Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Last Week Told through Vines


I left these two wonderful books on my friend Laura's front porch.


Donalyn Miller and I had fun shopping in North Carolina.


I talked about these books during my workshops in North Carolina. 


I love this WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS display at Joseph-Beth Bookshop.

Mr. Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller, Katherine Sokolowski, and I had the entire Scholastic Book Fair to ourselves. 


I walk or drive by this gorgeous house almost every day. I want to turn it into a children's literature center. :)


I added "Learn How to Tie a Bow Tie" to my to-do list. Thank you, Leo! 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dan Santat, Kwame Alexander, and Donald Crews

Are you sad you didn't attend the 2015 Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet? Good news! You can finally dry those tears! ALSC recorded Dan Santat, Kwame Alexander, and Donald Crews delivering their inspiring and memorable acceptance speeches. Happy watching! 

P.S. You'll need a box of tissues on hand! 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

WAIT by Antoinette Portis

Good morning, Antoinette Portis! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. As soon as I finished reading Wait, I mailed my copy to Lauren Castillo. I knew she would love and appreciate it as much as I do. What does it feel like when people say they cannot WAIT to share your books with readers?

Antoinette Portis: It’s exciting to have people responding enthusiastically to Wait. Every book I’ve made has my heart and soul in it, but that doesn’t mean the world responds with equal fervor. So it’s great when you feel some excitement out there. The true test is seeing how children respond. I’m looking forward to doing readings and getting into conversations with kids about the book. I find myself wishing my daughter was still 4 and I could read this one to her, sitting in my lap.

I hope Wait inspires adults to slow down and admire the world with their children.

Antoinette Portis: I hope it does, too. When my daughter was 18 months old, I took off work for a year. We would go to the park and dig in the sand and roam around and collect bark, twigs, seed pods, leaves, pebbles. I slowed down to kid speed and started paying attention to stuff that I’d been too harried to notice.  An unexpected bonus was I started making art again (which I hadn’t done since I started working after art school) and just generally felt more creative. Sasha was my life teacher in toddler form. Everything gave her joy. She beamed love at strangers. Life was an exciting adventure that she met with pure enthusiasm. Her attitude woke me up to a greater sense of joy at being on this earth.

I see “Wait” moments happening everywhere. Just yesterday, I walked out my door and a mom and dad were taking a stroll with their toddler. The little boy was stopped at our corner, gazing at two dogs across the street. His parents had moved a bit farther down the block, and I could tell they were a bit impatient for him to catch up, but they let him be.
Anything out of the ordinary drew his attention. Here was this free-ranging curiosity, just waiting to light on something. He exulted in each discovery: a tree stump makes an excellent dais. Suddenly the world was at his feet—I could read that on his face.
I see children’s curiosity as an expression of human intelligence, not an artifact of childhood. It’s the same curiosity that led us to figure out how to send a probe out 3 billion miles into space to send back pictures of Pluto.

Illustration Credit: Antoinette Portis
Was the working title always Wait? Did your manuscript always contain three different words?

Antoinette Portis: I have a giant file of dummies! There are over 30 versions. It was called “But…” for the first few rounds. There was more text. The mom said things like, “Keep moving, sweetie,” and “No time to dawdle.” And the boy answered “But…”, not “Wait.”
There was a version where only the child spoke. His “Wait,” was in answer to the mom’s silent prompts. The back and forth was only in the pictures. But gradually I got clear, after taking various versions to my writing group, that I wanted the textual counterpoint of “hurry/wait” as the story’s structure.
Neal Porter (my editor) and I tinkered with the ending a bit. The mom’s “wait” at the end needed an extra beat and that’s where the “yes” came in.
This book seemed to lend itself to a high-concept, limited-text treatment. The reader has to look closely at the pictures to get the most out of the story. Readers have to stop and observe, too.
Illustration Credit: Antoinette Portis
If we visited your studio, what would we see?

Antoinette Portis: A big fat mess, usually. I like to work in visually busy spaces. I have art that I love pinned on the walls (Donald Baechler, Margaret Kilgallen, my daughters childhood drawings, etc). Of course there are toys (like a Steiff tiger with eyes that glowed in the dark that my brother and I used to fight over), plastic cars, figurines, various tchotchkes from my grandmother or the flea market, beach stones I’ve collected. Just random objects that make me happy.
I have a wall of bookcases filled with picture books (it’s picture book school right there!) and art supplies, a small drafting table where I draw, a computer table with my mac and Cintiq tablet (a new acquisition), flat files, and a few other work tables that are covered in piles of stuff from a recent project that I need to put away. Clutter then clean/clutter then clean—that’s the circle of life.
When I’m in the illustration phase of making a book, on a wall that’s visible from both my drawing and computer tables, I pin up the illo spreads. (I think all illustrators must do this.) It’s a way of seeing the book as a whole—checking the color flow, composition and pacing. And having the book up there gives me a good sense of the progress I’m making (or not making) to meet the deadline.
The wall has helped me avoid a pitfall I ran into early on—getting into a death spiral with an illustration that’s not working—restaging it over and over as the days or weeks ticked by and the end date loomed. Now I know that if the wall is stuck, I’m stuck, and I need to turn my attention to another spread. Later I can circle back to work on the trouble spot with fresh energy and a clearer eye.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Reading is my life’s blood. And my main hobby. Can’t imagine life without it!

(from my 5th grade autobiography)

Picture books are my inspiration, addiction, current favorite art form. My job, my joy.

Not a Box and Not a Stick (my first two books) are the precursors of Wait. All three are books where it’s my intention that the concept resonates more than the text. The words create a superstructure for the pictures to tell the story.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me...If you could have another life and be anything you wanted, what you be? And I’d say: an astrophysicist with a fantastic singing voice, working on finding the theory of everything (not the movie, the actual theory). Math is a language I would like to understand--but in this life, that’s not happening. And I can’t hold a tune, either.

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

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Happy Saturday, Mr. Sharp and Lauren Castillo!

Dear Mr. Sharp and Lauren Castillo,

I hope you're both having a super Saturday! I look forward to seeing both of you in November at #NCTE15. w00t! w00t! :)

Have a wonderful weekend!


Please click here to watch Mr. Colby Sharp's video.

Caldecott Honor winner Lauren Castillo filmed a Saturday video for Colby Sharp and me. 

Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split by Anica Mrose Rissi

Maple and Willow Apart by Lori Nichols 

Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book Trailer Premiere: It's Tough to Lose Your Balloon by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

I am honored to premiere the book trailer for Jarrett J. Krosoczka's It's Tough to Lose Your Balloon. Go grab a cold beverage, sit back, relax, and get ready to smile from ear to ear. 

 I can't wait for people to read It's Tough to Lose Your Balloon when it publishes on September 8th! It will be my 25th book as author and illustrator, and my 30th book overall. The picture book is all about acknowledging and validating the concerns kids have, and offering creative solutions to look on the bright side of life's shortcomings. It's a book that almost became my first published book. In 1999, when I was a senior at Rhode Island School of Design, I wrote a book called Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches in the Sand. It simply listed the injustices, no positive twists, and was rejected by several publishers. But then several years later I was at a local park with my daughter, and she lost her balloon. She was devastated. My wife, Gina, offered a very creative look at how this calamity could be positive, and then everything came together...

For the book trailer, I interviewed kids about what was tough for them in their lives. Kids' problems can sometimes feel trivial to us, but when we get down to their level and watch that balloon float, it is indeed tough.

It's Tough to Lose Your Balloon by Jarrett J. Krosoczka | Publication Date: 9/8/15 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Guest Post by Teacher-Librarian Jennifer Lucas

Last spring, author Phil Bildner asked me if I'd be interested in getting a group of students together to help him create the official book trailer for his new middle grade novel, A Whole New Ballgame.  I've known Phil Bildner for several years, and he visited my school, Hamilton Elementary, back in December and conducted writing workshops with the fourth graders.

I asked each of our four fourth grade Language Arts teachers to select two deserving students to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime, top-secret opportunity. I say top secret because the kids didn't know all the details about the projects.

For three months, the eight students met in the library office twice a week during lunch. Together, we read an advanced reader's edition of the book. We called our book club "The Bildner Bunch" and had fabulous discussions about how we label each other, what makes a good teacher, and what is autism. We also talked about looking at the world from other points of view. We even stood on the library's circulation desk - including a student in a wheelchair - just like the kids in Mr. Acevedo's class in A Whole New Ballgame.  All eight students loved being a part of this group. They loved knowing they were the first kids to read a book that hadn't been published. They loved knowing they were going to make the official book trailer.

One of my favorite moments (there were several), was during our first Bildner Bunch meeting. Phil and I arranged a surprise meeting through FaceTime.  When his call came through, everyone stopped chewing their lunches!  Phil explained his vision for the trailer and asked if they'd be willing to help.  Of course, they said yes! Afterwards, they asked if that was the real Phil Bildner they were talking to. 

Over the next few weeks, the kids worked together to decide who would say each line and made sure the parts were divided up evenly.  They also practiced the "Rip and Red Handshake" over and over with a partner. Each pair interpreted the handshake a little differently, and it was fun to show off what they came up with. 

One of the students, Reece, is in a motorized wheelchair and couldn't do the handshake exactly like the main characters Rip and Red. Reece and his partner Trey worked together in a corner to modify it so Reece could participate.  When they presented to the group, the kids all clapped and cheered (while I choked back tears of pride).  

On a side note, Reece can do anything he puts his mind to, and ever since Kindergarten, his classmates have watched him conquer anything that gets in his way. He runs in 5Ks,  plays soccer at recess, and does every field day event in his walker.  Reece is very opinionated and will repeat himself as often as necessary to make sure you understand his opinion clearly.  Another of my favorite Bildner Bunch moments is when Reece asked why Avery (the character in the book who is in a wheelchair) was so angry all the time.  Reece is so optimistic and determined that he just didn't understand where her anger came from!

For the trailer, we decided two students would demonstrate the handshake, and then the whole group would do it together.  As the group practiced, they realized that Reece wouldn't be able to do the "360 turn" as quickly as everyone else and stay in sync.  They decided Trey would follow Reece's pace and the other pairs would wait for them to finish the circle before moving to the "jumping hip-bump." Watching these kids find a solution so matter-of-factly was inspiring.  They didn't view Reece's physical difference as a challenge or obstacle or handicap or problem. It was just Reece and together they figured out a way to accomplish the task at hand.  This was my favorite moment of the entire process, no doubt about it.

Once I filmed the two series of handshakes on my iPhone, the kids recorded the narration on an iPad using the Tape Recorder app.  I downloaded the audio and video to a library desktop along with the images Phil sent from the publisher.  Three of the students (Reece was one of them) offered to give up lunch AND recess to help arrange everything in MovieMaker.  Due to time constraints, I took over the final editing of the video.  

The Bildner Bunch gave two sneak peaks of the trailer - one to their teachers and one to their parents (with refreshments, of course) the last week of school.  Several of us had leaky eyes after I explained how these eight were chosen from over one hundred forty students to help create a trailer requested by the author himself and to be used by the publisher as the official trailer.  I made it clear that I was only the facilitator - the students made the video.  The kids all agreed that this was WAY more fun that doing a traditional book report or even a PowerPoint. And I believe it's fair to say that each of the eight members of The Bildner Bunch are most proud of the fact that EVERYONE participated to make it awesome.  


A Whole New Ballgame by Phil Bildner | Publication Date: August 18, 2015.