When I was in fourth grade, our teacher assigned an author’s study. As the culmination of the project, we composed a letter to our chosen author, asking questions, and offering opinions about the author’s books. I remember Miss Porter helping each one of us locate the publisher’s information on the copyright page of our books and using a phone book-sized directory of publishers, find the address. I carefully composed my letter to Marguerite Henry (I was in my horse phase at the time), asking about her horses and sharing my secret wish to attend the annual Pony Penning roundup on Chincoteague Island, just like the Beebe children in Misty of Chincoteague. I waited expectantly through the spring for my letter from Ms. Henry to arrive, but it never did. Crestfallen, I realized that Ms. Henry probably never saw my letter.
Thirty years later, authors and the details of their lives and work still intrigue me. Gone are the days, though, of sending off letters to a publisher and hoping for a personal reply from my favorite writer. Many published authors host their own websites and blogs, and fans have greater access to authors than we once dreamed possible. After noticing that many of the writers whose blogs I read post to Twitter (located at www.twitter.com), I jumped into the Twitterverse last summer. My Twitter ID: @donalynbooks. The Book Whisperer was taken!
Twitter, the free social networking and micro-blogging service, allows its users to send and receive messages, known as tweets. Tweets are text messages of up to 140 characters that appear on the user’s profile page and the user’s subscribers known as followers. In addition to writing tweets, users resend (retweet) posts they enjoy, or send direct messages to each other. Users’ names, beginning with an @ symbol, appear in front of their posts. Users search for tweets about topics grouped under hashtags like #literacy and #ALA. Users access Twitter through its website, Short Messaging Service (SMS), or cell phone applications like Tweetdeck.
While Twitter became well-known due to the Twitterati, celebrity tweeters like Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, the service has moved beyond the navel-gazing posts of the rich and famous. During the corrupt Iranian Presidential elections, protestors used Twitter after the government shut down other modes of communication. Early reports from the recent Haitian and Chilean earthquakes came through Twitter. Last May, astronaut Michael Massimino sent tweets about repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope from space. There is still a bit of narcissism and self-promotion on Twitter, but the site’s role as a communication force keeps rising.
Instant access via Twitter to book reviews, author appearances, and links offers teachers and librarians opportunities for finding books, resources, and like-minded colleagues beyond the walls of our schools, and streamlines the unwieldy process of following blogs and bookmarking review and author websites. I discovered that Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) raises honeybees and followed the announcement of his Hugo Award win live from his tweets. I scored an advanced reader copy of Anne Mazer (@annemazer) and Ellen Potter’s (@EllenPotter) new book, Spilling Ink, when Anne offered copies to her followers. Want to know about Libba Bray’s (@libbabray) next book? the newest Reading Is Fundamental initiative (@RascofromRIF)? or read reviews of new titles (@sljournal)? Just like the social networking sites Facebook and goodreads, begin by following a favorite or two and then add other people you notice through your friends’ tweets.
And yes, if you want the inside scoop on our favorite celebrities, children’s and young adult writers, you can do that, too. Follow the hilarious exchanges between Eoin Colfer (@eoincolfer) and Mo Willems (@The_Pigeon), laugh out loud when YA author Maureen Johnson (@maureenjohnson) mistakenly eats the Styrofoam packaging in a box of German wafer cookies, celebrate when Jon Green (@realjohngreen) welcomes his newborn son into the world, or cheer along with her when Rebecca Stead’s (@rebstead) brilliant genre-bending novel, When You Reach Me, garners a rave review in the New York Times (@nytimes). Peering into authors’ mundane moments reveals how magical their writing is when it springs from people whose lives are as ordinary as our own.
Post your own tweets--update your followers about the latest books in your collection, share reviews and links, or ask your tweeps for specific book recommendations and receive responses in minutes. Although many schools block access to Twitter on district servers, the widespread use of Twitter among education professionals is sparking change in district policies regarding its use.
I have lists of authors and book reviewers on my Twitter page (too many to list here-- I tried!). Subscribing to these lists would be a great place to start or add to those you follow.
The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.