Young-Adult Authors Plug Way In

Online readings and virtual book tours galore

We typically think of reading a book as an unplugged activity.

Yet when COVID-19 cancelled conferences, school visits and book tours, authors for young people plugged way in to connect with their readers.

Matt de la Peña, a Newbery medalist for Last Stop on Market Street, was one of a dozen authors who read their picture books and took questions on Instagram Live this past week for a Stay-In Storytime.

“Help spread the word so we can reach as many stuck-at-home readers as possible! (Also, parents-who-are-now-also-teachers deserve a tiny break!)” de la Peña wrote on Facebook. Others who took part included Lemony Snicket a k a Daniel Handler with illustrator Lisa Brown, Carson Ellis and Oliver Jeffers.

“Raise your hand if you feel lonely and isolated,” Brown started their Instagram segment, as she and Handler quickly raised their hands, before reading Goldfish Ghost.

That’s just one example of how young-adult authors have mobilized as the virus spreads, showcasing their books but also offering an array of virtual resources for those ensconced at home. Many authors have created such extras before in tandem with book launches. But the sudden expansion of a captive audience, combined with a dearth of other ways to connect with readers, has spurred a corresponding explosion of tutorials and Q&As.

Caldecott medalist and best-selling author/illustrator Mo Willems hosts daily “Lunch Doodles” broadcasts through the Kennedy Center, where he’s the education artist-in-residence. Jarrett Krosoczka, author of the Lunch Lady graphic novel series and a National Book Award finalist for Hey Kiddo, posts “Draw Every Day with JJK” videos on his website. Jarrett Lerner, creator of the Enginerds series, offers free printable comics prompts every day.

Laurie Halse Anderson (c) Randy Fontanilla

Author Kate Messner (Chirp) curated a collection of read-alouds and bonus materials at her website, including sneak-peek excerpts from forthcoming books from K.A. Holt and Mae Respicio. Bonus content includes mini-lessons on comparative mythology from Tracey Baptiste, author of The Jumbies, and a diary writing prompt from Veera Hiranandani, whose The Night Diary was a Newbery honoree. Messner also posted the copyright permissions from assorted publishers necessary to enable all these new social media read-alouds.

National Book Award finalist Laurie Halse Anderson (Shout, Speak) has been answering tweeted questions about all of her books and said Thursday she will be posting historical fiction content to YouTube. Using the hashtag #QuarantReadLHA, she surveyed fans via Twitter to help choose which of her books would be first up to receive a first-chapter reading video. (Fever 1793 won.)

Starting March 23, Stimola Literary Studio will host online live readings and activities that include drawing lessons with Matt Tavares, author and illustrator of A Ben of All Trades; a poetry reading for teens with Ellen Hagan, author of the young-adult novel Watch Us Rise; and a research tutorial from nonfiction kids’ author Lola M. Schaefer, whose latest book is Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives.

Christina Soontornvat author photo by Sam Bond

Even bigger events are in the works, too.

Authors Ellen Oh and Christina Soontornvat both have new books coming out at the end of March, and planned to tour to support them. When their plans vaporized with the virus’ spread, Soontornvat tweeted out a query to gauge interest for something online instead. Within days that morphed into the Everywhere Book Fest, a free virtual literary festival scheduled for May 1-2.

Event organizers are soliciting panels through March 23 and anticipate posting a lineup in April. It’s expected to be a mix of pre-recorded and live segments.

YALLWEST, the California literary festival for young-adult and middle-grade books originally scheduled for April, tweeted Thursday night that they were also looking at an online fest.

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Sharyn Vane

Sharyn Vane has reported and edited at newspapers in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Florida and Texas. For the last decade she has written about literature for young people for the Austin American-Statesman.

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