Coo by Kaela Noel

Hello, Kaela! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. Thank you for stopping by to discuss your forthcoming middle-grade novel, Coo.

Kaela Noel: Hello, Mr. Schu! I am so happy to be here. I love middle grade books and I love your blog. I’ve deepened my understanding of many authors and books through it, and discovered new writers and stories to check out. Thank you for hosting me and Coo, and for all your work! 

Thank you for being here! 

Kaela Noel: It also caught my eye that you lecture at Rutgers University in New Jersey. I grew up in New Jersey! My mom and I moved often and I lived in several different cities and towns in the state when I was a kid. My mom also worked for years in New Brunswick, the city where the main Rutgers campus is. 

I love teaching a children's literature course for Rutgers University during the summer. Speaking of children's literature, please tell us about the scene Celia Krampien captured on Coo’s cover. 

Kaela Noel: Celia Krampien’s beautiful cover shows Coo and her dear pigeon friend Burr sitting on the roof where Burr’s flock raised Coo from infancy after she was abandoned in the alley below. It’s winter and Burr is still healing from a near-death encounter with a hawk a few months prior that left his wing broken. Determined to save Burr’s life following the attack, Coo climbed down from the roof for the first time and met Tully, a retired postal worker and pigeon lady who heals Burr and introduces Coo to the world of humans, both good and bad. In the scene by Celia on the cover, Coo is wearing the red corduroy coat from Goodwill that Tully got for her and the red wool hat that Tully knit for her, and she’s feeling a mix of emotions—joy to be revisiting the roof, her first home; wonder at the vast human world she’s recently come to know; and a whole bundle of worries over where she belongs and what family and community mean in a world that is more complicated and perilous than she ever thought possible. 

Scenario: A youth services librarian at the Bay Ridge branch of the Brooklyn Public Library  asks you to fill out a shelftalker about Coo. You have enough space for 280 characters. 

Kaela: Coo, 10, raised since birth by a flock of pigeons she calls family, lives in secret on a city roof. When a hawk hurts the bird dearest to her, she ventures into the human world for the first time—setting off a chain of events that transforms her family, her city, and herself forever.
Explore Kaela Noel's Website.
Please finish the following sentence starters:

Burr is an old, thin, gray pigeon with a bright white stripe across his wings. Quiet and cautious, he is also intelligent and courageous. It’s Burr who decides to rescue abandoned baby Coo from the alley and rallies the rest of the flock to help, and Burr who inspires the others to treat Coo with compassion and love as she grows up.

On March 3, 2020, you will be able to read all about Coo, Burr, Tully, Aggie, and others—Coo will be released in the US, Canada, and the UK! I’m not sure what I will be doing yet—probably celebrating with my husband, Travess, and our toddler, Alice, as well as my mother, Leila, who has believed in my dream of being a writer since I was a small child and supported me in more ways than I can ever count.

Story is what made the years I felt isolated and unsure of myself as a child and teenager bearable. I spent most of my childhood with my nose buried in a library book, and the characters, stories, writers, and thinkers I encountered carried me through so many difficult times. Story is a human need, a way to make sense of our lives, our communities, our dreams, and our relationships. It’s a catalyst for our imaginations and for healing, learning, connecting, and so much more. Every child deserves access to free books, and school and community libraries need vastly more funding and support than they currently get. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about some books I’ve been reading and loving recently! It is always my favorite question when I read interviews with other writers. Overall there are way too many books I love to list or tell you about, but I’ll mention just a few.

During the past year I have read, re-read, and cherished Louise Erdrich’s five-book middle grade Birchbark series, which chronicles the life of an Ojibwe Native American girl named Omakayas beginning in her early childhood in the 1840s and follows her family through smallpox, forced relocation by the white government, food shortages, mass social change, and more, all while detailing how the family collected, grew, and stored food, made clothing, handled winter, and traveled. Erdrich’s characters are very emotionally complex, real, and have a funny side, too. All of the books work as standalones as well, and The Game of Silence, the second book in the series, has stayed with me particularly since I read it earlier this year. 

As for some other books: I share an editor (the wonderful Virginia Duncan at Greenwillow) with Naomi Shihab Nye, an amazing novelist and poet, and I recently read and adored her 1997 YA novel Habibi, about a 14-year-old Arab-American girl who moves from St. Louis to Jerusalem and falls in love with a Jewish boy. It is an incredibly vivid, moving, sensitive, and timeless-feeling book, and I couldn’t put it down.

Thank you for the book recommendations! 

Look for Coo on March 3, 2020. 

In this exceptional debut, one young girl’s determination to save the flock she calls family creates a lasting impact on her community and in her heart. Gorgeous and literary, this is a stunning book from a phenomenal new talent about friendship, family, belonging, and love. For fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses and Corey Ann Haydu’s Rules for Stealing Stars.

Ten years ago, an impossible thing happened: a flock of pigeons picked up a human baby who had been abandoned in an empty lot and carried her, bundled in blankets, to their roof. Coo has lived her entire life on the rooftop with the pigeons who saved her. It’s the only home she’s ever known. But then a hungry hawk nearly kills Burr, the pigeon she loves most, and leaves him gravely hurt. Coo must make a perilous trip to the ground for the first time to find Tully, a retired postal worker who occasionally feeds Coo’s flock and can heal injured birds. Tully mends Burr’s broken wing and coaxes Coo from her isolated life. Living with Tully, Coo experiences warmth, safety, and human relationships for the first time. But just as Coo is beginning to blossom, she learns the human world is infinitely more complex—and cruel—than she could have imagined.


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