Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Guest Post by Mark Siegel

Five Worlds is a graphic novel series in five volumes, created by five people! It's also one of the most unusual storytelling adventures I've every embarked on.

At first my brother Alexis and I thought we were signing up artistic guns-for-hire, straight out of art school (MICA in Baltimore, in this case.) As we got to work with Matt, Xanthe, and Boya, however, it became clear we had found inspired creative partners. This is no assembly-line comic book! In fact, if you look at our penciled pages, you can see three different styles interweaving. Each of us brings a vision, a flavor, and a distinct inspiration to every aspect of the work. And best of all, we're all swept up in these worlds, and in the unfolding story of our characters Oona, An Tzu, and Jax Amboy. 

Each book is 250 pages, so there's a lot of story to unpack here, which the five of us invite you to discover.

Look for 5 Worlds Book 1: The Sand Warrior on May 2, 2017. 

Cover Reveal for A Boy, A Mouse, and A Spider: The Story of E.B. White by Barbara Herkert & Lauren Castillo

Hello, Barbara Herkert! Happy Wednesday! Thank you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to finish my sentences and reveal the AMAZING cover for A Boy, A Mouse, and A Spider: The Story of E.B. White.

Barbara Herkert: Thanks for having me!

The first time I saw Caldecott Honor artist Lauren Castillo’s cover illustration for A Boy, A Mouse, and A Spider: The Story of E. B. White I was thrilled! For me, Lauren’s artwork brings the same warmth and tenderness to E.B. White’s story as Garth Williams brought to Charlotte’s Web.

Did you know E.B. White was afraid of everything when he was a small boy? Writing helped him ease his fears.

Illustration Credit: Lauren Castillo 
I think Charlotte’s Web was the finest children’s book ever written! I love E.B. White’s lists, his use of all the senses, and his delicious language. It is a celebration of the world, of nature in all its glory. Thank you, E.B. White.

School libraries are are safe havens where children can discover their passions, forget their fears. We need them now more than ever.

Illustration Credit: Lauren Castillo 

Picture books are art forms! They are opportunities for cuddle time, to share dreams and passions.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how it felt to walk in E.B. White’s world for a while. More wonderful than I ever could have imagined. What an amazing man.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Amina's Voice by Hena Khan

Happy Friday, Hena Khan! I'm grateful you dropped by to celebrate Amina's Voice and finish my sentences. I am trying to tell as many people as I can about this beautiful and important middle-grade novel. 

Hena Khan: Hello! Thank you for having me here. It’s so fun to speak to you and to celebrate the book!

Thank you! Shall we get started? :) 

Amina’s Voice tells the story of a sixth grade girl named Amina who is dealing with unexpected changes in her friendships and family, and struggling to find the confidence to perform in front of an audience. She also happens to be a Pakistani-American Muslim girl, so Amina’s story includes a glimpse into her community, faith, and culture along her journey.

Amina and Soojin’s favorite TV show is The Voice, and it’s Amina’s dream to be able to perform on a stage like the contestants on the show. Soojin believes in her best friend’s amazing singing ability and pushes her to sign up for a solo at the school choral concert, but Amina is petrified at the thought of it. She’s scarred by a second-grade play when she choked and forgot her line and doesn’t want to get in front of an audience ever again.

Visit Hena's website. 
Amina’s family is loving and warm, but flawed like all families, and there’s a bit of tension in the house with a rebelling teen brother and conservative visiting uncle who her parents want to impress. Amina is hurt when her uncle questions her love for music and calls it un-Islamic, and her father doesn’t stick up for her. But this reflects a common reality—that families don’t always agree on basic things, like what respect means, or how to interpret and apply faith to daily life.

Amina’s Voice is set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,  because I could imagine this family living there, and the events of the book taking place in that environment. My husband grew up in Milwaukee, and it’s a community he knows well. I’ve visited his family there several times, as well as a couple lovely and welcoming Islamic centers. For some reason, I didn’t picture Amina and her family living in my hometown of Maryland.
Salaam Reads 
Salaam Reads is amazing! I know I sound biased, but it’s really such a wonderful step toward representing Muslim voices, and getting good stories out there that speak to the human experience and connect us all. I’m so proud to be a part of such a groundbreaking effort, and especially happy that Amina’s Voice launched the imprint. It’s heartwarming to see all the enthusiasm and support for it!

School libraries are a safe space for kids to learn about their worlds and gain exposure to all kinds of stories and knowledge to broaden their perspectives and open their minds. And school librarians are some of the most incredible people in the world. I’m always in awe of how they know every kid in a school, remember their preferences, and encourage a personal connection to books! If I were ever to change careers, I would want to work in a school library in some capacity. They are my happy place.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if I have any musical talent or can sing like Amina. And my answer would be a big NO! I sadly have no musical talent or knowledge whatsoever. I can’t read a note! But I do like to sing when I’m alone and no one can hear me, so I guess I have that in common with Amina, even if she isn’t horribly off-key like me!

Borrow Amina's Voice from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: The Fleatastics by Lisa Desimini

Hello, Lisa Desimini! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you for dropping by to finish my sentences and premiere the book trailer for The Fleatastics.

Lisa Desimini: Thank you! I’m thrilled to be here in this amazing world that you created. If I were able to hear about how authors and illustrators made their books, when I was a kid, I would’ve been over-the-moon excited. I’m excited now!

Thank you! I'm grateful you're here. 

The book trailer for The Fleatastics was created by my husband, Matt Mahurin. He is an artist and filmmaker. I enjoyed the process of figuring out how to set up the story and script for the narrator without giving too much away. It was so much fun to see my characters move. I can’t stop thinking about it, actually, and in the back of my mind I’m wondering when I can do it again.

My husband and I listened to 250 different kinds of circus music before we found the perfect tune. I didn’t know that sounds could be layered. Matt used audience cheers, crickets, Boings, park noises and the scratch a pencil makes on paper. Our friend, Andy Pagana, was the narrator, Mr. Itchy, and the dog snoring.

Illustration Credit: Lisa Desimini 
Did you know Sarafleana was afraid, but if she didn’t do what she loved she would’ve been even more afraid and sad, too?

I created the illustrations by making collages. I sealed the paper with gel medium so I could paint on the collages and then scanned them into the computer. The fleas were too tiny so I created them in the computer with scanned paper and painted textures. One of the images had about 60 flea appendages–that one took a long time!

Illustration Credit:  Lisa Desimini
Sarafleana’s family had a hard time accepting her differences. They expected her to be like them. In the end, they appreciated Sarafleana’s talent, bravery and ability to stick to her dream!
I was the only artist in my family and I was lucky that my parents always supported me. They bought me drawing pads, colored pencils and markers. They never told me that I couldn’t or shouldn’t be an artist. My parents saw that drawing and painting made me happy and it made them happy that I was doing something that I loved. Thanks Mom and Dad!

School libraries are filled with stories about every kind of person, place or thing that you know or could imagine. I’ll never forget being in a school library before giving a presentation. I watched many kids stop in to return books and ask the librarian about what they should read next. (She knew all their names!) The energy in there was electric–filled with expectation. I was smiling because I remember how good it felt to have my head in a book when I was a kid. It feels just as good, now.

When I was twelve years old, I was very shy. We lived in Brooklyn and my mom asked me to go to the corner store to get paper towels. Well…they happened to be behind the counter! I started to sweat because I was so nervous to ask for them. After that painful experience, I went to the library and took out two books on shyness. I read them cover to cover and they helped me tremendously. I can sum up the message: Don’t worry about what other people think! Be who you are!

Illustration Credit:  Lisa Desimini
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me where this idea came from. My original idea was a book about a Dachsund. The opening spread was the long snout. Then there were thirteen spreads of body. The last page was the dog’s tail.

Hmmmmm, I thought, maybe different things could be going on behind the dog? The scenery could shift, a day could pass, or maybe we could see the seasons change?

Then one day I looked at it and saw that the body was a stage and on that stage The Fleatastics would be putting on a show–The Greatest Show on Dogs!

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

Edgewood Elementary School

Click here to watch the video. 
In episode 7 of Mr. Schu Goes to the Book Fair, I chat with students from Edgewood Elementary School about their Scholastic Book Fair memories. A big THANK YOU to teacher-librarian Laura Kelly for allowing me to visit her amazing school library. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: My Kicks: A Sneaker Story by Susan Verde & Katie Kath

Hello, Susan Verde! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. Thank you for dropping by to celebrate MY KICKS and finish my sentences. I appreciate your time.

Hi Mr. Schu! I am thrilled to be here to celebrate my new picture book My Kicks and finish your sentences! I have 3 children and have gotten used to having my sentences finished for me so this is awesome! I am a big fan of all you do for books, authors, kids and literature by the way. Just had to throw that in here and say “thank you!”

And I am a BIG fan of yours. Thank you! :) 

I think the book trailer for My Kicks is a sweet and wonderful teaser! It makes me feel both melancholy and full of energy! I hope it does the same for the viewer!

My Kicks tells the story of a boy who grapples with growing up and letting go. As he goes through the history he shares with his favorite sneakers he struggles with the idea of putting them aside to make new memories.

Illustration Credit: Katie Kath
I hope My Kicks makes kids (of all ages) feel like experiences and things old and new have an important place in making us who we are.  I was inspired by my sons’ attachment to their own kicks and how each new pair came with excitement and possibility but letting go of the old pair was not always easy. For me as a mom I have mixed emotions as they grow out of things both material and emotional and the story of My Kicks felt like a way to talk about the difficulty of change but also the opportunity it brings. I also hope this story is a fun exploration of sneakers themselves! Every parent who reads it can probably name a special pair of sneakers they owned as a kid and remember what was happening at that particular point in time reflected in the style of the shoe and I bet so can each kid!

Katie Kath and I didn’t actually get to speak to each other until she had already created much the art for the book.  Without any real back and forth she was able to fully capture the vision I had when I wrote the story.  One of my favorite spreads is the boy skateboarding in front of the NY Public Library. Recently, I took a picture of my son in his kicks doing the same skateboarding move in front of the same library! She brought me back to my childhood growing up in Manhattan. I am a city girl at heart. I was thrilled with the art! Katie included all kinds of detail and surprises that keep the reader engaged on each page.

When you take off the dust jacket, you find a sweet shoe-tying guide! It’s one of the many lovely surprises Katie put in there. So hopefully everyone will take a peek! If you don’t want to take the jacket off both Katie and I have the guides on our websites.

Illustration Credit: Katie Kath 
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me…What are my favorite kicks? Well, I’ll tell you. I have a pair of gold converse high-tops and my son just got me a pair of Adidas that apparently make me a “very cool mom” in the eyes of a 13 yr old! I’ll take it!

Look for My Kicks: A Sneaker Story! on April 11, 2017. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: Raisin, the Littlest Cow by Miriam Busch & Larry Day

Hi, Miriam Busch! Hi, Larry Day! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you for dropping by to reveal the book trailer for Raisin, the Littlest Cow and to finish my sentences. I greatly appreciate it. 

Miriam and Larry: Thank you so much for having us on Watch. Connect. Read!

The book trailer for Raisin, the Littlest Cow is a collaboration between Alex Esseveld (animator), Larry, Alessandra Balzer, me, and the terrific actor and voice over artist Karl T. Wright.

Because I marvel at the extraordinary loveliness of enduring friendship, I must tell you a bit about Karl: In fourth grade, Karl and I were the best of friends (and acting buddies. We begged Mrs. Abrams to let us be the starring monkeys together in the class play. That was my best role!). My family moved after fifth grade, and Karl and I lost touch for decades. We reconnected just a few years ago, and picked that friendship right back up as if no time had passed. Karl asked if he could do the voices in Lion Lion if it ever gets made into an audio book. That’s not in the works (as far as I know!) but with Karl’s extraordinary range of talent, Larry and I thought he’d be PERFECT for the narrator’s voice in the trailer for Raisin, the Littlest Cow. Karl’s super busy, so we were extra thrilled he agreed to work with us -- we couldn’t be happier with the result! (Miriam)

Raisin’s mother loves her children. Both of them. She’s also, like her daughter, honest in her emotions. Raisin’s mother understands Raisin’s difficulty with a new baby in the herd, and does her best to include her. But as happens in many families, Raisin’s timeline for emotional growth stretches longer than her mother’s timeline for patience with the grumpiness – hence the warning twitch of her tail. (Miriam)

Illustration Credit: Larry Day 
The idea for Raisin, the Littlest Cow was sparked by a drawing Larry brought home from his job in the advertising world. He had drawn an image in ink around a life-sized photograph of a raisin – a full-grown Holstein. The raisin was a spot on her back.

“Look! Her name’s Raisin! You should write a story about her!”

I of course refused.

But the idea gnawed at me: I mean, wow, I thought -- if the spot on the back of that cow is the size of a raisin, that’s gotta be one miniature bovine. We laughed pretty hard at the vision of a miniature cow running back and forth across the breakfast table. No story there – but I started asking what-ifs (I’m sure Larry would say I was chewing my cud over it). What if this cow was young? What would this calf want? What if what she wanted was related to her size? The next morning, I woke up thinking about how it feels when you’re small and possess a fervent wish to stay that way. From there, the story sort of wrote itself. Larry and I both come from huge families, and we have four kids; we know a little something about the feelings when a new baby invades enters the scene. 
But, as we discuss with students: we don't have to have younger siblings to identify with Raisin! We all know the feeling of being left out --  as well as the feeling of accomplishment when we figure out how to grow. (Miriam)

Illustration Credit: Larry Day 
School Libraries are deeply necessary. They’re where I learn(ed) about possibility, about friendships and families, about all different sorts of people from my neighborhood and our planet, about weird animals and how to care for my gerbils, about positive ways to handle things that scared me or made me sad, about how to dream, about people who accomplished greatness despite all odds against them. Libraries hold worlds of adventure and solace and questions and answers. For a brief time in one of my many schools (3rd-5th grade – same school Karl and I attended together), I was so very lucky to have one of those wise and magical librarians who seemed to know just what books to hand to me. Oh, that mixture of doubt and intrigue when she handed me a new book! I would scrunch up my face because even though I asked her for recommendations, the unfamiliar was off-putting.

“Or you could reread that one you just returned. Here. I’ll fish it out for you,” she’d say.

So of course, that intrigue and my ultimate trust in her won out, and I’d read the new ones. I didn’t love every book she recommended, but I learned (as she knew I would) about who I was and who I wanted to be from both the books that spoke to me and the ones that didn’t. And I was not unique – this librarian did this for every student she encountered – what a remarkable person! I was extremely fortunate. Larry and I sometimes visit schools without libraries. So many of the teachers we meet are tremendous in filling the gaps, but the lack of a library is such a disservice to both teachers and students. We’d love to be able to change that. (Miriam)

Lion, Lion tells the story of a team of animals led by a clever, kind, jokey little boy on a mission to rescue his pet kitty from a hungry lion(Miriam and Larry)

Mr. Schu, you should have asked us what’s in the works! We split our time between Colorado and Illinois these days and visit schools together across the country. We love love love meeting young story creators! On Larry’s desk: finishing illustrations for Kay Winters’ Voices from the Underground Railroad and two more terrific picture book projects. On Miriam’s desk: a humorous chapter book, a middle grade fantasy (again!), and a serious, inspiring non-fiction graphic novel biography. (Miriam and Larry) 

Also: Who is Raisin modeled after, look-wise? It took a lot of character studies to come up with the way Raisin finally looked once Miriam suggested that Raisin, by her name, was a very small cow. So I made her small with big ears and a tussle of hair on top of her head, inspired by my second grade picture.  (Larry) 

One last thing: Whenever we talk to students about revision, I always ask for a show of hands: Who thinks, when you’ve worked and worked and worked on a project, and you finally hand it in to your teacher, you’re done? Bunch of hands shoot up. And I always raise my hand along with them, because even though I KNOW better, I often think (secretly or not): D.O.N.E!

And I’m always wrong.

Raisin was a bit of a gift. Unlike Lion Lion, which took forever and changed SO much before its final version, Raisin came together quickly and changed very little. Still, like most stories (well, ALL of mine), it needed judicious rethinking and revision. So, a huge THANK YOU to my editor Alessandra Balzer for her foresight and good sense and patience. There were times when I was resistant to her suggestions, but the truth is she has clarity of vision that I don’t. She sees opportunities for tweaks and additions that make a good story so much better! Grateful over here. (Miriam)

Mr. Schu, It's a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you again. We hope you and your viewers enjoy this trailer and enjoy reading Raisin as much as we enjoyed creating the story! (Miriam and Larry)


Look for Raisin, the Littlest Cow on March 28, 2017.