Have children at home? These writers want to help
With festivals and book tours cancelled due to the pandemic, authors hold readings, art classes on social media
- Published 21.03.20, 4:17 PM
- Updated 17.04.20, 10:12 PM
- 4 mins read
School closings are a drastic change for kids at this challenging time, and children’s authors — whose normal routines are also disrupted — are finding ways to reach their readers in different ways.
Dozens of book festivals, tours and events have been canceled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and some writers are turning to social media to engage with their fans, offering readings of their books, art classes and other activities to keep them entertained. Here’s what they’re doing.
Gene Luen Yang
When Gene Luen Yang’s tour for his new graphic novel, Dragon Hoops, was canceled as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, “I felt disheartened and helpless,” he said. In lieu of an in-person tour, he held a Facebook Live session to discuss the book. He’s also “touring as a cartoon” on his Instagram page, where he will take reader questions and respond in a comic strip. As a former teacher, Yang said, he has a “special place in my heart for all the parents who are now unexpectedly home-schooling their kids” and will be working with his publisher to develop resources to help them with this “monumental task.”
Science fiction and fantasy writer Amie Kaufman (The Illuminae Files series, Aurora Rising) has been throwing online launch parties for writers whose book-promotion plans have been upended. “Many of them have had long-dreamed-of events canceled, which is the right thing to do, but so very hard,” Kaufman said in an email. “There’s a fear that among so much bad news, their books will simply be lost.”
For the next few weeks (and perhaps even longer), on Monday nights, Kaufman is boosting the work of several authors, encouraging people to buy their new books and hosting virtual conversations using the hashtag #kidlitgoesviral. Dozens of writers have signed up to participate, with teachers, librarians, parents and readers joining to ask questions. “So many independent bookstores are under pressure,” Kaufman said, “and it’s scary to think they might not be there on the other side of this experience.”
Grace Lin, an illustrator and author of middle-grade novels and picture books, is posting drawing tutorials and readings from her books on her YouTube channel. She’s taught viewers how to draw a Chinese dragon and a dog starting from the numeral 5, and has read from Mulan: Before the Sword, an original prequel to the upcoming live-action film, and Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same, about twin sisters trying to distinguish themselves from each other.
Lin said she began the reading series in part to fight the “anti-Asian rhetoric” that has come up amid coronavirus fears. “I’ve felt the need to show kids positive representations of Asian Americans and Asian culture,” she said. “I hope Asian kids see me and feel a little less alone, and non-Asian kids see me and a part of their brain registers that people who look like me are not the enemy.”
Lin has also started a podcast, Kids Ask Authors, which was in the works before the pandemic struck, in which children’s authors answer questions from readers about their books and creative process.
Author and illustrator Mo Willems is inviting kids to draw with him every day for "Lunch Doodles". In the first couple of sessions, which are hosted on YouTube and started Monday, he walked viewers through his process, gave them a tour of his studio, answered questions and drew whimsical creatures or created simple animations for them to try at home. “I’m really looking forward to it,” he said in one video, “because there’s nothing more fun than doodling with a friend.”
Mac Barnett, who’s written dozens of books, including the Jack Book and Mac B. Kid Spy series, is reading a book every afternoon on Instagram Live. The writer, who often collaborates with illustrator Jon Klassen, has read Extra Yarn, babout a girl who changes her community with a magical box of never-ending yarn, and Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem, about a boy who gets a blue whale as a pet.
View this post on Instagram
Hey, tomorrow morning (3/15) at noon Pacific I’m going to read my first picture book, Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem, out loud right here on Instagram Live. If you can’t make it, I think it stays up for 24 hours—I don’t know, I’ve never used Instagram Live before, we will figure this out together. Then on Monday at noon I’m going to read my second picture book. I’ll keep going for a while, probably. I’ve got about a month’s worth of picture books, and if we run out I might read some chapter books or something. Who knows? See you tomorrow, maybe!
“We are all at home, but none of us are alone,” Oliver Jeffers recently wrote on his website. “Let’s be bored together.”
Jeffers (The Day the Crayons Quit, How to Catch a Star, The Fate of Fausto,) is reading on Instagram Live on weekday afternoons and making all the recordings available on his site.
Vashti Harrison will share drawing tutorials and worksheets on Instagram inspired by her Little Leaders, Little Dreamers and Little Legends books, which highlight influential black men and women in United States history, including Alvin Ailey and Michelle Obama. She created a highlights reel on her page called “Quarantine Fun!” and plans to share sessions on themes such as “How to draw your own Little Leader.”
Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Jarrett J. Krosoczka, best known for his Lunch Lady series of graphic novels, is hosting drawing sessions on his YouTube channel every day. He’s been teaching basic illustration techniques, like how to draw a face and its expressions, but also often shares anecdotes about growing up as a kid who loved to draw.
Peter H. Reynolds
The writer and illustrator, whose tour for his most recent picture book, Be You, was canceled, is reading aloud from his work on Facebook Live every day. So far, he’s read The Word Collector, The Dot and Ish, his sequel to The Dot.
Illustrator Carson Ellis (Home, Du Iz Tak?) is running a Quarantine Art Club for her followers. She posts prompts — such as “is a cat,” “wearing glasses” and “holding a golden scepter” — and encourages readers to create their own art in response. She shares some of the results using the hashtag #QuarantineArtClub and features some on her website, too.
The “Authors Everywhere!” YouTube channel, started by Susan Tan, who wrote the Cilla Lee-Jenkins series for middle-grade readers, includes activities, writing workshops and readings from a range of authors. In addition to keeping kids busy, the workshops are also meant to give young people an emotional outlet for addressing their fears about the pandemic.
Susan Verde, who wrote the picture books I Am Love and I Am Human, among others, is reading from her books live on Instagram. She is also starting a channel for kid-friendly meditations and mantras.
Everywhere Book Fest
In response to the dozens of canceled book festivals, three young adult writers decided to start the Everywhere Book Fest, “a virtual gathering of kid-lit authors, books and readers that will bring the book festival experience to everyone,” according to their website. The festival is the brainchild of Ellen Oh, Christina Soontornvat and Melanie Conklin, who also co-founded the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books. “There’s a real opportunity here to change the way people connect with authors and interact with books,” Conklin told Publishers Weekly.