Thursday, January 26, 2017

Caldecott Honor Artist Vera Brosgol

Yippie-i-oh! 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 on Monday. It is an AWESOME week for children's literature. 

Click here to watch the ALA Youth Media Awards Webcast
For the fourth year in a row, I asked the Caldecott winners to answer two questions and finish two sentence starters. Vera Brosgol, the author-illustrator of Leave Me Alone, kicks off the series. Thank you, Vera! 


Congratulations, Vera! 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? 

Vera Brosgol: Please understand, it had never crossed my mind that I stood any chance of getting a call that morning. No one at my publisher or agency had suggested it might be in the running, and while a couple of very sweet schools had included it in their Mock Caldecotts, it was my understanding that you don’t get awards for your first picture book. You work hard for years and years and maybe then you get one if you’re lucky. So I was sleeping the sleep of the dead.

My phone is always on vibrate so it took about six calls for me to even wake up. The number was from Atlanta, which is where my boyfriend’s family lives, so my first thought was “Oh no, why are they calling us at 4 am.” By this point they’d given up and left a voicemail, so I listened to it with dread in my heart and a frightened, wide-awake boyfriend next to me. 

“It’s okay! It’s good! It’s good! It’s so good!!!” I whispered. Now I have a recording of that shining moment to replay anytime I want. And I wasn’t given the opportunity to embarrass myself on speakerphone to a roomful of librarians, so I’m calling it a double-win.

Illustration Credit: Vera Brosgol 
What does the Caldecott mean to you? 

Vera Brosgol: It means reassurance. Last year I quit my animation job to pursue writing and illustrating full-time, and I was terrified. I didn’t know if I would be good enough, if my books would find an audience, if I would get to do it for more than a few sweet years before going back to a day job. But I wanted to take the risk and see how it went. This honor is the biggest “YES! KEEP GOING!” I could possibly have hoped for, and that’s all that I want to do.

Illustration Credit: Vera Brosgol 
Please finish these sentence starters: 

Reading is the key to empathy, self-knowledge, and a really good time.

School libraries are a tiny-chaired wonderland.



Borrow Leave Me Alone! from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Newbery Honor Author Lauren Wolk

Hooray! I have not stopped smiling for Kelly Barnhill, Ashley Bryan, Adam Gidwitz, and Lauren Wolf since the ALA Youth Media Awards press conference on Monday. It is an EXCITING week for children's literature. 

Click here to watch the ALA Youth Media Awards Webcast
I asked Kelly Barnhill, Ashley Bryan, Adam Gidwitz, and Lauren Wolk to answer two questions and finish two sentence starters. 


Today is Lauren Wolk's turn to shine! Thank you, Lauren!


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

Lauren Wolk: Boy, oh boy. What a rollercoaster. I tried so hard to ignore all the build-up, but friends kept telling me of mock wins around the country, and I found myself beginning to hope that Wolf Hollow would be in contention. Just the possibility was the stuff of fantasy! And then I got up very early on that Monday morning, as on most mornings, and I did take the precaution to have my cell nearby, just in case, though saying out loud: “It won’t ring.” And then it did and I nearly fell out of my chair. When I answered, and it was Newbery Selection Committee Chair Thom Barthelmess, I almost said, “No, who is this, really?” But I didn’t. When he said, “How are you this morning?” I said something like “Great, now!” and everyone in the background laughed, and a pig flew past my window, and snowballs started melting in hell (though I was in Heaven at the time, so I didn’t see that with my own eyes), and he told me that Wolf Hollow had been selected as an Honor Book, and, well, I learned how to fly in that moment. And I haven’t come back to Earth since.


What does the Newbery mean to you?

Lauren Wolk: The Newbery means many things to me. First and foremost, as a tradition ... a wick for a flame that burns bright for literature and its power to transform, inform, illuminate, inspire, and connect people across the world ... it is a mighty thing. I grew up reading Newbery books. They were my food and drink. And—along with my amazing parents, world-class teachers, and stellar librarians—they were my best teachers. They helped me learn the craft of writing. What does a Newbery Honor mean to me, personally?  It means that Wolf Hollow has the opportunity to be such a teacher. And companion. And inspiration. And I am to-my-bones grateful for that.


Please finish these sentence starters:

Reading is the best road to a meaningful, personalized, interactive education.

School libraries are treasure-filled vaults to which everyone has a key.



Borrow Wolf Hollow from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Newbery Honor Author Adam Gidwitz


Wow! I have not stopped smiling for Kelly Barnhill, Ashley Bryan, Adam Gidwitz, and Lauren Wolk since the ALA Youth Media Awards press conference on Monday. It is a WONDERFUL week for children's literature. 


Click here to watch the ALA Youth Media Awards Webcast


For the fourth year in a row, I asked the Newbery winners to answer two questions and finish two sentence starters. Adam Gidwitz, the author of The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dogkicks off the series. Thank you, Adam! I'm thrilled for you and Hatem Aly. 



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

Adam Gidwitz: Well, I hadn't been sleeping much the night before. The phone was plugged in next to my bed, and enough inconsiderate people had told me The Inquisitor's Tale had a chance to win a shiny sticker. They were trying to be nice, these people. I'm sure they were. 

Anyway, I lay there, sleepless, wondering if my life would change tomorrow. There are plenty of life-changing moments in the course of one's days, but most of them are either totally unexpected or totally expected. Either you get hit by a bus (unexpected) or you have a baby (nine months to "plan"; which is useless, by the way, new parents, but feels helpful). But I can't think of many experiences where you're lying in bed and thinking, "My life may change tomorrow. And it might not." How do you go to sleep under those circumstances? Auditioning for American Idol? That's about it. 

So I didn't sleep. Around 6 am my baby started to cry, and my wife turned over and said, "We're not going to sleep now anyway..." So we got the kid and went downstairs for breakfast. I decided to make blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes, either as a consolation to myself, and, in the unlikely event that I got a phone call, as a celebration; I figured they would work either way. As I cooked, my baby was eating pieces of exceptionally sweet cantaloupe. I came over to give her another piece. My cellphone, in the pocket of my pajama pants, rang, but I couldn't place the sound. My wife looked at me. I looked at her. She said, "Aren't you going to pick it up?!?!?" I scrambled to get the phone out of my pocket. It was the committee.  Thom Barthelmess, the chair, asked how I was. I said, "I'm good now!" He told me I'd received a Newbery Honor. I hung up and raised my fists in the air. My baby raised her piece of cantaloupe in the air. Then she put it in her mouth.  I was celebrating the Honor. She was celebrating the cantaloupe. My wife sat down on the floor. Then we ate pancakes.

It was a good morning. 


What does the Newbery mean to you? 

Adam Gidwitz: I hope the Newbery Honor means that people will share this book with more children. There is a lot of self-censorship these days, a lot of living in our own informational bubbles, our own cultural and entertainment and educational bubbles. I hope that shiny sticker encourages people who would be put off by a) a diverse cast of characters, b) a religious topic, c) a large pile of poop, d) medieval philosophy, e) farting dragons, or f) any of the other stuff in my book, to pick it up, give it a try, and share it with kids. I know that The Inquisitor's Tale is at a higher reading level than some of my other books, and asks more, due to the setting and subjects, than many middle grade books do. I hope this sticker encourages people to give children a chance to aim high. They can handle it. Trust them. They know what they need. If they say they hate it, please don't make them read it. But encourage them to get at least as far as the giant pile of poop. 


Please finish these sentence starters: 

Reading is the cornerstone of a successful and meaningful life. No matter where you live, or what you do, your head will always be your home. Why not make it a rich and interesting place to live in?

School libraries are oases in the desert. The palm trees there grow solace, knowledge, understanding, advice, and encouragement. And the lake there is made of love, and it is cool and deep. 


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

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Guest Post by Eric Kahn Gale, Author of The Wizard's Dog



Eric Kahn Gale: Hi, Mr. Schu! It’s so exciting to have your help premiering The Wizard’s Dog book trailer!

Hi, Eric! Thank you for taking over my blog for the day. Happy belated book birthday to The Wizard's Dog! Congratulations! 


About 1/3 of the conversation between my wife and me is us talking in the voice of our adorable pooch, Bowser. (Most dog owning couples are like that, right?) 

Years ago, in our first apartment together, Bowser was especially fascinated by the door that connected our unit to the hallway. I would speak for him in this little British boy’s voice. He would go on about the wonders of The Magic Door and saw my wife and me as wizards who had the power to open the door and produce delicious food at will. 

It got me thinking that the dog of an actual wizard might have trouble distinguishing between standard human powers and real magic. It made me laugh and, as a life long dog lover, I’d always dreamed of writing a funny novel about the loyalty, humor, and beauty of dogs. 

I was bowled over when I first saw the cover art created by our illustrator Dave Phillips. It was funny, exciting, and epic and I wanted to see it move. I have a background in 2-D animation and whipped up a little animation test. It was so fun to do that I commissioned Dave to create five more pieces of full color illustration, and after a few months of intense work, I produced the book trailer you’re premiering today. 

This book has been my biggest labor of love, thank you so much for helping us launch with a bang!


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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: The Green Umbrella by Jackie Azúa Kramer and Maral Sassouni

Happy Tuesday! I'm celebrating The Green Umbrella's book trailer, Maral Sassouni's illustrations, reading, and school libraries with Jackie Azúa Kramer. I wrote the words in purple, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Jackie! 


The Green Umbrella’s book trailer makes me envious of my characters. All my imaginings come to life! I want to explore Elephant’s curious little town. I want to jump into Hedgehog’s boat and swim with the dolphins. Touch a star-studded sky with Bear’s flying machine while listening to Debussy’s Clair de lune.


Elephant, Hedgehog, Cat, Bear, and old Rabbit are on their next adventure. Latest I heard, they’re off to 100 Acre Wood. Seems Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga and the gang, want to see the green umbrella up close. I think Pooh has plans for a honey hunt. Personally, I miss them. I hope they come home soon. They’re the most kind and interesting bunch I’ve ever met.

Illustration Credit: Maral Sassouni 
Maral Sassouni’s illustrations are whimsical and enchanting. There’s too much to love! I find myself taking a cozy nap in Cat’s forest after enjoying a cherry-topped cupcake. I love the idea that Elephant feels as comfortable wearing a tutu as he is fighting off pirates. And I want all my sunsets to look like lush Italian frescoes.

Illustration Credit: Maral Sassouni 

I hope The Green Umbrella is a symbol of freedom.

Reading is all the world expressed in a story. Reading is one way to discover ourselves. Reading is a way to discover we aren’t alone. And, like music, dance, art, theatre, film--reading, allows you to feel feelings of sadness, joy, anger, fear, compassion, hilarity, all in a safe space.

Illustration Credit: Maral Sassouni 

School libraries make me smile from ear to ear. I feel optimistic knowing that some of our most beloved books and new books will live on in the hands of passionate librarians.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me…Pivot’s Questionnaire:

What is your favorite word? Yes.

What is your least favorite word? No.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Passion.

What turns you off? Cynicism

What is your favorite curse word? Dang. Ok, I have a few saltier ones.

What sound or noise do you love? There are many—wind rustling through leaves, waves, birds singing and reggae music.

What sound or noise do you hate? Sharpening of knives.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Singer.

What profession would you not like to do? With all due respect--doctor.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Jackie, I’m so glad you’re here! I was starting to get bored!


Jackie earned her Masters of Education from Queens College. She is a member of SCBWI and has written for the SCBWI Bulletin. In 2014, she was invited to be a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab, Bank Street College. In 2015 Jackie was a presenter at the 1st nErDCamp Long Island. Her picture book, The Green Umbrella (North South Books) debuts February 2017. The Boy and the Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla (Candlewick Press, TBD) and If You Want to Fall Asleep (Clavis Books, Spring 2018). Visit her at: jackieazuakramer.com


Look for The Green Umbrella on January 31, 2017. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Happy Saturday, Mr. Sharp!

Hi, Mr. Sharp,

Happy Saturday! I'm looking forward to catching up next week in Dallas, Texas. See you soon!

Happy reading!

-John






wishtree by Katherine Applegate | Publication date: September 26, 2017 


That Neighbor Kid by Daniel Miyares | Publication date: May 9, 2017 


Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan | Publication date: January 31, 2017 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: Watersong by Tim McCanna & Richard Smythe



Tim McCanna: Hey Mr. Schu! Thanks for helping us launch the Watersong book trailer!

Mr. Schu: Hi, Tim! Thank you for writing a guest post and for sharing Watersong's book trailer. Have a fantastic Friday! 



Tim McCanna:Five years ago a major drought hit California and many of the creeks and ponds my family would hike near completely dried up. I wrote Watersong during the height of the drought, but I’m pleased to say that just as our book is about to release, rain has returned to the Bay Area.


Illustrator Richard Smythe really put the heart and soul into Watersong. The manuscript was a series of 56 words, mostly onomatopoeia. I arranged the water sounds to progress from a gentle shower to a crashing storm followed by a rainbow. But it was Richard who beautifully threaded in the visual tale of a fox finding its way home. The result is a heartwarming story that layers nature, sounds, weather, and water with a simple rhyming text kids can follow or read themselves.

Illustration Credit:  Richard Smythe
I’m especially happy we were able to include some non-fiction back matter into Watersong. But, I’m more of a poet than a scientist, so when my editor requested additional content, I had to hit the books and do some research on foxes, ecosystems, and the water cycle. Fortunately, I have a brother-in-law who is a water expert and a professor of geography. So, I had an extra pair of professional eyes to fact check my work! 

 Illustration Credit: Richard Smythe
Creating book trailers has been a really exciting way to revisit my stories before they’re published. For the Watersong tune, I channeled two influences from my childhood: the folksy vibe of John Denver and the “Little April Shower” scene from Disney’s Bambi. The bells at the beginning and end of my song mirror the clarinet notes composer Frank Churchill used in Bambi to represent the drip-drip-drops of the rain.

Thanks again, Mr. Schu! It’s been an honor sharing Watersong with you and your readers.


Find Watersong (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books) wherever books are sold January 31.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Penguins Love Colors by Sarah Aspinall

Happy Thursday! I am celebrating PENGUINS and COLORS with debut author-illustrator Sarah Aspinall. I wrote the words in purple, and she wrote the words in black. Many thanks, Sarah! 


The book trailer for Penguins Loves Color is (hopefully) lots of fun to watch!  My little penguins are full of character and energy and I just love seeing them bouncing around.  It was great working with Cynthia Nugent of Rascal Media to get this video just the way I wanted it:  bright and cheerful with joyful bursts of color, capturing the feeling of the book. I hope it encourages people to seek out a copy, so that they can find out more about what those penguins are up to!

I am also hoping to have an animated television show about them one day. I can just imagine them chattering away, can’t you?   I feel like they have a lot to say to us all, and plenty of adventures ahead.
Illustration Credit: Sarah Aspinall 
Tulip, Tiger Lily, Dandelion, Bluebell, Violet and Broccoli are loosely based on my brothers and sisters.  I am the eldest of eight -- the two youngest were born when I was in my teens -- so the majority of my childhood memories are with the six of us.  I was the bossy one with the big ideas and the others were happy to follow along (at least that’s how I remember it!).  I even wore a red beret like Tulip!  In fact, continuing with the color theme, because there were so many of us, my mother bought us jumpsuits to wear when we played outside to keep our clothes clean, and guess what?  We each had a different color!  We spent a lot of time outside in our collective rainbow outfit and became very adept at using our imaginations and making our own fun!  My parents much prefered that we did the messy stuff in the garden, so we used our paints, chalk, clay, paper, glue, glitter and markers to make all kinds of creations!

Illustration Credit: Sarah Aspinall 
I created the illustrations on the computer, which I have never done before.  I used to make collages and before that worked three-dimensionally. I like to think that the illustrations in the book are a sort of digital version of a collage. I love using textures and patterns to make bold, graphic work. The idea of a black and white animal living in what is essentially a blank world, like a big white canvas or piece of paper, is just so satisfying. ESPECIALLY when they slowly introduce one color at a time, and build up to show all of the colors together.

Illustration Credit: Sarah Aspinall 
Did you know that there are approximately 17 different types of penguins? Not all of them live in the cold like mine do -- in fact, the smallest breed of penguin, called a Fairy Penguin- (the biggest ones grow to just 13” tall, with a maximum weight of 3.3 lbs!), lives in Southern Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand.




Picture books help us to connect, communicate, understand, learn, laugh, remember, feel, express love for one another and form a creative point of view--they are truly limitless. 

I first understood just how powerful a picture book could be when I took a class at RISD called Picture and Word.  I will never forget day one when Judy-Sue, an amazing lady who has inspired me beyond measure, introduced us to a spectrum of wonderful picture books, but finished by reading aloud Annie Bananie by Leah Komaiko (Illustrated by Laura Cornell).  By the end of the book she was moved to tears and I was surprised to find that I was too. Taking that class was a truly pivotal moment in my life and I have not stopped writing, illustrating and collecting picture books ever since.



Mr. Schu, you should have asked me…"Do you have any more plans for your penguins?”  Yes, I certainly do, Mr. Schu!  Lots of ideas and exciting plans; in fact, the second book, Penguins Love Their ABC’s will be coming out this October, 2017!  Stay tuned by visiting my website




Borrow Penguins Love Colors from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere :The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla

Hello, Sally J. Pla! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read. Thank you for dropping by to finish my sentences and premiere the WONDERFUL book trailer for The Someday Birds.

Sally J. Pla: Thank you so much, Mr. Schu! There is no place I’d rather be for our grand film premiere! It FEELS very grand, for 80 seconds of film! 


The book trailer for The Someday Birds made me cry when I saw the first edit. The story came to such beautiful life! It was filmed in a single day in Wisconsin, where I used to live, and where I am lucky enough to have wonderful friends, like the deeply talented filmmaker Kara Mulrooney, who put all her heart into the project.  


Charlie’s family is in flux. In a way, every character in this novel is coming of age, not just Charlie. His anxious, gruff grandma fin
ds an unexpected ally. His boy-crazy sister learns a bit more about what she’s really searching for. Those boisterous twin brothers learn surprising things about their big brother, and vice-versa. Certainly, Charlie has changed. Everything and everyone shifts direction just a bit, by the end of the road-trip.

Visit Sally's website! 
I think Charlie is real! He feels like my own child! My maternal compassion for him, while writing, surpassed anything I’ve experienced toward a character, as a writer. His voice sang out to me, clear and true, from day one. I’ve struggled with characters and storylines before, but not here, not with Charlie. This kid knew what he was doing. He was just waiting for a chance for his voice to be heard.

Also, it is not mentioned in the story anywhere, but most readers will quickly realize that Charlie is autistic. Yet this is not a novel that focuses on autism. I wanted to write a story where autism was more or less the normal state of affairs, not something held up for any special literary scrutiny. This is a story about Charlie, a unique person on a life-changing journey, who has unusual ways of viewing the world.



On January 24, 2017, I’ll be feeling all the feels, as they say. It’s been a long and wonderful path

Reading is salvation. Escape. Joy. Connection. The closest we can come to leading other lives. The best way to grow our compassion as human beings.


Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about Leo, my 80-lb. golden doodle. He’s my constant companion. This dog completes me!


Look for The Someday Birds on January 24, 2017. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Author Ellen Oh

I have been tweeting about Flying Lessons & Other Stories for months. It FINALLY hit stores and libraries on Tuesday. I hope you will visit your local bookshop and buy two copies after you read my interview with Ellen Oh, the editor of this important anthology. 


I wrote the words in purple, and Ellen wrote the words in black. Thank you, Ellen! 


Kwame Alexander, Kelly J. Baptist, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson are my idols. Their stories made me laugh, cry and make my heart feel too big for my chest. They helped create this marvelous anthology that is filled with something for everyone.


Flying Lessons & Other Stories is dedicated to the life and legacy of Walter Dean Myers and to every kid who ever thought they didn’t belong. 


We Need Diverse Books™ is…

…a group of amazing volunteers who love children’s literature and believe that every child deserves to see themselves represented in the books they read.

…a group of the hardest working people with hearts of pure gold and generosity that amazes me every single day I work with them.

…a group of friends that have become family and a mission that so many people believe in and support in so many different ways and for which I will be forever grateful.




Harper Raine is one seriously badass ghost hunter.

School libraries are lifesavers.


Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I hate illustrators. Well actually, I don’t hate them. I am literally overwhelmed by envy over their talent. I think it is terribly unfair that I can’t even draw a stick figure. I once had to sign next to Emma Virjan who illustrates those awesome pigs in a wig. And she would draw these adorable pigs in wigs with her signature and I felt challenged to be artistic so I started adding happy faces to my signature but stopped after people asked me if the squiggles were a foreign language. 


Borrow Flying Lessons & Other Stories from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Book Trailer Premiere: Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang by Victoria Coe

Hello, Victoria Coe! Happy 2017! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read. I’m so happy you dropped by to finish my sentences and premiere the book trailer for Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang.

Victoria Coe: Happy New Year, Mr. Schu! Thank you for having me back. Your work to promote and spread the love of reading is nothing short of incredible, and I’m beyond honored to be with you again.


The book trailer for Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang cracks me up every time I see it. If anybody doubts how bad bunnies can be, this trailer will settle that once and for all. And on January 24th, readers can get the whole scoop when the book comes out!




I think Fenway relishes his starring role in this book. It will take a professional to defeat those bunnies and we all know who that professional is!



Did you know Hattie plays her own starring role in this book? While Fenway’s dealing with bunny trouble, she’s caught in a friendship triangle and learns that making the right choice can be awfully tough.


The paperback edition of Fenway and Hattie is out now! The awesome Puffin paperback is available in bookstores, on-line, and in Target stores - with bonus content in the back. 

And the Scholastic paperback reprint is out now, too. I remember buying books through the Scholastic flyers and book fairs when I was a kid, so seeing my own book in Scholastic is really a dream come true.




School libraries are sooo necessary! While I’m a huge fan and supporter of classroom libraries, there’s nothing like a school library and a school librarian to feed and nourish young readers.



Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how much I love connecting with teachers and librarians who are reading Fenway and Hattie aloud in the classroom. Kids seem to enjoy hearing the story from Fenway’s from point of view and then figuring out what’s really going on!

And speaking of reading aloud, there are no words for how excited I am that Fenway and Hattie is a contender for the 2017 Global Read Aloud. Pernille Ripp does an outstanding job with this program and this is such a tremendous honor. I hope this opportunity will give even more educators and readers the chance to discover Fenway and Hattie this year!