Friday, November 29, 2013

Author Robert L. Forbes

I am thankful poet Robert L. Forbes dropped by Watch. Connect. Read. to finish my sentences. We discussed poetry, reading, writing, and picture books. I wrote the words in red, and Robert wrote the words in black. Thank you, Mr. Forbes! 

BEAST FRIENDS FOREVER! Animal Lovers in Rhyme is my third book of poetry, published by Overlook Press. This volume is filled with my romantic poems, and came out on February 14 of this year. And you know what that day is about. Anyway, BFF (as we call it) is more suitable for grades 6 and up, when the boy-girl thing starts blossoming, while my first two books, BEASTLY FEASTS! and LET'S HAVE A BITE! are for all ages. All three grownup-friendly too. 

Ronald Searle's illustrations are magical and whimsical and ever delightful. How lucky was I to be able to work for many years with this master! Having written a passel of poems I then thought, Who would I like to have illustrate them? (Publishers normally find illustrators for writers but I like to do it my way.) I'd known Searle's work all my life, so why not go for the top? Just ask him! To my amazement he said yes, and off we went. I would send him 4-6 poems with a line or two about each, and in a few months a tidy package would arrive from his home in France. He never sent sketches, just finished art, so I was like a little boy opening up an achingly awaited Christmas present – there inside were my now gloriously real critters, sprung from my imagination and come to sparkling life via his.

Each drawing still gives me joy. He died two years ago, at 91, and I miss not only his interpretations of my words but his spritely spirit and generous array of skills.  Right up to the end he was rendering my critters, and never once was there any flagging of his brilliance.

The key word in the whole process, I tell the kids at readings, is IMAGINATION, and that they have one as good as mine or anybody else. They need to look inside it, stir it up and see what happens. I love to see that little shock of recognition on their faces when they hear this!

One of my favorite poems? I am often asked which is my favorite, and I reply that they are ALL my children and I love them ALL equally. But perhaps a few, I admit, I love MORE equally than others, such as The Ginger Tub Tabby, A Busy Day for Goslings, or Babette's Scent. 

Image credit: Robert Forbes
Poetry is a great venue for play, for soul digging, for making love, for reveling in the English language. Word selection defines a writer, but poetry is a distillation, a reduction, an essence of the writer's thought and feeling.

My poems are rhymed and metered, which are tough parameters, but that is a challenge I relish; to students I explain that there are many forms of poetry and that they will find their own way in this most lovely medium.

At the same time, some great prose is so good it reads like poetry, such as Paolo Coelho's The Alchemist, The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, or the recent magnificent The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

By the way, it took me a long time to find a publisher because I was told there were already plenty of children's books and because kids don't like it, even less need for children's poetry. Hmmm. That is SO not true, I am happy to report – poetry and kids are a great mix because poetry can be just plain old fun!

Reading is your passport to the wonder of life, the world, humanity; literacy is a stepping stone to freedom, to individualism and tolerance. There is no substitute for the illuminating beacon of reading. (It also allows you to avoid grabbing the wrong pill bottle. Glasses help there too.) 

Robert Forbes' Celebri-dot 
Picture books are the pot of gold at a creative rainbow's end, shimmering with imagination (there it is again), graphic cleverness and good storytelling, all enticing the beholder back, over and over.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me, What is Number 1 of your Writing Rules of the Road? It is, Write, write, write. If this is your chosen path, there is no other way to become a writer. Fred Astaire was asked how to become a great dancer, and he said, Practice, practice, practice and more practice. So here's an exercise: think about your word choices when you next text or email, and find ones that aren't dull, banal, flabby, but that are more reflective of who you are, that have a bit of kick and pizzazz. Keep practicing this. Next thing you know, why, you're on your way to being a writer!

I am giving away one copy of Beast Friends Forever! Animal Loves in Rhyme

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 11/29 to 11:59 p.m. on 11/30. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

November #HoldShelf Gallery

I'm THANKFUL for the librarians who shared photographs and videos of their hold shelves with Travis Jonker and me. I always love seeing what readers around the world are placing on hold.

John Schu's shelf 

Travis Jonker's shelf 

Nancy Jo Lambert's shelf 

Jennifer Lauchlan's shelf 

Amanda Pata's shelf 

Sylvie Shaffer's shelf 

Ducketts Lane's shelf 

Leann Miller's shelf 

Glenwood Library's shelf 

Stacy Ford's shelf 

Amy Hesterman's shelf 

Erin Drew's shelf 

Mrs. Gorek's shelf 

Shari Butterfield's shelf 

Elsa Ouvrard-Prettol's shelf 

Susie Highley's shelf 

Donna Kouri's shelf 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

January #SharpSchu Book Club Meeting

The Sharp-Schu Book Club will not meet in December, but Colby Sharp and I want to share the January selections with you now. You'll have plenty of time to read and think about both books. :) 

Enter the Giveaway 

I am giving away one copy of Tea Party Rules and one copy of Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great

1. The Giveaway will run from November 27 to 11:59 P.M. on November 29. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Do You Check Anita Silvey's Almanac Every Day?

I DO! I DO!  I cannot start my day without checking Anita Silvey's Children's Book-A-Day Almanac. In her latest essay, she encourages us to support small businesses on November 30. She will be helping customers find the perfect book at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You'll find me shopping at Anderson's Bookshop. 

A special thanks to Jeannie for sharing this video with me. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Author Bonny Becker

Author Bonny Becker Skyped with my first graders on Tuesday. She read A Birthday for Bear, took them on a tour of her home office, and answered questions about her writing process. Bonny Becker's books (say that really fast three times) should be included in every Picture Book Month celebration. 

I am thrilled Bonny dropped by Watch. Connect. Read. to finish my sentences. We chatted about picture books, school libraries, and reading. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Ms. Bonny Becker! 

My Mouse and Bear books are the easiest and most fun books I’ve ever written. It took 20 years for them to be “easy.” And easy still means that it takes at least a year to perfect one, but I know these characters deep in my heart. I love to figure out ways to torment my grouchy Bear and ways to bring him around to his sentimental side. I tap into my childhood and the things I did with my five siblings including seeing who could whisper the quietest to popping out in unexpected places.

Margot Frogtayne and Enrico Escargot are names I’m delighted to hear. Holbrook, A Lizard’s Tale didn’t seem to get much attention when it came out, but I had such fun figuring out this story about a lizard who wants to be an artist. It was fun to work in references to great artists of all kinds.


If you were a student in Ms. Plum’s class I’d figure out a way to get into the closet no matter what. Magic, magic, magic. I was in love with the idea of magical worlds as child. I wanted to get to the land of Oz the way kids today want to go to Hogwarts. And I was lucky because magic was breaking out all over when I was a child reader from C.W. Lewis’s Narnia to Edward Eager’s Half-Magic series to Mary Poppins.

The E.B. White Read Aloud Award is the most meaningful award I ever received, because E.B. White is my personal author hero. E.B. White said, “All I ever want to say, all I hope to say is I love the world.” And I think he does just that. His books are so life affirming. So beautifully crafted, so full of heart. I aspire to be him when I grow up.

School libraries are an oasis of color and imagination. Whenever I go into a school library I think of when I was a library assistant in the third grade. Those were the days when the date was stamped onto the library card. I loved being able to rotate the little wheel to change the date on the stamp and to decisively stamp the due date on each card. I felt so important. So special and I loved being surrounded by all those books. Today’s school libraries have computers and electronic checkout, but it’s still the same thing. They remain magical places. 

Picture books are craft. Almost more than any other form picture books require precision. Every word is important, as is every detail of the illustrations. And the two need to work together. When they do, you get something more than the sum of the parts and I love that about them.

Reading is fun, entertaining, informative, challenging, an escape, truth, lies, dreams, facts, timeless, timely, a grain of sand and the universe.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my collection of images that feature books. I have hundreds of images of readers and books from fine art to cartoons, from the surreal the super-real, books and readers in the spring and summer, winter and fall. Books feature in so much art. I post one about once a week on Facebook and Twitter. Here’s one that captures for me what libraries and librarians are all about.

I am giving away three copies of A Birthday for Bear

1. The Giveaway will run from 11/22 to 11:59 p.m. on 11/24. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Battle Bunny's Rabid Rabbit Art

I'm showing this video to my third, fourth, and fifth graders today. Do you think it will inspire a few students to mark up paintings and books? In my strange brain, I just imagined a parent sending me the following email message. 

Dear Mr. Schu,

My daughter added unrefined details to our one-of-a-kind and priceless painting by Picasso. She said a video you showed her inspired this madness. Is this true? 


A crying parent 


Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, and Matthew Myers

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Sharp-Schu Book Club Met Last Night

Colby Sharp and I are thankful for everyone who participated in last night's Sharp-Schu Book Club meeting. The next meeting is on January 15, 2014. We will announce the selections next week.  

Deborah Freedman's chicken puppet. :) 

Download The Story of Fish and Snail activity kit. 

Deborah Freedman finished my sentences

"One of the things that I love the most about The Story of Fish and Snail is that it feels three-dimensional." -Colby Sharp 

"The playful pal and comfortable companion are delightfully depicted in The Story of Fish and Snail. -Margie

Deborah Freedman talks about Blue Chicken

"Perhaps years and years later she won’t even remember doing any of that — but she will remember how much she loved books, and she will still love books, and her favorites will be part of her and their words will be hers." -Deborah Freedman

Kat Kan interviewed James Burks. 

"James Burks illustrations have this cool 3D effect that’s both mysterious and kooky but not too spooky.” -Tara Lazar

Margie featured Bird and Squirrel on December 28, 2012. 

Gabby and Gator by James Burks | 2010

Gabby and Gator -- Gator and the Garden Gnome 

Beep and Bah by James Burks 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November #HoldShelf

Mr. Travis Jonker  and I joined forces to make On Hold @ the Library a monthly event. It is very easy to participate. 

Please do the following before 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 27.  

Step One: Take a photograph or make a video of your wonderful hold shelf. 

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

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

Step Four: Have a great day! 

I will post the gallery on Thanksgiving! 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Video of the Week: Sharon Draper talks about Out of My Mind

Out of My Mind gives a voice to those who otherwise lack one. Sharon Draper highlights Melody’s struggle and allows the reader to focus on her abilities, rather than her disabilities. You cannot help but pause and consider how you have unintentionally treated those who may face a similar struggle. Out of My Mind is difficult to get out of your mind. It changes the way you think about those differently-abled. (Travis and I named it one of the best books of 2010.)

Out of My Mind

Browse inside Out of My Mind.

Dr. Sharon Draper is a former high school teacher and the 1997 National Teacher of the Year. She provides detailed study guides for each of her books. Download the Out of My Mind guide.

Sharon Draper reads the first chapter of Out of My Mind.

The Sassy series is popular with my third through fifth graders.

"The loss of any library pains me." -Sharon Draper

Sharon talks about the "Draper Paper."

Borrow Out of My Mind from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Will we see you on Tuesday?

Mr. Colby Sharp, Deborah Freedman, James Burks, and I hope to "see" you on Tuesday. We're discussing The Story of Fish and Snail and Bird and Squirrel: On the Run. 

Enter the Giveaway

I am giving away a copy of The Story of Fish and Snail and a copy of Bird and Squirrel: On the Run

1. It will run from 11/17 to 11:59 P.M. (CDT) on 11/18. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Children's Author and Actress Julianne Moore

I am lucky and grateful that every Friday a children's literature advocate drops by Watch.Connect. Read. to celebrate books and finish my sentences. This week I am having a please pinch-me moment. Why? Because award-winning actress and bestselling picture book author Julianne Moore finished my sentences. We "chatted" about her picture books, reading, writing, and libraries. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Julianne! 

I was inspired to write My Mom is a Foreigner, But Not to Me by my mother, Anne Love Smith. My mother emigrated to the United States from Scotland in 1950, when she was ten years old. I was born when she was only twenty, so she still had very strong attachments to Scotland, and her culture. This is a book for everyone who has grown up with a parent from another culture - I write about all of the things that seem embarrassing or funny to a kid, and the things that are that are so very special and unique. And I think that for all of us who grew up with a mom or a dad from somewhere other than where we were raised knows the dichotomy of a parent that seems “foreign” to the everybody else, but is the most familiar person in the world to you.

The first time I saw Meilo So’s illustrations I was struck by how real her people seemed. I wanted the moms and the kids to look like people I could see at my kids’ school. I loved the mom’s bodies, and how expressive their faces were. They seemed alive to me. And it was only after I chose her that I found out that Meilo herself is a foreign mom - in Scotland of all places! So we had something very important in common.

Freckleface Strawberry: Monster Maker is my first app. It is based on the character of Freckleface Strawberry, from my series of books and is available for free on iPad. My daughter Liv is the voice of Freckleface Strawberry! The game is fun, it allows kids to create their own monster and take a picture of themselves with it and email it to their friends and family. I am currently developing a second app that will be called Freckleface Strawberry Dreamtime Playtime. It will be available in November.

Image credit: Save the Children

I am the Artist Ambassador for Save the Children US programs. US Programs focuses on literacy, nutrition and exercise, and early education for underserved communities in the United States. One in four kids in the United States lives in poverty, and doesn’t have access to the education that we all deserve.

School libraries are the best. I grew up spending most of my time in them. I really depended on librarians to guide me, and I am forever in their debt. And they let me hang around all day too, and check out as many as ten books at a time!

Reading is the way I understood the world when I was growing up. I moved a lot, and my constant companions were books. My interest in acting was really fostered by reading - I just wanted to feel like I was actually inside a book, and acting was the closest I could get to it!

Picture books are fantastic. They are a gateway to reading when kids are really small, and they are reassuring and reaffirming when kids are older. I feel so lucky to be able to participate in a world that is so important to kids and their development.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about one of the first books I read. I have never forgotten it, it was called Ann Likes Red.

My mother bought it for me at the supermarket, and it was my favorite - all about a little girl who goes school shopping with her mom and only will buy red clothes. It turns out that I was not the only kid who loved that book, it was out of print and brought back by popular demand. I discovered not so long ago that it was written by a 1st grade teacher (Dorothy Z. Seymour) as a reading primer! I love that the book I remember the most was written by a teacher.

I am giving away a copy of My Mom is a Foreigner, But Not to Me

Rules for the Giveaway

1. It will run from 11/15 to 11:59 p.m. on 11/17.

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

(By the way, it was difficult not to gush about how much I love her movies.)