Friday, July 31, 2015

August #SharpSchu Book Club Meeting

The #SharpSchu Twitter Book Club is discussing Bob Shea's Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret and Cassie Beasley's Circus Mirandus on Tuesday, August 18 at 8:00 PM CDT / 9:00 PM EDT. We hope to "see" you then! :)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

My interview with author-illustrator Emily Hughes is not supposed to go up until tomorrow, but I cannot wait another moment to share her beautiful and thoughtful responses to my sentence starters. I wrote the words in green, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Emily! 

The Little Gardener tells the story of the importance of vision. If you believe something to be right or true or important--be resolute, commit and live it, despite the obstacles and doubt. Sometimes it never comes out right, sometimes you need a lot of help, oftentimes you never reach your goal, but it paves the way for others to follow suit. Your vision will eventually be realised, but it starts with your determination and hard work. 

I created the illustrations with pencils and my computer. I do all the lines by hand with a mechanical pencil, and colour it all on photoshop. I drew a lot of flowers from studying botanical books in my library, though most of them are a strange culmination of different plants that bred in my head. 

The Little Gardener's endpapers are simple. It is of taro or 'kalo', an important plant to Hawaii's culture--not only was it one of the few sacred plants brought when Hawaiians first settled, it was considered an ancestor to those of Hawaiian decent, a big brother. I think that belief is beautiful, and that kinship with the earth is still prevalent in Hawaii. Being back home in Hilo one summer reminded me of this, and has been a huge source of inspiration for Gardener. 

I find joy in talking about ideas, starting ideas, when I feel brave and try something new (especially when it's something crafty), making art with children (who are fearless, how I admire that!), having an un-rushed museum day, walking. Having time set aside for reading on the bus and in the evening is definitely joyous. 

Photo of Emily retrieved from here
If you visited my studio, you would be shocked by the mess! To be fair, I am transitioning from my move, but I doubt my desk will be any neater when everything is (seemingly) tucked into their spaces! You would also raise a brow at the stacks of chocolate and bags of almonds I have hiding amongst the paper (I'd share). 

Picture books are amazing, comforting little things. It is an acting stage for adults when they read to their babes, and a 2D world for children to live in and question. It's poetic, with it's deliberate page-turning pacing. It's good fun. Picture books are underrated, really, and I wish people of older age ranges with or without children could feel comfortable and secure about their reading and enjoyment of children's literature--they have a lot to offer in both thought and image. 
Click here to visit Carter's website. 
Carter Higgins and I will be working on her wonderful story, Everything you Need for a Treehouse, which is coming out in 2017. It's written in a very pretty, lyrical way, and I am excited to have the excuse to look at trees and cabins for 'research'. It's going to be a blast drawing an assortment of funky tree houses that I always 'pined' for, but never had growing up. 

Visit Emily's tumblr page
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me less questions! I've got picture to draw and ideas that need starting! 

But if you really had to, you'd ask me what my favourite plant would be. And I would answer without shame that it would be a zinnia. 

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Last Week Told through Vines


I left these two wonderful books on my friend Laura's front porch.


Donalyn Miller and I had fun shopping in North Carolina.


I talked about these books during my workshops in North Carolina. 


I love this WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS display at Joseph-Beth Bookshop.

Mr. Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller, Katherine Sokolowski, and I had the entire Scholastic Book Fair to ourselves. 


I walk or drive by this gorgeous house almost every day. I want to turn it into a children's literature center. :)


I added "Learn How to Tie a Bow Tie" to my to-do list. Thank you, Leo! 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dan Santat, Kwame Alexander, and Donald Crews

Are you sad you didn't attend the 2015 Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet? Good news! You can finally dry those tears! ALSC recorded Dan Santat, Kwame Alexander, and Donald Crews delivering their inspiring and memorable acceptance speeches. Happy watching! 

P.S. You'll need a box of tissues on hand! 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

WAIT by Antoinette Portis

Good morning, Antoinette Portis! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. As soon as I finished reading Wait, I mailed my copy to Lauren Castillo. I knew she would love and appreciate it as much as I do. What does it feel like when people say they cannot WAIT to share your books with readers?

Antoinette Portis: It’s exciting to have people responding enthusiastically to Wait. Every book I’ve made has my heart and soul in it, but that doesn’t mean the world responds with equal fervor. So it’s great when you feel some excitement out there. The true test is seeing how children respond. I’m looking forward to doing readings and getting into conversations with kids about the book. I find myself wishing my daughter was still 4 and I could read this one to her, sitting in my lap.

I hope Wait inspires adults to slow down and admire the world with their children.

Antoinette Portis: I hope it does, too. When my daughter was 18 months old, I took off work for a year. We would go to the park and dig in the sand and roam around and collect bark, twigs, seed pods, leaves, pebbles. I slowed down to kid speed and started paying attention to stuff that I’d been too harried to notice.  An unexpected bonus was I started making art again (which I hadn’t done since I started working after art school) and just generally felt more creative. Sasha was my life teacher in toddler form. Everything gave her joy. She beamed love at strangers. Life was an exciting adventure that she met with pure enthusiasm. Her attitude woke me up to a greater sense of joy at being on this earth.

I see “Wait” moments happening everywhere. Just yesterday, I walked out my door and a mom and dad were taking a stroll with their toddler. The little boy was stopped at our corner, gazing at two dogs across the street. His parents had moved a bit farther down the block, and I could tell they were a bit impatient for him to catch up, but they let him be.
Anything out of the ordinary drew his attention. Here was this free-ranging curiosity, just waiting to light on something. He exulted in each discovery: a tree stump makes an excellent dais. Suddenly the world was at his feet—I could read that on his face.
I see children’s curiosity as an expression of human intelligence, not an artifact of childhood. It’s the same curiosity that led us to figure out how to send a probe out 3 billion miles into space to send back pictures of Pluto.

Illustration Credit: Antoinette Portis
Was the working title always Wait? Did your manuscript always contain three different words?

Antoinette Portis: I have a giant file of dummies! There are over 30 versions. It was called “But…” for the first few rounds. There was more text. The mom said things like, “Keep moving, sweetie,” and “No time to dawdle.” And the boy answered “But…”, not “Wait.”
There was a version where only the child spoke. His “Wait,” was in answer to the mom’s silent prompts. The back and forth was only in the pictures. But gradually I got clear, after taking various versions to my writing group, that I wanted the textual counterpoint of “hurry/wait” as the story’s structure.
Neal Porter (my editor) and I tinkered with the ending a bit. The mom’s “wait” at the end needed an extra beat and that’s where the “yes” came in.
This book seemed to lend itself to a high-concept, limited-text treatment. The reader has to look closely at the pictures to get the most out of the story. Readers have to stop and observe, too.
Illustration Credit: Antoinette Portis
If we visited your studio, what would we see?

Antoinette Portis: A big fat mess, usually. I like to work in visually busy spaces. I have art that I love pinned on the walls (Donald Baechler, Margaret Kilgallen, my daughters childhood drawings, etc). Of course there are toys (like a Steiff tiger with eyes that glowed in the dark that my brother and I used to fight over), plastic cars, figurines, various tchotchkes from my grandmother or the flea market, beach stones I’ve collected. Just random objects that make me happy.
I have a wall of bookcases filled with picture books (it’s picture book school right there!) and art supplies, a small drafting table where I draw, a computer table with my mac and Cintiq tablet (a new acquisition), flat files, and a few other work tables that are covered in piles of stuff from a recent project that I need to put away. Clutter then clean/clutter then clean—that’s the circle of life.
When I’m in the illustration phase of making a book, on a wall that’s visible from both my drawing and computer tables, I pin up the illo spreads. (I think all illustrators must do this.) It’s a way of seeing the book as a whole—checking the color flow, composition and pacing. And having the book up there gives me a good sense of the progress I’m making (or not making) to meet the deadline.
The wall has helped me avoid a pitfall I ran into early on—getting into a death spiral with an illustration that’s not working—restaging it over and over as the days or weeks ticked by and the end date loomed. Now I know that if the wall is stuck, I’m stuck, and I need to turn my attention to another spread. Later I can circle back to work on the trouble spot with fresh energy and a clearer eye.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Reading is my life’s blood. And my main hobby. Can’t imagine life without it!

(from my 5th grade autobiography)

Picture books are my inspiration, addiction, current favorite art form. My job, my joy.

Not a Box and Not a Stick (my first two books) are the precursors of Wait. All three are books where it’s my intention that the concept resonates more than the text. The words create a superstructure for the pictures to tell the story.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me...If you could have another life and be anything you wanted, what you be? And I’d say: an astrophysicist with a fantastic singing voice, working on finding the theory of everything (not the movie, the actual theory). Math is a language I would like to understand--but in this life, that’s not happening. And I can’t hold a tune, either.

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

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Happy Saturday, Mr. Sharp and Lauren Castillo!

Dear Mr. Sharp and Lauren Castillo,

I hope you're both having a super Saturday! I look forward to seeing both of you in November at #NCTE15. w00t! w00t! :)

Have a wonderful weekend!


Please click here to watch Mr. Colby Sharp's video.

Caldecott Honor winner Lauren Castillo filmed a Saturday video for Colby Sharp and me. 

Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split by Anica Mrose Rissi

Maple and Willow Apart by Lori Nichols 

Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book Trailer Premiere: It's Tough to Lose Your Balloon by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

I am honored to premiere the book trailer for Jarrett J. Krosoczka's It's Tough to Lose Your Balloon. Go grab a cold beverage, sit back, relax, and get ready to smile from ear to ear. 

 I can't wait for people to read It's Tough to Lose Your Balloon when it publishes on September 8th! It will be my 25th book as author and illustrator, and my 30th book overall. The picture book is all about acknowledging and validating the concerns kids have, and offering creative solutions to look on the bright side of life's shortcomings. It's a book that almost became my first published book. In 1999, when I was a senior at Rhode Island School of Design, I wrote a book called Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches in the Sand. It simply listed the injustices, no positive twists, and was rejected by several publishers. But then several years later I was at a local park with my daughter, and she lost her balloon. She was devastated. My wife, Gina, offered a very creative look at how this calamity could be positive, and then everything came together...

For the book trailer, I interviewed kids about what was tough for them in their lives. Kids' problems can sometimes feel trivial to us, but when we get down to their level and watch that balloon float, it is indeed tough.

It's Tough to Lose Your Balloon by Jarrett J. Krosoczka | Publication Date: 9/8/15 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Guest Post by Teacher-Librarian Jennifer Lucas

Last spring, author Phil Bildner asked me if I'd be interested in getting a group of students together to help him create the official book trailer for his new middle grade novel, A Whole New Ballgame.  I've known Phil Bildner for several years, and he visited my school, Hamilton Elementary, back in December and conducted writing workshops with the fourth graders.

I asked each of our four fourth grade Language Arts teachers to select two deserving students to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime, top-secret opportunity. I say top secret because the kids didn't know all the details about the projects.

For three months, the eight students met in the library office twice a week during lunch. Together, we read an advanced reader's edition of the book. We called our book club "The Bildner Bunch" and had fabulous discussions about how we label each other, what makes a good teacher, and what is autism. We also talked about looking at the world from other points of view. We even stood on the library's circulation desk - including a student in a wheelchair - just like the kids in Mr. Acevedo's class in A Whole New Ballgame.  All eight students loved being a part of this group. They loved knowing they were the first kids to read a book that hadn't been published. They loved knowing they were going to make the official book trailer.

One of my favorite moments (there were several), was during our first Bildner Bunch meeting. Phil and I arranged a surprise meeting through FaceTime.  When his call came through, everyone stopped chewing their lunches!  Phil explained his vision for the trailer and asked if they'd be willing to help.  Of course, they said yes! Afterwards, they asked if that was the real Phil Bildner they were talking to. 

Over the next few weeks, the kids worked together to decide who would say each line and made sure the parts were divided up evenly.  They also practiced the "Rip and Red Handshake" over and over with a partner. Each pair interpreted the handshake a little differently, and it was fun to show off what they came up with. 

One of the students, Reece, is in a motorized wheelchair and couldn't do the handshake exactly like the main characters Rip and Red. Reece and his partner Trey worked together in a corner to modify it so Reece could participate.  When they presented to the group, the kids all clapped and cheered (while I choked back tears of pride).  

On a side note, Reece can do anything he puts his mind to, and ever since Kindergarten, his classmates have watched him conquer anything that gets in his way. He runs in 5Ks,  plays soccer at recess, and does every field day event in his walker.  Reece is very opinionated and will repeat himself as often as necessary to make sure you understand his opinion clearly.  Another of my favorite Bildner Bunch moments is when Reece asked why Avery (the character in the book who is in a wheelchair) was so angry all the time.  Reece is so optimistic and determined that he just didn't understand where her anger came from!

For the trailer, we decided two students would demonstrate the handshake, and then the whole group would do it together.  As the group practiced, they realized that Reece wouldn't be able to do the "360 turn" as quickly as everyone else and stay in sync.  They decided Trey would follow Reece's pace and the other pairs would wait for them to finish the circle before moving to the "jumping hip-bump." Watching these kids find a solution so matter-of-factly was inspiring.  They didn't view Reece's physical difference as a challenge or obstacle or handicap or problem. It was just Reece and together they figured out a way to accomplish the task at hand.  This was my favorite moment of the entire process, no doubt about it.

Once I filmed the two series of handshakes on my iPhone, the kids recorded the narration on an iPad using the Tape Recorder app.  I downloaded the audio and video to a library desktop along with the images Phil sent from the publisher.  Three of the students (Reece was one of them) offered to give up lunch AND recess to help arrange everything in MovieMaker.  Due to time constraints, I took over the final editing of the video.  

The Bildner Bunch gave two sneak peaks of the trailer - one to their teachers and one to their parents (with refreshments, of course) the last week of school.  Several of us had leaky eyes after I explained how these eight were chosen from over one hundred forty students to help create a trailer requested by the author himself and to be used by the publisher as the official trailer.  I made it clear that I was only the facilitator - the students made the video.  The kids all agreed that this was WAY more fun that doing a traditional book report or even a PowerPoint. And I believe it's fair to say that each of the eight members of The Bildner Bunch are most proud of the fact that EVERYONE participated to make it awesome.  


A Whole New Ballgame by Phil Bildner | Publication Date: August 18, 2015. 

Emily Windsnap and the Ship of Lost Souls by Liz Kessler

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I am celebrating this beautiful summer day with Liz Kessler. She dropped by Watch. Connect. Read. to chat with me about Emily Windsnap, Sarah Gibb's illustrations, Poppy, and school libraries. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Liz! 

Emily Windsnap and Aaron have the adventure of their lives in this one!

Did you know Emily Windsnap and the Ship of Lost Souls is the first of my Emily Windsnap books to be published on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time?

When I was Emily Windsnap’s age I used to be quite naughty, and had quite a taste for adventure myself. Which meant I often got into trouble!

Sarah Gibb’s illustrations in Emily Windsnap and the Ship of Lost Souls are I think the best of all my books.

Poppy is my dog, and is the best Dalmatian in the world, and is cute and cuddly and lovely, and loves to eat carrots!

School libraries are really, really important and wonderful things, as are the librarians who run them!

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me which of my other books you should read if you like Emily Windsnap? And I would tell you to try out the Philippa Fisher series, and my latest standalone book, Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book Trailer Premiere: Maple and Willow Apart by Lori Nichols

My students and I are huge fans of Maple and Maple and Willow Together. Lori Nichols dropped by to share the book trailer for the third book in the Maple series, Maple and Willow Apart. Thank you, Lori! 

Hi Mr. Schu. Thanks for premiering the book trailer for MAPLE & WILLOW APART. It's always such an honor to be featured on your site.

I remember the feeling of being left behind while my older sister went to big-girl school. It was a strange feeling to do things alone without her. The third book of the Maple & Willow series also finds Maple going off to big-girl school while Willow is left behind. Maple comes home from school each day excited to tell a lonely Willow all about her new friends and world at school. Maple's excitement for school wanes when Willow also finds adventure and a special friend. 

I really love these little girls and their stories and hope you and your audience enjoy this trailer. Thanks again, John, for all you do to promote the love of reading to a world of kids.

Borrow Maple and Willow Apart from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Cover Reveal for Lauren Magaziner's Pilfer Academy: A School So Bad It’s Criminal

I am excited to share the cover for Lauren Magaziner's Pilfer Academy: A School So Bad It's Criminal. I think young readers will be drawn to illustrator Andrew Bannecker's funny details. 

Confession: I have never stolen anything in my life.

Okay, that’s not actually a crazy confession to make, but it seems like it when I’m coming out with a book about a school for thieves.

I started writing Pilfer Academy: A School So Bad It’s Criminal in 2013, and I must have had a case of the sillies because I ended up with a book that has:

-an ice cream truck kidnapping
-classes where you learn 15 uses for a toilet plunger
-Dean Dean Deanbugle (a dean whose first name is Dean and whose last name is Deanbugle)
-and my personal favorite: Triple-diple Ultra-deluxe Melty Creamy Creamer Rainbow Swizzle Milk Munch ice cream, the best ice cream in the world.

I always wondered—would a cover ever be able to capture the book's humorous tone? The answer to that is YES! Today, I’m delighted to shout from the rooftops how much I love this cover! Artist Andrew Bannecker's playful art has completely stolen my heart!

But hey! you’re probably thinking. Show don’t tell. And so without further ado:

On sale date: February 16, 2016, Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House

And here's the book's flap copy:

Fans of Escape From Mr. Lemencello’s Library and Roald Dahl will gobble up this hilarious story about a secret boarding school for thieves-in-training!

Troublemaking George has never heard of Pilfer Academy, a top-secret school for cultivating young crooks, until he's kidnapped as its newest student. The teachers are kooky at best, and naughty does not even begin to describe his sneaky, smart, and morally bankrupt new classmates. Between disguise classes, cracking safes, and DIY gadgets, George becomes an expert bandit and finds true friendship with Tabitha, his new partner-in-crime. But everything is ruined when George comes to a shocking realization: He is just too good-hearted to be a thief! 

Unfortunately, not thieving is not an option at Pilfer Academy, and "misbehaving" students face Dean Deanbugle's favorite punishment—the Whirlyblerg! In order to gain their freedom, George and Tabitha must pull the biggest heist the school has ever seen and reveal their true colors not as thieves, but as kind (and, okay, mischievous) kids.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Last Week Told Through Vines


It was the perfect evening for a concert at Ravinia Festival.


What was inside my carry-on bag?

Look at all those beautiful books! 


I talked about these books during my workshop at the Scholastic Reading Summit.  


Andrea Davis Pinkney is an inspiring and phenomenal speaker. 


I spotted these books in the gift shop at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. 

I met Hettie the Hedgehog at the Birmingham Public Library.


I gave these books to a kind server/psychology student I met in Birmingham.


The Downers Grove Public Library is bright and inviting.

I love this display area! You know how I feel about facing out books. 

New books at the Downers Grove Public Library. 


I agree with Rex, the star of Specs for Rex

I mailed books to @studiocastillo, @mjantzi, and @llevitt!

Are you in the mood for a good cry? Go see Beaches the Musical

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Happy Saturday, Mr. Colby Sharp!

Dear Mr. Sharp,

Happy Saturday! I'm looking forward to seeing you next week at the Scholastic Reading Summit in Cincinnati, Ohio! :) 

Have a wonderful weekend, sir!



Please visit Mr. Sharp's blog to watch his video. 

Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman; illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Supertruck by Stephen Savage