Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Cover Reveal: Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case by Elizbeth Eulberg

Dear Elizabeth Eulburg, 

Happy Tuesday! I hope 2018 is off to a terrific start for you. I'm grateful you agreed to take over my blog for the day to discuss Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case. Many, many thanks!

Happy reading and writing!

-John Schu

P.S. I LOVE Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case's cover. It is FANTASTIC! 


Writers, like detectives, have to be good at keeping secrets. It can be hard staying quiet while working away at something. But then the big reveal comes! And just like Shelby Holmes, I enjoy a nice, big, juicy reveal. So I’m beyond thrilled that Mr. Schu is sharing the cover of The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case.


Every Shelby Holmes case starts with inspiration from an original Sherlock Holmes story. I’d already tackled kidnapping (or more appropriately, dognapping) in The Great Shelby Holmes, and blackmail and secret identity in The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match, so I wanted to do something different for book three. A fan of puzzles and codes as a kid, I went to one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories featuring a very famous puzzle: The Dancing Men. In this case, Sherlock and Watson discover a substitution cipher, a secret code in which each symbol represents a letter. The symbols were stick figures that resembled…dancing men!  

Hmm…I began to wonder about a case for Shelby and my Watson that could involve a cipher. Maybe ballerinas? But then it hit me. No. Figure skaters! I was obsessed with figure skating when I was younger. Plus, what would horrify Watson more than having to go undercover as a figure skater? (This is when I admit that writers like to embarrass their characters, or at least, this one does—although I try to make it up to them. Sometimes.) I knew figure skating was also a rife opportunity for Shelby to use science, because why practice skating when you can study the physics of figure skating instead? While I do like to keep certain aspects of their cases a secret, I can reveal that there is a lot of falling on one’s tushy in this book.

With each Shelby Holmes case, I have to go in knowing every element before writing: what the case is, who the suspects are, who did it, who I want the reader to think did it, the clues to solve the case, how they find those clues…everything! The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case added another element. I not only had to design a cipher, I had to know how Shelby and Watson could break it. That was a mystery in itself.
                                                                          Enter fun facts about the English language! For example, E is the most used letter in the English language. The most common three letter word is the—oh hey, it also features the most common letter. But if it doesn’t contain that letter, it might be and, for, but, you… I also used—I mean Shelby and Watson used—simple grammar rules to figure out other characters. So they start breaking down the cipher bit by bit.

The problem was I had to build the ciphers working first with the clues they would need. If they find this can they break it? Do I need to reword this clue to have more Es? At one point my apartment was covered in alphabets and different codes. For a while there I was like Russell Crowe’s character in A Beautiful Mind. But like every good case, I finally got a break and knew exactly what the ciphers would say to make it difficult, but not impossible, for Shelby and Watson (and the reader!) to break the code.


Not saying they did solve it. Got to save some suspense for later. Especially for September 4th when The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case hits bookshelves!  Until then, I hope you love the cover—it’s one of my favorites! Hmm… who is that shadowy figure in the back? That doesn’t look good for a figure skater before a big competition! Not at all! Good thing Shelby and Watson are on the case!


Look for Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case on September 4, 2018. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Book Trailer Premiere: Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World

Hello, Susan Hood! I hope you’re having a wonderful birthday. Thank you for finishing my sentences and for celebrating Shaking Things Up with me on your special day.

Susan Hood: Hi, Mr. Schu! I’m happy to be back. It’s such an honor to share SHAKING THINGS UP with you. It’s a book I worked on days, nights and weekends last year and I’m so excited to have you launch it into the world.


The book trailer for Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World offers a peek at the gorgeous collage cover hiding under the book jacket and at the stunning art inside the book.


Selina Alko, Sophie Blackall, Lisa Brown, Hadley Hooper, Emily Winfield Martin, Oge Mora, Julie Morstad, Sara Palacios, LeUyen Pham, Erin Robinson, Isabel Roxas, Shadra Strickland, and Melissa Sweet are a dream team of illustrators. Among them, they’ve won just about every award known to children’s literature—the Caldecott, Sibert, Orbis Pictus Award, Ezra Jack Keats Award, Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Award, Golden Kite Award—not to mention being on the New York Times bestseller list. Each of these women artists brought her own special talents and vision to the book so readers get a surprise each time they turn a page.

The illustrators and I had a unique way of working. After my editor and I chose the fourteen women featured in the book (a huge project in itself), I did extensive research and sent notes off to the illustrators. So the artists were doing sketches while I was polishing the text. Then something magical happened. The art started coming in and transformed the way I wanted to write the words. The illustrations so inspired me that, with my editor’s blessing, I scrapped the prose I had been working on and wrote a nonfiction poem for each woman instead. I chose different types of poems for each personality. So champion swimmer Annette Kellerman, whose modern one-piece bathing suit was scandalous in the early 1900s, inspired a limerick. The paragraphs about paleontologist Mary Anning evolved into a concrete poem in the shape of an ichthyosaur. The poem about secret agents Jacqueline and Eileen Nearne is a nod to e.e. cummings who was accused of being a spy himself. Librarian Pura Belpré’s prose turned into an alphabet poem, with a spine poem in the art.


The women featured in Shaking Things Up are all girls and young women, many not much older than our young readers. Ruby Bridges was six years old when she integrated schools; Mary Anning was thirteen when she dug up evidence of extinction and evolution (forty-seven years before Charles Darwin wrote about it). Each woman in the book faced adversity—illness, poverty, war or discrimination—and powered through to achieve something extraordinary. They fought fires, braved Nazis, changed the way we eat, championed sports, exposed corruption, improved medicine, and blasted off into space. The world is a better place for all of us because of them.



School libraries are magic portals. Step inside and you can journey to the past, present, or future. You can meet anyone, anywhere, and get to know someone really important—yourself.


Picture books are like acorns—there’s something big inside. They’re like prisms, casting color and light. They’re like periscopes, lighthouses and footprints; they help us peek at the world, guide us home, and show us where we’ve been. They’re protective like umbrellas and hugs. Most of all, picture books are havens of hope.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I wrote this book.

I wrote it in honor of anyone who has been overlooked, interrupted, brushed aside, or silenced; for anyone who wonders if she can push past the naysayers to do what she wants to do and be who she wants to be. I wrote it for my two grown daughters and my new baby granddaughter and hope it empowers all children—girls and boys—to know what’s possible when you stand up, speak up, and shake things up! 


Look for Shaking Things Up on January 23, 2018. 

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 and...well...you’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.