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. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Trailer Premiere: Endling: The Last by Katherine Applegate

Happy Tuesday! I love Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate's books and book trailers. It is always a special day when I get to launch one of Katherine's fabulous book trailers.

Before you read how Katherine finished my sentences, please watch Endling: The Last's book trailer two or three times. :) Happy watching and reading! 

Endling: The Last's book trailer just blew me away when I saw it for the first time. The adventure, the drama, the friendship, the laughter: it's all there!

Max Kostenko‘s cover illustration for ENDLING: THE LAST is just incredible. Kids are going to love it. He had to create two new species from scratch—a “dairne,” who looks a bit like a standing Labrador, and a “wobbyk,” who resembles an adorable fox with giant ears.

Byx is... despite her small size and great self-doubt, a truly tough female character. She was so much fun to write.

Story is how we make sense of our crazy, heartbreaking, glorious world.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how I managed to type ENDLING with a dog sitting on my lap the whole time. (With great difficulty. Stan’s a meticulous copy editor, but his breath is atrocious.)

Look for Endling: The Last on May 1, 2018. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Book Trailer Premiere: Daddies Do by Lezlie Evans and Elisa Ferro

I am kicking off National Library Week with author Lezlie Evans. She dropped by to chat with me about the book trailer for Daddies Do, story, and school libraries. I wrote the words in purple, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Lezlie!  

The book trailer for Daddies Do is a shout out to daddies and the many ways they interact with their little ones – a virtual hug to all the amazing fathers out there! The music encapsulates the lively spirit of the illustrations. (Be warned, you may find yourself clapping and whistling right along with it).

Picking which illustrations to use in the trailer was the hardest part – I have so many favorites. I knew the anteater daddy serving up a syrupy, sticky stack of pancakes definitely had to be included. It’s probably my favorite, truth be told!

Elisa Ferro’s illustrations are everything I imagined when I wrote the words. Each spread is filled with adorable, vibrant animal daddies who look like they are having the best time with their little ones. I can feel the joy jumping off each page.

Did you know marmoset fathers, which are tiny monkeys that live in South America, take care of their babies from birth. When the marmoset is born, the father cleans it and cares for it. He carries it to the mother only when it needs to be nursed. Today’s dads are much more involved in child care than they were 50 years ago. Pew Research found fathers spend about three times as much time with their children now-a-days. 

School libraries are magical places where journeys are taken, dreams are formed, and discoveries are made.  

Story is a way to share special moments and build strong bonds. Reading is something my husband and I did with our six children every night without fail…, and during breakfast, and bath time. I even recall potty training being a great time for a story. We never had less than 60 books checked out at a time from our local library – thankfully, they had no limit on the number of books you could take home.  

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what was your favorite thing to do with your daddy when you were growing up? I purposely asked if Elisa could make the little bear who is fishing with her daddy a girl because my daddy took me fishing a lot and, yes, he was constantly untangling our lines. That particular illustration is definitely personal. I also loved dancing with my daddy. He is a great dancer and he taught me how swing and waltz. Daddy daughter dances with him were the best!

Look for Daddies Do on May 1, 2018. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Cover Reveal: The Benefits of Being An Octopus by Ann Braden

Hello, Ann Braden! Happy Wednesday! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you for stopping by to finish my sentences and to share the cover for The Benefits of Being an Octopus.

Ann Braden: Thank you so much for having me, Mr. Schu. I am such a fan of the Nerdy Book Club! Am I allowed to be a member if I’m not a middle school teacher anymore? Once when I was moving, it took more carloads to move out of my classroom than it did to move out of my apartment because of all of the books… I’m hoping that helps with my membership application!

You're a member! :) 

Paul Oakley’s cover illustration for The Benefits of Being an Octopus captures that basic truth that what we see on the outside of a person is nothing compared to what’s really going on below the surface. I simply love it.

Zoey thinks life is pretty good right now. She and her little brothers and sister get to live in her mom’s boyfriend’s nice trailer (it even has an alphabetized DVD collection.) They just have to not screw things up, and Zoey is doing her part. Even though her little siblings might be screaming monkeys, she makes sure there’s as little yelling, running, and messes as possible. The problem is that it’s starting to be up to Zoey to take care of everything because her mom isn’t exactly the take-care-of-it mom she used to be.
Download The Benefits of Being an Octopus Guide

An Octopus starts out the size of a pencil eraser, floating defenseless in the ocean. And then it grows into a creature with such incredible camouflage abilities that it can change the color and texture of its skin ten times in a matter of seconds! What could be better for navigating a life where it’s best to not be noticed? And being able to camouflage yourself has all sorts of other advantages, too. If anyone bothered to take a closer look at the hole in the reef, they’d see a big, unblinking octopus eye staring out at them, taking in everything. And, of course, there’s no better escape artist than an octopus.

Zoey’s family works hard to make ends meet. Thanks to her mom’s waitressing job at the Pizza Pit, they’re close to getting out from under the phone bill’s huge interest rate and putting aside money for a washing machine that actually works. There are good days when there’s money on the EBT card and food in the fridge, but the end of the month is tough. Still, Zoey knows that Easy Cheese letters on a Saltine can keep little kids happy even when there aren’t a lot of food options. (Aurora knew the letter A before she was two thanks to Zoey’s Easy Cheese letters.) Everything might be held together by a thread, but Zoey is determined to make this work. She doesn’t want to go back to the way things used to be.

Explore Ann Braden's website
Reading is pretty much a superpower. What else gives you the ability to put yourself entirely in someone else’s shoes – or to see your inner strength reflected back at you? Because then it’s only a matter of time before you discover that you’re stronger than you think.

School libraries are where I fell in love with books – not as a student, but as a teacher. I liked books when I was growing up, but it was when I taught middle school social studies and sat with the diversity of my students that I came to truly understand the power of having many, many stories to turn to. I’m so glad the We Need Diverse Books movement has taken hold and that so many librarians are tapped into it. I only wish there were more funding for school libraries across the board so that all kids could have access to the wide range of wonderful books that exist.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the new kidlit podcast I’m launching with fellow debut author Saadia Faruqi. Saadia is a Pakistani-American author and interfaith activist whose early reader series MEET YASMIN will be published by Capstone this coming August, and she was profiled by Oprah Magazine last fall as a woman making a difference in her community. Our podcast is called "Lifelines: Books that Bridge the Divide.” It focuses on conversations with librarians, educators, and readers about the children's books that can be bridges across our cultural divides -- the books that can open minds and the books that can be the lifeline for a child who needs to remember they're not alone. We just launched it with the first two episodes, and folks can find it here

Click here to enter the giveaway. 

Look for The Benefits of Being an Octopus on September 4, 2018. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

In Your Shoes by Donna Gephart

Hello, Donna Gephart! I’m THRILLED you dropped by to celebrate In Your Shoes and to finish my sentences. I think Amy and Miles will inspire readers to have meaningful and thoughtful conversations about life, death, friendship, love, and bowling. This two-hankie novel will stay with me for a long time.

Donna Gephart: Mr. Schu! I was so excited for you to read In Your Shoes. (You know why!) Thank you for helping me share this book with others. It was the hardest book to write and the one I’m most excited to share.

Thank you for writing this story. Thank you for not telling me WHY you were excited for me to read In Your Shoes before I read it. It was the most lovely surprise. :) 

Chris Silas Neil’s illustration and Bob Bianchini’s design for the In Your Shoe’s cover managed to create curious questions: Why is Miles staring up at Amy? What is Amy writing in that book? And why is there a giant bowling shoe on the cover?

Miles is such a nervous wreck. I want to give him a hug and tell him everything will be okay. But will it? I love that Miles researches fascinating, oddball ways people have died throughout history . . . to relax!

Amy thinks she’ll be able to write her way to her own happily ever after. But will she? I love that the fairy tale Amy writes throughout the novel mirrors the story of the novel itself. Writing a story within a story proved challenging, but, I hope, lots of fun to read.

Friends are the glue that holds this story together. They are literally life-saving when needed most.

Bowling is the sport played by most Americans, more than baseball and football, with over 5,000 bowling centers across the country and over 70 million participants. So it’s fitting that the settings for In Your Shoes are a bowling center . . . and a funeral home.

School libraries are a sanctuary for some kids. They’re also a passport to a wider world (both internal and external) for young people. If I were in charge, every school would have a well-stocked library run by a certified librarian. School libraries are places where magic can happen . . . and often does.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I was so excited to have YOU read this book. But I guess everyone will have to read a copy to find out.

Look for In Your Shoes on October 30, 2018. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Book Trailer Premiere: What Samantha Berger and Mike Curato

Hello, Samantha Berger! I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE What IF…so much! Thank you for dropping by to share its book trailer and to finish my sentences. I greatly appreciate it.
Well aloha, wonderful Mr. Schu!
We’re both so thrilled to be back with you.
(ehh, unintentional rhyme there, I swear).
Thank you for loving this book.
And thank you for being a Schuper Duper stop on our blog tour!
It means the world.
This is crazy, but back when you and I were e-mailing, in 2015, it was about mutual love for Mike (!!!) and how happy we were about him winning the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor.
Yes, I remember our conversation. I love that you and Mike collaborated on What If...
And, of course, about mutual love of the Golden Girls.
Dorothy, Rose, Sophia, and Blanche always make me think of you.
Back then, I had considered answering your Sentence Starters with multiple choices Sentence-Enders, but surprisingly, didn’t do it then.
But now, here we are, three years later, and since this book is the song of my soul, and since creating this book with my bestie was the collaboration of a lifetime, and since I can’t seem to do anything in a “normal” conventional way, I ask WHAT IF…we did do multiple choice this time? Let’s see!
Ohhhhhhh...what a brilliant idea! Thank you!

What If…’s book trailer…
-was made (deep dramatic movie voice) IN A WORLD…

-is way better than the trailer for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE Part 87

-was scored with original music by Kirsten Price, a dear friend and musical shenius, who heard this manuscript FIRST, and is acknowledged in the back of the book.

Mike Curato’s illustrations…
-make me misty every time I see them.
-use mixed media and found objects, JUST like the project I was working on, when I first met Mike.
-are a perfect harmony with the text, much like what Mike and I strive for, when we sing karaoke together.
The ellipses in the title...
-make it a very challenging hashtag.
-lends itself to endless What If…joke sentence starters.
-accompanies the copy on the back cover: “What If…nothing could take away our imagination,” which is the essence of what this book is about.

Hello, Mike Curato! Thank you for finishing my sentences. 

Mike: WHAT IF...I’m so happy to be back!? Thanks for having us, Mr. Schu!

Samantha’s text…
-gives me CHILLS!
-speaks right to my heart.
-consists of words that are so carefully selected, sculpted, and polished that you could find actual pieces of marble sprinkled under her desk.

-are perfect for a grand reveal.
-are reserved for a “say something big” spread.
-can be used to show the outside and inside of a character.

On April 10th, 2018…

-I will put on my dancing shoes and party hat.
-we will be celebrating two auspicious holidays: National Library Workers Day and Encourage a Young Writer Day!
-I will have a new book in the world that I got to make with one of my best friends! We hope that readers will think to themselves “What if…”, and let their imaginations open their hearts and minds to endless worlds of possibilities.

For more information and to order your copy, please visit Mike or Samantha’s sites.

Be sure to join us for the rest of The Official What If Blog Tour:

Also, check to see if we’ll be in a town near you on our upcoming book tour!

photo credit: Leo Moreton

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.