Friday, January 19, 2018

Book Trailer Premiere: Rabbit & Possum by Dana Wulfekotte

Hi, Dana Wulfekotte! Thank you for dropping by to reveal the incredible book trailer for Rabbit & Possum.

Dana: Hi Mr. Schu, thank you so much for having me! After seeing so many great trailers on your blog, it’s very exciting to be here with my own.

Rabbit & Possum is my debut picture book and I can’t wait to finally share these characters with everyone.  It’s a story about friendship, determination, and overcoming your fears. It could also serve as a cautionary tale about climbing trees when you’re not very good at it.

Are you more like Rabbit or Possum?

Dana: I’m a little bit of both, but I’m probably more like Rabbit. I like to sleep as much as Possum does, but I’m about as clumsy as Rabbit. I’m also always in the mood for snacks.

What came first: the illustrations or the text?

Dana: The illustrations. The characters had been around for a while before I found a story for them. And the story changed a lot as I went through the revision process, but I always had a pretty good idea of who the characters were and what I wanted them to look like.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Cilla Lee-Jenkins is the funniest and most lovable character. I feel very lucky that I got to illustrate a middle grade book that that meant so much to me as an Asian American. And I can’t wait for the sequel to come out in March!

Picture books are an art form that can have a lasting impact on a child. Which is why it’s important to take our responsibility as writers and illustrators seriously, even when we make not-so-serious books.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how I came up with the design for Rabbit. Her look is based on my real-life rabbit Chewy. Much like Rabbit, Chewy loves to eat and can be very silly.

Look for Rabbit & Possum on February 6, 2018. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Sun is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk

Hi, Nick Seluk! Thank you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to celebrate The Sun is Kind of a Big Deal. I must ask: Why is the Sun kind of a big deal?

Nick Seluk: There’s a big bright ball in the sky that allows the Earth to have life! Imagine something so important that people worshipped it before they had any clue what it was or how it worked. The Sun is the most important piece of our little solar system, and I can’t wait to help kids (and parents) learn why!

I always encourage people to examine a book’s jacket and case cover. Why should everyone flip over The Sun is Kind of a Big Deal’s jacket? 

Nick: People will be led there by the red carpet, a perfect welcome to continued entertainment from the cover. Besides having a chance to memorize the ISBN, during their stay on the back cover they’ll be treated to more hints about the fun and funny style they can expect on the inside. But wait, there’s more! The jacket itself is a poster of our solar system! Gasp!

I heard you shared The Sun is Kind of a Big Deal with The Saturn Globe, The Independent Planet, and The Galaxy Guardian. Did they give you good feedback?

Nick: The Saturn Globe gave it a ringing endorsement, the Independent Planet was over the moon and the Galaxy Guardian thinks it’s a rising star. I’m honored to be a part of such a vast universe of good press!

Please finish these sentence starters: 

Picture books are the greatest thing we can get for our kids, because we can instill knowledge AND provide novelty without wasting space on more toys. You can never have too many!

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me to juggle. I’m very bad at it and you would have been entertained.  

Look for The Sun is Kind of a Big Deal on September 25, 2018. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Cover Reveal: Grenade by Alan Gratz

Hi, Alan Gratz! Happy 2018! I am THRILLED to reveal Grenade’s cover. Thank you for allowing me to share it and for finishing my sentences.

Alan Gratz: You’re welcome, John! If you’d like to return the favor, I have a new manuscript with a lot of unfinished sentences in it. I’d be happy to send it along and have you finish them for me, particularly as I have a deadline coming up…

Ha! I think I will stick with starting the following sentences. Good luck with your deadline! :) 

Grenade’s cover thrills me. I love the image of a boy, defenseless and alone, surrounded by soldiers, the world seemingly on fire. He’s trapped in the middle, just like the rest of the refugees during the horrific Battle of Okinawa during World War II.

Grenade tells the story of a fourteen-year-old Okinawan boy named Hideki Kaneshiro struggling to survive the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. I visited Japan about ten years ago, and while I was there I met an old man who was a boy on Okinawa during World War II. He told me that the day the Americans landed, the Japanese Army pulled him and all the other middle school boys out of school, gave each of them a grenade, and told them to go off into the forest and not come back until each of them had killed an American soldier. That’s how Hideki’s story begins. What he does with that grenade is how it ends.

Did you know that an estimated 150,000 of the 300,000 Okinawans living on the island before the war were killed, committed suicide, or went missing during the battle, including almost every Okinawan male over the age of 18? The US Army eventually took the island, but the ferocity of the Japanese soldiers, who fought to the very last man and committed suicide rather than be captured—77,000 of the 82,000 soldiers who died were Japanese—made the United States reluctant to invade the Japanese mainland, where they expected the death toll on both sides would be much greater. The awful carnage at Okinawa was a direct factor in the United States’ decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki two months later, which prompted Japan’s unconditional surrender.

School libraries are the place to go for amazing stories!

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how many pizzas I have eaten in my lifetime. (Approximately 10,500 so far.) 

Wow, that's a lot of pizza, Alan! 

Grenade by Alan Gratz | Publication Date: October 9, 2018. 

It’s 1944, and the world is at war.  Hideki Kaneshiro is a boy who lives peacefully with his family on the island of Okinawa, near Japan.  Until the day World War II comes to Hideki.

He is yanked out of school and drafted into the "Blood and Iron Imperial Corps" to fight for the Japanese army. He is handed two grenades and a set of instructions: go off into the jungle, and don’t come back until you’ve killed an American soldier.  

Meanwhile, young American soldier Ray Majors has just landed on the beach in Okinawa with his squad. He doesn’t know what to expect, or if he’ll make it out alive, but he knows he must keep moving forward.

From opposite sides of the war, Hideki and Ray each fight their way through horrors and dangers, encountering new obstacles at every turn. But when the two of them encounter each other in the middle of the battle, the choices they each make in that single moment…. will change everything.

This thrilling new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Refugee is another searing, action-packed look at the ways in which war impacts young people—and the ways in which our courage and our conscience can redeem us even in the darkest of times.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Cover Reveal: Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by Harry Bliss

Hello, Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss! Happy Tuesday! I'm honored to reveal the cover for Good Rosie! The genesis for this book is a little unusual. Can you tell us about how the collaboration started?

Harry Bliss: Kate and I had worked on a picture book previously, and some years later I’d wanted to work with Kate on a book of dog poems, inspired by a poem she’d written for another book that I’d made an image for: “Snow, Aldo.”

Kate DiCamillo: That painting is hanging on my living room wall. I’m looking at it as I type these words. Ever since then Harry and I have wanted to do a dog book together. And about four years ago we were both in South Dakota for a festival, and I said, “When are we going to do that dog book?”

Harry: Time passed and I kept nagging her, sort of, not really, but every six months or so I’d think to myself, “Hey, I wonder why Kate hasn’t written a dog manuscript yet?” Then one afternoon I got Good Rosie! and I was off and running.

Can you discuss why the graphic storybook format with the panels that progress through the story works so well for this particular book?

Kate: Harry is probably better suited to answer this question than I am. All I know is that we both wanted kind of a Charles Schulz feel to things — that heartbroken, wise, hopeful quality. And once you start thinking about Charles Schulz, you start to think in panels. Plus, I like how the panels contain things, make them feel safer, more approachable.

Harry: I’m a huge fan of the comics, and I wanted this story to move in a very specific way. The space between each panel allows the reader to use their imagination to fill in their own narrative, which is essential to the comic form. Words and images together activate lobes of the brain in the deciphering of the narrative, but when you break down a traditional picture book into comics, an additional layer is then added. It’s actually been proven that various lobes are essentially more “fired up” when the comic format is employed. I can’t speak to why I chose this form for Rosie. Perhaps it’s my way of revisiting my comic book–reading childhood. Plus, it’s just fun to spend time in these boxes. . . .

There are a lot of ways into this story, a lot of layers for children and adults alike about having new experiences and meeting new friends. Did you see any themes emerge once you stepped back from your work and took it all in together?

Kate: I never think about messages when I’m writing, and it’s only afterward (when the book is done)that I can start to figure out (with other people’s help) what a book is about. I think that maybe Good Rosie! is about how we all need to find our people (or our dogs) and that those friendships are necessary and maddening and wondrous.

Harry: I will say that after finishing Rosie, I like the way these three dogs find friendship. It’s not always easy letting your guard down, letting someone into your world of insecurities, and I feel this book touches on that in a very intimate and “real” way.

What do you think having a pet brings to our lives?

Kate: All I know is that I can’t imagine life without a dog. They constantly remind me of the art of being well-and-truly present, and they also show me how to be joyful, how to concentrate on joy.

Harry: I’m an animal person. I’d throw myself in front of a car to save my annoying dog, Penny. I tell my shrink that when Penny dies, I’ll be a wreck for at least six months. What do animals bring to our lives? Empathy.

Can you tell us a little about your own dogs?

Kate: Well, right now I am on borrowed time. Ramona is on her back with her feet in the air, in front of the fireplace. Any minute now she will insist on me getting off the couch and taking her out into the world. Into the joyful present — which smells like squirrels and snow.

Harry: My dog is a scruffy mini poodle, twelve years old and absolutely wonderful. Her paws smell like corn chips and her breath is like a trash can, but she has me tied around her flea collar 24-7.

Look for Good Rosie! on September 4, 2018. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler

Happy Monday! Author-illustrator Joseph Kuefler dropped by to chat with me about The Digger and the Flower, school libraries, and Lou Ferreri. I wrote the words in purple, and he wrote the words in black. Thank you, Joseph!

The book trailer for The Digger and the Flower reveals very little about what actually unfolds in the book. That was by design. The best movie trailers evoke the spirit of the film but keep many of its details a tightly-guarded secret. I wanted to create something similarly tight-lipped. Hopefully it piques your interest enough to head to your local bookstore or library.

Digger discovers a tiny blue flower growing amid the steel and din of the city, a small piece of beauty in an otherwise drab and manufactured place. Digger is a nurturing excavator, so naturally he decides to care for the flower. As the flower grows, so too does the city. Soon, the flower’s small plot becomes valuable real estate’ll need to read the book to find out what happens next.

Digger has a very personal significance to me. When I was 19 I drove West—desperately Kerouac-ian, I know. On the second day, I found myself in Glacier National park. I’d never been to the mountains, and I was immediately and forever changed by Glacier’s grandeur and beauty. Five years later I returned to find the glaciers had nearly vanished. I saw firsthand how fragile even the most majestic and seemingly-permanent of places can be. This deterioration of our sacred spaces is happening all over the world. It breaks my heart.

I wrote The Digger and the Flower as a sort of love letter to nature.

The Digger and the Flower’s illustrations were an exercise in reduction and simplicity. I was determined to tell Digger’s story in as few moves as possible. In part because my previous books didn’t afford me that opportunity; I was eager to take on that sort of challenge as an illustrator.

But also because this book ran the risk of becoming a heavy-handed and didactic lesson. Spare, objective art and text was the perfect foil for the book’s more emotional message.

School libraries are the building’s beating heart.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me to whom the book is dedicated. I love dedications. They’re actually my favorite piece of a book to create. The Digger and the Flower is dedicated to three people: Elena Giovinazzo (my agent), Alessandra Balzer (my publisher) and a man named Lou Ferreri.

Elena and Alessandra have been instrumental in helping me grow as an author and illustrator, and I am forever indebted to them—for the trust and faith they placed in me.

 But Lou Ferreri? He changed my life

Lou was my art teacher in high school. 1960s to his core, Lou was a free spirited artist who landed in my hometown after a long spell as a professional artist in grander cities. He was hellbent on teaching art the right way, which is to say, with very few rules, a whole lot of freedom and one requirement: that you mean what you make. Through him I learned to love and respect art making and myself.

Two pieces hang in my work area. One is a print by Etel Adnan, a favorite artist of mine and gift from my brother. The other is a photograph of Lou Ferreri taken while I was in high school. That photo stands as a daily reminder of the gift he gave me and the creative values he espoused.

I’ve never said any of this to him. I will one day.

Look for The Digger and the Flower on January 23. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Guest Post by Deron Hicks, Author of The Van Gogh Deception

Childhood memories can be elusive — mere wisps of smoke and faint dreams of what might have been. I have only the vaguest recollection of what my life was like prior to the summer of 1977.  I turned nine years old that summer.  I know the basic details of my life at that point in time. I know that my parents were divorced, but I can’t remember any particulars as to how, when or why it happened.  I know that my best friend was Andy Thomas.  I know that I lived with my mom, but spent every Wednesday and alternating weekends with my father. But even these memories are vague and uncertain. They are simply old Polaroids — blurry images set in a world of washed out colors.

But I remember one particular day in the summer of 1977.  I remember it with all the clarity that memory can offer.  It is in high definition — the edges of those memories are sharp, and the colors are crisp. And that day has, and always will be, the answer to the question — why do you write?

I was nine years old, and my brother was seven. Word was starting to get around our neighborhood about a new movie.  In 1977 there were no cell phones, emails or text messages. Word traveled on the back of a bicycle from one house in our neighborhood to the next.  Of course, my brother and I had seen the commercial on TV — everyone had.  But the twenty second clip of television offered little information as to exactly what wonders this movie might hold. There was also the advertisement in movie section of the local newspaper.  But, again, the advertisement offered even less information than the television commercials — just tantalizing images. 

Some of the kids in our neighborhood had seen the movie — or at least claimed to have done so.  I remember that I couldn’t even get the name of the movie right — I kept referring to it as War Stars for some reason.  My brother and I begged my father to take us to see it.  The first opportunity arose when we were visiting my cousins in Norfolk, Virginia. We went to the local theater only to discover a line that seemed to go on forever. My father — having no personal interest in seeing this movie — declined the opportunity to stand in line for several hours. The next opportunity came when we returned home to Augusta, Georgia.  We made our way across town to the Peach Orchard Movie Theater — the first theater in Augusta to offer two screens. Unfortunately, we encountered the same predicament as we had in Virginia — a line that wrapped around the building.  My father, once again, wisely declined the opportunity to stand in line for several hours — particularly in the hot Georgia sun.  The following Saturday offered yet another opportunity. My brother and I implored my father to get us to the theater well ahead of the appointed movie time. Assuming (correctly) that we would persist until we saw this movie, he made sure that we had positions near the front of the line while he sat in the air conditioned comfort of his car.  It was a smart move. The line — once again — grew to an unimaginable length.  We eventually made our way into the theater — bypassing the distractions of popcorn and cokes — and secured the best seats possible.

I remember sitting in that theater astounded at what I saw on the screen. I remember the dread I felt as Darth Vader lined up Luke’s x-wing fighter on his targeting screen. And I remember being absolutely blown away as the Millennium Falcon appeared out of nowhere to save the day. (As I wrote that sentence, chills — actual chills — went up my spine).  As we drove home in my father’s Ford Thunderbird, I sat in the middle of the backseat looking across the front of his car and through the rectangular hood ornament. I imagined that it was a targeting screen on the Falcon, and I was taking down TIE Fighters one after another.  The oncoming traffic didn't stand a chance.

The idea that the world of Star Wars had its genesis in the head of one person is incredible.  George Lucas may have borrowed concepts and ideas from a wide variety of sources, but he created characters that I genuinely cared about. (I won’t give away any spoilers, but I cried at the end of the latest installment — The Last Jedi). Star Wars seemed real to me. Lucas crafted a story and a movie that enthralled a nine-year old boy sitting in a theater in Augusta, Georgia in 1977. That was an incredible feat.

I didn’t walk out of that theater in 1977 thinking I wanted to be a writer.  But the seed had been planted.  It took years for that seed to germinate — I was in my early forties before I took a shot at writing fiction.  My first middle-grade novel, Secrets of Shakespeares Grave, was released when I was forty-two years old.  But I remember the excitement I felt as I developed the plot and characters. I remember writer’s block giving way to a rush of ideas. I remember the world in my book coming alive to me — and hoping that it would come alive to my readers.

So the answer to the question is, perhaps, inherently self-serving. I write to capture just a bit — a smidgen — of the magic that Star Wars: A New Hope offered to me in such abundance.  I want a little bit of that power for myself — and writing offered and continues to offer me that opportunity.  I want some young reader to gasp at the sudden and unexpected turn of events in my new book, The Van Gogh Deception.  I want that young reader to care about my characters. I want that young reader to yearn for more.  I want that young reader to feel exactly like the nine year old boy sitting in a theater in Augusta, Georgia in 1977.  And that’s why I write.

Borrow The Van Gogh Deception from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Book Trailer Premiere: Mary Had a Little Lab by Sue Fliess; illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis

Hi, Sue Fliess! Thank you for celebrating Mary Had a Little Lab’s book trailer with me. I love that you have created book trailers for most of your books. What do you love/appreciate about book trailers?

Sue: I’m a huge movie trailer fan...For better or worse, I will often base my decision to see a movie on the trailer. Sometimes you can tell when the movie has used all its good jokes in the trailer, or if they don’t show you much at all, they are likely trying too hard to sell it. So I think it’s important in a book trailer to be honest—to show readers what they’ll be getting when they buy my book. I try to leave just enough suspense to not give away the ending, but still let the audience get a true glimpse of what they are going to experience with the book. Also, they are fun to make and it’s a great marketing tool!

What’s a Sheepinator?

Sue: The Sheepinator is Mary’s “best invention ever!” Mary is a little bit lonely, as she spends most of her time in her backyard lab rather than out socializing with other kids, so she decides that having a pet will ease her loneliness. But since she’s a scientist and inventor, she decides she’d rather make one than buy one. From the book’s title and the machine name Sheepinator, you can probably guess what kind of pet she creates. 

Petros Bouloubasis’ illustrations are lovely. What’s your favorite spread or scene?

Sue: Do I have to choose just one? I have at least six favorites! 

Yes, sorry! 

Sue: Some would cause spoilers to describe, so I’ll talk about the spread where she finishes the Sheepinator:

“The new machine is finished!
My best invention ever!”
Then Mary turned the power on
And gently pulled the lever.

I love this because it shows her tinkering with the machine, putting the last touches on, the other kids looking in the window, curious as to what she’s doing. Then we see Mary propped up against the machine pulling the lever with all her might, sweat flying from her brow, grimacing, which proves a funny paradox to the text. I also love that the machine looks pieced together, and is balanced on a random table leg, a stack of books, and other household items. Petros’s illustrations are so Mary!

Please share three adjectives that best describe Mary.

Sue: Smart. Creative. Shy.

Please finish these sentence starters:

On March 1, 2018, Mary Had a Little Lab can be yours! It’s my first STEM-related book, mixing science, chemistry, inventing, humor, friendship and the idea of being yourself. I’m super excited to share it! The book also shows that trial and error is a-okay. So many kids now are terrified to fail. Did you know that Thomas Edison apparently made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb? But he didn’t call them failures, he said “I didn’t fail. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” I love that. To piggyback that thought, this book took many drafts to get right!

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if I have a pet. I do! Thanks for asking. I have an English Labrador Retriever named Charlie. In fact, this book title came to me in a dream, and I’m pretty sure in my dream, I was referring to a dog. But when I realized lab could be laboratory, the story took off. That said, Charlie is not nearly as helpful as Mary’s sheep. Mary’s sheep assists with chores like carrying the groceries and buffing the floors, while Charlie’s biggest accomplishment each day is snuggling all of us, finding the best spot on the couch for a nap, or the best stick to carry on our walks. But that’s okay, we adore him, and he, like Mary’s sheep, helps me make friends wherever I go.

Look for Mary Had a Little Lab on March 1, 2018.