School Visits

Presentations and Workshops

In every audience, there are students who love to write, but there are usually more who are either indifferent or feel about writing the way vampires do about garlic. An experienced writing teacher and passionate speaker, Debby tailors her presentations and workshops to reach students at all levels of ability and interest.

Rates: $350 for a half day, $600 for a full day, plus expenses.
Available to speak to large groups, but workshops are limited to 25 students.

One-Hour Presentations, Including a Reading

Writing Your Life

Who: Grades 3-6

What: In this talk, Debby answers the question “where did that story come from?”

Why: Readers are always interested in the origin of a story. Debby tells students how she used elements from her life to create her picture books and middle-grade novels. In doing so, she inspires them to mine their own lives for stories.

How: Debby draws on personal experience for all of her books. Her latest novel, Miriam’s Secret, is inspired by stories that her mother and aunts told her about growing up as the only Jewish family in rural central New York during the Depression. While researching the story, Debby found a dramatic letter from her great-grandfather in Lithuania, describing the anti-semitism that cost him and his family their home and, very nearly, their lives. She shares the letter, along with how she weaves together fact and fiction to create exciting stories.

The Writing Life

Who: Grade 7 and up

What:  In this talk, Debby shows students that there are many ways to earn a living as writer. Her path has included teaching, editing, coaching, reviewing books, and working for newspapers, radio, and the government.

Why: Even if students don’t want to become writers, they need to understand that writing is a skill they will draw on throughout their lives, whether by doing something as simple as sending an email explaining why they have to miss work, or as involved as crafting a thesis to earn a graduate degree.

What else: Debby ends this presentation reading A Sack Full of Feathers, based on a folk tale about the dangers of gossip. In a world in which gossip and fake news can spread with the click of a button, this story is particularly timely, as it is about a boy who never lets facts get in the way of a good story — until he learns an important lesson from the rabbi in his 19th century Eastern European village.

The Four Cs – Conflict Resolution, Cooperation, Consensus Building, and Clever Rachel

Who: Grades 2 and up

What: Clever Rachel, set in a 19th-century Eastern European village, is about two schoolchildren who discover that they can accomplish more when they work together than when they waste time arguing about who is smarter.

Why: Conflict resolution, cooperation, and consensus building are key areas of the Alberta school curriculum, and all are addressed in Clever Rachel. After hearing the story, students have a chance to discuss a number of important issues, including the difference between “cleverness” and “wisdom.”  A turning point in Clever Rachel is when the characters resolve their differences and apologize to each other. Part of the discussion will focus on how resolving differences can be a bridge that allows us to move forward to work together and accomplish great things.

A Picture Book is Born

Using PowerPoint slides, rough sketches from early drafts, and book galleys, Debby will take students through every step of the creative and publication process, from finding an idea and developing it into a polished manuscript, to working with an editor and illustrator, to seeing the final version in both hardcover and paperback. Students have a chance to examine the book at every step of the process, and also to see the different versions, including Korean and Chinese editions.

Interactive Workshops

Fake News: Learning to Tell True from False

Who: Grades 2 and up

What: Modern technology has made it easy to spread gossip (and fake news) with the click of a button, sometimes to devastating effects. In this workshop, students will learn to tell the difference between a legitimate news story and one that is either a complete falsehood or manipulated to tell only one side of a story.

Why: To become responsible citizens, students need to learn the difference between real news and misinformation.

How: A journalist by training, Debby knows the importance of verifying sources. By reviewing news stories with the students, she will help them develop the tools they need to distinguish between news from legitimate sources and “news” that should be shelved under fiction.

What else: Debby’s  best-selling 2006 picture book, A Sack Full of Feathers, is about a boy who loves to spread news, but rarely gets his facts straight. She will read all or part of the story, which is both entertaining and instructive, and makes an ideal coda to this important lesson about learning the difference between real and fake news.

Clean Your Room!

Who:  Kindergarten and grades 1 and 2

What: Debby reads from her picture book Room Enough for Daisy (co-written with Rita Feutl), about a girl who has so many possesions she can neither find what she needs nor appreciate what she has. After listening to the story, students help “clean” Daisy’s room using a felt board modeled on the book.

Why: In a world where some have too much and others too little, this workshop gives Div. 1 students a chance to think about what they really need and how to help others.

How many: Up to 30 students

How long: 30 to 45 minutes

Start With A Question

Who: Grade 2 and up

What:  Debby uses her journalism background to help students develop questions using the “the five Ws and the H” (who, what, why, where, when, and how).

Why: Learning to ask questions and how to find answers are critical skills that students need to develop. These skills transfer to all areas of learning, from language arts and social studies to math and science.

How: Debby will guide students as they conduct an interview, and teach them how to turn answers into a news story.

Reviews and Feedback

It was so evident to the children that you are enthusiastic about your craft. Your presentation succeeded in making the writing process come alive.
— Krieger-Schechter Day School, Pikesville, Maryland

It was very captivating when you told us about your newspaper career and how you wrote about football. I also liked writing the character interviews from the book, A Sack Full of Feathers.”
—Nathanial, Grade 3

It was really nice to listen to you talk about your life and how you became an author and a journalist. When I grow up I want to be a hockey player but if I can’t I was thinking of being an author and you have reinforced that idea.
— Noah, Grade 3

I liked it when you explained how a book became a book.
— Evelyn, Grade 3

Thank you for your enthusiastic, informative, and thought-provoking presentations. What an inspiration you were for both students and staff! We really “lucked out” with our YABS choice.
—    Clara Tyner School, Edmonton

Thank you for taking the time to read your book to grades 4, 5, and 6. Both the students and teachers really enjoyed your presentation. Your book is excellent – a very important story for us all! Thanks again.
—    Windsor Park School, Edmonton

It was so lovely to meet you and hear your stories. We would very much like to maintain this friendship. Thank you.
The Thorncliffe Park Library Team, Thorncliffe Park Elementary School, Toronto

It’s been a delight having you visit our library. Thank you for sharing your experiences and your stories and best wishes on your forthcoming books.
—    Barrhead Public Library, Barrhead, Alberta