Author – Artist Residency Tips

If someone from a school overseas invited you to do an author or artist residency in connection with your picture book what would you do? I said yes even before I knew the particulars. If that would be your reaction, there are a few things you may want to consider to maximize this opportunity.

W ACS Lower School
Part of the ACS Cobham International School’s Early Childhood area.
W ACS Early Childhood
The Kindergarten building.

I had never been to England, where the ACS International School in Cobham, Surrey, UK has students from all over the world. This would be different from the artist residency I had done last May in Akyreyri, Iceland where I helped the students in grades one through ten paint murals. The ACS school was interested in my picture book Sand Dollar, Sand Dollar, originally published a while ago in New York by Lippincott (and subsequently Harper & Row) in a hardcover English-only version. The book was reissued this past November in six languages, which fit with the school’s international community of students. Would I come and talk to kids in pre K to grade two? I formulated a list of options for the teachers to choose from and started collecting what would be needed. By the time I headed for the airport last week the plan had morphed into a week of presentations for 300 kids in groups of 12-15, including a few classes of 2 year olds. Actually they were closer to three, because it’s nearing the end of the school year. The plan for them was a simple story time.

The entire week-long experience was completely amazing, partly because of the planning that was done ahead. Edori and Helen, the two art faculty I interacted with, came up with excellent projects relating to the art in my book, Sand Dollar, Sand Dollar.

Kindergardeners made mixed media collages incorporating white negative space, like in the book.
Kindergardeners made mixed media collages incorporating white negative space, like in the book. Art teacher Edori Fertig came up with this excellent plan.
This shark attack mixed media was a surprise. Poor crabs!
This shark attack mixed media was a surprise. Poor crabs!

I must say that I had an angel. My friend Stephanie Hurlbatt was the children’s librarian in my town when my kids were young and a friend who helped my son with his magic shows. She moved to England long ago, married, and has been teaching at the ACS school since then. She was the mover and shaker for this residency and even organized the reception the school put on for me. She deserves a medal.

First graders made Styrofoam prints, drawing with a pencil what printed as the white lines. The sand dollar book originals were silk screens.
First graders made Styrofoam prints, drawing with a pencil what printed as the white lines. The sand dollar book originals were silk screens. Art teacher Helen decided on this print method.

If you find yourself an angel, here are a few things that might ensure that your experience is as good as mine was.

  1. Arrive two days early, if possible, to avoid jetlag due to the time difference and the slog that travel is. I was expected to present to five groups on Monday, and I was introduced to lots of staff and teachers. You need to be at your best. I arrived on Saturday and left the following Sunday, at the school’s suggestion. A brilliant idea.
  2. Communicate as closely with the different grade level teachers and tailor presentations to fit their curricula as much as possible. I brought four different PowerPoint slide shows and a few demonstration materials geared to different targets and age levels. Also, copies of my book in all six languages, which I donated to the school library at the end of the week even though the school had purchased one copy for each class.
  3. PreK made sand dollars of self hardening clay.
    PreK children made sand dollars of self hardening clay.

    Bring extra copies of your media. Redundancy is a good practice. I checked to be sure the school’s equipment was compatible with what I brought, and then I made two thumb drives with everything on them. This helped when, in the flurry of moving from one class to another, the first stick was left behind in the computer. I also had saved everything on Google Drive, just in case.

  4. Print out a schedule for the week, coded to your list of which presentations are for each grade. Stephanie provided an Excel grid once the schedule was set. Each block listed the grade. I added numbers coded to the list of my offerings which the school had chosen for each grade. For each class, I could easily tell the teacher which number presentation to select on his/her computer.

    A true angel - Stephanie Hurlbatt.
    A true angel – Stephanie Hurlbatt.
  5. I was fortunate that Stephanie, who teaches PreK at the school, was my sidekick for the week, assuring the logistics like where to be, where to have lunch, and so on. For PreK she sang a fun sea-themed song complete with cute gestures with the kids to fill a time gap. Yes, time slots must be conformed to. Stephanie is an amazing liaison.
  6. Managing your reimbursement is necessary. Keep all receipts for your meals, materials, and flight in one place to facilitate the payment process. Amounts for things purchased before your arrival will be in US Dollars while expenses during your trip will be in local currency. Do note that up front on your invoice so there is no confusion. When the school e-mailed me the reimbursement form after I returned home, I discovered that the bank information they needed was unfamiliar. I went to the credit union where my checking and savings are and found that they had an awkward way to handle foreign transactions. I went to a bigger local bank, but they too could have completed the transaction only by going through an intermediary bank first. So I opened an account at a local branch of Santander Bank, since they are based in Spain and have branches in England. I gave the school that bank’s information. However, I learned that all US banks have a different system than European ones. Bank of America might have been a better choice because of their scope.
  7. Keep a list of teachers’ and administrators’ names for thank you emails later. They reached out to you and spent quite a bit to bring you to their school. Mention what you provided and that you tried to tailor your programs to the curriculum for each group. For example I made rubber stamps of ocean organisms and provided books, bookmarks and stickers, and boxes with sea shells, some of which I mailed ahead. I donated these materials. And the second grade classes had all written out similes and metaphors and some classes included onomatopoeia. In addition to talking about these with the kids, I emailed a short response to each class later using the childrens’ names when possible. Showing administrators that you tried to fit your presentation into the school’s educational paradigm reinforces your value to the school.

My experience with this second overseas school residency was awesome. I was even given a gift of bunting – a charming British decorative thing – with pictures of British birds on it, as a memento. Dozens of kids gave me hugs – no such thing as too many of those! One group sang the chant from the book, which they had memorized. And one little girl told me she wished I was her mother! How cute is that.

I hope that your author-artist residency experience will be equally rewarding.


This post also appears at my blog –


    1. Thank you Carol. The faculty and staff at ACS Cobham, especially Stephanie, are dedicated to offering a wide range of experiences to the children there. I feel so fortunate to have been a part of that for the week. We talked about how books are made, the characteristics of a barrier island, endangered species, camouflage, erosion, where book ideas come from, pacing stories using thumbnail sketches, empathy, responsibility for the environment and lots more related to my picture book,
      I truly feel honored by this opportunity.


  1. Hi Almitra! One little Asian girl asked me in a quiet, gentle voice if there were any sand dollars in Japan. I told her that I wasn’t sure, but that I could find out. She said if there are, she would like me to get her one. At the end of another presentation a young boy with a hopeful expression, who was in line as his class was leaving, asked whether the sand dollar in the story really was real. Oh boy. What I said was that Peter (the m.c.) believed it was. In the story Peter throws the sand dollar into the sea and chants that it go away, which it does. When he realizes the impact that would have on a little flounder, he calls the sea back. With the older kids we had talked about tides, but not with every class of the younger ones and there was no time to clarify for this boy..


  2. Wow, Joyce, your whole week sound amazing! The trip sounds like so much work, but so rewarding – for you and the kids!


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