Tuesday, June 19, 2018

My Family Divided: One Girl’s Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope by Diane Guerrero with Erica Moroz

I’m grateful Diane Guerrero tells her family’s experience with immigration and deportation in My Family Divided: One Girl’s Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope. I think it will lead to much-needed and important conversations.

Diane dropped by to chat with me about Paola Escobar, Erica Moroz, school libraries, and her role as an Ambassador for Citizenship and Naturalization I wrote the words in purple, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Diane!

Paola Escobar’s cover illustration for My Family Divided: One Girl’s Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope makes me so happy. It was really important to me that the visual representation on the cover was faithful to my experience, so that when readers pick it up they will see someone who looks like them, and hopefully identify with that.

I hope My Family Divided will be a resource for children (and adults) to talk about this issue in a productive way, while also giving them actionable tools that can help them in the real world. 

Erica Moroz and I worked hard to capture the feelings that I experienced throughout my journey, so that this book would be as authentic as possible and ring true for my readers.

On July 17, 2018, I am going to have a launch event in New York City at the Strand Book Store, to celebrate this story with readers in person!

School libraries are an essential resource for children, especially for young readers who feel marginalized or who live in fear of issues like deportation. We need our school libraries as a resource to help those who need it the most.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my activism on this subject! The Obama administration named me as an Ambassador for Citizenship and Naturalization, and I have worked tirelessly to spread awareness on a topic that affects many immigrant families in Washington. 

Look for My Family Divided: One Girl's Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope on July 17, 2018. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Blog Tour: Everything Else in the Universe by Tracy Holczer

Hello, Tracy Holczer! I’m so happy you’ve returned to Watch. Connect. Read. to celebrate Everything Else in the Universe. What are three things we should know about Lucia Mercedes Evangeline Rossi?

Tracy: Lucia Mercedes Evangeline Rossi is most definitely not a superstitious person.

She is a practical person, an orderly person, a thinker of thoughts, just like her father.

Right up until she meets Milo and his dragonflies.

What planted the seed for Everything Else in the Universe?

Tracy: I come from a very large, very loving Italian family. I also grew up with a disabled father, both mentally and physically. I threw all that into the pot and Lucy popped out.

What is the best thing about writing middle-grade fiction?

Tracy: Oh, boy. It's very personal for me. Each book is a communication with my younger self. A healing. I take the circumstances I lived through and turn them around to give myself a better ending. It's this hope and healing I most love sharing with my readers.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Story is a labyrinth, a kaleidoscope, a journey into your deepest self, and a way back out again.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what it was like growing up in an Italian family! Now, you'll have to read the book to find out. Safe to say there were lots of meatballs, camping trips and family parties. Not to mention shouting, terrible jokes and learning how to play a good game of Thirty One. Everything Else in the Universe is an ode to my loving family, and I hope readers enjoy!

Check out all the stops on the Everything Else in the Universe blog tour: 

SmackDab in the Middle - June 16th

Kidlit Frenzy - June 18th

Teach Mentor Texts - June 20th

Caroline Starr Rose - June 22nd

Friday, June 15, 2018

August Isle by Ali Standish

Hi, Ali Standish! Whoa! Sarah Coleman’s cover illustration for August Isle is STUNNING. Look at the moon! Look at the lighthouse! Look at the turtle! Look at Miranda standing on a colorful boat! There’s so much to take in and think about. Please tell us three things about Miranda.

Ali Standish: I could not agree more! I can’t stop staring at that sea turtle! And, of course, I was thrilled with the way it turned out and with how Sarah reflected Miranda’s journey. So, some things you should know about Miranda…

1.She is a baking fanatic. The only problem is she, er, doesn’t actually know how to bake.

2. Conversely, she also loves to sail…she just doesn’t know it yet!

3. Like so many of us, and us girls in particular, she has learned to underestimate herself. In many ways, this is the story of her learning to embrace her strength, bravery, and all the things that make her unique.

Do you have a favorite place on August Isle?

Ali Standish: I do, and it’s Miranda’s favorite, too! My favorite place is underneath the August Oak, the enormous tree for which the island is named. That’s Aw-GUST, as in something highly distinguished and respectable. I based it on the Angel Oak, a live oak in South Carolina that is close to 500 years old. There’s something both humbling and comforting about standing under something so big and old. And what’s more magical than stopping beneath a beautiful tree and watching the sunlight shine through its greenery?  

If Ethan (from The Ethan I was Before) and Miranda attended the same school, do you think they would be friends?

Ali Standish: Ethan and Miranda have a lot in common. For one thing, they are both pretty reserved, which is funny because I was NOT at their age. They would definitely find kindred spirits in one another, but it might take a bit of nudging from Coralee and Sammy to get them to overcome their shyness and start talking to each other! 

Explore Ali's website

Please finish these sentence starters:

Miranda’s Aunt Clare is a bridge between Miranda and her mother’s past. Over the course of one summer, she becomes a mom to Miranda in ways that her own mother hasn’t been for quite some time.

Story is what binds humankind together across space and time. Actually, I just read a really lovely quote on story while researching for a new project that I’d love to share. It’s by Carolyn G. Heilbrun, who writes

“Let us agree on this: that we live our lives through texts. These may be read, or chanted, or experienced electronically, or come to us, like the murmurings of our mothers, telling us of what conventions demand. Whatever their form or medium, these stories are what have formed us all, they are what we must use to make our new fictions…out of old tales, we must make new lives.”

Oh, how I love that last line!

Oh, how I love this statement as well. Thank you for sharing it! 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what I learned from writing this book. My journey in writing AUGUST ISLE mirrors Miranda’s own process to conquer her inner-demons. This was not the first second book I wrote. It took me a few tries to get to this story, and by the time I got there, I wasn’t sure I believed in my own ability to write it anymore. Everyday I battled voices in my head that said I couldn’t. We all have those voices, don’t we? Authors are (definitely!) no exception. And it’s so hard not to give into them. But the more we know we are not alone—that we are all fighting them off together—the more empowered I think we’ll all be. I’m so glad I reached out for support from family and friends, that I kept pushing forward, and that I didn’t let my self doubt win (most days). I couldn’t be happier with the way AUGUST ISLE has turned out, and I can’t wait for the world to meet Miranda!

Thanks for having me, Mr. Schu!

Thank you for being here, Ali! 

Look for August Isle on April 16, 2019. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Hotel Between by Sean Easley

Hello, Sean Easley! Happy Thursday!

Sean: Hello, Mr. Schu!

Thank you for dropping by to chat with me about The Hotel Between, your parents, school libraries, and story. 

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

The Hotel Between tells the story of a kid who’s afraid of everything and gets thrust into a big world that’s full of wonder and danger (or, as the book calls it, “terrors and treasures"). The book’s about a boy worries when he should be enjoying his kidhood, and who needs to learn that it’s okay to take risks, because that’s what life is. There’s magic in the world, and kids can’t enjoy all those wonders the world has to offer without taking the leap and trying new things, meeting new people, and discovering how much they don’t know.

Twins Cam and Cass couldn’t be more different. Cass is confident and sees the opportunities the world has to offer her, while Cam (wrongly) weighs himself down with responsibilities that don’t belong to him. They’re both kids—still learning how to navigate their own developing personalities—and they both have a lot to learn.

This is especially true of Cam, who’s struggling with feeling responsible for things that are out of his control. His wrong thinking—about the world, about his sister (who he thinks he needs to protect, even though she knows better)—is a driving force for his growth and the mishaps they encounter along the way. Cass’s confidence and Cam’s lack of confidence in the idea that good things can happen is a driving force in the story.

Did you know that my parents were both teachers? My dad taught sciences, and my mom taught foreign languages (Spanish, German). My whole experience growing up was shaped by the fact that I was always in schools (and libraries), and my mom’s love of languages translated into me loving global culture and reading.

School libraries are the heart and soul of lifelong learning. Classrooms are wonderful for teaching specific information and skills, but it’s in the freedom of the library that kids learn how big the world really is, and can discover the capacity they have to do things they never even dreamed of. Libraries let kids discover knowledge and skills and personality traits that set them apart onto their own paths, and aid in developing unique skillsets and worldviews that allow them to innovate and create as grow into adulthood.

Story is key to understanding people. Everyone has a story that gives texture to who they are and defines how they see the world. When kids learn story—and when they engage in stories that are new and from many different perspectives—they grow in empathy and wisdom. Knowledge can come from many sources, but wisdom is hard to instill apart from story.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about where the magic of The Hotel Between came from! I’ve always had a tumultuous relationship with magic systems in books because they feel so disconnected from the character arcs and what the protagonist is learning. I decided very early in the process of writing The Hotel Between that I wanted this magic to be inseparable from the emotions and deep truths my characters were learning. The magic in The Hotel Between does have physical manifestations—like binding doors between places in the world and gluing one thing to another—but it’s so much more than that. It’s the magic of family, and friendships, and dependence on one another. The magic of commitment, and the power people hold over each other, and the need for love. The binding (the magic of this book) is intrinsically personal, and I love seeing those personal wins turned into something spectacular.

Look for The Hotel Between on September 4, 2018. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Good Enough AND You Are Enough by Jen Petro-Roy

Hello, Jen Petro-Roy! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read.! I’m honored you returned to talk about your two forthcoming books, Good Enough and You Are Enough. I know both books are going to help so many people struggling with and recovering from eating disorders. Let’s start by discussing Good Enough. Why did you tell Riley’s story? 

Jen Petro-Roy: Riley’s story is one that has been growing in my head and in my heart for years, ever since I was struggling with and recovering from an eating disorder myself. It wasn’t until now, with enough distance from my past, that I could sit down and again immerse myself in the head space of someone struggling with an eating disorder. One of the things I wanted to do with Riley—and with the fellow patients she meets in the hospital—is to make them real. Real people with real problems and feelings, not just a collection of symptoms and behaviors. I didn’t want to preach, either to kids or to parents—instead I wanted to show the reader how it truly feels to have an eating disorder and how those feelings can make recovery so hard. So many people think of eating disorders as affecting teenagers or college kids, but that’s not true. Anyone can suffer, and kids and middle schoolers are struggling more and more. That’s why when I wrote this, I wanted to be aware of my reader. I don’t use any language that could trigger my readers or “give them ideas” and I made sure to show why Riley decides to recovery and how hard—and rewarding and valuable—recovery is. Yes, I hope this book is a good book, but I also hope it’s a window into a mindset that so few understand unless they have been there themselves.

Publication Date: February 19, 2019

I love Good Enough's cover. What's the significance of the eyes? 

Jen Petro-Roy: I love this cover. It was designed by the amazing Liz Dresner and the art was done by Romy Bl├╝mel. It’s so different than that of my debut, P.S. I Miss You, and  so striking. In Good Enough, Riley is an artist, and her passion for drawing has waned as she fell into the world of her eating disorder. As the novel progress, Riley starts to rekindle that love again, and begins to draw the faces of herself and her loved ones. I also love how the eyes are a subtle nod to how, when you struggle with an eating disorder or body image, you always feel like you are being watched. Your life and your body become something to cultivate, something others are always watching. The eyes show this without putting an actual body on the cover. (Because eating disorders aren’t really about bodies or food after all.)

Publication Date: February 19, 2019

Do you view You Are Enough as a non-fiction companion to Good Enough?

Jen Petro-Roy: Absolutely, although it 100% stands on its own. You Are Enough is a guide to recovery where I talk about my own journey and give information and advice to the tween and teen age group. One of the things my editors and I worked really hard on is to make this an incredibly inclusive guide—I talk about the dangers and challenges of various types of eating disorders and interviewed various experts and advocates. I talk about how hard recovery can be for males and for those in LGBTQIAP+ population, for those with chronic illnesses and for those who are neurodiverse. I write about the fat acceptance movement and how people of any size can get eating disorders. And I talk about the problems kids may face in trying to achieve recovery: with their friends, with their family, and with society. It’s a toolbox for recovery and a book that would hopefully help Riley and her fellow patients in Good Enough.

While You Are Enough is written for young readers with disordered eating and body image problems, why is it important for teachers, librarians, and caretakers to read it? 

Jen Petro-Roy: Teachers, librarians, and caretakers (along with friends) are the ones who may notice when a kid or a teen is struggling with disordered eating or body image. They’re also the ones who can help. When I was sick, it was hard to ask for help, because some part of me wanted to remain sick. That’s why it’s so important for teachers and librarians to practice empathy, to be able to understand how the mind of someone with an eating disorder works, and what may or may not be helpful in convincing someone to take that first step toward recovery. I’m hoping my books can help, too.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Story is everything. It’s how we make sense of the world, how we relate to other people, how we find joy, and how we learn to empathize to those who are different than us.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about what else I’m doing along with the release of these books. I’m currently working on setting up a program where I’ll be visiting schools, parent groups, and community organizations to talk about body image and disordered eating in kids and teens. I’ll be talking about my own journey, how society is structured to make us feel bad about ourselves, and how kids can work to strengthen their own self esteem. I’m calling it EmpowerED and I’m hoping to start visits in the next school year! I can be contacted for this through my website.

Thank you, Jen! Congratulations! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Hello, Lynne Kelly! I am OVER THE MOON to celebrate Song for a Whale with you today. I love Iris and her story. I think Leo Nickolls’ cover illustration perfectly captures the heart and feel of the book. 

Lynne Kelly: Thank you for having me here, Mr. Schu! I’m so excited to finally be able to share the cover with everyone. And yes, it’s a stunning illustration--I nearly fell out of my chair when I first saw it. The bright colors really stand out, and I love the whale and the triumphant pose of Iris on the pier. Those pine trees and reflection that double as sound waves were a lovely surprise!

Yes, the sound waves practically pop off the cover. Did your work as a sign language interpreter inspire Iris Bailey’s story?

Lynne: Yes, for sure! Some of my first interpreting jobs were in public school classrooms. My work still takes me there occasionally, and I’ve been able to work with some smart and funny kids. Also, I interpreted for a college student who’d been repairing old radios and TVs since he was a kid, and I found that fascinating. That’s a skill I decided to give Iris, and it ended up working out perfectly for her attempt to reach out to the whale.

When I started working in the field, I was surprised to meet so many deaf people whose parents never learned sign language. It’s still quite common, and I think that’s a big reason deaf people have a stronger bond with other deaf people than with their own family members; if your parents don’t speak your language, you’re never going to have more than superficial conversations with them. The students I’ve worked with have had other deaf students at school to talk to, but that doesn’t happen for everyone.

When I started working on this story about a whale who can’t communicate with other whales, I thought about the character who’d want to track him down. Iris is fortunate to have a deaf grandmother and family members who sign, though she still feels left out at home and isolated at school.

Song for a Whale focuses on a whale and Chained focuses on an elephant. What are your two favorite facts about whales and your two favorite facts about elephants?

Lynne: It’s hard to narrow down my favorite facts, since they’re both such fascinating animals! They’re similar in some ways, like in how their communication includes sounds that humans can’t hear.

Two favorites about elephants:

- They recognize friends and family members, even after decades apart

- They’re good swimmers, and use their trunks as a snorkel

And two favorite recent discoveries about whales:

- Bowhead whales are called “the jazz musicians of the sea,” because they’re constantly changing their songs

- Groups of humpback whales sometimes attack orcas that are hunting other marine mammals, like seals or gray whales. Humpbacks eat small food, like plankton and krill, so no one knows for sure why they’re interfering with those orca hunts.

Thank you! I know it was hard not to share more than two facts about each animal. :) 

Please finish these sentences:

Blue 55 is a whale who sings at a frequency unlike any other. Though other whales don’t understand him, he keeps singing his song and hopes one day something out there will hear him and answer back. He’s based on the 52 hertz whale, also known as “The Loneliest Whale in the World,” who might be a blue-fin hybrid like the fictionalized version in this story.

I hope Song for a Whale connects with readers who’ve felt alone and unheard.

School libraries and librarians should be in every school! There are books out there for every reader, but of course readers need access to those books. A good school librarian can foster a love for reading and help students find stories they’ll enjoy. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me my favorite facts about sign language!

Each country has its own sign language, and some countries have more than one. The signed language of a country often is very different from its spoken language. British Sign Language, for example, is nothing like American Sign Language, though the two countries have the same spoken language.

My favorite thing about using the language is that it’s 3-D. Since we have use of the space in front of us, we can concisely show the movement of a herd of animals or cars in traffic with one sign.

Look for Song for a Whale on February 5, 2019. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Cover Reveal: The Tragical Tale of Birdie Bloom by Temre Beltz

Hello, Temre Beltz! Thank you for dropping by to celebrate The Tragical Tale of Birdie Bloom, your debut middle-grade novel. I bet a flood of emotions rushed through your body when the email message containing The Tragical Tale of Birdie Bloom’s final cover landed in your inbox. What did you say to yourself before and after you opened the email message? 

Temre Beltz: Since writing my first story at the age of seven, and finally hitting a milestone by signing with my agent Molly O’Neill, it’s probably not surprising that I’ve spent countless hours in between dreaming about what my book cover might one day look like.  I never imagined an artist whose work I love—Melissa Manwill—and an incredible cover designer—Jessie Gang—would be the ones to bring my characters to life!  Even still, I wasn’t one bit prepared for how my heart would react.  When I opened the email from my editor Stephanie Stein at HarperCollins, my eyes went straight to Birdie.  And I burst into tears.  It is a funny thing to see someone for the first time, someone I’ve spent countless hours in the trenches with, and to know immediately that it’s her and that somehow, miraculously, she’s become . . . real.  It is true book magic.  And every time I catch a glimpse of Agnes Prunella Crunch—the story’s wicked witch who becomes Birdie’s pen pal—zipping jauntily through the night sky, I can’t help but smile and, most importantly, remember that what we need most is sometimes the last thing we’d ever expect.  Revealing the cover on your blog today is a huge honor, Mr. Schu.  Birdie’s story is really all about discovering the special magic of friendship and “togetherness,” so thank you for allowing me to get one step closer to the best “together” of all—sharing this book with readers. 

Thank you for allowing me to reveal it.

Please booktalk The Tragical Tale of Birdie Bloom using no more than 140 characters (old school Twitter)

Temre Beltz: This is a story about hopeful orphans, sensitive dragons, grouchy witches, mysterious butlers, handwritten letters, and being found right where we are.

Thank you for providing a perfect booktalk. I LOVE the footnotes sprinkled throughout The Tragical Tale of Birdie Bloom. What are your thoughts on footnotes? 

Temre Beltz: Thank you, Mr. Schu.  I am so glad you liked the footnotes!  When the book itself emerged as the narrator I was thoroughly enthralled (who hasn’t wondered what a book might say about all those words it carefully stows beneath its cover?) and a fair bit nervous.  But I shouldn’t have been.  Books were made to be read.  A book is not truly complete until it has found a reader.  And this book, in particular, has traveled a very long way to tell its story and is oh-so-eager to journey with the reader, sticking close during the scary parts and never failing to provide all sorts of (mostly useful) insider information conveniently located at the bottom of the page. 

Please finish these sentence starters:

Birdie Bloom thinks there is hope in an unfinished story; in a kingdom like Wanderly even something as ordinary as the blueberries cannot be underestimated; and sometimes the roof-rattling, foundation-shaking, deep-in-your-bones howling of the wind isn’t anything to be afraid of at all.

Story is a wonderful friend.  It is always there where you last put it, its front cover is open to all, it never rushes you, it never grows tired of you—in fact, it would love nothing more than to be read over and over and over—and, just like any good friend, it reminds us that even in the darkest parts of our own stories, and perhaps especially then, we are never truly alone. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I chose to write a story involving a wicked witch. First, once you meet Agnes, you’ll probably understand that whether I wanted to write about her or not was sort of beside the point (it’s not usually a good idea to say “No” to a witch).  Second, when I was in the fourth grade I tried out for the school play and my very shy self was cast in the role of the wicked witch.  I was horrified!  I was asked to cackle!  In front of people.  But it was perhaps the best thing for me because that’s when I began to think, what if there are other “witches” like me?  What if there are other characters who feel they’ve been miscast?  How do you navigate the world when you feel like you are “stuck?”  And, most important of all, is there any way to become “unstuck?”

Look for The Tragical Tale of Birdie Bloom on March 26, 2019.