Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Newbery Challenge: Flora and Ulysses

Wow! It has been a long time since Mr. Colby Sharp and I have posted a Newbery Challenge video. Thankfully, we filmed the 2014 video together. 

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by K.G. Campbell | Candlewick Press | 2014 Newbery Medal 

Wow! What a MEMORY! :) 

Download the Flora and Ulysses discussion guide. 

Download "A Conversation with the Author." 

Kate visited Red Balloon Bookshop on December 7, 2013. 

Kate DiCamillo presented at the 2009 National Book Festival.

"I decided a long time ago," DiCamillo says, "that I didn't have to be talented. I just had to be persistent."

You don't want to miss this interview with Kate DiCamillo.

Kate DiCamillo received the 2013 Kerlan Award. 

Travis Jonker and I named Bink and Gollie the best book of 2010. 

"Holy bagumba, Kate DiCamillo, superheroine, you have done it again—created a book that is a joy for adults and children alike. It is perfect as a family read-aloud or for an adult/child reading group." - Anita Silvey 

Mr. Travis Jonker sat down with Ambassador Kate. 

Kate DiCamillo wants to spread the joy of reading. 

Newbery Medalists Katherine Paterson and Kate DiCamillo discuss writing contemporary fiction. 

"I would never be a writer unless I wrote something." -Kate DiCamillo

This video made me laugh out loud multiple times.  

Friday, May 30, 2014

Author Audrey Vernick

How is the last Friday of May treating you? Well! Great to hear it! I always look forward to Friday because I know an author, an illustrator, or an educator will finish my sentences. This week's special guest is Audrey Vernick. We chatted about Edgar's Second Word, Casey Snowden, school libraries, and reading. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Audrey! 

Edgar’s Second Word tells the story of big sister Hazel who has waited forever for her baby brother and then another forever for him to start talking. She can’t wait to read him books and answer his whispered questions. But Edgar, mighty Edgar, has other ideas.

Priscilla Burris’ illustrations make me stammer about pitch-perfect cuteness. I always say that the day the artwork arrives always feels like someone somewhere was thinking, “What is the very best gift we can give Audrey Vernick? I know! Let’s illustrate words she wrote! Let’s bring her story to life.” Priscilla Burris’ illustrations do that to perfection.

Twelve-year-old Casey Snowden lives at what he considers the best place on earth, his father’s umpire school, Behind the Plate (BTP). He loves baseball but what he loves most of all is writing about it, and he can’t wait to write for the middle school newspaper. Casey may have stumbled into the story of the year if that umpire school student is, as he suspects, a former major leaguer disgraced in a very public steroid scandal. Casey also finds himself in charge of BTP’s annual You Suck, Ump Day, when just about everyone in town shows up to heckle the umpire students--real-world practice for working as an umpire in a ballpark. There’s also a best friend with an unhealthy obsession with reality TV; a 10-year old girl he’d very much like to avoid who keeps stumbling into his path; and a mother who left years ago, whose return is not at all a welcome one. 

School libraries give me the chills every time I walk into one for a school visit. I see my people there, the readers and re-readers, and the lingering child hoping she can check out an extra book this week. 

Picture books are where connections happen. Whether it’s the youngest children on the laps of parents (or older siblings, in the case of Edgar and Hazel), or kids in a classroom with an engaged teacher, or reluctant readers finally finding subject matter that ignites excitement. 

Reading is oddly close to religion for me. It’s part of my everyday life, helps me understand the challenges others face and examine the ones in my own life. And I love nothing so much as losing myself in the between-the-covers life of an irresistible character.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why is rereading books important? I have a not-yet-proven-by-science theory that people who reread often as children are more likely to become writers. I believe that in the act of rereading, some magical process happens in the back of your brain, some subconscious understanding of how stories are structured. I would never want to lose the joy I take in reading—and I suspect that becoming an analytical reader would do just that. I consider myself lucky that I reread a lot when I was young—Ursula Nordstrom’s The Secret Language, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, Paul Zindel’s The Pigman, Syd Hoff’s Irving and Me, countless treasures from Scholastic Book Clubs, too.

I am giving away one copy of Edgar's Second Word

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 5/30 to 11:59 p.m. on 6/1. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

Borrow Edgar's Second Word from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ares: Bringer of War (Olympians) Cover Reveal

Good news! I'm revealing the cover for Ares: Bringer of War today. Bad news! You'll have to wait until January 27, 2015 to read it. 

Drum roll, please...

Look at all that red! Won't it pop on a shelf? I can already see kids lining up to read it. Bravo, George! 

Illustration credit: George O'Connor 
George O'Connor dropped by to "chat" with me about Ares: God of War, Greek mythology, graphic novels, and reading. I wrote the words in red, and he wrote the words in black. Thank you, George!  

Illustration credit: George O'Connor 

The cover for Ares: God of War uses a lot of red. I’ve been saving it up. Ares was a very bloody god.

One thing you should know about Ares is that, while he’s the god of chaotic war and turning people into bloody piles, he’s also a very sensitive father. Awwww….

Illustration credit: George O'Connor 
The Olympians series is exactly the series I would have wanted to read when I was a kid. Heck, it’s the series I’d want to read now, and I’m an old man.

I think Greek mythology is an amazing way to connect with the deeply held thoughts and beliefs of people who lived thousands of years ago, while simultaneously reading cool stories about monsters, muscle men and pretty ladies.

As a kid my three favorite things to draw were monsters, muscle men and pretty ladies. Not too hard to see how I ended up doing what I’m doing, is it?

Graphic novels are my favorite way to read. 

Reading is an absolute gift and is something I treasure every day.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what would be the next book in Olympians after Ares: Bringer of War. If only we had some sort of god with oracular powers to tell us…
First Second Books has generously offered to give away paperback editions of the first six Olympians books. 

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from May 29 to 11:59 p.m. on June 1. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The July #SharpSchu Book Club Meeting

The #SharpSchu Book Club will not meet in June, but Colby Sharp and I will make up for it on July 23rd by celebrating two must-read books. Watch the video above and read the flyer below to learn all about it. 

Head on over to the Nerdy Book Club's blog to read Varian Johnson's nerdy essay. 

I am giving away one copy of The Troublemaker

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from May 28 to 11:59 p.m. on May 30. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Sharp-Schu Trifecta with Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Happy Tuesday! Today is an INCREDIBLY exciting day! 

1. It is Revolution's book birthday! Congratulations, Deborah Wiles! 

2. You can visit your local independent bookshop to buy a copy of Circa Now. Congratulations, Amber!

3. The Great Greene Heist is now available wherever fine books are sold. Congratulations, Varian!  

4. The Nerdy Book Club, Colby Sharp, and I are celebrating Debbie Ridpath Ohi's new covers for Judy Blume's classics. Are you ready to start blog hopping? 
"Before I started working on cover illustration sketches, I reread all of the books. I recall how Lauren and I marvelled at the fact we got to read Judy Blume books and say it was part of our work. " - Debbie Ridpath Ohi  

"The redesigned middle grade books with my cover illustrations came out in April, and the revamped chapter books will be available in bookstores on May 27th (paperback) and June 3rd (hardcover), 2014." - Debbie Ridpath Ohi 

I hope you have fun exploring these resources! 

Read Debbie's blog posts about illustrating ten of Judy Blume's covers.

Judy Blume was the 2014 National Library Week honorary chair. 

Judy Blume won the 2013 Chicago Tribune Young Adult Literacy Prize. 

"Fudge was actually based on my son Larry when he was a toddler. He wasn't as outrageous as Fudge; I mean it's fiction. But he did suck four fingers on his left hand and he did have little temper tantrums like all toddlers do. He did want to eat his supper under the table and so I let him." - Judy Blume

Judy Blume presented at the 2009 National Book Festival. 

Becky Anderson sat down with Judy Blume. 

I'm not usually nervous when I meet an author for the first time, but I was incredibly nervous when I met Judy Blume on June 8, 2013. I had nothing to worry about. She was incredibly kind and even said, "You're the Mr. Schu. I know all about you." Wowsers! 

Monday, May 26, 2014

8 Reasons Why I'm Giving Away 2 Copies of The Baby Tree

I am celebrating the release of Sophie Blackall's The Baby Tree by giving away two copies. Why? 

1. The Baby Tree has one of the funniest book trailers I've watched in a long time. (See above.) 

2. It answers the question "Where do babies come from?" in a very age-appropriate manner. 

3. Sophie Blackall designs the coolest clothes for her characters. Just look at what Olive and the young boy are wearing. And don't you just love those adorable newborn baby hats? 

4. Sophie's gorgeous Chinese ink and watercolor illustrations are sure to appeal to young readers.

5. The text is straightforward and passes the "readaloudability" test. 

6. Grandpa's kidney stones. Did that pique your interest? 

7. I practically jumped out of my seat when I spotted the young boy's dad holding a copy of Brian Floca's Locomotive and a copy of Sergio Ruzzier's Bear and Bee near his mom. 

8. Nancy Paulsen publishes important books that lead to thoughtful conversations. 

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. Penguin Books USA is giving away 2 copies of The Baby Tree. 

2. It will run from 5/26 to 11:59 p.m. on 5/28. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

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

Sunday, May 25, 2014

4 Questions and 2 Sentence Starters with Amber McRee Turner

Amber McRee Turner's Circa Now is celebrating its book birthday on Tuesday! I'm celebrating it a few days early. 

Mr. Schu: Amber, congratulations on the publication of Circa Now! Your characters, especially Miles, kept me glued to the pages. Names of students who will devour it popped into my head from page one until I finished reading the last chapter. Thank you for creating such distinct characters and an exciting, stimulating plot. 

Please share what planted the seed for Circa Now.

Amber McRee Turner: Thank you for that kindness, Mr. Schu. 

Mr. Schu: You're welcome. :) 

Truth is, the seed for Circa Now was planted by one single act of mischief that went awry. 

About twelve years ago, my husband was deployed overseas with the Army to work semi-undercover. This meant that he came back home with a super long bushy beard. Because of this, we thought it would be a lark to insert Bryan’s face into an old Civil War-era photo of his four great-great-great-great (bearded) uncles that had been in a frame on my in-laws’ shelf for decades. So we snuck the pic home, scanned it, and with Photoshop, carefully plopped Bryan right in the middle of the brothers. We put the new version of the picture into the frame, just to see if anyone would notice (and we left the original nearby). After that, we totally forgot what we’d done...until one Thanksgiving, Bryan’s grandmother shuffled over to the pic and tried to recall the names of all “five” brothers. Jimmy, Jackie, Jerry, Johnny, and oh for the life of her, she couldn’t remember that other one. We were just about to let the whole family in on the joke, when it suddenly became obvious that somehow, in the years since we’d doctored the photo, the original had been discarded.

The guilt laid heavy on us for a while. I couldn’t help but feel like we’d somehow altered family history by our mischief. And then my mind went wild with it...what if that new person we’d put in that photo had suddenly, inexplicably appeared in 1860? How would history have been different because of what that guy did?

Thus, the “Shopt” seed was planted.

(Incidentally, Circa Now is dedicated to the fifth brother, Great Great Great Great Uncle Bryan.)
Image credit: Amber McRee Turner
Mr. Schu: I cannot wait to “Shopt” a collection of photographs. When did you start this fascinating hobby?

Amber McRee Turner: Great! I’d love to see some of your own Shopt work.

I’ve been into photography for as long as I can remember...shooting new pics and hoarding old ones. Then at some point in the 90’s I began doing some freelance graphic design work and bought myself a copy of Photoshop. Now, many years and software versions later, I’ve just about figured out how to use all the doodads on there.

Basically then, it’s just math. Love of storytelling + an ever-growing collection of old photos + the ability to manipulate said photos + a daughter with a wild imagination = The Shopt.  

Mr. Schu: I’m borrowing a question that I found on your lovely website: “What’s Sway?”

Amber McRee Turner: The short answer is, Sway is power or influence.

For the longer answer, I’ll quote one of my favorite characters, Douglas Nordenhauer: 

“It’s like we’re all born with our souls real sticky, and we pick a little something up from every person we’ve known. We all keep a little something from everyone, past or present, who touches our lives. Some of it’s as cruddy as beef jerky crumbs. But then there’s the sparkly glitter scattered in between all that. That glitter, it’s the part you want to keep—the pieces you take from others to help make a better you. That’s the real Sway.”

Mr. Schu: Please share a handful of the books twelve-year-old Amber read and recommended to her friends 

Amber McRee Turner: Full disclosure...Twelve-year-old Amber was not much of a reader. She loved books, but loved them so very much she didn’t want to bend them and smudge them and mess them up. 42-year-old Amber, however, has gotten over all that. Some books that 42-year-old Amber would recommend to twelve-year-old Amber and her friends are:

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

Yellow and Pink by William Steig

The Rocket Book by Peter Newell

Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein

On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss

Please complete these sentences: 

Reading is a constant, necessary reminder of one universal truth. That anything is possible. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the song. “A Prayer Like Any Other” by Kevin Welch is the song that plays an important part in Circa’s story. It plays an important part in my own story as well. Go have a listen. It’ll be worth your two minutes.

I am giving away one copy of Circa Now

Rules for the Giveaway

1. It will run from 5/25 to 11:59 p.m. on 5/27. 

2. You must be at least 13 

3. Please pay it forward. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Geisel Challenge: Week 9

Dear Mr. Sharp,

I decided not to film a Geisel video this week. Instead, I am encouraging everyone to read the archive from Wednesday's Sharp-Schu Book Club meeting. I had a blast discussing the books with you and everyone who showed up for the meeting. 

I'm looking forward to announcing our next challenge. I better start reading for it. :) 

Have a wonderful Saturday!

Your friend,


The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli

Greg, thanks for creating awesome book trailers. 

"Picture books are a form of art that intersects poetry, theatre, painting, printmaking, drawing, rhythm, design, story-telling, performance, into a one-of-a-kind experience." - Greg Pizzoli 

Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes 

Meet Penny

Merrymakers made a Penny doll. 

Ball by Mary Sullivan 

Mary Sullivan thanks the 2014 Geisel committee. 

A Big Guy Took My Ball! by Mo Willems 

Mo Willems thanks the 2014 Geisel committee. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Author-illustrator Mary Newell DePalma

Happy Friday! As you know, every Friday an advocate for children's books and reading visits Watch. Connect. Read. to finish my sentences. This week's special guest is author-illustrator Mary Newell DePalma. We chatted about her new picture book, book trailers, school libraries, and reading. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Mary!

My new picture book, Two Little Birds, is about the extraordinary lives of migrating songbirds. These tiny creatures are part of a living breathing ecological web that we don’t yet fully understand. The text is really, really simple. It implies more than it says, and that is the fun part of writing picture books. How else would you condense neotropical songbird migration into 217 words? My text is sparse, but it is worth pondering. Picture book text should function as a prompt for the reader’s imagination. One of my very favorite lines is right at the beginning: “After much effort...two little birds emerged from their eggs.” I’ve had some fun with young school groups imagining that! 

The illustrations detail the birds’ journey from the dark, close, inside of an egg to the freedom of an ocean of sky. The visual language is an integral part of the narrative. I’ve used visual elements such as pictorial composition and texture to communicate information that is not in the text. 

When I finished writing the book, I realized that it is more than a chronicle of bird migration; it is also an allegory of growth, competence, and achievement. I hope Two LIttle Birds raises awareness of our natural world and gives us courage for our own journeys.

The migration of Orchard Orioles is EPIC! It would be unbelievable if it weren’t true. On their first migration, everything is new; they don’t know where they are going or what to expect when they arrive. I wrote: “They flew and flew and flew. They flew beyond all they knew.” How brave is that?! First they fly great distances across the North American continent, then up to 18 hours straight over the Gulf of Mexico. That’s quite the demonstration of stamina and strength from a bird weighing about one ounce! Along the way, they control insects and pollinate plants. Amazing!

The book trailer for Uh-Oh! is a hilarious slapstick comedy about an endearing, hapless young dinosaur’s disastrous day and his earnest efforts to make things right--just like the book. BUT the trailer has the super fun addition of the incredible voice talent of William Dufris, (best known to young readers as the original voice of Bob the Builder in the cartoon of the same name), making sound effects to narrate the adventure. We hope this gives young readers lots of ideas!

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a technique I use at the beginning of my classroom visits to jumpstart observation and discussion. Students often arrive with a receptive attitude--expecting to be told something. I use VTS to open them up, get them working and thinking along with me. Simply put, I show them an illustration and ask ‘what is happening in this picture?’ They articulate what they see. I follow up with ‘what did you see that made you say that?’ and the students support their assertions with evidence. I extend the conversation by asking ‘what more can we find?’ During this process they become aware of the elements of visual language, and we share a fun and civilized discussion in which their observations are heard and valued. My goal is for students to use some aspect of what they discover about visual communication in their own work.

School Libraries are Heaven on Earth. Aladdin’s cave. Knowledge Portal. Empowerment central. 

Picture Books are wonderful!  First of all, they are stories with pictures, and on top of that, you get to snuggle up with your favorite little ones and explore them together.

Reading is magic. knowledge. power. 
But reading is not enough, we also need to learn the language of pictures.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why a grownup like myself spends her time making picture books!  I find that it is a great challenge and puzzle to combine words and pictures to make stories. I create little my own little worlds; it is fun to be in charge of the scenery, props, location, costumes, characters, action, lighting, and weather!  I especially enjoy tinkering with the ratio of pictures to words in picture books. For example, pictures can tell the whole story, as in wordless books like my Uh-Oh!; they can add a story to a nonsense rhyme as in Bow-Wow Wiggle-Waggle; they might tell a different story than the words, as in My Chair; or combine with words to tell the whole tale, as in The Perfect Gift. The possibilities are endless!
I am giving away a copy of Two Little Birds

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 5/23 to 11:59 p.m. CDT on 5/25. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward.