Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth by Don Tate

Please watch this video before reading the interview. 

Hi, Don Tate! Happy Tuesday! Thank you for sharing the TERRIFIC fitness video for Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth. I learned so much about you and Eugen Sandow. What inspired you to tell Eugen’s story?

Don Tate: As a kid, I was skinny. Sometimes I got teased about my skinny legs or bony arms. I wanted to get bigger and stronger. When I got older, my dad gave me a bodybuilders nutrition book. It was written by two-time Mr. Olympia winner, Dr. Franco Columbu. I read the book and dreamed of having powerful muscles someday. 

When I grew up, I was still skinny, though. Too skinny to be caught at a gym trying to work out my little legs, I thought. My younger brother, however, was very athletic. He worked out every day. Eventually, he got involved in bodybuilding   and won a statewide contest.

That’s when I realized that if I was going to get stronger, I’d have to do more than just dream about it—I’d have to get more physically active. I joined a gym and lifted weights. For me, the results came quickly. And before long, I was up on stage competing in a bodybuilding contest. And I won two trophies!

It was the best night of my life, and I wanted to share the experience with young readers. But how? I certainly wouldn’t advise third-grader to pump iron. Soon, I discovered a picture of Eugen Sandow lifting a huge barbell. I learned that he was known as the “Father of bodybuilding,” that he organized the very first bodybuilding competition. I related to his childhood dream of building himself up and getting healthy. I agreed with his ideas about the connection between a healthy body and a strong mind. I felt that Sandow’s story was an important one to share with young readers. 

What’s the most interesting thing you learned about Eugen Sandow? 

Don Tate: I learned so many interesting things about Sandow and the lives of strong-people of the Victorian era. I say “strong-people” because women also performed feats of strength in the side-show circuit. Katie Sandwina, born Katharina Brumbach, was a circus strongwoman who, according to legend, once defeated Eugen Sandow in a contest of strength! How about that?

It’s also interesting that Sandow, inspired by the muscularity of the Greek and Roman statues in art museums, actually measured their muscles. Then he worked out to build himself up to look like a Greek sculpture. Talk about life imitating art—Sandow turned himself into a work of art! 

Why should we book talk and support picture-book biographies? 

I visit school libraries all over the country, talking to kids about my books and the process of creating them. When I ask kids what they like to read, they always say nonfiction—true stories. Kids love to learn about real people. 

Biographies are like a portal to real people in history. There’s a lot of crazy and confusing things happening in our world today. Things that many adults don’t understand, much less children. What caused these things happen? How can we make things better? How did people in the past make things better? Did they actually make things better, or worse? It’s complicated. But kids will want to know the truth—they need to know. A good place to begin understanding and learning about each other is by looking at history. Kids can learn so much by studying the lives of people who’ve changed the world in meaningful ways. 

Please finish these sentence starters: 

Picture books are the gateway to literacy.

School libraries are the heart of the school. Seriously, I’ve visited hundreds of schools. The library is always abuzz (even more than the gym. But—shhh!—this is supposed to be a health post). 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about this amazing video presentation. Thanks for the opportunity to talk more about it. The video was created by Curious City. The wonderful people behind this book consulting firm are Kirsten Cappy and Mark Mattos. Together, they create discovery opportunities for children’s literature. What exactly does that mean? Well, in my case, they’ve created booktrailers, and other guides to be used along with my books [http://www.curiouscitydpw.com/tag/don-tate/ In essence, they help my books find readers. They help educators use my books in libraries and classrooms.
Earlier this summer, Kirsten and Mark, who live in Portland, Maine, flew to Austin, where I live. They spent an entire day shooting a video interview of me in my home studio, at the YMCA, and at the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at the University of Texas. I kinda felt like a reality TV star! 

When they returned home, they edited the video and culled images from my “Sandow” book, my bodybuilding competition videos, and photographs. And did you watch the video until the very end? If not, please do—they included a fun post-credits scene! 

I get anxious when a video camera is pointed at me, so I was fairly inarticulate on the day of filming. But Curious City did a masterful job of editing me together! 

Borrow Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

3 Questions and 3 Sentence Starters with James Ponti

Hi, James Ponti! Thank you for stopping by to celebrate the second book in the Framed! Mystery series. What is Florian Bates up to in Vanished?

James Ponti: Hi, Mr. Schu! Thanks so much for having me. In Framed! Florian solved an art heist at the National Gallery and uncovered a spy ring being run out of a Chinese restaurant. So, when Vanished! begins, he’s finding normal seventh grade life a bit boring by comparison. That all changes when the FBI asks him and his best friend Margaret to go undercover at an elite D.C. prep school that has a student body made up of the children of some of Washington’s biggest players including the president’s daughter. Before you know it, they’re on an adventure that takes them everywhere from the White House to a speedboat racing down the Potomac and even a helicopter flying across Chesapeake Bay as they try to unravel a mystery that involves a secret society that’s more than 150 years old and the baffling disappearance of a music prodigy during a performance at the Kennedy Center.

How will you celebrate Vanished’s book birthday on August 22, 2017?

James Ponti: To borrow a sentiment from Hamilton, it will be non-stop. It kicks off with a school assembly first thing in the morning and will include visits to six different schools, including one that has never had an author visit, and culminates with an event at an independent bookstore. The goal is to celebrate books and reading with a diverse group of young people from across my community and encourage them to find their voices and share their stories. (It helps that our little area has produced Zora Neale Hurston, Kate DiCamillo, and John Green, so there’s a lot of local inspiration.) And, since it’s a birthday, I’ve got my fingers crossed that there will be cake somewhere along the way.

What is the best thing about writing for middle-grade readers?

James Ponti: I come out of television writing, which is a completely different culture, so I’ve been amazed by the wonderful friendships that I’ve developed with other writers, educators, and librarians. It’s an encouraging and optimistic environment epitomized by the sentiment Laurie Halse Anderson once shared when she pulled me aside and said, “James, we’re not competitors, we’re co-conspirators.” But as great as that is, the BEST part is meeting the kids. It’s funny because we always talk about readers getting lost in a book, but what these kids do is get found. They find themselves in the characters and when they share that with you, their excitement and enthusiasm is indescribable.

Please finish these sentence starters:

School libraries are monuments to the great American experiment. They serve everyone regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, or economic status. They promote the free exchange of ideas and provide intellectual, physical, and emotional safe haven. I’m a middle aged, middle class, white man living in Florida, yet I’ve had an eleven-year-old Dallas girl wearing a hijab flash a grin and ask me to pose in a picture with her because she loved Molly Bigelow, the protagonist in Dead City. This is amazing and it only happens because of school libraries.

A good mystery plays fair, keeps it fun, and has you guessing all the way until the last page only to give you a solution that in retrospect seems obvious and inevitable. A great mystery does all that AND uses the plot to reveal character so that in addition to your detectives figuring out whodunit, they also learn more about themselves and each other.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what’s the deal with TOAST? It stands for the Theory of All Small Things and it’s the method that Florian developed to solve mysteries. The idea is that people mislead in obvious ways, yet often overlook minor details. Florian believes that it you ignore the big things and add up the little ones it will lead you to the truth. This was important for me because of the fair portion of the previous answer. Florian doesn’t solve mysteries because he knows obscure trivia that happens to come in handy. He solves them because he pays close attention to what’s going on, which is something any kid can do. I love meeting kids who tell me how they now use TOAST in their own lives. It really does work. The other thing you could’ve asked is how I keep my hair so soft, but that’s a secret between my barber and me.

Look for Vanished! on August 22, 2017. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Happy Saturday, Mr. Sharp!

Hi, Mr. Sharp,

Happy Saturday! I hope you're having a relaxing weekend. 

Happy reading!


Friday, August 18, 2017

Author-illustrator Steve Light

Happy Friday! Steve Light dropped by to chat with me about book trailers, Lucky Lazlo, shapes, picture books, school libraries, and more. I wrote the words in purple, and he wrote the words in black. Thank you, Steve! 

 Swap's book trailer is such an exciting way to see my characters come alive. It is my first book trailer ever! It was done by the great Blake Hamilton. I wish it told the whole story, it would be so much fun to watch.

Lucky Lazlo tells the story of a boy in love, the people behind the scenes at a theatre, a mischievous cat and theatre superstitions. The play that is being performed is Alice in Wonderland and it was great fun to design the characters for such a classic story. Please read the author’s note where I list all the theatre superstitions I hid in the illustrations.

Have You Seen My Monster? is a book about a girl who loses her monster at the country fair. There are 20 shapes to find and learn. The 20 shapes are the 20 shapes from the Montessori shape cabinet. I used to teach at a Montessori school. I was even the storyteller there for a few years.

The boy in Have You Seen My Lunch Box? is not based on me. I very rarely misplace something, even as a kid. As a kid I had 3 older sisters so I had to keep an eye on my stuff! I have only lost 2 fountain pens my whole life!

Picture books are magical pieces of story--art that transport you to other worlds. They are treasures. I am so blessed to be able to make children’s books. I knew from a young age that I wanted to draw and make art as my life but never imagined being able to make such beautiful creations.

School libraries are safe places where you can be yourself. I used to hide in the library to escape bullies. One librarian let me sit in the stacks and read--I felt safe there because she did that. Another asked me what I liked. I said drawing and then every day there were art books left in my spot.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my next board book: Blackbird Yellow Sun. I hand printed all the art for it using cardboard and printers ink. Oh, and my new picture book that comes out next year called Builders and Breakers. That one is all about demolition and construction……..and the green wall they build around construction sites in the city. You know, the ones they cut holes in so people can watch what is being built. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid by Kara LaReau; illustrated by Matt Myers

Hi, Kara LaReau! Thank you for returning to Watch. Connect. Read. to celebrate the book trailer for The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid. 

Kara: Thanks so much for inviting me back, Mr. Schu!

What should everyone do before pressing PLAY?

Kara: Have no fear — a new Infamous Ratsos adventure is here!

What planted the seed for The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid, the latest book in the Infamous Ratsos series?

Kara: After I wrote the first Infamous Ratsos story, I had a child of my own — a son — and I happened to watch a documentary called The Mask You Live In, which is all about our society’s narrow definition of masculinity, and how boys are encouraged from an early age to adhere to that definition by withdrawing from authentic friendships, suppressing their emotions, objectifying women, and resolving conflicts through violence.

Learning about this “boy crisis” inspired me to come up with more stories about the Ratso brothers and their friends, in which they encounter (and subvert!) typical gender norms. For instance, The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid is all about how it’s okay to admit we’re afraid, and the many ways we can be brave — whether it’s ringing the doorbell of a “haunted” house, sticking up for someone who’s being bullied, or making new friends.

Ralphie Ratso loves carnivals and arcade games. What’s your favorite arcade game? 

Kara: I always liked the game where you had to throw a ping pong ball at a group of fish bowls filled with goldfish — if you got the ball in a bowl, you won the fish. Sadly, I never won one, but I never stopped trying!

Hi, Matt Myers! What is the most fun thing about creating the illustrations for The Infamous Ratsos series?

Matt: Sketching. Finding a good moment in the story to pull out and bring to life. Working on the characters' expressions to catch the right mood is the trickiest, and most rewarding part.

What adjectives best describe Louie Ratso and Ralphie Ratso?

Matt: They are like real rats in that they are curious, persistent, sneaky, and often misunderstood. Unlike real rats, they are loyal.

Big Lou says you cannot have an arcade without a refreshment stand. Are we more likely to see you standing in line at a carnival for a funnel cake or popcorn? (OR neither???)

Matt: Funnel Cake. If I'm going to eat carnival food, I'm going all out. But no cotton candy. Never liked that stuff. It's like eating hair.

Congratulations on The Infamous Ratsos being named a 2017 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor book. What does a Geisel citation mean to you?

Kara: I still can’t believe it, especially considering the wonderful stories that have been named Honor Books over the years, many of which my son and I consider our favorites. The Infamous Ratsos is in some pretty famous and fabulous company — and that continues to be an honor for me on every level!

Matt: It means I was right about this book! What I mean is that when I first saw the manuscript, so before I could claim to have anything to do with the book, I thought it was something special. I feel proud that I did a good job bringing the story out into the visual world, but really, it was already there. 

Look for The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid on September 12, 2017. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: Ruby Rose, Big Bravos by Rob Sanders and Debbie Ridpath Oh

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is one of most creative and nicest people I have ever met. I'm thrilled she dropped by Watch. Connect. Read. to share the FANTASTIC book trailer for Ruby Rose, Big Bravos. Thank you, Debbie! 

Hi, Mr. Schu!

I’m delighted to debut the trailer for RUBY ROSE, BIG BRAVOS, a new Ruby Rose picture book written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by yours truly. Our new book comes out from HarperCollins Children’s on August 29th.

I’m also excited about this trailer because I wrote the music and I performed it on my new keyboard! Here’s a bit about my musical background, if anyone’s curious. Also, it’s my very first book trailer project created using Adobe Premiere Pro, a software program I am gradually learning.

RUBY ROSE, BIG BRAVOS is a fun story about a young dancer who decides to put on her own recital. With the help of Bearishnikov, Ruby Rose works hard to prepare, including making her own tickets, posters, invitations and decorations - she is very excited! But then bad weather looms, and Ruby Rose has to decide whether or not to let a thunderstorm ruin her plans.

Here’s how author Rob Sanders came up with the idea:

“The initial idea for RUBY ROSE—BIG BRAVOS came about when I was brainstorming a best friend for Ruby. I watched an episode of Antiques Roadshow that featured vintage teddy bears and then watched an old documentary about Mikhail Baryshnikov. VoilĂ ! Bearishnikov was born. His character became a wise, silent friend who doles out great advice. I wanted the story to focus around a dance recital—but one that could be totally of Ruby and Bearishnikov’s making. I live in sunny Florida which is known for its summer rainy season and which is also the lightning capital of the world, so a thunderstorm became the antagonist in the story. Since RUBY ROSE—OFF TO SCHOOL SHE GOES included Ruby’s mom, I wanted this story to introduce her dad. I combined all those ingredients to create RUBY ROSE—BIG BRAVOS. And so RUBY ROSE, BIG BRAVOS was born!”

You can find sample illustrations, a classroom guide, info about the first RUBY ROSE book, and other bonus info at: DebbieOhi.com/rubyrose and RobSandersWrites.com.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ten not-to-be-missed picture books published in 2017 #pb10for10

Happy Thursday! Librarians, classroom teachers, administrators, authors, illustrators, and book lovers are celebrating August 10 by sharing picture books they are excited about. Make sure you follow #pb10for10 on Twitter! 

Click here to view the Pinterest board I created for #pb10for10. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Happy Saturday, Mr. Sharp!

Hi, Mr. Sharp,

I know! I know! I need to buy a new phone. Once again, I ran out of space before I was done talking. So it goes! 

Have a wonderful weekend!


Please click here to watch Mr. Sharp's video. 

Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds 

Slacker by Gordon Korman 

Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: Tea with Oliver by Mika Song

Hello, Mika Song! Thank you for stopping by to share the book trailer for Tea with Oliver. 

Hello, Mr. Schu! 

I’m so excited to debut the trailer for Tea with Oliver with your readers. Tea with Oliver is my author-illustrator picture book debut from HarperCollins. It publishes in just a few days- August 8, 2017.

It’s about a cat named Oliver who is not like other cats and really just wants to have tea and cookies with a friend. Philbert is a shy but determined mouse who lives under Oliver’s couch. He would love to have tea with Oliver but can’t seem to get his attention. He tries sending him letters all kinds of different ways but nothing seems to reach Oliver. And then one day a crazy cat party shakes things up enough for Oliver to see his best friend is right under his couch.

When I decided to pursue children’s books, I found myself spending a lot of time alone in my apartment trying to get my work noticed by agents. I was sending a lot of letters, kind of like Philbert and talking to myself, kind of like Oliver. It made me appreciate the people in my life. The character of Oliver is also inspired by a close friend who likes to throw grand tea parties.

I hope this book helps kids who are wondering about making friends especially during back to school time and encourages all kids to look out for someone in need of a friend. The book’s speech bubbles and dual characters make it a natural fit for splitting into parts to be read aloud by small groups of 2 or 3 or for partnered reading. And if that inspires a few unlikely friendships nothing would make me happier.

Look for Tea with Oliver on August 8, 2017. 

An Interview with Jaime Kim, Illustrator of La La La: A Story of Hope

Hi, Jaime Kim! La La La: A Story of Hope is absolutely stunning. I cannot wait until it is sent out into the world on October 3, 2017.  How did you approach the story? 

Jaime Kim: I must have read Kate's story dozens of times. Though it was very succinct and abstract, I could sense that there was a lot going on in there. I tried my best to feel the things that she was trying to express, and strove to capture the story's ambiance in the illustration as much as possible. As I fleshed out the very strong narrative framework Kate Dicamillo provided, I tried to make the details as beautiful as possible.
Illustration Credit: Jaime Kim 

What spoke to you about the story?

Jaime Kim: Preparing the project, I read a lot of picture books written and illustrated by other writers and illustrators. I also watched some movies and animated features. I tried to gain inspiration from all sorts of sources. However, while such attempts were helpful on the technical side, the most important source of inspiration turned out to be myself. I tried to bring back myself into my childhood, and the feelings I felt back then. I jotted these feelings down in a notepad. Then I projected my childhood personality onto the main character.

Illustration Credit: Jaime Kim 
What was the biggest challenge of the project?

Jaime Kim: An absence of text made it difficult to express the emotions. I kept worrying that the readers would not interpret the story as I intended. Every time such a concern hit me, I tried to imagine that I was creating an animated film. I imagined how the main character would look like if she was really moving. I took such imagined movements and facial expressions to develop emotional cues that can be easily understood by the readers.

What was the most fun part ?

Jaime Kim: Character design was definitely the most fun part, without a doubt. It was the most challenging part as well, but also the most enjoyable part at the same time. I gave much thought on what kind of character would fit perfectly with Kate’s story. I even thought of creating a character who was not a human. Ultimately, I decided that a little girl is best suited to the story. As I mentioned, I reflected my childhood into the main character, but actually the outward appearance was largely inspired by my little sister during her childhood. The short-haired girl closely resembles my sister when she was little. Whereas I was an introverted and quiet girl, my sister had a wide range expressions. I suppose you could say that "the girl" is an amalgam of me and my sister, who was also my first friend.

Click here to read my interview with Kate DiCamillo. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Book Trailer Premiere: La La La: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo & Jaime Kim

Hello, Kate! Happy Thursday! Thank you for celebrating La La La: A Story of Hope with me. It is always an honor when you finish my sentences. 

Kate DiCamillo: Hello back to you, Mr. Schu. It is always an honor when you ask me to finish your sentences.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom and words with the world.

La La LaA Story of Hope tells the story of connecting, of seeing and being seen. In many ways, it is the story of story and me.

Jaime Kim’s illustrations knock me right off my feet. They make me feel like a kid. They fill me with hope and wonder.
Illustration Credit: Jaime Kim
On October 3, 2017, kids and adults will get to sing with Jaime and me.

Music helps us to connect to each other and to the world.

Illustration Credit: Jaime Kim
Picture books are a song.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if I can sing.

I can't.  

As a matter of fact, there were many times when I was asked *not* to sing.  As in "Kate, why don't you just mouth the words?" 

But making books *feels* like singing.  And that is a grand thing.

Look for La La La: A Story of Hope on October 3, 2017! 

Come back tomorrow to read an interview with Jaime Kim.