Thursday, December 17, 2015

Skyping with Darren Shan

Today, students in the 7th and 8th grades visited with author, Darren Shan aka O'Shaughnessey, via Skype. It all grew from the enthusiasm of Ms. Levy's BSI students. Several of the boys discovered Mr. Shan's (O'Shaughnessey? I'm so confused!) Zom-B books this school year. 

These are students who don't usually identify as readers but do now, thanks to him. One student read all eleven of the available books and was so-o disappointed to learn that he will have to wait until April for the final volume. 

Ms. Levy and her collaborating teacher, Ms. Finnegan, wanted to capitalize on the excitement and asked me if I knew whether the author Skyped. Remembering that his books are published by Little Brown and recalling that I attended an LB Preview at ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia (2013) where Darren was the surprise guest (see pic below), I sent an email to Victoria Stapleton, director of school and library marketing. She forwarded the email to the proper contact person, emails were provided and, after a couple of date changes, we locked in December 17 at 8:45 AM our time, 1:45 PM his. Mr. Shan's Skype requirement called for 50 students, so we invited Ms. Meril's class to join us. A reporter from the local newspaper, the children's librarian from our public library and a variety of administrators joined us as well.

Fearful of glitches, cancelations, etc., Ms. Levy, Ms. Finnegan and Ms. Meril purposely didn't tell their students about the visit until last week. Then, they prepped the students by watching a video interview of the author and visiting his web site. (I love the Internet!) They also read the prologue to Zom-B aloud yesterday. The students generated a list of questions they would ask.

The technology supervisor wanted to test the Skype connection before going live. I arrived at school early this morning to find that only the IT guy was available. We had booked the computer lab thinking that its long length might be better suited to the Skype camera. Well. 

The supervisor wasn't around yet and neither was the author. I hooked my laptop up to the computer lab Smartboard with the IT Guy only to find that the connection to the Smartboard wasn't good. Ms. Levy arrived. We realized that our morning news show, TBN, would be running in the same space, which would complicate things. When the technology supervisor arrived, he and the IT Guy were rearranging wires to fix the Smartboard connection. Then, I noted that the my laptop would be facing the wall instead of the kids. Then IT Guy said that the kids really wouldn't be visible above all the computers in the computer lab anyway, so we made a decision to shift to the library.

Still no Darren Shan to test our connection. I ran a Skype test in the meanwhile and was assured by IT Guy that it should be fine. Thankfully, he was standing by. 

Believe me, I was sweating. I wanted this to go without a hitch. Not because administration and the newspaper were attending, but for the kids. Once the bell rang to start the day, I dashed out to do hall monitoring. The new seventh grade math teacher was wheeling the iPad cart to the elevator and asked me how things were. I told him to pray to the technology gods for a good day. He agreed he would.

The two classes arrived. Darren Shan was online! Phew! We connected! Phew! 

He read the prologue to Zom-B and the kids were riveted. (I wish I could post a picture of them!) Even though their teachers had read the same passage to them the day before, hearing him read his own words with these incredible voices was SO powerful! He very quickly opened the session up to questions and, I must say, that the questions were excellent! No, "Where do you get your ideas from?" They were thoughtful. Of course, the first questioner wanted to know if he watched The Walking Dead. 

Well, it turns out he does and happened to be watching an episode when he was supposed to be testing with me and IT Guy! (hahahahaha!) Several other questions followed and I was so impressed with them. But, strangely, the author's #1 fan remained quiet. His teacher said that he might be afraid to ask his questions because they might contain spoilers. I encouraged him to ask a question. He asked, "Where did you get the idea for Dan Dan?" Darren Shan laughed and laughed. Dan Dan is one of his favorite characters because he is the epitome of evil.

Turns out, Dan Dan is named for a nephew, who is the sweetest of sweet.

What a delight! It is these personal connections that really resonate with students. 

I loved how Darren Shan referred to the students as authors. I also was appreciative of how he hammered home the idea that writing goes through many, many drafts. 

He also let the students know that although the final installment is due out in April, there is a "secret" installment out available only in ebook. Guess who made a beeline to me at the end of the presentation asking if I could get the ebook? 

The time flew right by. Everything was perfect. I love it when that happens. #win! 

1 comment:

  1. It was so exciting! When we debriefed this afternoon the students were still bustling with energy and had so much to talk about. It was a fantastic experience. Thank you so much, Brenda & Darren.