Mr. Schu Reads | Exploring Children's Literature Through Book Trailers
I am a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University and the Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic. I work diligently to put the right book in every child's hand. Book trailers are one way to connect readers with books. (All opinions shared are on own.)
Hello, Ernesto Cisneros! I am GRATEFUL you dropped by Watch. Connect. Read. to share Jay Bendt’s powerful, memorable, and poignant cover illustration for Efrén Divided. I’ve gone back to my email inbox to look at it multiple times since you sent it to me two weeks ago. What went through your head (or heart) the first time you saw it? Ernesto Cisneros: Thank you for having me. I have been a fan of your efforts helping to spread the love of reading to children everywhere. To answer your question, it was not so much a thought, but a mixture of joy and disbelief. Jay did not simply create a beautiful cover, her concept absolutely captured the essence of the story. Like the cover suggests, Efrén’s life is divided. At school, he is a happy, kind-hearted student who loves reading—the kind every teacher would love to have in his/her classroom. However, at home, Efrén puts on a brave face as he struggles to look after his brother and sister once his mother is taken away. Sadly, Efrén’s story is a reoccurring theme I see too often in the lives of the students I teach.
Scenario: One of the students at the intermediate school where you teach reading and writing spots you holding an ARC of Efrén Divided. He asks you what it is about. How would you booktalk it to him?
Ernesto Cisneros: This is a tough question. I think I would point out from my classroom window, toward the nearby neighborhood, and say: It’s simply one of the many stories of families like yours and mine. One of a boy doing his best to help keep his family together at all cost.
I read the following statement on your website: “Life is but a book and you are the author. Make it epic.”
Ernesto Cisneros: What I mean by this is simply that we all have stories to tell. Each of our experiences is unique and equally important. In a sense, we are all authors, and EVERY ONE of our stories is worthy of being told—and that is true of everyone, regardless of one’s skin color or socioeconomic status.
I hope Efrén Divided strikes a chord with any Latinx child who yearns to see themselves represented in books. In addition, I hope it helps break down the walls currently being built by hatred and intolerance, and that it provides support and an understanding of the realities immigrating families experience.
Did you know Efrén Nava might be a fictitious character, but his struggles are very real for thousands of children across this country as well as countries all over the world? I would like to think that most of the hate directed at immigrants could be resolved if only we all had the opportunity to know each other and see that we are in fact more alike than we are different.
School libraries are gateways to the soul. Librarians understand that even the most reluctant reader will read if given the right book, something they can relate to… something they can see themselves in. It is my hope that Efrén Divided's universal theme of love and family will connect with all children (and adults too).
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what inspired this novel, where I got my idea, and why this book is so important to me.
Some time ago, my daughter asked why so much of America was so angry at families like ours for simply trying to make a better life for themselves. “Because they do not know us” was the best response I could give her. And this is pretty much how the book came to be. Not only was it an attempt to have Americans experience America through an entirely different lens, it was also an attempt to let Latino children (my son and daughter included) know that they are worthy of being included on the pages of American literature.
Hello, Ali Standish! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read. What have you been up to since the last time you visited on June 15, 2018?
Ali Standish: Has it really been a whole year?! That’s hard to believe.
Yes! Time is going by so fast. It feels as though you were just here yesterday.
Ali Standish: I’ve been busy working away on August Isle, which just came out in April, Bad Bella, which will hit shelves in December, and most recently, How to Disappear Completely! I also have another exciting project in the pipeline that I can’t wait to share more about soon. And of course, I’ve been connecting with educators and students at conferences, festivals, school visits, and more, which is always energizing and rewarding! Oh, and I have taken up jogging.
Wow! Thanks for including How to Disappear Completely's cover below your update. It is incredibly calming. Please tell us about the scene Yaoyao Ma Van As captured on the cover.
Ali Standish: Isn’t it just? The cover shows the Spinney, a special woodland glade that my main character, Emma, has grown up visiting with her grandmother. This space has always been sacred (and a little bit magical) for Emma, and it represents the innocence and wonder of childhood for her. But when Gram dies and Emma develops vitiligo, suddenly life becomes much less enchanted, and the Spinney becomes a place of mystery and uncertainty.
I love the dazzling light and deep shadows of this composition, which to me really reflects the nature of the fraught—but hopeful—journey we all make from childhood to adolescence. My favorite part of the cover is the enormous sycamore tree, which captures just how beautiful it is to be two colors instead of one.
P.S.: Yaoyao is an incredible artist, and you should definitely visit her website to check out more of her work at https://www.yaoyaomavanas.com!
A local bookseller at Quail Ridge Books asks you to create a shelftalker for How to Disappear Completely. What would you include on the shelftalker?
Ali Standish: Emma has always looked to her grandmother for guidance and support, but when Gram dies and Emma is diagnosed with vitiligo, she must turn inward to find courage and strength. Ultimately, she realizes that her transformation is much more than skin deep. How to Disappear Completely is a novel about the inevitability of change, the magic of resilience, and difference: not only how we treat others who are different, but the ways our own differences can empower us, and even help us become more than we ever thought we could be.
Please finish these sentence starters:
I hope How to Disappear Completely brings awareness to a very common condition that is often poorly understood or totally overlooked. Until my husband was diagnosed, we didn’t know what vitiligo was. (He has several family members who have it!) Then after his diagnosis, we encountered so much misinformation about vitiligo from well-meaning people, and even from his doctors. That’s the last thing you want at such a vulnerable time, but it’s the status quo right now. So this book required a lot of research, including input from folks affected by vitiligo and medical experts, to make sure that its depiction of the condition is accurate. I hope that the story will help normalize conditions like vitiligo, both for readers who have or are already familiar with it (but don’t see it represented enough), and for readers who might be learning about it for the very first time.
More broadly, this novel is about what happens to our identities when we encounter adversity, which we all do at some point during our coming of age journeys. So in that sense, Emma’s conflicts are universal. I hope her story will help readers reflect on how we can rise to meet adversity, the ways that hardships can ultimately make us kinder/stronger/better, and the importance of supporting others who are going through something difficult. I hope, too, that it helps them consider the role stories—both the ones we read and the ones we tell—have in helping us build the resilience we need to work through the challenges life throws our way.
School librarians should be found in Every. Single. School. (On Earth.) They are very often the heart of their school communities, and they are always invaluable resources for students and their fellow educators. In our current climate, it’s supremely important to connect children with narratives that serve as mirrors and windows, that make them question and hope and empathize. Access to a school librarian is crucial to making those connections that, in turn, help create a generation that can do better than the ones that came before it.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about intertextuality (isn’t it obvious??)! I have always loved books within books, but this is the first time I’ve really tried to incorporate a lot of intertextuality into one of my own stories. There are actually two different stories within How to Disappear Completely: the fairytale Emma finds herself co-writing with a mysterious pen pal; and The World at the End of the Tunnel, a fictional Narnia-esque fantasy novel that also happens to be Emma’s favorite book. Ultimately, Emma finds guidance in both of these narratives, and is able to use them to reclaim the magic she felt she lost when Gram died. Probably the most fun and also the most challenging part of writing this novel was finding the right balance for how to integrate the intertextuality into the main narrative. You want it to add just enough to be meaningful without becoming a distraction. I also sprinkled a few poetry references throughout, mostly to gratify my inner English-major and any poetry buffs out there!
Look for How to Disappear Completely on January 28, 2020.
Hello, Cathleen Barnhart! Thank you for stopping by Watch. Connect. Read. to celebrate That’s What Friends Do. Please tell us about the eye-catching scene Oriol Vidal illustrated on the cover.
Cathleen Barnhart: Isn’t it gorgeous? I am blown away, every time I look at it. Oriol captures the colors and mood of a late winter afternoon so beautifully. Sammie and David are hanging out in their fort, which is really a big (dry) drainage tunnel beneath an elevated walking path. They call it Fort Maccabee, and it’s a secret place that they don’t even tell their other friends about. They’re just being together and talking to each other because that’s what best friends do.
Scenario: A teacher-librarian spots you at reading conference holding a copy of That's What Friends Do. She asks you what it is about. You’re running late for a meeting, but you have at least 25 seconds to deliver a succinct booktalk. Ready, set, go!
Cathleen Barnhart: It’s one seventh grade girl’s first #MeToo experience, told in alternating points of view by the girl, Sammie, and by her best friend, David, who’s on the other side of that experience. It’s the story of the misunderstandings that lead to that moment and the damage done by it. It’s a story about navigating boundaries, learning to have hard conversations, and what it truly means to be a friend.
Did you know Samantha Goldstein and David Fischer both discover passions they never knew they had? Well, they kind of knew, but were afraid to pursue those interests. Maybe that describes all of us: don’t we all want to grow and take risks and explore our hidden talents? But sometimes that feels so…risky!
I hope That’s What Friends Dowill spark conversations about admitting when you’ve hurt someone you love, about the power of a genuine apology, and about consent, even in middle school.
Story is what makes us human. It’s how we make meaning of our lives, but also how we get beyond the specificity and limitations of our own experiences. Story is magic, the best kind of magic there is because it’s available to every one of us every day.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how I could have written a novel where neither of the main characters has a pet. I ask myself that often, because animals are such a huge part of my life. I had a cat growing up, and she knew all my woes and worries and joys and dreams. When I was in college, a cat adopted me. I named her Sanchez; what she named me I’ll never know. I brought her to New York after college, and then into my marriage (to a mildly cat-allergic man). I now have a dog, Zeke, and a cat, Scout (and the same mildly allergic husband), and I foster kittens for the Humane Society of Westchester. I socialize them so they can be adopted by other families, and loved by other children. For Sammie and David, though, a cuddly cat or loyal, loving dog wasn’t in the cards. They each needed to be alone, without the comfort of a pet. However, in the novel I’m working on now, the MC has a cat named Mrs. Fluffles. **And, yes, Scout is named after the Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird.
Look for That's What Friends Do on January 28, 2020.
Happy Thursday! Trisha Speed Shaskan and Xindi Yan dropped by to share The Itty-Bitty Witch's book trailer and to finish my sentences. We discussed Betty Ann Batsworth, Halloween, Xindi Yan's illustrations, and picture books. I wrote the words in purple, Trisha wrote the words in black, and Xindi wrote the words in orange. Thank you, Trisha and Xindi!
Itty Bitty Witch trailer - YouTube
The Itty-Bitty Witch’s book trailer has a swirly, pixie dust effect that reminds me of the intro to the TV show “Bewitched” starring one of my favorite witches: Samantha. My husband/children’s book illustrator and author Stephen Shaskan created the trailer and original, fun music for it. Listen for the sound effects!
Betty Ann Batsworth embodies so much of me as a child. I was one of the smallest kids in my class. I wrote poetry. And I practiced many sports—too bad I couldn’t race atop a broom!
The Halloween Dash occurs on Halloween each year at witch school. Each class has their own race where they fly on brooms through the forest.
Xindi Yan’s illustrations beautifully convey the spirit of this story more than I could’ve ever imagined! Xindi has created a textured, rich world filled with floating jack-o-lanterns, skeletons, enchanting characters, and surprises on each page. The illustrations change from daytime to nighttime for the Halloween Dash, capturing the magic of Halloween, a night when children get to roam the streets and collect candy or in this case: A night where young witches race atop their brooms.
Trisha Speed Shaskan’s manuscript for The Itty-Bitty Witch was love at first sight for me! Growing up, I was always the smallest kid in every class. I remember being made fun of for being short, struggling with physical activities and never being able to see in crowds. But I also remember and still do enjoy some of the benefits. Like I rarely have to duck under low branches, or finding solitude and comfort in smaller spaces where other people don’t notice. So a lot of the details in the illustrations are inspired by my personal experiences. I’m so grateful that Trisha decided to write a story about us petite people! On top of that, the visuals of broom racing, magical creatures and witches was irresistible! I knew I had to work on this story from the very first moment!
I hope The Itty-Bitty Witch can inspire everyone who is small in stature, feels small and stifled or just feels scared and different in a new environment to find our strength and voice in our “weaknesses”. Don’t let physical differences get in our way of dreaming big.
On July 16, 2019, Halloween would be brought to you early by a little witch with a big idea! She’s going to steal your heart!
Picture books are beautiful harmonies of experiences, memories and emotions from the writer and illustrator. I loved hearing from Trisha that my artwork reminded her of her childhood, which I had no way of knowing what it was like. And Trisha’s words were like a biography of my childhood as well. We both put little pieces of our souls into this book and it moved both of us deeply. Hopefully it will move those that resinates with Betty as well. And of course, I can’t say this without thanking the brilliant editor Kelsey Skea and art director Merideth Mulroney and the rest of the team at Two Lions. Thank you for your love and respect for my work! And thank you for helping me illustrate this book better than I could have ever imagined!
Hello, Janae Marks! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! It was such a pleasure and honor to meet you recently in Springfield, Massachusetts. Thank you for dropping by to share the lovely cover for From The Desk of Zoe Washington. Please tell us about the significance of the items (cupcake, headphones, envelope, etc.) featured on the cover.
Janae Marks: It was so wonderful to meet you recently, Mr. Schu! Thank you so much for having me here.
I am in love with Mirelle Ortega’s beautiful illustration on the cover, and Laura Mock’s design. All of the objects on and around Zoe’s desk give you a glimpse of who Zoe is and what she experiences in the book. The cookbook and cupcake represent her love for baking. She bakes a lot of sweet treats throughout the story. The envelope and stamps are for the letters Zoe exchanges with her incarcerated father. As for the headphones, I don’t want to give too much away, but Zoe ends up listening to some pretty fun music in the book!
What are three things we should know about Zoe Washington?
1. Zoe’s favorite pizza toppings are pineapple and pepperoni. She calls it “Hawaiian-ish” pizza.
2. She has a close relationship with her grandmother, who plays an important part in the story.
3. Zoe can be very stubborn! While it’s not always a good thing, this trait ends up benefiting her as she solves a mystery.
What planted the seed for From the Desk of Zoe Washington?
Janae Marks: I’ve been a fan of true crime podcasts and documentaries ever since the first season of the mega-hit podcast Serial aired, as well as the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer. Both of these programs feature incarcerated men who may not have actually committed their crimes. I started thinking about how wrongful convictions affect families and wondered: what would it be like to be the child of someone in that position? I dove into research and the idea for From the Desk of Zoe Washington grew from there!
What’s on your desk right now?
Janae Marks: My two favorite beverages (iced coffee and water), a notebook, and a lit candle. On the shelf right under my desk is a pile of books!
I hope From the Desk of Zoe Washington entertains and inspires young readers and adults alike. In the book, Zoe both pursues her dream of baking and stands up for what she believes is right. I hope readers come away from this book wanting to do the same.
School librarians are amazing human beings who deserve all of the praise in the world! I’m looking forward to visiting schools and meeting more librarians once the book is available.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what From the Desk of Zoe Washington is about! Here’s the description:
Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write next. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime?
A crime he says he never committed.
Could Marcus really be innocent? The truth is somewhere out there, and Zoe is determined to uncover it. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from her mom and stepdad. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship, and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. It’s been Zoe’s dream to become a star baker, and she can’t afford to mess anything up. Her best friend and neighbor Trevor would’ve been her confidante through all this, but Zoe’s not speaking to him anymore. She’ll have to figure this out alone. With bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies. This captivating novel by debut author Janae Marks follows one courageous girl as she questions assumptions, searches for the truth, and does what she believes is right, even in the face of great opposition.
Thank you, Mr. Schu, for helping me celebrate my cover reveal!
Thank you, Janae! Congratulations!
Photo Credit: Jerri Graham
Janae Marks is an award-winning children's book author living in Connecticut. She has an MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in Writing for Children and Young Adults from The New School. She is also an active member of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON is her debut novel.
Today is a BIG day for the Little Senses series! Author-illustrator Samantha Cotterill is sending the first two books in the series out into the world. HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY book birthday to Nope. Never. Not for Me! and This Beach Is Loud!
Samantha dropped by to share the cover and the jacket copy for the third book in the series, Can I Play Too?
Click! Clack! Snap! Two friends are building a train track!
But one of the boys has a vision of exactly how the train should look, and isn’t flexible when his friend joins in. It seems like a disaster for both the train and the friendship, until a kind teacher steps in and explains how to read his friend’s social cues of happiness, frustration, or anger in a fun and relatable way…
Below is an interview from October 30, 2018. Scenario: You’re at the New York School Library Conference in Upstate New York when an elementary school teacher-librarian spots you holding copies of Nope. Never. Not for Me! and This Beach Is Loud! Teacher-Librarian: I love those covers. Do you have a moment to tell me what both books are about?
Samantha: Of course! And being that I live in Upstate NY, I’m in no rush to get home and thus happy to talk for many a moment more if need be.
How do you respond? I’m so honored to have you reach out and ask about these books. These are the first two of a four book series about to come out, with the hope of more to come after that. It’s my goal to have this series accessible to any child in school that may feel misunderstood and need to connect with a character that experiences and understands the struggles that can be common with many a child on the spectrum or with sensitivities/anxieties in general. The light-hearted and gentle approach these books have in regards to handling overwhelming moments make it accessible for all the kids in the classroom, and thus a great tool for teachers to raise awareness and understanding with others... ultimately creating an atmosphere of compassion and support. Beyond the classroom, bringing the books home can be a good catalyst to start conversation between parent and child as well as help siblings and other family members gain a better appreciation for how these kids view the world.
Please finish these sentence starters:
Picture books are an obsession of mine. I spend more money on picture books than anything else. I love that they can transport you to a completely different world, and the artwork that has been coming out the past few years is absolutely mind blowing (and intimidating at times ;))
Story is unique to everyone, and in this case mirrors the idea that “If you meet one child with autism, then you’ve met one child with autism”. Each one of us may share many a similarity, but we all have a different story to tell. And it’s those collections of stories that help us gain a feeling of connection and support knowing we are not alone.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if I live in Upstate New York. I do. So perhaps there’s a chance to experience that above mentioned scenario for real?
Hello, Joy McCullough! Thank you for stopping by to celebrate A Field Guide to Getting Lost’s fabulous cover. What ran through your head (or heart) the first time you saw Isabel Roxas’ cover art?
Joy McCullough: Early on, I got to see a bunch of different sketches for different directions the cover might go and they were all so wonderful. I was blown away by how much Isabel had captured of the characters and the story. Artists are magical to me, and Isabel’s wizardry is some of the best in publishing. Seeing how those sketches morphed into the final cover was amazing. There are all sorts of wonderful details that are important to the story, like the bee and the compass, and the kids themselves just perfectly depict the Sutton and Luis in my mind (and heart).
What are four things we should know about Sutton and Luis?
They are both much more comfortable indoors than outdoors.
They both live with single parents—Sutton with her dad and Luis with his mom.
They are both very creative, but in totally different ways.
They are both very brave, but in totally different ways.
What planted the seed for A Field Guide to Getting Lost?
I was on a hike – or more of a meander, really, as I am also not at all athletic or outdoorsy – and we weren’t exactly lost, but we couldn’t find the parking lot. My dad said something goofy about being lost in the park, and my first thought was that there might be a picture book there. That morphed into a chapter book and then into the middle grade novel it is now.
Please finish these sentence starters:
I hope A Field Guide to Getting Lostfinds the readers who need it, the ones who maybe feel a little lost themselves for whatever reason and will find traveling companions in Sutton and Luis.
Story is connection.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me to name some of my favorite new middle grade books! The Moon Within by Aida Salazar, Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca, Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez, Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai, and The Line Tender by Kate Allen.
Hello, Mike Ciccotello! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. I really enjoyed chatting with you a few weeks ago in Springfield, Massachusetts. I’m grateful you stopped by to share the book trailer for Twins. What should everyone know about Twins before pressing play?
Mike Ciccotello: TWINS is a sweet and silly celebration of the similarities and differences of twinship. There’s something here for everyone to relate to–whether you have a biological twin, a close sibling, or even a best friend.
Twins Book Trailer - YouTube
What came first: the text or the illustrations?
Mike Ciccotello: Isn’t that a wonderful thing about creating both pictures and text? It could go either way. In the case of TWINS, the idea was sparked from an illustration, which lead to a draft in text. After that, it was a back-and-forth conversation between text and illustration until the dummy was complete. I like to keep an open mind when creating, and try to let the story reveal itself to me either way.
What would we see if we visited your studio?
Mike Ciccotello: Since I work digitally on an iPad, it depends on the day. You might see me on my couch in my living room. Or you might find me at a coffee shop. Or possibly even at the corner of my in-laws’ dining room table. I’ve done a lot of work on that dining room table. Some days I go to the library to work. Some days I go to my actual studio in my basement. Since 2015 I’ve worked on an iPad Pro, and my studio is with me, wherever I go.
Please finish these sentence starters:
I hope Twins speaks to children who are siblings, unlikely soulmates, and, of course, twins. I hope they celebrate their similarities and differences, knowing that if they have a disagreement, a little time apart and compromise can go a long way.
Giraffes are special animals that have figuratively followed me around my whole life– whether it was the giant giraffe mural in my playroom as a kid, or characters I created for cartoon strips. I kind of wish one would literally follow me around though. I think that would be kind of neat. Don’t you think it would be fun to have a giraffe as a friend?
Picture books are little worlds waiting to be discovered by children. They are magical vessels of emotion, adventure, history, and anything else you could dream up. Witnessing children connecting with picture books is such a delight.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why the color of the boy’s shirt changes over the course of the book. In the beginning of the story, when I’m accenting their similarities, the boy’s shirt is yellow, like the giraffe. But I wanted to visually reinforce their differences when they begin to disagree, so then I changed the boy’s shirt to a light purple, or lavender, which is an opposite and contrary color in relation to yellow. As the story draws to a close—and the sun sets (in purples and yellows)—I wanted to make the point that these colors (and these twins) can work beautifully together.
MIKE CICCOTELLO received a BFA with a concentration in painting from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. His debut picture book, TWINS, is forthcoming from FSG/Macmillan. Mike’s clients include Scholastic, Highlights magazine and CNN. He has also exhibited at Johnson & Johnson Headquarters and the NY Design Center. Mike is an active member of SCBWI, CBIG, and was a contributing member of AllTheWonders.com. You can find him online at ciccotello.com and @Ciccotello.
Happy Tuesday! Today is Vanessa Bayer and Rosie Butcher's How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear?'s book birthday. I know it will bring comfort to many people.
Vanessa stopped by to chat with me about Rosie Butcher's illustrations, the inspiration for How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear?, picture books, and school libraries. I wrote the words in purple, and Vanessa wrote the words in black. Thank you, Vanessa!
How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear? is a children’s book about what to do if you have a friend who gets sick or is going through a difficult time.
Rosie Butcher’s illustrations are magical! They are the most beautiful, sweet, and thoughtful illustrations of this story that I ever could have hoped for. I am thrilled this book will be an avenue through which people who aren’t familiar with her will get to see her amazing work.
I hope How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear?makes having a sick friend a little less scary, and reminds children (and adults!) that the way that you care for a friend who falls ill or is having a tough time, is to show up and be there for them. They are still the same exact friend who you love very much!
Picture books are such an amazing way to teach children about the endless possibility in the world. I have always loved picture books and I think that love stems from when I was little and my mom would take my brother and me to the library every week and we would just sit and read. And then remember when the “Book It” program happened?? And the library gave you a holographic pin of a book opening and if you read a certain amount of books your classroom got a pizza party? Sorry, what were we talking about, John?
Vanessa Bayer Bears It All | New York Live TV - YouTube
School libraries are…well thank you for that segue, John! I feel like we’re really getting along! School libraries are not only places for students to study and gain academic knowledge, but also places for them to explore new universes and ideas, and to sharpen their own perspectives. They are also safe and sacred spaces. Sometimes my friends and I would eat lunch in the library. The librarians didn’t always love that but I think they made their peace with it?
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what my inspiration for this book was! Well, I’ll tell you. When I was in ninth grade I was diagnosed with ALL which is a form of childhood leukemia. While it was an incredibly challenging time, the support and love from my family and friends made all of the difference. We would laugh and cry and talk and dream. In fact, many of those friends are still my closest friends to this day, and my book is dedicated to them. Thanks for talking to me John!
Thank you, Vanessa! I'm honored you finished my sentences.
Vanessa Bayer is an actor, comedian, and writer originally from Cleveland, Ohio. She now divides her time between New York and Los Angeles. This is her children's book debut.
Rosie Butcher grew up surrounded by books. She lives in East Yorkshire, UK. This is her picture book debut.
Hello, Beth Kephart! Thank you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to share The Great Upending’s intriguing and eye-catching cover. Please tell us about the scene Levente Szabó featured on The Great Upending’s cover.
Beth Kephart: Thank you, Mr. Schu!
Meet Sara and her brother, Hawk, who have stolen away to their favorite tree high above the family farm. Far off in the distance is the renovated silo where an old man is taking refuge—but from what? The pages of art descending like leaves just might offer a clue, but there’s no time to lose. This mystery is unfolding fast.
Scenario: You are walking across the University of Pennsylvania’s campus when one of your former students waves and says hello. He notices you’re holding an ARC of The Great Upending. He asks you what it is about. You need to be somewhere in one minute, but you’re able to spend approximately 25 seconds telling him about it. Ready, set, go!
Beth Kephart: Oh my. My heart is pounding at the prospect. This being me, I’d turn the question around, to find out how my (beloved, they are almost always beloved) student has been. But let’s pretend: “David Marchino,” I’d say. “I can’t believe you asked, for your spirit is tucked firmly inside this book, in the character of the soul-wide kid-with-his-nose-in-a book Hawk. Hawk’s sister is in desperate need of life-saving surgery. The family is crushed by debt on their drought-afflicted farm. When an old man shows up with big troubles of his own, everything these kids thought they were fighting for shifts. Another way to put this: This novel is about caring for people for whom the health care system cannot care, on the one hand. It’s about honoring the imagination, on the other. I’ll send you a copy as soon as I have one, David.”
(Good thing I talk fast.)
Please finish these sentence starters: Sara and Hawk sit up in a tree and out on the roof of their house, spying on the old man who has moved into the renovated silo. Sometimes he rides a unicycle in a circle around the top floor. Sometimes he refuses to answer the door when a strange woman from Manhattan knocks. Sara can only just get a blurry view of this, unless she is borrowing Hawk’s spyglass.
I hope The Great Upending reinforces a message about the value of all lives, no matter who can afford care or not, while leaving readers thinking about the ways in which we must defend our own imaginations.
School librarians are celebrated in The Great Upending. Or, I should say, all librarians are, for when Sara and Hawk go to the little community library to find out more about The Mister, Mrs. Kalin (a librarian named for my favorite second grade teacher) greets them with books that change their lives.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me who Sara in the book is modeled after. The answer: Becca Weust, a young woman with Marfan syndrome, who has taught me extraordinarily important things not just about living with this condition, but about living as well as one must.