Friday, May 25, 2018

Book Cover Reveal: Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn

Hello, Gillian McDunn! Happy Friday! Thank you for answering my questions and for celebrating Caterpillar Summer’s cover with me.

Gillian McDunn: Thanks for having me, Mr. Schu! I’m very happy to be here.

I'm happy you're here. What ran through your head the first time you saw Alisa Coburn’s cover illustration?

I was in Target when I got the email from Bloomsbury. Of course I opened it immediately, right there in the cereal aisle.

When I opened the image, I was stunned. The way Cat and Chicken hold hands, the beach, the water, Chicken’s toy shark, the light that shines around them -- Alisa did a fantastic job. I love everything about this cover.

My most favorite part is Cat and Chicken themselves. When I looked at their faces, I had that feeling of recognizing them, like you do with a friend. “Well, hello, Cat and Chicken. There you are.”

And then I cried a little. At Target. Still in the cereal aisle.

Oh, I love that you were at Target when you saw the finished cover.What planted the seed for Caterpillar Summer?

The relationship between Cat and her younger brother, Chicken, is central to the story. Like Cat, I am also a big sister -- I grew up with two younger brothers. My middle brother, Andy, had many disabilities. We had a very special relationship, and I took a lot of pride in being his big sister. I drew on some of my experiences when writing Cat, who loves Chicken more than anything. She also loves being the person who knows what he needs. At the same time, she’s also ready to move beyond the “perfect” big sister role she’s been playing. When they show up on that island to stay with grandparents they’ve never met, their world is shaken up enough that Cat gets to step outside of that role.

Please share three facts about Cat.

1-Her nickname is Caterpillar.

2-Caterpillar is also a character in her mom’s picture books, which are based on the relationship between Cat and her brother.

3-She does NOT want you to call her Caterpillar. Don’t even think about it.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Story is the way we figure out the truth. (And fiction is full of truths.)

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what are Cat’s grandparents like?

Cat and Chicken have never met their grandparents until now, and Cat is determined to find out why. Her first impression of Lily is that she is kind and well-meaning, even if she doesn’t always know the best way to act with Chicken. Macon is different altogether. He’s always disappearing into his workshop, and Cat’s pretty sure that he is annoyed by them being there. But after she overhears a conversation between Lily and Macon, Cat decides there may be more to him than what’s on the surface.

 Look for Caterpillar Summer on April 2, 2019. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Hello, Jessica! Thank you for telling Julián’s BEAUTIFUL story. I love everything about this book. The case cover. The endpapers. The setting. The characters. The final scene. Everything!!

Jessica Love: Hello Mr. Schu! Thank you for these kind words about Julián Is a Mermaid! The feeling I get when someone responds to the book is a difficult thing to describe; I spent six years working on it on my own, with no conviction it would ever see the light of day. And now it is suddenly, finally real. And people are holding it in their hands! It’s like watching many, many strangers unwrap a present I spent six years making for them. It’s completely thrilling and utterly bizarre at the same time.

Thank you for this beautiful present, and thank you for finishing my sentences. 

Julián Is a Mermaid tells the story of beauty. “What is it about?” Ever since I first started to draw the story I have struggled to answer this question. Most of the book is wordless, and the story unravels through the illustrations, which I believe are the story’s natural medium. Back when I first started working on it, people would ask me, “Oh, what’s it about?” I never knew how to answer them, because what I wanted to say was, “Uh, WELL, it’s about a feeling I am going to give you with the pictures that I haven’t painted yet. But it’s basically about the feeling we get from love and beauty! You know that feeling you can get sometimes from brushing up against real love? Or real beauty? Like a flower blooming inside your chest? Just, trust me, you’ll know what I mean when I finish it if I ever finish it!”
But that doesn’t really tell you anything about, you know, the actual plot.  

(Ten minutes later)

I have been trying for ten minutes to tell you the actual plot of the story and I cannot seem to do it. My attempts to tell you the story sound so clunky to me because I am essentially trying to translate from a visual to a verbal medium, but it is like a swan out of the water, waddling around on the lake-shore--it doesn’t give you a sense of what a swan is like in its natural element! I’m so sorry Mr. Schu, after 6 years I still can’t tell you the story of my own book! I can only seem to show you.

Julián’s Abuela sees right through you, to your secret heart, and honors you there. I believe there is alchemy in that kind of love.

The wordless spreads are wordless, but I hope they don’t feel quiet. I hope when you look at them you can still hear the subway, the ocean, music, the city, traffic, children playing, seagulls, bathwater, wind…

I myself love to swim. I grew up swimming in the Santa Ynez River all summer long. I swam underwater, with my eyes open. Now I swim at the YMCA. But there is still a very special feeling I get when I go underwater. It’s the thing that happens with noise, it isn’t that it is silent underwater, but suddenly you are definitely in another element. You are hearing water, and the blood in your own head, and everything else feels far, far away. It feels intimate, mysterious, and very private. I wanted the wordless spreads to give you that underwater feeling. Language can be so noisy sometimes-- yammering, naming, literalizing everything. I wanted much of this book to take place underwater both literally and, sort of, tonally. I wanted that private, magical shhhhhhhhhhhh to cast its spell as the reader moves through the story.

Broadway is where I created a lot of this book, actually. Back in 2015 I was doing a play by Jez Butterworth, called The River. Hugh Jackman was starring in it, and I had a teensy little part at the very end of the play. In fact, they didn’t even list me in the program because they wanted my appearance to be a “surprise.” This meant that I was sitting in my dressing room for two hours a day, eight shows a week. That is when I illustrated, beginning to end, my second draft of Julián, which, when complete, is what I shopped around to get a literary agent.

This feels quite fitting because I have always done theater and visual art side by side. I think they are two tributaries of the same river in me. Or some metaphor like that.

Story is participatory. I think it is a journey that someone makes in their imagination. As the storyteller, you are the invisible leader, taking the reader off the road and onto the path through the woods. My favorite storytellers are the ones who melt into the trees, leaving little cairns along the way so that you, the reader, feel you are using your brain, your nose, your eyes and ears to find the way.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the paper! So the whole book is done by hand, on brown craft paper, in watercolor and gouache. Now, I painted this book beginning to end five times in total. The first three times I did it on white paper, and it was just...wrong. It looked wrong. The characters’ features were losing all this detail when we would scan the images because the contrast was too high. Then as I was getting ready to do the final art I had the idea to do the whole thing on brown paper. It would not only solve our contrast problem but it felt so much more in keeping with the key in which the book is played. This is not a world in which white is the default color, why does white have to be the neutral? So I proposed the idea to my editors that I do the whole book on brown paper and they agreed to let me try but we had no guarantee it would print well. However, as soon as I started working with the brown paper I became obsessed with it. Now it had to be on brown paper. It just made sense. The palate was able to pop so much more vividly, the character’s faces were showing up so much more clearly and it was like the whole book heaved a sigh of relief to be finally off of that glaring white page and nestled in a glowy, golden brown. The brand of the paper is Stonehenge, and the name of the tone is “faun”...which sounds about right, to me.

Borrow Julián Is a Mermaid from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Cover Reveal: Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord

Hello, Cynthia Lord! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Because of the Rabbit’s cover. It makes me smile from ear to ear. Tell us about Lapi, the rabbit featured on the cover. 

Cynthia Lord: Thank you for having me back, John. I love the cover, too! A big thank you and shout-out to designer Nina Goffi and editor Emily Seife at Scholastic for creating such a delightful and appealing cover.

Lapi is a lost pet rabbit that Emma rescues on the night before her first day as a fifth grader in public school. Emma has been homeschooled and finding a rabbit seems like a hopeful sign that school will go well. She names the rabbit “Lapi,” a nickname for “Monsieur Lapin,” a magical, trickster rabbit in the stories her French-Canadian grandfather used to tell about the animals around his farm.

Explore Cynthia's website.
If Emma’s teacher asked her to write down three things about herself, what would she write down?

Cynthia: I suppose it would depend how brave Emma felt, but these would be three truths of her heart:

1. I hope there is a best friend waiting to find me.
2. I believe in rabbit magic.
3. I miss the days when my older brother and I did everything together.

What are you most looking forward to when Because of the Rabbit is out in the world for everyone to read?

Cynthia: With each book, my favorite moments are those when a reader writes to me or comes up to whisper to me at a school visit, and I realize that my book, this totally imperfect creation of my imagination, has given that child something that they needed. It can be anything from entertainment to filling a hole they’ve been carrying around inside.

I remember an email I received years ago from a child that was only one sentence:  “I was so scared I was the only person who felt this way.” Finding ourselves in a book can be like that—feeling alone and then discovering there’s someone on our side. When I see that my book gave a child that experience. . . well, it’s a deep, important moment for both of us.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Jack is himself, which sounds easy but actually takes continuous courage.

Story is a gateway. We can meet and get to know characters like ourselves or  different from ourselves and in doing so, take a step toward understanding real people. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why rabbits? Because we have three pet rabbits at our house and my family also fosters rabbits for a rescue. In the past two years, we’ve fostered twenty-six rabbits, including the six baby bunnies we have today at our house. One thing that has surprised me about animal rescue is how transformative the experience has been for us, not just for the rabbits. As Emma says in Because of the Rabbit,

It’s a powerful thing to rescue something.
It changes both of you.

Look for Because of the Rabbit on March 26, 2019. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

All of Us by Carin Berger

Hello, Carin! A humongous thank-you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to celebrate All Of Us. It is a beautiful celebration of community and LOVE.
Carin Berer: Wow! Thank you so much for having me. I am honored. As you know, I am a ginormous fan of Mr. Schu Reads. I always learn SO much and I get to have a peek into the minds of book creators that I admire and love. So thank you!
And I am a HUGE fan of you and your books. Thank you!

I wrote the words in purple, and Carin wrote the words in black. Thank you, Carin!

All of Us is about the timeless power of diversity, community and love, especially in the face of adversity. It is a celebration of inclusion and connection.
I hope All of Us will reassure each reader that they are not alone, that there is an important place for them within our communities. I hope that All of Us both acknowledges that we all, sometimes, face hardship and uncertainty, and that ultimately, hope and love and connection will help us prevail. I hope that All of Us leaves the readers feeling included, valued, connected and loved.

Love helps us cope with feelings of doubt and loneliness and worry, universal feelings that are experienced by children and adults alike. Love helps us navigate big world challenges like inequality, poverty and injustice. Love also helps us wrestle with more personal difficulties such as loneliness, unfairness, anger, uncertainty and loss. Love gives us the strength to overcome adversity.
Picture books have always always provided me with guidance, friendship, comfort and delight.

School libraries are treasure troves, safe havens, a place to grow communities, one of our richest resources...and home to librarians! What could be better??

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if connection is a theme in any of my other books. Because the answer is yes! I think that connection is fundamental and important to all humans. Friendship, community and connection are themes in The Little Yellow Leaf, Forever Friends, and even in A Perfect Day. In All of Us the message is more explicit. There is, however, a second, quieter story going on in the book, like a wordless harmony. There are two characters, the little girl with the yellow boots, and the little boy with the red kite, who appear on many pages. Initially they are both alone and unsure. But when the book declares “For love wins”, they appear, at last, together on the same page, as part of a small community. And as the book progresses, they spot each other, and eventually unite, together in a larger community filled with connection and love.

Look for All of Us on May 8, 2018.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Cover Reveal: The Broken Ornament by Tony DiTerlizzi

I remember smiling when I read about a broken ornament on Caldecott Honor artist Tony DiTerlizzi's Facebook page on November 22, 2015. He told his daughter that every time an ornament breaks, a fairy is released and grants a wish. Thankfully, his brilliant explanation inspired The Broken Ornament

Tony dropped by to chat with me about The Broken Ornament's cover, Tinsel, and school libraries. I wrote the words in purple, and Tony wrote the words in black. Thank you, Tony! 

“Here, Jack is trying to persuade his mom and dad to get a larger tree so Santa will have more room to leave more presents. The artwork for this book was painted traditionally (gouache on board) and composited in Photoshop where dramatic lighting effects were added.” -Tony

The Broken Ornament’s cover (hopefully) captures the magic and mystery of what happens when Jack accidentally drops an old glass Christmas ornament.

One of my favorite aspects about the holidays are the characters we celebrate: snowmen, elves, reindeer, nutcrackers and Santa Claus. Somehow I was able to fit all these festive folks into one story.

“The fairy that emerges from the broken ornament grants Jack’s every Christmas wish." -Tony
Tinsel is the Christmas fairy that emerges from the broken ornament and was inspired by my wife, Angela.

School libraries are where I spent many lunch periods. I would run my fingers across the spines of shelved books searching for my next exciting read.

“This is crammed with my favorite holiday characters such as snowmen, reindeer and nutcrackers. In this scene, each pose for the snowmen was referenced by MLB pitchers.” -Tony

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I make books for children.

Look for The Broken Ornament on September 18, 2018. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Book Trailer Premiere: Mr. Wolf's Class by Aron Nels Steinke

Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day! I bet Mr. Wolf, a fourth-grade teacher, is celebrating this fun day with his students. Who is Mr. Wolf, you ask? He's one of the stars of Aron Nels Steinke's Mr. Wolf's Class. Aron dropped by to chat with me about Mr. Wolf's students, school libraries, and reading. He wrote the words in black, and I wrote the words in purple. Thank you, Aron! 

The book trailer for Mr. Wolf’s Class was put together with help from my five-year-old son. He did the voice over. I have a background in animation but the lure of telling my own stories is what drew me to making comics and graphic novels for kids. I hadn't made any animation in over a decade so I set myself to taking it up again, purely as a hobby and to make this trailer.

Sampson, Henry, Aziza, Lola, Randy, Penny, Oliver, Stewart, Bobby, Abdi, Miquel, Noah, Molly, Lizzy, Oscar, Johnny, and Margot are the stars of the book along with their teacher, Mr. Wolf. I had envisioned a series with an ensemble cast, kind of like a Robert Atlman film. The focus shifts from character to character, book to book. Throughout the series the reader will come to know each character just as if they were a part of Mr. Wolf's Class right there with them. 

Ms. Bird, the teacher-librarian at Hazelwood Elementary, makes a brief appearance in book 1 but I'm definitely getting the sense that I should make her a bigger part of the narrative going forward. Libraries are sanctuaries and librarians are the best people. Ms. Bird is a sharp-witted librarian who has a phobia of snakes. Maybe we'll see what happens with that theme later in the series. 

Story is about pacing. I like to think of narrative as a series of beats. With comics the beats are both verbal and visual. Story is both like music and a conversation. It doesn't add anything to the conversation without a bit of the unexpected. 

 Reading is something that took me years and years to connect with as a child. I remember being in 3rd grade and picking up a chapter book that had a wolf and a wizard with a sword on the cover. I could read the words but I didn't have the vocabulary or stamina to really read the book. I wanted that story to be mine but I was just not ready for it yet. If I had had access then to the myriad graphic novels kids have available to them today I probably would have enjoyed school a whole lot more. I probably would have ended up writing my own stories a whole lot sooner. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what it's like being a teacher and an author at the same time. I primarily wear my teaching hat in public. When I meet someone for the first time and they ask me what I do I always respond with being a teacher. Being an author sometimes feels like my secret identity.

Thank you, Mr. Schu, for providing these sentence starters. I get to assume my author identity, first and foremost, and that alone puts us beyond introductions.  

Thank you, Aron! 

Look for Mr. Wolf's Class on June 26, 2018. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Happy Monday! I am honored Veera Hiranandani dropped by to celebrate The Night Diary and to finish my sentences. I look forward to sharing her beautiful novel with readers of all ages. I love everything about it.

I wrote the words in purple, and Veera wrote the words in black. Thank you, Veera! 

Nisha’s diary is a place where she can be free. Nisha’s very shy and has trouble talking to people outside of her family, so her diary is a space where she can fully express herself. Also, as Nisha writes letters to her mother in her diary, she creates the mother she needs but never knew, because her mother died when she was born.

In 1947, India gained independence from the British empire and on the same day (at midnight between August 14 and August 15) was split into two countries, India and Pakistan. At a time that was supposed to be triumphant, this partitioning of India, known simply as Partition, became the cause of one of the largest human migrations in modern history. 14 million people were displaced and 1-2 million people died. I’ve always been aware of this history because my father and his family had to leave their home in Mirpur Khas, Pakistan and travel over the new Indian border during Partition.

The conflict came about mainly because of concerns about equality between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. One proposed solution was the creation of Pakistan where Muslims could have more power in the government there. Hindus were the majority in India and would have more power once India was independent, but many people were not supportive of the Partition. The British, however, rushed the process and chaos ensued. Tensions between religious groups grew and an unimaginable cycle of violence started. This is why I wanted Nisha to have a Muslim mother and a Hindu father. I wanted to directly question why people had to be separated and where she belonged if she identified with both religious groups. Nisha also wonders what would happen if her mother was alive.

Dadi, Papa, Amil, and Kazi are the main characters, other than Nisha in The Night Diary. Dadi (the Hindi and Sindhi word for one’s paternal grandmother) is comforting, but at times, annoying to Nisha. Papa is Nisha’s father. He is a doctor, and often very busy with his work. He can be distant, but protective and Nisha wishes he would be more nurturing. Amil is her twin brother, and as she says, “the other half” of her. He is outgoing, impulsive, funny, and loving. He is her voice when she can’t speak for herself, but she helps calm him, and helps him think more deeply about things. Kazi is the family’s cook. He and Nisha have a close relationship and she gets some of the nurturing she’s looking for from him. He also teaches her how to cook and she finds another way to express herself. Kazi is also Muslim and they are separated through this conflict.

I hope The Night Diary truly reaches everyone it needs to reach. I wrote it both for readers in the South Asian community who have connections to Partition, but also to share and illuminate this huge piece global of history with anyone who isn’t familiar with it. I hope readers can see a specific human experience underneath the labels we may place on those experiences, like what it means to be a refugee or from a different country or a different religion. Last, but least, I hope that Nisha’s quiet, brave persistence and questioning are inspiring to all who don’t think they have a voice.

Stories are full experiences in themselves, especially the ones we connect to the most. I had a writing teacher who said that in drawing from our own experiences, we should also use our reading experiences. They are also part of what shapes us. I always remembered that and have looked at stories a bit differently since.

School libraries are so many wonderful things, but what they’ve always meant to me above all is a place where students get free access to books. Whether a child has many books at home or not, there is something so empowering about finding a book you like and just being able to take it home with you. You don’t have to ask anyone to buy it for you and it’s your responsibility to care for it. This says to a child--we trust you. School libraries also provide a place to make exciting discoveries and connections. They provide community. They provide a safe and quiet space to read and think. I’ve always loved the quiet expected in libraries. I remember relief in this expectation as a quiet kid.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I like writing about food so much. I’m a little obsessed with good food and it always finds its way into my writing for different reasons. The biggest reason is that food has helped me connect with my own mixed background. My father is from India and is Hindu and my mother was born in Brooklyn, NY and is Jewish. I always say that samosas and matzo ball soup are my favorite comfort foods. Now I’m hungry. Time for lunch!

Borrow The Night Diary from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.