I've done some author visits to smaller schools recently. Schools where it was obvious there wasn't much money at home. These visits weren't promotional, there were no books for sale so that wasn't how I knew. It was simply that by looking at some of the kids, and listening to what they said, I could see that money was tight.
Behaviour was often an issue on these visits - not because the pupils were naughty, but because my visit was exciting and new and they didn't know where to draw the line with their enthusiasm. They were bubbling over with ideas and fizzing with excitement that they wanted to share with the person next to them. On top of that, there were a lot of children who needed extra support. We were writing story plans so that they could write a story for a local competition and some children didn't want to enter, so were reluctant to do a plan. Others weren't sure they would be able to write the story. 'We don't have any paper at home,' a girl told me. Many of the children lacked confidence. 'This is rubbish,' a boy said, waving at his half-finished, wildly imaginative plan. 'I'm rubbish.' Another boy really surprised me by telling me who his favourite author was and describing his favourite books - to my shame, I had already observed him and decided he wouldn't be a reader. Some of them saw me as a teacher but most knew I was different. 'I've never met an author,' was something I heard a lot and one boy fixed me with hopeful eyes. 'Will you give me one of your books?' he said, in a way that made me think he didn't have any books of his own. And when I asked for suggestions of heroes and villains from books, there were a lot of characters from films instead.
Every child wrote a plan. Every child came up with characters and a setting, a problem and a solution. I know that some of them won't write the story to go with it, but for these children simply doing the plan was a big step forward. Finishing something, understanding that they can do it, seeing that with a bit of tweaking they can make their ideas better, spinning a story out of nothing - these were things they perhaps hadn't known they could do before my visit. I left those classrooms exhausted but knowing I had made a small difference.
And a day or two later, I got some feedback from some of the schools, which isn't something I usually have. The children had written what they thought of the story workshops and the schools hadn't selected the only ones with the best handwriting or highest, they'd chosen some from less able children too. These comments made me realise even more how much the kids had got out of an hour of story planning.
They weren't the easiest school visits I've ever done. But they were great visits and I will remember them forever.