5 Minutes With…Alexis O’Neill

In addition to being the author of many acclaimed children’s books, Alexis O’Neill is a former elementary school teacher with a Ph.D. in Teacher Education from Syracuse University, the author of ‘The Truth About School Visits’, a column for the SCBWI Bulletin, and the founder of SchoolVisitExperts. She also teaches writing for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and served as a Regional Advisor for the California Central-Coastal region of SCBWI. And if you were lucky enough to catch one of her sessions at Spring Spirit last year, you already know she’s a dynamic speaker full of tips and actionable information to help you as an author.

I caught up with her for a few minutes after Spring Spirit ’16. Nice to talk to you, Alexis! 

What would you say to an author or illustrator who is shy and uncomfortable with the idea of doing school visits? 

Alexis O’Neill, photo by Sonya Sones

Authors and illustrators are not obligated to do school visits. But feeling “shy” and “uncomfortable” may be a factor of not having enough experience in front of groups of kids. Start small – with a library group or one classroom – to see how it feels. If you have a good experience, expand the size of the groups you interact with. Work with librarians and teachers that you know, and ask for their advice. I think that once you get rolling, you’ll find interacting with your readers to be very rewarding.

School visits can be unpredictable. What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you during a presentation?

Do you mean the time there was a fire drill called in the middle of my presentation? Or the time a second grader threw up? Or the time when I had to use an Elmo instead of a digital projector because the equipment had failed? Actually, the weird stuff is pretty uncommon, but authors need to learn to roll with it when it does happen.

To date, what’s been your best moment as an author, and why?

Last year, I visited Lewiston-Porter Primary Education Center in Youngstown, NY, a TK – grade 2 school just north of Niagara Falls. Even though my most recent book, The Kite That Bridged Two Nations, is a picture book for older readers, the whole school had read my story. Just before my first assembly, the music teacher, Nicole Mosier, had all the kids stand up to sing, “To Fly a Kite” to which they did dance steps and hand movements. I cried! It was the most perfect song sung by the sweetest voices. And when the kids in the second assembly sang it, too, I teared up again. That gift of preparing so deeply for my visit was my best moment in all my years of doing author visits.

Alexis O’Neill is the author of The Recess Queen (Scholastic), a bully book; The Worst Best Friend (Scholastic), a story about friendship and forgiveness; Estela’s Swap (Lee & Low Books), a book about generosity and a unique California experience; Loud Emily (Simon & Schuster), a tale about being yourself; and The Kite That Bridged Two Nations: Homan Walsh and the First Niagara Suspension Bridge (Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills Press), a work that highlights the skill and persistence of a remarkable boy in a challenging setting. Alexis has also written fiction and nonfiction for Cricket, Spider, Cobblestone, Calliope, Faces, and Odyssey.


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