the Katherine Hannigan presentation in Farmington last week as an exemplar of this theory.

I met Katherine at a bookselling function in Denver in January. A few months later she called me out of the blue to offer to do a school visit day with DDG as she had business in New England this fall. I jumped on that.

I pitched Katherine's visit to the local  schools telling them that she was an awesome presenter. That statement was based purely on a gut feeling. I was totally confident that it was the truth but had no idea why.  Here, (phew), is the answer.

Katherine had all the stuff an old campaigner brings to the table, a strong powerpoint, great tie-ins to the creative process, and a strong audience engagement. She busted out a mandolin, but that was not what made her great. It was her closing story. It turned out that Katherine was an amazing storyteller.

She appeared at both Cascade Brook School and W.G. Mallett School in Farmington. Cape Cod Hill students from New Sharon were bused in to take part in both presentations. She also did a special kindergarten only presentation in the Mallett School library. For the two big groups Katherine closed her presentation with a story involving her relationship with a wild animal. At Cascade Brook it was a migrating bird, at Mallett it was a rabbit. In each case, the story involved her intervening to help an injured animal and her ultimate process of letting it go, along with a magical, but ephemeral reunion.

The entire audience was transfixed. And as I listened, it came across to me that students were fully transposed with the animal. Katherine's thoughts and encouragement for the bird and the bunny were taken to every listener's heart in an extraordinary way.

It was greatness and everyone felt it. As she was hitting the road afterwards I mentioned how terrific her storytelling was. Katherine said to me, "thanks, now if I can only transfer that into a book." I wish I had been a migrating bird or a bunny at the moment, who surely would have known what to say, but fingers crossed for whatever magic such a transfer into a book requires!

Here are three pictures from the day:

Author Katherine Hannigan rocks the house with her bird story at Cascade Brook School.

Taking the mandolin to the people at Mallett School.

A special presentation just for the kindergartners at the Mallett School library. Thanks Katherine and special thanks to our wonderful school librarians Amy Graham, Amanda Paradis-Roberts and Lori Ellis for working so hard with us to make this event a success!

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1 Responses »

  1. Katherine truly was a treasure as a presenter, to all of us here at Mallett (and our student/teacher guests from Cape Cod Hill School); she was excellent!

    And - here's a shout out of appreciation to Kenny. He's always thinking of ways to connect our schools to authors, books, writing and reading. We've had some great opportunities, thanks to Kenny being on the lookout. Kudos!
    Tracy Williams
    Mallett School