Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Video of the Week: Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen on Picture Books

5 Things I Love About This Video

1. The first thing I look at when I see Jon in person or in a video is his hat. :) 

2. "I think this is the luckiest job." -Jon Klassen

3. You can see Lauren Castillo, Paul Rodeen, and Lori Kilkelly in the background getting ready for Lauren's signing for Yard Sale. (Sherri Duskey Rinker makes an appearance at 1:26.) 

4. Scholastic's "Open a World of Possible" campaign is highly visible during the interview.

5. Jon inspired me to re-read Sam and the Firefly

Monday, June 29, 2015

Speeches, Vines, and Photographs from the Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet

Before you look at the photographs and vines from the 2015 Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet, I highly recommend reading Kwame Alexander's, Dan Santat's, and Donald Crews'  acceptance speeches. Their words will inspire you, make you cry, and leave you feeling proud and honored to live in a world in which such remarkable people are creating the best books for young readers.

I loved watching Cece Bell's reaction to her EL DEAFO cake.

What do you think ran through Cece's head as she cut into her character's head?

You can hear the energy in the room.

I had one of the best seats in the house.

Congratulations, Lauren Castillo! 

w00t! w00t! w00t!

Congratulations, Kwame!

This is my all-time favorite vine. I wish I didn't have to rush it at the end, but I only had 1% battery left. Isn't that an annoying feeling? 




Jennifer Reed's Beekle purse 

Victoria Stapleton's Beekle earrings 

The Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder programs 

Look inside the program. 

Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat models his Beekle tie.

Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander looks dashing in his blueberry/Newbery suit. :) 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Last Week Told Through Vines


Today's #bookstack for the summer #BookaDay Challenge.


My Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla goes everywhere with me.


Cynthia Lord brought her Newbery Honor plaque to the Scholastic Reading Summit. 

Look! It is Donalyn Miller!

This was my favorite display at the Scholastic Reading Summit in Phoenix.


I gave away these books during my workshop at the Scholastic Reading Summit in Phoenix.

Pam Muñoz Ryan played her harmonica during her presentation at the Scholastic Reading Summit. 


Greetings from San Francisco!


What's inside my tote bag?

I am having a hard time waiting for WAITING to be released.

One Day, The End is one of the best books of the year. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Q&A with Author-illustrator Amanda Driscoll

Hi, Amanda! Thanks for dropping by Watch. Connect. Read. to chat with me about Duncan the Story Dragon. I adore the front and back endpapers. Please describe them for those who do not have Duncan the Story Dragon in front of them right now.

Amanda Driscoll: Thank you for having me! The front endpapers show Duncan hurrying off with a stack of books, eyes closed in anticipation of reading that perfect story. He is set against a monochromatic background of dots, inspired by the spots on his back. A tiny mouse peeks from behind a dot.

The back endpapers show the unfortunate results of Duncan’s enthusiasm for books. (Fire breath is a hot mess for this book-loving dragon.) The corner of the page is “burned”, and a remorseful Duncan says, “Oops. Sorry about your book”, while the mouse says, “Whoa. Must have been a good book.” You have to love the mouse!

Illustration Credit: Amanda Driscoll
What planted the seed for Duncan the Story Dragon?

Amanda Driscoll: The initial seed was planted many years ago, with my own love for reading. I knew I wanted to write a book that would convey to kids the joy of reading in a fun, kid-friendly fashion. I also thought that a dragon character would be interesting to illustrate. Then one day the two ideas merged: a dragon who loves books. From there, the central problem came easily. Fire breath and books are a combustible combination.

I am a HUGE fan of books about books and reading. I know it is hard to narrow it down to a handful of titles, but what are some of your favorite books about books?

Amanda Driscoll: One book about books that I find utterly charming is Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates. It captures the way I feel when I read. The illustrations are simple yet so expressive. Another favorite is The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce. The illustrations are gorgeous, and the magical story gives me goose bumps every time I read it. I love the quirkiness of The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers. I’m a big fan of his style. I also have to mention the oh-so-clever This Book Just Ate My Dog! by Richard Byrne. It’s not exactly about reading, but it’s incredibly inventive.

If we visited your studio right now, what would we see?

Amanda Driscoll: You would probably first notice my “Wally Wall”. I am currently illustrating my second book, Wally Does Not Want a Haircut, due out next summer from Knopf Books for Young Readers. I covered one wall of my studio in dummy sketches so I can refer to them as I’m working. Next you might notice an abundance of snack bags littering my desk. I nibble while I work.

Illustration Credit: Amanda Driscoll 
Please finish these sentence starters:

Reading is a doorway to other worlds and a pathway to new friends. Books let us know characters intimately. We see inside their minds and understand their feelings in a way no other medium can rival.

Visit Amanda's website

Picture books are vital to developing a child's love of reading. The moments spent reading to a child are magical. Even when my kids had become independent readers, I still read them picture books because that time together was so special.

Photo Credit: Amanda Driscoll
Bella and Molly are my two rowdy rescue dogs who should be given partial credit for every story I’ve ever written. They demand a walk every day, and I use that time to dream up stories or hammer out plots. Something about the movement of my feet frees up my mind. I remember the exact spot where the idea for Duncan the Story Dragon hit me. I spent the rest of that walk working out the plot then came home and started writing.
Amanda Driscoll and Dragon 
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me for a synopsis of Duncan the Story Dragon in 140 characters or less. I love economy of words!

Duncan the Story Dragon is about a dragon who gets so excited by stories that he breathes fire and incinerates his books.

121 characters and I even used the word “incinerate.” ;-)

Borrow Duncan the Story Dragon from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Cover Reveal for Sarah Dooley's Free Verse

Happy Monday! I am excited to reveal the cover for Sarah Dooley's Free Verse. I think we will all be buzzing about it next year. And now, a special message from Sarah. 

I was sitting at my desk one day, trying to decide what to do with the blank page in front of me waiting to be filled, when the light from the window began to flicker. I glanced up in time to see a flock of birds sweep past my window, too quickly to make out any one distinct animal, all of them together like a cloud. Almost before I knew what was happening, I began to write the story of a girl with a song about birds stuck in her head.

Years later, that girl is Sasha, that novel is Free Verse, and I’m thrilled today to reveal its breathtaking cover! When I look at these beautiful birds, I feel once again what I felt that day at my desk: like something exciting is about to take flight.

Free Verse by Sarah DooleyG.P. Putnam's Sons  Books for Young Readers| Publication Date: March 15, 2016

A moving, bittersweet tale reminiscent of Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons set in a West Virginia coal-mining town
When her brother dies in a fire, Sasha Harless has no one left, and nowhere to turn. After her father died in the mines and her mother ran off, he was her last caretaker. They'd always dreamed of leaving Caboose, West Virginia together someday, but instead she's in foster care, feeling more stuck and broken than ever.

But then Sasha discovers family she didn't know she had, and she finally has something to hold onto, especially sweet little Mikey, who's just as broken as she is. Sasha even makes her first friend at school, and is slowly learning to cope with her brother's death through writing poetry, finding a new way to express herself when spoken words just won't do. But when tragedy strikes the mine her cousin works in, Sasha fears the worst and takes Mikey and runs, with no plans to return. In this sensitive and poignant portrayal, Sarah Dooley shows us that life, like poetry, doesn't always take the form you intend.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Nick Bruel's Letter to Summer

Dear Summer,

I miss you.

Maybe you’ve heard – I wrote letters to all of the other seasons this past year.  In some cases, I think I came off as a little… complainy.  I wasn’t trying to complain.  I was just trying to take on a familiar tone, because I know these guys.  I know Fall with all its leaves.  I know Winter thanks to all the snow (I think I might have inadvertently upset Winter with my letter this year).  And I know Spring all too well with all its pollen.  But, Summer, I barely know you at all anymore.

And I miss you.

I miss running in the waves of Sauble Beach.  I miss digging holes in the sand up to my waist.  I miss going to movie matinees on Tuesdays.  I miss lying in bed and reading comic books, sometimes the same comic books, for hours.  I miss looking for frogs and capturing them with my hands.  I miss wandering through the forest looking for treasure.  I miss riding my bicycle with Robert along trails that didn’t really exist.

Summer, do you remember that time when Robert and I found that immense raspberry thicket?  We brought two buckets with us and spent the entire afternoon treading as carefully as would could through those prickly vines picking the most ripe, delicious raspberries anyone had ever eaten.  We walked out of there with torn clothes and scratches all over our arms and legs, but afterwards we sat down and ate those raspberries with the relish of two boys who worked very hard to earn them.  We ate one bucket of those raspberries on our own.  The other we gave to Robert’s mother, a pie genius.

That was a good day, Summer.  But with every passing year I remember it with less and less clarity.  I didn’t know then, Summer, that you would change so dramatically, that I would barely recognize you anymore.

It used to be that Summer was my time off.  No school.  No homework.  No tests or exams.  I suppose all of that is still true, Summer.  But now I work.  I don’t have school anymore, but I have an office.  I don’t have homework, but I have deadlines.  I don’t have tests, but I have a constant flow of responsibilities that need my attention at all hours of the day. And I am exhausted.  

I work in Fall.  I work in Winter.  I work in Spring.  And I work in Summer.  I work all year now, and in this way you are no different than any of the other seasons.  I find this a little sad.  Don’t you find this sad, Summer?  I do.
However, I have one consolation, Summer. My daughter Izzy is seven years old, and for her you, Summer, mean a lot.  Summer means going to camp and playing all day with her friends. Summer means going to the beach in Naples, FL, playing in the waves, and digging holes in the sand up to her waist. Summer means going to movies in the afternoon. Summer means riding her bike on the well-defined bike trails near to our house. Summer for her is a little different than the ones I remember but the spirit is still there. I can see her Summers through her eyes even though my perspective is blocked with obstacles. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t have work to do.  Even on the easiest days, I still grow fearful that if I don’t fulfill my responsibilities they will pile up on me and crush what little I’m still able to enjoy about you, Summer. But Summer still exists unconditionally for my daughter, and it will for many years to come. That is refreshing. And that is my only consolation.

So, keep up the good work, Summer. I wish you and I could spend more time together. We had fun, didn’t we?  Yes, we did. I’ll try to wave to you as our paths briefly cross in the next few months.  In the meantime, please take good care of Izzy.

Thank you,


Nick, thank you for sharing your WONDERFUL letters to Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer with me. I'll miss this series! Have a great summer! -John

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Happy Saturday, Mr. Colby Sharp!

Hi, Mr. Sharp,

Happy Saturday! Welcome home from New York City! I love the video you posted of you and Travis chatting in the car during your long drive from New York to Michigan. 

Have a wonderful weekend!


Please visit Colby's blog to watch his Saturday video. 

Little Elliot, Big Family by Mike Curato  | Publication Date: October 6, 2015

Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History by Don Brown  | Publication Date: October 13, 2015

How to Share with a Bear by Eric Pinder; illustrated by Stephanie Graegin | Publication Date: October 20, 2015

Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter by Barbara Herkert; illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska | Publication Date: October 27, 2015

The Fantastic Ferris Wheel: The Story of Inventor George Ferris by Betsy Harvey Kraft; illustrated by Steven Salerno | Publication Date: October 13, 2015

Lassie Come Home by Susan Hill; illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov | Publication Date: October 13, 2015

Friday, June 19, 2015

Author Michelle Knudsen

I cannot believe this is Michelle Knudsen's first time visiting Watch. Connect. Read. I have been a HUGE FAN of her books for a long time.  

Michelle and I chatted about monsters, evil librarians, rabbits, lions, reading, picture books, and candy. I wrote the words in orange, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Michelle!

Marilyn’s Monster tells the story of Marilyn, who soon becomes the only girl who doesn’t have a monster. (Monster companions begin appearing for children shortly before the book opens, and you can’t just go out and get one — your monster has to find you. That’s just the way it works.) When all the other kids (including Marilyn’s very irritating older brother) are happily paired up with their monsters and hers still hasn’t come, Marilyn decides to take matters into her own hands. Even if that’s not the way it works.

Illustration Credit: Matt Phelan
Matt Phelan’s illustrations are amazing and beautiful and perfect. We’ve wanted to do a book together for a long time, and I’m so happy it finally happened! I love the details he’s included and how every child’s monster seems to be exactly the perfect one for that particular child. And I love how expressive he’s made Marilyn as she experiences the many emotions her situation stirs up inside her: loneliness, hope, sadness, anger, determination, and, finally, joy.

Miss Merriweather is still one of my favorite characters. She’s not based on any librarians I know in real life, although she certainly has some qualities in common with many of them.

Scott Magoon and I never met until after Big Mean Mike was finished, but I had to write to him when I first saw the sketches he drew for the bunnies in that book to tell him how much I loved them. They literally made me cry with their nearly unbearable cuteness. THEY ARE SO FLUFFY. Also, I still don’t understand how he managed to make them so expressive when they have so few features, but he totally did. Also, he is super nice in person.

The Sid Fleischman Award for Humor was a huge surprise! I was so honored to get the call telling me I’d won for Evil Librarian. That book was both my first young adult novel and my first attempt to really write something funny on purpose. I’d always felt that a lot of the humor in my books sort of happens by accident, and when I realized I was writing a novel that was going to have to be funny all the way through, I got a little panicky. I’m so happy that people find it funny. There’s nothing like reading something out loud and hearing your audience laugh in the right places! And to find out my book was chosen out of all the other funny books published that year ... I’m still pretty much blown away by the whole thing. And really, really grateful.

Picture books are very hard to write. For me, anyway. But I love them, and I want to keep writing them forever.

Reading is magic. I still remember not being able to read but knowing that those letters on the page were some kind of gateway to things I couldn’t really imagine. And then the slow realization of how far that gateway could take you. Books were (and still are) my escape when things are hard, a place to meet amazing characters and live and learn and feel things outside my own experience, and a source of endless information about the world and everything in it.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my Reese’s Peanut Butter cup addiction. But maybe it’s best that you didn’t.

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

Thursday, June 18, 2015

4 Questions and 4 Sentence Starters with Kelly Jones

Hi, Kelly Jones! Thanks for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to celebrate your wonderful debut novel, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer.

Kelly Jones:Thanks so much for having me!

I am always drawn to epistolary novels. I love Sophie Brown’s letters to Uncle Jim, Abuelita, and Agnes. Did early drafts tell the story through letters and documents?

Kelly Jones: Yes, this book has always been in letters – I’ve been dying to write an epistolary novel since I first read Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. But the early versions were very different: at first, Sophie only wrote to Agnes. But why was Sophie telling Agnes such personal things? Who would she tell instead? Once Sophie was writing different kinds of letters to different people, the story could really unfold in different dimensions.

Also, it wasn’t until I started to wonder who was delivering Sophie’s letters that I met Gregory, the mailman, who turned out to be one of my favorite characters.

Click here for more recommendations. 
Are you up for a challenge? Book talk Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer using no more than 140 characters. Twitter style! :)

Kelly Jones: Unusual Chickens is about a girl & her superchickens trying to do what's right, & making a home in a new place. It's a funny book about grief.

Wow, well done, Kelly! A+ I like how you shortened the title. That saved you some characters. :)
Illustration Credit: Katie Kath
What ran through your head the first time you saw Katie Kath’s illustrations?

Kelly Jones: “WOW!!!! That’s Henrietta, all right!!! How did she know that about Sophie? And yes, that’s what Sophie’s parents look like, and Gregory – oh, I do like that librarian’s boots – and how much do I love Dad singing at the family dance party while Mom does the funky chicken…”

When I write, I don’t see pictures in my mind. And I didn’t know what it would feel like to have someone help me tell this story – because that’s really what these illustrations are: a different kind of storytelling. I was so happy and grateful that Katie understood Sophie’s story immediately and brought her whole heart to this book too. (So funny to think I’ve still never met her!)

I hope you two meet in person soon. I'm looking forward to meeting you at ALA Annual next week.
Illustration Credit: Katie Kath
If we had been friends in middle school, which book would you have insisted I read?

Back then? Probably The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, or maybe Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater (both still favorites!) But if I could take a book from any time back with me, I’d probably give you Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr, which was a magic book to me when it came out – I wonder what you’d think of it!

I've seen the Nim's Island movie, but I haven't read the book. I'll add it to my to-read pile. Thank you for the recommendation!

Please finish these sentence starters:

Sophie Brown’s parents are worried about a lot of things: money, bills, food assistance, finding work, missing the family, friends, and community they left back in Los Angeles, and wondering whether this move was the right choice. But they aren’t worried about Sophie. They know she is brave, and optimistic, and will always do the best she can, even if she didn’t want to move. They are really, really proud of her.
Illustration Credit: Katie Kath
Glamour tells the story of Miss Annis Whitworth, who, when orphaned, decides she’d much rather be a spy like her father than a boring old governess. Unfortunately, the War Office does not agree, so she will simply have to show them how helpful she could be. It’s set in 1818 England, and there are no chickens (yet), but it is still funny, and it has a different kind of magic.
Explore Kelly's website. 
Reading is my favorite way to see the world and meet new friends. It’s also the place I go when hard things happen in my life. There are a few books I’ve read so many times that just opening the cover feels like a huge hug from someone I love. I would like nothing better than to write a book that could give a hug to someone who needs one. It’s the best kind of magic.

Read Margie Myers-Culver's review
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me who might like to read Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer?

Someone who:
  • likes to read about superpowers
  • lives on a farm, or wonder what it’s like to live on a farm
  • likes chickens
  • would like to learn something about chickens
  • wonders what chickens would do with superpowers
  • wants to read a chapter book, but would like pictures to help show the story
  • would like to read a funny book about a Latina person (and has already read Pickle by Kim Baker)
  • would like to read a book about a bicultural person, where the protagonist doesn’t look exactly like her parents
  • likes animal books but don’t want the animals to die (like me!)
  • likes animal books but not talking animal books
  • likes chapter books where the words are broken up in different, less-intimidating ways
  • likes fantasy and magic
  • likes nonfiction and realistic fiction
  • is moving to a new place and is a little nervous
  • has lost someone they love and wish they could write to them, even if they know they can’t write back
  • likes to fill out quizzes like “Are Chickens Right For You?”

And, most of all, someone who likes funny books, with really, really funny pictures!

Thank you, Kelly!

Borrow Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.