Friday, January 30, 2015

Author-illustrator Cori Doerrfeld

Happy Friday! I am currently in Chicago for the ALA Midwinter meeting. I'm excited to spend the day with Colby Sharp, Travis Jonker, Kurt Stroh, and more. Before I head out for the day, Cori Doerrfeld stopped by to chat with me about Matilda, dancing, Penny, reading, and picture books. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Cori! 

Matilda the bunny went through several evolutions both in her appearance, and her story.  She began somewhere in a painting I did long, long ago and quite simply with a bunny in a tutu. While developing the book, I gave birth to my second child.  Instantly my world became about finding a way to make sure my oldest still received attention, but also helping her see that she can't always be the star of the show.  This is what lead Matilda in the Middle to focus more on family dynamics. Life is busy, and families constantly juggle needs and wants. I hope Matilda sends the message that despite all of this, your family is there for you when it really matters--to celebrate and to love you. 

Illustration Credit: Cori Doerrfeld 

I created the illustrations for Matilda in the Middle in a style that was completely new to me. My prior books were all hand painted in acrylics.  I wanted Matilda to feel more classic and less graphic. So ironically, I found a way to color the art digitally.  All the bunnies were still hand drawn with pencil, and it took a LOT of experimenting and failing, but in the end I am very happy with the results. 

Ballet is something I was never very good at.  (Hence the less than confident look on my face in my recital photo).

Illustration Credit: Cori Doerrfeld 

Penny Loves Pink tells the story of change through the eyes of a toddler.  I wrote this story when I worked at a daycare taking care of two-year olds.  There was a girl who needed everything around her to be pink: her clothes, her toys...even her potty.  Children, especially young children, take comfort in the things they know. Facing change or something new can be scary for them. Penny is just a little reminder that change is all in how you color the situation.

Illustration credit: Cori Doerrfeld 
Picture books are where the adventure begins BECAUSE reading is how we explore the worlds within. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about Matilda's REAL siblings.  I actually have three different picture books with bunnies as the main character.  Little Bunny Foo Foo The Real Story is Matilda's somewhat twisted older sister.  And in 2016, a baby brother is coming along.  I just finished illustrating Snuggle Bunny by Kate Dopirak. 

I am giving away 5 copies of Matilda in the Middle

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 1/30 to 11:59 p.m. on 2/1. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. If you win, please pay it forward. 

Borrow Matilda in the Middle form your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

5 Questions and 2 Sentence Starters with George O’Connor

Mr. Schu: Hi, George! Happy Thursday! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read. First of all,  congratulations on the publication of your much-anticipated graphic novel, Ares: Bringer of War. The cover is going to pop on bookshelves. 

Scenario: You’re visiting a middle school in New York City. A seventh grader raises his hand and asks you to deliver Ares’ bio using no more than 140 characters (Twitter style). You say...

George O'Connor: Ares is the god of war, but not of strategy. He's much more interested in making bloody piles out of people than in helping any one side win.

I am borrowing a question from a reader’s guide I found on your website. Are you ready to answer your own question? 

George O'Connor: I can do this. Bring it on!

Who would you rather meet, Ares or Athena? Who do you think you are more similar to? 

George O'Connor: This is a tough question, if I do say so myself. If I were to meet Athena, I doubt it would be a chance occurrence- either she had some super-dangerous quest she needed me for, or else I had inadvertently offended her and was about to be punished. Either way, I’m not getting off easy.  Ares, on the other hand, I don’t think he would pay me much notice, like I was an ant that he might accidentally step on. I figure I have a fifty–fifty chance of escaping that encounter without anything hideous happening to me. That being said, I choose Athena. Go for the gusto, I always say.

As far whom I’m more alike, as much as I’d love to say Athena, I’m more similar to Ares. Not that I’m a bloodthirsty psychopath, but more that I’m not particularly wise or good at strategy.

If we visited your studio, what would we see? 

George O'Connor: Upon entering my home studio, your attention would be immediately captivated by an entire wall of Masters of the Universe action figures. After that settled down in your mind you’d notice my drawing table, covered with sketches and pages from Olympians Volume 8, APOLLO: THE BRILLIANT GOD, my computer and cintiq where I’m coloring pages from the same book, and stacks and stacks of comics, picture books and graphic novels I’ve not yet been able to work onto my already overstuffed bookshelves. Also my cat Birdy would probably be sitting on the printer giving you a dirty look.

Illustration credit: George O'Connor 
If we had been friends in middle school, what would I have seen on your bookshelves? 

George O'Connor: Paperback copies of the Prydain Cycle by Lloyd Alexander. A beat up, dogeared copy of Daulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. A hardcover copy of the Increasingly Innaccurately Named Complete Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy. A whole bunch of Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County and Far Side collections. A wad of Spider-Man, X-Men and Thor comics. A small statue of a baby T-Rex I bought in the badlands. Probably an empty cicada skin too, just for good measure.

Illustration Credit: George O'Connor 
Do you have any rituals before you start working on a graphic novel?  What about after? 

George O'Connor: I wish I had some clever or mysterious ritual to impart here, like sacrificing a bull to the gods or invoking the spirits of my ancestors or something, but really all I’ll do at the start of working on a graphic novel is tape up a bunch of sketches and wipe the dirt off my drafting table (I live in NYC—it gets very dusty very quickly). My ritual after I finish usually just consists of my walking around for a few days in a semi-dazed state, muttering to myself, “can’t believe I finished it!”
Illustration Credit: George O'Connor 
Please complete these sentence starters: 

Did you know that the climax of Ares: Bringer of War is a knock-down battle between the gods who supported the Greeks and the gods who supported the Trojans? Ares vs Athena! Apollo vs Poseidon! Artemis vs Hera! I waited years to draw those pages! 

School libraries are an amazing place to discover what you love. All the things I’m most interested in, from dinosaurs to greek gods to bigfoot, are things I first learned about in my school library. 

  • George O'Connor is a New York Times-bestselling author and illustrator of the Olympians series as well as such graphic novels as Journey into Mohawk Country and Ball Peen Hammer. In addition to his graphic novel career, Mr. O'Connor has published several children's picture books. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

 Borrow Ares: Bringer of War from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Spider Ring | A Guest Post by Andrew Harwell

I’ve always loved origin stories. You know, the ones where the superhero first gets her powers. The ones where we see how the good witch and the bad witch used to be best friends until it all went wrong.

It seems origin stories are cropping up a lot these days, from the river of rebooted superhero franchises to the twists on origins we only thought we knew. Take Wicked’s spin on the Witch of the West, for example, or Frozen’s reimagining of the enigmatic Snow Queen.

In writing my first novel, The Spider Ring—about a girl who inherits a magical ring that gives her the power to control spiders—I was inspired by my love of origin stories in two key ways.


One of my favorite short stories, “Secret Identity” by Kelly Link, imagines a girl who goes to a superhero convention to meet a hero, only to find that she may have subtle powers of her own. It’s a testament to Link’s genius that we reach the end of the story sure we’ve just read an origin story, even though it’s less clear whether it’s of a future superhero, supervillain, or super-sidekick. That uncertainty sets it apart from most origin stories, where the trick is in already knowing what the characters become, and where the delight is in seeing all the familiar elements before the characters know they’re familiar.

That uncertainty also makes the story more like real life. In real life, we can’t possibly look ahead and know what we’ll become. We can’t know which elements will become familiar. I think that’s one reason why we look for ourselves in other people’s stories.

Maria, the heroine of The Spider Ring, is a lot like I was as a kid in that she is desperately looking for herself in stories. She finds comfort in her favorite book, Agatha at Sea, but she’s not sure if she is as courageous as Agatha is. When she reads a fairy tale aloud to her grandmother, she absorbs the dichotomy of a world where one is either a fair-haired princess or a shadow queen.

Then there are the stories of the people around her. Maria has a rare kindred spirit in her grandma Esme, so it’s easy for her to imagine herself in her grandmother’s life stories. But the more Maria learns about her grandmother’s past, the more she realizes that they might have some differences after all, and that other people’s stories can only take you so far.

And isn’t that the truly exciting thing about origin stories? That they show us how no one is merely a “hero” or a “villain?” Instead, we’re all humans who have to make choices along the way.


I remember seeing A New Hope as a kid and thinking it was the coolest thing in the world to start a series with Episode IV. It made me feel like I was joining a story already deep in the telling; it infused the world with a sense of history.

My favorite books are the ones that can convey that kind of history without coming right out and explaining It all. That, too, is how it works in real life—we hear real people’s “origin stories” in anecdotes and asides, bits and pieces. Only in fiction do we get the illusion of a complete back-story.

In The Spider Ring, Maria discovers that the ring she inherits from her grandmother has a long and complicated past, but she barely uncovers the tip of the iceberg. The same is true of Grandma Esme herself; Maria fills in bits and pieces of her mysterious grandmother’s past, but she’s still only getting a small slice of her history.

Ultimately, I wanted to write a book in which readers got just enough of the history to know that they’d joined a story deep in the telling. I wanted the fact that no one’s past is ever fully laid bare to suggest that our present lives are just as full of mystery and potential, awaiting our own choices.

I wanted to say that one person’s origin story is always another person’s Episode IV.

Photograph Credit: Jeremy West 
Andrew Harwell is a children's book writer and editor living in Brooklyn, New York. He may or may not believe in magic.
Originally from Georgia, Andrew graduated from the University of Chicago, where he double-majored in Germanic Studies and Fundamentals: Issues and Texts (a major which here means a whole lot of reading and re-reading).
The Spider Ring is Andrew's first book for young readers. It's a spooky modern fairy tale about a girl who inherits a magical ring from her grandmother, but it's also about friendship, grief, and the power of stories to ensnare and define us.

Mr. Schu is giving away one copy of The Spider Ring

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 1/28 to 11:59 PM on 1/30. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. If you win, please pay it forward. 

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The #SharpSchu Book Club Meets Tomorrow

Please join Cece Bell, Lauren Castillo, Colby Sharp, and me tomorrow night at 7:00 CST. 

4 Questions and 3 Sentence Starters with Dan Gemeinhart

Mr. Schu: First of all, happy book birthday to The Honest Truth. I’ve really enjoyed reading how teachers and librarians are responding to it on Twitter. It is one of the most talked about and anticipated books of 2015. How does it feel to share Mark’s story with more and more readers? 

Dan Gemeinhart: Thanks, Mr. Schu! The response to The Honest Truth has really been thrilling and humbling. Just to get the book published was a dream come true, and to have people – strangers, even! - reach out to say how much they liked it has just been out of this world. I spend so much time pinching myself that if I'm not careful my arms will soon be horribly scarred. How does it feel? Easy: amazing. And pretty surreal. And immensely gratifying. The story means a lot to's written in honor of a friend of mine, my sister's fiancee, who died of cancer. It's not about him, but it's written for him, so to see this story out in the world, being read and enjoyed by, goosebumps. It's a beautiful feeling. I feel so, so blessed to be where I'm at right now.

Scenario:  You’re  in a crowded elevator at the ALA Midwinter meeting in Chicago. A school librarian notices that you’re holding a copy of The Honest Truth. She asks you what it is about. You have 45 seconds to deliver a booktalk. Ready, Set, Go! 

Dan Gemeinhart: Would it be cheating to hit the Emergency Stop button on the elevator to give myself some more time? Yeah, probably. I'll stick to the forty-five seconds, then. And I like to start booktalks with a question. Here I go: 

“How far would a 12 year-old boy go for the adventure of a lifetime? How far would he go if he knew his life was ending? The Honest Truth is an adventure story about friendship, about loyalty, about surviving. Mark is a tough kid fighting a terrible disease, and he's had enough. He's tired of being sick and living his life on other people's terms, so he runs away with his dog on an unlikely and dangerous quest to fulfill his dream of climbing Mt. Rainier. He leaves behind his family and his best friend, Jessie, who figures out where Mark is going and has to decide whether it's more loyal to tell where Mark is going and save his life, or keep his secret and let him die on the mountain. Mark encounters both angels and demons on his life-and-death journey, but his loyal dog stays by his side – until the very end. This is not at all a book about dying – it's a book about living.”

That's 42 seconds on my me enough time to add in a couple dramatic pauses! And I actually will be at ALA Midwinter, so this was great real-life practice! Thanks, Mr. Schu!

What is one thing you hope readers say or do after they finish reading The Honest Truth? 

Dan Gemeinhart: Oh, good question. If you were to secretly watch me when I finish reading a book (creepy), the best sign that I loved the book is if I just sit there for a few minutes, holding the book, like I don't want to let go. That's an amazing moment, when you've wrapped up a story that truly moved you, and you need to sit there and marinate in it for a moment. When I finish a book that really resonated with me, a story that burrowed down into my heart and made itself a permanent home there, it leaves me feeling such a wonderful mix of empty and full. And I just have to sit there with it for awhile. I don't know if my book would ever touch someone like that, but it would be amazing if it did. 

Please share a handful of books that your students have been raving about. 

Dan Gemeinhart: my school, we are currently in full Raina Telgemeier madness mode. I have never seen books take off in popularity like Smile and Sisters have (and that includes Wimpy Kid!). I booktalked them during our Book Fair and word got around and within a week I swear every kid from 2nd to 5th grade, boys and girls, wanted to read them. We sold every copy in the Book Fair (and they're kind of expensive, too) and I now have a “Hold” list for my copies longer than any Hold list I've ever had. A 5th grade boy – a tough, macho 5th grade boy – announced during class that he read Sisters three times the first night he had it! Also popular: The One and Only Ivan, Babymouse, I Survived, the Origami Yoda series, and Notebook of Doom
Please finish these sentence starters: 

When I was in middle school I was a quiet, bookish kid. Awkward, desperately trying to figure out where I fit in. We moved a lot when I was younger – almost every year until the 5th Grade – and middle school was the first time I stayed in one school for that long. Books were kind of one constant thing I could l count on, and I loved them deeply.

School libraries are the magical place where stories live in a school. We don't eat in the library. We don't throw balls (that often). We don't take tests (too much). We share stories. We talk about books. We think about characters. We wonder. Classroom teachers are so overloaded that read-alouds and just general book-loving often don't have as much space in the classroom anymore; a lot of our students don't have any books at home. The library is the one place all our kids go where we savor and love and enjoy and talk and share stories and books. Yeah, we also talk about computers and research and information – all very important stuff – but books are the soul and source of what a library is. And when we talk about books, we're really talking about ourselves. Learning and thinking about books means learning and thinking about ourselves and our world. And that happens in school libraries.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what other 2015 MG debuts I'm excited to read! This is going to be a stellar year for middle grade literature, and I'm so excited to get my hands on some of these books (and get them into the hands of my students) that I'm practically vibrating. I've got a long list, but some of the ones that I've most recently added to my “oh my gosh give me this book now” list are: 

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley,

Dead Boy by Laurel Gale,

The Loudness by Nick Courage, 

The Spider Ring by Andrew Harwell, Hoodoo by Ronald Smith (no cover image yet), and The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari (no cover image yet). 

Thank you, Dan! 

I am giving away a copy of The Honest Truth

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 1/27 to 11:59 p.m. on 1/29. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. If you win, please pay it forward. 

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Cover Reveal for The Pirate Code (Hook's Revenge #2)

I was thrilled to have the chance to write a sequel to Hook’s Revenge! The Neverland is a wonderful place to spend time in, even in pretend. Hanging out with Captain Hook’s fearless daughter, Jocelyn, her best friend Roger, Mr. Smee, and the crew of the Hook’s Revenge again was so much fun. Even better, I got to reimagine some new-to-this-book characters from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan as well as create some original ones that I think readers will love. I know I do.

Warning: Watch out for chapter 31. I’ve cried every time I’ve worked on it.

First of all, anytime an illustrator gets to start with the kind of thrilling adventure that Heidi has written in both of the Hook's Revenge books, it makes my work really enjoyable. For this cover, there were so many great moments to choose from, but ultimately we went with a bizarre and striking visual: a pirate ship careening down the side of mountain in the midst of an avalanche!  I did a lot of avalanche drawing and research to make sure it looked like cascading snow and not smoke or fog. (Tougher than you might think!) Despite its complexity, I think it is clear and inspires curiosity. 

Doesn't it make you want to read the book and find out how that ship got on that mountain?

Hooks Revenge: The Pirate Code by Heidi Schultz; illustrations by John Hendrix | Disney-Hyperion | Publication Date: September 15, 2015 

Fresh off her victory over the Neverland crocodile, Jocelyn Hook decides the most practical plan is to hunt down her father's famous fortune. After all, she'll need the gold to fund her adventuring in the future. (And luckily, Hook left her the map.) 

But the map proves to be a bit harder to crack than Jocelyn had hoped, and she's convinced that the horrible Peter Pan might be the only one with the answers. Of course, he doesn't really feel like helping her, so Jocelyn takes the only reasonable course of action left to her: she kidnaps his mother. Evie, though, is absolutely thrilled to be taken prisoner, so Jocelyn's daring ploy doesn't have quite the effect she'd planned for.

Along with the problem of her all-too-willing captive, Jocelyn must also contend with Captain Krueger, whose general policy is that no deed is too dastardly when it comes to stealing Hook's treasure. And with the ever-shifting Whens of the Neverland working against her as well, Jocelyn, Evie, Roger, and the rest of the Hook's Revenge crew have their work cut out for them. 

In this rambunctious showdown between characters new and old, Jocelyn puts her own brand of pirating to the test in a quest to save her future and those she loves. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Last Week Told Through Vines


Oh, Mr. Grant! I love books, too! 


Dear Unabridged Books: Thanks for featuring the paperback edition of The One and Only Ivan


A special delivery arrived at my house. 


First and second graders are preparing for Bob Shea's author visit. 


I told all my fourth and fifth graders about these books last week. 


I love helping your to-read pile g-r-o-w. 


I bought a copy of Tuck Everlasting (40th Anniversary Edition) from Anderson's Bookshop.