Tuesday, March 19, 2013

2013 Children's Choice Book Awards

I'm excited to announce that voting is open for the 6th annual Children's Choice Book Awards

When does voting close? May 9

When will the winners be announced? May 13 

Come on!  We want to read about the nominees. The nominees are...

Big Mean Mike by Michelle Knudsen; illustrated by Scott Magoon

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems  

I’ll Save You Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal; illustrated by Marc Rosenthal 

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin; illustrated by James Dean 

I interviewed Donna Kouri about the time she hosted Eric Litwin and James Dean. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. 

Could you pull off a successful author visit with only one week to prepare your students and library? Donna, how did you do it?

Donna Kouri: Fortunately, students and teachers at my school are huge Pete the Cat fans. I did not have to introduce this wonderful character - he was already familiar to students. (One of the most asked questions in our library is “Where are the Pete the Cat books?) I did work hard to introduce students to Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons, the newest book in the Pete the Cat series. I read the book to students and we sang the song. I was excited to share this book and I think my excitement transferred to my students. I also involved students of all ages in preparing for the visit. They made groovy buttons and shoes which we used to create bulletin boards and to decorate the halls. Students were so excited that many made posters at home and brought them in to help. We also declared the day that Eric and James visited as Pete the Cat Day. We discussed how we could dress for this special day. I made sure to make numerous announcements in the mornings about this event. By the time it arrived, the students were hyped and ready.

Donna, please finish the following sentence starters.

Pete the Cat is fun and catchy and has a positive message.

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons teaches young readers not to sweat the small stuff and to keep on going.

Eric Litwin and James Dean told my students that James could speak cat. The students loved that!

The Pete the Cat stickers and erasers were thoughtful and a huge hit! They kept Pete’s energy going.

Every child in the audience was excited and energized and signing along. It was all good!


Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta; illustrated by Ed Young 

Bad Kitty for President by Nick Bruel 
Get the Scoop on Animal Poop! by Dawn Cusick 
Homer by Shelley Rotner; illustrated by Diane deGroat

Just Joking by National Geographic Kids 

Pluto Visits Earth by Steve Metzger; illustrated by Jared Lee 

Dork Diaries 4: Tales from a Not-So-Graceful Ice Princess by Rachel Renée Russell 

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead 

Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School by Kim Baker; illustrated by Tim Probert 

Kim Baker finished my sentences on August 31, 2012. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. 

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…

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

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.


Rebel McKenzie by Candice Ransom 

Stickman Odyssey, Book 2: The Wrath of Zozimos by Christopher Ford 

John Green for The Fault in Our Stars 

Jeff Kinney for Diary of a Wimpy Kid 7: The Third Wheel (Amulet Books/Abrams)

R. J. Palacio for Wonder (Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House)

Mr. Colby Sharp and I gave Wonder the Sharp-Schu trifecta treatment on 1/30/12. 

Colby Sharp: Can you tell us a little bit about Auggie and Wonder?

R.J. Palacio:
Auggie’s a very special boy—not because he looks different from everyone else, but because he has a heart as wide as the ocean. He’s not perfect, but his experiences and the things he’s suffered through have given him a deeper understanding of people than most kids his age would have—though he doesn’t necessarily know that about himself. He’s not precocious in any way, or even too self-aware. He’s been too sheltered his whole life to really see his situation in the world, but he’s strong, and he’s a little kid with lots of courage. I love him.
As for Wonder, it’s my first novel, and it’s about a little boy who wants to be ordinary but isn’t. It’s about a family that copes with extraordinary circumstances in everyday life. And it’s about a community of people facing a challenge that tests them individually. Ultimately, though, the book is a meditation on kindness, and the impact of kindness in the world.

Colby Sharp: Wonder is your first novel. What made you decide to move from designing book jackets, to writing a novel?

R.J. Palacio: For as long as I could remember, there were two things I wanted to do with my life: to be a writer, and to be an artist. I made up my mind as a young adult that it would be easier for me to make a living as an artist, so I pursued that career. I went into book jacket design because it was a way for me to be a designer and still be near books. And I’ve been very fortunate to have had a successful run doing that. But all along there was always a nagging feeling that I still had this other thing I wanted to do, which was write. It was just always hard to find the time. I had a career. My husband and I started a family. Every once in a while I would start writing something, but my life would get in the way. There was just never the perfect time.

Then one day about five years ago I found myself sitting next to a little girl who had a severe facial anomaly, and it got me to thinking about what that would be like. Wonder kind of wrote itself in my head that night: the first line, the first paragraph. And unlike other writing endeavors I had started and then stopped, this one felt too important to me to let myself stop. I was determined to finish the novel. Auggie and all the other characters literally wouldn’t let me sleep at night unless I let them out for a while.

Colby Sharp: In Wonder, Auggie has a severe facial deformity. Can you tell me about the research that went into writing Wonder? Did you talk with kids? Parents? Do any reading?

R.J. Palacio: I did a lot of research about kids with facial abnormalities. There are organizations, websites. There are many different syndromes, each with its own specific set of characteristics. After researching, I came to the conclusion that the girl at the ice cream store had probably had a severe form of Treacher Collins, which is what I pictured Auggie as having although I never really identify it in the book. He has a couple of things going on with him that make him truly unique, a medical wonder. I didn’t speak with any families dealing with these issues, though. Nor do I know anyone personally who has Treacher Collins.

Colby Sharp: Why did you tell the novel using multiple points of view? Were some voices easier to find?

R.J. Palacio: It seemed like a very natural transition for me to make, moving from one person’s point of view to another. I knew that the narrative would continue forward, though, and follow a timeline of events—which was the school year. There just came a point when I really wanted to hear from Via’s point of view, for instance, what it must be like for her. And I wanted to know what Summer was thinking when she sat down with Auggie at the lunch table that first day of school. And to understand Jack’s point of view. I guess as I was writing these characters from Auggie’s point of view, they were so real to me and I felt like I understood them so well, their motives, etc., that I really just wanted to get inside their heads a bit more to explore. All of the voices I wrote in were relatively easy to find for me. Via was me at fifteen, so she was especially easy. I had made an attempt to write a chapter from Julian’s point of view, though, and he wasn’t coming to me at all, so I decided to abandon him. It’s not that he’s not real to me, because he’s very real. His mother is very real. But i realized that he had no interest in being part of Auggie’s story or narrative, which was his problem all along, and it was why I had no interest in writing about him. People who don’t bother trying to understand other points of view don’t grow as people, which makes them boring, in real life as much as in a book. Everyone of the characters I chose to write about, from their point of view, does evolve through the book. They grow. They learn. They experience. They make mistakes. That was compelling.

Colby Sharp: What do you want Wonder to say to young readers?

R.J. Palacio: I guess I just hope that Wonder inspires young readers to be more aware of their actions and their words, and to be kind to one another. It’s so hard to do that when you’re trying to fit in socially and be popular, I know—especially in middle school—but you’ll regret the bad moments later: the good friend you turned your back on; the mean thing you said to someone. Certainly if someone like Auggie, who’s been the object of so much cruel scrutiny for most of his life, can manage to show kindness and empathy for others, so can every other 10 year old kid, no?

Colby Sharp:What did you enjoy reading as a child?

R.J. Palacio: I loved anything having to do with Greek mythology, fantasy, and books about dogs.

Rick Riordan for The Mark of Athena 
Veronica Roth for Insurgent 

James Dean for Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons 

Anna Dewdney for Llama Llama Time to Share

Ian Falconer for Olivia and the Fairy Princesses 

Robin Preiss Glasser for Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet 

Mo Willems for The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?

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