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Authors bring books and reading to life

March 30th, 2021 By Emma Smoldon

Connecting students to writers, poets, illustrators, and storytellers in a writers' festival is a powerful way to bring reading to life, and encourage talk about books, stories, and writing.

The Auckland Writers Festival 2021 is an opportunity to celebrate books and writing. Here are some tips and resources to make the most of the festival (or any author event).

Jessica Townsend smiling with her arm around a young reader who is holding some books.
Serial author Jessica Townsend with a young reader at a writers' event. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Jessica is featuring at the 2021 Auckland Writers Festival.

Reading role models

There's a brilliant pivotal moment in Mophead by Selina Tusitala Marsh, where the young Selina tells of poet Sam Hunt’s visit to her school and her feelings and reaction:

He had wild hair and wild words.
We were the same kind of different.
That’s when I decided I wouldn’t be tied back.
I was going WILD.

This captures so perfectly the power of an author as a role model.

I love how Sam Hunt’s visit and words inspired Selina, and how she now aims to inspire the next generation of young people in her writing and in person.

Selina features in this year's Auckland Writers Festival. Her latest book Mophead Tu is the inspiration for one of the three Book and Beyond exemplars we've developed in partnership with the festival.

In 2019, the National Literacy Trust in the United Kingdom published a report showing that author visits boost children’s and young people’s reading. Students who had an author visit were:

  • twice as likely to read above the expected level for their age
  • more likely to enjoy reading and writing
  • more likely to be highly confident in their reading.

This may resonate with you if you've ever had a writer visit your school or taken students to a book event. You'll have seen the excitement, enthusiasm, and sometimes spellbound response to writers in person and to their workshops and performances — then witnessed the spill-over of creativity and reading interest.

Celebrate and connect to a world of books and ideas

This year, the Auckland Writers Festival | Waituhi o Tāmaki returns live to Auckland city and brings together acclaimed local and international writers. International writers will appear via live stream.

The 2021 Schools Programme | Hōtaka Kura, to be held from 11 to 13 May at the Aotea Centre, has been developed to inspire young readers and writers. More than 7,000 students can experience writers on the stage or get to work more closely with them in smaller sessions or signings.

The Schools Programme attracts schools and kura from across the North Island (even a few schools from the South Island make the trip). Schools attend one of the three days where writers, poets, illustrators, and storytellers connect with students about their work and what made them a writer/artist. Students and teachers can also opt for focused workshops that encourage young writers and artists to find and develop their voice, and hone their style and skill.

Visit the Auckland Writers Festival website for the featured writers.

New Zealand’s first Te Awhi Rito Reading Ambassador

The country’s first Te Awhi Rito Reading Ambassador for children and young people features in the programme and will be welcomed on stage to share stories about their favourite writers in a ‘Books I Love’ session.

Te Awhi Rito is a new role that will advocate for, and promote, the importance of reading in the lives of rangatahi (young people), their whānau, and communities. The person who will hold this role will be announced in April.

Make connections and engage readers through chat

We’ve partnered for a third year with the Auckland Writers Festival | Waituhi o Tāmaki to create exemplars for books written by New Zealand and international writers in the festival's Schools Programme. Our Book and Beyond exemplars and guides aim to spark ideas and learning in the library, classroom, and across the school or kura, and get staff and students talking about the books, writing, and the world beyond.

The exemplars open up the world of the book by sketching out possible responses to each title — from digging into theme and style ideas, to the illustrations, cover, and physical object. They provide links to ideas beyond the book, to the writer's other works, and suggested activities and resources.

The exemplars are a great way to introduce and preview the writer with the students before the festival, or as follow up to the festival visit to build on the experience. You can also use them to generate chat and discussion — a vital ingredient in creating readers.

The 2021 festival exemplars include these books:

  • Mophead Tu by Selina Tusitala Marsh
  • Locked Down by Jesse O
  • Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas.

Explore or download the Book and Beyond guides and exemplars.

Make the most of your festival visit

I know librarians and teachers who, each year, find that their students love discovering writers they have not heard about or read before. But writers really appreciate it when students know them and their work beforehand — and this can lead to a richer experience for all.

You can help students get the most out of the festival with the ideas below.

Before the festival

  • Read some of the writer’s work yourself.
  • Prepare your students — read and discuss the writer's or illustrator's books to build up anticipation and excitement.
  • Provide access to the writer/poet/illustrator's books in your library or classroom. Books by participating authors are available from festival onsite booksellers. Let your students know this is available.
  • Use our Book and Beyond guides and exemplars to start a discussion and preview some writers and ideas.

At the festival

  • Bring a camera or phone — come prepared to capture encounters with favourite writers (and have photo permissions in place).
  • Encourage students to think about and prepare a question for the writer. There are opportunities for questions and answers at the end of sessions. It's also great when questions come about spontaneously from the session, so talk to your students about that too!
  • Chat with students between sessions. Share what you enjoyed and reflect on their favourite or standout moments.

Follow up after the festival

  • Talk about the festival. Plan time in class, in the library, at school to talk about the festival visit and what they enjoyed the most.
  • Use our Book and Beyond exemplars for activities, discussion questions, and ways to respond and connect to writers.
  • Share with your school community/whanau in the school newsletter, your chosen social media platform for parent communication, or in assemblies. Highlight the celebration and what students got out of it.

Create a reading buzz

Writers are great role models, and there can be a lasting personal impact for students in a writer or festival visit.

If you're able to attend the Auckland Writers Festival with your students, you can use the opportunity to celebrate books and writing, and boost students' conversations, connections, and reading.

If you're not able to attend, find ways for local or school community reading role models to read, celebrate and talk about books.

So spark book conversations and create a reading buzz around your school!

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