Monday, September 18, 2017

The Power of Booktalking

I asked teacher-librarian Rhonda Jenkins, fifth-grade teacher Colby Sharp, and middle school literacy coach Chad Everett to discuss the importance of students, teachers, and administrators sharing the books they love with their students and colleagues. Thank you, Rhonda, Colby, and Chad!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Hello, Katherine! I'm thrilled you dropped by to share wishtree’s book trailer and to finish my sentences. I love wishtree with my whole heart. It is the book the world needs right now. 

Katherine Applegate: John, thank you so much for inviting me to join you here today. I’m really thrilled to be able to chat with you about wishtree. 

wishtree’s book trailer makes me sniffle every time I see it. (Very happy tears.)

Red thinks that humans are awfully tough to figure out. 

I can’t disagree.

Charles Santoso’s illustrations are simply perfect. There’s a spread with all of the animal characters—baby skunks and curious kittens and tiny opossums and more—that readers are going to adore. 

wishtree is for newcomers and welcomers. Which means, I like to think, most of us. Maybe even, someday, all of us.

School libraries are non-negotiable. Kinda like air and water and fish sticks in the cafeteria.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if trees can talk. But I suspect you didn’t because you already know the answer: Of course they can.

That is, if you know how to listen. 

Look for wishtree on September 26. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Cover Reveal: Breakout by Kate Messner

Hi, Kate Messner! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read.! It is always a good day when you drop by to celebrate books and reading. Thank you for sharing Breakout’s cover and for finishing my sentences.

Kate Messner: Hi, Mr. Schu! Thanks so much for inviting me to help share the new cover art! Breakout is different from anything I’ve ever written, so it’s exciting (and a little scary!) to know that it’ll be out in the world soon.

Explore Kate's website. 
Breakout’s cover illustration is from illustrator Christopher Silas Neal, which is such a gift. Chris and I have done several picture books together with Chronicle Books, and I’ve always admired the art he’s done for novels as well. He’s the cover artist for Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America Trilogy and so many other books that have caught my eye. I especially love what Chris can do with light and darkness on a book cover, so when my Bloomsbury editor asked if I had any ideas for Breakout’s cover art, I asked – okay, begged – for her to reach out to Chris. Happily, he was available and interested!

Chris started the cover illustration process by reading the manuscript and sending Bloomsbury a few concept sketches.
We had some great discussions about these ideas. It’s important for a novel’s cover to make the right kind of promise about what readers will find inside. Ultimately, we wanted to make sure this one telegraphed that Breakout is a book for older elementary & middle school readers, with mystery, suspense, and also some big ideas to think about Here’s one of Chris’s early cover concepts, fleshed out.
Editor Mary Kate Castellani and I loved the look of this one but were a little worried about showing the two girls running, even though the book culminates with a race. Would readers get the impression that the girls were the ones who’d broken out of prison? Around the time we were having these conversations, Chris and I were both speaking at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in Maryland. It’s not typical for authors and illustrators to collaborate directly on cover art – usually editors and art directors facilitate those conversations – but Chris and I got talking on a shuttle bus back to the hotel from the festival’s author-illustrator reception. In that fifteen-minute ride, we tossed around a whole bunch of ideas.

What if there’s a helicopter on the cover?

And a search light that illuminates the scene below?
Maybe it lights up Owen’s tree fort!

That conversation ultimately led to the final cover, which I really love, because I do think it makes the right promise to readers. This is a story with a lot of tension, where things that are supposed to be familiar and safe, suddenly look different in the glare of a search light.

Breakout tells the story of a small-town prison break. The three main characters are Nora Tucker, whose Dad is the prison superintendent, her best friend Lizzie Bruno, whose grandmother is a civilian worker there, and Elidee Jones, who’s just moved to town with her mom to be closer to her brother, who is an inmate. Here’s the official jacket description from Bloomsbury:

Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek – two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town’s maximum security prison, everything changes. Doors are locked, helicopters fly over the woods, and police patrol the school grounds. Worst of all, everyone is on edge, and fear brings out the worst in some people Nora’s known her whole life. Even if the inmates are caught, she worries that home might never feel the same.  Told in letters, poems, text messages, news stories, and comics – a series of documents Nora’s collected for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project – BREAKOUT is a thrilling story that will leave readers thinking about who’s really welcome in the places we call home.

I wrote Breakout while a thousand law enforcement officers were scouring the woods and mountains near my house, searching for two convicted murderers who escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in June of 2015.

I live fourteen miles from the prison, so helicopters circled over practically every night during the 23-day manhunt. Before my careers in teaching and writing, I was a TV news reporter, and whenever something big is going on, I still feel that tug to go see what’s happening for myself. So I drove to Dannemora and hung out at the coffee shop and market across from the prison.

For three days, I sat at a table with my coffee and my notebook, and I listened to people’s stories. A cashier told me how her son wouldn’t sleep in his own room at night. The manager told me they were so busy she’d run out of bottled water and had to call the Pepsi guy to bring more. State police who had come from downstate talked about what they were missing at home, now that they were here, searching our woods. A little boy came in wearing rubber boots with his Halloween firefighter costume and announced that he was going to help. New York City reporters from the Times and the Daily News wondered how we survived up here with such crummy cell service. And inmates’ families told me they were scared. They worried that all the inmates would end up suffering because of those two who’d escaped. 

Breakout is a fictional story, set in a fictional town, but it was inspired by many of the stories I heard in the coffee shop that week.

On June 5, 2018, I’ll be out on book tour, sharing this story with readers, and I couldn’t be more excited about that. We’re going to talk about how a ripped-from-the-headlines story like this comes together, through research, brainstorming, drafting, and revising. I’m looking forward to showing kids all the different drafts and sharing how I discovered that a novel-in-documents was the way this story wanted to be told. We’re going to play around with some writing, too -- telling a story through different points of view. I love the way stories like this can help kids understand how other people’s perspectives might be different from their own. My greatest hope is that Breakout is one of those stories that builds empathy and challenges kids to ask questions about privilege and perspective. 

Reading is sometimes a great comfort and sometimes the opposite. The most important books in my life fall in both of those categories, I think. Some are dog-eared childhood favorites that always filled me with magic and made me believe that everything would be all right. But some books that have had the biggest impact on me are stories that made me uncomfortable. Those stories pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I think Breakout may fall into that category for many readers, too.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what I’ve been reading lately (because I always love to talk about that!)  There are some amazing books coming out this school year, and I’ve had the chance to read some of those a bit early. Tracey Baptiste’s RISE OF THE JUMBIES is an amazing sequel to THE JUMBIES. Jumbies are these terrifying creatures from Trinidad’s folklore. They’re featured in RISE, too, along with a sparkling team of black mermaids. Loree Griffin Burns has a new Scientists in the Field book called LIFE ON SURTSEY: ICELAND’S UPSTART ISLAND, which is my favorite of all of Loree’s books so far. And right now I’m halfway through Justina Ireland’s YA novel DREAD NATION, which is an alternate history of Post-Reconstruction America where special schools train black and Native girls to fight zombies that rose from the dead at the end of the Civil War. Personally, I think this is the alternative history HBO should be doing instead of Confederacy. It’s an incredible page-turner and I think it’ll be a powerful conversation starter in classrooms, too.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: Starring Carmen! by Anika Denise and Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Please welcome Anika Denise to Watch. Connect. Read.! She dropped by to chat about Starring Carmen's book trailer, Lorena Alvarez Gómez, case covers, and school libraries. I wrote the words in purple, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Anika! 

Starring Carmen’s book trailer really captures the energy of the main character. Carmen can be a bit of a drama queen sometimes, and that comes through in the narration. But we also wanted teachers and librarians to know that it’s a fun read-aloud with diverse characters. Carmen’s family sprinkles Spanish into English conversations just like mine did growing up. Affectionate phrases were always in Spanish. So were commands like, “Go to bed!”   

Illustration Credit: Lorena Alvarez Gómez
Lorena Alvarez Gómez’s illustrations have so much vibrancy, humor and heart. I love all the colors and textures in Carmen’s handmade puppets and sets. They add such richness and whimsy to the spreads. The moments between Carmen and her hermanito, Eduardo, are tender—and funny!

Illustration Credit: Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Carmen loves to perform. She loves the spotlight. And she loves to be in charge of the show. So much so that she sometimes overshadows her little brother, who just wants to be included. Sharing the stage isn’t easy for her—but she gets there. In her Carmen way.

Make sure you look under Starring Carmen’s dust jacket because you will see one of my favorite images from the interiors printed there. I gasped audibly in delight when I first peeled back the jacket to see Lorena’s stunning full-bleed illustration on the case cover. Abrams kept it a surprise, and I’m so glad they did! It was more fun that way.

School libraries are a haven in a sometimes bumpy sea. Quiet spaces of discovery to get lost—and found. More than ever, they are incubators of empathy, where kids can reach outside themselves and gain a greater understanding of the world.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if there are more Carmen books planned. Yes! Carmen, book two: Lights, Camera, Carmen! will be out next year. Carmen goes a long way in book one towards learning to share the stage—but in Lights, Camera, Carmen! I’m afraid things get a little dicey when a certain adorable someone steals the show. I won’t spoil it by saying how, but she works it out. In her Carmen way.

Borrow Starring Carmen! from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City by Jodi Kendall

Hi, Jodi Kendall! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. Thank you for dropping by to share the book trailer for The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City. What's your book about?

Jodi Kendall: Thanks for having me! In the tradition of Charlotte's Web, Marley & Me, and Because of Winn-Dixie, The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City is about love, acceptance, and the unconditional bond between a young girl and her pet pig. The main character, 11-year-old Josie Shilling, also faces struggles, both within herself and as a middle child in her big, chaotic, financially strapped family. Both Josie and her pig Hamlet deal with growing pains in their own secret ways.

Please tell us about the ADORABLE pigs featured in the book trailer.

Jodi Kendall: There are actually many different pigs featured in the book trailer. Last summer I filmed two litters at Muscoot Farm, which is located in Westchester County outside New York City. I spent a lot of time in that barn revising The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City. Most recently, two piglets from a New Jersey breeder came to my NYC apartment to film the scenes between Josie and Hamlet. The piglets were only nine weeks old, and it was so much fun to interact with them! Madeline Lucy Wilkins, who plays Josie in the book trailer, did an amazing job too.

You actually created two book trailers. How did you decide which one to premiere here today?

Jodi Kendall: After sharing them with my editor, agent, and family, I still couldn't decide which book trailer I liked better, so I went straight to the experts – young readers. I had Skype Classroom visits with 150 fourth and fifth grade students in 3 different states (CT, OH, and SC) and tallied up their votes. It was a close race! I call the winning trailer the one-minute "Teaser Trailer" and the other, longer version the "Director's Cut." I can't wait to share the winning trailer with all of you today!

How will you celebrate The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City’s book birthday on October 3?

Jodi Kendall: In the morning, I'm visiting my local bookstores in New York City and signing stock (and I'll probably cry when I see my book on shelves for the first time). In the afternoon, two piglets are coming over for a fun piggy party with my family and close friends. You can follow #TheUnlikelyStoryofaPigintheCity hashtag on social media to see all the adorable photos and videos we'll be sharing online! Afterwards, I'm swinging by a friend's book launch party downtown (Karina Yan Glaser, her debut novel publishes on the same day) and then I plan to just relax and enjoy a nice vegan dinner out with my husband to celebrate. The official launch party for The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City is on Saturday, October 7th, 2pm, at the Books of Wonder Uptown location in NYC. Everyone is welcome to attend!

Please finish these sentence starters:

Josie Shilling thinks about everything, all the time. She's a constant worrier – like me – and that can be really difficult for her as she struggles with growing pains, being a middle child in a big, financially strapped family, nailing her new gymnastics routines, and saving Hamlet the pig's life.

School libraries were a wonderful sanctuary for me as a kid. I loved having the independence to choose what I wanted to read or ask for recommendations from the friendly librarian if I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for. I loved the smell of the books, the sound of pages turning, the worlds I could escape into. School libraries continue to be the heartbeat of the school, allowing all students a safe place where they can investigate, listen, imagine, belong, question, learn, discover, and grow by reading all different kinds of incredible stories.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how I spent my summer! I love being with animals whenever I get the chance, and during the month of July I spent a lot of time at Rockville Alpaca Farm near Richmond. As a freelance writer I've had my share of animal adventures, but taking care of alpacas was a first for me. I mucked pastures, fed them grain, hosed down wheel barrels, observed a veterinarian administer vaccinations, took lots of photos and videos, and helped transport 136 hay bales from a nearby feed barn to the alpaca farm (this was about a year's supply of hay for the animals). My family was able to help out too, which was a really neat experience. My five-year old son especially loved feeding them hay! Alpacas are naturally curious, peaceful, gentle creatures that make a variety of interesting sounds when they communicate with each other. It was so much fun spending time with them. One day I'd love for my family to live on a big farm with all kinds of animals.


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Fast Facts:

The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City by Jodi Kendall
Middle Grade Hardback Novel
Ages 8-12, Grades 3-7
HarperCollins Children's Books
Publishes October 3, 2017

Available wherever books are sold. Purchase now via IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Powell's, HarperCollins, Target and Amazon – and at your local bookstore! You can also ask your local librarian to order a copy.

In this delightful middle grade debut, a little pig in a big city leads to lots of trouble.
Josie Shilling's family is too big, their cramped city house is too small, and she feels like no one's ever on her side.

Then on Thanksgiving Day her older brother, Tom, brings home a tiny pink piglet he rescued from a farm outside the city. Her name is Hamlet. The minute Josie holds Hamlet she feels an instant connection.

But there's no room for Hamlet in the crowded Shilling household. And who ever heard of keeping a pig in the city? So it's up to Josie to find her a forever home.

This modern-day homage to Charlotte's Web is a heartwarming tale of family, belonging, and growing bigger when you've always felt small – perfect for fans of Katherine Applegate and Cammie McGovern.

Book buzz:

“The tone and characters are reminiscent of classics... A charming tale, ideal for fans of Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks...”School Library Journal

“An appealing protagonist figuring out what’s important to her... heartwarming and satisfying.”
— ALA Booklist

“We fell in love with THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY! Jodi Kendall has written a charming book with powerful lessons about family and animal welfare. No matter how big she gets, there’s always room for Hamlet in our hearts. ”
Steve Jenkins & Derek Walter, New York Times Bestselling authors of ESTHER THE WONDER PIG

“Jodi Kendall’s utterly charming, heartfelt story of the unlikely bond between a girl and a pig just goes to show that sometimes it takes a little pig with a big heart to bring a family together again. Move over Wilbur, there’s a new pig in town!”
Bobbie Pyron, critically-acclaimed author of A Dog’s Way Home

Jodi Kendall is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work is represented on several National Geographic Channel websites (including Inside Wild, Nat Geo Dogs, Mysterious Science and Inside NGC), NBC Health, ABC News and in Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine. For work, Jodi once followed an eight-hour, overnight secret transport of a manta ray across state lines. On another trip, she was harnessed into an open-door airplane so she could snap photographs of the largest whale shark aggregation on the planet. She faced her fear of sharks by swimming with seven species in an aquarium tank, got up close and personal with venomous snakes along the Kinabatangan River, and motored through a known saltwater crocodile breeding ground. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Arizona and is an active member of SCBWI. Jodi grew up in Columbus, Ohio with her family of seven and a household of countless pets, including hamsters, ducks, dogs, rabbits, an iguana, and yes… even a farm pig!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar

Hello, Supriya Kelkar!  I am THRILLED you dropped by Watch. Connect. Read. to  finish my sentences and reveal Ahimsa's book trailer. 

Supriya Kelkar: Thank you so much, Mr. Schu! I am a big fan of Watch. Connect. Read. and am excited to be here!

Ahimsa's book trailer was a lot of fun to make. I used old Indian wedding invitations to make the collages, and I love how the different textures and designs compliment each other. One of my favorite transitions in the trailer is when Anjali on the spinning wheel fades into another image. That is the pre-independence version of India's flag, which had the spinning wheel made famous by Gandhi on it.

Ahimsa tells the story of a ten-year-old girl named Anjali in British-controlled India in 1942. When Mahatma Gandhi asks each family to give one member to the nonviolent freedom movement, Anjali is devastated to think of her father risking his life for the freedom struggle. But it turns out he isn’t the one joining. Her mother is. And when Anjali’s mother is imprisoned for her participation in the movement, Anjali must step out of her comfort zone to take over her mother’s work, ensuring their little part in the independence movement is completed.

Click here to read the full story. 
Mahatma Gandhi started a revolution with ahimsa (nonviolence) and civil disobedience. He showed the world there was another way to fight for what was right, without weapons. He inspired millions and thanks to him and the countless others in the movement, India eventually gained its independence in 1947. My great-grandmother was a freedom fighter who went to prison for her work in Gandhi’s nonviolent movement. She worked with Gandhi, and there are several letters that were exchanged between the two of them. (Readers can check out my Instagram to see one of them!) Although Mahatma Gandhi is often portrayed as a saint, he did have his faults, and not every Indian was pleased with Gandhi. Ahimsa covers some of the many views on Mahatma Gandhi.

School libraries are windows to the world. They are a place for children to experience other cultures, see things from another person’s perspective, and learn to think critically. But most importantly, I think the knowledge school libraries provide enables children to become empathetic adults, and the world needs more empathy.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what the greatest birthday gift I’ve ever received was. It was books of course! My aunt and uncle gave me a membership to a book of the month club throughout elementary school. Every month, I’d tear open a package to find three amazing books. I still have every single one of those books and love getting to experience them through my children’s eyes all over again.

Look for Ahimsa on October 2, 2017. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

I am so excited to celebrate the book trailer for Swing It, Sunny with brother-and-sister team Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. Thank you, Jennifer and Matthew! I love your latest graphic novel and book trailer! 

When Sunny Side Up was first published, we didn’t know what to expect. The elevator pitch wasn’t exactly Hollywood-esque: this is a quiet graphic novel about a girl who spends the summer of 1976 at her grandfather’s retirement community in Florida. But we were blown away by its wonderful reception. We heard from so many fans who loved our girl Sunny. And they were desperate to know what happened after Sunny Side Up. So, it was a labor of love to continue our story.

Creating Swing It, Sunny was a chance to hang out with old friends like Deb and Gramps and make new friends like Neela. The 1970s was a big time for television so it seemed like a fun way to fashion this book as the tv version of her life – “The Sunny Show.” We loved including some of our favorite shows like General Hospital and the Six Million Dollar Man. Most of all, it was important to find out what happened with Sunny’s older brother Dale. We tried to be honest about the situation, but also wanted to show some hope. And, of course, Jenni was a twirler so she loved having Sunny learn how to use swing flags.

We hope you enjoy swinging it with Sunny in Swing It, Sunny.

Look for Swing It, Sunny on September 12.