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4 May 2009 ·

Midnight school chats

I don’t know how many school talks I’ve done over the last twenty years, including quite a few online (text) chats, but last week was a bunch of firsts!

The Burr Elementary School in Connecticut has been doing Nim’s Island for their One Book, One School program. (I’ve heard from a few schools around the world who’ve done this, and it gives me a thrill every time. There are so many wonderful books in the world that it’s great honour to have one of mine chosen for a whole school to read. (Or, in the case of Rye State School, to encourage the whole town to read!)

However the Burr school wanted to follow up with an author visit, and as I couldn’t zip across from Australia to Connecticut, we decided we’d do it with Skype. Of course, just as in the emails between Nim and Alex Rover, the ten hour time difference made this interesting. I did a trial run with the teachers first, so early in the morning here that I was still in my pyjamas (definitely the first time I’ve been videoed in pjs),but we did the actual talks at 9:30 am for the kids,and 11:30 pm for me.

There was something quite special about doing it so late, and also about inviting the kids into my messy writer’s office as we talked. (This time I was properly dressed!)I put a table up beside my desk to spread out more books and things to show, and was able to turn the computer around so they could see the office itself. My little dog, Harry,was asleep on the couch behind me, and I gather it was quite a highlight when I brought him up to the camera to say goodnight.

Of course it wasn’t the same as being physically in the same room, but it was far more than a second best. The feedback from the school and the kids has been wonderful, though perhaps the real test was simply how good the kids were – 50 minutes is a long time for kindergarteners to sit on the floor and pay attention at the best of times!

I think my author talks have just entered the 21st century – this is definitely something I’d like to do more of.

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio