Thanks to webcams and Skype, Reede Gray fourth graders to watch author/illustrator Stephen McCranie show how he creates a book — as they suggested ideas to him.

Many childrens book  authors sit alone in their rooms, wondering what sort of reaction their words and pictures get out in the real world.
Author/Illustrator Stephen McCranie doesn’t have to wonder. He just sets up his webcam and visits his readers in their own classrooms all around the country.
Mr. Okeson’s fourth graders at Reede Gray Elementary School not only got to chat with McCranie on Wednesday afternoon, courtesy Skype.
With matching webcams and microphones, the students and McCranie spent half an hour chatting and seeing each other.
McCranie said getting ideas isn’t that tough: you just think up a character, then give him or her a problem to solve.
To show how it works, McCranie had the students make up a story that he illustrated on the spot.
While McCranie sketched on a digital drawing pad at his home in New Mexico, the students could see his drawing appear before them on the classroom’s smart board.
At one point, McCranie asked the student sitting over a thousand miles away from him to raise their hands so he could call on them for questions.
One of the first questions was the standard, “Where do you get your ideas?”
“People think ideas are something you find, like things alongside the road,” McCranie said as he sketched. “You get ideas by practice, by making up stories to draw.”

One student asked if McCranie can draw realistically.
“I can, but if I want a realistic picture of something, I can take a photo,” McCranie said. “I choose to draw cartoony because it’s more fun.
“It’s okay to make mistakes. I make them all the time. the more mistakes yo make, the more you learn,” McCranie said.
Before the webcam meeting, Okeson checked out several of McCranie’s books from the Redwood Falls Public Library so the students could get familiar with his work.
Okeson used the experience to teach the kids about storytelling.
“What does every story have?” he asked his students.
“Conflict!” several of them called out.
“Are you famous?” one student asked.
“Nah,” McCranie laughed.
“You are to us,” another student muttered.
After the chat, Okeson said, “It was exciting how interactive it was. He said, ‘Give me a challenge,’ and he drew the story for them. His screen became our screen.”
“The kids looked at him as being a very, very famous person,” said Okeson. “For many of them it’s the first time they’ve spoken to the author of a book. I’m glad, because it got the kids enthused about going to the public library and checking out books.”