The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Skype Chat: Julia Durango

As one of the coordinators for the Young Authors writing contest in my district, I have had the opportunity to go to the Illinois Young Authors Conference in Bloomington for the past three years. My second year attending, I got to be an Author Escort, which means I spent the day going around with one of the guest authors, Ms. Julia Durango, assisting when she presented to student groups, eating a fancy lunch, and having a delightful time of chatting with her about reading, writing, and education. I also acquired several of her books at the conference and have acquired a couple more since then. In addition to all of that, we became “friends” on Facebook but have seen that online friendship become a real friendship as we chat and share and learn together.

I decided to read one of Ms. Durango’s books to my class this year because it gives a very different perspective of life in the Americas during the 18th century. Inspired by the true story of an Angolan slave who as a young child was identified as being gifted with languages, The Walls of Cartagena tells a fictional story of how this boy, Calepino, may have reacted to his experiences. It is a relatively short read but it captured my students’ attention and many of them were interested in reading the book for themselves.

At the same time I was finishing this book, I was finally able to get a webcam with built-in microphone to use with my HP Pavilion Mini that is connected to our Promethean ActivPanel Touch interactive board. I contacted my friend Julia and asked her if she would be willing to do a Skype chat with my class. I had never done a Skype chat with an author with my class before, although we did do a Google Hangouts chat with my sister two weeks ago to wish her a happy birthday.

Today was the day we picked to do the chat. I had my students prep by thinking of questions they could ask Ms. Durango and write them down. Then we got Skype running, she called us, and away we went! She shared some of her background, including that she went to school at the University of Illinois and used to live in Urbana and how she got into writing stories for her sons who are now teenagers. Then she did a back-and-forth question-and-answer session with my students. They asked her about her favourite books, favourite authors, inspiration for reading and writing, and hobbies (crocheting, hiking, eating, and watching old movies were all listed). She asked them about their favourite books and authors, what they thought the hardest part of writing was, and how many of them like to read and write now.

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It was just a thirty-minute chat but it was so wonderful seeing my students engaging with her and sharing thoughts and ideas and listening attentively! She also hinted that she might stop by our room if she is ever in Urbana. I assured her (and my students) that she is always welcome!

Having done one chat, I am so excited about some of the other chats I have lined up and others that I am going to be arranging soon! I am so grateful for authors who are willing to take a break from their very busy schedules to chat with a group of fourth grade students who are eager to learn more about the people who wrote the books that they love.

How do you try to connect with authors?

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