Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Anita Silvey's Children's Book-A-Day Almanac

Dear Professors and Instructors of Children's Literature, 

I am thankful every day for Anita Silvey's Children's Book-A-Day Almanac. It is an informative and fun resource that celebrates the best children's books. Anita's vast knowledge, charming writing style, and love for the subject will inspire your students to be well-read educators/librarians/parents/aunts/uncles who celebrate children's books every single day. I think Anita's essays will motivate them to host celebrations on National Pig Day (March 1), International Primate Day (September 1), Moldy Cheese Day (October 9), World Origami Days (October 24-November 11), and Jerry Pinkney's birthday (December 22).  

Please tell your students about this valuable resource. Maybe you'll even add it to your course syllabus or post a link to it on the classroom discussion board. I know I would never forget the professor/instructor who introduced me to Anita's useful and inspiring almanac. 

Happy reading! 

-John Schu

I am giving away one copy of Anita Silvey's Children's Book-A-Day Almanac. 

Rules for the Giveaway

1. It will run from October 31 to 11:59 p.m. on November 5. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

4. Smile. :) 

Visit the Children's Book-A-Day Almanac online. 

Borrow the Children's Book-A-Day Almanac from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy book birthday to Matthew Cordell's hello! hello!

Yay! Matthew Cordell's hello! hello! is celebrating its birthday today! I've been looking forward to this special day ever since Matthew read it to a group of librarians during ALA Annual. I instantly fell for it. I took it on vacation, started promoting it in my library in August, and pre-ordered four copies. 

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that I once read it while jumping on an odd-shaped trampoline. Here's the evidence: 

I think it is best if we move on to the interview before I embarrass myself any further.

Mr. Schu: I know that librarians and teachers around the world will tell their students about hello! hello! What are three things you would want anyone booktalking it to mention or point out ?

Matthew Cordell: I sure hope they do! So, three things…

1. Be present. In our world of ever-shortening attention spans, it has become difficult to be conscious of and present for the people sitting beside us. Listen and talk. Ask questions. Pay attention.

2. Everything in moderation. Technology is fun and helpful in so many ways. But it is important to limit our time with our gadgets so that we can spend quality time with the people we love. Just as it is unhealthy to have a whole cake but tasty to have one slice, it is also unhealthy to spend hours alone on the computer or phone or game device, but fun and engaging to spend shorter, more reasonable times playing games or on the internet.

3. Create and be created for. It is wonderful to find and appreciate and learn from things that have been created for us by others. Books, television, games, art. But it is equally as important to use our own minds to create something for the people we love and for ourselves. Express yourself. Make something. Never stop using your imagination.

Mr. Schu: I think of hello! hello! whenever someone almost bumps into me because he is too busy texting, or when I spot a family in a restaurant glued to electronic devices. Did similar experiences inspire you to write hello! hello!? 

Matthew Cordell: Absolutely. The entire idea came to me because I was being that guy who was glued to the device. At home one day, I was playing with my daughter, Romy, who was around 2 years old at that time—too young to know if I was giving her my complete attention. Or so I thought… In the middle of playing with some toys, I thought I would be fine sneaking over to a nearby laptop computer to check my email (or worse… my Facebook page). After a minute or two of having my face stuck to the screen, I heard Romy say from across the room, “Dada, stop checking email and come play.” She was a very verbal young toddler, and I knew she was putting together sentences, but I had no idea she knew the word “email.” I felt bad, in a way, that, already, she even knew that word, but worse that I was not giving her what she wanted because I chose to be selfish at that moment. Whatever I was doing, work or not, it could’ve waited until later when my wife was going to be taking over toddler duty. Later on, it occurred to me that with the amount of technology we are exposed to these days, this whole scenario must be playing out with parents and kids everywhere and all the time. The movable laptop at home is certainly distraction enough. But it is worse with the omnipresent smart phone that follows you everywhere you go, always beckoning to be looked at. At this point, in our culture, you cannot go anywhere without seeing someone in the company of another who is attending more to a device than to the person sitting at his or her side.

Having said all of this… It is not my place to judge anyone for doing what’s right or wrong. Or even to set that limit of how much is right or wrong. This was never my intention with hello! hello! Like I said earlier, I wrote this book because I was not doing my job as a good Dad. Not doing my job as a good person. And I wanted to say, “this is happening to all of us. Let’s think about what’s going on here…” I would give any parent who is locking eyes with an iPhone—instead of the eyes of their child—the benefit of the doubt that he or she is still, of course, a good parent. It is just really easy to forget what is happening—to forget who is happening around us. But what is important is being cognizant of the fact that this exists and keeping it in check. Being mindful of when it is legitimately important to look in on the phone or computer, and when it is not. 

Mr. Schu: What came first: the text or the illustrations? 

Matthew Cordell: Usually I will write a book as completely as possible before beginning to sketch it out all the way. Though I will do some sample art to share with my editor and sketch the rest out in my head, making notes along the way. But this book is told primarily through the illustrations and I knew that would be the case when I was first envisioning it. So I developed the art and text somewhat simultaneously in working sketch dummies with my editor and art director. I wanted the dialog to be pretty plain, just as it is when people aren’t really paying attention and talking in depth with each other. So I thought it would be fun idea to single out the simplest piece of conversation, and make a whole book out of, more or less, just one word. “Hello.” The book begins by using “hello” in a rather dismissive and disinterested way in the black and white world of the parents, devices, and the neglect. But as the story evolves and life and energy pick up, I flipped “hello” on its head and began using this plain word in a very different way as the animals greet one another and the new world very enthusiastically. It was a lot of fun bringing out a wide range of emotions from using only one word and also letting the artwork do a lot of the heavy lifting.

Mr. Schu: I read your blog post about the bamboo pens you received as a Christmas present. Can you share a bit about your bamboo pens and how you used them to create the art for hello! hello!? 

Matthew Cordell: A quick explanation: A bamboo pen is very simply just a short stick of bamboo that is sharpened to a point. It’s very old school. To use one, dip the pointy end of the bamboo in a bottle of ink and draw with this until the ink runs out. And repeat….

One year my mom gave me a bunch of art supplies, including a few bamboo pens, all of which she knew I did not typically use. It was an interesting and thoughtful gift, really. If looked at the right way, it could be a perfect excuse for an artist to step outside of his or her old box. But of course, being a relative creature of habit, I just put them all up on the shelf. Then one day, a year or two later, I happened upon what would be one of my all time favorite picture books, Leaves by David Ezra Stein. Aside from the genuine, warm, satisfying storytelling, I love his very confident, free-flowing very natural line work and watercolors in this book. (I love the fearlessness of all his books.) And I found in the art notes that he had used a bamboo pen. So, finally, I dug around in my messy studio and pulled out my own never-before-used bamboos and gave them a spin. It was a horribly unpredictable drawing experience. Drawing with, essentially a pointy stick, does not allow for consistency or predictability with the line. Until that point, I had been using a more obvious pen and nib—which is a metal, machine made point that you dip into a bottle of ink and use to draw. I was so frightened of the bamboo that I STILL did not use them for any final art. Fast forward to another year or so where I finally found the perfect moment, and finally had the right amount of nerve to use the bamboo for finished artwork. I was beginning work on hello! hello! and I was building up the courage and seeing wonderful possibilities in drawing with a bamboo pen. Once and for all, with this book, it was the right time to tackle the bamboo. It has a wonderful and varied organic line quality. It’s very heavy and wet/drippy at times, but then very coarse and dry at times (almost like the texture of a dull pencil). Drawing with a stick instead of with plastic and metal just felt right with this nature filled book. It is loose and chaotic and, yes, unpredictable at times but it is the perfect instrument for getting back to nature and back to imagination. I learned to embrace the unknown. The ultimate freedom. 

Mr. Schu: It is a good year to be Matthew Cordell. In 2012, you’ve published seven instantly lovable and well-designed picture books. I am in awe of your ability to manage work, family, and social media. What’s your secret, Matthew? 

Matthew Cordell: Well, thank you, sir! My secret weapon is my amazing, amazing wife, Julie Halpern. She is an inspiration, an incredible support system, a wonderful mother and wife. (As well as a top notch talent! She’s an acclaimed Young Adult author!) There are times when my head is totally slammed and clouded from the world of book making and she is very tolerant and patient and ever so helpful when I’m up against a wall. It’s been such a blessing to stay so busy with work that I absolutely love, and to have my two most favorite people in the world, Julie and our daughter, Romy, to share it with.

Another Brother 

Mr. Schu: Please complete these sentence starters: 

Reading is a magical collaborative experience between the creator(s) of a book and its reader. Every reader will bring the characters of a book to life in a different way, infusing a part of themselves and their own experiences into that story. Reading is transcendental and stokes the imagination. Reading is essential.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about what’s next?

Well, hello! hello! is out on October 30. Before that, comes If You Were a Chocolate Mustache (October 1, Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press), a brilliant collection of poems by the master himself, J. Patrick Lewis. It was a real honor to illustrate his work.

And on to books I illustrated that publish next year…

Ollie and Claire by Tiffany Strelitz Haber (Philomel/Penguin)

What Floats in a Moat? By Lynne Berry (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Like Bug Juice on a Burger by Julie Sternberg (a sequel to Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, Abrams)

Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger (Houghton Mifflin)

I’ll be illustrating a third JUSTIN CASE novel by Rachel Vail!, (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan) maybe out in 2013?

I’m currently in finishes on art for a picture book with Disney-Hyperion with author Susan Hood.

Last, but not least, I’m quite close/a whisper away (knock on wood!) from approval for two picture books I am terribly excited about. One will be written/illustrated by me. The other is written by an amazingly talented and prolific friend. That’s about all I’ll say on that…Fingers crossed!

Thanks you so much for having me here, Mr. Schu! As you know, I am a huge fan of all that you do for kids and books and books for kids. You are an inspiration and a true ambassador of children’s books. 

I am giving away two copies of hello! hello! 

Rules for the Giveaway

1. It will run from October 30 to 11:59 P.M. on November 4. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward.

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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Video of the Day: Jeff Kinney Talks about Poptropica

I expected him to say, "Hi, I'm Jeff Kinney, the bestselling author of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series." He leaves that little fact out of the video. 

I know what I'm doing during my lunch break

1. Calling Anderson's Bookshop to order the  new Poptropica books. 

2. Emailing my students that Jeff Kinney is visiting Anderson's Bookshop on November 16, 2012. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

We Want to See Your Hold Shelf

Mr. Travis Jonker  (AKA Mr. SLJ Cover Model) and I joined forces to make On Hold @ the Library a monthly event. It is super easy to participate. 

Please do the following before 8:00 p.m. on November 1.  

Step One: Take a photograph of your hold shelf. 

Step Two: Email the photograph to me at MrSchuReads at gmail dot com.  

Step Three (OPTIONAL): Share your hold shelf on Twitter. Use #HoldShelf. 

Step Four: Smile. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Newbery Challenge: The High King

Dear Colby
I am writing this blog post in Naperville, Illinois, but it will go live when I'm in Philadelphia for School Library Journal's Leadership Summit.  I hope you're having a delightful Saturday morning. 



P.S. We really need to film some Newbery videos together. I see a trip to Indiana or Michigan in my future. 

Head over to Colby's blog to hear what he thinks of The High King

Read Jennifer L. Holm's nerdy essay about Lloyd Alexander. 

Travis Jonker designed the cover on the right. 

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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Author Ame Dyckman

Crystal Brunelle is a wonderful teacher-librarian, a blogger, an avid reader, a Newbery Challenge participant, and a proud member of the Nerdy Book Club. She's an important member of my professional learning network. 

I invited Crystal on Watch. Connect. Read. to discuss the time author Ame Dyckman Skyped with her students. I wrote the words in red, and Crystal wrote the words in black. Thank you, Crystal! 

I connect my students with authors and illustrators every chance I get. Most of the time I’m finding opportunities through twitter and we are using Skype to connect. My students love the chance to learn more about their favorite books from the people who imagined them in the first place.

Ame Dyckman is absolutely hilarious and inspiring. She made us giggle, but she also made us think about some really cool topics that we could write about for ourselves.

Boy + Bot always makes my students’ eyes light up and invariably say “affirmative” for days on end.

Dan Yaccarino’s illustrations are perfect for this book although my students were concerned about Bot and his time in the swimming pool. Ame calmed their fears by explaining that Dan knew that Bot was waterproof. There was a big sigh of relief in our library.

My students will always remember that Ame gave them a chance to talk about their own writing plans and she LISTENED to every student as they shared ideas.

Reading is like breathing for me. I read every single day. I’d rather read than eat chocolate, but I prefer to do both.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about Ame Dyckman’s awesome robot voice. She had us giggling and smiling the whole time she read to us. You also should have asked me about her awesome blue hair. My students and I loved it!

Please borrow Boy + Bot from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Video of the Day: Fuse and Scope Discuss Picture Books

Today's VIDEO OF THE DAY is an original and unique celebration of picture books. I meant to post it last month when it debuted. It seems I accidentally scheduled it to post next year, though. Oops. 

Ladies and gentleman, without further ado, I present to you Ms. Betsy Bird and Mr. Travis Jonker's rendition of "A CONVERSATION IN BOOKS."

Please visit to watch more "We Believe in Picture Books" videos. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

An Interview with Illustrator Jeremy Tankard

It’s a Tiger! is a delightful picture book that deserves to be celebrated two days in a row, so that’s just what I’m doing. Author David LaRochelle dropped by yesterday to discuss reading, writing, and pumpkins, and today I’m excited to share my interview with illustrator Jeremy Tankard. Thank you, David and Jeremy!

Mr. Schu: My first graders and I love your bold and expressive illustrations.  We think David LaRochelle’s text and your illustrations work together beautifully.
Jeremy Tankard: Thank you, Mr. Schu (and first graders!). I’m prodigiously proud of this book. David’s text is what convinced me that I had to illustrate this book: It’s funny; whimsical; smart; quirky; clever; and just plain FUN! The funny thing is that when I started doing sketches for the book I somehow lost all the humor of the text -- largely because David wrote a story in which the book itself is the narrator (which is actually one of the things I liked best about the text). Then I realized that the humor wasn’t necessarily in the appearance of the tiger every time but in the reaction of the reader to the tigers appearance. But since I can’t illustrate the readers reaction I had to come up with another solution: create a narrator who could react instead. Thus I was able to find a fun and humous way to illustrate all those “surprise” appearances. 

Mr. Schu: Why did you use ink and digital media? 
Jeremy Tankard: I LOVE drawing with ink. My father bought my brother and me sketchbooks and pens for a vacation in England when I was about 12 years old. He said something like “real artists keep sketchbooks and draw with pens”. He was partially correct: most artists like to keep sketchbooks. However, they often use pencils or markers or paint or other drawing materials in them. BUT, I learned that drawing with pen is very rewarding. 
The thing about ink is that if you make a mistake you can’t fix it! This is kind of scary when you first start using ink, but after a while you get used to it and you either learn to live with the mistakes and imperfections or you quit and go back to something “safe” like pencils. In my case I learned that those imperfections often give the art a certain quality. And it is strangely liberating when you give yourself permission to live with the mistakes. These days I mostly draw with a brush which is much, much more difficult than drawing with pen. But I like the uneven line it makes and try to find the beauty in all the imperfections.
As for using a computer: I’m quite enamored with the possibilities that the digital environment presents. And I like the ease with which I can make corrections. Perhaps because my ink drawings involve a certain amount of risk I like the control that the computer offers for the rest of the production. So I use the computer to color and assemble my ink drawings into finished art for the book. Also, I LOVE working with bright colors and the computer makes it much easier for me to control the final appearance of those colors as they print in the book. 

Mr. Schu: I like that the child is androgynous. Was this a conscious decision? 
Jeremy Tankard: I’m so glad you asked this. It was a conscious decision, yes. My first attempt at a narrator involved a rabbit, because I thought an animal would be easier -- everyone can see themselves in an animal. Can’t they? Or is it just me? But then I decided that I didn’t like that because really, the tiger would probably just eat the rabbit when it first shows up! So I created a boy. Or I thought he was a boy when I started drawing him. But in the end I opted, quite deliberately, to make that distinction vague. I like that a boy OR girl reading the book is able to see themselves in the character. I have heard children argue amongst themselves about the child’s gender. And ask me! I tell them that he or she is whatever they want. 

Mr. Schu: Which animal was the most fun to draw? Most challenging? 
Jeremy Tankard: The tiger was the most difficult. I LOVE tigers. They are my favorite mammal. Which is kind of funny because I’ve never drawn one before this book. Cats are so wonderfully slinky and lithe and powerful. But of course this is a children’s book so I didn’t want the tiger to be too scary or mean. But he also couldn’t be too cute or cuddly. What the book really called for was a fierce-looking teddy bear -- scary but not by any means terrifying. A tall order, really. I spent the better part of a year sketching tigers of all shapes, sizes and kinds before finally landing on the one that appeared in the book. I’m VERY happy with my tiger drawings. 

Mr. Schu: Did you and David LaRochelle interact at all while you were illustrating It’s a Tiger!?
Jeremy Tankard:Nope! I actually met David when I was doing a book tour for Boo Hoo Bird, and he knew I would be illustrating his book back then. But we had no contact again until after the illustrations were finished. I didn’t want his influence while I was drawing -- he is a gifted illustrator himself and I was afraid that there could be tension if he had one idea in mind and I had another. Especially since I opted to add a whole new character to his story! To be perfectly honest I was afraid that he wouldn’t like my interpretation. Luckily for me he is very happy with the outcome. Or at least he claims to be! You’ll have to ask him. 

Mr. Schu: What’s one of your earliest memories of illustrating stories? 
 Jeremy Tankard: I used to steal paper from my father’s desk drawer, fold them in half and staple them together to make little books. Then I’d write and illustrate my own stories. This began when I was about seven years old. I often wrote stories in which a character would get in trouble or hurt and they would shout “HELP!” Only I sometimes spelled it “HALP!”

Mr. Schu: What are you working on now? 
Jeremy Tankard: A whole bunch of things. My main project is a book I’ve been writing for the last five years that I’m super excited about. I won’t say any more at this point because it’s still very much “in progress”. And I’m writing another book, a longer illustrated thing, that grew out of a sudden inspiration I had. But I can’t say much about it either. And I’ve been offered a couple of other picture books to illustrate. There might also be another Bird book at some point. But time will tell. I don’t believe in writing something unless I’ve got something that I really want to say. 
I have just moved across the country, from Toronto to Vancouver, and am still getting “settled”. I have two children and my youngest (age 3) is having a hard time with preschool and childcare. This means that my work-time has been drastically reduced as I try to help him get comfortable in his new routines. It’s frustrating to have so little work-time but family has to come first. I’m itching to have get cracking on some of these projects.

Mr. Schu: I have a metafiction section in my school library. Do you have any favorite books about books? 
Jeremy Tankard: Well, I thought It's a Tiger! would be one, but with adding the child to the art I created a narrator that I don’t think David imagined. So I’m not sure if it really qualifies as metafiction any more. I love Lane Smith’s It's a Book

I can’t really think of any others right now. Is that bad? I also love Bad Day at the Riverbend by Chris van Allsburg. 

Is that metafiction? It’s very funny. And clever. It isn’t so much a book about books as a book about coloring books. If you’ve seen it I’m sure you’ll agree that it is fantastic. If you haven’t seen it...well, it’s worth a read. 

Mr. Schu: Please complete this sentence: 
Picture books are magical windows that let in the purest of light.

Borrow It's a Tiger! from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

An Interview with Author David LaRochelle

Today and tomorrow I am featuring the author and illustrator of one of the best picture book read-alouds of the year: It's a Tiger! David LaRochelle (author) is here today, and Jeremy Tankard (illustrator) will be here tomorrow. Thank you, Jeremy and David!

Mr. Schu: Wow! It’s a Tiger is an exciting read-aloud that my kindergartners and first graders love.  What planted the seed for this imaginative tale? 

David LaRochelle: I wanted to write a story where the main character was a book that talked directly to the reader. The first version of this story began: “Thank you for taking me off the shelf. It feels good to have my pages turned.” My wise editor at Chronicle, Melissa Manlove, suggested that the story would work better for young kids without the book being an actual character, and I think she was right.

Click here to download the teacher's guide.
Mr. Schu: Thank you for creating a character who has a healthy imagination. What can an elementary school student do to strengthen his or her imagination?  
David LaRochelle:  Playing is one of the most important things that kids (or adults) can do to keep their imaginations strong. When I was growing up, my friends and I put on puppet shows, acted out scenes from our favorite movies (Mary Poppins and Alice in Wonderland), staged game shows, made haunted houses and carnivals, and pretended that we were survivors from the Titanic.

As an adult, I still love to play and pretend. My best friend and I are always making up silly stories about cows, and I often get together with friends and family to spend the evening playing board games.

Of course reading is another excellent way to stretch the imagination. Unlike television, reading encourages us to create our own pictures and we become much more active participants in the story.

Mr. Schu: What thought(s) entered your head the first time you saw Jeremy Tankard's ink and digital illustrations? 

David LaRochelle:  When I saw the illustrations for this book I was blown away by Jeremy’s vibrant colors, his rich textures, and the dynamic layouts. I was a little nervous when I heard that he was going to introduce a child into the pictures (I hadn’t envisioned the narrator ever being seen), but showing a child makes the book much more accessible to young readers and was a smart decision on Jeremy’s part. Even though I was originally hoping to illustrate the book myself, I’m very thankful they chose Jeremy instead; his illustrations bring a level of excitement to the book that I could have never achieved. 

Mr. Schu: I have a metafiction section in my school library. Do you have any favorite books about books? 

The Book that Eats People by John Perry and Mark Fearing is both funny and creepy; I think it’s great!

The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone and Michael Smollin is one of the cleverest books ever; it’s always been one of my favorites. 

And two of my favorite chapter books about books are Seven-Day Magic by Edward Eager, and The Neverending Story by Michael Ende – in both cases the characters reading the book become part of the story they are reading.

Mr. Schu: Please complete these sentences: 

Reading is magic. It can take us anywhere.

Picture books are for everybody. Some of the most beautiful/funny/creative/touching stories ever written are inside picture books. The artwork can be breathtaking. No one is ever too old to enjoy these wonderful books.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my pumpkins. Every October I have fun carving elaborate jack-o’-lanterns. Here’s a photo of a tiger-inspired pumpkin that I carved last week. You can find other pumpkins from past years at my website

I'm giving away one copy of It's a Tiger!

Rules for the Giveaway

1. It will run from 10/22 to 10/25. 

2. You must be at least 13.

3. Please pay it forward. :) 

Borrow It's a Tiger! from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops