Friday, December 2, 2016

Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

Hi, Elly Swartz! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you for dropping by to finish my sentences. I greatly, greatly appreciate it.

Elly Swartz: I am so honored to join you on Watch. Connect. Read. And, thank you for all you do to celebrate, embrace, and share the book love. Your joy and enthusiasm for all things kid-lit is wonderfully contagious!

Thank you for all you do to spread book love and joy! I think everyone should read Finding Perfect

Molly Nathans is my hero (and the main character in my novel FINDING PERFECT). She has an unwavering love of family, a big heart, and is stronger and braver than she realizes. Ultimately, it was this courage and strength, mixed with her acceptance of imperfection that made her realize she was bigger than her fears.

Molly thinks poetry can say the things that she can’t. Poetry is the mirror into her heart. Through Molly’s “Me Poems” she shares her greatest fears and darkest secrets. And through her slam poems, she cloaks those same fears and secrets behind the rhythm and verse of each stanza.

The audio teaser for Finding Perfect captures the heart of Molly’s story and shines a light on her journey and the meaning of perfect. It was also an endeavor I undertook with my son. It was beyond meaningful to work with him. As an audio producer, he was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, and as a son, tremendously supportive. 

I wrote Finding Perfect because Molly tucked into my heart and stayed there until I was able to share her story. I hope Molly finds a place in many readers’ hearts. For many different reasons.

I hope children like Molly realize they are not alone. 500,000 children suffer from OCD.

I hope children like Molly realize they are not just OCD.

I hope all children realize that no one is just one thing.

I hope all children realize they are loved unconditionally. 

I hope all children realize there is no such thing as perfect.

I hope all children realize the importance of kindness and empathy.

When I was Molly’s age, I loved writing, reading, poetry, softball, basketball, and doing anything with big brothers. I was a huge fan of everything by Judy Blume and before that Eloise, Pippy Longstocking and Ramona the Brave were my constant companions. Let’s just say my soft spot for spunky, independent and slightly mischievous characters, may be embraced by a loving 11-year-old named Frankie in my next book.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the Unfolding Identity Project, an activity on identity and empathy that readers, books club, teachers and librarians can do individually or as a group. Although Molly’s situation is unique, we are all a little like Molly – who we present to the world is not always in perfect alignment with who we are on the inside. We are all a blend of many different traits. No one is just one thing.  Once kids see they are not just a baseball player or singer or reader, they’ll realize the person sitting next to them is also not just one thing. And maybe, this person who they thought they had nothing in common with, is actually something they can connect with. The Unfolding Identity Project helps kids see they are not just one thing and is my way of spreading awareness and kindness, one kid at a time. You can download the project for free here

Elly Swartz is a middle-grade author and FINDING PERFECT is her debut novel. Swartz loves writing for children, but did not take a direct path to that career. Through the years, she’s been a Sesame Place ride operator, lawyer, legal author, and college essay adviser. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, two sons and beagle named Lucy. If you want to connect with Elly or learn more about what she’s working on, you can find her at and on Twitter
Borrow Finding Perfect from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Trailer Premiere: Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

Hi, Matthew! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read. It is always a good day when you visit. Thank you for dropping by to share the book trailer for Wolf in the Snow and to finish my sentences.

Matthew Cordell: Thanks so much for having me, John! A lot has happened for you since you helped launch the trailer for Wish. It’s been a joy to watch. It’s an honor and pleasure to come back and do this again with you.

Thank you, Matthew! A lot has happened for you as well. Thanks for all you do to make this world a better and brighter place. 

The book trailer for Wolf in the Snow gets to, I think, much of what the heart of the book is about for me. What do we do when confronted with a difficult choice? When there is fear and suffering, do we think of ourselves, acting in our own best interests? Or do we go beyond that and think of those around us? And who are the ones around us? Are they good? Bad? Are we good? Bad? As we are confronted with so many stereotypes and prejudices—about ourselves and others—we should all always be challenging ourselves with these questions and answers. Now more than ever. Adults and children alike.

Wolf in the Snow’s cover shows the book’s two heroes. A girl and a wolf pup. The girl in this story is a very brave soul. The pup is brave to trust her. What happens when the girl reunites the pup with its pack takes incredible courage. And what happens after that takes incredible trust on behalf of everyone. To me, a wolf is a powerfully brave and loving creature. Loyal to family. And fiercely protective. I kept asking myself… is the “wolf” in this book just the wolf? Or is it the girl too?

Illustration Credit: Matthew Cordell
I created the illustrations in my favorite blend of pen and ink drawing with watercolor painting. But the art in this book is slightly different from some of my others. The girl and surrounding nature are drawn very loosely and minimally—as I tend to do. But the wolves are drawn more realistically and more detailed than I typically draw. For one, to suggest the distinct difference between wolf and human. How we might think and react and how they might. I hope the art will also put the reader in a very real place as they see the wolves drawn in this way. It takes a lot of courage for the girl to do what she does in the book—to bring a lost wolf pup back to its pack. Before she, also lost, finds her own way home. It was essential to depict the wolves more realistically to draw out these feelings of fear and, ultimately, reassurance that play out in the book.

Illustration Credit: Matthew Cordell 
I hope Wolf in the Snow leads children and adults to want to learn more about wolves. I knew next to nothing about wolves when I first embarked upon the journey of making this book. As I tried (and failed many times) to find the story in this book, I found another entirely true story about wolves. They have been demonized throughout literature. (Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, etc.) Which has led to the unfair treatment and relentless killing of these noble creatures. In fact, they are highly complex, intelligent animals. They want much of the same things that we want. Safety. Family. Companionship. Joy. Life. They are wild animals, but they are not bloodthirsty and vicious. They hunt animals—not humans—purely for survival. And wolves have come to fear humans, just as we have come to fear them.

Illustration Credit: Matthew Cordell 
Wordless picture books are deceptively difficult. They are difficult to make and they are difficult to read. Because there are no words, the visual language needs to be clearer than ever. Because there are no words, they can be read in a multitude of ways. This can be a wonderful thing. Or—if confusing—this could be the worst thing. When a wordless picture book works, it is brilliant. I won’t try and shoot for brilliance, but I’ll just hope that my book works.
Publication Date: August 15, 2017 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the music in this book trailer. It’s a song by one of my all-time favorite bands, Archers of Loaf! They’ve been in heavy listening rotation for me starting in my college years and up to now. These guys were incredibly gracious to allow me to use this beautiful little waltz for this book trailer. (They are normally a rock band, but this song closes out their 1996 album, All the Nations Airports.) I think it fits the book so perfectly.

Look for Wolf in the Snow on January 3, 2017. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

December #SharpSchu Book Club Meeting

Mr. Colby Sharp, Chris Barton, Don Tate, Josh Funk, and I hope you will participate in the #SharpSchu Twitter Book Club on Thursday, December 15. :) 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Happy Saturday, Mr. Colby Sharp!

Hi, Mr. Sharp, 

I hope you had a terrific Thanksgiving with your family! I'm looking forward to Skyping with your students next week to discuss the 2017 Mock Caldecott selections. Which book should we read together? :) 

See you soon!

Your friend,


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Let's Turn This Painting into Books! A Guest Post by Sophie Blackall

I have so loved hearing about schools that run mock Caldecott Awards but I have also been hearing from librarians and teachers how they struggle to buy new books. How they often supplement the classroom library out of their own pockets.

Around this time last year I held a fundraiser to send sets of 10 new picture books to schools in need. 
I thought maybe there was a way of turning a drawing into a pile of new picture books. Because while there’s nothing as comforting as curling up with an old favorite, there’s something thrilling about turning the first page of a brand new one.

I was hoping to be able to fund 60 books for six schools. Thanks to your generosity we raised around $3500, which enabled us to send 200 books to 20 schools. 

So! It's that time again!

Here's how it works. 

This painting is for sale on eBay. It was on the cover of the Horn Book Magazine Awards Edition in June, 2016. Eagle eyes will spot Last Stop on Market Street and The Lion and the MouseThe Snowy Day and Winnie the Pooh.

The listing is live and runs until December 3rd.
I have partnered with the wonderful bookstore, The Curious Reader, who have helped me select 10 beautiful, funny, rich, thoughtful picture books to tempt young readers.

The Airport Book - Lisa Brown
The Case for Loving - Selina Alko and Sean Qualls
Du Iz Tak? - Carson Ellis
Finding Winnie - Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall
Freedom in Congo Square - Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie
The Journey - Francesca Sanna
Penguin Problems - Jory John and Lane Smith
Real Cowboys - Kate Hoefler and Jonathan Bean
This is Not a Picture Book - Sergio Ruzzier
Thunder Boy Jr. - Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales 
So now I just need
a) People to bid on the drawing. Click here!
b) Librarians and teachers to enter the draw HERE. 
c)  You to help spread the word! (Please share far and wide!) 

Thank you, all!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Cover Reveal for My Little Half-Moon by Douglas Todd Jennerich and Kate Berube

Hi, Kate Berube! Thank you for dropping by to share the adorable cover for My Little Half-Moon and to finish my sentences. I greatly appreciate it.

Hi John! Thank YOU so much for having me on your lovely blog and for all you do to share and celebrate books!

You're very kind. Let's get started! :)

The cover illustration for My Little Half-Moon was made using collage (as were all the rest of the illustrations in the book.) This is the first book I’ve illustrated using collage. It really freed me up and gave me flexibility and space to be messy and experimental. Which was fantastic, as messy and experimental is the most fun kind of art to make.

Illustration credit: Kate Berube

Douglas Todd Jennerich and I are kindred spirits. When we met for the first time (just last week!) we discovered a number of small details in the book about which we both have the exact same strong opinions without ever having discussed these things during the making of the book. Creating a book with a complete stranger is such an interesting experience. Both people work as hard as they can to create a great book and the combination of the efforts makes something new, which neither person could have come up with on their own. It’s a kind of magic.

Illustration credit: Kate Berube

The moon is a wonder. It’s one of the many parts of the everyday that us adults are usually too busy to notice, but that children pay attention to. I’m so grateful that making My Little Half-Moon focused my thoughts on the moon for all the months I spent working on it. During that time I found I was always aware of what phase the moon was in, I took endless blurry cellphone photos of it and there were quite a few nights I could be found standing in the middle of my street, staring up and making color notes in my sketchbook with a flashlight. 

On May 16, 2017, My Little Half-Moon will be released! I’ll be equal parts excited and nervous. I’ll probably want to hide under my bed (which has been the feeling I’ve had on book release day for both of the other two books I’ve made.) The moon will be a half-moon that day - with 24 days left until it’s full again.

Hannah and Sugar tells the story of a girl finding the courage to do something she finds very scary. I was inspired to write the story because I was thinking a lot about bravery. I'm scared of doing loads of things but I keep learning the lesson, over and over, that I'm most happy when I regularly do things that are scary.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what I'm working on now! If you had I would have told you I'm currently writing the follow up to Hannah and Sugar, which is also about facing fears, and I'm illustrating a wonderful story by Megan Maynor about a day at the beach. The world feels a little dark right now so I'm also trying to find some things I can do to help make it lighter. One of which is, I'm creating a card with a message of love I’ll be selling online and in Portland shops. All the proceeds I make from it will go to The Children’s Defense Fund. I’ll be posting it online this week! 

Thanks again for having me and for being a champion of books and reading!

Thank you, Kate!

Look for My Little Half-Moon on May 16, 2017.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Congratulations to the 2017 Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children Winners!

I am not at #NCTE16, but I have been following the tweets from the comfort of my living room. Yesterday afternoon, the winners of the Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children were announced. The award was established to "promote and recognize fiction that has the potential to transform children's lives by inviting compassion, imagination, and wonder."

Ghost by Jason Reynolds 


Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian; illustrated by Mike Curato

The Night Gardener by Eric and Terry Fan 

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown 


The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner 

Luis Paints the World by Terry Farish; illustrated by Oliver Dominguez 

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk 

A Bandit's Tale by Deborah Hopkinson 

Hoot and Peep by Lita Judge 

One Half from the East by Nadia Hashimi 

The Inquisitor's Tale, Or The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz; illustrated by Hatem Aly


The Princess and the Warrior by Duncan Tonatiuh