Saturday, April 30, 2016

Book Trailer Premiere: I LOVE CAKE! Starring Rabbit, Porcupine, and Moose by Tammi Sauer and Angie Rozelaar

Hi, Tammi Sauer! Happy Saturday! 

Hi, Mr. Schu! 

My graduate students are writing book talks this week using fewer than 141 characters. I am giving you the same assignment. (Sorry for giving you homework on a Saturday). Please book talk I Love Cake! using fewer than 141 characters. 

All is well at Rabbit's birthday party until..."Hey! What happened to the cake?!" 

A++! Bravo!


What was your first thought when you saw a finished copy of I Love Cake! for the first time? 

I loved it more than cake! Angie completely captured the charm and personality of each of these three characters. And her candy-colored palette? DELICIOUS. 

I agree. What's your favorite kind of cake? 

Photo Credit: 3 Monkeys Cake & Cookies
My absolute favorite is the coconut cake from 3 Monkeys Cakes & Cookies served with piles and piles of sliced strawberries.

Wow, that sounds delicious! I'll visit 3 Monkeys Cakes and Cookies the next time I'm in Oklahoma City. 

Please finish this sentence starter:

Your Alien Returns, Mary Had a Little Glam, and Ginny Louise and the School Field Day are my three upcoming books that debut in 2016. Together with I Love Cake, they make 2016 the year of cake, aliens, nursery rhyme fashionistas, and one irresistible hedgehog.

Thank you, Tammi!

Please borrow I Love Cake! Starring Rabbit, Porcupine, and Moose from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Thank you, Kate DiCamillo!

I put out a call for photographs of readers with Kate DiCamillo's Raymie Nightingale. You exceeded my expectations. Thank you for sharing photographs of you, your students, your personal children, your rancheros, and real and stuffed animals spending time with Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana. Your smiles provided much comfort and joy. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Video of the Month: The "Louise Loves Art" Song

Dear Teachers and Librarians,

I know you're pressed for time right now, so I won't keep you long. You would make me EXTREMELY happy if you played the "Louise Loves Art" song for your students today. I think they would smile from ear to ear and feel inspired to create art and sing for the rest of the day. 

 If you're one of the first five people to tweet a photo or a vine to @MrSchuReads of your students singing along to the "Louise Loves Art" song, I will mail you a copy of Louise Loves Art. Thank you! Thank you! Have a great day! Happy reading and singing! 

Thank you!


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Trailer Premiere: Gator Dad by Brian Lies

Happy Wednesday! Thank you for stopping by on a regular basis to celebrate children's books and their creators. I am going to give you three fun tasks to complete today. Are you ready? 

Bravo, Brian Lies! I love all the personal touches you included in Gator Dad's book trailer. A++

I wrote the words in orange, and Brian wrote the words in black. Thank you, Brian! 

Gator Dad 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”). 

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.

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!

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.

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.”

I am giving away a copy of Gator Dad.

Rules for the Giveaway

1. It will run from 4/27 to 11:59 PM on 4/28.

2. You must be at least 13.

3. If you win, please pay it forward.

Borrow Gator Dad (after May 3) from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

May is Thank-O-Rama Month!

Dear Reader:

Children, teachers, librarians, administrators, booksellers, parents, and caretakers have been counting down the days until they can get their hands on The Thank You Book, the final (*sobs*) book in the Elephant and Piggie series. I've witnessed kids and adults laugh out loud uncontrollably and cheer hundreds of times because of Gerald and Piggie. They have turned many dormant readers into avid readers. 

I'm thankful for Mo's commitment to creating the best books for young readers, and I know he's thankful for everyone who introduced Elephant and Piggie to kids and supported every book. 

Are you ready for the main event? I am beyond honored to turn over my blog to Mo Willems to share a special video message. Thank you, Mo, Gerald, and Piggie! You make me a better teacher-librarian and read-alouder. (I'm not sure "read-alouder" is a proper term, but Deborah Wiles used it in Countdown, so I am.)

Happy Reading!


Head on over to to download, print, and fill out your own #ThankoRama speech bubbles. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! 

Look for The Thank You Book on May 3. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

WANTED: Photos of Readers with Raymie Nightingale

Dear Rancheros,

I sent out these tweets at 12:01 AM, so it is likely many of you did not see them. Thank you, in advance, for your help! 

Happy reading! 

-John, a grateful reader 

P.S. If you're not on Twitter, please email the photograph to Thank you! 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Happy Saturday, Mr. Sharp!

Dear Mr. Sharp,

Happy, happy Saturday! I hope you had a fantastic day at the Michigan Association for Media in Education's annual conference. 

Can we please Skype next week? I miss your students. I need to know what they are reading and how their hearts are doing. 

Your friend,


Please click here to visit Mr. Sharp's blog. 

The Thank You Book by Mo Willems 

"Good friends stand with you, beside you, next to you." -Kate DiCamillo 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Author-Illustrator Todd Parr

I am celebrating Earth Day and National Teacher Week (a few weeks early) with author-illustrator Todd Parr. I wrote the words in purple, and he wrote the words in black. Thank you, Todd! 

Teachers Rock! is a celebration of teachers and going to school. A book that captures the day-to-day life of what a teacher does every day. It also helps children see that teachers are just like us and
how fun going to school is.

I think teachers are amazing! I mean, I loved most of my teachers when I was in school, but it took me years of being out of school to appreciate all that they are and do for their students.

When I start working on a new book I’m very excited. I can’t wait to see how it turns out. I can’t stop.

If you visited my studio, you would think you were on the set of Toy Story. I love to collect old toy and lunch boxes.

School libraries are not just a place to sit and read. It’s a place where dreams and fantasies are made.

Reading is important! When you read or when someone reads to you it helps you learn and discover new things.

Picture books are the best books of all! You don’t need words. You can tell a story with art. I love going to a bookstore or library just to look at the different picture books. This something I enjoyed even
before I started writing children’s books.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me…
“Do you really eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub?” No.

Borrow Teachers Rock! from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

May #SharpSchu Book Club Meeting

Mr. Colby Sharp and I hope you will join us on May 19 to discuss The Secret Subway and Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth. "See" you then! :) 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bringing Your Book Teaser to Life by Chris Gall

I admit it. I’ve always secretly wished I had been in the movie business. It’s not so different a world from picture books—both tell a story with words and pictures. Fortunately, I found a way to satisfy my desires—and so can you.

 Your new book is coming out in a few months and you want to do all you can to promote it, naturally. An animated book teaser is a great way to introduce your title, as well as bring your illustrations to life. So put on your director’s hat, pretend just for now you are a famous filmmaker, and get down to work.

I tend to keep my book trailers to somewhere around 60 seconds. Sometimes they are longer, but only if I just can’t live without a certain sequence. That way it will feel like a television commercial, and you won’t risk losing your audience. Remember, the whole animation needs to drive towards selling the title at the end.

The next step may seem like it should be the last step, but I’ll explain. I choose my musical track, or tracks first. (I generally don’t consider a narrator for several reasons. Competent voice talent is pricey, and using a voice that isn’t quite “right” makes your trailer sound amateurish, or worse.) I need to find the music first because I’ll never be able to find the right score that perfectly matches the action after all the animation is finished. I’m not John Williams. But if you’re musically inclined—by all means experiment. I am looking for a score that feels like it reflects the mood or action of my book.

In a perfect world we’d all have unlimited access to our favorite music to use as we see fit. But as we all know by now, using someone else’s music to sell your goods usually requires you to pay for rights. You can find some royalty-free music out there but the most professionally produced scores tend to be rights-reserved. Fortunately, it has never been easier to sample music tracks, negotiate the fee, and download the music. I use, though there are many others.

Now I can start to storyboard what I want to happen in the trailer. Nothing fancy, just a diagrammatical sequence of what scenes will go where. I pay special attention to music breaks, change in tempo, etc, as opportunities for edits or changes in the action. You are creating a commercial in essence—you are trying to entice the audience to buy your book.

My first animation attempt was very crude. For There’s Nothing To Do On Mars and Dinotrux I created a motion sequence in Photoshop, and then edited the results in IMovie. The process was arduous and limiting. But I was hooked on the results and I wanted more, so I began to learn Adobe After Effects. If you are comfortable in Photoshop, then it isn’t a big leap to transition to AE—both are layers-based. And since they are both Adobe products, they work together seamlessly. AE will let you import or create content so that you can place it in a timeline. It also allows you to add audio, special effects, and typography. 

There is some technical jargon that you will need to get up to speed on initially, especially when it comes to formatting, but there is plenty of help online. My first AE created animation was for Substitute Creacher, and you can see the difference.

 I confess to somewhat of an advantage in this area. Since my illustrations always finish their lives digitally in Photoshop, my art already exists in layers. A lone figure on a background can be easily removed from the background this way. This allows me to separate elements out of the art and animate the parts with relative ease. If you work traditionally, this will mean extra work in scanning your art, as well as some serious Photoshopping to get your elements separated. If this is all too much for the traditional artist, never fear. You can still give your art the illusion of movement with the Ken Burns technique of panning, scanning, and zooming.

When your animating is done and your edits are timed perfectly to your score, it’s time for a little post-production. If you’re not using narration, you will probably need to insert copy to help tell your story. AE has a vast array of tools to help you insert type and even animate it with special effects. You may also want some sound effects. Freeware sound effects (a cough, a burp, a clank) are plentiful online, or you can record your own on an inexpensive digital recorder, as I often do. I use the freeware program Audacity to manage and edit my music and sound effects.

When it comes time to export your masterpiece, you’ll need to learn a bit about digital formats, but it isn’t too bad. From there you’re just one click away from Youtube and the fame you deserve!

 And you won’t make the mistake that I made when working on my teaser for my upcoming book Nanobots. I succumbed to temptation and borrowed a score from John Williams to create an animation strictly for my publisher’s sales team. It worked! They loved it. 

But for public distribution I now have to start all over again with different music.

Look for NanoBots on August 23. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Book Trailer Premiere: A Morning with Grandpa by Sylvia Liu and Christina Forshay

I love kicking off a new week by premiering a book trailer and chatting with authors and illustrators. Sylvia Liu and Christina Forshay dropped by to share the book trailer for A Morning with Grandpa and to finish my sentences. We discussed Gong Gong, Mei Mei, tai chi, school libraries, and Photoshop. I wrote the words in purple, Sylvia wrote the words in black, and Christina wrote the words in orange. Thank you, Sylvia and Christina! 

A Morning with Grandpa’s book trailer was a do-it-ourselves project. Christina and I were playing around with ideas and decided we could make it ourselves. Christina learned how to animate using Keynote, and I put it together in iMovie. It’s amazing what you can learn from YouTube. We hope you enjoy it!

The first time I saw Christina’s illustrations I fell in love with them! I loved how she captured the spirit of both Gong Gong and Mei Mei and the story as a whole.

Illustration by Christina Forshay used with permission by Lee & Low Books.
Mei Mei’s grandpa is based on my dad and his fun and funny relationship with my daughters.

Qi is the life force or energy found in all living things. It is the basis of much of Chinese philosophy, medicine, and mind-body practices like qi gong and tai chi.

School libraries are a haven for children and an invitation to journey into other worlds.

Illustration by Christina Forshay used with permission by Lee & Low Books.
When I received the manuscript for A Morning with Grandpa I thought the story was adorable and I immediately thought of my 5 year old daughter who is as high energy as Mei Mei! I took a lot of reference photos of her kicking and jumping to help me illustrate Mei Mei’s energetic poses.

I created the illustrations using lots and lots of layers in Photoshop!

I think Mei Mei is like the yin yang symbol: strong and feisty yet gentle and sweet. I love her strong personality. 

Thai chi is something I would love to try at a park overlooking the ocean!

Illustration by Christina Forshay used with permission by Lee & Low Books.
School libraries are cozy, warm and always have that great book smell! I couldn’t wait for my class’s turn in the library when I was in elementary school.  

Sylvia Liu is an environmental lawyer turned children’s author and illustrator. A MORNING WITH GRANDPA is her debut picture book as an author. She is inspired by oceans, aliens, cephalopods, and more. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband and their two daughters. Visit her online at

Christina Forshay is a full-time illustrator known for her colorful images and joyous style. Born and raised in sunny California, she was inspired to become an illustrator by her many visits to Disneyland and by watching hours of cartoons as a child. Today she still watches cartoons for inspiration for her illustrations! Christina lives with her husband, son, daughter, and two dogs in California. You can find her online at

Borrow A Morning with Grandpa from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Happy Saturday, Mr. Sharp!

Hi, Mr. Sharp,

Happy Saturday! I'm looking forward to seeing you twice next month. 

Have a stellar weekend!

Your friend,


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

"That is to say that I am made capacious—my heart is made capacious—by the story. It pleases me that I learned the word from the story and that the word also describes how the story makes me feel: open, more capable of seeing and receiving the wonders of this world." -Kate DiCamillo 

"Your father is very capacious of heart," said Dr. Meescham. "Do you know what this means?" 

Flora shook her head. 

"It means the heart of George Buckman is large. It is capable of containing much joy and much sorrow." 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Happy Book Birthday to Kate DiCamillo's Raymie Nightingale!

May I plan your evening for you? 

1. Today is Beverly Cleary's 100th birthday. Sing "Happy Birthday" to her!

2. Buy two copies of Raymie Nightingale. Keep one for your personal collection and give away the second copy. 

3. Drop Everything and Read Raymie Nightingale! :) 

4. Smile