Friday, March 23, 2018

Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship

Hi, Scott Magoon! I love when you visit Watch. Connect. Read. Please tell us about Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship, your inspiring picture book with Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes.

Scott: Hi, John! Thank you—it is my pleasure to be here with you once more. Rescue & Jessica A Life-Changing Friendship is a powerful book, with deep connections to my life and to my family’s life. It was written by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, wife-and-husband survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. They both lost legs in the blast and on her long road to recovery Jessica has come to rely on Rescue—her black lab service dog. In addition to companionship, he can perform all sorts of tasks to help Jessica through her day, things like opening doors or bringing Jessica her telephone. Inspired by Rescue, Patrick and Jessica have written a beautiful picture book that follows two journeys. One is about Rescue who is in training to be a service dog and the other is about Jessica, a girl hospitalized by injury who is learning to adapt to her changed life with prosthetics, and wheelchair and all new challenges. The last third of the book deals with how they come together and begin their lives as a team. It’s a wonderful and inspiring story.

It is a particularly charged work for me, closely connecting my own personal experience, my art and my love for the city of Boston. I was running in the Boston marathon in 2013 and my family (who were there to watch me run by) were caught between the two blasts. To have the chance to work on this book has offered a some closure to an open-ended experience for us. It’s been a very positive experience and I give much credit and gratitude to my friends at Candlewick Press for putting this team together and publishing this book.

Please take us through the process of creating one of the illustrations for Rescue & Jessica.

Scott: In recent years I’ve had the opportunities to draw many wonderful characters of humor, imagination and fantasy—dancing nuts, talking flatware or a reclusive dragon for instance. With RESCUE & JESSICA though, there are human & canine characters in real-life situations: some of those situations are every day, some extraordinary. Given this, I knew I had a good deal of development work ahead in creating realistic-looking characters, backgrounds and objects new to me: medical equipment, prosthetics, dogs hind legs, dogs front legs, dog heads (pretty much drawing dogs in general). To begin, I collected scads of visual reference including photos and videos of Jessica, Rescue, Boston locations as well as hospital equipment and procedures for, say, getting a patient up and out of their hospital bed. With these materials on hand I began sketching on my iPad for about three months straight. (Watch this time lapse video and you’ll see how much drawing, re-drawing and moving around I’ll do on a given piece.) Once I got the go-ahead from the Rescue Squad (authors Patrick, Jessica and Ann Stott, Katie Cunningham, Allison Cole at Candlewick Press ) I’d proceed to final art on my Wacom tablet here in my studio. After much trial and error I selected just the right palette and digital brushes—a crayon brush and watercolor brush from Kyle Webster’s collection. Each spread of final art took 2-5 days to complete and I often wondered if I’d finish on time but I did. Whew!

Did you meet with Rescue, Jessica, and Patrick while illustrating the book?

Scott: Yes! We met on Skype first though. From that first meeting I was so impressed by their spirit, humor, smarts—and good looks. Seriously though, given all they have been through there’s still this bright light turned on in them that I found both captivating and inspiring. Charismatic. Conversely, I had hoped I came across well to them—Jessica said later that she knew she had the right artist in me when she spied all of the picture books on the bookshelf over my shoulder. And we do make a good team I think. Further evidence of this was when the Rescue Squad first met in person at Patrick and Jessica’s place to discuss my sketches. It was the first time I was with an author in person as they saw my sketches for the very first time. I was very nervous about how would they react to my drawings. Seeing their reaction to what I had done in real time was really nerve wracking at first—but as we went further through the book and spread after spread went by with their glowing—and sometimes emotional—approval I began to relax. It turns out they loved a great deal of what I had done. I left their home thinking our meeting was an incredible experience. Not just because I had met these dynamic people but it also felt in those moments that I was doing what I was meant to do: illustrate books. Well, since that day Patrick, Jessica and I have been to each other’s houses with my wife and sons (my sons mostly wanted to hang out with Rescue the whole time). In fact, we’ve even created a music playlist for our dinners together and its quite a list; lots of good—if random—tunes. For instance—and I won’t say who picked it, there is some Christopher Cross on there (Ride Like the Wind). :) 

Please finish these sentence starters:

Rescue is the most amazing animal I have ever met. I’m not alone in thinking this: he is also this year’s ASPCA dog of the year—and with all of the amazing pets and service dogs out there that’s really saying something. He is smart, reticent but present and completely focused on Jessica when he’s on duty. Off duty he’s just as delightful but eager to run around and be a doggie.

School libraries are like their school’s sunshine. School is a garden of growth and opportunity, where we cultivate diversity of ideas and tend curiosity. But it needs more than just its classrooms, teachers, and students which are its fertile land, water, and seeds to work. A school needs something as powerful as the sun: a vast collection of books. Shine on, school libraries—you make gardens grow.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how people can learn more about service dogs and how they are trained. These dogs begin their training as puppies at special training organizations’ early learning centers. You can learn more about one such organization—the National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS) at their websiteThere you’ll learn more about the tireless work that NEADS does and the incredible dogs (Rescue is a proud alum!) that graduate from their program that go on to help people with disabilities. A proceeds of the profits from Rescue & Jessica A Life Changing Friendship will go to help their work and I’ll be running the 2018 Boston Marathon this year to help raise money and awareness for NEADS. If you’d like to contribute to help with their training of these amazing dogs please visit my GoFundMe page here.

Look for Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship on April 3, 2018. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Caldecott Honor Artist Thi Bui

Click here to watch the 2018 ALA Youth Media Awards.
I asked Matthew Cordell, Elisha Cooper, Gordon C. James, Thi Bui, and Jason Chin to answer two questions and to finish two sentence starters. 

Congratulations, Thi!  Everyone loves hearing about THE CALL. What ran through your head when the phone rang? What were you thinking about when the Caldecott committee was clapping and cheering for you?

Thi Bui: My immediate thought when the phone rang was, “No one I know calls me this early,’ and I hung up without looking or thinking! And then I remembered what day it was and said, “Oh no!!” and tried to call back. Luckily they called again and I was of course very honored and grateful, but also pretty embarrassed and still not quite awake.

What does the Caldecott mean to you? 

Thi Bui: It’s a huge honor. I remember the stickers on books when I was a kid. It means our little book will find its way to more readers. It means quiet books about quiet lives and underrepresented people are getting a little louder.

Please finish these sentence starters: 

Reading is a vehicle for your mind to travel so you can live other lives and gain knowledge, experience, and insight that might not be available to you in your regular life.

School libraries are like chapels on the front lines. They offer refuge and guidance in a place that’s accessible to kids.

Borrow A Different Pond from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Book Trailer Premiere: Sometimes You Fly by Katherine Applegate and Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Hello, Katherine Applegate and Jennifer Black Reinhardt ! Thank you for dropping by to celebrate Sometimes You Fly! I’ve had so much fun sharing it with educators over the past month. It makes me smile from ear to ear every single time I read it aloud.

Katherine, what planted the seed for this perfect picture book?

Katherine: Well, one of my many superpowers is my talent for making mistakes. (Apparently, it’s not something you outgrow.)  Of course, making mistakes is how we learn. But when you’re growing up, facing milestone after milestone, we often forget that before any accomplishment come lots of false starts and stumbles.

I wrote Sometimes You Fly to celebrate the highs and the lows we all face when growing up. (And while being a grown-up!)

Jennifer, what was the MOST FUN thing about illustrating Sometimes You Fly?

Jennifer: Imagining what life events could quickly communicate a whole story evolution for a character in a single page turn---- and pulling from personal family memories to do so. You said ‘thing’ so I guess I’m supposed to stop with that one. But it really was the whole entire project and the opportunity to create visuals that would enhance Katherine’s beautiful prose.

Katherine, what ran through your head the first time you saw Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s gorgeous illustrations?

Katherine: I believe I said something along the lines of:


This book was so dependent on the page turn, on the detail, on the expressions of the children as they struggle and rejoice. Every single illustration will make readers smile.

Jennifer, what would we see if we walked into your studio right now?

Jennifer: You would see a lot of quirky, eclectic antiques and collectibles. The walls are covered with artwork that I love, by my mom, grandmother, daughter, friends, and fellow illustrators. Piles of books and tons of inspiration!

Katherine and Jennifer, how will you celebrate Sometimes You Fly’s book birthday on April 3, 2018?

Katherine: With a cake (although it won’t be as pretty as the one that begins and ends SOMETIMES YOU FLY)!

Jennifer: With a huge toast and thank you to Katherine, Jennifer, Christine, Cara, Marietta, and everyone at Clarion, HMH. They are the team that allowed me the privilege of illustrating this book and I am very grateful. Of course there will be cake and maybe I should fly a kite on April 3? On second thought, kite flying is an event in my life that rarely ended well… I’ll stick with the toast!

Please finish these sentence starters:

Sometimes You Fly’s book trailer…

…gives you a taste of the gorgeous illustrations that make the book such a delight. (Katherine) 

…gave me goose bumps when the bird flew across the screen! (Jennifer) 

Before the…

…book, there are endless rewrites! (But it’s worth it.) (Katherine) 

 …Cake was the original title for the book and I’m happy that we didn’t need to put pastry on the cover. (Jennifer) 

Look for Sometimes You Fly on April 3, 2018. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Newbery Honor Author Jason Reynolds

Click here to watch the 2018 ALA Youth Media Awards.
I asked Erin Entrada Kelly, Derrick Barnes, Jason Reynolds, and Renée Watson to answer two questions and to finish two sentence starters. 

Congratulations, Jason! Everyone loves hearing about THE CALL. What ran through your head when the phone rang? 

Jason Reynolds: Well...nothing really went through my mind besides excitement. It's always a weird thing. The phone buzzes, and my stomach leaps into my throat. There's also this weird calm. This weight lifted. I don't know, it's hard to explain. And when I answered and found out it was the Newbery Committee and that they were awarding Long Way Down, I secretly thought they were making a mistake but didn't want to say anything just in case they didn't know what they were talking about. 

What does the Newbery mean to me? 

Jason Reynolds: It just means that I have so much more work to do. I'm grateful for it. To be given one of the highest honors in our industry is incredible. But it only makes me want to work harder to make something better for our children. 

Please finish these sentence starters: 

Reading is a conduit to wholeness. 

School Libraries are physical databases of potential. 

Borrow Long Way Down from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Cover Reveal: Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt

Hello, Gary Schmidt! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you for stopping by to share the cover for Pay Attention, Carter Jones! Who is Carter Jones?

Gary Schmidt: First things first: Thank you for having me back!

Carter Jones is a sixth grade kiddo who has lost a lot—in fact, at the beginning of the novel, he doesn’t even know how much he has lost.  But he’s smart, hopeful, not too awful to his sisters, and he loves baseball.  And he’s been to the Blue Mountains of Australia!

I love James Lancett’s colorful cover illustration. Please tell us about a few of the objects featured on the cover.

Gary Schmidt: It’s a great cover, not at all what I expected—which is why authors—or at least, this author—isn’t generally consulted about the cover.  There is, mysteriously enough, a cricket bat (instead of a baseball bat), and army goggles and a marble—not to mention the wide-eyed dog and the curious shoes that are at the very bottom of the cover.  He’s taken things that are about to be very important in Carter’s life and mixed them all together—which is, of course, how we live much of our lives: everything mixed together. It’s brilliant!

What three words best describe Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick?

Gary Schmidt: Arrogant.  Gentlemanly.  Complicated.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Carter’s family is in trouble, no one more than Carter himself.

School libraries are the salvation of the world—and I am not being hyperbolic at all.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me whether I play cricket or not. Or whether there is any character in the novel that appeared in another novel. Or why this one took so very long to write. Or whether I’ve ever been to the Blue Mountains of Australia. (I have.)

Look for Pay Attention, Carter Jones on February 5, 2019. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Newbery Honor Author Derrick Barnes

Click here to watch the 2018 ALA Youth Media Awards press conference.

I asked Erin Entrada Kelly, Derrick Barnes, Jason Reynolds, and Renée Watson to answer two questions and to finish two sentence starters. 

Congratulations, Derrick! Everyone loves hearing about THE CALL. What ran through your head when the phone rang? What were you thinking about when the Newbery committee was clapping and cheering for you? 

Derrick Barnes: I had never seen that area code before, but I knew that there was a chance that at least one of the committees would be calling. There was just no way of me knowing which one. I was hoping and praying that at least one of them would call. When the chair of the committee said that she represented the Newbery, I almost passed out. It just blew me away. Newbery!? What!? It's every children's book author's dream to win a Newbery or at least receive an honor. When I heard the committee on the other end of the phone clapping I just thought about all of my other friends who had won big literary awards and now it was my turn. It was so surreal. My name was finally being called.

What does the Newbery mean to you? 

Derrick Barnes: It means that my name and my work will forever be a part of this exclusive lineage of fine American contributions to literature. That can never be erased. I take my body of work very seriously. I want to leave behind a legacy of books that were actually trying to say something. Books that will live with children forever as a source of inspiration.

Please finish these sentence starters: 

Reading is essential for the development of a child's social skills. It broadens their vocabulary. It allows one to experience the world without moving one step. It allows you the opportunity to converse with people from different walks of life and equips them with the verbal and intellectual skills to master whatever career they choose to embark upon. Reading feeds a hungry imagination.

School libraries smell good. Books upon books upon books, filled with entire worlds and characters that we wish were real. The amount of information between those pages is limitless. A comfortable, well furnished school library feels like home.

Borrow Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Cover Reveal: First Generation by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace

Hello, Sandra and Rich! Thank you for returning to Watch. Connect. Read. to share the BEAUTIFUL cover for First Generation. Please tell us about the individuals featured on the cover.

Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace: As a teenager, Martina Navratilova defected from a communist regime after competing in the U.S. Open. She went on to be an all-time tennis great and a passionate defender of women’s rights.

Madeleine Albright fled from the Nazis with her family during World War II and came to the U.S. as a refugee. She became the first female Secretary of State in American history.

Halima Aden grew up in a refugee camp in Africa. When she moved to the U.S., she was surprised to see no women who looked like her in fashion magazines. She is the first Hijabi to appear on the cover of Vogue and is an outspoken voice on issues of social justice.

Yo-Yo Ma is a renowned cellist and the leader of the Silkroad Project, which fosters cultural connections throughout the world.

NBA basketball star Dikembe Mutombo has been called the world’s most generous athlete for his many humanitarian projects.

All are U.S. citizens. First Generation also features scientists Ahmed Zewail, Maryam Mirzakhani, and Adriana Ocampo; artists Diana Al-Hadid and Willem de Kooning; journalists Jorge Ramos and Cheryl Diaz Meyer; plus entrepreneurs, activists, and many more.

What is the best thing about writing nonfiction for young readers?

Sandra and Rich: Real people help kids see that they’re not alone and that others have experienced the same things in life and can help guide them. History gives young people perspective on how we humans have navigated life to this point. We love bringing historical figures to life for kids, especially those whose lives provide a template for doing good in the world. Writing nonfiction is a matter of digging into archives, scoping out original sources, conducting interviews, and sorting it all out.

Which books do you recommend to young readers who want to learn more about the trailblazing immigrants and refugees featured in First Generation?

Sandra and Rich: There’s an extensive bibliography of books and websites in First Generation, but here are a few: Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson; My Name is Celia/Me llamo Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz by Monica Brown; On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Agata Nowicka’s illustrations are brilliant, modern, captivating.

School libraries are where every writer we know first found their spark, and where every kid can feel welcome and find a book they’ll relate to.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked us about Sandra’s experiences as a “First Gen” herself. “My mother and grandmother are refugees from Yugoslavia (now Serbia) and World War II concentration camp survivors. They inspired us to write First Generation. So did Barbadian American Barbara Young. Like my grandma, Barbara is a home care worker. If Barbara hadn’t convinced lawmakers to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, millions of home workers would have no employment rights.

“I thought of these women as I waited nervously to take my own U.S. citizenship test in 2016. Lining the walls of the immigration office were photos of movie-star immigrants. But where was Barbara Young? We thought kids ought to know about Barbara and the many trailblazing immigrants and refugees who are changing America for the better and positively impacting our lives.”

Look for First Generation: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great on September 4, 2018.