External Learning

Sign your Class up for an Author Pen Pal

A new initiative seeks to connect Australian schools with authors and illustrators with a free Pen Pal program.

Inspired by the UK BookPenPals program, the all-Australian Author Pen Pals is the brainchild of children’s authors’ Kate Foster and Dee White. Designed to spread a love of literacy to all schools across the country, the program hopes to connect Australian authors and illustrators with schools who may have limited opportunities to meet authors due to distance or a lack of funds.

Who can sign up for Author Pen Pals?

Any Australian primary class or school from Years 2 to 6 can sign up for the program. Schools can sign up more than one class, but a separate form must be completed for each, and in the event that more classes than creators sign up, multiple classes from the same school might need to be grouped together.

Kate explains: “I want the children who rarely or never have the opportunity to meet a real-life author or illustrator, due to funding, location, or other issues, to be touched by the magic of story-telling and the arts, to feel inspired and confident to tell their own stories, and to want to get lost in a book.”

Dee adds: “I also want as many remote, regional and disadvantaged schools as possible to have the opportunity to connect with a children’s book creator and be supported and encouraged to tell their own stories. I co-founded a group called ‘Stories For All’ designed to encourage more diversity in books for children and teens and I hope that Author Pen Pals will give kids more access to stories and creators outside their personal experiences, and to encourage them to tell their own diverse stories.”

What can schools expect from their Author Pen Pal?

Classes can expect to receive a minimum of four postcards or letters from their pen pal, one per term. In return, they must commit to replying at least twice throughout the year.

Kate says: “Pen Pals are free to talk about anything they like, of course related to a story-telling medium, so it could be sharing book recommendations, discussing the creator’s childhood, writing journey and process, and sharing funny stories.”

Dee adds that author Pen Pals might provide writing prompts and she hopes classes will be inspired by their author pals to create their own stories. Some authors may even offer virtual visits or Zoom class.

“It’s entirely up to the child and the teacher, but one thing I know is that authors and illustrators LOVE receiving post from children. Be that postcards, letters, stories, illustrations, questions, or photos. Honestly, the list is endless. We just want children to be inspired to pick up a book and put pencil to paper and create magic, which in turn inspires authors and illustrators to do the same.” Kate Foster.

Once the 2023 school year commences, a page will be added to the Author Pen Pals website with ideas for classes and how to get the most out of the program.

How much will it cost?

The Author Pen Pal initiative is free to join and schools just need to cover postage costs for any letters or postcards they send to their pen pals.  “We want everyone who wants to sign up to do so and make this a magical success, and that means removing as many barriers as possible. Dee and I have therefore put aside a small pot of funds from our own author earnings which we will offer to any schools that may not be able to cover postage costs. Our aim is that this initiative organically grows and continues for years to come.”

While little expenditure is required, participation in the program does require commitment, imagination and time.

Dee and Kate’s dream that the program eventually secures financial support to help fund author visits to the most remote and disadvantaged schools.

Pen Pals and good advice

Dee is sad she never had a pen pal as a child, but she was already writing at the tender age of seven and had attempted her first book at nine. She says the best advice she received was “to write for the love of it and to not compare yourself to anyone else or what they’re writing or getting published. Also ‘stay true to your vision for the story.’ In other words, tell the story you want to tell.”

Kate had pen pals dotted around the world as a child, and said it was always a buzz to see letters arrive in the letter box. “The best advice I ever received was to write about whatever I liked and read the books I wanted regardless of what people said I should be doing. First and foremost, find the enjoyment. It worked!”

How to sign up for an Author Pen Pal

The sign-up forms for teachers and authors/illustrators are now live and can be found at the Author Pen Pals site here: https://www.authorpenpals.com

Author Pen Pals will then be in contact early 2023 to let you know what happens next and which author/illustrator you will be paired up with.

“From being an author in schools, I’ve seen how connecting kids with book creators can really inspire them to read and write. It helps them engage with the joy of books and writing.” Dee White

More about Kate Foster and Dee White

Kate Foster is a children’s author who writes feel-good books starring neurodivergent children being their awesome selves and nearly always feature the cutest dogs. She also likes cake.

Dee White is the author of more than 25 books for children and young adults. She loves doing author residencies in schools to connect students with books and writing and you can read about her more here: https://www.school-news.com.au/external-learning/artists-in-residence/ 

Shannon Meyerkort

Shannon Meyerkort is a freelance writer and the author of "Brilliant Minds: 30 Dyslexic Heroes Who Changed our World", now available in all good bookstores.

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