Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Jumbies Trifecta

The Nerdy Book Club, Colby Sharp, and I are celebrating The Jumbies with Tracey Baptiste and Vivienne To. We hope you have fun jumping from blog to blog. Happy reading! :) 

When I received Tracey Baptiste’s manuscript for The Jumbies I was excited about how different the setting was. The story takes place on an island in the Caribbean and it had a lot of elements of folklore that I was unfamiliar with and found really interesting.

The cover illustration for The Jumbies was a great opportunity to illustrate something eerie and atmospheric. There was so much vivid imagery to draw on (no pun intended) in Tracey’s writing. The idea was to show the creepy mahogany forest on the island, with our main character Corinne looking apprehensively behind her to see what might be lurking in the shadows. I looked at reference imagery of mahogany forests and both Tracey and the art director Carla Weise gave me guidance on smaller details such as Corinne’s basket, as it was important to get these accurate for the setting.

I think Algonquin Young Readers is great to have published The Jumbies, so that readers can be exposed to a wider range of stories with their roots in different cultures and folklore. This story is based on a Haitian folktale, which I was completely unfamiliar with until working on this book cover.

Did you know a douen has its feet pointing backwards? I’m glad I wasn’t asked to draw this on The Jumbies cover, because otherwise it probably would have looked like I didn’t know how to draw legs!

Oscar-winning actress and author Octavia Spencer is the author of the action-packed Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective series published by Simon & Schuster. It was one of the very first projects I worked on in publishing and one that I had a lot of fun illustrating. Having been a big martial arts fan in my early teens, I could really relate to Randi, the heroine of the series.

Art education is really important, whether it’s in a school or on your own or both, it doesn’t matter which. So long as you keep learning and growing as an artist and observe the world around you. There’s always more to learn and things to improve at…I’ve been drawing for years and I still feel like a student!

Explore Vivienne's website.
Reading is a gateway to other worlds and adventures. I think it feeds the imagination in a completely different way to watching something on a screen, as each and every one of us interprets a written story in his or her own way. I loved reading when I was growing up and I still do!

Download The Jumbies Field Guide
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what I do when I’m not working on books. I’m usually designing for animated movies (a recent project being The Lego Movie), but when I’m not doing that you can find me knitting, reading or looking at cat pictures on the internet.

Thank you, Vivienne!

"My favorite thing about being an author is making stuff up! A close second is talking with other people who love books." -Tracey Baptiste | Click here to read the full interview. 

"This is a story about paper. Which is boring. Unless you draw something on it. Or fold it. Or crumple it up and throw it at your brother. It’s a story about how paper changes depending on the thing you put on it, or how much of it you have. Or how much time you have to use it." -Tracey Baptiste | Click here to read the full essay. 

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

Friday, May 29, 2015

Author-illustrator Brian Lies

I'm honored to welcome author-illustrator Brian Lies to Watch. Connect. Read. We chatted about bats, his batwagon, the Riverside Public Library, picture books, a special gator, reading, and his last name. I wrote the words in orange, and he wrote the words in black. Thank you, Brian

I have illustrated bats for a DECADE now! Hundreds of thousands of copies along, I still get e-mails from young readers and their parents about what the books mean to them.  However, I’ve been so involved in daily life—raising my daughter, working on the next book and visiting schools around the country—that I didn’t realize how much time had gone by until Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced a “Box of Bats” gift set of the first three bat books, coming out next year.  It will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the publication of BATS AT THE BEACH in 2006.

Photo Credit: Louis Nejaime
My batwagon forces me to drive very politely.  You can’t react the way you normally might if someone cuts you off or does something dangerous, because there’s only one car like it.  It’s recognizable.  

The batwagon is our family car, a Nissan Cube, covered with a colorful vehicle wrap.  When the PVC pipe organ I built (think “Blue Man Group”) and two 3’ fiberglass-and-fake–fur bats are attached to it for book events, it’s pretty unusual.  From the inside, though, you feel like you’re driving any regular car, except for the odd looks and waves you get from other drivers.

Did you know the Riverside Public Library is the setting for BATS AT THE LIBRARY?  My grandparents lived in Riverside, Illinois, and in the summer, we’d drive from my home in Princeton, NJ to visit them.  Afterwards, we’d drive on to my other grandparents in Minnesota, and from there, did 3-week tent camping trips throughout the U.S. and Canada (have you ever seen a jackalope?).  The Riverside Public Library was a place that made me want to write.  Deep, red leather Stickley chairs, heavy Arts and Crafts tables and stained glass windows created a kind of imaginative embrace, and I’d take a pad of paper there and write.  It’s still my favorite library building in the U.S.—a cathedral of the mind.

If you visited my studio you might be disappointed at how ordinary it is.  No vaulted ceiling, no collection of bones, odd things in bottles, or taxidermy.  Just a lot of books, a drawing table and computer desk.  People who visit think it’s more interesting than I do.  But the things in there are so familiar to me—the sketches taped onto the wall, my childhood books and some of my favorite childhood toys, as well as Post-its and sketches for a bunch of books I plan to do in the future—that to me it just feels like the place I go to work.  I tell students in schools that you don’t need a fancy or elaborate place to write or illustrate stories—you just need a place where you can concentrate.  And it helps if it’s a space that’s all yours—so you don’t have to clean everything up at the end of the day!

When I visit schools, I try to remember what it was like to be in the fifth grade audience when an author visited my school.  I thought being an author sounded like the best job in the world, but I knew I didn’t have enough talent to ever publish a book.  I made the fatal mistake of thinking that talent was more important than hard work and learning, and that my fifth grade level of skill (or absence of skill!) proved it’d be impossible for me in the future.

So now, I try to speak to those students in the audience who believe the same thing, to get them to ease up on the self-criticism and dare a bit more (something I feel state-mandated testing is killing), and to think that perhaps their own horizon may be much farther than they can imagine. . . when they gain a little more height and a little more experience.  I always show some artwork I did in elementary school, which usually brings a wave of laughter.  If I can make one student in each group I present to think, “He was really bad in second grade, and now he’s publishing books, so maybe I’ve got a chance at what I’d like to do,” then I’ve done my job.

W.H. Beck and I had never met before I illustrated her wonderful story, MALCOLM AT MIDNIGHT.  I’d been thinking I didn’t want to illustrate anyone else’s work again, but my editor, the phenomenal Kate O’Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, urged me to read it.  After I did, I just couldn’t say no.  Since, Becky Wojahn (who writes as W.H. Beck) and I have given several talks at book festivals about how an author and illustrator approach a story.  There was some good news recently—MALCOLM AT MIDNIGHT just won the Kansas William Allen White Book Award (state award for middle grade fiction).  And for MALCOLM fans:  Becky has a sequel I illustrated, coming out in August, called MALCOLM UNDER THE STARS, in which my favorite classroom pet rat has a further opportunity to prove he’s “a rat of valor and merit.”

Picture books are the entry ramp to the highway of literacy.  They’re one important way we learn that one idea follows another, and another, and becomes a story.  Each picture book is a whole world tucked into 32 pages, sometimes spare, and sometimes complex. Great picture books are easy to underestimate—apparently simple, but often much more intricate and full of truths if you give them the time they deserve.

I’m disheartened when I meet younger and younger students who declare that they’re “out of picture books, and reading chapter books,” because though they see it as a sign of maturity and accomplishment, they’re missing out on a lot of great stories, as well as a firmly-grounded understanding of sequential storytelling, which will help them as they create their own stories.  I suspect there’s a lot of parental bragging going on about having kids who aren’t reading picture books anymore, too.

Illustration Credit: Brian Lies
I’m finishing up a new book, coming out next spring, called GATOR DAD. The book grew out of my own experiences as a stay-at-home Dad in the late 1990s, and my feeling that I wasn’t represented in picture books.  Dads are generally depicted as amiable and loving characters, but they’re often a punch line, bumbling and incompetent.  So GATOR DAD is a competent and committed alligator Dad with his three kids, making their way through a day together— from fishy pancakes, to a vast pillow fort, to the final tuck-in—not doing anything especially meaningful, but getting a lot done through their time together.  I intend it to be a celebration of the energetic and sometimes unorthodox ways Dads do things, compared to many Moms (“If something’s gone bad in the fridge. . . I’ll let you smell it, too”). 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my last name, because you could have saved untold numbers of people from pronouncing it wrong!  The name came from Luxembourg around 1840, attached to my many-greats grandfather, and settled itself in Illinois.  It’s been handed down to people who will never be able to enter politics ever since.  Almost everyone in the U.S. with that surname is a relative.

. . . oh, and it rhymes with “cheese.”

Borrow Brian's books from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Book talks for the week of May 26 | 4th and 5th Grade

Happy Thursday! One of the best parts of my job is telling my students about new and forthcoming titles. As the 2014-2015 school year comes to a close, I am telling them (AKA raving) about the books found in this slideshow. (Click on PRESENT to view the book trailers.) 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Link of the Week: Kate DiCamillo's Suggestions for Summer Reading

Time for Kids reporter Liliana Scott asked Ambassador Kate DiCamillo for a list of suggestions for summer reading. 

Picture Books:

By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman; illustrated by Zachariah OHora

A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall

Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato

Middle grade:

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

The Great Good Summer by Liz Garton Scanlon

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness by Tricia Springstubb and Eliza Wheeler


X, a Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Jim the Boy: A Novel by Tony Earley


I hope you'll read Liliana Scott's interview with Kate. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Book Trailer Premiere: To the Sea by Cale Atkinson

Hi, Cale! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read! I’m excited to share To the Sea’s awesome book trailer with the world. What do you want to tell everyone before they press PLAY?

Cale Atkinson: Just be sure to have your sound turned up! My uber talented friend Ryan Loerke composed the music for the trailer and it’s not the same experience without it. Aside from that, just press the ‘play’ button, and I hope you enjoy!

I remember reading your tweets when you were working on To the Sea’s book trailer. It sounded like you were having a lot of fun, and all your hard work definitely paid off. Did you encounter any challenges while creating the book trailer?

Cale Atkinson: It was indeed a lot of fun to put together as well as a lot of work. I joke with friends that my book trailer was more work than the actual book… I don’t want to admit how much truth there is in that…

From the moment I started working on To the Sea years ago, I had a vision in my mind for what I would do for a book trailer. It’s neat to see how close the final trailer stayed with my original thumbnail sketches.

As far as challenges, I think the biggest challenge was just the hefty amount of effort involved to make it turn out how I envisioned it in my head. There were many late evenings when I was up until the wee hours painting frames and frames of kids running down stairs. Having the music that Ryan composed was a huge motivator. I could see the whole trailer play out in my head as I listened to it and that made me so excited to get it finished.
Even though it was a beast of work, I’m so happy with how it turned out and glad I restrained myself from taking too many shortcuts along the way. I always welcome a new challenge and this one was no exception!

To the Sea’s dedication made me smile:
“Dedicated to anyone who feels invisible and any whale that needs to get back to sea.”

Cale Atkinson: Happy you noticed it! For me this book is for all those people out there who feel a touch out of place, lost or invisible in their surroundings. I think we all can relate to knowing how that feels at times, whether feeling lost figuratively like Tim or literally like Sam. I am also a strong believer there are many whales out there who are stuck, and could use our help getting back to their homes in the sea.

My students know the second thing I do before reading a picture book for the first time is remove its jacket to examine the case. Thanks for a lovely surprise!

Cale Atinkson: Yes! I am the same way! While I understand when an illustrator decides to keep it the same image on jacket and case, I am always a touch disappointed not to see a different image beneath. Believe me when I say I will fight tooth and nail to always have a different surprise image under all my books jackets!

As a small child, you wanted to be a whale when you grew up. Truth?

Cale Atkinson: Haha it was either a whale or a cartoonist. The real dream would have been a whale cartoonist! At least I made it halfway there ☺

If we visited your studio, what would we see?

Cale Atkinson: First you would probably see my amazing and talented illustrator wife Jessika who sits and works beside me. After saying hi to her you would probably notice a messy desk with papers, books and toys piled on it… yes that would be mine. Our studio is pretty filled with art on the walls including some treasured original art from classic Disney films. Oh and an amazing Sam plushy that a friend made me for my birthday!

Please finish these sentence starters:

Lil’ Red is an animated short I made, giving my own take on the classic fairytale Little Red Riding Hood.

Picture books are an amazing way to connect, escape and stoke the imagination.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if you wanted to team up and open a detective agency together called Eye Spy, where we solve every case by playing ‘I spy with my little eye’. My answer would be yes!

Thank you, Cale!

Borrow To the Sea from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

4 Questions and 4 Sentence Starters with Sara O’Leary

Hi, Sara O'Leary! Thank you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read.! This Is Sadie is a beautiful celebration of the power of one’s imagination.  What planted the seed for Sadie’s story? 

Sara O'Leary: I guess Sadie’s a bit of a dream-child for me. She’s the little girl I would have if I’d had a little girl.   

Julie Morstad’s illustrations are absolutely perfect. I know editors often discourage authors and illustrators from communicating with each other. Since Julie illustrated your Henry stories, did you communicate while she was illustrating This Is Sadie?

Sara O'Leary: Julie and I were really lucky to be working with Tara Walker on this book and it ended up feeling like much more of a collaboration than the other three because the process was so different. Lots of back and forth. I was changing text even after receiving final art.

I pulled out the original manuscript to look at just the other day and found there wasn’t a single line in common between that text and the one in the book. But the ideas are there. For example, the fox family were there from the beginning but my feeling is that the text and the illustration don’t need to be telling the reader the same thing. As an illustrator Julie more than holds up her half of the sky and so I was happy to have the opportunity to stand back and let the images do the talking sometimes.

My favourite parts in the book are where the text says one thing (like about Sadie being quiet in the mornings) and Julie has a whole other thing going on--Sadie merrily hammering away with her portable record player playing. But I can’t even remember if the line came first or the image!

Whoa! Please tell us about this adorable Sadie doll!

Sara O'Leary: Sadie’s book birthday very nearly coincided with my own birthday so it seemed like the perfect reason to treat myself. The doll was designed and built by the very talented Atelier CarolineShe’s done other dolls for illustrators but mainly in Quebec so far. I can imagine lots of people wanting to commission her once they see what she can do.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to taking my little Sadie doll (and her fox baby) places with me and introducing her to some young friends.

What is the Freedom to Think initiative?

Sara O'Leary: Freedom to Think was started by the British YA writer Jonathan Stroud and it lines up perfectly with my thoughts on boredom and creativity. 

You may have noticed that in This is Sadie the parents are completely absent. Off sleeping at the beginning of the day (wish fulfillment on the part of the author!) and for the rest of the day probably staring into computer screens while Sadie is off riding her bike/horse and climbing trees and flying around. I feel like when we are doing it right our kids will know we’re the lighted house at the end of the day--waiting for them to return and recount their adventures.

Please finish these sentences:

When I Was Small, When You Were Small, and Where You Came From make me happy because they look like they were published sometime in the early 20th century rather than the 21st.

Reading is the very best way of being both alone and not alone that I know.
Download the This Is Sadie activity kit. 
Picture books are a perfect place for children to find themselves and to lose themselves.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I write children’s books. It seems to me that when a child reads a book they are inviting you into their imaginative world and I can’t think of a greater honour.

Borrow This Is Sadie from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.