Thursday, December 14, 2017

Top 20 Books of 2017: #10-#6

#20-16 | #15-11 | #10-6 | #5-1

Please visit Travis Jonker's blog to read our blurbs. 

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt; illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls 

Paige Britt finished my sentences on October 5, 2017. 

Why Am I Me? follows two children—one dark-skinned, one light—as they travel home on a busy subway. The boy notices the girl and wonders: Why am I me . . . and not you? The girl notices the boy and wonders: Why are you, you . . . and not me? The questions get bigger and bigger as they look at all the different passengers, then at the people out the window, and finally up at the stars. It’s not until they get off the train and look into each other’s eyes that the questions stop and something else emerges. I’m not going to tell you what that something is, but I will say this: Maybe “you” and “me” are just part of a vast, extraordinary “we.”

Selina Alko and Sean Qualls’ illustrations are captivating. They’re so expansive, yet intimate. They illustrate these big universal themes, yet they make them deeply personal. The images are multi-layered and textured—just like the layers of meaning in the story—and they invite you back over and over to discover new things. Which is what the book is really all about!

I hope Why Am I Me? inspires both children and adults to stay curious. Most children are naturally full of questions, but as they grow up, those questions are sometimes replaced with answers. And those answers can turn into labels—good, bad, us, them. But we’re so much more than those labels! We’re made of star stuff, after all. Doesn’t that blow your mind? Maybe with our minds just a tiny bit blown, a deeper wisdom can emerge. A wisdom grounded in curiosity and compassion. Certainty creates labels, but curiosity creates space—space for empathy and connection, for delight and (hopefully) dialogue.

School libraries are magic! They connect kids to far-flung places. Whether those places are in the distant corners of your imagination or the distant corners of the galaxy—libraries will take you there! And it ABSOLUTELY does not matter where you come from, how much money you have, or what your gender or religion is—you are welcome in a school library. End of story. Which is really the beginning of the story. See? Magic.

Picture books are for all ages. I have a bookshelf in my house that takes up an entire wall. It’s full of all kinds of books—philosophy books, classic literature, books about art and architecture, and, of course, picture books. They belong right there with everything else. The special genius of a picture book is that you don’t just read it, you experience it. And you’re never too old to experience the wonder and wisdom contained within their pages.

Explore Paige Britt's website.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my Aunt Lil. She’s eighty-six-years-old and has Alzheimer’s disease. She loved Why Am I Me? and was delighted by the images and all the big questions that went with them. She kept asking me what the “right” answers were. I asked her to tell me. When she got to the end of the book, she pointed to the image of the boy and girl with their faces overlapping and said, “Each has one eye of their own, and one eye shared.” She got it! Why Am I Me? is about unity and diversity. It’s about seeing your self in others. Everyone and everything is connected. And if my aunt with dementia knows this, then it gives me hope that, on some level, we all do.

Borrow Why Am I Me? from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

The Good for Nothing Button by Charise Mericle Harper

Travis Jonker's blog post about The Good for Nothing Button is a must-read. 

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes; illustrated by Gordon C. James

"I believe, as an artist, that your primary goal should be to build an important body of work that will be here long after you’re gone. A body of work that your family can be proud of. A body of work that will make people feel good about themselves, that will make them think, laugh and cry. That’s what I’ve always tried to do. Make something meaningful.” -Derrick Barnes | Visit Derrick's website to learn more about Crown

Read Jules Danielson's interview with Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James. 

Real Friends by Shannon Hale; illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Watch the book trailer for Real Friends

Download the Real Friends activity guide. 

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris; illustrated by Lane Smith 

"It really started with my kids. ... I've been a TV writer for a while, but once they came around, I really wanted to write something special for them. And as parents of young kids understand, you don't get a lot of sleep. " -Chris Harris 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Top 20 Books of 2017: #15-11

#20-16 | #15-11 | #10-6 | #5-1

Please visit Travis Jonker's blog to read our blurbs. 

You Don't Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman; illustrated by Liz Climo


One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes 

Nikki Grimes talks about who influences her work. 

"You can read it in one sitting like I did or a few poems at a time. You can read them over and over and the 'magic' will be there every time. This book is a must read and a must own." -Margie Myers-Culver | Click here to read the full review. 

This House, Once by Deborah Freedman 

Listen to Emily Arrow's "This House, Once" song. 

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins; illustrated by Bryan Collier 

Bryan Collier chats with Victoria Stapleton about Hey Black Child

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz; illustrated by Brian Floca 

Travis Jonker asked Laura Amy Schlitz and Brian Floca to share how Princess Cora and the Crocodile came about.  

Laura Amy Schlitz: My book is called Princess Cora and the Crocodile, but the real story is not just about Princess Cora and the crocodile, but about a crocodile, Princess Cora, and her parents. It surprises me that there are so few picture books about the conflicts between parents and children. That’s odd, when you think about it, because this is where children live: with their parents, in a love-haunted combat zone. I’m not talking about abusive parents, or delinquent children; I’m talking about parents who are trying desperately to be good parents, and children who are trying hopelessly to be good children.

Everyone means well, but the household rings with battle cries: “Why can’t we have a parakeet?” “Just let me play for five more minutes!” “Why do I have to put on a sweater when I’m not cold?” “How come we never have pumpkin pie because you hate it, but I have to eat broccoli?” I remember watching one of my friends with her seven-year-old daughter. There was a spirited, not to say vehement, battle about whether the child could ride her bicycle a little before dusk. After the child left the house in triumph, my friend said thoughtfully, “We fight all the time. She’s getting older. I have to let her win some.” Her words stayed with me, because they showed such compassion for the child’s predicament. Children want to please their parents, but perpetual submission doesn’t allow them to grow into themselves.

In Princess Cora’s case, the grown-ups are not as wise as my friend was. It’s up to the crocodile to cut the Gordian knot.

Brian Floca: The manuscript for Princess Cora and the Crocodile arrived at a moment when—true confession—I wasn’t sure I was interested in illustrating someone else’s story. But the manuscript was from Candlewick, and the story was from Laura Amy Schlitz, and so I began to read. Very quickly I pivoted from feeling like a reluctant reader to feeling like a lucky illustrator. Poor Cora! A good kid, maybe too good for her own good. I liked her and I worried about her. And the King, Queen, and Nanny, all well-meaning, but none of them able to see how they were stifling the girl they cared about, all of them too worried about getting things wrong to get things right. Laura’s voice was comic, but her characters were real. I cared about them all and I wanted to keep reading—even before the crocodile arrived. From his first line, the crocodile had his teeth in me. That put me in good company; he eventually got his teeth in most of the book’s characters, too. I sat down to sketch him and he seemed to leap, grinning, onto the page—part kid, part id, all reptile. I loved him, even if I wouldn’t want to leave him alone with anything breakable.

What I admire most of all in Princess Cora and the Crocodile, though, is how Laura resolves her story, which is also to say how Cora resolves her story. It’s not by giving in to grudge work, and it’s also not with easy (and empty) clichés about cutting loose from responsibility. In the end, Cora doesn’t simply submit, and she doesn’t simply mutiny. She learns to do something harder and better: to negotiate a place between what the world needs of her and what she needs of it. How do you get an idea as important as that into a book as gleeful as this?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Top 20 Books of 2017 (#20-16)

Hello! Over the next four days, Mr. Travis Jonker and I will share our top 20 picks of 2017. 

Please visit to read our blurbs. 

Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn 

Click here to find out what the numbers mean. 

Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds 

Watch Happy Dreamer's book trailer. 

"You Have a Gift, Not a Label" by Peter H. Reynolds 

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper 

"The pacing throughout is slow and measured leading us into the lives of these two cats. We understand how their days are spent. We understand their togetherness. We are connected to their bond." -Margie Myers-Culver | Click here to read her full review. 

A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White by Barbara Herkert; illustrated by Lauren Castillo 

Barbara Herkert finished my sentences on March 29, 2017. 

The first time I saw Caldecott Honor artist Lauren Castillo’s cover illustration for A Boy, A Mouse, and A Spider: The Story of E. B. White I was thrilled! For me, Lauren’s artwork brings the same warmth and tenderness to E.B. White’s story as Garth Williams brought to Charlotte’s Web.

Did you know E.B. White was afraid of everything when he was a small boy? Writing helped him ease his fears.

Illustration Credit: Lauren Castillo 
I think Charlotte’s Web was the finest children’s book ever written! I love E.B. White’s lists, his use of all the senses, and his delicious language. It is a celebration of the world, of nature in all its glory. Thank you, E.B. White.

School libraries are are safe havens where children can discover their passions, forget their fears. We need them now more than ever.

Illustration Credit: Lauren Castillo 

Picture books are art forms! They are opportunities for cuddle time, to share dreams and passions.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how it felt to walk in E.B. White’s world for a while. More wonderful than I ever could have imagined. What an amazing man.

Bruno: Some of the More Interesting Days in My Life So Far by Catharina Valckx; illustrated by Nicolas Hubesch 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: The Backup Bunny by Abigail Rayner; illustrated by Greg Stones

Hello, Abigail Rayner! Happy Monday! Thank you for dropping by to share The Backup Bunny’s book trailer and to finish my sentences. I greatly appreciate it!

Abigal Rayner: Hello, Mr. Schu! I am thrilled to be here! I am a very big fan of the blog, and can’t quite believe it’s my turn! Thank you for having me and The Backup Bunny.

And I am thrilled you're here. Shall we get started? 

The Backup Bunny’s book trailer was created by my very talented brother Dan, who makes films and music for a living. Dan somehow makes everything look easy, (annoying when we were kids, but quite useful now!) I especially love the animated parts of the trailer, and the soundtrack. It’s really playful yet cozy, and gets to the heart of the story in a short space of time. I’m lucky that I have so many creative types in my life who are willing and able to support me.

I think Max sees his stuffed rabbits as real characters with human emotions. When Bunny is lost, Max is lost, too. He very quickly figures out that Fluffy is a backup, and NOT his beloved Bunny. His ears don’t feel right. Max knows this because he falls asleep every night rubbing the tips of Bunny’s ears. To Max, the appearance of a backup in no way solves his problem. Think about it—if you lost your dog, and someone gave you another one that looked almost exactly the same –would you be ok with that? Of course not! Like most little kids, Max is not only missing his special friend, he’s worried about him. Where could he be? Is he scared? Is he lonely? And worst of all: is someone else rubbing the tips of his ears?

Greg Stones’ illustrations capture the humor and warmth of my story. Looking at Bunny and Fluffy, you can almost feel how soft and floppy they are. Greg did a great job of making the bunnies come alive—just as they do in Max’s imagination. His depictions of Fluffy’s first day with Max—when he is repeatedly rejected in humiliating ways—will really make kids laugh.

School libraries are places where you can walk out with a bunch of books, and nobody even tries to stop you! There was no school library in my elementary school back in England. Just a corner with a carpet and a chair, and no librarian! Still, it felt like fairy dust and Christmas hung in the air around that little nook. Visiting and choosing a book, was my favorite part of the week.

Picture books are like finding a secret room in an old mansion. They are bright, magical worlds where kids (and adults) can forget about the rain outside, or laugh with a character who reminds them of themselves. They also have supernatural powers. If you pick one up and start reading, kids will be drawn to you like a magnet. So, if you don’t like kids, picture books are best avoided.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if I had a backup story of my own. The answer is yes! But, I’ll warn you, it’s a sad tale! Panda was the best, and my favorite, and he wasn’t even THAT smelly! But my mum thought he was. She put him in the washing machine and…he came out in pieces! The backup my parents offered me was…NOTHING LIKE PANDA! I mean, it was like they didn’t even try! Unlike Max, I never took to the new guy, and who knows where he is now. Probably in prison.

Look for The Backup Bunny on March 6, 2018. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Video of the Week: A Conversation Between Rick Riordan and Roshani Chokshi

I love the conversation between Rick Riordan and Roshani Chokshi you're about to listen in on. I hope you'll share the interview with your students and colleagues. Please pick up multiple copies of Aru Shah and the End of Time on March 27, 2018. 

Best-selling author Rick Riordan introduces this adventure by Roshani Chokshi about twelve-year-old Aru Shah, who has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she'll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?

One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru's doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don't believe her claim that the museum's Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.

But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it's up to Aru to save them.

The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Greetings from Witness Protection by Jake Burt

Hi, Jake Burt! Happy Wednesday! I have not stopped thinking about Greetings from Witness Protection since I finished it last week. I’m looking forward to booktalking it during upcoming presentations and school visits. Thank you for telling Nicki’s fascinating and memorable story. 

Jake: Thanks, John – for reading, for inviting me to hang out on your blog for a little while, and for all you do for children (and those who educate them!). I’m excited to finish a sentence or two, especially since you’ve already handled the hardest part for me.

I wrote the words in purple, and Jake wrote the words in black. Thank you, Jake! 

Nicki and Charlotte are skewed mirrors of each other. The chance to “get it right” is a powerful motivation for Nicki; her previous failures to find a family with whom she can stick weigh heavily on her. Thus, while she’s performing Charlotte according to WITSEC’s parameters, and while her primary motivation is keeping the Trevors safe, there’s a bit of her that’s also using Charlotte as an opportunity to be her best self – to be a better friend, a better student, and a better daughter than she’s been before. Of course, hiding away one’s true self for so long has consequences, especially when combined with the exhausting work of maintaining a mask for so long. That’s why Charlotte can’t quite hide everything that makes Nicki special, or everything from her past that makes her who she is.

The Trevor family can’t catch a break. One of the most fun parts of writing the novel came from asking myself what sorts of day-to-day, “just living” sorts of activities might not be possible for them, and then having them try them anyway. Decorating for the holidays, for instance – for most families, that’s a happy time: sharing memories, renewing traditions, watching the cat go bonkers about the Christmas tree. For the Trevors, it’s another reminder of their vulnerability, and another test of their resolve.

Colby mentions Greetings from Witness Protection in this video. 

I wrote Greetings from Witness Protection in 2014. At the time, technology was already able to track people with impressive (or scary, depending on your perspective) precision. It’s only developed further since then, with search engines and social media sites able to recognize faces in even the grainiest photographs. Combine that with software that can recognize patterns of speech or in writing, and I can only imagine what WITSEC is having to do for the people they’re trying to protect, and how fast they’re having to adapt.

Explore Jake's website. 
My fifth graders are reading fanatics. We have student book talks several times a week, and my signup list goes on for pages. They also write “Reccards” (pronounce it like “records,” but it’s a portmanteau of “recommendation cards”) that hang above their bookbins, just like they do off the shelves at independent bookstores. The kids love reading about and hearing about what their classmates are into, and books often move around my classroom virally as a result.
The Right Hook of Devin Velma is a play on words. Exactly how it works, and whether or not someone gets punched in the face, will be revealed on October 2nd, 2018.

School libraries are often one of the most underutilized resources at a school. We’re blessed to have a 40,000+ volume library, and I’m constantly amazed at the incredible variety of ways it can be used as part of my classroom instruction. Sure, it’s a book repository, but it’s also a go-to source of info on research techniques, a safe space for kids for whom the kickball line represents the stuff of nightmares, and a great place to catch up on professional development materials. Of course, all of that’s as a direct result of having great school librarians.

Image Credit: Listening Library 
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the amazing team behind me, because Greetings from Witness Protection! wouldn’t have been possible without them. From my wonderagent, Rebecca Stead, to my editor at Feiwel and Friends, Liz Szabla, I’m incredibly fortunate to work with people who not only believe in me and my writing, but believe wholeheartedly in the larger mission of getting the right books into the hands of the kids who need them most. 
Borrow Greetings from Witness Protection from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.