Thursday, September 28, 2017

Cover Reveal: Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Hi, Kelly Yang! Thank you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to share Front Desk’s WONDERFUL cover and to finish my sentences. I greatly appreciate it!

Kelly Yang: Thank you so much for having me! I'm such a huge fan! It's truly an honor to be here and to share with you the cover for FRONT DESK, a story I've lived and breathed since I was eight years old!

Hooray! Congratulations! 

Maike Plenzke’s cover illustration for Front Desk made me burst into tears. I’ll never forget it. I was in a taxi and I just started crying. The taxi driver was like “What’s wrong?? Should I pull over??” I said, “No. No! Keep driving! Everything’s fine. Everything’s great!” while I kept sobbing. Maike did such a tremendous job of capturing the spirit of my girl Mia. I loved the details, down to the Disneyland poster and the peeling paint on the wall. It was perfect, just perfect! I’m beyond excited to share it with the world!

Front Desk tells the story of 10 year old Mia Tang. Every day, Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel while her parents clean the rooms. She’s proud of her job. She loves the guests and treats them like family. When one of the guests gets into trouble with the police, it shakes Mia to her core. Her parents, meanwhile, hide immigrants in the empty rooms at night. If the mean motel owner Mr. Yao finds out, they’ll be doomed!

Kelly Yang, Age 8
Mia’s parents are struggling first generation Chinese immigrants, like my own parents. My parents came to America with $200 in their pocket. To get by, we worked in manual labor jobs. From when I was eight to when I was twelve, I managed the front desk of three motels in Southern California while my parents cleaned. At one motel, there was a huge hole in the roof, and we slept at night staring up at the stars, shivering in our thin blankets, praying it wouldn’t rain. My parents were jolted awake by the sound of the buzzer every night. They never got a good night’s sleep.

Like my parents, Mia’s parents didn’t think there was any other way. “We’re immigrants. Our lives are never fair,” Mia’s mom says in the book. But Mia doesn’t believe that’s the way it has to be and is determined to change their fate.

Did you know Mr. Yao has a son named Jason? Mr. Yao is the ruthless owner of the motel. He bullies the Tangs and works them to the bone. His son Jason is the same age as Mia and goes to the same school. At school, they both share the secret that Mia is essentially Jason’s family’s employee. As Mia’s parents struggle to deal with Mr. Yao, Mia struggles at school with her relationship with Jason. I loved writing the Mia and Jason scenes, as painful as they were for Mia (Jason’s such a pill to her). I loved how her relationship with Jason pushed Mia and made her grow as a person and likewise for Jason!

Kelly Yang, Age 9
School libraries saved my life. I am where I am today because of libraries. I still remember being 8 years old, living in the motels, wondering if I would ever get out of there. The librarians at my school library and at my neighborhood library gave me wings to fly. Those wings came in the form of books.

I went on to enter university at the age of 13 and graduate from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School. I owe it all to the wonderful librarians of this country who looked at me and didn’t see a poor motel girl with messy hair and tattered pants. They saw a girl with potential. And they handed me a book.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I wrote and re-wrote FRONT DESK three times! I first wrote FRONT DESK in the summer of 2015. I’d been looking for a way to tell my son about my childhood, in a way that didn’t scare him but inspired him. The first draft was light and funny, which my son adored. But as I worked more on the manuscript, I felt there was room for a deeper and more meaningful story. So I rewrote the book and it got acquired. Then, the world changed and suddenly, it wasn’t just about my son anymore. It was about kids all over the country – kids, who like me, lived on the wrong side of town, had parents who worked two, three jobs, didn’t have health insurance, didn’t always get enough to eat. So I rewrote the book again, this time digging deep into the shame and pain and joy of my childhood until my words looked so open and exposed. I won’t lie, Mr. Schu, I’m a little scared. But when I showed the final manuscript to my son, he not only got it, he loved it. My greatest hope for FRONT DESK is that when kids read this book, they’ll be filled with empathy and courage and hope. 

Kelly Yang’s family immigrated from China when she was a young girl, and she grew up in California, in circumstances very similar to those of Mia Tang. She eventually left the motels and went to college at the age of 13, and is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School. She is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, a leading writing and debating program for children in Asia and the United States. She is also a columnist for the South China Morning Post and has been published in the New York Times, Washington Post and the Atlantic.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Two Questions and Three Sentence Starters with Julie Falatko

Hi, Julie! I hope you’re having a wonderful day. Thank YOU for dropping by to reveal the cover for Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School. What planted the seed for this hilarious book?

Julie Falatko: Hi Mr. Schu! Thank you for having me! I have two dogs, and, like many pet owners, I spend a fair amount of my day narrating what I think my dogs are saying. I thought it would be fun to write a book that was approximately ninety percent dog dialog. In this book, two dogs want to follow their kid to school, so one climbs on top of the other, they throw on a trench coat, and pretend to be a human student, which leads to a lot of dog conversations.

What are three things we should know about Stewart?

Julie Falatko: Stewart doesn’t always feel comfortable in school, but he always feels comfortable with his dogs. At the beginning of the book, Stewart’s not even sure he likes school. But when his dogs show up, he sees how fun school actually is (you get to run after frisbees in gym and have lunch every day!).

Please finish these sentence starters:

Colin Jack’s illustrations crack me up. The expressions on the dogs’ faces are so amazing and hilarious that I laugh every time I look at them.

School libraries are places of magic and wonder. When I was in elementary school, Mrs. Wilbur the librarian would light a candle and sit in a rocking chair to read to us. We knew we had to be quiet and listen to the story when she lit that candle. Even the wiggliest kids were mesmerized by the flame. And the story.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what my dogs think of the book. They told me they love it, but they think it could use more bacon.

Look for Two Dogs in a Trench Coat on May 29, 2018. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: 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 celebrate the book trailer for Windows

Thank you both for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to finish my sentences and celebrate the book trailer.  Shall we get started? 

Julia and E.B.: YES

The book trailer for Windows was so much fun to make! Julia and I spent a day together in my studio crafting it and making our little world come to life. Windows has been a true collaboration between the two of us since the beginning and animating it felt like the culmination of our work together. 

My husband, Jeff Allen, is a sound designer and composer for video games and so naturally I asked him to write the music for the trailer. We have never had an opportunity to collaborate until now and it was a blast! He has been a part of the Windows journey since the beginning as well (the interior apartment in the book is based on our real life home and neighborhood) and so having his soundtrack is the cherry on top of it all.

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.

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!

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.

Look for Windows on October 17, 2017. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Cover Reveal: The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection by Colby Sharp

Hi, Mr. Sharp! I am OVER THE MOON you’re here to share The Creativity Project’s awesome cover.
Colby Sharp: Mr. Schuuuuuuuuu! I’m so excited to be here. I still remember the first time I visited your wonderful website. It was after I made that crazy little “I Love Reading” video. 

That is true! I am pretty sure you were the first person featured in my sentence starters series. Are you ready to finish my sentences again? 

Colby Sharp: Yes, Mr. Schu! Let's get started! 

The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection's cover was composed by Little, Brown Young Readers master designer Dave Caplan. The images were created by Javier Pérez. You must check him out on Instagram. He’s amazing!  I love that they were able to get everyone’s name on the cover. It looks so inviting.

Sherman Alexie, Tom Angleberger, Jessixa Bagley, Tracey Baptiste, Sophie Blackall, Lisa Brown, Peter Brown, Lauren Castillo, Kate DiCamillo, Margarita Engle, Deborah Freedman, Adam Gidwitz, Chris Grabenstein, Jennifer L. Holm, Victoria Jamieson, Travis Jonker, Jess Keating, Laurie Keller, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Kirby Larson, Minh Lê, Grace Lin, Kate Messner, Daniel Nayeri, Naomi Shihab Nye, Debbie Ohi, R.J. Palacio, Linda Sue Park, Dav Pilkey, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Dan Santat, Gary Schmidt, John Schu, Colby Sharp, Bob Shea, Liesl Shurtliff, Lemony Snicket, Laurel Snyder, Javaka Steptoe, Mariko Tamaki, Linda Urban, Frank Viva…wait?! What? Did all of those amazing creators really agree to be in this book? Wow. I pinch myself each and every day.

I hope The Creativity Project finds itself into the hands of kids that don’t think they are creators. I hope they find a prompt or a response that gets their wheels turning, and then they pick up a tool (pencil, crayon, computer, saw, pen, paint brush, welder, clay, etc.) and create something that brings them joy.

On March 13, 2018, I’m going to celebrate the release of The Creativity Project with a room full of fifth graders (and our pet tortoise Beekle). We’re going to read together, write together, and play together. It will be the perfect way to celebrate the book that is dedicated to them.

#BestPartofMyDay is a way for me to look for the greatness in each and every school day. It helps me to stay positive, and try to make each day glorious.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the book I’m reading. Right now I’m reading Kat Yeh’s The Way to Bea. It is phenomenal.

Look for The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection on March 13, 2018. 

Click here to order a copy signed by Colby Sharp, Travis Jonker, Laurie Keller, and me. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: Q & Ray Case #1: The Missing Mola Lisa by Trisha Shaskan and Stephen Shaskan

Hi, Trisha Shaskan! 

Trisha: Three words: Hi, Mr. Schu!

Hi, Stephen Shaskan! 

Stephen: Hi, John! It’s so great to be back at Watch, Connect, Read!

Thank you for celebrating Q & Ray Case #1: The Missing Mola Lisa’s book trailer with me. Who is Mola Lisa?

Trisha: Thank you for having us! The Mola Lisa is based on the famous painting the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, but the mole-version because this graphic novel contains all forest critters. I chose to write about this painting because when I was in college I saw the Mona Lisa. Twenty years later, I remember her gaze!  

What planted the seed for this new graphic novel series? 

Trisha: Stephen and I both enjoy mysteries and the kids we know enjoy them, too, so we decided to create one. The names of the main characters Q & Ray are a riff on Q & A (questions and answers), the basis for all mysteries. I’m also big fan of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Like most mysteries, ours is derivative of Sherlock. Q wears disguises. Ray studies topics that inform the mystery. After exploring our characters and figuring out the story, we thought about which format it might take.

Stephen: I always loved the combination of art and story, whether it was picture books, comic books, or cartoons. I grew up with all of these things influencing my art. I was never a strong reader and would have been considered a reluctant reader, but between the ages of 8 and 12, I read about 1000 comic books.

Trisha: Like the comics Stephen read, I found graphic novels or heavily illustrated chapter books were a great gateway to reading for my nephews and the elementary students I worked with. As a literacy coach, I noticed the younger elementary students wanted to read, but couldn’t read many of the popular graphic novels. I decided to create a graphic novel for those students. Q & Ray features two second-grade sleuths, is broken into short chapters, and is comparable to an early chapter book such as Nate the Great or Cam Jensen. Q & Ray is Stephen and my invitation to young readers.

Stephen: My first comics were super hero comics (Marvel and DC) and a lot of Harvey comics like Casper the Friendly Ghost. The Harvey comics really inspired my art in the Q & Ray series.

Thank you for including a school librarian in The Missing Mola Lisa. What is Mr. Shrew’s favorite thing about being a school librarian? 

Trisha: Thank you! We were inspired by you to include this school librarian! Mr. Shrew’s favorite thing about being a school librarian is the students --especially Q & Ray! Mr. Shrew enjoys connecting with the students by matching them with the perfect book.

Thank you! :) 

Please finish these sentence starters:

Graphic novels…

Stephen: Graphic novels for young readers are another combination of artful storytelling that engages children in literacy and visual literacy. 

As an artist of picture books, these graphic novels were a huge challenge. A picture book has between 12 and 32 images, but the first Q & Ray book had hundreds of panels telling the story. I had to draw the characters Q and Ray both over a hundred times. In the end, the challenge was totally worth it. I love seeing my art in graphic-novel form.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked us…

Since this is case #1, are there more books in this series and when do they come out? 

Stephen: Yes! I’m so glad you asked! There are two more books coming out in the next year. Case #2: The Meteorite or Meteor-Wrong! comes out in Spring, 2018. Case #3: Foul Play at Elm Tree Park comes out in Fall, 2018. I’m just starting finished art on the third. Creating these books has been an amazing learning experience for Trisha and me. We’ve both really developed a better understanding of storytelling in the graphic novel form. 

Trisha and Stephen: Thanks for having us at Watch, Connect, Read! And thank you so much for all the work you do connecting kids with books!

Borrow The Missing Mola Lisa from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Press Release: Big Year of New Publishing for Kate DiCamillo in 2018

After you finish admiring the cover for the paperback edition of Raymie Nightingale, please read about Kate DiCamillo's forthcoming novel. Oh, my goodness! My HEART IS SMILING! Congratulations, Kate!  

September 19, 2017 – SOMERVILLE, MA – In 2016 two-time Newbery Medal winner Kate DiCamillo’s seventh novel, Raymie Nightingale, was published to overwhelming critical acclaim and debuted as a #1 New York Times bestseller. The deeply moving book about a summer of discovery and friendship went on to be a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Publisher Candlewick Press is pleased to announce plans to release the novel with a new cover treatment for the first time in paperback on April 10, 2018, ahead of a very exciting eighth novel release by the author.

While fans often ask DiCamillo to write more about their favorite characters, she has never been compelled to revisit the world of a previous novel — until now. In October 2018, for the first time ever, DiCamillo will return to unravel the story of Raymie’s friend and beloved ranchero, Louisiana Elefante. In its 2016 review of Raymie Nightingale, the New York Times noted that Louisiana “is one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” and that she “delights on every page.” Fans of Louisiana can look forward to reading the as-yet-untitled book when it releases next fall. The companion novel was acquired by Candlewick president and publisher Karen Lotz in a major deal for world rights from Holly McGhee at Pippin Properties, with senior editor Andrea Tompa to edit. 

About the new book, author Kate DiCamillo says: “I was getting ready to start on a project, going through my notebooks and all the phrases and images that I had written down that I thought might turn into a story. This phrase, ‘I am going to write it all down, so that you will know what happened to me . . .’ showed up again and again. And next to it, I had written ‘Louisiana?’ And it was Louisiana. It was her voice. While I had no intention of writing another novel about those rancheros, Louisiana’s voice was so strong and insistent, and her need to tell her story was so profound, that I gave in. And boy, am I ever glad that I did. I loved spending time with her again.”
As previously announced, DiCamillo is also partnering on a Candlewick illustrated book with cartoonist and illustrator Harry Bliss for another new Fall 2018 release, Good Rosie. The story will explore what it means to be both a dog and a friend.

“Kate’s novels feature such appealing settings and lovable characters that it’s always hard to say goodbye, so we were overjoyed to learn that it wasn’t yet time to say goodbye to Louisiana. For readers who already know and love her, Louisiana’s story will feel like a gift, and those who don’t know her yet are in for a treat. There’s so much for Kate fans to look forward to in 2018 — it’s going to be a huge year for her, and we couldn’t be more excited!” said senior editor Andrea Tompa. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Power of Booktalking

I asked teacher-librarian Rhonda Jenkins, fifth-grade teacher Colby Sharp, and middle school literacy coach Chad Everett to discuss the importance of students, teachers, and administrators sharing the books they love with their students and colleagues. Thank you, Rhonda, Colby, and Chad!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Hello, Katherine! I'm thrilled you dropped by to share wishtree’s book trailer and to finish my sentences. I love wishtree with my whole heart. It is the book the world needs right now. 

Katherine Applegate: John, thank you so much for inviting me to join you here today. I’m really thrilled to be able to chat with you about wishtree. 

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. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Cover Reveal: Breakout by Kate Messner

Hi, Kate Messner! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read.! It is always a good day when you drop by to celebrate books and reading. Thank you for sharing Breakout’s cover and for finishing my sentences.

Kate Messner: Hi, Mr. Schu! Thanks so much for inviting me to help share the new cover art! Breakout is different from anything I’ve ever written, so it’s exciting (and a little scary!) to know that it’ll be out in the world soon.

Explore Kate's website. 
Breakout’s cover illustration is from illustrator Christopher Silas Neal, which is such a gift. Chris and I have done several picture books together with Chronicle Books, and I’ve always admired the art he’s done for novels as well. He’s the cover artist for Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America Trilogy and so many other books that have caught my eye. I especially love what Chris can do with light and darkness on a book cover, so when my Bloomsbury editor asked if I had any ideas for Breakout’s cover art, I asked – okay, begged – for her to reach out to Chris. Happily, he was available and interested!

Chris started the cover illustration process by reading the manuscript and sending Bloomsbury a few concept sketches.
We had some great discussions about these ideas. It’s important for a novel’s cover to make the right kind of promise about what readers will find inside. Ultimately, we wanted to make sure this one telegraphed that Breakout is a book for older elementary & middle school readers, with mystery, suspense, and also some big ideas to think about Here’s one of Chris’s early cover concepts, fleshed out.
Editor Mary Kate Castellani and I loved the look of this one but were a little worried about showing the two girls running, even though the book culminates with a race. Would readers get the impression that the girls were the ones who’d broken out of prison? Around the time we were having these conversations, Chris and I were both speaking at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in Maryland. It’s not typical for authors and illustrators to collaborate directly on cover art – usually editors and art directors facilitate those conversations – but Chris and I got talking on a shuttle bus back to the hotel from the festival’s author-illustrator reception. In that fifteen-minute ride, we tossed around a whole bunch of ideas.

What if there’s a helicopter on the cover?

And a search light that illuminates the scene below?
Maybe it lights up Owen’s tree fort!

That conversation ultimately led to the final cover, which I really love, because I do think it makes the right promise to readers. This is a story with a lot of tension, where things that are supposed to be familiar and safe, suddenly look different in the glare of a search light.

Breakout tells the story of a small-town prison break. The three main characters are Nora Tucker, whose Dad is the prison superintendent, her best friend Lizzie Bruno, whose grandmother is a civilian worker there, and Elidee Jones, who’s just moved to town with her mom to be closer to her brother, who is an inmate. Here’s the official jacket description from Bloomsbury:

Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek – two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town’s maximum security prison, everything changes. Doors are locked, helicopters fly over the woods, and police patrol the school grounds. Worst of all, everyone is on edge, and fear brings out the worst in some people Nora’s known her whole life. Even if the inmates are caught, she worries that home might never feel the same.  Told in letters, poems, text messages, news stories, and comics – a series of documents Nora’s collected for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project – BREAKOUT is a thrilling story that will leave readers thinking about who’s really welcome in the places we call home.

I wrote Breakout while a thousand law enforcement officers were scouring the woods and mountains near my house, searching for two convicted murderers who escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in June of 2015.

I live fourteen miles from the prison, so helicopters circled over practically every night during the 23-day manhunt. Before my careers in teaching and writing, I was a TV news reporter, and whenever something big is going on, I still feel that tug to go see what’s happening for myself. So I drove to Dannemora and hung out at the coffee shop and market across from the prison.

For three days, I sat at a table with my coffee and my notebook, and I listened to people’s stories. A cashier told me how her son wouldn’t sleep in his own room at night. The manager told me they were so busy she’d run out of bottled water and had to call the Pepsi guy to bring more. State police who had come from downstate talked about what they were missing at home, now that they were here, searching our woods. A little boy came in wearing rubber boots with his Halloween firefighter costume and announced that he was going to help. New York City reporters from the Times and the Daily News wondered how we survived up here with such crummy cell service. And inmates’ families told me they were scared. They worried that all the inmates would end up suffering because of those two who’d escaped. 

Breakout is a fictional story, set in a fictional town, but it was inspired by many of the stories I heard in the coffee shop that week.

On June 5, 2018, I’ll be out on book tour, sharing this story with readers, and I couldn’t be more excited about that. We’re going to talk about how a ripped-from-the-headlines story like this comes together, through research, brainstorming, drafting, and revising. I’m looking forward to showing kids all the different drafts and sharing how I discovered that a novel-in-documents was the way this story wanted to be told. We’re going to play around with some writing, too -- telling a story through different points of view. I love the way stories like this can help kids understand how other people’s perspectives might be different from their own. My greatest hope is that Breakout is one of those stories that builds empathy and challenges kids to ask questions about privilege and perspective. 

Reading is sometimes a great comfort and sometimes the opposite. The most important books in my life fall in both of those categories, I think. Some are dog-eared childhood favorites that always filled me with magic and made me believe that everything would be all right. But some books that have had the biggest impact on me are stories that made me uncomfortable. Those stories pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I think Breakout may fall into that category for many readers, too.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what I’ve been reading lately (because I always love to talk about that!)  There are some amazing books coming out this school year, and I’ve had the chance to read some of those a bit early. Tracey Baptiste’s RISE OF THE JUMBIES is an amazing sequel to THE JUMBIES. Jumbies are these terrifying creatures from Trinidad’s folklore. They’re featured in RISE, too, along with a sparkling team of black mermaids. Loree Griffin Burns has a new Scientists in the Field book called LIFE ON SURTSEY: ICELAND’S UPSTART ISLAND, which is my favorite of all of Loree’s books so far. And right now I’m halfway through Justina Ireland’s YA novel DREAD NATION, which is an alternate history of Post-Reconstruction America where special schools train black and Native girls to fight zombies that rose from the dead at the end of the Civil War. Personally, I think this is the alternative history HBO should be doing instead of Confederacy. It’s an incredible page-turner and I think it’ll be a powerful conversation starter in classrooms, too.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: Starring Carmen! by Anika Denise and Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Please welcome Anika Denise to Watch. Connect. Read.! She dropped by to chat about Starring Carmen's book trailer, Lorena Alvarez Gómez, case covers, and school libraries. I wrote the words in purple, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Anika! 

Starring Carmen’s book trailer really captures the energy of the main character. Carmen can be a bit of a drama queen sometimes, and that comes through in the narration. But we also wanted teachers and librarians to know that it’s a fun read-aloud with diverse characters. Carmen’s family sprinkles Spanish into English conversations just like mine did growing up. Affectionate phrases were always in Spanish. So were commands like, “Go to bed!”   

Illustration Credit: Lorena Alvarez Gómez
Lorena Alvarez Gómez’s illustrations have so much vibrancy, humor and heart. I love all the colors and textures in Carmen’s handmade puppets and sets. They add such richness and whimsy to the spreads. The moments between Carmen and her hermanito, Eduardo, are tender—and funny!

Illustration Credit: Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Carmen loves to perform. She loves the spotlight. And she loves to be in charge of the show. So much so that she sometimes overshadows her little brother, who just wants to be included. Sharing the stage isn’t easy for her—but she gets there. In her Carmen way.

Make sure you look under Starring Carmen’s dust jacket because you will see one of my favorite images from the interiors printed there. I gasped audibly in delight when I first peeled back the jacket to see Lorena’s stunning full-bleed illustration on the case cover. Abrams kept it a surprise, and I’m so glad they did! It was more fun that way.

School libraries are a haven in a sometimes bumpy sea. Quiet spaces of discovery to get lost—and found. More than ever, they are incubators of empathy, where kids can reach outside themselves and gain a greater understanding of the world.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if there are more Carmen books planned. Yes! Carmen, book two: Lights, Camera, Carmen! will be out next year. Carmen goes a long way in book one towards learning to share the stage—but in Lights, Camera, Carmen! I’m afraid things get a little dicey when a certain adorable someone steals the show. I won’t spoil it by saying how, but she works it out. In her Carmen way.

Borrow Starring Carmen! from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.