Sunday, May 20, 2018

Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Hello, Jessica! Thank you for telling Julián’s BEAUTIFUL story. I love everything about this book. The case cover. The endpapers. The setting. The characters. The final scene. Everything!!

Jessica Love: Hello Mr. Schu! Thank you for these kind words about Julián Is a Mermaid! The feeling I get when someone responds to the book is a difficult thing to describe; I spent six years working on it on my own, with no conviction it would ever see the light of day. And now it is suddenly, finally real. And people are holding it in their hands! It’s like watching many, many strangers unwrap a present I spent six years making for them. It’s completely thrilling and utterly bizarre at the same time.

Thank you for this beautiful present, and thank you for finishing my sentences. 

Julián Is a Mermaid tells the story of beauty. “What is it about?” Ever since I first started to draw the story I have struggled to answer this question. Most of the book is wordless, and the story unravels through the illustrations, which I believe are the story’s natural medium. Back when I first started working on it, people would ask me, “Oh, what’s it about?” I never knew how to answer them, because what I wanted to say was, “Uh, WELL, it’s about a feeling I am going to give you with the pictures that I haven’t painted yet. But it’s basically about the feeling we get from love and beauty! You know that feeling you can get sometimes from brushing up against real love? Or real beauty? Like a flower blooming inside your chest? Just, trust me, you’ll know what I mean when I finish it if I ever finish it!”
But that doesn’t really tell you anything about, you know, the actual plot.  

(Ten minutes later)

I have been trying for ten minutes to tell you the actual plot of the story and I cannot seem to do it. My attempts to tell you the story sound so clunky to me because I am essentially trying to translate from a visual to a verbal medium, but it is like a swan out of the water, waddling around on the lake-shore--it doesn’t give you a sense of what a swan is like in its natural element! I’m so sorry Mr. Schu, after 6 years I still can’t tell you the story of my own book! I can only seem to show you.

Julián’s Abuela sees right through you, to your secret heart, and honors you there. I believe there is alchemy in that kind of love.

The wordless spreads are wordless, but I hope they don’t feel quiet. I hope when you look at them you can still hear the subway, the ocean, music, the city, traffic, children playing, seagulls, bathwater, wind…

I myself love to swim. I grew up swimming in the Santa Ynez River all summer long. I swam underwater, with my eyes open. Now I swim at the YMCA. But there is still a very special feeling I get when I go underwater. It’s the thing that happens with noise, it isn’t that it is silent underwater, but suddenly you are definitely in another element. You are hearing water, and the blood in your own head, and everything else feels far, far away. It feels intimate, mysterious, and very private. I wanted the wordless spreads to give you that underwater feeling. Language can be so noisy sometimes-- yammering, naming, literalizing everything. I wanted much of this book to take place underwater both literally and, sort of, tonally. I wanted that private, magical shhhhhhhhhhhh to cast its spell as the reader moves through the story.

Broadway is where I created a lot of this book, actually. Back in 2015 I was doing a play by Jez Butterworth, called The River. Hugh Jackman was starring in it, and I had a teensy little part at the very end of the play. In fact, they didn’t even list me in the program because they wanted my appearance to be a “surprise.” This meant that I was sitting in my dressing room for two hours a day, eight shows a week. That is when I illustrated, beginning to end, my second draft of Julián, which, when complete, is what I shopped around to get a literary agent.

This feels quite fitting because I have always done theater and visual art side by side. I think they are two tributaries of the same river in me. Or some metaphor like that.

Story is participatory. I think it is a journey that someone makes in their imagination. As the storyteller, you are the invisible leader, taking the reader off the road and onto the path through the woods. My favorite storytellers are the ones who melt into the trees, leaving little cairns along the way so that you, the reader, feel you are using your brain, your nose, your eyes and ears to find the way.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the paper! So the whole book is done by hand, on brown craft paper, in watercolor and gouache. Now, I painted this book beginning to end five times in total. The first three times I did it on white paper, and it was just...wrong. It looked wrong. The characters’ features were losing all this detail when we would scan the images because the contrast was too high. Then as I was getting ready to do the final art I had the idea to do the whole thing on brown paper. It would not only solve our contrast problem but it felt so much more in keeping with the key in which the book is played. This is not a world in which white is the default color, why does white have to be the neutral? So I proposed the idea to my editors that I do the whole book on brown paper and they agreed to let me try but we had no guarantee it would print well. However, as soon as I started working with the brown paper I became obsessed with it. Now it had to be on brown paper. It just made sense. The palate was able to pop so much more vividly, the character’s faces were showing up so much more clearly and it was like the whole book heaved a sigh of relief to be finally off of that glaring white page and nestled in a glowy, golden brown. The brand of the paper is Stonehenge, and the name of the tone is “faun”...which sounds about right, to me.

Borrow Julián Is a Mermaid from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Cover Reveal: Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord

Hello, Cynthia Lord! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Because of the Rabbit’s cover. It makes me smile from ear to ear. Tell us about Lapi, the rabbit featured on the cover. 

Cynthia Lord: Thank you for having me back, John. I love the cover, too! A big thank you and shout-out to designer Nina Goffi and editor Emily Seife at Scholastic for creating such a delightful and appealing cover.

Lapi is a lost pet rabbit that Emma rescues on the night before her first day as a fifth grader in public school. Emma has been homeschooled and finding a rabbit seems like a hopeful sign that school will go well. She names the rabbit “Lapi,” a nickname for “Monsieur Lapin,” a magical, trickster rabbit in the stories her French-Canadian grandfather used to tell about the animals around his farm.

Explore Cynthia's website.
If Emma’s teacher asked her to write down three things about herself, what would she write down?

Cynthia: I suppose it would depend how brave Emma felt, but these would be three truths of her heart:

1. I hope there is a best friend waiting to find me.
2. I believe in rabbit magic.
3. I miss the days when my older brother and I did everything together.

What are you most looking forward to when Because of the Rabbit is out in the world for everyone to read?

Cynthia: With each book, my favorite moments are those when a reader writes to me or comes up to whisper to me at a school visit, and I realize that my book, this totally imperfect creation of my imagination, has given that child something that they needed. It can be anything from entertainment to filling a hole they’ve been carrying around inside.

I remember an email I received years ago from a child that was only one sentence:  “I was so scared I was the only person who felt this way.” Finding ourselves in a book can be like that—feeling alone and then discovering there’s someone on our side. When I see that my book gave a child that experience. . . well, it’s a deep, important moment for both of us.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Jack is himself, which sounds easy but actually takes continuous courage.

Story is a gateway. We can meet and get to know characters like ourselves or  different from ourselves and in doing so, take a step toward understanding real people. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why rabbits? Because we have three pet rabbits at our house and my family also fosters rabbits for a rescue. In the past two years, we’ve fostered twenty-six rabbits, including the six baby bunnies we have today at our house. One thing that has surprised me about animal rescue is how transformative the experience has been for us, not just for the rabbits. As Emma says in Because of the Rabbit,

It’s a powerful thing to rescue something.
It changes both of you.

Look for Because of the Rabbit on March 26, 2019. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

All of Us by Carin Berger

Hello, Carin! A humongous thank-you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to celebrate All Of Us. It is a beautiful celebration of community and LOVE.
Carin Berer: Wow! Thank you so much for having me. I am honored. As you know, I am a ginormous fan of Mr. Schu Reads. I always learn SO much and I get to have a peek into the minds of book creators that I admire and love. So thank you!
And I am a HUGE fan of you and your books. Thank you!

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

All of Us is about the timeless power of diversity, community and love, especially in the face of adversity. It is a celebration of inclusion and connection.
I hope All of Us will reassure each reader that they are not alone, that there is an important place for them within our communities. I hope that All of Us both acknowledges that we all, sometimes, face hardship and uncertainty, and that ultimately, hope and love and connection will help us prevail. I hope that All of Us leaves the readers feeling included, valued, connected and loved.

Love helps us cope with feelings of doubt and loneliness and worry, universal feelings that are experienced by children and adults alike. Love helps us navigate big world challenges like inequality, poverty and injustice. Love also helps us wrestle with more personal difficulties such as loneliness, unfairness, anger, uncertainty and loss. Love gives us the strength to overcome adversity.
Picture books have always always provided me with guidance, friendship, comfort and delight.

School libraries are treasure troves, safe havens, a place to grow communities, one of our richest resources...and home to librarians! What could be better??

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if connection is a theme in any of my other books. Because the answer is yes! I think that connection is fundamental and important to all humans. Friendship, community and connection are themes in The Little Yellow Leaf, Forever Friends, and even in A Perfect Day. In All of Us the message is more explicit. There is, however, a second, quieter story going on in the book, like a wordless harmony. There are two characters, the little girl with the yellow boots, and the little boy with the red kite, who appear on many pages. Initially they are both alone and unsure. But when the book declares “For love wins”, they appear, at last, together on the same page, as part of a small community. And as the book progresses, they spot each other, and eventually unite, together in a larger community filled with connection and love.

Look for All of Us on May 8, 2018.