Franny Billingsley has been our writer-in-residence for 5th and 6th graders for the past several years. In addition to her beautifully written fantasy books, Franny is also a superb speaker and teacher. She immediately engages the students with her informal, friendly manner. Her interactive presentation is filled with enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, and laughter. Franny uses ingenious physical props to introduce her stories, so that all students become interested in the characters and themes, from the children who have enthusiastically read The Folk Keeper or Well Wished to the students who haven't read her books.
Franny begins her talk by telling students about her own background and how she became a writer, using overheads and stories from her own life. She reveals her own struggles with beginning a novel, shows examples of the writing and revision of her books, and answers the many questions of the students.
As writer-in-residence, she then meets with each class and "walks" them through the writing of their own stories, including suggestions for creating a character, setting, action, or dialogue. Her positive approach has a big impact on our students. At the beginning of each class, after the students have written a first paragraph, Franny asks someone to share his or her writing. Usually only one student volunteers. By the end of class, however, every student is enthusiastically waving his or her hand! How does Franny accomplish this in every class? She uses the wonderful teaching technique of focusing on one or several things written by the student—a vivid description, an interesting beginning sentence, a great problem or intriguing setting—and praises that piece of writing. Franny has a knack of finding something wonderful in every student's work, and follows up by showing the students how to build on their writing. The result is a class filled with excited, motivated students who are eager to finish their stories after Franny's visit.
I recently had the pleasure of hosting an author visit with Chicago author, Franny Billingsley, in my library media Center at Longfellow School in Portland, Maine. I found Franny to be a delightful presenter and a gifted teacher.
During her visit, Franny spent the entire day with our fifth graders. And what a day it was! In an assembly presentation to all three classes, she spoke for an hour about her writing process, how she builds character, plot, and story, using props to enhance student learning and emphasizing inductive reasoning. Following her large group session, Franny conducted a writing workshop for each of the three classes. Students and teachers were stunned by the quality of the work that students generated in response to Franny's exercises for them.
Franny's fantasy novels, The Folk Keeper (2000 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Fiction) and Well Wished (Anne Spencer Lindbergh Prize honor book), are complex and intriguing works of fiction. They will appeal to students in Grades 4-8, as will Franny's presentations about them. However, because Franny was a children's bookseller as well as an author, she has also designed presentations for younger children. Having observed her storyhours with preschoolers, I can also attest to her energy and playful approach with the younger child as well.
In summary, Franny's presentation was energetic and completely engaging, and her writing workshops inspired all students to reach new heights. They are still talking about it every day!
It was such a pleasure for the Middle School students and faculty at Hathaway Brown to meet you and to be the lucky recipients of your enlightening presentation and writing workshops. Our English teachers were very pleased with the effect you had on their students! Your lively exploration of the creative writing process and the wonderful rapport you established with the girls really inspired them to look at writing in a new light. One of our teachers whose daughter is in the 6th grade related that the writing her daughter, Jess, did for you was the best she had done all year. Comments from the girls were equally positive. "Franny Billingsley made writing so easy." "It was fun describing things with my senses." "I liked learning how to start a story so that people will want to keep reading to find out what happens." Needless to say, your engaging approach to writing stimulated their creative juices, and they came away from the day with a new appreciation for and understanding of the writing process. Many of the girls are continuing to refine the stories they started with you and are excited that you graciously offered to read them. We truly enjoyed your visit, and the teachers look forward to building on the strategies you shared to empower our young writers.
It is my great pleasure to recommend author Franny Billingsley to you. She recently gave a spellbinding presentation to our upper elementary grades. As a teacher, I admired the way in which she structured her book-talk. She arrived with physical props and immediately captivated her audience. I was impressed with the way in which she integrated the children's experiences as writers with her own. Her wide knowledge of children's literature was showcased in her fascinating discussion of the research she did to write and rewrite her opening. The children felt empowered by Franny's talk, yet she was realistic about the process of publication.
As a parent, I happily attended many of the stunning children's events Franny conceived and orchestrated during her stint at the 57th Street Cooperative Bookstore. Her love of children's literature and her enjoyment and knowledge of children was at the fore again during her wonderful author's visit. I hope that you will make this opportunity available to your students.