How big are “virtual” author visits to schools? So big that the headmistress of children’s book sales, J.K. Rowling herself, recently apparated (via a live webcast) from Edinburgh, Scotland, into classrooms with 1.2 million students and teachers. “It’s an extraordinary way for students to be visited by a well-known author,” says Billy DiMichele, producer and on-camera host.
J.K. Rowling answered questions from students and read aloud from her first book during a live webcast in October.

Like Harry Potter’s creator, some of the best-known names in kid lit—Avi, Ally Condie, Patrick Carman, Jeanne DuPrau—are beaming into schools through live video and Skype. And why not? They can be a presence for book-buying kids in far-flung locales without leaving their families or their writing desks. “It gives them more opportunity to reach their audiences,” says Scottie Bowditch, director of school and library marketing for Penguin Young Readers Group.
The tech talks aren’t perfect: Internet connections can fail, and authors can lose younger kids’ attention when they remotely appear, Wizard of Oz–style, on a screen. But the price is right (from no charge to a few hundred dollars), and the potential to reach millions of possible book buyers is huge.
“I welcome this as an opportunity to do more author visits,” says Gail Dickinson, president-elect of the American Association of School Librarians and professor of school librarianship at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. “Being able to erase that barrier of geography and location is very important.” Nowadays, she notes, even her childhood school in Appalachia could get an author in this fashion.
With livestreaming and Skype, authors can talk to kids at schools that can’t pay the $3,000 or so for the plane fare, hotel room, and honorarium for an in-person visit. “It’s not who can afford the person,” says Nick Glass, founder and executive director of “Equity is essentially what you’re talking about.”
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