Friday, December 15, 2017

Top 20 Books of 2017: #5-1

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

Please Travis Jonker's blog to read our blurbs. 

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia 

A phenomenal book trailer! 

All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson 

Share All's Faire in Middle School's book trailer with your students. 

Graphic Novel Tips from Victoria Jamieson. 

wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Katherine Applegate finished my sentences on September 5. 

wishtree's book trailer makes me sniffle every time I see it. (Very happy tears.) 

Red thinks that humans are awfully tough to figure out. 

I can’t disagree.

Charles Santoso’s illustrations are simply perfect. There’s a spread with all of the animal characters—baby skunks and curious kittens and tiny opossums and more—that readers are going to adore. 

wishtree is for newcomers and welcomers. Which means, I like to think, most of us. Maybe even, someday, all of us.

School libraries are non-negotiable. Kinda like air and water and fish sticks in the cafeteria.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if trees can talk. But I suspect you didn’t because you already know the answer: Of course they can.

That is, if you know how to listen. 

Look for wishtree on September 26. 

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

Matthew Cordell finished my sentences on November 30, 2016. 

The book trailer for Wolf in the Snow gets to, I think, much of what the heart of the book is about for me. What do we do when confronted with a difficult choice? When there is fear and suffering, do we think of ourselves, acting in our own best interests? Or do we go beyond that and think of those around us? And who are the ones around us? Are they good? Bad? Are we good? Bad? As we are confronted with so many stereotypes and prejudices—about ourselves and others—we should all always be challenging ourselves with these questions and answers. Now more than ever. Adults and children alike.

Wolf in the Snow’s cover shows the book’s two heroes. A girl and a wolf pup. The girl in this story is a very brave soul. The pup is brave to trust her. What happens when the girl reunites the pup with its pack takes incredible courage. And what happens after that takes incredible trust on behalf of everyone. To me, a wolf is a powerfully brave and loving creature. Loyal to family. And fiercely protective. I kept asking myself… is the “wolf” in this book just the wolf? Or is it the girl too?

Illustration Credit: Matthew Cordell
I created the illustrations in my favorite blend of pen and ink drawing with watercolor painting. But the art in this book is slightly different from some of my others. The girl and surrounding nature are drawn very loosely and minimally—as I tend to do. But the wolves are drawn more realistically and more detailed than I typically draw. For one, to suggest the distinct difference between wolf and human. How we might think and react and how they might. I hope the art will also put the reader in a very real place as they see the wolves drawn in this way. It takes a lot of courage for the girl to do what she does in the book—to bring a lost wolf pup back to its pack. Before she, also lost, finds her own way home. It was essential to depict the wolves more realistically to draw out these feelings of fear and, ultimately, reassurance that play out in the book.

Illustration Credit: Matthew Cordell 
I hope Wolf in the Snow leads children and adults to want to learn more about wolves. I knew next to nothing about wolves when I first embarked upon the journey of making this book. As I tried (and failed many times) to find the story in this book, I found another entirely true story about wolves. They have been demonized throughout literature. (Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, etc.) Which has led to the unfair treatment and relentless killing of these noble creatures. In fact, they are highly complex, intelligent animals. They want much of the same things that we want. Safety. Family. Companionship. Joy. Life. They are wild animals, but they are not bloodthirsty and vicious. They hunt animals—not humans—purely for survival. And wolves have come to fear humans, just as we have come to fear them.

Illustration Credit: Matthew Cordell 
Wordless picture books are deceptively difficult. They are difficult to make and they are difficult to read. Because there are no words, the visual language needs to be clearer than ever. Because there are no words, they can be read in a multitude of ways. This can be a wonderful thing. Or—if confusing—this could be the worst thing. When a wordless picture book works, it is brilliant. I won’t try and shoot for brilliance, but I’ll just hope that my book works.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me
about the music in this book trailer. It’s a song by one of my all-time favorite bands, Archers of Loaf! They’ve been in heavy listening rotation for me starting in my college years and up to now. These guys were incredibly gracious to allow me to use this beautiful little waltz for this book trailer. (They are normally a rock band, but this song closes out their 1996 album, All the Nations Airports.) I think it fits the book so perfectly.

After the Fall by Dan Santat 

Congratulations, Dan! :) 

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?