Sunday, November 30, 2014

Last Week Told Through Vines


What's on the hold shelf? 


Mr. Colby Sharp has been saying great things about All The Bright Places


I want to lock myself in my home office and not come out until I've read every book inside this box. I would take a few breaks to make coffee, order carry out, and play with Lou Grant.  


Have you ever driven down Lake Shore Drive on Thanksgiving? It is glorious! 


Every ornament on the Christmas tree tells a story. 


My niece entered my house holding a copy of A Wonderlandiful World. She left my house two hours later with The Princess in Black, Louise Loves Art, and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Friday, November 28, 2014

Author-illustrator Lizi Boyd

Author-illustrator Lizi Boyd dropped by to chat with me about Flashlight, Matteo, her illustrations, nature, and wordless books. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Lizi! 

The book trailer for Flashlight was made by Matteo of Black Lead Pencil. It was his translation. Matteo asked me to paint sets so he could build the trailer in layers. The music was composed by Eric Wright (listen to his album, Fretless). Eric received the trailer from Matteo and we spoke briefly about tempo and momentum. Matteo and Eric both brought their interpretations of the book to create the trailer.

Illustration credit: Lizi Boyd

Did you know Luna moths only live for ten days?  When I met the one in the book he was holding onto the bark of a tree flapping his wings. He had just hatched. The Luna moth’s disguise is that they appear as just an enormous leaf. The minute I met the Luna moth I knew he’d be part of the book.

Illustration credit: Lizi Boyd
I created Flashlight’s illustrations at our summerhouse on Lake Sunapee, NH. One side of the house looks out over the lake, the other three sides are in the woods. It‘s a quiet, minimal place to work. I’d collect plants from the forest floor and put them alongside my drawing table. Many of the details just appeared; the Luna moth, the little white spiders that crawled into the paint dish one night, the tiny white moths batting away at the drawing lights.
Illustration credit: Lizi Boyd
Nature is the magic and wonder that we are all a part of. It is our second skin.

When I was in elementary school I began to read and started to draw sometimes to distraction.

Wordless pictures books ask their readers to ‘listen’ to what they see, that in itself is a storytelling skill. A wordless picture book becomes the interpretation and story of its reader.

Mr. Schu you should have asked me if I’d ever  played flashlight tag? And I did in the same woods that are in the book. It is so fun to hid in the dark behind trees. Did you play flashlight tag?

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

I'm Thankful for Anderson's Bookshop

I'm thankful I live two miles from Anderson's Bookshop, the best independent bookshop in America. I drop by Anderson's multiple times per week to browse, chat with booksellers, check out creative displays, buy books for my school library, and see what is on the new and notable shelf. Becky Anderson, one of the co-owners, always recommends the best books. She is making our holiday shopping easier by sharing 4 must-buy books for children. Press play! 

Books Mentioned in the Video 

1. The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak 

2. The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

3. El Deafo by Cece Bell 

4. 365 Days of Wonder by R.J. Palacio 

I hope you have a spectacular Thanksgiving! 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Author-illustrator Barbara McClintock

I was a Fraggle Rock fanatic as a child. I watched the television program. I played with the action figures. I spent countless hours reading and carrying around Marooned in Fraggle Rock, What's a Fraggle?, and Waggeby of Fraggle Rock. I'm sure my parents hid the books because they were so tired of me talking about them. I couldn't spend enough time with Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, and Boober. 

Scroll your eyes back up for a moment. Do you see the name listed after pictures by? Yes, that is the same Barbara McClintock who illustrated Our Abe LincolnTwelve Kinds of Ice, Leave Your Sleep, and Where's Mommy? I had no idea that she was involved with the Fraggle Rock series. My jaw may have dropped when I discovered it on her website last night. 
I am honored Barbara agreed to finish my sentences. We chatted about her latest picture book, her studio, school libraries, and reading. I wrote the words in brown, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Barbara, and congratulations on Where's Mommy? being named a New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2014

Where’s Mommy? tells the story of a secret friendship between a girl and a mouse, and a shared mystery. Both Maria and Mouse Mouse's mothers disappear at bedtime; girl and mouse hunt high and low, all throughout the human house upstairs and the mouse house downstairs. There's a big surprise at the end - and I'm not giving it away! You have to read the book! 

It could also be a eco-furniture story. The mouse house is furnished with cool stuff from the recycling bin - plastic berry container tables, iPods with earbud speakers for a living room sound system, clothespin beds, stairs made from a discarded slinky. It's a contemporary spin on 'The Borrowers'. 

Illustration Credit: Barbara McClintock

I created the illustrations for Where’s Mommy? with great joy and enthusiasm. And as a way of explaining that the lost small things from my purse and the backs of our kitchen drawers have gone to furnish the homes, towns, and cities of all the many mice who live in our 200 year old house.

I think you actually want to know my process and what medium I used…

As I initially read the printed out manuscript, I saw images of the characters moving and talking and sitting on half-squeezed toothpaste tube couches.  I made small doodles in the margins and in the white spaces between paragraphs as I read. This must be a hold-over from when I was in school and filled up all the empty spaces on test papers and homework assignments with little drawings, much to the exasperation of some of my teachers. 

Those tiny doodles lead to slightly larger doodle-sketches that I broke down into a 2" x 3"  32 page dummy book. 

I scanned and sent that little dummy to my editor and art directors Anne Schwartz, Lee Wade and Rachael Cole at Schwartz & Wade. 

Anne, Lee, Rachael and I worked as a team to tweak the drawn ideas in my dummy to become more visually energetic and contemporary. I channeled the inner early childhood cartoonist in me by simplifying some page images, and employing word balloons. 
The teeny tiny sketches were blown up to 10" x 11" layouts, with the text incorporated into the layouts. 

I taped all the printed layouts onto my studio wall. One by one, I took each layout off the wall and used tracing paper and pencil on a lightbox to refine each sketch. I scanned the finished sketches and sent them to Anne and Lee. 

Once I had a green light from Anne and Lee, I proceeded to ink the sketches on Arches 90 lb cold press watercolor paper with Higgins waterproof black ink and a Hunt 100 flexible steel nib pen point. 

When the ink drawings were done, I taped them to masonite boards and did a clear water wash over the paper to stretch the paper on each board. The clear wash also mitigated whatever sizing or grease might have been on the paper as preparation for watercoloring.

I used Windsor & Newton tube watercolors and sable brushes to color over the black and white inked drawings. I  wanted a warm, evening light golden-glow throughout the book, which I achieved by using multiple layers of warm ocher watercolor washes. 
I used gouache at the end of my coloring process for things like creating highlights, patterns on rugs, and to correct mistakes in my drawing.

I'm a luddite - I don't use digital methods in my work, other than scanning work to send to my publishers. 

Illustration credit: Barbara McClintock 

Beverly Donofrio and I both love mice in theory, maybe not so much in practice. 

If you visited my studio you'd call a hazmat squad! Paper, inks, watercolors, pencils, crumpled sketches, little sticky note pad papers full of doodles, drawings and paintings in process taped to the wall, books piled up on tables and the floor, paper cut-outs I make of the characters from my books and Steiff toy animals everywhere. And two cats, either on my drawing board or in front of the studio fireplace, toasting away. 

My studio window looks out over my paramour David Johnson's rose garden. He's designed the garden so that I have a lovely view of the riot of roses blooming all summer long. 

Reading is as important as food & water & sleep. Reading feeds imagination. 

School libraries... can't say enough good things about them! Standard school curriculum gives children a basic education, but free access to a library allows them to find themselves. And librarians are heroes standing on the shore holding beacons of light, acting as guides and mentors. 

Picture books are more fun than a litter of kittens. Or puppies. Maybe a litter of kittens AND puppies! And they're just as warm and enticing to curl up with. And picture books don't shed, and are hypoallergenic ( for the most part ). 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how important humor is in picture book illustration. Like, WAY important! I think getting someone to laugh, or at least find something funny in a visual image gets a connection going between the reader and the artwork/text. The idea that mice would walk off with discarded stuff, and see it as beautiful, or use it for something so totally different than what it was made for is surprising. And that incongruity is also funny and charming. I hoped that by perpetuating the joke of a mouse world full of cast-off things, the reader would slow down and take time to explore the pictures. And that would let the art and the story seep in and stay, forever changing the way thrown-away stuff is thought of. I'm not getting preachy about recycling here, but I think humor helps drop walls of resistance and gets us thinking about things in a way that could lead to bigger, more socially conscious acts. Or not. Just having fun is enough!  

I am giving away a copy of Where's Mommy? 

Rules for the Giveaway 

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

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

Borrow Where's Mommy? from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Link of the Week: ALSC's New Graphic Novels Reading Lists

The Association for Library Service to Children updated the Graphic Novels Reading List. It is a wonderful resource that highlights the best graphic novels for grades K through 8.  I hope you will share it with your colleagues and students. Maybe you'll even mention it on your library or classroom website. I shared the lists with parents during parent-teacher conferences. 

It is broken down into grade levels: 

K - 2nd grade - Color
K - 2nd grade - Black and White
3rd - 5th grade - Black and White
6th - 8th grade - Color
6th - 8th grade - Black and White

Monday, November 24, 2014

Last Week Told Through Vines


I donated a copy of Leroy Ninker Saddles Up to Donna Kouri's Little Free Library. 



What did second graders check out? 

I read The Yeti Files: Meet the Bigfeet while waiting for my dermatologist.  



Jacqueline Woodson won the 2014 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. 

My students celebrated Picture Book Month with Mr. Sammons' students.

I am pretty sure this was the first time I visited an airport bookshop at 5:15 a.m. 

The Nerdy Book Club session at NCTE was a ton of fun. 

I'm so excited to read these three middle-grade novels. Hooray for 2015 books! 


I attended a dinner that honored Jennifer L. Holm, Matthew Holm, Rob Buyea, Laurel Snyder, Wendelin Van Draanen, and Liesl Shurtliff. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The December Sharp-Schu Book Club Meeting

Please join Mr. Colby Sharp and me on December 17, 2014. We are discussing two top-notch books. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Author-illustrator Patrick McDonnell.

Happy Friday, friends! As you know, every Friday an author or an illustrator drops by to finish my sentences. Caldecott Honor illustrator Patrick McDonnell is this week's special guest. Hooray! We chatted about Louie, Amelie, school libraries, and picture books. I wrote the words in red, and he wrote the words in black. Thank you, Patrick! 

Here are three things you should know about Little Louie...
  • In an early version, he was a rabbit.
  • He has a sister named Little Louise
  • My middle name is Luigi.
Illustration Credit: Patrick McDonnell 

The idea for A Perfectly Messed-Up Story came from my sketchbook.  I’ve always been fascinated by the way drawing can be so ‘alive’ on the page, for example Ernest Shepard’s Winnie the Pooh art.  When I started on A Perfectly Messed Up Story, I was playing with the idea of a character who had self-awareness about being in a book.  In my sketches, he complained about my messy ink smears.  When I drew Louie complaining about a blob of jelly, I knew I had a book.

If you visited my studio my dog Amelie would insist that you play ball with her.

When the 2012 Caldecott Committee called it was very early in the morning and it just so happened that I was in the hospital (for a minor procedure) and a nurse was taking my blood pressure.  True story.

School libraries were a favorite place for me when I was a kid.  I always looked forward to library day.  I recall reading a series of biographies of famous people.  New inspiration every week.   

Picture books are comforting portals to other worlds and to our inner selves.

Reading is essential.

Click here to download the guide. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about Louie’s journey.  I intended for A Perfectly Messed-Up Story to be a funny, interactive book.  But underneath the fun there is a message of “loving what is.”  That life is what you think and make of it and we should embrace it, jelly stains and all.  

I am giving away 5 (yes, 5) copies of A Perfectly Messed-Up Story

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 11/21 to 11:59 p.m. on 11/24. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. If you win, please pay it forward. 

Borrow A Perfectly Messed-Up Story from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Storm Whale Trifecta

My wonderful friend Mr. Colby Sharp, the Nerdy Book Club, and I are celebrating one of the best picture books of the year: Benji Davies' The Storm Whale. Have you read it? Isn't it stunning? You plan on buying many copies for your family and friends, right? My niece is getting a copy for Christmas. Did you see the whale Benji's mom knitted? It is a-d-o-r-a-b-l-e! 

Hi, Benji! I bet you have rituals before you read, illustrate, or write a picture book. Before I read a picture book for the first time, I must: 
  1. Examine the front cover illustration, the back cover illustration, and the spine.
  2. Take the cover off to see if there is a surprise on the case.
  3. Read the bio on the back jacket flap.
  4. Smell the paper.
I give The Storm Whale’s front cover illustration, back cover illustration, and spine 5 stars. 

I award the surprise under the case and the smell of the paper 5 stars. 

Your bio earns 5 stars, too. 

So, tell us about your rituals… 

Benji Davies: Thank you! I'm so pleased you like it.
First of all my eyes widen slightly... and then I pick up the book, scan the cover admiringly, read the title and feel the surface texture of the paper, tilt it in the light... like you, I then flip it over and do the same on the back paying attention to the smaller details. Jackets aren't as common on picture books in the UK, so this less of a concern. Next I open it and have a good look at the endpapers at the front (like in The Storm Whale, the story sometimes starts here) and then, full of expectation, I begin reading. 
The writing and illustrating rituals are a little harder to pin down. There is a lot of pacing and head scratching, looking out of windows, making cups of tea, chin rubbing, checking twitter. In no particular order.

Illustration/Photo Credit: Benji Davies 

This quotation appears on the title page: 

“The wonder of the world,
The beauty and the power,
The shapes of things,
Their colours, light, and shades—
These I saw.
Look ye also while life lasts.” 

Please share why you included this quotation. 

Firstly, I think its beautiful and poetic. I didn't write the words but they really speak to me. It expresses something that I believe is true of what drives me to draw and record the world around me in my writing and illustration, the act of looking at the natural world in detail and handing down a message to the reader. I want them to see things how I do. Also, the idea of things coming to pass, which I find very life affirming - there is a great strength in this idea and the way it has been written. It takes my breath away.

My favourite book when I was about eight years old was called The Little Grey Men by BB, about the three last gnomes in England and their quest to find their lost brother. The author was an artist and writer called Denys Watkins Pitchford. He used the “BB” nom de plume when he wrote for children. His father had copied this quote from a tombstone in the north of England, and BB then used it as a quote in the front of many of his books, which is how I found it.
So it has lots of relevance and connections for me, which is why I chose to use it over a personal dedication.

Illustration/Photo Credit: Benji Davies 

Noi and his dad have six cats. They do not have names in the story, but did you name them in your head? Do you have any pets? 

I don't have pets. If I didn't live in London, I'd love to have some chickens and a couple of pigs.
I did name a couple of the cats, although long after I’d written the book, to help decipher them from one another to somebody who asked whether there really were six. 

Heres roughly what I said. I hope it helps:

There are 3 black cats, one ginger and one grey tabby, and one white with black ears and spots. One of the black cats has white front paws - but in the main exterior house image he is the one inside the house framed in the window. He tends to hang out there in the morning, waiting for Noi to serve up his milk breakfast - and of course his paws are hidden from view behind the window frame. The other two pure black cats are the older of the gang and do more sleeping, under the house, in the chair or on the rug by the fire. They find their own breakfast elsewhere.

The cat asleep on the shed roof (lets call him Smokey) is a lazy old cat and doesn’t move from one spread to the next. The cat on the high roof in the wide vista of the beach spread, he can be Shadow, is the cat who was asleep under the steps on the previous spread. He has gone for a walk and a stretch up on the roof before disappearing into the sand dunes for the morning.

Illustration/Photo Credit: Benji Davies 
If we visited your studio, what would we see? 

You would find a very neat narrow room, with two desks by the window, one for my computer, one for drawing and painting. All the pencils and pens and brushes would be in their pots lined up at the back of the desk. There would be no half-drunk cups of tea, no inky glasses of water used to wash brushes in an emergency, and all the papers would be squarely stacked and put away in the plan chest. All the sketchbooks would be arranged on the shelf and you would walk easily into the room, not tripping over boxes of foreign editions sent to me by publishers, yet to find a home. My year-end accounts would be done and filed, no receipts would lie scattered about the room.

If you let me know you were coming.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Picture books are worlds you can escape into.

Reading is the most important thing you can learn to do.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me where I keep the stroopwafels.

Thank you, Benji! 

Please head over to the Nerdy Book Club's blog to learn how The Storm Whale came to be. 

Visit Colby Sharp's blog to read ten things he loves about The Storm Whale

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Where Will I Be at #NCTE14?

To sustain lifelong reading habits, students must develop positive reading identities. Join the Nerdy Book Club and learn how to foster students’ reading identities in this fast-paced, interactive session. Attendees will reflect on practices, explore instructional moves, and build communities that help students write (or revise) their reading stories.

Friday 11/21 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM in Gaylord National Resort, Maryland A


  • Chair: Donalyn Miller O. A. Peterson Elementary School, Fort Worth, Texas -

  • Tradebook Author: Jonathan Auxier Abrams, New York, New York - Tuesday: Author Post

  • Roundtable Leader: Sarah Gross High Technology High School, Lincroft, New Jersey - Roundtable 1

  • Roundtable Leader: Tony Keefer Dublin City Schools, Ohio - Roundtable 5: Monday: Reading Lives

  • Roundtable Leader: Teri Lesesne Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas - Roundtable 7: Sunday: Surprise Sunday

  • Roundtable Leader: Cindy Minnich Upper Dauphin Area High School, Elizabethville, Pennsylvania - Roundtable 3: Wednesday: New Book Review

  • Roundtable Leader: Karin Perry Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas - Roundtable 4: Saturday: Top Ten

  • Roundtable Leader: Gae Polisner Algonquin Young Readers, Chapel Hill, North Carolina - Roundtable 2: Thursday: New Book Reviews

  • Roundtable Leader: Augusta Scattergood Scholastic, Inc., New York, New York - Roundtable 2: Thursday: New Book Reviews

  • Roundtable Leader: John Schumacher Brook Forest Elementary School, Naperville, Illinois - Roundtable 4: Saturday: Top Ten

  • Roundtable Leader: Katherine Sokolowski Washington School, Monticello, Illinois - Roundtable 6: Friday: Pay It Forward

Graphic novels are a powerful tool in the classroom. Using visual literacy to teach story can help create lifelong learners. Our panelists of authors and educators will share their most successful tips for inspiring readers and writers and will also discuss how they create graphic novels.

Sunday 11/23 10:30 AM - 11:45 AM in Gaylord National Resort, National Harbor 7


  • Chair: John Schumacher Brook Forest Elementary School, Naperville, Illinois -

  • Tradebook Author: Gareth Hinds Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts -

  • Tradebook Author: Jennifer Holm Random House Publishing, New York, New York -

  • Tradebook Author: Matthew Holm Random House Publishing, New York, New York -

  • Tradebook Author: Dave Roman First Second Books and Clarion Books, New York, New York -

  • Tradebook Author: Kevin Sherry Scholastic, Inc. New York, New York-

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

4 Questions and 4 Sentence Starters with John Rocco

Hi, John Rocco! I just asked Siri the current temperature outside. “Brr! It’s 10 degrees outside,” was his response. I wish he had said, “Mr. Schu, it is the perfect weather to read John Rocco’s Blizzard." That would have been legendary! 

OK, enough chit-chat. What happened in Rhode Island on Monday, February 6, 1978?

John Rocco: One of the largest snowstorms in New England’s history happened on February 6, 1978. Parts of Rhode Island got hit with over 40 inches of snow in one night.  Snowplows did not get to our street for 9 days so we were all pretty much stuck in our houses for that time. I remember my parents weren’t so thrilled, but my sister and I had a blast. 

As an elementary school teacher-librarian, I know how much children (and many adults) love snow days. What tips can you share to help everyone make the most out of a snow day?  

John Rocco: Yes! Snow days are fantastic, and now that I live in Los Angeles I know we will not have one anytime soon. I remember sitting at our kitchen table with my sister listening to the radio for school closure announcements any time the slightest trace of snow was on the ground.  The best thing to do on a snow day is go sledding. Building a snow fort or snowman is definitely runner up. Just make sure to have warm, dry, gloves and boots, otherwise the fun will quickly get cut short. Most importantly, end the day with a cup of cocoa made with hot milk! 

Illustration Credit: John Rocco

I read that the artwork for Blizzard was created using pencil, watercolor, and digital painting. Please take us through the process of creating one of the illustrations.

John Rocco: The first thing I do is create a tonal pencil drawing using a 2H or H pencil on cold press Bristol paper. Once that is completed I scan that into my computer, and on a separate layer in Photoshop I will start painting the colors. I also introduce scans of watercolor washes and stains that I create separately. For Blizzard, these watercolor washes were integral to some of the backgrounds and atmosphere. 

If we looked at your bookcase or library checkout history from when you were 10 years old, what type of books or titles would we see?

John Rocco: I had three favorite books that I discovered when I was a kid. One was from my dad’s bookshelf, Old Man and the Sea.  It was fairly short and had the word Sea in the title, so I knew I couldn’t go wrong. It was all about fishing, and that was one thing I loved to do even more than reading. I would head down to the dock at the end of our street every morning to fish, and wouldn’t come home until suppertime.  Another book I loved was James and the Giant Peach, which was filled with the amazing drawings of Nancy Ekholm Burkert.  The last one I vividly remember was Island of the Blue Dolphins.  I received it during a RIF fair at our school. Every kid got to pick out one free book, and so it was pretty special to me. 

Please finish these sentence starters:

School libraries should not be turned into MEDIA rooms, and school librarians should not be replaced by (or turned into) Media specialists.

Reading is a time traveling, rip roaring, out of body adventure.

Picture books are meant to be shared, smelled and chewed on.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me…What do you listen to while you work? I actually like to listen to documentary films while I am drawing. It makes me feel like I’m learning something AND drawing something at the same time.

I am giving away one copy of Blizzard

Rules for the Giveaway 

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

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. If you win, please pay it forward. 

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Blizzard Blog Tour! 
Thursday, November 6                  Mundie Kids
Friday, November 7                      Kid Lit Frenzy                                                  
Monday, November 10                  The Children’s Book Review       
Tuesday, November 11                 The Kids Did It                  
Wednesday, November 12            OC Mom Media                               
Thursday, November 13               As They Grow Up
Friday, November 14                   Curling Up With a Good Book    
Monday, November 17                 Ben Spark                                           
Tuesday, November 18                 ME
Thursday, November 20               Elizabeth Dulemba    

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