Friday, November 30, 2012

Author Donna Gephart

My students Skyped with award-winning author Donna Gephart on World Read Aloud Day. Her sense of humor, props, and enthusiasm won them over. They're still smiling.

I am honored she agreed to finish my sentence starters. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Donna! 



Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen is FUN!  Olivia will do anything to overcome her geography deficiency and get on Jeopardy’s Kids Week . . . and see her dad again.  (There are over 100 facts/trivia woven through the book, and it’s structured like a game of Jeopardy!.)



Ken Jennings -- Jeopardy! champ -- wrote a blurb because he told me his 9-year-old son LOVED Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen.  Ken’s blurb on the back cover makes me very happy.  He’s an awesome guy.



The Sid Fleischman Humor Award for As If Being 12-3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President! was awarded for the funniest children’s book of the year.  I couldn’t have been more delighted by this honor!




I connect with readers on Skype and in person during fun, memorable school visits, at book festivals, library programs and during wild, wacky writing workshops. 


Wild About Words is my blog. Check it out:  www.donnagephart.blogspot.com.

Funny books should combine humor and heartbreak to make them meaningful to young readers.

Reading is one thing that let’s us know we are not alone in this world.  It connects us, creates compassion and opens windows to the wider world and the internal one. 


Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the “unfortunate hula hoop incident,” but you’ll have to read Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen to discover what that’s all about.

And my web site, where I have FREE reading/activity guides, interviews with amazing industry professionals and a singing hamster video.   



I am giving away one copy of Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen
Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 11/30 to 11:59 p.m. on 12/3. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward.


Borrow Donna's books from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Trifecta Post for The Carpenter's Gift: A Christmas Tale About the Rockefeller Center Tree.

I love celebrating memorable books with fourth-grade teacher Mr. Colby Sharp and the Nerdy Book Club. We are the last three stops on David Rubel and Jim LaMarche's blog tour for their poignant picture book, The Carpenter's Gift: A Christmas Tale About the Rockefeller Center Tree.    


Award-winning illustrator Jim LaMarche takes you behind the scenes of The Carpenter's Gift

Mr. Schu: What planted the seed for The Carpenter’s Gift

David Rubel:
The Carpenter’s Gift is actually my second book about Habitat for Humanity. The first was a middle-grade nonfiction work called If I Had a Hammer, which told the stories of the organization, the people who volunteer for it, and the people it serves. When I began writing that book, I knew very little about Habitat, so I had a lot of research to do. 

As a fan of the late George Plimpton, I’m usually inclined to adopt the role of participant-observer, but in this case I decided not to volunteer for Habitat while writing the book. I was concerned, correctly I still think, that if I volunteered, my experience would influence unconsciously the way I described the experiences of others. But I also decided that, once the book was done, I would volunteer; and I did just that, traveling to Thailand about the time the book was published to take part in the 2009 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. 

This is the best way I’ve found to describe that experience: Someone can tell you what a rollercoaster ride is like—and many people had indeed told me what to expect at a Carter build—but it’s never the same thing as taking the ride yourself. When I got back from Thailand, exhausted, I knew that I had something more to write about Habitat—something that wouldn’t quite lend itself to nonfiction, because it was a feeling more than an idea.

I got back from Thailand just in time for Thanksgiving and spent the next several days dozing on the couch while my kids watched television. One night, they watched the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. I knew already from the research for my first book that Tishman Speyer, the owners of Rockefeller Center, had begun a tradition of donating the tree to Habitat. But that night it occurred to me that the tree could serve as the perfect symbol for the new story that I wanted to tell—one that used giving and receiving at holiday time as a metaphor for the interrelation of people occupying different stations in life. Everything else followed from that point.




Mr. Schu: What do you hope  readers glean from reading about Henry and the first Rockefeller Center tree?

David Rubel: To be truthful, I really want readers to cry. 

In my other life as a historian, I think a lot about politics and about what motivates people to be politically involved. I’ve read enough to become deeply suspicious of people who reduce the subject to a bundle of policy white papers. Too often, that kind of talk is designed to obscure the underlying issues of right and wrong that such people would rather avoid. We’d all be better off, I think, if we tried to understand events on an emotional, and not simply an intellectual, level.

That is a rather long-winded way of saying that I wanted the story of The Carpenter’s Gift to speak to people in a direct emotional way. I wanted it to show readers both what is sad about the world in which we live and what is wonderful about it (tough to do in just forty-eight pages!) 

I think that we don’t let ourselves look at the world this way very often, because it’s just too much to process on a day-to-day basis. But there are times, especially around the holidays, when people open up and it’s possible to get by these defenses (children have them, too). At that point, if you touch a reader in the right way, the only reaction that makes any sense is to cry—just the way you do at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. “O brave new world that has such people in it!” as Miranda cries in The Tempest.


Mr. Schu: How and why should people support Habitat for Humanity?

David Rubel: What I like best about Habitat for Humanity is that everyone is encouraged to be a participant. Most philanthropies solicit donations to fund the activities of employees who provide services to the needy. Habitat has a different model. It accepts donations, of course, but it also organizes volunteers to work directly with people in need. 

A long time ago, the founders of Habitat figured out that the single greatest cost in building a house was the labor. If most of that could be provided by volunteers, simple, decent houses could be built very affordably. So that’s what Habitat does. It raises money to pay for the building supplies, recruits volunteers to help with the labor, and works with partner families to build simple, decent, affordable homes. The partner families repay the building costs through no-profit mortgages, and Habitat uses the monthly payments to fund even more construction. Braveheart screenwriter Randall Wallace calls it “a perpetual-motion miracle,” and he’s right.

But there’s one other aspect to working with Habitat that most people don’t realize until they’ve volunteered themselves. As Habitat’s most famous volunteer, former president Jimmy Carter, likes to say, the work is “redeeming.” I got to spend some time with President Carter while working on If I Had a Hammer, and he explained to me why he supports the organization. The gap between the haves and have-nots, the president said, is so wide that no single person can cross it by himself. The differences in experience are just too great for the people on one side of the divide to communicate effectively with people on the other side. But an organization like Habitat can act as a bridge, bringing people together. Once you’ve experienced this feeling, you just can’t get enough.



Mr. Schu: Please recommend books or resources for young readers who want to learn more about the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, Habitat for Humanity, Jimmy Carter, and holiday traditions.

There is also a great deal of Carpenter’s Gift–related content on the habitat.org web site, including instructions on how to fold the newspaper star that Jim LaMarche illustrates on the cover. 

Click here to download this activity sheet. 


I am giving away one copy of The Carpenter's Gift. 


Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 11/28 to 11:59 p.m. on 12/1. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. :) 



Please visit Colby Sharp's blog to read his interview with illustrator Jim LaMarche. 


David Rubel wrote a nerdy essay for the Nerdy Book Club. 


Wednesday, November 21st, 2012: TheChildrensBookReview.com

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012CrackingtheCover.com

Friday, November 23rd, 2012The Book Maven’s Haven

Saturday, November 24th, 2012BookingMama.com

Sunday, November 25th, 2012: {Eat the Book}

Monday, November 26th, 2012Maestra Amanda’s Bookshelf

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012: HeiseReads.com

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

An Interview with Author Tammi Sauer

Library school changed my life. Truly. I never imagined I would find myself in a position to interview many of my favorite authors and illustrators. I am grateful and still pinch myself every so often. Honestly. I'm pinching myself right now because Tammi Sauer stopped by Watch. Connect. Read. to chat with me about one of my favorite topics: picture books. Thank you, Tammi! 



Mr. Schu: Your picture books always make me smile and laugh. Your latest picture books, Princess in Training and Oh, Nuts!, show off your royal writing skills and comedic timing.

How would you describe Princess in Training and Oh, Nuts!  to a second-grade class?


Tammi Sauer: Viola Louise Hassenfeffer is not an ordinary princess. She karate chops. Hi-yah! She dives into the moat. Splash! She skateboards up and down the drawbridge. Zip! Zup! Zoom! Viola attends Camp Princess in hopes of polishing her royal skills. Epic fail! Well, until a hungry dragon shows up….


Cutesy, Blinky, and Bob live at the zoo, where they dream of stardom. But does anyone pay attention to chipmunks? Noooo. All the zoo-goers are busy gawking at gorillas and clicking cameras at koalas. Oh, nuts! Something must be done. Something big.

Then I’d show those second graders this: 


Mr. Schu: Your picture books have been illustrated by the best illustrators in the business: Dan Santat, Bob Shea, Joe Berger, Jeff Mack, Mike Reed, Dan Krall, and Scott Magoon. I know the author and illustrator usually have very little contact with each other. Was this true for you?

Tammi Sauer: I have had at least some contact with all of those aforementioned powerhouses, but I’ve actually gotten to hang out with Dan Santat and Scott Magoon. Who wouldn't want to hang out with them?!  

Dan and Tammi are not professional dancers. Please dance responsibly. photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2010, SCBWI

 Scott and Tammi are fierce. Really. photo credit: Dana Sullivan, Copyright ©2012, SCBWI

I came oh-so-close to meeting Dan Krall when I was in Los Angeles last summer, but we missed each other by mere hours. Until we can rectify this situation, this is our team picture.



Dan and Tammi, chipmunkified. art credit:  Dan Krall ©2012

I’m still waiting to find out who will illustrate two of my books (the drama! the intrigue!), but I’m happy to announce I have books in the works with Michael Slack and Lynn Munsinger.




Mr. Schu: Thank you for sending me a pet rock. Most people are very perplexed right now. Please explain what I’m talking about…

Tammi Sauer: I love doing school visits. I always give the library media specialist a thank you gift that ties in with one of my books. Last spring, in honor of Me Want Pet!, illustrated by Bob Shea, I decided every one of those libraries needed the perfect pet. Those pets were not woolly mammoths or saber tooth tigers or dodo birds. But they were prehistoric and they required little care. No food or water necessary! Best of all, they were good listeners—especially when someone shared a picture book or two or ten with them.

Mr. Schu: If you visited my library to booktalk picture books that you did not write, what would you recommend to my students?


Tammi Sauer: Ooh! These are five of my favorites:




A Pet for Petunia by Paul Schmid



Another Brother by Matthew Cordell


Boo Hoo Bird by Jeremy Tankard



Ugly Fish by Kara LaReau


Mr. Schu: Please complete these sentence starters:

*Reading is a gift.




*Picture books are a way to take readers and listeners on adventures. You can open one book and suddenly you’re sailing off to sea with Jeremy Jacob and a wild band of pirates. You can open another and find yourself hanging out in a cozy cave with bear and his friends on a cold winter’s night. You can open another and you’re standing right alongside Petunia as she tries to convince her parents she needs needs needs a pet skunk.

Picture books are invitations to wild and imaginative experiences as well as to beautiful, heartfelt moments.

They only require two things: a reader and a listener. Together, you have magic.




*Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my signature dance move.



I am giving away a copy of Princess in Training and a copy of Oh, Nuts! 

Rules for the Giveaway

1. It will run from 11/27 to 11:59 p.m. on 11/29. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. :)




Borrow Tammi's books from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops

Monday, November 26, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 11/26/12


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, Kellee and Jen, for hosting this fun meme. 





Snowboy 1,2,3. Written by Joe Wahman. Illustrated by Wendy Wahman. Henry Holt, 2012. Interest level: Ages 3 and up. 

Here are three reasons I'll share this picture book with folks looking for counting/winter books: 

1. It counts up to ten and then back to one. 

2. I think young readers will enjoy the cheerful and colorful snowpeople. 

3. You could ask young readers to make up number stories about the animals they encounter throughout the story. 

*Note: Snowboy 1,2,3 is probably best in a small-group or one-on-one setting. 


Penguin and Pinecone: A Friendship Story. Written and illustrated by Salina Yoon. Walter and Company, 2012. Interest level: Preschool - 1st Grade 

I've wanted to read Penguin and Pinecone ever since I watched its adorable book trailer. Did it live up to my expectations? Absolutely!

When will I recommend it? 

1. Are you looking for the perfect picture book to discuss an unlikely friendship? 

2. Did you recently tell me you're looking for a picture book in which a character says, "Knit one, purl two"? 

3. Do you want to show kids that "when you give love...it grows"? 


I re-read every book on the Sharp-Schu Mock Caldecott list. 


M.C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Joe and Shirley Krosoczka Memorial Youth Scholarship



Award-winning author-illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka started the Joe and Shirley Krosoczka Memorial Youth Scholarship at the Worcester Art Museum to provide tuition to underprivileged children. You can support Jarrett's scholarship by calling the Worcester Art Museum at 508.799.5506. 


-Original art from Jarrett's impending chapter book debut, Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked, along with an autographed advanced copy!


- A one-on-one phone conversation with Jarrett on breaking into children's publishing!


- Your kid's likeness drawn into the 10th and final Lunch Lady graphic novel! (Jarrett, did I read that correctly? THE FINAL LUNCH LADY??? - Mr. Schu) 

- Jarrett will design YOUR holiday card as a four page mini-comic and you get to keep the original art!

- A tour of the SiriusXM's Kids Place Live Studios as well as an on-air experience with Mindy from The Absolutely Mindy Show

Please visit Jarrett's website to learn more about the  Joe and Shirley Krosoczka Memorial Youth Scholarship

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Newbery Challenge: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

It's Newbery Day! Colby Sharp and I are celebrating Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I cannot wait to watch Colby's video. I predict it will feature some of my favorite #kidlit people. 


Head on over to Colby's blog

A Note from Travis Jonker 

While it was fun to redo the covers of some of the earliest Newbery winners, I like that we’re getting into more modern times.
Today we have a book that I still run into quite a bit – especially on the classroom read-aloud and literature circle circuit (if you want to start a literature circle blog, might I suggest naming it “Lit Circle Circuit”). Here it is...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Class Acts: Dan Gutman, Jeramey Kraatz, and Jon Scieszka

Teacher-librarian Donna Kouri hosted three authors on the same day: Dan Gutman, Jeramey Kraatz, and Jon Scieszka. Wow, what lucky students! 

I asked Donna to complete my sentences about this special event. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thanks, Donna! 


Visit the Class Acts site
The Class Acts tour was an incredible opportunity. HarperCollins generously sent Jeramey Kraatz, Dan Gutman, and Jon Scieszka to our school for what I described to my students as “an author throw down.” Our school represented Jeramey Kraatz and a visiting school represented Dan Gutman while Jon Scieszka served as emcee. The kids were fired up, excited, and amazed to be in the presence of these three amazing authors.



Dan Gutman, Jeramey Kraatz, and Jon Scieszka were inspiring. Students learned that both Dan Gutman and Jeramey Kraatz did not like to read when they were younger while Jon Scieszka discussed his Guys Read movement. I think many students could identify with what the authors were saying. Students were particularly excited to learn that comic books helped Jeramey Kraatz learn to read.



My students prepared for this special day by learning about each author. We watched book trailers and videos and I read excerpts from their books. Each school also learned a cheer for their author which we chanted as part of the competition.  4th grade students created their own superheroes and villains (in honor of The Cloak Society) and composed essays describing their powers. Kindergarten was learning about senses and made stinky cheese which older students turned into Stinky Cheese Men, and new titles were created for Dan Gutman’s My Weird School series. We also dressed like superheros and villians to show our allegiance towards Team Kraatz. 


Jeramey’s team was so thrilled to represent him. He may have been the new guy on the block but the excitement for The Cloak Society was (and still is) out of control.


If you ever host three authors at the same time, I recommend starting early in order to adequately prepare students about each author. 


My students will always remember... the excitement present during the assembly. They truly thought they were in the presence of superstars. (And they were!) Each author treated students with such kindness and showed an interest in the artwork they created to welcome them. I think the students will also remember Dan Gutman saying (and earning points for his team by doing so) that Harry Potter was his favorite series that he wrote.


Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about how genuine each author was. They seemed so happy to be with us and the students could feel their appreciation. We hope they know how much we appreciated them!


I am giving away two signed books: The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable and Guys Read:The Sport Pages.

Rules for the Giveaway

1. It will run from 11/23 to 11:59 p.m. on 11/25.

2. You must be at least 13.

3. Please pay it forward.