3.16.2013

My School Visit for the "Troop of Monkeys" Story App

One of the great thrills and privileges of being a children's book author is the school visit. It's the moment when we read our books to our target audience and see all the persistence and hard work pay off. Okay, I can't speak from experience. I'm not a published author (Yet. Stay tuned. More to come. Wink-wink.) but I did contribute to Julie Hedlund's A Troop is a Group of Monkeys story app with music, narration and sound effects. I'm proud of that work and I wanted to share the end product with my son's class. So with iPad in hand, that's just what I did--and it was better than I could have imagined.

Along with my iPad, I brought a set of portable Bluetooth speakers. For a musician, low volume is death, so I wanted to make sure the kids didn't have to strain to hear the music. Plus it just boosts the energy of the narration and all the fun audio elements the app has to offer.

Of course, I didn't want to merely walk in, play the app, and leave. This was my chance to inspire 22 young minds to be creative! To acknowledge the difference between a book and a book app! And to understand how it was all put together. With the help of a slick (and FREE) little presentation app called Haiku Deck (think Keynote or Powerpoint), I assembled an opening presentation on the iPad that sparked our discussion of writing, creativity, collective nouns, and what an app is. I included photos of Julie, illustrator Pamela Baron, Little Bahalia publisher Stacey Williams-Ng, and myself along with maps of where we all live around the country--from Milwaukee to Mountain View. The 2nd graders were fascinated that we didn't all live in the same town together. Then I took them through my process of setting the words to music and flipped through images of my home recording studio. If I had only gone through all that without the visual aids, it might have fallen flat. Putting faces to names and sharing shots of my workspace kept them engaged and it helped them understand the collaborative process. (Their teacher loved that!)

Then, on to the main show. I played the app with narration activated at the kids' request. Nate insisted that he be my "helper", so I let him demonstrate the interactivity. You can tell a class is tuned in when throughout the app they all inch closer and closer to the screen until they're all huddled around at your feet, fighting the urge to grab the iPad for themselves. After the app finished, we listened to the full song I had recorded. I could only grin as they called out the names of the animals and cheered when the music ended. Truly rewarding.

After a little Q&A, I grabbed my uke and we all wrote a song together. I asked the kids to pick something in the classroom as a subject. Maybe since Nate was sitting next to me, fiddling with his loose tooth, someone suggested we write a song about that. So we did. It was terrible, but terribly fun.

This was a day to remember. I can only hope the kids got as much out of it as I did. As for school visits, I'm hooked. Good thing I'm taking "Troop" to my daughter's kindergarten class next week.