Monday, April 30, 2018

Cover Reveal: The Broken Ornament by Tony DiTerlizzi

I remember smiling when I read about a broken ornament on Caldecott Honor artist Tony DiTerlizzi's Facebook page on November 22, 2015. He told his daughter that every time an ornament breaks, a fairy is released and grants a wish. Thankfully, his brilliant explanation inspired The Broken Ornament

Tony dropped by to chat with me about The Broken Ornament's cover, Tinsel, and school libraries. I wrote the words in purple, and Tony wrote the words in black. Thank you, Tony! 

“Here, Jack is trying to persuade his mom and dad to get a larger tree so Santa will have more room to leave more presents. The artwork for this book was painted traditionally (gouache on board) and composited in Photoshop where dramatic lighting effects were added.” -Tony

The Broken Ornament’s cover (hopefully) captures the magic and mystery of what happens when Jack accidentally drops an old glass Christmas ornament.

One of my favorite aspects about the holidays are the characters we celebrate: snowmen, elves, reindeer, nutcrackers and Santa Claus. Somehow I was able to fit all these festive folks into one story.

“The fairy that emerges from the broken ornament grants Jack’s every Christmas wish." -Tony
Tinsel is the Christmas fairy that emerges from the broken ornament and was inspired by my wife, Angela.

School libraries are where I spent many lunch periods. I would run my fingers across the spines of shelved books searching for my next exciting read.

“This is crammed with my favorite holiday characters such as snowmen, reindeer and nutcrackers. In this scene, each pose for the snowmen was referenced by MLB pitchers.” -Tony

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I make books for children.

Look for The Broken Ornament on September 18, 2018. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Book Trailer Premiere: Mr. Wolf's Class by Aron Nels Steinke

Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day! I bet Mr. Wolf, a fourth-grade teacher, is celebrating this fun day with his students. Who is Mr. Wolf, you ask? He's one of the stars of Aron Nels Steinke's Mr. Wolf's Class. Aron dropped by to chat with me about Mr. Wolf's students, school libraries, and reading. He wrote the words in black, and I wrote the words in purple. Thank you, Aron! 

The book trailer for Mr. Wolf’s Class was put together with help from my five-year-old son. He did the voice over. I have a background in animation but the lure of telling my own stories is what drew me to making comics and graphic novels for kids. I hadn't made any animation in over a decade so I set myself to taking it up again, purely as a hobby and to make this trailer.

Sampson, Henry, Aziza, Lola, Randy, Penny, Oliver, Stewart, Bobby, Abdi, Miquel, Noah, Molly, Lizzy, Oscar, Johnny, and Margot are the stars of the book along with their teacher, Mr. Wolf. I had envisioned a series with an ensemble cast, kind of like a Robert Atlman film. The focus shifts from character to character, book to book. Throughout the series the reader will come to know each character just as if they were a part of Mr. Wolf's Class right there with them. 

Ms. Bird, the teacher-librarian at Hazelwood Elementary, makes a brief appearance in book 1 but I'm definitely getting the sense that I should make her a bigger part of the narrative going forward. Libraries are sanctuaries and librarians are the best people. Ms. Bird is a sharp-witted librarian who has a phobia of snakes. Maybe we'll see what happens with that theme later in the series. 

Story is about pacing. I like to think of narrative as a series of beats. With comics the beats are both verbal and visual. Story is both like music and a conversation. It doesn't add anything to the conversation without a bit of the unexpected. 

 Reading is something that took me years and years to connect with as a child. I remember being in 3rd grade and picking up a chapter book that had a wolf and a wizard with a sword on the cover. I could read the words but I didn't have the vocabulary or stamina to really read the book. I wanted that story to be mine but I was just not ready for it yet. If I had had access then to the myriad graphic novels kids have available to them today I probably would have enjoyed school a whole lot more. I probably would have ended up writing my own stories a whole lot sooner. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what it's like being a teacher and an author at the same time. I primarily wear my teaching hat in public. When I meet someone for the first time and they ask me what I do I always respond with being a teacher. Being an author sometimes feels like my secret identity.

Thank you, Mr. Schu, for providing these sentence starters. I get to assume my author identity, first and foremost, and that alone puts us beyond introductions.  

Thank you, Aron! 

Look for Mr. Wolf's Class on June 26, 2018. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Happy Monday! I am honored Veera Hiranandani dropped by to celebrate The Night Diary and to finish my sentences. I look forward to sharing her beautiful novel with readers of all ages. I love everything about it.

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

Nisha’s diary is a place where she can be free. Nisha’s very shy and has trouble talking to people outside of her family, so her diary is a space where she can fully express herself. Also, as Nisha writes letters to her mother in her diary, she creates the mother she needs but never knew, because her mother died when she was born.

In 1947, India gained independence from the British empire and on the same day (at midnight between August 14 and August 15) was split into two countries, India and Pakistan. At a time that was supposed to be triumphant, this partitioning of India, known simply as Partition, became the cause of one of the largest human migrations in modern history. 14 million people were displaced and 1-2 million people died. I’ve always been aware of this history because my father and his family had to leave their home in Mirpur Khas, Pakistan and travel over the new Indian border during Partition.

The conflict came about mainly because of concerns about equality between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. One proposed solution was the creation of Pakistan where Muslims could have more power in the government there. Hindus were the majority in India and would have more power once India was independent, but many people were not supportive of the Partition. The British, however, rushed the process and chaos ensued. Tensions between religious groups grew and an unimaginable cycle of violence started. This is why I wanted Nisha to have a Muslim mother and a Hindu father. I wanted to directly question why people had to be separated and where she belonged if she identified with both religious groups. Nisha also wonders what would happen if her mother was alive.

Dadi, Papa, Amil, and Kazi are the main characters, other than Nisha in The Night Diary. Dadi (the Hindi and Sindhi word for one’s paternal grandmother) is comforting, but at times, annoying to Nisha. Papa is Nisha’s father. He is a doctor, and often very busy with his work. He can be distant, but protective and Nisha wishes he would be more nurturing. Amil is her twin brother, and as she says, “the other half” of her. He is outgoing, impulsive, funny, and loving. He is her voice when she can’t speak for herself, but she helps calm him, and helps him think more deeply about things. Kazi is the family’s cook. He and Nisha have a close relationship and she gets some of the nurturing she’s looking for from him. He also teaches her how to cook and she finds another way to express herself. Kazi is also Muslim and they are separated through this conflict.

I hope The Night Diary truly reaches everyone it needs to reach. I wrote it both for readers in the South Asian community who have connections to Partition, but also to share and illuminate this huge piece global of history with anyone who isn’t familiar with it. I hope readers can see a specific human experience underneath the labels we may place on those experiences, like what it means to be a refugee or from a different country or a different religion. Last, but least, I hope that Nisha’s quiet, brave persistence and questioning are inspiring to all who don’t think they have a voice.

Stories are full experiences in themselves, especially the ones we connect to the most. I had a writing teacher who said that in drawing from our own experiences, we should also use our reading experiences. They are also part of what shapes us. I always remembered that and have looked at stories a bit differently since.

School libraries are so many wonderful things, but what they’ve always meant to me above all is a place where students get free access to books. Whether a child has many books at home or not, there is something so empowering about finding a book you like and just being able to take it home with you. You don’t have to ask anyone to buy it for you and it’s your responsibility to care for it. This says to a child--we trust you. School libraries also provide a place to make exciting discoveries and connections. They provide community. They provide a safe and quiet space to read and think. I’ve always loved the quiet expected in libraries. I remember relief in this expectation as a quiet kid.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I like writing about food so much. I’m a little obsessed with good food and it always finds its way into my writing for different reasons. The biggest reason is that food has helped me connect with my own mixed background. My father is from India and is Hindu and my mother was born in Brooklyn, NY and is Jewish. I always say that samosas and matzo ball soup are my favorite comfort foods. Now I’m hungry. Time for lunch!

Borrow The Night Diary from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Trailer Premiere: Endling: The Last by Katherine Applegate

Happy Tuesday! I love Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate's books and book trailers. It is always a special day when I get to launch one of Katherine's fabulous book trailers.

Before you read how Katherine finished my sentences, please watch Endling: The Last's book trailer two or three times. :) Happy watching and reading! 

Endling: The Last's book trailer just blew me away when I saw it for the first time. The adventure, the drama, the friendship, the laughter: it's all there!

Max Kostenko‘s cover illustration for ENDLING: THE LAST is just incredible. Kids are going to love it. He had to create two new species from scratch—a “dairne,” who looks a bit like a standing Labrador, and a “wobbyk,” who resembles an adorable fox with giant ears.

Byx is... despite her small size and great self-doubt, a truly tough female character. She was so much fun to write.

Story is how we make sense of our crazy, heartbreaking, glorious world.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how I managed to type ENDLING with a dog sitting on my lap the whole time. (With great difficulty. Stan’s a meticulous copy editor, but his breath is atrocious.)

Look for Endling: The Last on May 1, 2018. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Book Trailer Premiere: Daddies Do by Lezlie Evans and Elisa Ferro

I am kicking off National Library Week with author Lezlie Evans. She dropped by to chat with me about the book trailer for Daddies Do, story, and school libraries. I wrote the words in purple, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Lezlie!  

The book trailer for Daddies Do is a shout out to daddies and the many ways they interact with their little ones – a virtual hug to all the amazing fathers out there! The music encapsulates the lively spirit of the illustrations. (Be warned, you may find yourself clapping and whistling right along with it).

Picking which illustrations to use in the trailer was the hardest part – I have so many favorites. I knew the anteater daddy serving up a syrupy, sticky stack of pancakes definitely had to be included. It’s probably my favorite, truth be told!

Elisa Ferro’s illustrations are everything I imagined when I wrote the words. Each spread is filled with adorable, vibrant animal daddies who look like they are having the best time with their little ones. I can feel the joy jumping off each page.

Did you know marmoset fathers, which are tiny monkeys that live in South America, take care of their babies from birth. When the marmoset is born, the father cleans it and cares for it. He carries it to the mother only when it needs to be nursed. Today’s dads are much more involved in child care than they were 50 years ago. Pew Research found fathers spend about three times as much time with their children now-a-days. 

School libraries are magical places where journeys are taken, dreams are formed, and discoveries are made.  

Story is a way to share special moments and build strong bonds. Reading is something my husband and I did with our six children every night without fail…, and during breakfast, and bath time. I even recall potty training being a great time for a story. We never had less than 60 books checked out at a time from our local library – thankfully, they had no limit on the number of books you could take home.  

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what was your favorite thing to do with your daddy when you were growing up? I purposely asked if Elisa could make the little bear who is fishing with her daddy a girl because my daddy took me fishing a lot and, yes, he was constantly untangling our lines. That particular illustration is definitely personal. I also loved dancing with my daddy. He is a great dancer and he taught me how swing and waltz. Daddy daughter dances with him were the best!

Look for Daddies Do on May 1, 2018. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Cover Reveal: The Benefits of Being An Octopus by Ann Braden

Hello, Ann Braden! Happy Wednesday! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you for stopping by to finish my sentences and to share the cover for The Benefits of Being an Octopus.

Ann Braden: Thank you so much for having me, Mr. Schu. I am such a fan of the Nerdy Book Club! Am I allowed to be a member if I’m not a middle school teacher anymore? Once when I was moving, it took more carloads to move out of my classroom than it did to move out of my apartment because of all of the books… I’m hoping that helps with my membership application!

You're a member! :) 

Paul Oakley’s cover illustration for The Benefits of Being an Octopus captures that basic truth that what we see on the outside of a person is nothing compared to what’s really going on below the surface. I simply love it.

Zoey thinks life is pretty good right now. She and her little brothers and sister get to live in her mom’s boyfriend’s nice trailer (it even has an alphabetized DVD collection.) They just have to not screw things up, and Zoey is doing her part. Even though her little siblings might be screaming monkeys, she makes sure there’s as little yelling, running, and messes as possible. The problem is that it’s starting to be up to Zoey to take care of everything because her mom isn’t exactly the take-care-of-it mom she used to be.
Download The Benefits of Being an Octopus Guide

An Octopus starts out the size of a pencil eraser, floating defenseless in the ocean. And then it grows into a creature with such incredible camouflage abilities that it can change the color and texture of its skin ten times in a matter of seconds! What could be better for navigating a life where it’s best to not be noticed? And being able to camouflage yourself has all sorts of other advantages, too. If anyone bothered to take a closer look at the hole in the reef, they’d see a big, unblinking octopus eye staring out at them, taking in everything. And, of course, there’s no better escape artist than an octopus.

Zoey’s family works hard to make ends meet. Thanks to her mom’s waitressing job at the Pizza Pit, they’re close to getting out from under the phone bill’s huge interest rate and putting aside money for a washing machine that actually works. There are good days when there’s money on the EBT card and food in the fridge, but the end of the month is tough. Still, Zoey knows that Easy Cheese letters on a Saltine can keep little kids happy even when there aren’t a lot of food options. (Aurora knew the letter A before she was two thanks to Zoey’s Easy Cheese letters.) Everything might be held together by a thread, but Zoey is determined to make this work. She doesn’t want to go back to the way things used to be.

Explore Ann Braden's website
Reading is pretty much a superpower. What else gives you the ability to put yourself entirely in someone else’s shoes – or to see your inner strength reflected back at you? Because then it’s only a matter of time before you discover that you’re stronger than you think.

School libraries are where I fell in love with books – not as a student, but as a teacher. I liked books when I was growing up, but it was when I taught middle school social studies and sat with the diversity of my students that I came to truly understand the power of having many, many stories to turn to. I’m so glad the We Need Diverse Books movement has taken hold and that so many librarians are tapped into it. I only wish there were more funding for school libraries across the board so that all kids could have access to the wide range of wonderful books that exist.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the new kidlit podcast I’m launching with fellow debut author Saadia Faruqi. Saadia is a Pakistani-American author and interfaith activist whose early reader series MEET YASMIN will be published by Capstone this coming August, and she was profiled by Oprah Magazine last fall as a woman making a difference in her community. Our podcast is called "Lifelines: Books that Bridge the Divide.” It focuses on conversations with librarians, educators, and readers about the children's books that can be bridges across our cultural divides -- the books that can open minds and the books that can be the lifeline for a child who needs to remember they're not alone. We just launched it with the first two episodes, and folks can find it here

Click here to enter the giveaway. 

Look for The Benefits of Being an Octopus on September 4, 2018. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

In Your Shoes by Donna Gephart

Hello, Donna Gephart! I’m THRILLED you dropped by to celebrate In Your Shoes and to finish my sentences. I think Amy and Miles will inspire readers to have meaningful and thoughtful conversations about life, death, friendship, love, and bowling. This two-hankie novel will stay with me for a long time.

Donna Gephart: Mr. Schu! I was so excited for you to read In Your Shoes. (You know why!) Thank you for helping me share this book with others. It was the hardest book to write and the one I’m most excited to share.

Thank you for writing this story. Thank you for not telling me WHY you were excited for me to read In Your Shoes before I read it. It was the most lovely surprise. :) 

Chris Silas Neil’s illustration and Bob Bianchini’s design for the In Your Shoe’s cover managed to create curious questions: Why is Miles staring up at Amy? What is Amy writing in that book? And why is there a giant bowling shoe on the cover?

Miles is such a nervous wreck. I want to give him a hug and tell him everything will be okay. But will it? I love that Miles researches fascinating, oddball ways people have died throughout history . . . to relax!

Amy thinks she’ll be able to write her way to her own happily ever after. But will she? I love that the fairy tale Amy writes throughout the novel mirrors the story of the novel itself. Writing a story within a story proved challenging, but, I hope, lots of fun to read.

Friends are the glue that holds this story together. They are literally life-saving when needed most.

Bowling is the sport played by most Americans, more than baseball and football, with over 5,000 bowling centers across the country and over 70 million participants. So it’s fitting that the settings for In Your Shoes are a bowling center . . . and a funeral home.

School libraries are a sanctuary for some kids. They’re also a passport to a wider world (both internal and external) for young people. If I were in charge, every school would have a well-stocked library run by a certified librarian. School libraries are places where magic can happen . . . and often does.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I was so excited to have YOU read this book. But I guess everyone will have to read a copy to find out.

Look for In Your Shoes on October 30, 2018.