Monday, May 4, 2015

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! | Be Someone's HERO


Dear Colleagues, 

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! I appreciate everything you do for your students. Thank you for taking the time to listen, to connect, and to put the right books and resources in their hands. Thank you for being someone's hero! 


Mr. Daniels, a phenomenal teacher in Lynda Mullaly Hunt's Fish in a Tree, shows the difference a teacher can make in the life of a student. He changes Ally's life.



In order to celebrate great teachers like Mr. Daniels, Mr. Falker, and Miss Agnes, I partnered up with Penguin Young Readers/Nancy Paulsen Books to host a giveaway of 25 copies of Fish in a Tree. How do you enter the giveaway? 



1. Post a comment below or on Twitter (include @MrSchuReads) about a teacher who made a difference in your life. 

2. Take a photograph with an inspiring teacher and post a link in the comments section or on Twitter.



I will randomly select 25 names on Friday, May 8! Good luck! 

Have a great week!

-John 





Ally Nickerson, my main character in Fish in a Tree, dismisses her gifts and focuses on what makes her different; she longs to be just like everyone else. I can relate, as there were times in my early writing career when I watched my outline-loving friends and wished my process weren’t so dissimilar. I thought different meant wrong.

My process is akin to dumping puzzle pieces on the floor and then trying to fit them together. Sure, this makes sense for a puzzle—but a novel? However, I now embrace my scattered process (writing all of the chapters of a book completely out of order) because it works for me. I’ve also realized that my processes of both building a book and building a trailer are similar. Here’s how:

1) Everything begins with character. When I write a book, I start with pure character—brainstorming who they may be. Writing a bunch of stuff I know I won’t use just to get to know them. However, by the time I get to the trailer I know every layer of the characters. So, I start with the characters’ longings – which jumpstarts the trailer script. Then I spend hours searching for the images that fit the ones in my head. I don’t have to do this, I know. But I like to. I want to watch the trailer and feel like it’s right.

2) It starts out as a jumbled mess. My process is like one of those shell games. You know when there are multiple shells and the ball is hidden underneath only one. And the person is moving all those shells ‘round and ‘round and the other is trying to keep it all straight. Well I’m both the shell mover and the shell watcher. Throwing out ideas and pictures. Moving them around. Trying to keep them straight. Moving them again. Looking underneath an idea to see if anything is there. I never know under which brainstorm I’ll find the prize until the very end.


Once I have a collection of ideas I like, I work on putting them in order. With a trailer, I then pare things back to the very most important nuggets. With a book, I begin to expand. And then pare things back later. But that’s a whole ‘nother post.

3) The music playing is important to me. Let’s face it, folks. Everything is better with violins.

4) The pictures in my head must match what's on the page and or screen.
To the readers/viewers I suppose this wouldn’t matter, but I think if the details feel real to me the book/trailer will feel more authentic to others. It is much easier to achieve this while writing than doing a trailer. In writing, I depend on my keyboard. In trailer making, I depend on searching through others’ pictures and hoping to find a match.


Sparking mind movies is a crucial part of both processes. While crafting a novel, I always carry a notebook in my back pocket to record ideas that light up in my head (much like Ally’s mind movies in Fish in a Tree). I have a running “note page” on my phone as well.

How do I spark movies for a trailer? In that case, I carry a clip of the chosen song (chosen 7 months ago) on my phone. When I play it, it triggers images and emotions which point me in the right direction for the trailer. At least, I hope it does.

Actually, I had a bit of a quandary in choosing music for the Fish in a Tree trailer. My first-choice song had no change in emotion – just hopeful across the board. However, I ended up choosing a song that starts off a bit sad and grows hopeful when the image of Mr. Daniels, the teacher who helps Ally, appears. I feel like I could have mastered Mandarin Chinese in the time it took me to line up the song and images perfectly. But I’m happy now, so it’s all good.

5) Word choice is very important. Every. Word. Must. Count. This is even more important in a trailer.

6) Pacing. If either a book or trailer starts to drag, people often move on. Especially kids. (Hopefully you’ve read this far along in this post.) 

7) Be true. You and your work need to be what they are meant to be—not what you think the market wants. Sometimes writers create things they don’t love but think will sell. Personally, I think a writer needs to write from the gut and push the market out of the process. Focus on writing a decent book with well-developed characters who will linger. That’s probably the best shot at a sale.  

In terms of a trailer, you could very well create a grabber with flash and noise but if it doesn’t match the tone of the book, it isn’t authentic. I’m not a fan of bait and switch. It’s all about authenticity—no matter what part of the publishing process you look at. 

8) Deciding what to include is important—but deciding what to leave out is equally important. As in writing the book itself, I had to choose what to shine a light upon in the trailer. There are parts of the book that mean a great deal to me, personally, that don’t appear there. One example is the setting of AC Petersen Farms. Another is Travis, Ally's older brother. His character served as the emotional foundation for the book from the very beginning. In fact, it would be a far different book without him even though he's a secondary character.

9) Don’t over write. When you do, you dilute the important stuff. Cutting carefully and correctly is very important. For both books and trailers. And diamonds.

10) Lean on your peeps. Boy. This has been an integral part of the process from day one. Literally. With both my writing and the trailer, sometimes I’m just too close to see critically. I did send the trailer out to a few friends to ask their opinions and their thoughts were invaluable.  Their opinions varied greatly, too, which I appreciated.


After all, great minds don’t think alike. 



Lynda Mullaly Hunt is the author of middle-grade novel, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin), winner of The Tassy Walden Award: New Voices in Children’s Literature, an ABA New Voices Pick, A Nerdy Book Award Winner, and an Editor’s Choice Book with Scholastic Book Clubs. It also appears on 22 state lists. Lynda has directed the SCBWI-NE Whispering Pines Retreat for eight years and is a former teacher and Scenario Writing coach. Her second novel, FISH IN A TREE, will be released in February, 2015. Lynda lives with her husband, two kids, impetuous beagle and beagle-loathing cat.



Download the discussion guide for Fish in a Tree and One for the Murphys


Borrow Fish in a Tree from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


31 comments:

  1. Such a lovely theme for a giveaway! I loved school and many of my teachers. One special teacher was Mrs. Apuzzo. I had her in 2nd grade and then again for some classes in 5th grade. In second grade she taught us the Continental - we loved to dance! In 5th grade we had the option to choose a picture book, practice reading it aloud, and then we read it to the Kindergarten class. That's one of my favorite elementary school memories!

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  2. I remember that my music teacher in elementary school chose three kids from the grade who she was going to take on a "special field trip." I discounted it, as I assumed I would not be chosen. However, I was and I will NEVER forget hearing the news. She took two classmates and me to see Fantasia at the movie theater and then out to Friendly's for cheeseburgers and milkshakes. I'll never forget what a difference that made to me. It remains a vivid memory.

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  3. I'm so inspired by the exuberant and positive teachers who don't meet face across & around the world every day on blogs, Twitter, social media of all sorts. 😘 to you all.

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  4. It was my fifth grade teacher Mr. Costa who told mom at a parent/teacher conference that I should consider going to college. I grew up in a poor community and college wasn't considered by most of my neighbors. His encouragement gave me the confidence to pursue college level classes in HS and led to many wonderful opportunities. Teachers DO make a difference!

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  5. My fourth grade teacher who's infectious laugh and humor always made learning fun and who inspired me to teach!

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  6. I am reading this to my fourth graders right now! A teacher I will never forget is my fifth grade teacher because it was so OBVIOUS she loved us and cared about us so much!

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  7. My first grade teacher, Miss Kunkle, taught me to read--back in the days of Dick and Jane! Reading has been foundational for all my subsequent education as well as a wonderful source of enjoyment. Now I am privileged to be a school librarian and to share the love of reading with students!

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  8. The teacher who made a difference in my life was my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Simmons. I had just moved to a new school and she helped me adjust to new surroundings. She also realized that I loved to write and she encouraged me, had me enter several writing contests. She is certainly the teacher that started my love of literacy!

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  9. Posting in my sixth grade daughter's words: Dr. Burt, my sixth grade teacher, has made me better in math and science and has prepared me for seventh grade. She has taught me to be well organized and to study hard to make middle school easier. She is an inspiration to everyone.

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  10. Mr. Brown, my third grade teacher was known for being strict and for always wearing cowboy boots. When I entered his class it was my plan to soften him up. When he had recess duty I linked my arm in his and followed him around the playground. I zipped through my math facts at lightning speed and won Around The World in hopes of pleasing him. I was the only student that year who received 100% on every spelling test. When I went to the city finals of the Spelling Bee, he was there in the audience. My parents became personal friends of his. He talked my mother into selling real estate, which he did on the side and in the summers. I went to his alma mater for teacher school. When he passed away I received a phone call to let me know. I think my plan worked. I think I softened him up, or maybe he never needed it to begin with.

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  11. Mrs. Evans May 4, 2015 at 10:20pm
    As an elementary principal, I want to recognize the teachers in my school who form authentic relationships with their students.... students work hard because these teachers believe in them. These teachers are making a difference, not just this school year, but forever. In light of teacher appreciation week, I want to thank all of my teachers, bus drivers, cooks, paraeducators, custodians, office staff, etc for making a difference. I have to smile when I see the very small preschooler walking side by side with the custodian, helping to push the trash barrel down the hall as they work on the speech goals of the preschooler. Priceless!

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  12. My junior high creative writing teacher would read aloud to us at the end of every class. We loved it! Who knew I would grow up to read aloud to students everyday as a librarian.

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  13. My high school English teacher pushed me in ways that I never thought I could be pushed. She helped me to look at books in a new way. I grew to love books that I probably never would have read otherwise.

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  14. Mrs. Pearce my second grade teacher. We read real books in her classroom. We read everyday scattered throughout the classroom. My love of reading was strengthened in her classroom. She lived right down the street and many days would walk home with me. Later I became her babysitter for her 2 boys. She always had a new book for me. Special memories of a special lady

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  15. Katrina Bromann @kbromannMay 5, 2015 at 10:20 AM

    In middle school our regular subject teachers (math, social studies, science, language arts) rotated each quarter as our reading teacher. I'll always remember the quarter when Mrs. Britain, our strict, scary science teacher, was our reading teacher. She read The Giver out loud to our class, and it was wonderful. She became a storyteller, and I saw her in a whole different light. It was a wonderful experience and a definite stepping stone in my path to becoming a librarian!

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  16. I remember my fourth grade teacher was especially encouraging of me to pursue science. I was glad that he didn't just focus on the boys. He let me shine.

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  17. What incredible, inspiring stories! Thank you ALL! I am loving reading these. :-)

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  18. I went to a strict Catholic school that never nurtured my musical ability UNTIL Sister Honora walked in with her guitar. Sister taught me how to turn my poetry into songs I could play on the piano. She was inspirational!

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  19. I went to a strict catholic school where my musical abilities were never nurtured UNTIL Sister Honora walked in with her guitar. She taught me how to turn my poetry into songs for the piano. So inspirational!!!

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  20. I work with many inspiring teachers in my school every day (I'm a kindergarten teacher). But the teacher that inspired me most with my writing was in my final year in high school, when English teacher Mr. Bray commented upon a silly/clever story I wrote where abbreviations for chemicals were the main characters. I wish I still had the story and his comments! He inspired me to continue with my dream to be a writer.

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  21. Mrs. Saucke was my 4th and 5th grade teacher. She simply made learning fun. I still remember the cave we made in the hallway, complete with stalactites and stalagmites! She made me feel smart and loved, when I’m sure I wasn’t always a model student or citizen!

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  22. My 3rd grade teacher, Mrs.Holmgren had a room full of books and had a reading bathtub. Each day, two lucky kids would have the chance to read in the tub. She inspired me to be a teacher.

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  23. I love Shakespeare because of my freshman year English teacher. We read the traditional Romeo and Juliet, but then moved on and read Macbeth too. We each had a part in the play and we read the whole thing out loud in class - so fun! Because of that class, I took a community education class on Shakespeare, I studied Shakespeare in London and I am now a season ticket holder at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Thank you Mrs. Van Prooyen!

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  24. My high school English teacher, Dr. Sandler, showed me that writing could be joyful--something I knew as a 7 or 8 year old but had forgotten along the way.

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  25. My 9th grade English teacher encouraged all of us and challenged us to read world literature, but she also did things like loan me her typewriter so I could type a short story I wanted to enter my school's writing contest. I took 3rd place. I don't write fiction, but I am a writer, partly thanks to her encouragement; her name is Mary Wassell.

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  26. My tenth grade American history teacher was very inspiring. He had so much knowledge, it was amazing. We would do jeopardy to review for tests and he would give all the clues from memory, with absolutely nothing written down. To this day, he was my absolute favorite teacher.

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  27. What an awesome idea for teacher appreciation week. It is hard to pick just one teacher who I am indebted to, but since I am back in a library position (yeah!) I will choose my elementary librarian Ms. Westermier. Back in the 80's we had a primary "well" section that housed the picture books (It really had steps going down on all four sides and kept the little ones corraled in that space!) while the non-fiction and chapter books were on the upper part of the library. The rule was you couldn't check those out until you were in second grade, but she let those voracious readers like myself go upstairs to find books. I read SO many books and she helped cultivate that passion in me. I hope that I am helping to cultivate that with my fourth through sixth graders!

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  28. My eighth grade English teacher inspired me to be my best. He didn't talk to us like we were children, but with respect for our unique ideas and intelligence. He later went on to be my high school principal and continued to support me!

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  29. Love this book! It will be our first class read aloud

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  30. My favorite teacher was my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Reigner. He was an amazing person who taught me acceptance, especially of myself. He loved sharing books and music with us, and I remember how he would challenge us to think about the world. Thank you!

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  31. My 4th grade teacher was the first teacher who read aloud. She taught me the power of story and is the reason I am a reader and a teacher. Although we lived far apart for most of our lives, we wrote letters to one another several times a year until she passed away not long ago.

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