Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Happy Book Birthday to Donna Gephart's Lily and Dunkin!

Lily and Dunkin captured my heart immediately. Colby Sharp and I exchanged tweets, texts, and direct messages while reading it. I loved knowing he was experiencing this special story at the same time. I have not stopped thinking about Lily, Dunkin, and their families since I finished reading it on December 13, 2015. I think it is one of the most important and memorable books of 2016. I hope you will read and share it.

Thank you, Donna Gephart, for writing Lily and Dunkin and for sharing this special message with your readers. 

I wrote a book called Lily and Dunkin about a big-hearted, word-loving transgender 13-year-old who fights to save a beloved banyan tree and Dunkin, who deals with a mental illness, a move to a new city and a terrible secret.

If Lily and Dunkin speaks to people dealing with gender identity issues and/or mental health issues and makes them feel less alone in the world and more affirmed and understood, I will do writerly cartwheels. (Those are the ones where you attempt to fling your legs into the air, but collapse sideways in an embarrassing heap and hope you don’t hurt yourself.)

I didn’t write Lily and Dunkin specifically for people who are just like the main characters. I wrote the novel for everyone . . . because I believe one of the most important things humans can learn is empathy – walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. 
And the only way I know to truly inhabit another person’s thoughts and feelings is through story.

We, as a society, need more empathy and understanding and less judgment and assumptions. 

Empathy and understanding will help us make better choices as we move through this world. Kinder choices.

I hope a lot of people read Lily and Dunkin because I believe it will promote understanding and kindness. I believe it will make the world a better place, not just for a small group of people, but for everyone because the truth we sometimes forget is that we are not the center of the universe, we are part of the fabric of the universe – each thread affecting another.

I believe that reading stories like Lily and Dunkin, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Rules by Cynthia Lord, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper and Girls Like Us by Gail Giles will help each of us fill our tiny part of the universe with empathy, understanding, kindness and love.

And the positive power of that kind of energy, friends, has ripples that can impact the entire universe.

Please borrow Lily and Dunkin from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Guest Post by Sue Fliess

Hi, Sue! Thank you for dropping by to celebrate A Fairy Friend. I look forward to picking up and giving away a copy on 5/10. 

Hi, Mr. Schu! Thanks so much for inviting me to your blog to celebrate my newest picture book, A Fairy Friend.

Let’s talk fairies! I’ve always been enchanted by the idea that there could be miniature creatures living among us, too small for us to see, or perhaps too magical for us to encounter. As a child, I used to build tiny houses of rocks and sticks (not nearly as elaborate as the one in my book), in my woods in the hopes to attract something. I wasn’t really picky. I just wanted to one day lift the roof and find something. One day I did! It was a small toad. But that was enough for me to believe that creatures were out there and that perhaps they all had homes somewhere, like the one I’d built for this small animal.

Just before writing this, (my first draft was entitled A Faerie Tale, dated September 2011), I remember wanting to write something which captured that sense of wonder I’d felt as a child. Up to that point, I had one book published (Shoes for Me!) and a couple more on the way, which were commercial/concept-driven. I wanted to challenge myself to write something different. And I chose fairies. There was magic, and sparkle and mystery…but when I read it aloud, I realized I’d written it in second person—instructing the reader. My initial reaction was, Who do I think I am, Mo Willems?  So I closed the document. And then proceeded to forget about it.

Four months later, something jogged my memory about the manuscript. This time when I read it, I thought, it’s not half bad. I shared it with my critique group, and one friend, (author K.C. Held), told me that when she read it to her fairy-loving daughter, the part that got her really excited was when the child catches a fairy in her hand. But there was nothing in the manuscript about building a fairy house, if you can believe it. Once I got going on that line of thinking, though, the story filled out and took on a swirling air of dream-like possibility. My hope is that it now captures that sense of wonder I was striving for. And I could not have asked for a more perfect editor and illustrator for this book! Christy Ottaviano, a fellow fairy-lover, believed, and Claire Keane’s graceful, artistic style breathes life into my text like I could never have imagined. The book is gorgeous (Just look at the spot varnish! Hand-lettering! Embossed turquoise foil!), if I do say so myself. J

As for my career, it is still difficult for me to believe that since 2011, I’ve had 16 books published (4 out already in 2016—oh my!). A friend once said that each sale is like a minor miracle. And it’s so true. I still squeal and call my husband, who can’t believe I still squeal and call him with the news. With every book contract, I thank my lucky stars that I actually have this job. But in that same breath, I remind myself to enjoy it, as tides could always turn. Of course, I hope that is not the case, but I do try to keep it real, remember that it’s still a business—one that is subjective and all about timing and staying relevant, in addition to having good ideas. With nine more books under contract, my career doesn’t seem to be slowing, but I do my best to never take it for granted.

Thank you so much for all you do, and for having me here today! 

Illustration Credit: Claire Keane 
Borrow A Fairy Friend  (after 5/10) from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

May Activity Calendar

Happy Get Caught Reading Month! Happy Latino Books Month! Happy National Physical Fitness and Sports Month! Happy #ThankoRama Month! Hooray! 

I love celebrating book birthdays, authors, and month-long celebrations. I had fun creating LibrarySparks' May activity calendar. I hope it helps you and your students keep track of what's going on throughout the month.

Download a printable 8.5″ x 11″ version of the calendar.

Download a printable 11″ x 17″ version of the calendar.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Book Trailer Premiere: I LOVE CAKE! Starring Rabbit, Porcupine, and Moose by Tammi Sauer and Angie Rozelaar

Hi, Tammi Sauer! Happy Saturday! 

Hi, Mr. Schu! 

My graduate students are writing book talks this week using fewer than 141 characters. I am giving you the same assignment. (Sorry for giving you homework on a Saturday). Please book talk I Love Cake! using fewer than 141 characters. 

All is well at Rabbit's birthday party until..."Hey! What happened to the cake?!" 

A++! Bravo!


What was your first thought when you saw a finished copy of I Love Cake! for the first time? 

I loved it more than cake! Angie completely captured the charm and personality of each of these three characters. And her candy-colored palette? DELICIOUS. 

I agree. What's your favorite kind of cake? 

Photo Credit: 3 Monkeys Cake & Cookies
My absolute favorite is the coconut cake from 3 Monkeys Cakes & Cookies served with piles and piles of sliced strawberries.

Wow, that sounds delicious! I'll visit 3 Monkeys Cakes and Cookies the next time I'm in Oklahoma City. 

Please finish this sentence starter:

Your Alien Returns, Mary Had a Little Glam, and Ginny Louise and the School Field Day are my three upcoming books that debut in 2016. Together with I Love Cake, they make 2016 the year of cake, aliens, nursery rhyme fashionistas, and one irresistible hedgehog.

Thank you, Tammi!

Please borrow I Love Cake! Starring Rabbit, Porcupine, and Moose from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Thank you, Kate DiCamillo!

I put out a call for photographs of readers with Kate DiCamillo's Raymie Nightingale. You exceeded my expectations. Thank you for sharing photographs of you, your students, your personal children, your rancheros, and real and stuffed animals spending time with Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana. Your smiles provided much comfort and joy. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Video of the Month: The "Louise Loves Art" Song

Dear Teachers and Librarians,

I know you're pressed for time right now, so I won't keep you long. You would make me EXTREMELY happy if you played the "Louise Loves Art" song for your students today. I think they would smile from ear to ear and feel inspired to create art and sing for the rest of the day. 

 If you're one of the first five people to tweet a photo or a vine to @MrSchuReads of your students singing along to the "Louise Loves Art" song, I will mail you a copy of Louise Loves Art. Thank you! Thank you! Have a great day! Happy reading and singing! 

Thank you!


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Trailer Premiere: Gator Dad by Brian Lies

Happy Wednesday! Thank you for stopping by on a regular basis to celebrate children's books and their creators. I am going to give you three fun tasks to complete today. Are you ready? 

Bravo, Brian Lies! I love all the personal touches you included in Gator Dad's book trailer. A++

I wrote the words in orange, and Brian wrote the words in black. Thank you, Brian! 

Gator Dad grew out of my own experiences as a stay-at-home Dad in the late 1990s, and my feeling that I wasn’t represented in picture books. Dads are generally depicted as amiable and loving characters, but they’re often a punch line, bumbling and incompetent. So GATOR DAD is a competent and committed alligator Dad with his three kids, making their way through a day together— from fishy pancakes, to a vast pillow fort, to the final tuck-in—not doing anything especially meaningful, but getting a lot done through their time together. I intend it to be a celebration of the energetic and sometimes unorthodox ways Dads do things, compared to many Moms (“If something’s gone bad in the fridge. . . I’ll let you smell it, too”). 

I have illustrated bats for a DECADE now! Hundreds of thousands of copies along, I still get e-mails from young readers and their parents about what the books mean to them.  However, I’ve been so involved in daily life—raising my daughter, working on the next book and visiting schools around the country—that I didn’t realize how much time had gone by until Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced a “Box of Bats” gift set of the first three bat books, coming out next year.  It will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the publication of BATS AT THE BEACH in 2006.

If you visited my studio you might be disappointed at how ordinary it is.  No vaulted ceiling, no collection of bones, odd things in bottles, or taxidermy.  Just a lot of books, a drawing table and computer desk.  People who visit think it’s more interesting than I do.  But the things in there are so familiar to me—the sketches taped onto the wall, my childhood books and some of my favorite childhood toys, as well as Post-its and sketches for a bunch of books I plan to do in the future—that to me it just feels like the place I go to work.  I tell students in schools that you don’t need a fancy or elaborate place to write or illustrate stories—you just need a place where you can concentrate.  And it helps if it’s a space that’s all yours—so you don’t have to clean everything up at the end of the day!

Picture books are the entry ramp to the highway of literacy.  They’re one important way we learn that one idea follows another, and another, and becomes a story.  Each picture book is a whole world tucked into 32 pages, sometimes spare, and sometimes complex. Great picture books are easy to underestimate—apparently simple, but often much more intricate and full of truths if you give them the time they deserve.

I’m disheartened when I meet younger and younger students who declare that they’re “out of picture books, and reading chapter books,” because though they see it as a sign of maturity and accomplishment, they’re missing out on a lot of great stories, as well as a firmly-grounded understanding of sequential storytelling, which will help them as they create their own stories.  I suspect there’s a lot of parental bragging going on about having kids who aren’t reading picture books anymore, too.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my last name, because you could have saved untold numbers of people from pronouncing it wrong!  The name came from Luxembourg around 1840, attached to my many-greats grandfather, and settled itself in Illinois.  It’s been handed down to people who will never be able to enter politics ever since.  Almost everyone in the U.S. with that surname is a relative.

. . . oh, and it rhymes with “cheese.”

I am giving away a copy of Gator Dad.

Rules for the Giveaway

1. It will run from 4/27 to 11:59 PM on 4/28.

2. You must be at least 13.

3. If you win, please pay it forward.

Borrow Gator Dad (after May 3) from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.