Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Mylisa Larsen and Anna Raff Talking About If I Were a Kangaroo and Other Picture Book Stuff

Anna Raff:
       Hi Mylisa!

Mylisa Larsen:
       Hey Anna!

Anna Raff:
       How are you?

Mylisa Larsen:
       Great. Snow day over here so everyone is out drift diving at the moment. How are things in the city?

Anna Raff:
       No snow down here, but we’ve got lots of wind! I was almost hit by a falling icicle on my way in a while ago. Not really, but thought I’d start with some drama!

Mylisa Larsen:
       Drama is always good. Life needs drama.

Anna Raff:
       May I start with a dumb question?

Mylisa Larsen:
       Please, because then I can feel comfortable asking another.

Anna Raff:
       Ha! Great! How do you pronounce your first name? 

Mylisa Larsen:
       Oh boy! We have just hit on the lifelong question. Not a dumb question at all because my darling parents made it up. Which is fine. But then they decided to pronounce it differently than they spelled it and everyone, everyone, everyone has been confused ever since. Even my own grandma. It’s pronounced to rhyme with Teresa. So Muh lee suh.

Anna Raff:
       Ah, yes! Well, I’ve lived a life of mispellings with my first and last name, so can relate. As easy as it may seem, people are easily thrown.

Mylisa Larsen:
       True. My children are named things like Tim, Kate, Matt. Not going down that road again.

Anna Raff:

Mylisa Larsen:
       Ok, can I just say that my favorite character in this book we have made is your mommy spider going cross-eyed with all eight eyes?

Anna Raff:
       That’s so nice to hear! The mommy spider is the source of one of my favorite bits of art direction that I have ever gotten. Before we knew it was a wolf spider, the mommy looked more standard, with two eyes. Then the Art Director, Denise Cronin asked if I could somehow add six eyes without it looking too gross!
Mylisa Larsen:
       That makes me laugh. She does not look gross but she does look harried--which is probably about right for a mom with all those leggy little kids.

Mylisa Larsen:
What’s your favorite thing about the picture book genre?

Anna Raff:
       I can answer that two ways: As a kid, I struggled with reading—was easily distracted, or just lazy—I don’t know. Because I loved to draw, picture books were a way to read without the stress. I simply preferred books with pictures.

       As an illustrator, picture books fit my sensibility—my use of humor and the clarity in the way I draw.
       Here’s a question for you…

       What was your inspiration for writing IF I WERE A KANGAROO?

Mylisa Larsen:
       IF I WERE A KANGAROO started out as a bus stop rhyming game. My kids and I were out waiting for the school bus and it was taking a long time so we were playing this game we called rhyme out. Basically, someone picks a word and then everyone takes a turn rhyming it. But if a word is repeated or you can’t think of a rhymer then you’re out till the next round. One of the kids said kangaroo and we started rhyming. So all those rhyming words were floating in the air above the bus stop and someone said, “If I were a kangaroo” and we started playing with that. Then the bus came and they left but I went inside to play some more. Because playing with words is my job.

Anna Raff:
       That’s fascinating! It’s always amazing to me where the muse will appear. A muse with legs, that is. 

       Or eight eyes.

Mylisa Larsen:

       So I guess this book was a collaboration before it even really became a text. Which is interesting because I feel like one of the things I love most about picture books are that they are collaborations. I feel like a picture book doesn’t even exist unless it gets all the way to having art. A novel, if it doesn’t get published, it still exists. You could still give it to someone and they could read it. But a picture book, no. It’s just a word sketch, an idea until there are pictures. Because picture books are read with the eyes. Kids read the art.

       And I kind of love that even after they become a book, the reading of a picture book is a collaboration between the two readers--the child and the parent.

Anna Raff:
       That’s a wonderful way to express it. Did you find yourself with more animal rhymes than would fit in a 32-page book?

Mylisa Larsen:
       Good question. I don’t know. I’d have to look back in the notebooks and see. I know I started more animal rhymes than I knew I would need because when you’re working in meter and rhyme it’s kind of like a war of attrition. You against the possible rhymes. And they’re not all going to work out. So you have to start out with more than you need so that when you hit those ones that you just cannot make work, you’ve got a supply to fall back on.

Anna Raff:
       Sounds a lot like sketching. 

Mylisa Larsen:
       Ok, tell me about sketching.

Anna Raff:
       Since my work is rather pared down, I draw things over and over…and over and over, until it feels right to me, has the correct energy, etc. It’s the same with my finished illustrations. Basically, I make digital collages, but they all start out in pieces—fragments of brushwork that I collage into the computer. But a single mark might be made once or ten times before I feel like I’ve got it.

Mylisa Larsen:
       See, that is intriguing to me. Because I’m thinking, “Oh yes, that’s exactly how it is.” And yet I don’t draw. But what you’re describing sounds completely familiar to me. I just do it with words and sounds. And you do it with texture and line and color.

Anna Raff:
       Yes! And here’s an added dimension—I went through the Illustration MFA at the School of Visual Arts almost ten years ago. Part of the curriculum was a creative writing class for the full first year. It was amazing how similar my fellow student’s writing styles were to their art. A complete reflection, just with words instead of pictures.

Mylisa Larsen:
       That is fascinating. It makes me wonder if you also do books that feature your own writing?

Anna Raff:
       Funny you mention that. I am working on a few things right now. Pardon me, but I must stop typing now to cross all my fingers and toes. I’ve spent the majority of my illustration career, just illustrating. But now I think I’m ready to write as well.

Mylisa Larsen:
       I will cross fingers and toes too because I would like to see those happen. There’s so much humor that comes through in the art that I’m thinking at least some of those books would be bust-a-gut funny.

Anna Raff:
       Oh wow, I hope so! And thank for the extra crossed fingers and toes, but I don’t want that to hamper you writing your next book. I have another question about KANGAROO: what was the inspiration for the information about animal sleeping habits at the end of the book?

Mylisa Larsen:
       Once I had the first verse about the kangaroo, I got kind of fascinated with the whole idea of how different animals sleep. So I started looking it up. Do fishes sleep? Ok, but grasshoppers, how do grasshoppers sleep? So that book took me about a year to write because even though most of the information doesn’t show up in the book, I was reading about how a lot of different creatures handle this whole resting thing. Then it was a matter of which of the ones that were most interesting could also be fit into the rhyme scheme I’d set myself up to follow.

So the notes at the end of the book are kind of me saying, “Ok, you know what else is really cool about whales?” without being restricted to what I could tell you in rhyme.

Anna Raff:
       That’s wonderful. It really added a fun dimension on my end too. I love doing research for books. Even though my work isn’t super realistic, it needs to be grounded in some sort of reality. All that information about their sleeping habits put imagery in my head that might not have been there 

Mylisa Larsen:
What’s the first art memory you have as a kid?

Anna Raff:
       My first art memory I have as a kid is of Dr. Seuss. Not sure about specifics, but it’s either Green Eggs and Ham or Yertle the Turtle.

Mylisa Larsen:
       Fill in the blank, Libraries are _______________.

Anna Raff:

      Libraries are our best hope.

      Can I turn those two back on you? But with a writing memory? And picture books are_______?

Mylisa Larsen:
       Sure. I don’t have early writing memories but I do have early memories of language being in my ears, of hearing things read out loud, often things I didn’t even understand but loved the rhythm of. And your art memory of Dr. Seuss brings up a Dr. Seuss word memory. We used to make my dad read Fox In Socks out loud to us repeatedly because he couldn’t do it and we thought it was hilarious. He’d get 3/4 of the way through and get his tongue tied up in those twisters and we would laugh and laugh.

Mylisa Larsen:
       Picture books are almost like theater to me. Because they’re often experienced in the way we experience theater. The child and the adult sit down together and have an experience. Looking at the art, hearing the sounds. Together.

Anna Raff:
       This has been so fun—I hope we get to meet in person sometime!

Mylisa Larsen: 


John Schu: 

      Thank you, Mylisa! Thank you, Anna! :) 

Look for If I Were a Kangaroo on April 4, 2017. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

M.T. Anderson Discusses Yvain: The Knight of the Lion

Happy Monday! I am honored to turn over my blog for the day to National Book Award winner M.T. Anderson. Many, many thanks, Mr. Anderson! 

Since I was a teenage Dungeons & Dragons player, I have always loved medieval literature -- all those tales of knights, maidens, dragons, demons, and saints. But at the same time, as a nerd, I was very suspicious of the way manhood was portrayed in those old epics and lais. When I read Chretien de Troyes's epic YVAIN, my eyes were opened: Here was a medieval story that actually dealt with the emotional realities of what it must have been like to be around all these freaking frat-boy knights trying to outdo each other and prove their prowess. And the story explored this question with subtlety, irony, and finesse. That is more than can be said for a lot of modern fantasy novels. When I was a kid, of course, it was still the heyday of the Boris Vallejo school of boobical-breastical barbarianism -- and if you look at the debates in the modern fantasy community (and things like Gamergate) you'll see that for many men, "fantasy" still involves a dream of homosocial male dominance. And yet things were always more complicated than that, even in the grim Middle Ages, as Chretien de Troyes recounts in this tale written for one of the most powerful ladies in Europe, Marie de Champagne. I thought a graphic novel version of YVAIN would entertain and inspire those kids who, like me, are fascinated by the myths of the Middle Ages -- but who are also questioning those myths at the same time.

Look for Yvain: The Knight of the Lion on March 14. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Cover Reveal for WINDOWS by Julia Denos and E.B. Goodale

Hello, Julia! 

Julia Denos: What's up Mr. Schu!

Hello, E.B.! 

E.B. Goodale: Hi John! Thanks for helping us share a sneak peek of Windows!

Thank you both for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to finish my sentences and reveal the STUNNING cover for WINDOWS. Shall we get started? 

Julia and E.B.: YES

Windows tells the story of evening in a local neighborhood. It's all about that crepuscular time between night and day when the lights turn on in the windows down your street. Taking a walk through your neighborhood becomes a new experience.

E.B. Goodale's cover illustration captures the heart of that feeling: being outside, being inside. In just one moment you can pass by many worlds different from your own, but all of them "home".

Windows is my debut picture book text (as author only) for Candlewick Press. I wrote it with Emily in mind. I've always been moved by her atmospheric art and we have a similar taste in the stories we love, so it felt right to begin making books together. It's an honor to work with her.

Visit E.B. Goodale's website. 

When I received the manuscript for Windows, I actually cried! It is a sweet, simple story that highlights the beauty in the everyday and sparks joy in my heart.

The cover illustration for Windows reveals the essence of the story by capturing that ephemeral moment in the evening as day turns to night.

Julia Denos and I first met working in a children's bookstore together many years ago and have been best buds ever since. This collaboration has been many years in the making and so we are VERY excited to share it with the world!

Look for Windows on October 17, 2017. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Caldecott Honor Artist Brendan Wenzel

Happy Tuesday! I have not stopped smiling for Javaka Steptoe, Vera Brosgol, R. Gregory Christie, Carson Ellis, and Brendan Wenzel since the ALA Youth Media Awards press conference ended on January 23.   

Click here to watch the ALL Youth Media Awards. 

I asked this year's Caldecott winners to answer two questions and finish two sentence starters. 
Today is Brendan Wenzel's turn to shine. Thank you, Brendan! 

Congratulations, Brendan! Everyone loves hearing about THE CALL. What ran through your head when the phone rang? What were you thinking about when the Caldecott committee was clapping and cheering for you? 

Brendan Wenzel: I was in Brooklyn, and groggily making my wife a cup of coffee. When my phone went off, and I assumed it was my morning alarm reminding me to move the car. Weather-wise, it was not the nicest morning, so it was not a particularly welcome sound at the moment. I was reaching out to hit snooze, and then I realized the buzzing was a call from Atlanta. I knew the ALA was being held down there, so immediately put together that it was either good news, or someone was playing an extremely cruel joke on me. Picking up and hearing the committee cheer and shout an enthusiastic hello when I picked up the phone, was a very sweet sound indeed. 

What does the Caldecott mean to you? 

Brendan Wenzel: Making a book, and then having it resonate with a reader, is an experience that is humbling and heartening beyond words. No matter their age, knowing that a book I’ve made has connected with another person, makes me feel and on some level understood. When a project resonates with folks who spend so much their time with children and books, and who care deeply about reading, and the combination of pictures and words, it is even more overwhelming. In short, I’m honored. This year was packed with fantastic books, and I feel very fortunate the planets really aligned for me here. If there is one message, I will try and take away it is - just keep going. 

Please finish these sentence starters: 

Reading is a remarkably important practice that should be available to all people- especially children. 

School libraries are magical places.

Borrow They All Saw a Cat from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cover Reveal for Refugee by Alan Gratz

Happy World Read Aloud Day! I think Refugee will be one of the most talked about middle-grade novels of 2017. I hope teachers and librarians will read it aloud and share it with their students for many years to come. I'm honored to play a role in revealing its cover and sharing an exclusive excerpt. 

A tour de force from acclaimed author Alan Gratz (Prisoner B-3087) this incredibly timely novel tells the powerful story of three different children seeking refuge.

JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world . . .

ISABEL is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America . . .

MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe . . .

All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers -- from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, shocking connections will tie their stories together in the end.

This action-packed novel tackles topics both timely and timeless: courage, survival, and the quest for home.

Refugee by Alan Gratz | Scholastic Press | Publication Date: July 25, 2017

In honor of World Read Aloud Day, I hope you will read aloud the first 17 pages. 

Alan Gratz was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, home of the 1982 World’s Fair. After a carefree but humid childhood, Alan attended the University of Tennessee, where he earned a College Scholars degree with a specialization in creative writing, and, later, a Master’s degree in English education. He now lives with his wife Wendi and his daughter Jo in the high country of Western North Carolina, where he enjoys playing games, eating pizza, and, perhaps not too surprisingly, reading books.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: You DON'T Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman and Liz Climo

Dear Ame Dyckman and Liz Climo, 

Everyone should kick off today by watching the FABULOUS and HILARIOUS book trailer for You DON'T Want a Unicorn! It is extraordinary! 

I am celebrating You DON'T Want a Unicorn's book birthday at an elementary school in Reston, Virginia. I remembered to pack my I HEART UNICORNS button. I will wear it proudly. 

I'm going to encourage everyone to take off You DON'T Want a Unicorn's dust jacket. I smiled from ear to ear when I saw the surprise on the case cover. You both deserve a virtual round of applause and a high-five. I think kids are going to LOVE it. 

Illustration Credit: Liz Climo 
I hope you have an awesome day celebrating your book's birthday. Are you going to eat cupcakes??? ;-)  I hope so! (Just make sure there aren't any flies buzzing around.) 

Happy reading!

-John Schu 

P.S. I think You DON'T Want a Unicorn! is the perfect picture book to share on World Read Aloud Day. 

P.P.S. Happy Valentine's Day! 

Borrow You DON'T Want a Unicorn! from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Caldecott Honor Artist Carson Ellis

Happy Saturday! I have not stopped smiling for Javaka Steptoe, Vera Brosgol, R. Gregory Christie, Carson Ellis, and Brendan Wenzel since the ALA Youth Media Awards press conference ended on January 23.

Click here to watch the ALA Youth Media Awards press conference
I asked this year's Caldecott winners to answer two questions and finish two sentence starters. 

Today is Carson Ellis' turn to shine. Thank you, Carson! 

Congratulations, Carson! Everyone loves hearing about THE CALL. What ran through your head when the phone rang? What were you thinking about when the Caldecott committee was clapping and cheering for you? 

Carson Ellis: Thank you! It was 4 am in Portland, Oregon when the phone rang. I saw that the call was from Atlanta so I figured it would probably be terrific news, though I also thought I might be dreaming. What was I thinking when they were clapping and cheering for me? Nothing. I was overwhelmed with emotion and confusion and couldn’t think of a single smart thing to say. I hung up the phone and started crying. And then I got up and made coffee.

What does the Caldecott mean to you? 

Carson Ellis: So much. I’ve been obsessing over picture books since I rediscovered a childhood copy of Outside Over There in my basement as a miserable teenager. Oh I was SO miserable and that book spoke to me like few other things could then. It was so poetic and angsty and the art was so good - it totally transformed my idea of what picture books could be and who they could be for. I’ve been collecting and studying them ever since. I don’t think I knew or cared at the time that Outside Over There was a Caldecott Honor book but I obviously do now. It’s amazing to have made a picture book that was awarded the same designation as the book that made me love picture books. But it’s more than that too. 

Illustration Credit: Carson Ellis 
Please finish these sentence starters: 

Reading is everything.

School libraries are sometimes sanctuaries. Speaking from my own experience as a kid who liked to be alone, had a hard time fitting in, and loved to read: school libraries were my safe haven. And school librarians are angels from heaven.

Borrow Du Iz Tak? from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Guest Post by Caroline Starr Rose, Author of Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine

Writing Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Jasper  was my crash course in the Klondike Gold Rush. Somehow, apart from reading a little Jack London, I hardly knew anything about this turn-of-the-nineteenth-century event that for a few years fascinated the entire world. Now, after my own years of research (and obsession!), it’s hard for me to imagine how I could have ever missed the excitement that gripped so many and changed countless lives. I want everyone to know about — and marvel over — this tidbit of history!

In order to make the 2,000-mile journey from Seattle to the Yukon Territory, a “Klondike outfit” was essential. An outfit was a ton of food and supplies meant to get a hopeful prospector through the lengthy journey with enough to set him* up for the mining ahead. But just as important as the required supplies, every would-be miner needed two more things: grit and the willingness to gamble. Another way to put it might be determination with a touch of foolishness. Or optimism tangled up with risk. Whatever you call these character traits, it was almost impossible to find success in the Klondike if you didn’t hold to both.

100,000 “Stampeders” who knew nothing about the hard road ahead of them dropped everything to journey to the Yukon. They left families and jobs, cashing in life savings to pay for passage on steam ships to reach overland trailheads. The hope of a better life was worth it.

The gamble to go to the Klondike was one of many risky choices a Stampeder would have to make. If he took the most well-traveled route north, he’d have to first take a steamer to southern Alaska and choose from one of two overland trails. The Chilkoot was shorter, but steeper. It stayed open year round. White Pass had a more gradual climb, but was longer and sometimes closed if the rain got bad. No one could carry their 2,000 pounds of supplies all at once. Unless a Stampeder had the money to pay for help, he was responsible for carrying it all alone, covering the distance of his chosen trail up to 40 times.

The goal of every Stampeder was to move as fast as possible, because winter could push into the Alaskan-Canadian border area as early as mid-September. Choose the slower trail, and a Stampeder might have to spend the winter waiting for spring “break up,” when the Yukon River — the main travel route at the end of both trails — thawed the following May.

If the Stampeder had the grit to tough it out all the way to Dawson City (the mining town at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike rivers, which had sprung up the year before the rush began), he’d learn almost every choice piece of land had already been taken. In other words, his dream of finding gold was probably over. About half who traveled the 2,000 miles to Dawson, turned around and headed home. But some stayed on, hiring themselves out to work established mines, finding jobs in Dawson City, or mining on less desirable land. Even if a prospector got a choice spot along a gold-producing river, there was no guarantee his stake would yield the same.

Of the 100,000 Stampeders who set out for the Klondike, 30 - 40,000 reached Dawson. About 20,000 of those who made it to Dawson tried looking for gold. 4,000 found it. A few hundred amassed enough to be considered rich. But only a handful were able to hold onto their wealth.

All that hardship with so little return.

The the draw and the danger — which required grit and gamble — kept countless Stampeders moving on their quest for gold. I can’t help admiring these souls who lived all-in, who risked everything for a wild dream. We could all use a little Stampeder foolishness and determination in our lives, don’t you think?

* I’ve used the pronoun “he” because most Stampeders were male. But a handful of gutsy women and children made the journey, too.

Wednesday, February 8th – Teach Mentor Texts

Thursday, February 9th – Mr. Schu Reads

Friday, February 10th – Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook

Saturday, February 11th – Late Bloomer’s Book Blog

Sunday, February 12th – Children’s Book Review

Monday, February 13th – LibLaura5

Tuesday, February 14th – All the Wonders

 Borrow Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Mine from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.