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J. Aday Kennedy Writing for Crumb Crunchers
Friday, 14 November 2008
Shirley Smith Duke School Visit Interview
Topic: school visit
  Shirley Smith Duke





Shirley Smith Duke is the author of No Bows!, a picture book, and eight other privately commissioned novels for children. She’s written teacher guides for Peachtree Publishers and for Latingirl magazine. She taught science, reading, and ESL in public schools for twenty-five years at the elementary and secondary levels. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and master’s degree in education from Austin College . Shirley also presents school programs for students about writing and reading. She’s spoken at schools, state reading conferences, book festivals, community groups, and universities. A Dallas native, she is a member of SCBWI and lives in the Dallas area.

: Shirley Smith Duke
Website Address:

J. Aday: When I visited your website, I noticed in your listing of Upcoming Events, that you conduct many library visits. How did you get started and secure a regular schedule of appearances at libraries in your area?
I began by sending a review copy of No Bows! to the Dallas Public Library Main Branch. I grew up in Dallas and the downtown library was a special place to me. My mother was a Dallas ISD librarian and has taken classes with Siddie Joe Johnson. So naturally that’s one place I wanted my book to go. I looked for places that might get my book noticed. I did every free event at the library, and they got to know me, knew what my presentations were like, and kept inviting me back. The Dallas library began participating in Born to Read, funded by a grant, and I was invited to do several presentations. I volunteered to fill in any last minute cancellations, and I kept getting called. There is no way of knowing how regular the visits will be; it’s a matter of getting yourself out there and being available with a good presentation.

 I also contacted the offices of the Texas library regions and got on their presenters’ lists. I went to several of those workshops and handed out flyers, and eventually some of the libraries asked me to visit. I also have a friend that keeps telling people about my book!

J. Aday: How do you design your presentations?
At first, I thought I’d have no problem dreaming up a presentation. I’d taught school twenty-five years. But when the reality of actually putting a presentation on paper hit me, I reached for a resource—my friend, Anastasia Suen . Her online course, “School Visits”, gave me the security and structure to plan a precise program and helped me learn about how to get the word out to the schools. An added bonus was that it triggered more program ideas and I wrote three others, too. It’s very much like planning a lesson as a teacher. Look at what you want them to learn, tell them,  have them participate, and review what you’ve learned.

 As opportunities came along and I looked for places I might be able to make a presentation, I expanded on what I knew and began talking to teacher groups. I offered something they could use and didn’t just talk about my book—it’s so short it’s hard to do!—and I drew upon my experience in science and ESL to give them something I hoped they might use

J. Aday: Describe an interesting/humorous reaction from the audience to a presentation, experienced during a school visit?
The first time I spoke to very young children, I opened the book to the title page. The illustration is a little girl in polka-dotted underwear and she is running. The kids all laughed. That took me by surprise completely. Now I have them practice laughing before hand. I ask them to follow my hands as I lift them up, like a conductor before a symphony orchestra, and we all laugh together. Then my hands come down and cut off the sound. They seem to like it.  Sometimes they still laugh at the underwear picture and sometimes the practice laugh takes care of it, but now they are in on the joke.

 I went to the Plano Books and Barks festival one year. My book competed with DOGS! I only sold one book, but I did get some great pictures with really cute dogs.

J. Aday: How do you utilize your book No Bows in your early childhood presentation?
: Before reading the book, I pass out laminated bows with Velcro attached to the back and ask them to place their bow under their choice on a flannel board. The talented author/illustrator Janee Trasler designed the bows for me in exchange for an apple pie. They look a bit like bowties. I hold up a pair of the items from the story and ask the children which one they prefer. I usually begin with bunny and bear. Then I ask them to vote on their favorite by placing their bow under their choice. Their movement keeps them interested and they cheer on their choice as each child takes a turn voting. At the end, we’ve made a pictograph. We figure out the winner, and then I read the book to see which one the little girl chose. I’ve found this helps get them interested in the book.

J. Aday: What are the challenges you face with the children when you conduct an early childhood presentation on No Bows?
: The worst problem is excitement over getting to vote. I have to remind them to keep hands in the air so fingers aren’t crushed and to line up if there is a crowd, because they get excited about rushing to the flannel board to place their vote on it. The preschool crowd is a tough sell, but they seem to love the book. Now I’m careful to explain the process carefully and maintain order in a fun-filled way. I’ve had the most fun doing this particular program.

J. Aday: What is your uppermost goal for a presentation? How do you attempt to achieve it?
My purpose it to teach something about books, writing, and reading when I make a visit. I can talk about how the book came into being, but as a long time teacher, it is important to make a connection to them. I like to show them something they didn’t know. It becomes more meaningful to the kids that way.

J. Aday: Do you have giveaways for children at your presentations? Give some examples.
: I started off giving away bookmarks with my signature, so everybody could have my autograph. I put this page on my website later on, so the librarians can get the copy and I don’t have to cut and carry huge amounts of paper. My presentation “pets” are mine, but I let the children play with them until the program begins. It helps keep them interested. I also have the colored bows on my site, so librarians can copy those and use them. I have two coloring pages of bows, too.

J. Aday: Can you share some tips on soliciting school visits?
: At first, I did quite a bit of postcard mailing. However, attending book festivals and face to face contact has generated many more visits than mailings for me. I went to every event I could—for free most of the time—and eventually got noticed. I also reminded Peachtree, my publisher, that I’d love to do events, and they had me sign at TLA and got me a spot at the Texas Book Festival. I’ll never forget that event. I signed next to Barry Lyga and John Green, and then visited at the cocktail party with Brian Lies and Laura Seeger. I couldn’t believe it! But at every event, I talked to the librarians and handed out my flyer with my program information. I do think being a former teacher has been an advantage. Patience is helpful. Some of the library visits I’ve done recently had the seeds sown two years ago.

J. Aday: What are the most important elements to pulling off a successful visit?
: Planning is most important, but you must have something of interest for the audience. You have to give them something they don’t know or don’t completely understand. You need to make them see your book in a way they haven’t seen it before. You must keep their attention and make it fun, somehow. You know when you’re losing the kids. Adults are harder, because their faces stay the same. Kids let you know when their attention is wandering.

J. Aday: Are there any other pointers you can share?
You have to be willing to appear, often for free, especially at first. I offered to go to schools two or three times in order to try out my programs. I learned what worked and didn’t work. I went to every book festival in the area and handed out flyers. You have to get over your fears and worry at embarrassing yourself and be willing to promote. It’s easy to feel shameless, but promoting a good book in rewarding. I kept after my publisher to let me appear at events. Apply to present at large conferences. You should take courses, network, and maintain a website. It costs a bit at first, but the promotion is what gets you paying appearances. Royalties are nice, but that’s not a great deal of money. Presentations and school visits allow you to keep writing!


Posted by j.adaykennedy at 5:31 PM CST
Updated: Friday, 14 November 2008 7:26 PM CST

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