Friday, August 31, 2012

Author Kim Baker


Kim Baker is a writer who loves to read, bake, explore, and connect with her readers. I invited her on Watch. Connect. Read. to discuss her debut middle-grade novel, Pickle.

I wrote the words in red, and Kim wrote the words in black. Thank you, Kim!

*Pickle is about a group of kids who form a pickle making group at school as a front for their secret prank task force (the Prank and Trick Association, or other P.T.A.). Their pranks are more silly than mean-spirited, and then a rogue prank makes it about more than just getting a laugh. My editor says it’s Frindle meets Fight Club for kids. It’s genially subversive, just like I was at that age (Ok, I’m still like that).

* Tim Probert’s illustrations are such a great match for Pickle! I think he really captured the characters and tone of the story. It’s funny, because I intentionally didn’t put much physical description of the characters in the book, but he drew them pretty much just like I pictured them- without the two of us ever communicating. I think Tim did a great job.

(Image taken from here.)

*On Pickle’s book birthday I will be busy! It’s the day before my kids go back to school, and my launch party at my neighborhood bookstore, Secret Garden Books in Seattle, will be that night. We’ll be making candy sushi and green Twinkie-like things that may or may not resemble pickles. It will be an experiment.

*I spend a lot of time thinking “What if?” I think most writers do this, but I really go nuts. For Pickle, I’d been chewing around a story idea with a secret society for kids, and what that would entail, but it wasn’t working. I love Improv Everywhere (a NYC grown up “prank collective”) because their pranks are more about entertainment and absurdity than typical victimization pranks. I thought, “What if a secret group of kids did something like that?” and “What if there was an authoritarian principal who didn’t really appreciate fun?” Then things just went from there.

*I think you should read these funny books:

(Hmm. How long can this post be?)

Growing up my favorites were Bunnicula by James Howe and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. There have been a lot of great, funny books in recent years. Such as…

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger

The Fourth Stall series by Chris Rylander

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung (It’s not out until October, but it’s hilarious!)

And how great is it that a funny book won the Newbery this year? I read Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos with my son, but we couldn't do it while his sister was napping because he laughed so hard it would wake her up.

*Reading is such a fascinating balance between universal truths and individual connection. It’s a solitary activity (usually), but reading gives us a bond and comprehension of humanity. And it’s fun!

*Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about why I chose for Ben, Pickle’s protagonist, to be Mexican-American. My mom is Mexican-American and I grew up around that side of the family. When I was a kid there were only a few books with Latino characters, and most were about dramatic, cultural issues (e.g. immigration). I wanted to make a story for a kid like me just doing regular stuff, who happens to be Mexican-American. His culture comes into the story in a natural way. I think (hope!) there will be more and more contemporary books with different cultures. And I’m thrilled that Macmillan chose to put him front and center on the cover! I hope kids can connect with that aspect in a way that I never got a chance to when I was that age.

I am giving away two copies of Pickle.

Rules for the Giveaway

1. The giveaway will run from August 31 to 11:59 PM on September 4.

2. You must be at least 13.

3. Please pay it forward. :)



Thursday, August 30, 2012

Videos of the Day: Brian Farrey and the Newest Erin Hunter


I predict Brian Farrey's The Vengekeep Prophecies and the newest Erin Hunter will be popular with my fourth- and fifth-grade students. I'll share the following book trailers during next week's "YOU MIGHT WANT TO PLACE THESE BOOKS ON HOLD" session. Happy watching!


The Vengekeep Prophecies by Brian Farrey. On sale: 10/23/12


The Empty City by Erin Hunter. On sale: NOW

HarperKids, my students and I appreciate that you make book trailers for many of your books. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ivy and Bean Blog-a-Bration (Week 3)


One of the best parts of my week is when I hop from blog to blog reading the Ivy and Bean Day Blog-a-Bration posts. I'm thankful for the creative and inspiring ideas educators and bloggers are sharing. You're all making me a better teacher-librarian.


This week I am celebrating Ivy and Bean: Break the Fossil Record, the third volume in Annie Barrow's bestselling and award-winning series.


I asked random students to share what they liked about Break the Fossil Record and the Ivy and Bean series.

*"Ivy + Bean: Break the Fossil Record is my favorite book in the series. I've read it twice."

*"I like to read the Guinness Book of World Records. It is fun to skip around. Ivy and Bean like to read them, too."

*Last year, my class acted out this book on Skype. I played Ivy."

*Mrs. Aruba-Tate is a nice teacher."

*I borrow World Records books from our school library. Ivy and Bean love world records."

*"The illustrations are funny. I have an Ivy and Bean poster hanging in my bedroom."

*"I want to read Ivy and Bean: Make the Rules. I'm going to ask my grandma to buy it for me."

*"Ivy and Bean Day is a lot of fun."


Chronicle has generously agreed to give away a paperback copy of Ivy and Bean: Break the Fossil Record and three sets of Ivy + Bean Mini Notes.


Rules for the Giveaway

1. The giveaway will run from August 29 to 11:59 PM on August 31.

2. You must be at least 13.

3. Please pay it forward.





The winner of Ivy + Bean: Break the Fossil Record (Book 3) will be entered into a drawing to win this AMAZING package:


A complete set of Ivy and Bean hardcover books signed by Annie Barrows
1 Ivy and Bean Paper Doll Play Set
1 Ivy and Bean Button Factory
1 Ivy and Bean READ Poster signed by Annie Barrows
Set of Ivy and Bean Silly Bandz (not pictured, but they are so cute!!)
Set of Ivy and Bean stickers

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mr. Schu's Birthday Giveaway

It's my 31st birthday, and I'll give away The One and Only Ivan


and Wonder


if I want to. You would give them away too if they inspired you.

1. The giveaway will run from August 28 to 12:01 AM CDT on August 29.
2. You must be at least 13.
3. Please pay it forward. :)













Monday, August 27, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 8/27/12




Jen and Kellee host a weekly meme called "What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA." It encourages you to share what you read during the previous week and to plan what you're going to read/review during the current week. Thank you, Kelly and Jen, for hosting this fun meme.


Unusual Creatures. By Michael Hearst. Illustrated by Arjen Noordeman, Christie Wright, and Jelmer Noorderman. Chronicle, 2012. Interest level: Grades 3-7.

Pretend you asked me to share five adjectives that best describe this book: UNIQUE. INFORMATIVE. WELL-DESIGNED. ENGAGING. FUNNY.


Bad Apple. Written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway. Penguin, 2012. Interest level: K-2.

Yes, you asked for five adjectives about this book, too. COLORFUL. SWEET. DIDACTIC (IN A GOOD WAY). SIMPLE. TIMELY. (Because it deals with bullying.)


The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Written by Elizabeth George Speare. Houghton Mifflin, 1958. Interest level: Grades 5-9.

I talk more about The One and Only Ivan in the video, so I'll share five adjectives about it. POIGNANT. CONCISE. POETIC. THOUGHT-PROVOKING. A MASTERPIECE. (I realize masterpiece is a noun.)


Onion John by Joseph Krumgold

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Yesterday's Book Purchases


Adding books to my school library's collection is one of the best parts of my job. I have an open purchase order with Anderson's Bookshop, which means I visit the bookshop every week (sometimes every day) to pick up a handful of new titles for my students. I like having an open purchase order with Anderson’s for three reasons.

1. I'm supporting a local independent bookshop.

2. I often call Anderson's throughout the day if a student requests a specific title that we do not carry.

3. Anderson’s is a magical place.

Yesterday afternoon, I selected the first books for the 2012-2013 school year

Yesterday's Book Purchases

(The numbers in the photograph match the books below.)

1. Kel Gilligan's Daredevil Stunt Show by Michael Buckley and Dan Santat. Interest level: Grades K-3.

2. Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer. Interest level: Grades K-2.

3. Dog Gone by Leeza Hernandez. Interest level: Grades K-1.

4. Penny and Her Doll by Kevin Henkes. Interest level: K-1.



5. Big Nate Makes the Grade by Lincoln Peirce. Interest level: Grades 4-7.



6. One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale. Interest level: Grades 3-6.

7. Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Interest level: Grades 4-8.


8. Freedie Ramos Makes a Splash by Jacqueline Jules. Interest level: Grades 1-3.





Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Newbery Challenge: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is the first Newbery winner (1922-1959) that earned five stars. Things are looking UP! Thank goodness!




Visit Colby Sharp's blog to hear what he said about The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The One and Only Ivan.

Travis Jonker designed the cover on the right.


Borrow The Witch of Blackbird Pond from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Author Kurtis Scaletta


Kurtis Scaletta is the author of three middle-grade novels and the Topps League series. I invited him on Watch. Connect. Read. to discuss his books and school visits.

I wrote the words in red, and Kurtis wrote the words in black. Thank you, Kurtis!

*If I visited your school, I would talk about playing sandlot ball, living in Africa, reading horror novels late into the night, making robots, and all the hard work that goes into making a book. Then I would ask kids about books: assigned reading, un-assigned reading, books they love, books they hate, and books they wished there were more of. I leave every school visit feeling like I learned more from the students and teachers than they learned from me.

*The Topps League series was a great opportunity—I wanted to branch out into chapter books, and I love to write about baseball, so it was the perfect project for me. My inspiration came from the Saint Paul Saints, a fun team with lots of great promotions. I’d always thought being a batboy would be a fun job for a kid, so everything fell into place.

*Eric Wight’s illustrations totally make the Topps League books—the covers, the cards, and the interior pictures give the books immense kid appeal. I have to give credit to Chad Beckerman, too—the designer at Abrams, who put the whole package together. The funny thing about working with Eric was, he was the illustrator, but he had way more experience than me writing for this audience. So besides reaping the benefits of his artwork, I also tapped his expertise on chapter books.

*The Loft Literary Center is a nonprofit creative writing center in Minneapolis with classes, events, readings and grants. Other cities have similar entities, but I believe we’re the biggest and the oldest. I say “we” because I work here full time, as the online education manager; it was a great way to combine my day job in instructional technology with my love for writing. It’s a great asset; I talk to writers all the time who are looking for a nexus for literary life in much bigger cities and don’t have one.

*Reading is important to success, no doubt about it – the test scores, the college application essays, the ability to succeed in college and in professional careers. But to me it’s bigger than that. It’s about being engaged as a citizen, connected to the past and the rest of the world and looking to the future. Our country needs well-read, informed, engaged citizens. What I love about middle grade fiction, in particular, is that kids are just discovering how “big” a book can be, and how big their lives can be.

*Three of my favorite middle-grade novels are

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars , by Daniel Pinkwater

When I was in fifth and sixth grade—the same age I write for—my favorite writer was Daniel Pinkwater. I loved all of his books, but Alan Mendelsohn is my favorite. It’s about a nerdy kid who realizes he’s awesome when this new kid chooses him to be his best friend; together they learn mind-control tricks and start to wreak havoc at their junior high.

The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars

Byars is probably my biggest influence. Her books often featured sensitive, misfit boys that I really connected to as a child. When I go back and re-read them, I realize how much I’ve been trying to imitate her style, particularly in my second novel, Mamba Point. My favorite by her is The Midnight Fox, which I blogged about for Nerdy Book Club.

Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White.

It’s the standard by which all others are measured: beautifully written, funny, sad, magical and real, read and re-read by every generation of children. It’s the kind of book every children’s book writer wants to have written. My first middle-grade novel—which was never published and likely never will be—was a shameless bit of imitation.


* Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about robots. All right, I just wanted to plug my next full-length novel, The Winter of the Robots, which will come out in 2013. It’s about kids who participate in robot battles, who find themselves in the robot battle of their lives.

You could also ask me if anybody special has a birthday this week. The answer is YES. Our baby is turning two. Which I guess means he’s not a baby any more….


I am giving away a copy of Jinxed! and Steal That Base!

Rules for the Giveaway

1. The giveaway will run from August 24 to 11:59 PM on August 28.

2. You must be at least 13.

3. Please pay it forward.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Welcome to the 2012-2013 School Year!


Welcome to a new school year! Today is the first day I have scheduled classes. My students and I will read



Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino


The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray and Mike Lowery

First graders will go on a QR code savenger hunt and create gingerbread people for Colby Sharp's fourth graders.

I will booktalk




The Genius Files by Dan Gutman


Babymouse for President by Jennifer and Matthew Holm


The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate


I will share where Ivan traveled this summer.


I will talk to my third graders about Ivan's passing.

Students will tour the library...