May 10, 2024

Have Swag Will Travel: Yearlong Author Residency, by Tracy C. Gold

Dear Readers, I have a very special Have Swag Will Travel guest post for you today. 

Author, Tracy. C. Gold, just launched a beautiful, new picture book into the world: CALL YOUR MOTHER (Familius, 2024). As the author of multiple books, Tracy has participated in several unique book events. Today she shares her experience and tips for planning a yearlong author residency.  

by Tracy C. Gold and Vivian Mineker

Take it away, Tracy!


Have Swag Will Travel: Yearlong Author Residency

by Tracy C. Gold 

I have done quite a few events now that I’m on my fourth picture book, but since I debuted during the pandemic, school visits have been slow. So I was absolutely thrilled when school librarian Alicia Danyali reached out in summer 2023 about setting up an author residency for the next school year. 

She works at Krieger Schechter Day School which is local to me (so—have swag, will travel ten minutes down the road, in this case). She wanted to revive an author residency program the school had before Covid, the Silverman-Brown Residency. We had the opportunity to work together to shape a post-Covid version.

I jumped at the chance and had a really fun idea, if we could make it work. Ever since my book "Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat" came out in 2021, I’ve been looking for a school that would install a bat box to go along with a school visit. Hint: do NOT write emails with the subject line “A bat in your ear,” even if you know the recipient well, as this does not go over well with those with a phobia of bats. Oops!

KSDS is a certified Maryland Green School, with a gorgeous community garden and a commitment to serving the environment, so they were up for the bat box! After trading lots of emails, talking on the phone, and meeting at the school’s beautiful campus, Alicia and I made a plan. 

We would do three visits, and on the last, the school would install bat boxes. Alicia involved the Art and Woodshop teacher Gigi Smith, who helped the fifth graders make bat boxes themselves. So cool! 

Here’s a quick recap of each visit, and then some tips for pulling something like this off: 

Visit One: October 2023

I met with first grade and kindergarten all together, with lots of help from teachers. I did a quick presentation about how I get my ideas, read "Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat,” and then set the kids loose to color and cut out their own bats from an activity kit Sourcebooks made for the book. 

Then I met with second and third grade. I did the same talk about how to get my ideas, but with these more advanced learners, we embarked upon a yearlong project: making their own books about wildlife (well, this ended up being a book about anything they wanted, but a lot were about wildlife). For their activity, they looked through library books and made lists or mind maps full of ideas.  

Image Source: Tracy C. Gold, Mind Map

Then, teachers collected their brainstorming documents so we could save them for my next visit, which would focus on drafting. (Kudos to Alicia’s organizational scheme that kept track of all of these over the course of the year!)

Visit Two: January 2024          

We crammed a lot more into this visit! I met with fourth graders and talked with them about the drafting process and structure in picture books. Then I read "Hide and Seek, Nuts to Eat,” and asked them to identify which structures I had used. We ended with a freewriting exercise.

I did a similar presentation for second and third grade, but instead of freewriting, we pulled out their ideas for books, and they started drafting a book. I pushed them to add some structure—maybe a plot with a beginning, middle, and end, or for a non-fiction book, perhaps they could chronicle a year in the life of an animal. 

I also did an interview with the school podcast, and talked a little bit about the ecology of bats with the fifth graders who were making the bat boxes. Whew! 

Visit Three: April 2024

The final visit! I had been in touch with Alicia throughout the year, and she confirmed that the bat boxes were well on their way. 

She also sent me a few pieces of student writing to review ahead of time before meeting with a few students in pairs or individually. This was so fun! KSDS has some wonderful budding authors and it was great to hear their excitement. One of them even gave me a book that she had written and self published with her grandfather. Then, I had a quick meetup with some fifth graders. I talked about how I get ideas and shared my newest book, "Call Your Mother.” 

Image Source: Tracy C. Gold, Meeting with Students

After that, I got to see the second and third graders for the third time! They were familiar faces by now, though I admit I didn’t remember names as much as I had hoped to. We talked about revision, and I shared some of the revisions I had done on "Call Your Mother.” Then, it was time for them to revise their wildlife books and start transferring them to cardstock to be stapled into actual books. As we expected, we didn’t have enough time for all of the students to finish. Alicia will be helping students finish during their time in the library.

Last, it was time to install the bat boxes! Facility and maintenance employee Ray helped hang them alongside the community garden. We celebrated the installation with the fifth graders who built the bat box. A photographer from a local paper even came! (To be determined if the photo will run in the news, but thanks to my publicist at Sourcebooks for reaching out to local media!)

Image Source: Tracy C. Gold, Student with Bat Box

Of course, expect the unexpected with school visits—a parent expressed concern that children might end up accidentally handling bats in that spot, so the bat boxes will be moved to a more remote location soon. I’ll keep this in mind for future schools interested in a bat box.

By the end of the residency, I had gotten to know students and staff and felt like part of the KSDS community. I would love to do a yearlong residency with other schools! This was a really special experience. 

If you’re thinking about doing this with a school, here are some tips and lessons learned:

· Alicia Danyali, the school librarian, put in a ton of work to make this happen and to arrange the schedule so that students from as many grades as possible could participate. (Without making my head explode.) She came up with a plan, involved several stakeholders within the school, and did a huge amount of work wrangling schedules. I don’t think this residency would have been possible without Alicia’s hard work. 

· I would probably only try this if you have more than one book published. I’m not sure three visits would have made sense with only one book. It was great to have a different book to share for each visit. 

· Don’t try to cram too much into a day. I was grateful that along the way Alicia sent me a proposed schedule. As excited as I was to meet all the students…I did have to push back and say “let’s spend more time on fewer things,” which, in hindsight was a good call. We ended up fitting most of the schedule into the mornings, because that worked best with everything else going on at the school. I honestly don’t know how teachers manage their fully scheduled days. Sure, it’s partly that I’m meeting all new people in an all new place and trying to bring my max energy, but whew! Respect to teachers! 

· Expect the unexpected. We had a few hiccups along the way but were always able to make the best of them. On my end, whenever I plan a school visit, I block out the whole day on my husband’s schedule so that he knows he’s on the hook for watching our daughter if she can’t go to school. Good thing I did that—for my April visit, my kid’s school was closed due to a water main break. That was a fun email to get in the morning. Because my husband knew I would be unavailable that day, he could take off work without major issues. Funny enough, in the past I’ve also had to reschedule a school visit due to a water main break on their end! What is with these pipes?

I think that’s it! I am happy to answer questions in the comments about the visit and share any advice! 

Thank you so much for sharing your experience and insights with us, Tracy! This sounds like such an excellent series of visits for all involved. And yes, props to the school librarian who was with you in this all the way! (And to ALL of the educators who give so much of themselves to young learners each and every day.)

And now, dear readers, you know what to do. The best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. Tracy's books, including her latest, MAMA'S HOME, are available everywhere books are borrowed and sold, including your own local, indie bookstore. 


Photo Credit: Ruut DeMeo
Tracy C. Gold loves writing about families and nature. She is an author, freelance editor, and mom living in Baltimore, Maryland. Her published and forthcoming picture books include “Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby,” “Call Your Mother,” “Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat,” and “Hide and Seek, Nuts to Eat.” She also writes short stories, essays, novels, and poems. Her work has been published in several magazines and anthologies. Tracy earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts at the University of Baltimore and earned her B.A. in English from Duke University. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s playing with her kid or hanging out with horses and dogs. You can find out more about Tracy at tracycgold.com, by following her on Threads, Bluesky, and Instagram at @tracycgold, or by liking her Facebook page



Have Swag Will Travel is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.