Saturday, April 29, 2017

Happy Saturday, Colby Sharp!

Hi, Mr. Sharp,

Happy Saturday! I think it has been almost three months since I last posted a HAPPY SATURDAY video. Wowsers! I miss these Saturday messages. I hope you're doing well. 

Your friend,


Please click here to watch Colby's video. 

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen; illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: Toad on the Road by Stephen Shaskan

Oh no! Oh no! There's a toad on the road. Everyone shout: Look out! Look out! SKID! SCREECH BAM! Hurry up! Press play! 

Make sure you look for Stephen Shaskan's hilarious Toad on the Road on May 16, 2017. It is a WONDERFUL read-aloud. I think your students will love it! 

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress

Happy Friday! I'm thrilled Adrienne Kress dropped by to chat with me about Sebastian, Evie, Chicago, theatre, and school libraries. I wrote the words in purple, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Adrienne! 

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley tells the story of two kids, Sebastian and Evie, who meet for the first time at the whimsical and intriguing Explorers Society and are tasked with putting back together the formerly famous exploring team the Filipendulous Five (which disbanded under mysterious circumstances many years ago). Their ultimate goal: to rescue Evie's grandfather. Hilarity and adventure ensue. Also there’s a pig in a teeny hat.

Here are three things you should know about Sebastian:

1. He’s logical.
2. He likes to do the most appropriate thing and follow the rules to the letter.
3. He has a secret side to himself that is an adventurer . . . but he’s only just realizing that himself.

And here are three things about Evie, because she’d demand to be included too:

1.  She’s quick-witted and funny.
2.  She’s determined.
3.  She can jump the gun too fast and gets impatient with others.

On April 25, 2017, THE EXPLORERS launches! And I’ll be in Chicago on the first leg of my book tour celebrating it at Anderson's Bookshop La Grange! I’ve never been to Chicago before, and everyone has told me I’ll love it because I am a rather big architecture fan and Chicago has some great architecture. So I’m really looking forward to being an explorer myself and discovering the city as well launching the book.

I hope The Explorers: The Door in the Alley finds its way into the hearts of readers (obviously metaphorically – I’ve removed all the sharp objects from around it just in case, though). I also really hope it appeals to reluctant readers. This is a particularly personal desire of mine, having grown up a reluctant reader myself, and in a way still being one. I try to write books that I as a reluctant reader would enjoy: funny, fast, full of action and lots of dialogue. Though, of course, still with complex emotions, themes and situations. Reluctant readers don’t want to be condescended to. We enjoy a good complicated story, but we want to be entertained first and foremost. And I do hope The Explorers succeeds in that. 

I studied theatre for forever. Almost my whole life. I was a drama major from the age of 11 right up until post-graduate studies (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in the UK). I continue to pursue an acting career to this day. (In fact you’ll be seeing me in a small role in the pilot episode of American Gods which premieres really soon.) And I am also glad I trained as I did for reasons other than “I need to be able to be good at my acting job.” One of the big reasons is feeling comfortable speaking in front of crowds. I can’t say it’s effortless. I mean 13 years of training doesn’t equal effortless all the time. But it often feels so now. Speaking to an audience is really enjoyable for me, and having those skills means that when I get to spend time with kids, doing presentations and workshops, I can really have a great time getting to know them and working with them without nerves getting in the way.

School libraries are so important. It seems obvious to say that, and yet time and time again we see that funding gets cut precisely from this area that is so fundamental in helping instruct our children and turn them into life-long readers. I firmly believe there is a book out there for everyone to love, for both the avid and reluctant reader, and it’s librarians who never give up on the kids. They’re the ones who get to know the individual and find out their interests and, with that information, test the waters with different kinds of books until something clicks. Librarians, in other words, are the sage wizards of the quest leading the journey, inspiring hope, and teaching the tools that kids can take and use to journey on by themselves. Librarians are Dumbledore. Or Gandalf. And the reason people know who I’m talking about when I offer those comparisons is due in great part to them. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my tour dates! I’m mostly doing school visits, which I’ve already explained earlier are one of my favourite things, but I am also doing three public events at bookstores across the country, and I’m looking forward to meeting new people, especially fellow book lovers.

April 25th - Anderson's Bookstore La Grange, Chicago, 7:00pm
April 27th - Half Price Books, Dallas (Fort Worth), 6:00pm
May 2nd - Copperfield's Books, San Francisco (Petaluma), 4:00pm 

You also neglected to ask me the very fundamental questions of favourite colour and animal. To which I will reply, red and foxes. 

Look for The Explorers: The Door in the Alley on April 25, 2017. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Escargot by Dashka Slater and Sydney Hanson

Hello, Dashka Slater! Thank you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to chat with me about Escargot, Sydney Hanson, picture books, and reading. 

Dashka Slater: I’m delighted to be here!

I am delighted you are here. Let's get started! 

Escargot is a very beautiful French snail who wants to be your favorite animal. He spent many years as a puppet who accompanied me on visits to schools, libraries and bookstores, but finally insisted on having a book of his own.

Sydney Hanson’s illustrations are straight-up adorable. Escargot feels she did an excellent job of capturing his joie-de-vivre and his je-ne-sais-quoi and also his beautiful shell, neck and tentacles. No snail has ever been cuter!

Illustration Credit: Sydney Hanson
Carrots have the habit of unexpectedly turning up in otherwise-excellent salads. Escargot has a few tricks up his sleeve for when they do. He makes a very fierce face and waits for them to flee, for example. But occasionally this doesn’t work. Then he needs help from the reader.

Picture books are a magical duet between artist and writer in which both are telling the same story in different ways. No other form is as challenging or as rewarding to me as a writer – and nothing is as enchanting to me as a reader.

Illustration Credit: Sydney Hanson
Reading is the only way I know to live the lives of other people, travel to magical places, battle terrible monsters, and form a deep and lasting friendship with an extraordinarily handsome French snail. All without getting dirty or needing a passport. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if Escargot has a national holiday in his honor. And the answer is: mais oui! National Escargot Day is May 24 and Escargot suggests you celebrate by eating… a nice salad with a few croutons and a light vinaigrette. (And if you want to have an Escargot party, complete with tentacles for all the guests, download the Escargot story hour kit.) 

Borrow Escargot from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshop. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart; illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Hello, Melissa Stewart! Thank you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to premiere the book trailer for Can an Aardvark Bark? and to finish my sentences. 

Melissa: Thanks so much for premiering the Can an Aardvark Bark? book trailer, Mr. Schu. This is the first time I’ve ever created one, and I’m so excited to share it.  

Congratulations! :) 

Making the book trailer for Can an Aardvark Bark? was a BLAST! I’m so grateful to school media specialist Kim Keith (@capecodlibraryand the third graders at Marguerite E. Small School in West Yarmouth, MA, for agreeing to participate. They did a terrific job!

 I met Kim at a conference years ago, and she has been so supportive of my books. Her school can’t afford author visits, so I’ve been wanting to do something special for them. When I came up with the idea for this book trailer, I knew Kim would be the perfect person to collaborate with.

By the way, I’m not the only one who admires Kim’s hard work and dedication. This year she was a Massachusetts School Librarian Association President’s Award winner. Go, Kim!

Lots of other people also lent a helping hand. My husband played the music at the end. Sharon Abra Hanan (@wellfedpoet) let me borrow some of the equipment I used during filming. And Josh Funk (@joshfunkbooks) and Sarah Albee (@sarahalbee) both provided sage advice.

The idea for Can an Aardvark Bark? came from my nephew, Colin, and two cotton-top tamarin monkeys. During a family trip to Walt Disney World in 2010, we heard the monkeys barking, and that made him curious about what other animals bark. At dinner, we started compiling a list. We couldn’t believe how long it was by the end of our trip.

When I returned home, I expanded this list to include a variety of animal sounds. Over time, my list included more than 300 animals. I knew I had the makings of a book, but it took a long time to find just the right hook and text structure.

Illustration Credit: Steve Jenkins

Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins agreed to illustrate Can an Aardvark Bark? before it had even been accepted for publication. In 2014, we were both on the faculty of the Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference in Virginia and had a chance to discuss our works in progress. As I described how I was struggling with a manuscript called CALLS OF THE WILD, Steve said it sounded like his kind of book. And I boldly replied that I’d been thinking all along that he’d be the perfect illustrator. And then, he said, “Well, if you can get it to work, let me know.”

Later that day, Robin Page, Steve’s brilliant wife and frequent collaborator, suggested a few strategies that might help me as I revised. And they worked! A few months later, I emailed the manuscript to Steve. He liked it, and we agreed to submit the book as a team. I know that’s breaking the rules, but in this case, it worked.

Illustration Credit: Steve Jenkins
School libraries are the heart of a school, and teacher-librarians make them beat.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if there are any teaching materials to go with Can an Aardvark Bark? There sure are. You can find them here: 

Thanks so much, Mr. Schu. The children’s literature community is so lucky to have you as an advocate.

Look for Can an Aardvark Bark? on June 13, 2017. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Matylda, Bright and Tender by Holly M. McGhee

Hi, Holly McGhee! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! I cannot believe this is the first time you’ve dropped by to celebrate books. Better late than never, eh?

Holly M. McGhee: Thank you so much for inviting me over, and yes / so much better late than never. Thank you for going first too, Mr. Schu! 

Hooray! Thank you for finishing my sentences. Let's get started! 

I wrote Matylda, Bright and Tender because it was time . . . I’d started the book in the summer of 2012, and about 25 pages in, I couldn’t continue, because I knew that one of my characters would have to go on without the other. I was completely taken with Sussy and Guy, these two charming nine year olds, and I felt a little bit tricked by my own unconscious . . . I didn’t want to face Guy’s death, because in so doing, I knew I would also have to unravel the memory and emotions around a fatal collision I was in when I first got my own license.

I wasn’t ready to do that, and I didn’t write at all for an entire year; I guess I needed the time to prepare myself to go back to an event I had pushed down for decades.

When I was finally able to tackle those memories, this story poured out of me—taking the worst thing that ever happened to me and turning it into something beautiful was transformative. It’s my hope that my readers know that when they’re ready, they can let their imaginations take them where they need to go / they can dig deep and find beauty in the very thing that made them sad / that they can fold their grief into who they are and go forward. I hope that Matylda, Bright & Tender helps my readers understand this more quickly than I did.

Visit Holly's website. 

Sussy and Guy are ultimate friends. They are in fourth grade, and they are usually found together. Sussy’s dad calls them spaghetti & meatballs. They see each other fully, both the dark and light, they roll from laughter to depth to anger to joy . . . and they accept each other completely. Theirs is the kind of friendship we all long for I think, one in which we’re loved for everything we are (good and bad).

Sometimes Holly uses the name Hallie Durand. 

Guy’s mother is the kind of mom I wish I had when I had my own car accident. Here she is, a woman who has lost her only son, and she folds Sussy in, she holds her, and by so doing, Sussy is able to think outside of herself—toward the end of the summer, when Sussy finally goes to Guy’s house, she is able to see Mrs. Hose fully, in her sorrow and her warmth and her love—and in that moment, Sussy realizes that they’ve both lost Guy. It’s a big step for Sussy.
Sometimes Holly uses the name Hallie Durand. 
Matylda helps Sussy walk through her grief and into a world that’s full of hope again. Matylda is a mythical warrior lizard, whose only wish is to have her broken heart mended by love, and in the end Sussy does just that. From his coffin, Guy extracts a promise from Sussy—to love the lizard enough for them both, and Sussy tries valiantly to do that, feeding Matylda, worrying about her health, fixating on her at all times, until eventually the situation implodes. It’s not until Sussy learns to love Matylda on her own terms (not Guy’s) that she also begins to learn to love and forgive herself.

Sometimes Holly uses the name Hallie Durand. 
Reading is where we can learn about the world between the safe covers of a book. What better way to understand ourselves, our emotions, humanity? What better place to prepare our children for life?

School libraries are among my favorite places in the world. As an introvert, I was never very good at things like the PTA. But I always volunteered in the school library; it’s a safe and cozy place for children and parents too! I’ll never forget my years checking out books for kids; I love seeing what they read . . . there was one little girl who every single week checked out a party planning book that looked like it was printed in the 1950s. It pleased me to no end for some reason. I never asked her why she kept renewing it . . . I just loved that she did! I still bring books to the librarians . . .

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about Speedy! In those first 25 pages that I put down for a year, there was no gecko at all. But during that time my son got a leopard gecko for his birthday, and I fell madly in love with Speedy. He lives in my room now, in a large vivarium. My daughter painted a back drop for the vivarium that is green and purple and pink; it’s beautiful! Speedy really likes the moist hide I made him with wet paper towels and a Tupperware container. He likes to go in there to shed. And he spent most of this winter on his little heating mat; he’s happy that spring is here finally.

Borrow Matylda, Bright and Tender from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Cover Reveal for The Unicorn Quest: The Whisper in the Stone by Kamilla Benko

Happy Tuesday! Kamilla Benko has been tweeting her favorite unicorn covers since April 1. Today she can add the cover for The Unicorn Quest: The Whisper in the Stone to her list of favorite covers. Hooray! Congratulations, Kamilla and Vivienne To! 

Art is always a portal—whether it be to a different time, a different point of view, or another world entirely. I think this must be why literary heroine Claudia Kincaid chose to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler. She wanted to escape her ordinary life and elevate it by surrounding herself with masterpieces. And that’s why four years ago, seeking to find some relief from the humdrum days of February, I found myself at the MET’s Cloisters, admiring the famed Unicorn Tapestries and wondering about their mysterious past…and from these musings, grew the idea for my debut fantasy middle grade novel, The Whisper in The Stone, book one of The Unicorn Quest.

Because this series was inspired by art, I wanted The Whisper in The Stone to explore the theme of magic in everyday life, and so my main character, 11-year-old Claire Martinson is an artist who always has a pencil tucked behind her ear, and the world she ends up discovering with her older sister, Sophie, is one where all magical spells can only be done through crafting.

All of this is to say that I am thrilled and delighted by master illustrator Vivienne To’s ability to work her magic for the cover and show us a glimpse of a world filled with magic mirrors, armies carved from stone, and of course, unicorns!

Enormous thanks to Vivienne, the entire Bloomsbury team, and to Mr. John Schu for hosting the cover reveal. To learn more, please visit Goodreads or follow me on Twitter @kkbenko.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating & Marta Alvarez Miguens

Hey book nerds. 

I'm so happy to be here today to debut the trailer for my upcoming book, Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist. To thank Mr. Schu for hosting me, I thought I would give him a break and ask myself some questions, so he can have a break! I’m donning some plaid today and doing my very best Schu-impression!

John Schu: Hi, Jess! I love your plaid shirt and the book you're holding. :) 

I wrote the questions in red (and I also wrote the answers!) Take it away, Schu-alike!

Eugenie Clark was AMAZING! Not only was she a brilliant woman in science, but she was also a curious, passionate and had a fierce love of discovery and animals. She was a huge inspiration to me growing up, and I want everyone to know about this incredible woman.

My favorite shark is the great white! I just love how immense and powerful they are, and we are learning new things about these big beasties every day. Confession: I used to pretend there were great white sharks in our swimming pool growing up—it was fun for about twelve seconds, until it started to freak me out. I was afraid they would magically appear there because I thought about them!

Marta Alvarez Miguens is so talented, it makes me want to dance! When we were first looking for an illustrator for this book, it was important to me that we represented the material responsibly (especially since this book is about a real person, who did real science!) Marta’s work was so spot-on, and she worked hard with the design department at Sourcebooks Jabberwocky to make the best book ever. I was overjoyed when I saw the final art—it’s a perfect blend of showing off her amazing talents and staying true to the story itself.

The book trailer for Shark Lady was sort of emotional for me to make! If you’ve read any of my other books, you know that I’m a bit of a goofball at times, and I always make time for jokes and humor. But in this case, I wanted the trailer to really capture all the feelings I have about Eugenie. I wanted it to be touching and heartfelt, because Eugenie (the real life person) means so much to me, and to a whole generation of women and scientists out there!

Wow, Jess. I just want to take a minute to say how incredible this John Schu impression is! It might be the best I’ve ever seen! You should take this on the road! Why, thank you, Johnny! I do love a good plaid shirt, so I’m happy to be you here for a day!

Let’s get back to Shark Lady. Everyone should read this book because it is a book about being misjudged, underestimated, and staying courageous no matter what. As a biracial woman in science, Eugenie faced so many obstacles. Many people thought she wasn’t smart enough to be a scientist, or brave enough to explore. Likewise, many people also had the wrong idea about sharks: they thought they were mindless killers. Eugenie proved everyone wrong, both about herself, and her beloved sharks. (Also, the book is gorgeously illustrated and full of science, which is always fun!)

Let’s wrap up with my favorite question. Mr. Schu, you should have asked me when Shark Lady is coming out! I am happy to say that it will be out just in time for Nerdcamp! I can’t wait to see my nerdies, and hope they all enjoy reading this book as much as I loved writing it! (PS GO NERDS!)

Thanks for having me, Johnny!

Thanks for being here! -The REAL John Schu