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An insight into the world of Kid Lit (from the inside)

Connect your class to a real-life author

This time last year, School News shared the new Author Pen Pals program, developed by children’s authors Kate Foster and Dee White. With four terms under their belt, we touch base to find out how the program went and if there is space for new classes to sign up.

What is Author Pen Pals?

The program was initially designed to connect Australian authors and illustrators with schools that have limited opportunities to meet authors due to distance or a lack of funds. All schools were welcome and in the first year, approximately 90 schools and more than 250 individual classes signed up, from all over Australia.

Author Pen Pals founder Kate Foster was thrilled with the first year’s result, and hopes that even more schools sign up for 2024. “Just over a third of the schools that signed up were remote, regional and/or disadvantaged,” she says, “and so this year we’re pushing harder to reach more of those educators and students.”

“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.” Kate Foster

Over 200 authors and illustrators signed up for the program and despite a comprehensive feedback survey, few changes are being made to the program in its second year. “Everything went rather smoothly,” says Kate. As part of the program, classes could expect to receive a minimum of four postcards or letters from their Pen Pal, one per term. In return, they needed to commit to replying at least twice throughout the year.

One change for 2024 is that Year 7 classes are being invited to join the program, in addition to the current Years 2 to 6. Kate and Dee are also hoping more illustrators will join the program. “We may be called Author Pen Pals, but that’s only because it’s quick and easy to say! Illustrators are equally as valuable, and we know they would be a wonderful inspiration to students around the country.”

What were some of the special things Author Pen Pals did with their classes?

“Authors/illustrators came up with a variety of innovative ways to communicate with their pen pals including letters, postcards, newsletters and bookmarks,” says Kate. “Some schools paid for their author/illustrator to visit which was a wonderful way to cement the Pen Pal relationship and engage students even deeper with books and writing.”

Some of the feedback from classes include:

“My Year 4 class had an amazing experience participating in the Author Pen Pal Program … Letters were fun, interesting and full of tips and ideas to assist my class with their writing. I will definitely participate again next year and recommend the program to other schools.”

“Our school registered with the Author Pen Pals project for our Year 6 reading club. This is a small group of students … The letters contained personal questioning, which provided our students with a close bond with our author Pen Pal. Our students gained additional insights into the world of kids lit, because of the ongoing discussions relating to our author’s books and recommendations. Highly recommend the author Pen Pal project – get writing!!!”

“This was such a great way to make writing purposeful for my students and it helped them to understand more about the author’s processes. The students loved receiving “real mail”; our author made fabulous connections with the students. Thank you for giving my class this opportunity.”

“Thank you for initiating the Author Pen Pals Programme. Receiving new letters from our Pen Pals was definitely a highlight of our library lessons. The students loved when the authors answered their questions and enjoyed writing letters in response. What a fantastic initiative, one in which our students, no matter whether they were 5 or 12 years old, were thoroughly engaged. We will definitely sign up for this program again next year!”

“We have been delighted to be part of the Author Pen Pal program. Both classes have loved receiving letters and packages from our authors. Likewise, the classes enjoyed replying to the questions the authors asked of us. It has been wonderful to get to know the work of two authors that were new to us and their books are now very hot property in our library.”

Get with the program for 2024

Schools – especially remote and rural – are invited to sign up for next year’s program.

“Before signing up, we do ask everyone to read the website carefully,” says Kate, “so everyone is aware of what’s expected and therefore confident they have the time and resources to commit to the programme for the whole school year. It may take a little preparation but is totally worth it.”

The program is free to join and there are no costs involved other than the occasional stamp to post letters (though email is still a valid option).

“We want to ask people to spread the word about our fantastic programme as far and wide as possible. We want to reach as many schools and students as possible so our creators can work their magic, build connections, and encourage kids everywhere and from every background to pick up a book and share their own stories,” says Kate.

“We know just how essential it’s been for so many children, and encourage anyone who has a desire or interest in supporting children’s literacy – scientifically proven to increase mental health and wellbeing – to consider supporting us financially or otherwise- which would allow us to do all the things we know will help raise literacy levels, make reading cool, and celebrate our homegrown talent.” Kate Foster

 For more information or to sign up visit: AUTHOR PEN PALS – Home

 

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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