[This first half is long and full of useful information, if you are interested in a school or library visit; to skip directly to “Conferences and Libraries,” click here. Thanks.]

Hello!

Dear teachers, librarians, booksellers, conference organizers, parents, grandparents, humans and readers of all ages:

Thank you for your support of my work, for sharing my books, and for bringing me to speak, teach, and sign books at your school, conference, or event. It has been a wild and meaningful ride, and I wouldn’t trade a day of the work we’ve done together for anything.

My books reflect my own story and our collective history as well as one of my deepest held beliefs, that every human being is worthy of dignity and respect, and every person’s story is important. From pre-K through college, I have books and programs that address this belief through stories about community, friendship, family, and the interconnectedness of every living thing.

I hope you’ll laugh, cry, connect, and press each of my books into someone else’s hands with a heartfelt “You’ve got to read this!” whether it’s a picture book about friendship, fairness, and civil rights (FREEDOM SUMMER) or a documentary novel about the 1960s like COUNTDOWN; a story about death that’s really about life (EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS) or a chapter book about a plucky 9-year-old, her wacky grandmother, and a whole lot of unruly chickens (LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER); a middle-grade novel about baseball, poetry and belonging (THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS) or a hymn to the wonders of the natural world (NIGHT WALK TO THE SEA); a counting book for youngest readers (ONE WIDE SKY), or a YA novel (my first) about a tragic moment in U.S. history, KENT STATE.

A pandemic sent us all sheltering in 2020 and doing virtual events, visits, festivals, conferences, and more. All visits in 2020 through 2022 were virtual. If you are still sheltering or if it works better for your scheduling and budget and you want to talk about how a virtual visit would work, you can email me directly here for more information: inquiry@deborahwiles.com

All group sessions, whether virtual or in-person, consist of a program with PP slides followed by a Q&A. All grades. Speaking and teaching for 2023/24 visits are also, once again, in-person with all/any recommended precautions observed.

Whether virtual or in-person, I tailor each session to grade/age, and leave you with rich and meaningful storytelling you can build on in your classroom. Deep-diving into a particular book before the visit is a fantastic way to set up a visit, as it gives students an investment in our time together, and it gives me a focus that will touch on all aspects of writing well, hit curricular goals, and help students begin to tell and write their own stories.

Turn-around time on an inquiry is usually within two days. I’ll include information about honorariums and scheduling and get a feel for what you need to supplement your goals and objectives. I know you are making an investment when you bring an author to your school, and I make an investment right alongside you. I’ll work with you to make the visit as useful and meaningful and affordable as I possibly can. Here’s where to start: inquiry@deborahwiles.com.

And here are some popular assemblies and workshops, if you’d like to have specific structure. Keep in mind you can mix it up in any way that works for your purposes. I usually do three to four sessions with students in a day, and sometimes an after-school session with teachers. I can see an entire school population in a day, or work with just one grade all day, with multiple books and writing, etc — every school has its particular needs and schedules and goals, and I work to fold into your day as seamlessly as possible.

Welcome to The Aurora County Universe: It is beloved by readers young and old — let’s go there. I use a PP program to showcase the origins of Love, Ruby Lavender; Each Little Bird That Sings; The Aurora County All-Stars; and A Long Line of Cakes, all stories that are my own childhood personal narrative turned into fiction.  This is an interactive storytelling talk influenced by What You Know First by Patricia MacLachlan; Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield; and When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant. I ask participants to think about their own origins and stories, and I include a turn-and-talk time (yes, even in large assemblies) as well. Goal: Some hallmarks of good storytelling: you laugh a lot, maybe shed a tear or two, learn something about yourself and your neighbor, make connections and believe that you also have stories to tell, and it’s all satisfying: funny, gentle, kind, and good.

NOTE: You can fine-tune the Aurora County assemblies, focusing each assembly on one book: 1) including a writing component with any book (60 minutes, students and teachers bring notebooks); 2) a focus on Each Little Bird That Sings and starting individual or collective “Life Notices” like Comfort’s; 3) how to “map” a story using distinctive descriptions, showing and not telling (there are hand-drawn maps in front of each Aurora County book); 4) the stories of baseball, a look at the telling of the story of PeeWee Reese and Jackie Robinson in The Aurora County All-Stars, and how it relates to the characters of Norwood Boyd and Pip Wilson (character counts, choices matter).

Freedom Summer: History is writ large and small. The historical backdrop of Freedom Summer is the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The personal backdrop of Freedom Summer is my story of what happened in my small Mississippi town the day the Civil Rights Act was passed and “everything closed,” including the town pool, the roller skating rink, the ice cream place, the movie theater… and the public library. At heart this is a story about friendship and fairness, for all ages. I use PP slides to show childhood photos of my little Mississippi town, then and now, including present-day photos of the pool that was closed. Goal: “Every human being is worthy of dignity and respect, and every person’s story is important: what’s your story? What is history? You are living it now.”

The Sixties Trilogy: What is a Documentary Novel and why should I care? For that matter, what is the Sixties, and why should I care? Why should I bother to pay attention to what’s happening now in my young world? You should care a lot. A lot! This is an assembly or workshop for upper elementary and middle school (into high school) that looks at Countdown, Revolution, and Anthem closely (or just one of these books; most upper elementary students read Countdown; middle school students read Revolution, and high school students are reading Anthem). Things we accomplish: 1) how personal narrative turns into story; 2) how history is multi-layered — while volunteers are canvassing for voters in Mississippi, the Beatles are coming to America for the first time, and Willie Mays is having a great baseball year. 3) the scrapbook sections in each book contain primary source material — photographs, songs, newspaper clippings, and more —  here’s how to harvest that research and include it in a story.  Goal: All history is biography and every person’s story is important, including yours. Here are some ways to capture it.

Kent State: A look at Citizenship, Democracy, and First Amendment Rights. This is an assembly/talk for high school and college students about what happened at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. The story of May 4 is told as a conversation in Kent State and is often used as Reader’s Theater in classrooms and assemblies, with a revolving cast of characters and room for plenty of readers and discussion . We can study the structure of the book, protest songs of the late Sixties, the unrest and protest of the Vietnam War era, and the different ways people experienced and processed these things. Goals: It’s hard not to compare this era with the discourse of today, so we aim for the ideals of talking through differences and finding ways to connect with one another, using the skills involved in civil and civic conversation.

We Are All Under One Wide Sky: using the concepts of counting one to ten and back again, a story with a beginning-middle-end that mirrors morning-noon-and-night, We Are All Under One Wide Sky is a peace anthem, a hymn to the natural world, and to the beautiful and important human diversity on this planet. This is a picturebook for youngest readers, pre-readers, and early-elementary readers. I give a PP presentation, while we talk about how a story is written and illustrated and what a story IS, and how I wrote this story. We learn the song that goes with this book (music by Jim Pearce, which I leave with you), and we dance to the music while singing the song, at the end of our time together (excellent photo ops :>). For older early-elementary readers, I show the original version of this book and we compare it to the new book, and see how they differ and are the same… hilarity ensues with the squirrel discussion. Goals: the importance of keeping a notebook, using it to gather lots of story ideas, and how a story can be told, sung, danced, painted, and written… there are many ways to tell a story.

PictureBook Biographies: Using Night Walk to the Sea: A Story of Rachel Carson, Earth’s Protector, and Bobby: A Story about Robert F. Kennedy, we explore how to research and write about historical figures (and ourselves). We talk about writing short, about an incident — in Night Walk I write about one stormy night, a lost firefly, and bioluminescence — and writing longer: in Bobby I write about the longer arc of a life and the history Robert Kennedy lived through, created, and tried to change. I can focus on just one book, if that works better for your purposes. Rachel has an environmental theme and Bobby has a theme of change and public service. Both concern themselves with finding purpose and making personal choices and working toward the greater good. Both dance between non-fiction and historical fiction, as well as science (Rachel) and politics (Bobby), with some creative non-fiction thrown in. Rachel is solidly for all ages. Bobby is for older elementary into middle-and high-school readerships. (Yes, picturebooks are for high school readers, too, but if you’re reading this, you know that.) Goal: an invitation to the wider world of accomplishment that is tied to the common good. How we wrestle with emotions as we learn and grow (highlighted in both Rachel and Bobby); how to write about other people, their times, and their accomplishments; how to research same. And how to create that story arc, large or small, long or short, a moment or a lifetime.

The Writing Workshop: Let’s write together. I have taught many hundreds of these workshops in all shapes and forms, over 25-plus years, to many thousands of students of all ages, writers, and teachers. Curriculums and standards and methods and practices have changed in those years, but the way story is written has not. It still comes from what you know, what you feel, and what you can imagine. It comes from paying attention, asking questions, and making connections. It comes from moments, memories, and meaning: this is how I workshop with young writers. I use listing techniques, choosing one clear moment in time, oral drafting and revision, writing short, sharing out loud, modeling how it works, then in pairs, in groups, and en masse. It is absolutely thrilling to watch these stories develop — you will think so too. I am working with teachers at the same time… by the time I turn your students back to you, they will be eager to keep going with their stories. Personal narrative is the backbone of writing well, and that is my focus, along with all the conventions of writing well. I like to have a day but can use an hour. I like to have a week, but can use two days. We work it out according to your needs and I adjust accordingly. I also do professional development with teachers using these same techniques (see “Conferences” below), and we partner together in the classroom. I can work with large groups or intimate classroom settings. We work on creating trust and community. We set our goals and get to work. You will have new tools and tweaks and refreshers to add to your writing toolboxes. The workshop is suitable and tailored for all ages; my sweet spot is grades 4 and 5 and all middle school grades.  Let’s discuss if this is something that appeals to you.

You can keep up with books published or in production, the writing process, new work/ideas, and some personal stories and sagas through my blog (archived at blogger, and ongoing as “Field Notes” here) and at Instagram, where I post most often. I’m rarely at FB or Twitter, but I do regularly post resources for both published work and work in progress (and sometimes home improvement ideas and food, ha) at Pinterest.

BOOKS PUBLISHED AND ON THE HORIZON:

I use the Aurora County Books (RUBY, LITTLE BIRD, ALL-STARS, A LONG LINE OF CAKES) when working with elementary students and the Sixties documentary novels (COUNTDOWN, REVOLUTION, ANTHEM) for upper elementary into middle school/high school, and KENT STATE for high school/young adult/adult readers. FREEDOM SUMMER weaves through all grades and ages and I usually share it last in each assembly.

Fall 2020’s picture book is about Rachel Carson to share with young readers from Random House. 

In June 2021, WE ARE ALL UNDER ONE WIDE SKY published, from Sounds True. It’s a revisioning of ONE WIDE SKY, a counting book that I originally modeled on Molly Bang’s TEN NINE EIGHT, as it counts up to ten and back again, morning-noon-to-night, while it is also a peace anthem and a hymn to diversity, inclusion, and togetherness around the world. That’s a lot for a 32-page picture book to handle. Andrea Stegmaier‘s illustrations make all that possible and elevate my text.

In September 2022 Scholastic published my picture book about Robert F. Kennedy called, simply, BOBBY, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, about how the privilege and then loss in RFK’s life led him to change course and pursue a life of service and how young people of all ages and colors and stages can work together to change the world.

In production with Roaring Brook for Spring 2024  is SIMPLE THANKS, a picture book about gratitude being illustrated by Bao Luu.

I publish with Simon & Schuster, Harcourt/HMH (now Harper), Random House, Roaring Brook, Sounds True, and Scholastic Press. If you want to do a book sale in conjunction with a school visit, I’ll help you set that up.

My new YA novel, and what this Southern writer is working on right now, is a story about The Lost Cause of the Confederacy and the Rise of White Supremacy. The working title is CHARLOTTESVILLE. What’s unsold but what I’m in love with is “the home economics book” about Cambria Bold and her eccentric family, her best friend Queen Esther Washington, the back-door neighbor Charlemagne, and their competition for the first prize in their age category at the National Not-Quite 4H Club County Fair Crisp Cooking Competition. Insert shrug emoji here. :>

CONFERENCES AND LIBRARY PROGRAMS:

I’ve delivered keynotes and breakout sessions at state and regional library and reading conferences; I’ve spoken at the American Library Association’s Annual and Midwinter conferences, at the National Council of Teachers of English conference, the National Council on the Social Studies, the International Reading Association (now ILA), the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents/ALAN, and YALSA; I’ve worked as part of a team at writing and professional development workshops and literary festivals; and I have been part of the teaching faculty in MFA programs as well as at Towson University in Baltimore, where I taught “Writing Techniques for Teachers” ECED422 until I moved to Atlanta.

Topics I speak most often about range from particular to specific conference themes, often in education; my books and others; how my books were written, their uses in the classroom or library, or as writing mentor texts. I can speak specifically to conference themes about social justice, citizenship, community, teaching civil and civic discourse, reading and writing, and critical and historical thinking. I often speak about turning personal narratives into fiction, telling our stories, the uses of home economics, the idiosyncracies of small town life, the value of community and family in all its iterations, growing up in the American South, and more.

I usually turn around an inquiry within two days, with honorariums, scheduling, and some questions about how I can be of best use. Begin here: inquiry@deborahwiles.com I’ll work with you to make the day as affordable, useful and meaningful, and as long-lasting as possible. You are making an investment when bringing an author to your local or regional professional development day, your conference, festival, writer’s gathering, or literary event, and my goal is to help you reach your goals.

Popular talks/workshops are listed below. I also can focus on any one book, read from it, talk about its origins and process (this works well for OneBook/OneCommunity programs and books) using visuals, Q&A, etc.

The Story Beyond the Story: How does a historical time or event turn into a historical novel or picture book? How do authors work with historical fact? How do they partner with teachers and how do teachers partner with authors, in the teaching of social studies and language arts? I use the Sixties Trilogy books: Countdown, Revolution, and Anthem, as well as Kent State and more historical fiction from other authors as well.

Teaching the Documentary Novel: Dive deeper into the social, cultural, and historical underpinnings of each of the Sixties Trilogy novels: Countdown, Revolution, and Anthem. How do they naturally dovetail with curricula in social studies, math, geography, and language arts? How can you use these tools in the classroom? Each book is a complete novel in this companion trilogy of books about the Sixties (they do not have to be read in order). The story is interspersed with scrapbooks full of primary source material — newspaper clippings, photographs, song lyrics, advertisements of the time, and other ephemera that support the story. Documentary novels: the first of their kind. Can student stories using these techniques be far behind?

Constructing History through Reader’s Theater: How to use reader’s theater techniques to develop an understanding of history as multi-layered and relevant to today. This workshop develops  fluency in critical thinking, courage, civic engagement, building citizenship and community. Participants take away strategies for learning how to talk about differences within a social studies or language arts setting. For those working with younger reading audiences we explore Freedom Summer. For older reading audiences we use Kent State and passages from the Sixties Trilogy books.

Common Sense Writing and Finding Your Story: Here are strategies and models for writing together from life experiences. “I have nothing to write about” should leave your students’ (and your) vocabulary. What you know, what you feel, and what you can imagine about “the time that” will take its place. This is a professional development workshop that gets you writing and leaves you with techniques to share with your students, from K through college. Sessions range from one hour to one day, depending on your professional development goals. This workshop is often paired with a school visit day, at the end of the author visit.

How a Reading Life Creates the Story of Your Life: This is a storytelling workshop where I delve into my own reading life, from the Fifties and Mister Dog by Margaret Wise Brown to 2023 and The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. I’ll showcase stories and story patterns that, along with my personal history, inform and influence the books I’ve written. Then it’s your turn to see your own life as a story that has unfolded from the books you’ve read and the way they have helped you shape your mind and your world.

Getting to Yes: The pursuit of a writing life and the doggedness it takes to get to publication. I want to inspire you to write your story. This is an hour-long talk with stories, slides, humor, pathos, and an invitation to keep going and leave a legacy of stories — dance them, sing them, draw them, tell them, paint them, write them — stories that the world will be poorer without. I love sharing this talk.

Telling It Slant: how literature creates a framework for social justice, critical thinking, historical and civic engagement, and how it surreptitiously teaches across the curriculum in any and all disciplines, for the youngest to the oldest reader. Alternate description:  How I have written each of my books as an affirmation of our human connectedness and an invitation to myself to keep learning, while offering that same invitation to readers.

How Do They Do That? What does it mean to “read like a writer”? Find out how to do just that, and while we’re at it, how to watch movies like a storyteller as well. Once you figure out  how to do this, you’ll never read or watch movies the same way again… you’ll enjoy them even more because you know how the sausage is made. We’ll read from many selections and watch clips, too, that show us just how to do this… and how to share this with students and other interested readers/writers. It will give a boost to your teaching and grading as well.

Autobiography: This is a talk (can be a workshop as well) on the art of forgiveness, the solace of remembering , the creation of the present, the blessing of the passage of time, and the gifts found in discovering and sharing our stories. We are more alike than we are different. What common stories do we share, and how do we find our voices and make those stories uniquely our own? This workshop dovetails nicely with the next one:

The Aurora County Universe: It is beloved — let’s go there. The origins of Love, Ruby Lavender; Each Little Bird That Sings; The Aurora County All-Stars; and A Long Line of Cakes. This is an adult version of an assembly program I present for young readers. This storytelling talk is geared to the idea of “what you know first” (a line from a book of the same name by Patricia MacLachlan) and asks participants to think about their own origins and stories. You should laugh a lot, maybe shed a tear or two, but it’s all good. All good. And you should leave with so many stories bubbling in your mind that you are eager to write, sing, dance, paint, draw, tell. It’s how we understand ourselves and others; listening to others tell their stories and telling our stories, too… that’s what creates a compassionate world.

Getting Started with Oral History: This talk/workshop comes out of the years I spent gathering oral histories for The Community Foundation of Frederick County, Maryland, creating a local history and “social studies universe” for Frederick County, stories from a diverse citizenry about county fairs and threshing days, downtown development, fashion, police chiefs and civil rights struggles and daily activities from square dances to revivals to pressing cider. These stories were presented weekly on a CBS radio affiliate locally in a program I hosted called “I Remember Frederick,” and then housed at the C. Burr Artz Library and the Historical Society of Frederick County. The second phase of this project moved into schools where, partnering with teachers, I taught fifth graders the techniques of gathering these stories that would be otherwise lost, both family and community stories. Now I teach these skills to teachers who can take them into their classrooms. All ages. This is a super-rewarding workshop that unearths and saves so many wonderful stories.

Beautiful Diversity: Ways in which our differences call us home, and why this is important to us individually as well as collectively, nationally, globally, universally. From the smallest detail to the most encompassing reasons, how literature gives us — readers young and old — a sense of self, of purpose, and of belonging, those five basic human needs to love and be loved, to be safe, to achieve, to belong, and to know. Whether it’s through our own laughter, tears, drama, sarcasm, wit, or conversation about same, story is such a powerful connector and, in the end, we are all storytellers.

Keynotes and workshops are tailored to your particular conference needs and themes. The more I know about your needs and audience, the more effectively we’ll connect and work together. I always look forward to doing good work together to accomplish your goals.

For more information, you can write me here: inquiry@deborahwiles.c om.

If you represent a bookstore with an event request, or for national conferences, the emails to use are on my contact pa ge. I’d appreciate a cc as well, or you can write me and cc Lizette or Elisabeth or Sabrina. Or write me and I will acknowledge your email and forward it to the appropriate Publicity or Conference Goddess.

 

“I found your session so inspiring, and haven’t been able to stop thinking about writing since! Your books Countdown and Revolution had me in awe. I had never seen children’s books with such a creative and innovative layout. A documentary novel… who would have thought? I simply wanted to take a moment to thank you; thank you for your story, your knowledge, your humor, and your candidness.”
— a conference attendee and teacher

To start a conversation about writing workshops, school assembly programs, library visits or conference speaking, please begin here.