Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Malala's Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai; illustrated by Kerascoët

Congratulations on Malala’s Magic Pencil. I think it is a beautiful picture book that will inspire so many children and adults. What inspired you to tell the story of your magic pencil?

Malala Yousafzai: Thank you, and thank you for helping me to share my book with your readers.

I have memoirs for young readers and for adults, but I have met many young children who want to know about what happened in my life and it is important for me to be able to share my story with them as well. Focusing on my wish for a magic pencil when I was a child felt like the perfect way to tell my story in a new way, in a picture book.

I was also inspired to tell this story because I want children to believe in themselves and their ideas. They should never doubt themselves if they are fighting injustice. They should never doubt that they can make a difference. I didn’t know if my voice would bring any change when I started speaking out for girls’ education in Swat, but I felt I could not remain silent. Your voice is powerful and you can raise it in different ways.

What did it feel like the first time you held a finished copy of Malala’s Magic Pencil in your hands? 

Malala Yousafzai: I was very excited to get my first copy of Malala’s Magic Pencil. I had seen it in so many different stages, but to be able to hold a real, finished book was special. I immediately shared it with my mother, who is learning English. She was my first reader.

Please share three adjectives that best describe Kerascoët’s illustrations.

Malala Yousafzai: Only three? Beautiful, nostalgic and powerful.

Please finish these sentence starters:

School libraries are important because they are often one of the first places children learn to love reading, and they are a place where any child can access books.

Reading is the right of every child. It is the foundation of a strong education and can help us understand the world and all of the different people in it.

Borrow Malala's Magic Pencil from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

Hello, Molly Ostertag! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. Thank you for finishing my sentences and for celebrating The Witch Boy with me. 

Molly Ostertag: Hi, Mr. Schu! I'm happy to be chatting with you! 

Let's get started! :) 

The Witch Boy tells the story of Aster, a boy who lives with his whole family in a big, rambling house in the woods. Everyone in Aster’s family has magic. The boys can shape-shift into different animals, and all the girls are witches. The thing is, Aster really wants to be a witch. He sneaks out of shape-shifting classes to listen in on witchery lessons. He can’t seem to master any animal forms, but he can scry in pools of water and make berries grow. His family doesn’t approve, however, and he has to hide his interests and his powers. The only person who he can show off to is his friend Charlie, a tomboy who lives in the non-magical town nearby and thinks Aster’s magic is pretty cool. When boys from Aster’s family start disappearing mysteriously, and a monster is found in the woods, only Aster’s unusual powers and his friendship with Charlie can help save his family.

Aster’s family want the best for him, but they don’t quite understand what that means. They have done things one way for as long as anyone can remember, and they don’t want to change their ways just because Aster wants to be a witch. Although they don’t look exactly like a traditional modern American family, they have strong magical traditions, and they stick to them.

I hope The Witch Boy reaches kids who might relate to Aster or Charlie, and who would like to see a character like themselves in fiction. There are lots of kids who are pushed into roles that they don’t want and aren’t suited for, especially but not limited to gender roles, and I hope that this book helps them feel good about being themselves.

School libraries are amazing, honestly. I tore through a lot of books when I was a kid, and my elementary school library was a haven. I have very fond memories of Scholastic Book Fairs being set up in the library, which gives me warm fuzzy feelings when I think about the Witch Boy being sold there! Comics and graphic novels can be kind of expensive, so I love the idea of comics in libraries – it gives kids access to so many amazing stories and beautiful, inspiring visuals.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me for my recipe for making a really, really good cast-iron steak! I know it’s not related to the book at all, but cooking is my favorite way to take a mental break in between drawing and writing. 

Look for The Witch Boy on October 31, 2017. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Drawn Together by Minh Lê and Dan Santat

Hi, Minh! Thank you for dropping by to chat with me about your BEAUTIFUL picture book, Drawn Together. Is Drawn Together based on your relationship with your grandfather?

Minh Lê: Yes! I would say it's based/inspired by my relationship with my grandfather specifically, but is also a tribute to all my grandparents. 

Vietnamese was my first language (there's even video to prove it), but I let it slip away, which means much of our relationship was defined by what we could not say to each other. 

For us it was a literal language barrier, but as you know, you can also speak the same language and still have trouble communicating/connecting. It's been so touching to already hear of Drawn Together resonating for people with all different kinds of personal experiences.

Unfortunately, my grandfather and I never really quite figured out how to fully bridge the language gap, but I still always felt a strong connection to him. And there was never any doubt about the love between us. 

Some things just go without saying.

What ran through your head the first time you saw Dan Santat’s illustrations for Drawn Together?

Minh Lê: I was absolutely speechless. I have always been a fan of Dan's work, so to see him apply his talent and energy to making magic out of my words was a breathtaking experience.

I was also floored by how much Dan brought his own experience/culture to our book. As an author, the dream is to write a manuscript that touches something in the illustrator; that the illustrator will take the slim collection of words and breathe their own life into it. I think it's obvious that Dan put so much thought and heart into this project, so I am forever grateful to him (and my editor Rotem) for bringing this story to life in such stunning fashion.

(I am also very grateful that he didn't break his wrist painting, because HOLY WOW did you see the incredible detailing on the grandfather's outfit??)

On a bittersweet note, I got the first round of Dan's sketches while my grandfather was on his deathbed... and he passed away earlier this year. So while he will sadly never see the finished product, he knew that it was in the works... and it means the world to me that he will be honored through this book.

Illustration Credit: Dan Santat 
How will you celebrate Drawn Together’s book birthday on June 5, 2018?

Minh Lê: By doing my favorite thing in the world: sharing the book at my local bookstore and library!

Please finish these sentence starters:

Picture books are the most accessible and versatile works of art in the world.

School libraries are NOT OPTIONAL.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me…Why do your former students call you Mr. Rogers?

Because I used to wear cardigans ALL THE TIME. "Which is a fashion choice that I actually picked up, not from Mr. Rogers, but from... my grandfather."

Look for Drawn Together on June 5, 2018. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Cover Reveal: I'M SAD by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Happy Saturday! Hi, Michael Ian Black! Hi, Debbie Ridpath Ohi! MANY thanks for dropping by to celebrate I'm Sad's cover and jacket with me. 

Debbie Ridpath Ohi: Hi, Mr. Schu! I still remember when you and Colby Sharp did a Sharp-Schu trifecta for I’M BORED!
I am thrilled to show everyone the jacket for I’M SAD, which is the sequel to I’M BORED:
Didn’t Laurent Linn come up with a fantastic jacket design? I can’t wait for this to launch from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in June 2018!
Yes! I love it!  Michael, what inspired you to write I'm Sad
So often, when our kids (or our friends or co-workers or whomever) are sad, our instinct is to try to make them feel better instead of just being there for them in a supportive way without necessarily trying to “solve” their sadness. We all feel sad sometimes, and when we do, it’s good to know we have people (or potatoes) in our lives who won’t think any less of us for feeling the way we feel and who will still love us no matter what.
Debbie, what was it like to illustrate I'm Sad?
I was very VERY happy to work with the Potato, Little Girl and Flamingo again! I love the story more than I can say. It's sweet and funny and hopeful all at the same time. I cried the first time I read it ... but it also made me laugh out loud. I wish this book existed earlier in my life. 

Look for I'm Sad on June 5, 2018. 
A girl, a potato, and a very sad flamingo star in this charming sequel to I’m Bored by New York Times bestselling author and comedian Michael Ian Black and celebrated illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Everyone feels sad sometimes—even flamingos. Sigh. When Flamingo announces he’s feeling down, the little girl and Potato try to cheer him up, but nothing seems to work. Not even dirt! (Which usually works for Potato.)...

Friday, October 13, 2017

BOB by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Hello, Wendy!

Wendy Mass: Greetings and salutations, Mr. Schu!

Hello, Rebecca!

Rebecca Stead: Hi, Mr. Schu!
Thank you for finishing my sentences and for celebrating BOB’s GORGEOUS cover with me. I cannot wait for everyone to experience this BEAUTIFUL novel.

Nicolas Gannon's cover illustration for BOB needs to be on my wall to stare at!

Livy and Bob make great partners in crime. Although there’s really no crime...or is there? Nah, no crime. There’s some sneaking around though, and lots of secret meetings. And some snacks are smuggled upstairs. Bob loves licorice. Mmm...licorice.

Rebecca Stead put up with me for the 7 years it took to write this book! I once made her wait 22 months between chapters. She is lovely and brilliant.

School libraries are a huge part of my childhood. I’ll never forget when in 3rd grade, the school librarian saved the sequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for me behind the desk. That’s the day I fell in love with reading. Last year my daughter came home with one of my books from her elementary school library (13 Gifts) and I was like, you know I can get you a copy, right?

Photo Credit: Joanne Dugan
BOB’s cover illustration is evidence of Nicholas Gannon’s amazing talent. We are so lucky to have him! This is my first illustrated story, and I am ridiculously excited.

Livy’s grandmother might know more than she lets on. Sometimes I wonder.

Wendy Mass is a true delight and a wonderful partner.

Reading is everything.

Look for BOB on May 1, 2018. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Cover Reveal: The Game Masters of Garden Place by Denis Markell

Happy Monday! I'm kicking off the week by chatting with Denis Markell about the cover for The Game Masters of Garden Place, reading, and Octavi Navarro. I wrote the words in purple, and he wrote the words in black. Thank you, Denis! 

Ralph, Jojo, Noel, Persephone, and Cammi are five friends who live and go to school together in the Brooklyn Heights section of New York. Though very different personalities, they are joined by their common love of an RPG (Role Playing Game) called Reign Of Dragons, which they’ve been playing for two years every Saturday.

But things are changing, and now that they’re twelve years old, some of them are finding other priorities.

Ralph Peter Ginzberg (who’s initials happen to be RPG, now his nickname) still loves the game and can’t understand how the others might want to move on. He’s a sweet funny kid who couldn’t imagine anything more fun than spending Saturdays fighting trolls, demons, and losing yourself in the fantasy of playing as a legendary adventurer.

Jojo Nelson can certainly can imagine something more fun. Athletic, hot tempered and competitive, she’s finding more in common with her gymnastic team friends than her old game players. She’s ready to start ‘growing up.’

Noel Carrington is the only one of the group who knows as much about the game as RPG. A brilliantly geeky kid, Noel has found himself playing more computer games and not having the passion for the imaginary worlds of Reign Of Dragons that he once had.

Persephone Chang, a tiny girl with a giant voice, has loved the theatrical nature of playing a character from the beginning. But to no one’s surprise, she’s gotten the lead in the school play this year, and there’s just not enough time to do both.

Cameron (Cammi) Sprague is helping out with the costumes for the play (he can sew anything). A shy sensitive boy, he finds himself more comfortable with his female friends, especially as they’re all getting older.

It seems that nothing can keep the group together.

Until something truly magical happens which changes everything...

I hope The Game Masters of Garden Place can serve both as a loving tribute to those who already love RPGs (esp. Dungeons and Dragons, the most well known), and as an introduction to those who haven’t yet discovered how different and cool they are.

They are unique among all games (video, board, name it) in that an RPG Is mostly played in the collective minds of the players.

They create their own unique characters, including the character’s histories, and bring them to life as the adventure unfolds. There is no “winner” as they players work together as a team to defeat the puzzles, challenges and monsters that the storyteller (called a Dungeon Master or a Game Master) puts in their path.

It is the Game Master’s job to weave all the choices made by his group into his narrative, adjusting it with whatever they throw at him. In this way, even when working from an existing adventure that others have played, each game is different, reflecting the personalities of the players involved. It is this amazing flexibility that has attracted thousands of new players, from kids to people in their twenties and thirties, or even older!

And players are coming from all walks of life. I’ve met more than my share of authors, librarians and booksellers who play weekly...and even an editor or two!

And for those who have played, who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to meet your character in real life?

Reading is the absolute best kind of virtual reality, better than any movie, Youtube video, or computer game could ever be. Because based on what the author has written, you the reader are the one who gets to decide what the characters sound like, what the world they inhabit looks like, and when to turn the page and discover what happens next!
Even when a teacher reads a book to a class, each student brings his or her imagination to the telling, filling in what’s missing with their own mental pictures of what’s being described. And books, real books, don’t need batteries or chargers, and if you drop them, the worst that happens is you bend a page. Playing games and watching movies or TV are wonderfully fun, and can be beautiful experiences.
But a movie will be the same movie whether you watch if or not. A game will be a game no matter who plays it. But when you read a book, you complete it.  No one’s version of the book will look or sound just like yours. It’s yours and yours alone.

Explore Octavi Navarro's website.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the cover of the book! If it looks familiar to those who read my first book CLICK HERE TO START (bless you), it’s because the good people at Delacorte decided that the brilliant Octavi Navarro did such a great job with that cover they want to pair us again! And I couldn’t be happier. I think it’s fair to say they look like nothing else out there! And just like the first cover, he’s put in lots of hints to what lies ahead in the book. I gave poor Octavi quite a challenge in having ten protagonists instead of three from CLICK. But he did a fantastic job with it (and got them all in)!

Look for The Game Masters of Garden Place on July 17, 2018. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt; illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls

Hi, Paige Britt! Thank you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to celebrate Why Am I Me? and to finish my sentences. I love this book with my whole heart.

Paige Britt: Thank you, Mr. Schu!

Why Am I Me? follows two children—one dark-skinned, one light—as they travel home on a busy subway. The boy notices the girl and wonders: Why am I me . . . and not you? The girl notices the boy and wonders: Why are you, you . . . and not me? The questions get bigger and bigger as they look at all the different passengers, then at the people out the window, and finally up at the stars. It’s not until they get off the train and look into each other’s eyes that the questions stop and something else emerges. I’m not going to tell you what that something is, but I will say this: Maybe “you” and “me” are just part of a vast, extraordinary “we.”

Selina Alko and Sean Qualls’ illustrations are captivating. They’re so expansive, yet intimate. They illustrate these big universal themes, yet they make them deeply personal. The images are multi-layered and textured—just like the layers of meaning in the story—and they invite you back over and over to discover new things. Which is what the book is really all about!

I hope Why Am I Me? inspires both children and adults to stay curious. Most children are naturally full of questions, but as they grow up, those questions are sometimes replaced with answers. And those answers can turn into labels—good, bad, us, them. But we’re so much more than those labels! We’re made of star stuff, after all. Doesn’t that blow your mind? Maybe with our minds just a tiny bit blown, a deeper wisdom can emerge. A wisdom grounded in curiosity and compassion. Certainty creates labels, but curiosity creates space—space for empathy and connection, for delight and (hopefully) dialogue.

School libraries are magic! They connect kids to far-flung places. Whether those places are in the distant corners of your imagination or the distant corners of the galaxy—libraries will take you there! And it ABSOLUTELY does not matter where you come from, how much money you have, or what your gender or religion is—you are welcome in a school library. End of story. Which is really the beginning of the story. See? Magic.

Picture books are for all ages. I have a bookshelf in my house that takes up an entire wall. It’s full of all kinds of books—philosophy books, classic literature, books about art and architecture, and, of course, picture books. They belong right there with everything else. The special genius of a picture book is that you don’t just read it, you experience it. And you’re never too old to experience the wonder and wisdom contained within their pages.

Explore Paige Britt's website.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my Aunt Lil. She’s eighty-six-years-old and has Alzheimer’s disease. She loved Why Am I Me? and was delighted by the images and all the big questions that went with them. She kept asking me what the “right” answers were. I asked her to tell me. When she got to the end of the book, she pointed to the image of the boy and girl with their faces overlapping and said, “Each has one eye of their own, and one eye shared.” She got it! Why Am I Me? is about unity and diversity. It’s about seeing your self in others. Everyone and everything is connected. And if my aunt with dementia knows this, then it gives me hope that, on some level, we all do.

Borrow Why Am I Me? from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Cover Reveal: Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman and Scott Magoon


Ame: HOWDY, Mr. Schu! HOWDY, readers!

HELLO, Scott!

Scott: Ahoy, John!

It is always a double super fun day when you both visit Watch. Connect. Read. I’m thrilled you dropped by to share Misunderstood Shark’s cover. Ame, why in the world is Shark misunderstood?

Ame: THANKS for having us, Mr. Schu! Well, it seems our big toothy buddy, Shark, is ALWAYS about to CHOMP someone! Even during the LIVE broadcast of the Fun Facts-filled TV show, Underwater World With Bob Jellyfish! But each time Bob reminds Shark that we (“THE PEOPLE!”) can see him, Shark has a perfectly reasonable (even helpful!) explanation why Bob misunderstood Shark’s open-mouthed intentions. So, guys, is Shark REALLY misunderstood? Choose for yourself April 24th!

Scott, what was the most fun thing about working on Misunderstood Shark?

Scott: Drawing the characters. We have an emotional Great. White. Shark. of dubious intent. Totally fun to draw. We have a gullible jellyfish reporter and his subservient news crew—they’re a chorus of mini-squids and a big-headed octopus. A cute baby seal too! Those creatures are high on the fun-to-draw scale. Fun to research as well. For a while there my studio was an Oceanographic Institute. The Magoon Lagoon!  

Ame, what ran through your head the first time you saw Misunderstood Shark’s cover illustration?

Ame: I thought, “Scott and our team (at Scholastic’s Orchard Books) NAILED IT!” on our gotta-grab-it cover! The FABULOUS popping colors! The GENIUS use of Shark’s fin in the title design! The HILARIOUS look on Bob Jellyfish’s little Les Nessman face! And of course, there’s Shark himself. His mischievous grin! His bushy eyebrows! His OH-SO-HUGGABLE 2,000 POUNDS OF AWESOMENESS! (Plus his tattoo’s pretty sweet, too!)

Scott, did you laugh out loud the first time you read Misunderstood Shark’s manuscript?

Scott: I did. I still do! Shark’s proclamations of innocence become more comical as he tries over and again to convince us that he’s misunderstood. I think readers might see a little of themselves in Shark—and find that truth funny. Not that our readers are meat-eating sharks mind you, but instead they might identify with how hard Shark tries to shape his own narrative and affect how he wants to be perceived by others. Also, poor Bob the jellyfish makes me laugh—he’s in a little over his head!

Ame and Scott, please finish these sentences:

Reading aloud brings characters to life! No laboratory or lightning needed—just your voice. my kids is sacred time for me for which I will always be grateful. On a lighter note—I just also like the chance to do funny voices & accents when I read aloud!

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how I REALLY feel about Shark. Truth is, I love our rascal Shark with all my heart! (Even after the little “misunderstanding” with my cat.) should have asked if I’ve ever seen a shark in the wild. I was at the beach with my family one day and we saw a giant ocean sunfish fin (a Mola Mola) swimming along the beach and thought it was a shark. I misunderstood it to be a shark!

Look for Misunderstood Shark on April 24, 2018. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Cover Reveal: Case Closed: Mystery in the Mansion by Lauren Magaziner

Hi, Lauren Magaziner! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you for celebrating Case Closed: Mystery in the Mansion’s cover with me! Tell us about Carlos Serrano.

Lauren: Carlos is struggling. He and his mom have been running into money problems lately, and he is too embarrassed to tell his best friend, Eliza. It’s especially hard for him when his mother gets the flu on the morning of her first big case in months: an investigation at the mansion of a millionaire named Guinevere LeCavalier, who has been receiving death threats from someone who wants to get their hands on her late husband’s secret treasure. If Carlos’s mom loses the case, her detective agency business will surely go bankrupt. So Carlos—like the loyal, dependable, caring, totally Hufflepuff person he is—decides to solve the case for his mom, taking along Eliza and her wild little brother, Frank.

Cover Illustration Credit: Petur Antonsson
What do you love about choose-your-own-adventure books?  

Lauren: Everything! (Is that a cop-out answer?) I love how the interactivity gives readers power. The reader is in the driver seat, and their choices have real consequences. To read a pick-your-path book is to shape and mold the story yourself.
What do I love about writing pick-your-path mysteries? The puzzles! In many cases, the solutions to the puzzles direct you to the next page to flip to. I’m also a big enthusiast for alternate endings, and here I got to create thirty of them!

What is the biggest challenge about creating 30 different endings to the book?

Lauren: I think the biggest challenge with the endings was coming up with new and distinct ways for the case to close. I have some good endings, some wicked endings, and some crash-and-burn endings (Literally… the place goes up in flames in one dead end!).

Surprisingly, though, the middles were way harder than the endings.

Because this book is a mystery—and not strictly an adventure—I needed to make sure that I knew which red herrings and which clues were dropped in which plotlines, and I needed to make sure that no matter which path the reader takes, the mystery still makes sense. Lots of moving parts that I have to get just right.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Eliza is a character that provides a differentiated learning experience. Whenever there are puzzles in the book, it’s up to the reader to solve them in order to advance. But if you’re having trouble with a puzzle, you can get a hint from Eliza, who is Carlos’s very smart and very logical best friend. She won’t complete the puzzle for you, but she’ll walk you through how to approach it. Case Closed has word puzzles and number puzzles and logic puzzles, secret codes and ciphers—and Eliza is there for you always, to provide scaffolded versions of these puzzles whenever you need! 

Las Pistas Detective Agency is in major trouble. Hopefully you can help save the agency from going under by figuring out who’s been sending death threats to Guinevere LeCavalier!  

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how I juggle all the plotlines and even begin to start writing these. Here are three clues to that mystery:

Look for Case Closed: Mystery in the Mansion on August 14, 2018.