Monday, May 25, 2015

4 Questions and 4 Sentence Starters with Sara O’Leary

Hi, Sara O'Leary! Thank you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read.! This Is Sadie is a beautiful celebration of the power of one’s imagination.  What planted the seed for Sadie’s story? 

Sara O'Leary: I guess Sadie’s a bit of a dream-child for me. She’s the little girl I would have if I’d had a little girl.   

Julie Morstad’s illustrations are absolutely perfect. I know editors often discourage authors and illustrators from communicating with each other. Since Julie illustrated your Henry stories, did you communicate while she was illustrating This Is Sadie?

Sara O'Leary: Julie and I were really lucky to be working with Tara Walker on this book and it ended up feeling like much more of a collaboration than the other three because the process was so different. Lots of back and forth. I was changing text even after receiving final art.

I pulled out the original manuscript to look at just the other day and found there wasn’t a single line in common between that text and the one in the book. But the ideas are there. For example, the fox family were there from the beginning but my feeling is that the text and the illustration don’t need to be telling the reader the same thing. As an illustrator Julie more than holds up her half of the sky and so I was happy to have the opportunity to stand back and let the images do the talking sometimes.

My favourite parts in the book are where the text says one thing (like about Sadie being quiet in the mornings) and Julie has a whole other thing going on--Sadie merrily hammering away with her portable record player playing. But I can’t even remember if the line came first or the image!

Whoa! Please tell us about this adorable Sadie doll!

Sara O'Leary: Sadie’s book birthday very nearly coincided with my own birthday so it seemed like the perfect reason to treat myself. The doll was designed and built by the very talented Atelier CarolineShe’s done other dolls for illustrators but mainly in Quebec so far. I can imagine lots of people wanting to commission her once they see what she can do.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to taking my little Sadie doll (and her fox baby) places with me and introducing her to some young friends.

What is the Freedom to Think initiative?

Sara O'Leary: Freedom to Think was started by the British YA writer Jonathan Stroud and it lines up perfectly with my thoughts on boredom and creativity. 

You may have noticed that in This is Sadie the parents are completely absent. Off sleeping at the beginning of the day (wish fulfillment on the part of the author!) and for the rest of the day probably staring into computer screens while Sadie is off riding her bike/horse and climbing trees and flying around. I feel like when we are doing it right our kids will know we’re the lighted house at the end of the day--waiting for them to return and recount their adventures.

Please finish these sentences:

When I Was Small, When You Were Small, and Where You Came From make me happy because they look like they were published sometime in the early 20th century rather than the 21st.

Reading is the very best way of being both alone and not alone that I know.
Download the This Is Sadie activity kit. 
Picture books are a perfect place for children to find themselves and to lose themselves.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I write children’s books. It seems to me that when a child reads a book they are inviting you into their imaginative world and I can’t think of a greater honour.

Borrow This Is Sadie from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Conversation with Liz Garton Scanlon

Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read., Liz! Do you remember telling my students about The Great Good Summer on World Read Aloud Day two years ago?

Liz Garton Scanlon: Yes! – although it’s funny that I did, because it was really still an abstraction at that point. I’d gotten the words down on paper, but there was much work still to be done, and the idea that it would actually become a real book someday? I don’t think I was there yet. I’d been primarily a picture book author so the very idea of a novel was kind of preposterous.

But the fact that I mentioned it to you guys must mean I felt some semblance of confidence.

Or at least some semblance of hope.
Download The Great Good Summer's curriculum guide. 
I have an overwhelming to-read list and pile (it is really a mountain), but I moved The Great Good Summer to the top the day I bought it at Anderson’s Bookshop. I read the first 120 pages without getting up once. You should know this experience is highly unusual for me. I have a hard time sitting still for more than 20 minutes.

Liz Garton Scanlon: Ha! I think of you as Mr. Zen Reader Man, in an armchair with books, still and silent for days on end. But I guess you’re usually leaping about the library with your students, and criss-crossing the country to speak and teach, and reading in between all of that, whenever you can.

Really, this is just so flattering. When I write a picture book, my hope is that readers will “pick it up again.” Now, having written a novel, my hope is that readers won’t want to put it down in the first place. So thank you.

I loved your characters immediately. I had to keep turning pages to learn how things turned out for Ivy and Paul. What does it feel like to share your characters with the world?

Liz Garton Scanlon: They’re so real to me. I’ve experienced that many, many times as a reader but never as a writer before. I was so curious about them as I wrote, and worried about them, too. They do some scary, reckless things, and they’re tender kids at a tender age – it’s nerve wracking! I guess I hope readers will connect with them, and care about them, even half as much as I do. And that they’ll find their way in the world the same way they do in the book.

You hit the cover jackpot! I love everything Marla Frazee illustrates. She captured Ivy and Paul in such a special and heartfelt way.

Liz Garton Scanlon: I know. Doesn’t it just shine? I love Marla, as a friend, and I worship her as an illustrator. We collaborated on the picture book All the World, so you would’ve thought I’d already had my fair share of luck in that category. But then she said yes to this! When I saw the art, it blew me away but it also seemed so familiar. It was like, “Oh, look! There are Ivy and Paul!”

If we had been friends in elementary school, what book would you have put in my hands?

Liz Garton Scanlon: Misty of Chincoteague. (I was a huge reader and an even huge-r horse lover.)

Please finish these sentence starters:

In the Canyon tells the story of a child connecting with the animals and red rocks and hot sun and mules and cacti and water of the Grand Canyon, and taking all of it home with her, in her heart.

School libraries are a saving grace.

Reading is my main map of the world.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if I was nervous about including the hot-button issues of science and religion in The Great Good Summer. The truth is, as a debut novelist, I was worried about everything I put in The Great Good Summer – not just the hot button issues! But in the end, in the battle between nerves and curiosity, curiosity won out. They’re hot button issues because they are so layered and complex, because there’s so much to know and to wonder about. I just really loved exploring all that through Ivy and Paul.

And I’m glad you explored with me. Thanks again, Mr. Schu!

Thank you, Liz! 

Borrow The Great Good Summer from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Happy Saturday, Colby Sharp!

Dear Mr. Sharp, 

I hope you have a relaxing and fun three-day weekend with your family. 

Have a great day!


Please visit Colby Sharp's blog to watch his Saturday morning video. 

Templeton Gets His Wish by Greg Pizzoli 

Fly! by Karl Newsom Edwards

Friday, May 22, 2015

Author Jen White

Put your hands together and welcome Jen White to Watch. Connect. Read. She dropped by to chat with me about Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave, Pippi Longstocking, school libraries, reading, and Mary Poppins. I wrote the words in orange, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Jen! 

When I received the final cover for Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave, I had a gigantic moving truck parked in my driveway!  I was moving my family to a new state, so my house was full of boxes and people and noise.  I had to hide in the laundry room to have a quiet moment to open the email.  Initially, when my editor first sent me the cover proof it didn’t show up in my inbox.  She sent it to me a few times over a couple of weeks and when I didn’t respond she thought I hated it.  Finally, she called and said, “Did you get the cover?”  And I was like, “What cover?”  Soon it was all resolved, but I felt bad that for a moment she thought I didn’t like it.  When I finally received the cover, I LOVED it. Elizabeth H. Clark did an amazing job.  It has all of my favorite things from the book.  I would say my two favorite items are the prairie dog on the back and the candy sprinkles on the front, which represent the cat in the book—Mr. Sprinkles. 
Twelve-year-old Liberty thinks after her mother passes away, that her life is like an episode of Hunter vs. Hunted on NatGeo.  She doesn’t trust anyone.  Liberty feels the best way to keep herself safe is to use the survival skills she learns from animals.  She keeps a notebook with animal facts that help navigate her world.  She thinks the only person she can truly trust is her little sister, Billie. 
I hope Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave, does two things. One, I hope it makes the reader feel better about the world and the people in it. We seldom have control over the things that happen in our lives, but we have control over how we respond.  Liberty and Billie don’t always make the best decisions, but I think they make choices that are true to who they are and their life experience.  Two, I hope readers finish the book and say, “Wow! That was a great adventure.”  I love adventure books.  A grand adventure always seems to shine a bright light on the good things in my life.

Download the discussion guide for Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave
When I was Liberty’s age I was the oldest of five siblings and in many ways like a miniature bossy pants.  Besides reading, I loved to do outside stuff, like camp with my family, go to the beach, and water ski at the lake.  I was still in that sweet spot of girlhood, where I felt invincible, like a little, blonde Pippi Longstocking— or at least that’s who I wanted to be. I wasn’t too concerned with what other people thought of me.  Twelve is such a great age where you feel like anything is possible, but are also coming to understand the realities of grown-up life.  That’s most likely why I love to write middle grade.  It is that magical transition between being a child and being a grown-up. 
School libraries are where I feel most at home.  I still remember my elementary school librarian, Mrs. Davenport.  (Isn’t that a great name for a librarian?)  She read aloud to my class, chose books for us, and introduced me to books that I probably wouldn’t have picked on my own.  In my opinion, the school library and the librarian are the heart of the school, a place where every child should feel included and safe.   

Image Credit: Krae Designs
Reading is my happy place.  It has always been my happy place.  I was one of those kids who would sometimes get grounded from reading because I would disappear into a book and ignore everything else.  But isn’t there something wonderful about evaporating into someone else’s world?   Reading creates empathy and understanding of different characters, emotions, and ideas. There is no doubt that reading shaped who I am.  In my opinion, reading is the best thing on the planet!

Image Credit: Krae Designs
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about where I got the idea to write Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave.  Have you ever been lost or forgotten?  Once when I was twelve and on vacation with family, my parents accidentally left me, my sister, and my cousin at a gas station for six hours!  They didn’t see us get out of the back of our camper truck to use the restroom and they drove away without us.  They thought we had fallen asleep and didn’t realize we were missing until they reached their destination, three hours away. We sure could have used a cell phone back then.  We were really scared, but don’t worry.  A police officer came and took us to the police station, and then to a foster home where we ate bean burritos and watched Mary Poppins, and then we were reunited with our family.  Thirty years later, we can laugh about it.  But that experience made me think, “Hmm. What if…?”   I think every good story begins with a ‘what if’.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Video of the Week: Scholastic's Fall 2015 Online Preview

Scholastic always puts together the best online preview! It features authors, illustrators, editors, and the school library marketing team. 

Sit back, relax, and get ready for your to-read list to GROW AND GROW AND GROW AND GROW. :) 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Wizard of Oz Blog Tour

Literary scholar Michael Patrick Hearn dropped by to celebrate The Wizard of Oz: The Classic Edition with me. We chatted about Charles Santore's illustrations, L. Frank Baum, and reading. I wrote the words in green, and he wrote the words in black. Thank you, Michael! 

I think The Wizard of Oz, Moby Dick and Adventures of Huckleberry Fin represent the three great quests in American literature. 

Charles Santore’s illustrations capture both the depth and breadth of all the adventure, magic and humor of L. Frank Baum's Great American Fairy Tale. 

Did you know L. Frank Baum was a poultry breeder, an actor and playwright, an axle grease manufacturer, owner and proprietor of a country store, small town newspaper editor, crockery salesman, publisher of a magazine for window trimmers, president of his own Hollywood movie studio as well as one of the great children's book writers? 

I read The Wizard of Oz for the first time after I had already read several of the other Oz Books.

When I was in elementary school, there was nothing else I enjoyed more than curling up with a good Oz Book.

Reading is the soul of all knowledge.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me, "Why Oz?"  Ah, but that cannot be answered in one sentence!

I am giving away one copy of The Wizard of Oz: The Classic Edition. 

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 5/20 to 11:59 PM on 5/21. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. If you win, please pay it forward. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

5 Questions and 3 Sentence Starters with Mike Wu

Hi, Mike! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you for dropping by to chat with me about your debut picture book, Ellie. I think Ellie would get along very well with Katherine Applegate’s Ivan and Ruby.

What planted the seed for Ellie

Mike Wu: Elephants have always been my favorite animal to draw as a kid and when I saw a video about real elephants that could paint in a zoo in Thailand I was intrigued. This inspired me to illustrate a painting elephant at an easel with critics surrounding her wonderful creation. I knew there was something special about this piece and before I knew it, my literary agent received numerous inquiries about this elephant and the rest is history I guess!

I love when I find a surprise under a book’s jacket. Did you have fun designing Ellie’s case?

Mike Wu: Yes very much indeed! Thank you for noticing the splashes of paint under the jacket. We wanted the book to feel very much like a part of Ellie’s world, and felt the color splashes would do just that adding a bit of fun and whimsy! As if Ellie herself painted them or they were leftover from a piece she just completed.

You worked on The Incredibles, Rataouille, Up, and Toy Story. How did your experience as an animator help (or hinder) you when you started working on Ellie?

Mike Wu: Our films production schedule can be very intense and animation work is detailed, technical and you need to follow each idea and shot through artistically to the very end. This helped give me the discipline needed to complete each page, as I did these all by hand with watercolor and touch ups in Photoshop post production. My eye has been greatly trained for fine detail work, and this also lends itself well in making sure each piece flows well into another and the color palette itself works to support and enhance the story. I use principles I learned in film and applied them to Ellie. The colors are muted and drab on the end pages and as the story progresses the world becomes filled with color. The back end pages describe the zoo after it’s gone through it’s rebirth with the trees lush with leaves and the walls painted by Ellie.

If we visited your studio, what would we see?

Mike Wu: Lots of paper with rough sketches, paints, pens and my iMac. I have a huge drafting table and it feels great just to sit and draw on paper!

OK, I have to ask. Did you name the zookeeper after one of the most famous animators and producers? 

Mike Wu: Yes, no surprise there. He’s the only Walt I know and I wanted an older name as the time period of Ellie is around the 50s. 

Click here to purchase the Ellie book and gift package. 

Please finish these sentence starters:

Picture books are doors into a child's imagination where anything can happen. 

Tiny Teru is a brand we created to capture the whimsy and fun of childhood.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if you’re going to see Ellie on the big screen?!

Hmmmm! :) Thank you, Mike! 

I am giving away one copy of Ellie. 

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 5/19 to 11:59 PM on 5/20. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. If you win, please pay it forward. 

Borrow Ellie from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.