Thursday, July 31, 2014

Rocket's First Day on the Road

Rocket's adventure is off to a great start. Yesterday, he had a blast visiting Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Today's itinerary isn't set in stone, but Rocket will most likely explore Minneapolis, Blue Earth, and then head toward South Dakota. 

Rocket asked us to share the following photographs and vines with you. Happy viewing and watching! 

This photograph was taken just before the trip started. He looks excited and rested. 

Wow! Look at that huge ice cream cone. Pace yourself, Rocket! 

Rocket had never heard of Bill Murray

Rocket thinks you should read Comics Squad: Recess! 

Say WHAT? 

Rocket has the perfect spot when he's inside the RoadTripMobile. 

Rocket and Harmilda the Cow pose for a photograph. 

Greetings from Wisconsin! 

Rocket caught up with Lucille Beatrice Bear. She loves her friend. 

Doesn't Rocket have the cutest smirk?

Rocket tries to decide what to order at Ella's Deli. There is too much to look at to concentrate on the menu!

Rocket wishes he could go for a ride on the merry-go-round!

Rocket had a great time at Ella's Deli! He thinks The Drop Sisters would love it there.

Rocket begged and pleaded to ride the merry-go-round but they said, "No dogs allowed. Only horses and an occasional camel and dragon."

Rocket was sticking his head out of the window too much today. He needs a good brushing!

Rocket was drooling imagining the good food in here!

We assured Rocket that Paul Bunyan wouldn't hurt him. Rocket really wanted to play with Babe, his blue ox. 

Thankfully, Rocket behaved and we didn't need a Mutt Mitt. :) 

Yay! Rocket made it to Minnesota!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Happy Book Birthday to Michael Slack's Wazdot?

I am celebrating Wazdot?'s book birthday with Michael Slack. We chatted about Wazdot?'s book trailer, his mom, Tammi Sauer, school libraries, picture books, and reading. I wrote the words in red, and he wrote the words in black. Many thanks, Michael! 

The book trailer for WAZDOT? is like a mini cartoon. The wonderful thing about creating a trailer is that it is an opportunity to bring your character to life and add another level of depth to your book. It is also an opportunity for people to connect with your character in a different way.  When we see a character move and emote we relate to them in a more personal way. I'm continually surprised by my reaction when I see one of my characters moving for the first time. A big smile stretches across my face and my heart fills with joy. This sounds goofy I know but it is a similar felling to watching your kid running, playing and having a really good time.  My animation skills are very limited so I like working with character animators on my book trailers. They are able to add the extra touches that really bring a character to life. The WAZDOT? trailer was animated by Julianna Chen. I feel very lucky that she worked with me on it. Her films are amazing.

I created the illustrations for Wazdot? by digitally painting in photoshop. I'm a texture nut so I use lots of custom brushes and scanned textures.

Download the guide here

Did you know that my Mom was a kindergarten teacher for 30 years? Reading, crafting, and learning were the three biggest activities in our house when I was growing up. Before she would read to us she would have us identify the different parts of the book. The spine, the gutters, the end papers, etc. I was well aware of book anatomy before I could read a single word. She passed her passion for children's books to me. It makes me happy to know that my books end up in the hands of teachers and hopefully the stories in them will inspire kids to draw pictures, create characters, or write stories. 

Tammi Sauer and I have never gone bareback seahorse riding but we have created a funny book about friendship called Nugget and Fang.  Tammi is one of my favorite authors. Her stories are clever, loaded with spirit, and are downright hilarious!  Me Want Pet is the only picture book that has made me laugh out load. Sure, there have been chuckles but this was, squirting coffee out the nose, wife coming into the room asking what is so funny, funny. When her Nugget and Fang manuscript landed in my in-box there were no hesitations just, lots of Yeses.

*Picture books are powerful. These are  the first images and stories that fill a child's head. They are gateways to learning, creative thinking, and emotional development. At their best they create worlds that children can live in for a brief moment.  Where The Wild Things Are seemed real to me. I wanted to go there, ride monsters, stomp around and roar. I would have traded our dog for pajamas like Max's. (and I loved that dog!) They were that cool.  Even now when I read that book I re-experience that same feeling of wonder and excitement. 

School libraries are the Grand Central Station for the imagination. Once you step inside the destinations are limitless. You just have to get on board. 

Reading is most fun when done with a kid. It is our job to read picture books with enthusiasm, make them come alive and stick in the imagination.  Creating books that are good for reading aloud is an important aspect of the books I write. My goal is to create books that allow young kids to be an active participant in the storytelling. I want to get them excited, and when the story is over shout, READ IT AGAIN! 

*Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how becoming a Dad has effected my writing and illustrating. Being a parent forces you to think from the child's perspective. What are they experiencing? How are they responding to the world around them? You start remembering things about your own childhood.  I mean… you basically get to relive being a child except now you get to see it through a creative filter.  Also, it is like having a little idea generator running around the house. WAZDOT? was inspired by my daughter Lily. Her first three words were DaDa, MaMa, and wa-dot? (what's that?) She was just starting to make associations between objects and words. What a wonderful point in time. To her everything was new and strange and each day was filled with discovery.  Sort of like an alien landing on our planet for the first time. She went down for her nap and by the time she woke up the first thumbnails of the book were done. I wanted to do something fun with object identification. In the book there are three different views of each of the objects that Blip discovers. An obscured view, a silhouette of the object, and a full view of the object on the page turn.

Michael Slack is giving away a painting of Blip and a copy of Wazdot? 

Borrow Wazdot? from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Guest Post by Jen Malone

Today I’m welcoming debut middle-grade author Jen Malone to Watch. Connect. Read. with a trailer reveal for her upcoming release At Your Service (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin Mix). To celebrate the reveal, Jen is hosting a giveaway for two entire classroom libraries of buzzed-about ARCs and published books to one teacher or school librarian. If you’re not a teacher/librarian yourself, you can still enter and, if chosen, you’ll be able to nominate the teacher or school of your choice to receive these giant box-o-books (one of middle grade titles and one of YA titles)!

First, a little about my book:

A love letter to NYC full of insider dish, At Your Service tells the story of thirteen-year-old Chloe Turner, who lives at the uber-fancy St. Michele Hotel alongside her concierge father. Desperate to follow in Dad’s footsteps, Chloe earns the role of Junior Concierge, helping to ensure the hotel’s youngest guests have memorable trips to her favorite city. Her life is backstage passes and cupcake parties until the day Chloe loses a princess in the middle of New York City! Racing from tourist site to tourist site, can Chloe find the young royal before her mistake becomes international news?

And HERE'S the trailer:

If you'd like to win a copy of At Your Service (PLUS the rest of these books below, including the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid School Planner and a signed Big Nate) for the teacher/librarian/school classroom of your choice, please use the Rafflecopters at the end of this post to enter. One contest is for the middle grade books and one for the YA books. You may enter either or both. Two winners will be announced on August 8th. Good luck!

Enter to win these MG books:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Enter to win these YA books:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The August Sharp-Schu Book Club Meeting

Colby Sharp, Amber McRee Turner, Brian Won, and I hope you'll join us on Tuesday, August 26. 

Enter the Giveaway 

Borrow Circa Now and Hooray for Hat! from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Newbery Honor Challenge: 2008

Dear Mr. Sharp,

Happy Saturday! I hope you're having a wonderful week. I predict we read the same book this week. You read Feathers, right? I hope so! :) 

Your friend,


Visit Mr. Sharp's blog to watch his video. 

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson 

Jacqueline Woodson reads from Feathers

Borrow Feathers from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt and Shane Prigmore

It doesn't seem possible that August is just around the corner, but I just looked at a calendar. It is true. Teachers and librarians are starting to discuss books that they will share and read aloud during the first week of school. I'm throwing Sue Ganz-Schmitt's Planet Kindergarten into the back-to-school book lists conversation. 

Sue  dropped by Watch.Connect. Read. to chat with me about Planet Kindergarten, musicals, picture books, and school libraries. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Sue! 

Planet Kindergarten is a giant leap for kindergarten-kind. Young explorers boldly go where they have never gone before.  Our hero navigates the unknown reaches and alien inhabitants of this strange new world. This story will have new kindergartners ready for liftoff!  

Shane Prigmore’s illustrations will make this book a classic. They are timeless. clever, and truly out of this world. Shadowy parents let the hero own the story. There are alien classmates that will remind you of your all-time favorite out-of-this-world characters. The cafeteria style space food will have kids begging their earthling lunch ladies to update their menus, and there is a splashdown that will make NASA astronauts green with envy. Shane has animated nearly every Dreamworks movie you have heard of from Coraline to the Lego Movie and has won two Annie Awards (like the Oscars but for animation) for his brilliance.  He knows what kids likes, and their shadowy parents too.  

When I was in kindergarten I loved story dictation time more than anything.  I wrote my first space novel.  It was epic.  

I produce children’s musical theater.  I like to say yes to new opportunities Mr. Schu.  Just like when you asked me to finish your sentences (quite an honor BTW).  So when a friend asked me to help produce a Dr. Seuss musical called Seussical, I said yes, even though I had no idea what I was getting myself into.   In Hollywood, they say never work with children or animals.  Well I did.  There was an elephant named Horton, a couple of birds- Mayzie and Gertrude, some wild monkeys and about one hundred kids.  From casting all the way to closing night of the show I was swept away by the talents, focus, and confidence of these kids from Kindergarten through 6th grade.  For seven years I have volunteered for the job.  These kids – whom I wanted to help inspire – have inspired me to get over my own life-long stage fright, and I actually performed two songs on Broadway in RENT.  I figured if they could get on stage so fearlessly so could I!

School libraries are like the Starship Enterprise.  They take kids to  distant realms that can seem familiar and suddenly they know they are not alone out there.  There are also new frontiers that are so unlike their own to explore and discover.  A school library without a librarian is like the Enterprise without a captain to navigate the craft.  They are so very important to the future of our kind.

Reading is a portal.  With a book you can travel light years away and be back in time for dinner.  

Picture books are able to inspire kids for a lifetime.  My favorite book as a kid was The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss.  It is about having a goal and being undeterred no matter what doubting voices you encounter along the way.   It was my dream when I was five to write books to help kids. It was a challenge to get here, but I had to press on no matter what. Besides helping kids learn to navigate kindergarten, I have written Even SuperheroesGet Diabetes, and The Princess and the Peanut: A Royally AllergicFairytale in order to help children understand their own and others' medical challenges.  

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what it was like to be the first children’s book author in deep space.  When you launch a new book, you have to be ready to go anywhere.  

so when NASA called for a mission I was ready. 

I already had the spacesuit, so I was a Schu-in.

Borrow Planet Kindergarten from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Road Trip Advice for Rocket

Every year when we hit the road we bring along a new mascot. We know what to expect on our fabulously fun road trips, but sometimes our mascot is unsure and a bit apprehensive. They have heard of being left alone in a hotel room while John and Donna go eat, or have heard rumors of hours spent in a dark bag or purse waiting to see daylight, or even horror stories of accidentally being dropped onto the dirt. This year some of our past mascots joined forces to calm Rocket’s nerves and to offer some advice that will guarantee a successful trip.

Babymouse said, “Road trips are filled with activities from morning to night. Sometimes you just need to remember to stop and smell the flowers.”

Ivan suggested, “You will be in the car with the same people for hours on end. Sometimes you may start to go a little batty and feel like getting short with someone. Remember to always CHOOSE KIND.  

Frankie Pickle remembered feeling tired and that McDonald’s stops were life savers. He instructed Rocket to, “Always get the largest Diet Coke possible when stopping at McDonald's. Don’t forget to order it with extra ice. It can get really hot out.”

Argyle warned, “Sometimes, late at night, you may be a little sleep deprived and things may appear to be what they are not. Actually, sometimes things can seem downright scary, especially when on isolated roads. Do not watch any horror movies before the trip. It will only increase your overactive imagination.”


Not surprisingly, Ivan seconded Argyle’s advice.


Scaredy Squirrel told Rocket that he should not always feel as though he needed to go to costly attractions. He wisely stated, “Sometimes the best things in life are free.”

Pigeon, once again, was a bit self-centered and jealous that he does not get to join in the fun again. He taunted Rocket and said, “Good luck. You’ve got big boots to fill.”

Knuffle Bunny explained, “You may think you are driving forever and might wonder if you are ever going to get to your destination. You will. Remember, it’s a small world after all.”

We hope Rocket heeds their advice. He will have plenty of advice to share with next year's mascot.

(This post was written by Donna for Let's Go Somewhere on 7/30.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The July #SharpSchu Book Club Meeting Took Place Last Night

Did you miss the July Sharp-Schu Book Club meeting? Fear not! The entire conversation has been archived for your reading pleasure.  A big, huge, humongous thank you to Varian Johnson, Lauren Castillo, and everyone who participated in last night's meeting. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Books Are You Promoting on the Road, Mr. Schu?

Selecting the twenty books that I will promote during this year's reading road trip is not an easy job. There are so many wonderful books that I want to "read" in front of wacky roadside attractions and tell random booksellers, librarians, servers, and just about anyone who will listen to me about. Spreading book joy is one of my biggest missions in life. 

After much hemming and hawing, I selected the twenty books this morning. They are currently locked up in a secret cabinet in my basement. Not really, they are in an adorable Little Elliot, Big City tote bag that's in the middle of my messy home office. Would you like me to take out one of the picture book gems and share it with you? Yes! OK. 

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd | Chronicle Books | Publication date: August 14, 2014. 

Stunning, right? Creative, right? Masterful, right? Dramatic, right? You cannot wait to read it, right? I ask too many questions, right? 

Add this one to your to-read list. This isn't the last time you've seen this wordless wonder featured here.

(I also posted this on Let's Go Somewhere on 7/30!) 

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Sharp-Schu Book Club Meets on Wednesday

Colby Sharp, Lauren Castillo, Varian Johnson, and I hope you will participate in Wednesday's Sharp-Schu Book Club meeting. 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. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Rocket Hits the Road on 7/30!

Thanks to everyone who voted for him, sweet Rocket will hit the open road on July 30! Donna, Rocket, and I are not sure where this year's trip will take us. Maybe we will drive north. Maybe we will head south. Perhaps we will go north and then south. Not having a clear plan or path makes the trip even more fun and exciting. 

We hope you will follow our adventures here and over at Let's Go Somewhere on 7/30! 

Would you like one of the Rocket dolls featured in the video at the top of this post? Yes? Well, I'm giving away one doll right now. 

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 7/20 to 11:59 p.m. on 7/21. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. If you win, please pay it forward. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Newbery Honor Challenge: 2009

Dear Mr. Sharp,

Happy Saturday! I filmed this week's video when I was in Boston. As you'll hear right at the end of the video, someone knocked on my hotel room door. It startled me, and I hit the stop button on the camera.  I didn't want to break our one-take rule, so you're watching an "unfinished" video. :) 

Please visit Mr. Sharp's blog to see which book he read. I predict he read The Surrender Tree

This video provides a nice overview of Jacqueline Woodson's work. 

"A good story has to have good characters that the reader cares about. It has to have an emotional core so that the reader has something, along with someone, to kind of attach to and go on an emotional journey with." - Jacqueline Woodson

Borrow After Tupac and D Foster from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Author-illustrator Scott Chantler

You know the drill. Every Friday, an author, an illustrator, or an educator drops by Watch. Connect. Read. to finish my sentences. This week's special guest is Scott Chantler. We chatted about his graphic novel series, school libraries, and reading. I wrote the words in red, and he wrote the words in black. Thank you, Scott! 

The Three Thieves series is a rambunctious series of all-ages fantasy adventure graphic novels, which I began writing for my own children in 2006.

The King’s Dragon is a change of pace for the series. It doesn’t follow the title characters, like the first three books did. Rather, it puts us in the point of view of the antagonist, Captain Drake, while also giving us his backstory.

I think graphic novels are harder to create than a lot of people think. Comics aren’t just heavily illustrated stories, but a unique storytelling language all their own. The cartoonists who understand that produce great work. The rest? Well, let’s just say that the popularity of the book-length format in the past decade has created a lot of bandwagon-jumpers, who have produced a lot of mediocre books.

When I was in elementary school bringing comics to school was a sure way to get them confiscated.

School libraries are now, a few short decades later, among the biggest champions of comics and cartoonists.

Reading is the only way people are going to know how I finished these sentences. 

I am giving away one copy of The King's Dragon.

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 7/18 to 11:59 p.m. on 7/20. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. If you win, please pay it forward. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Trailer Premiere Over at The Nerdy Book Club

Head on over to the Nerdy Book Club to watch the book trailer for Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mail Gorilla. Thank you! :)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz & Dan Santat

I'm kicking off the sixth week of summer break with author Corey Rosen Schwartz. We chatted about ninjas, Dan Santat, fractured fairy tales, school libraries, and chickens. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Corey!

Ninja Red Riding Hood is a companion to The Three Ninja Pigs, a tale of perseverance, practice, patience, and pork chops!

Dan Santat and I are total opposites. Dan is a super-human machine who can illustrate 12 books in a week and survive on 20 minutes a night of sleep. I am like the MC in the Easter Cat requiring a daily minimum of seven naps. 

I think fractured fairy tales are fantastic mentor texts. It can be very daunting to try to create an entire story from scratch.  By taking an existing tale with established characters, plot, etc. and just fracturing one element, the task becomes manageable.  Long before I ever heard the term “fractured fairy tales,” I was writing my own versions of popular books.  In second grade I wrote Curious George and Cat in the Hat sequels.  I needed a formula to follow. Fairy tales are perfect for providing that framework.

School libraries are better than candy stores.  Lots of incredibly scrumptious choices and you don’t even need money!

The best thing about being a writer is that I get to read all day and call it work! In fact, sometimes I am having so much fun ‘working” that I even skip a nap.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if there are any other Ninja fairy tales in the works. Not saying for sure, but if there were, they would involve chickens.

I am giving away a copy of Ninja Red Riding Hood 

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 7/14 to 11:59 p.m. on 7/16. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. If you win, please pay it forward. 

Borrow Ninja Red Riding Hood from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.