Monday, July 17, 2017

The Emperor's Ostrich by Julie Berry

Hello, Julie Berry! Thank you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to chat with me about the book trailer for The Emperor’s Ostrich, Begonia, and school libraries.

Julie Berry: Thanks, Mr. Schu! I’m excited to be here. There’s no place I’d rather be than in a school library. So long as we aren’t counting massage parlors or homemade ice cream shops. 

Yesterday was National Ice Cream Day. I hope you visited an ice cream shop after you visited your local library and massage parlor. :) 



The book trailer for The Emperor’s Ostrich was so much fun to produce. This is the second animated trailer I’ve done now, and I fear it’s becoming an addiction. (The first was for The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, available here: http://tiny.cc/scandaloustrailer.) Illustrator Liz Starin (Roar, Splashdance; lizstarin.com) created puppets of each character, which we animated as though they were paper dolls with hinged joints. Recording the audio was really fun, too. Pianist Benjamin Salisbury composed the music live in the studio and performed it with the narration. Overheard in the sound booth: “Sounds great, but can you make those chords sound more like a soggy baby’s dripping diaper?” Good times.

I love sharing these trailers with kids during school visits. I see with my own sons how all it takes is a taste of a story to pique their interest in a book. Playful art and lively music give me more ways to convey to kids the flavor of a piece, besides me blabbing about it. I’m don’t mind using video to make more Book Munchers if I can. 



Begonia and Alfalfa are, respectively, a milkmaid and her errant cow. A pretty unlikely pair of heroines, but who says there can’t be Udders of Destiny? Both Begonia and Alfalfa are victims of ancestor deities meddling in the affairs of mankind, which is how Alfalfa set out on her long and perplexing journey, forcing Begonia to embark on an even stranger quest to find her and bring her home. Both are also victims of a curious naming scheme. Begonia’s mother, Chrysanthemumsy, being a flower herself, names everything after vegetation: flowers for daughters (Begonia and Peony); edible plants to the livestock (Alfalfa, Sprout, Hay, Clover, Cud, and, of course, Catnip the cat). But there’s nothing victim-y about how both of them press resolutely onward toward what matters most to them. 




The emperor bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to my children. (Ahem.)

But he certainly has some growing up to do.


He and Begonia are foils to each other. Begonia, at a young age, has already developed tremendous skill in taking care of herself and others, though sometimes that’s her cross to bear. The emperor, by contrast, can’t do the least little thing for himself. His attempt to dress himself independently is one of my favorite giggles in the book. 


The Passion of Dolssa tells the story of two passionate young women who form an unlikely and perilous friendship during a dangerous period in European history – the inquisitions following the Albigensian Crusade in southern France in the early Thirteenth Century. One is pious, mystical, and otherworldly;  the other is a salty spitfire and a bit of a hustler. What they share is a fierceness in how they love their families, their friends, and, in Dolssa’s case, her divine Beloved. Both are willing to risk all to never betray those they love best. This loyalty, in a period of oppressive ideological violence, will exact a toll from both of them, and all who care about them. 



School libraries are where I got my start. I grew up on a farm, and the public library was much too far for me to visit until I reached seventh or eighth grade. If I hadn’t been well-stocked with books from my school libraries from kindergarten onward, and thoroughly indulged by patient librarians who let me check out books by the bushel, I wouldn’t be an author today. More to the point, I wouldn’t be the reader I’ve been through the years, with the lifetime of joy that’s given me, and all its innate educational advantages. 



Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how The Emperor’s Ostrich came to be. It actually got its start in a creative writing workshop with a third grade class in Ashland, Massachusetts, some years ago – one of the first workshops I ever did. I asked the kids to pick three words, combine them to form a situation, then choose a main character. My three words were “emperor,” “ostrich,” and “ghoul,” and my main character was a milkmaid named Begonia who was chasing a lost cow, and who had issues with her sister. (I think I was trying to make a point to the kids that the main character and her desire didn’t have to derive in an obvious way from the situation.) The idea tickled my fancy, so I went home that day and wrote a beginning, just to bookmark it in my brain. Since then I’ve done zillions of workshops, and I’m excited to be able to show kids that this little game we play on the whiteboard really can produce a book. I consider this book to be my little present for all those kids. It’s also my homage to Lloyd Alexander, whose delightful and whimsical adventure tales mean so much to me. 


Borrow The Emperor's Ostrich from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

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