How To Design an Inspiring School Visit Presentation

Author Bethany Hegedus is known for her inspiring, touching and thought-provoking presentations to both adults and children for her GRANDFATHER GANDHI picture books. Now she has a brand new picture book out, ALABAMA SPITFIRE: THE STORY OF HARPER LEE AND TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and is creating new presentations to extend this wonderful story. We thought it would be interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at how Bethany develops her programming and are thrilled that she agreed to pull back the curtain. Here’s a guest post from Bethany Hegedus on tips for designing an inspiring school visit presentation…

Bethany Hegedus
Bethany Hegedus

You either have a new book out or your first book out and it’s time to think about school visits. Yikes! How can you present your book in an engaging way to a room of 30 kids or an auditorium filled with 500 or more? What do you share from the process? How can you showcase your book’s themes?

Ah, first take a deep breath. Your job as an author/presenter is to inspire your audience. It’s about them—not about you.

After four years of presenting the two GRANDFATHER GANDHI books, with themes around anger, non-violence, waste and recycling, I have a new book out, one that doesn’t deal with any of those themes. ALABAMA SPITFIRE: THE STORY OF HARPER LEE AND TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD focuses on Nelle Harper Lee’s spitfire streak, her childhood friendship with Truman Capote—another of America’s great writers—and her grit and gumption in becoming an author and telling the story that she was born to tell and creating characters who the world has come to love and own, like no other author.

How did I approach designing inspiring presentations? Here’s how:

  • Find and focus on what will interest your audience. Make connections to them.

Be a spitfire with ALABAMA SPITFIRENelle Harper Lee was a spitfire. Today’s kids are spitfires too. What makes a spitfire? Speaking up for yourself and others. Wearing what you want to wear. How can kids be like Harper Lee? The illustrator of ALABAMA SPITFIRE, Erin McGuire, created an image for our #BeASpitfire campaign, encouraging readers to “live lives of their own design”—just like Harper Lee.

  • Find and focus on what will interest educators. Make connections to the classroom.

ALABAMA SPITFIRE is about a writer—and not just any writer—but America’s favorite writer. What did she read as a child? Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Did she write as a child? She sure did. Nelle and Truman wrote pot-boiler mysteries based on their small-town neighborhood’s goings on. Old Mrs. Busybody and The Fire and the Flame were two of their titles. On my school visits, I am going to do mini or extended writing exercises with students based on their observations of their hometowns. Will there be a budding Harper Lee or Truman Capote in the audience? Perhaps. But even more than inspiring America’s next great novelists, I hope to partner with educators to show writing as a skill we can all use. We all have something to say. Writing is our way to say it. And share it.

  • Focus on the struggle. Yours, your characters’, and/or your subjects’.

Understanding resilience, which society is focusing on—rightly—as a way to ensure future success is key. I share with audiences young and old, my ten+ year journey to publishing my first novel. My thirteen-year journey to publishing GRANDFATHER GANDHI, and now I can share with them the decades Nelle Harper Lee took in perfecting her craft, writing short story after short story before landing an agent. Then switching to a longer form: the novel and writing and revising, and revising more to create a book she thought no one would really take notice of that went on to win the Pulitzer and become one of the most beloved books of all time.

  • Be yourself. Be real. And allow your audiences to be real.

Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird

I was in Virginia speaking after the white supremacist marches and violence this last summer. One girl, the only African-American student in a packed auditorium, who I had called on many times, said at the end of the presentation that she was “mad at that man that killed that woman, running her over with his car.” I told her she had a right to be mad. I was mad. Arun Gandhi was mad…and if still living Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi would be mad too. Our anger was ok. It pointed to something unjust and unfair had occurred. Now, what were we going to do with our anger? Lash out at someone else? Lash inward at ourselves? Or could we talk about our anger and let it move us to action? I shared how the terrorist attacks on 9/11, of which I am a survivor, led me to ask Arun Gandhi to work with me.

What could this student do? I invited her to speak with me after the presentation and we had a long talk about her difficulties being “the only black girl” in the 3rd grade, and how the man who killed that woman in Virginia were white—just like I was. We talked about what being an ally meant and how hard it was to figure out who was our ally or not.

Watch Bethany get real and talk about her own inspiration from Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird and about Harper Lee and Truman Capote’s beginnings as young writers.

Thank you, Bethany!

Read more about Bethany Hegedus and her books and presentation on her speaker page.

Winter Recommended Reads 2017

Happy Holidays from The Booking Biz!

No time of the year is bad for reading, but with winter weather outside and time off from work, the holidays are a great time to read new books and give books to others. Here are some of our best recommendations for wonderful holiday reading:


It’s great to introduce kids to the wonder of reading early. This winter, spend time with your youngest family with these amazing books.

Penguin's Christmas WishAuthor/illustrator Salina Yoon‘s holiday board book with PENGUIN’S CHRISTMAS WISH, in which the beloved character Penguin finds Christmas magic in unlikely places.

Tis the season for kindness, and BE THE CHANGE written by Bethany Hegedus and Arun Gandhi, illustrated by Evan Turkshares the kind wisdom of the Mahatma Gandhi. Such a great thing to be thinking about this time of year. You can reflect and be the change you wish to see in the new year.

MUDDY: THE STORY OF BLUES LEGEND MUDDY WATERS written by Michael Mahin and illustrated by Evan Turk celebrates the music that would inspire rock and roll.

Elf in the House

The excitement of Christmas Eve is the subject of the GHOST IN THE HOUSE follow-up ELF IN THE HOUSE, written by Ammi-Joan Paquette and illustrated by Adam Record.

Story is at the heart of how we learn, grow and entertain, and in Adam Lehrhaupt‘s THIS IS A GOOD STORY, illustrated by Magali Le Huche, story is broken down so readers can build it back up.

Emily Arrow offers up kidlit tunes celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, and winter in her new WINTERTIME SINGALONG CD (and kazoo!), with songs inspired by CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, THE POLAR EXPRESS and others.


Here are some of our winter favorites for kids of every age … including adults.

The WIsh List Book TwoEveryone wants wishes to come true, and Sarah Aronson‘s THE WISH LIST series from Scholastic is just that.

For an inspirational story encouraging girl empowerment, we love STEP UP TO THE PLATE, MARIA SINGH by Uma Krishnaswami.

Reading is fun during dark, spooky nights, and Janet Fox‘s THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE is an historical fiction adventure with ghosts and creepy characters.

Written by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee, MAYBE A FOX tells a beautiful, heart-warming tale that’s a great read by a roaring fire.

The Epic Fail of Arturo ZamoraPablo Cartaya‘s THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA is filled with familia, comida y amor!

Family and friendship come in all different configurations in Elaine Vickers‘ PAPER CHAINS and Melanie Crowder‘s THREE PENNIES.

TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: IT’S ALIVE! by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson will keep budding scientists and nature lovers learning over the holiday.

Pet lovers will want to read Elana K. Arnold‘s A BOY CALLED BAT to review all that is involved with making a new friend.

If you’re hoping for good fortune in the new year, JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY’S MINE by Caroline Starr Rose is a golden pick!

And for help keeping your New Year’s resolution, Molly B. Burnham‘s TEDDY MARS ALMOST A WORLD RECORD BREAKER gives readers the never-give-up attitude.


Winter is always a good time to reflect on the world and our place in it, and how better than to read amazing YA books…

OverturnedThere’s nothing like a good thriller to keep your mind off the cold weather outside, and Lamar Giles‘ new book OVERTURNED is just that.

National Book Award finalist WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF by Elana K. Arnold is especially poignant right now as women speak up.

The highly acclaimed YOU BRING THE DISTANT NEAR by Miltali Perkins is on many best-of lists for a reason. It’s is currently on agent Sarah Ahzibo’s TBR list for the holidays.

Plus, a treat for the ears, the audiobook version of Kwame Alexander‘s SOLO includes the music created for the book by Randy Preston! What’s not to love?

Check out more books by our speakers.

5 Fundraising Ideas Kids Can Do

Last year, we wrote 21 Ways to Fund Author Visits, focusing on ideas librarians and teachers can do to raise money for equipment, special projects, and author visits. As I bought some lemonade from a neighborhood stand the other day, I realized we’d left a big part out of our list: the kids! Continue reading “5 Fundraising Ideas Kids Can Do”

How to Teach Writing Without the Process

Writing is one of the most important subjects for children’s education, but with so many ways to write, it’s also one of the most challenging to teach. That’s why we’re thrilled to have a guest post by our client Caroline Starr Rose discussing the five aspects she’s found are most important… Continue reading “How to Teach Writing Without the Process”

Lessons From Nonfiction Author Visits

Vampires, fairies and wizards make wonderful subjects for stories, but what about horses that can spell, bodybuilders with awesome strength or simply quiet eggs? These last three are all from nonfiction books, and while textbook reading assignments are often received with bored eye rolls by kids, nonfiction books such as these delight as much as they inform. Continue reading “Lessons From Nonfiction Author Visits”

5 Steps to Find Your Best Conference or Festival Speaker

Whether you’re organizing a conference or festival, you want attendees to leave with great memories. And for that, they need to emotionally connect with the speakers you present.

How to choose the right speakers isn’t as easy as looking up a list of “great speakers.” Your conference or festival needs the RIGHT speakers, and there’s an art to finding yours. Continue reading “5 Steps to Find Your Best Conference or Festival Speaker”

2017 Summer Reading List

The sun is shining, birds are singing, and summer is almost here. So there’s only one question we’re trying answer: What are we going to read?

We at The Booking Biz are always looking for new books to read and recommend. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of the books we’re most excited about this summer. Continue reading “2017 Summer Reading List”

10 Amazing Results of Author Visits

You know the wonderful benefits of having authors at your schools, libraries and events. You’ve seen the smiling faces of both children and adults who are inspired by what they hear. But what about the results?

Here are 10 amazing things that happened because of an author visit by one of our clients. Continue reading “10 Amazing Results of Author Visits”

How to Make the Best Skype Author Visits

For a child (or book lover of any age), nothing beats an in-person meeting with an author or illustrator. Seeing them standing next to you. Being able to ask them questions. Watching them sign your very own copy of their book—personally, just for you.

But in-person visits are not always feasible. That’s when Skype offers the next best thing. Continue reading “How to Make the Best Skype Author Visits”