Category Archives: Interviews

Hope, Heart, Octopuses and Squids: An Interview with Agent Tricia Lawrence

The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Now that THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS has officially begun swimming into the hands of lucky readers everywhere, we Emus wanted to talk to one of author Ann Braden’s partners on her path to publication: agent extraordinaire, Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Emu Emeritus Elaine Vickers caught up with Tricia to find out her perspective on Ann’s tenacity and heart, hope, and invertebrate creatures of the deep.

Elaine: THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS has already received rave reviews, including a star from School Library Journal. What is it about this story that makes it so special?

Tricia: This story is special because it’s an Ann story and each story she writes comes from a her heart. This one in particular was so apt and timely because of the economic disparities it focuses on and it gives kids who live this story every day a bit of hope, at least I hope.

Elaine: The title of the book comes right from Chapter 1 and is tied to a question Zoey’s teacher asks of the class–and a question I’m going to ask of you now: Which animal is the best? Like Zoey’s teacher, we’d love a few details to support your answer.

Tricia: I love a good octopus, but I’m a huge fan of the giant squid. Why? I always wanted one (before they were even seen on camera, when we only knew they existed but hadn’t filmed one yet). They are able to battle whales, and any cephalopod is just a cool animal.
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Elaine: What is your favorite thing about working with Ann?
Tricia: Ann is a professional, always. This is a confusing and frustrating business, but she makes it look effortless. Don’t let her fool you, it’s because she works hard and doesn’t give up. Ann has a big heart. It shows. She loves this work and the kids she writes for so much!
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Elaine: Who do you picture as the perfect reader for this book?
Tricia: Any reader who feels the world has passed them by, because there is always hope.
Elaine: What experience do you hope readers have with this novel?
Tricia: That they walk a little braver, stand up a little straighter, settle into who they are more than they ever have before.
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We trust you are even more intrigued and ready to read THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS, now available to spread hope and octopus facts everywhere. Please come on over to Ann Braden’s website to learn more about the author, upcoming events, resources for teachers and librarians, and what Tricia Lawrence might mean when she calls this moving book an “Ann story.” (And see if you can find out where she got this tentacular dress!)

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AN OCTOPUS IS BORN

The Benefits of Being an OctopusWe Emus are fluffing our feathers in proud excitement to announce that Ann Braden’s MG novel The Benefits of Being An Octopus will celebrate its book birthday tomorrow, September 4th.  If only we had tentacles to wave in joy as well!

Read on to learn more about the book’s amazing author and her axe-shaped necklace, about how teachers can’t wait to use it to help students expand their empathy, and how librarians can advise patrons on its appeal factors. We’ll also have a whole ‘nother post about the benefits of being an actual octopus!

 

An Interview with Ann Braden

by Anna Redding

Anna: This book is written in first person. To do that, you really have to know your character.  Zoey’s voice comes through crystal clear, illuminating her world

and way of thinking right out of the gate. It’s so well done, I have to ask, was that something yVersion 3ou focused on crafting or did Zoey’s voice come to you with this kind of clarity?

Ann: Zoey’s voice came to me like that. It’s hard to describe, but in my heart I was Zoey when I was writing the book, so I just wrote down what I knew she would say or think.  For me, it wasn’t about craft, it was just about listening.

Anna: When we first step into this incredible story, we step into a Zoey’s fascination with Octopuses (which we learn from her, doesn’t have to pronounced octopi, thank you very much). What is so brilliant, is that you suck us right into her irresistible curiosity, her enthusiasm, her lovable personality. The connection between reader and Zoey is immediate and as deep as when you bump into a new true best friend. Which is important, because this makes it possible for us to really go “there.” And, in this case,you are illuminating a story that often goes untold in America. Tell me about your decisions in crafting this aspect of the book.

Ann: When I was in the very early stages of conceptualizing the book, I read The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, and I was utterly captivated. I loved that octopuses were so much like us –they form relationships,have different personalities, and are super intelligent – yet they had evolved in such a different way. I think there are parallels of that amongst people, too: we all have different experiences growing up (some vastly different), but at the end we’re all trying to do the best we can. And the more I explored the connection between octopuses and Zoey, the more she became just as obsessed with octopuses as I was. 

Anna: At the same time, this story will be familiar to many readers who see themselves and their families in these pages… and yet their lives and experiences are often not on the subject of books. Have you heard from readers or teachers about what an important story this if for readers to be truly ‘seen’?

Ann – Yes. For kids growing up outside of the white, middle class culture, books that also take place in that culture can be an extra reminder that they don’t belong. (And of course, on the flip side of this, kids who are growing up in that culture can too easily ignore the range of other experiences if that’s all they see.) When I was teacher myself, I taught in several different schools, and I knew that there were kids like Zoey in every single one of them. My gut told me this had to be true on a broader scale, and the feedback I’ve been getting from teachers has confirmed that. And too often those kids have become so good at making themselves invisible that they fall through the cracks. But when we have books that discuss the issues that are central to their lives (but are rarely talked about in school) we are creating an opportunity for those students to see themselves as valued and to potentially connect in a way they hadn’t before. And EVERY SINGLE STUDENT deserves to feel valued and connected. 

Anna: I loved what School Library Journal had to say about THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS in their starred review: “Heartbreaking, beautifully written…Braden’s story raises many thought-provoking and timely questions about the difficulty of escaping poverty and the prevalence of fun violence.” That is such a powerful summary of a powerful book. What do you hope readers will take away from the pages of your book?

Ann: I hope that they come away recognizing their own strength (even if it’s not something that can be seen by others)and realize that how much money someone has has nothing to do with how hard they are working. And that no matter how powerless you feel, you always have the power of your voice.yelling emu

Anna: This is a ‘must-read’ for schools and classes. How can teachers tie this into curriculum and for students, who are inspired to take action in their own communities, what ideas do you suggest or resources can you point them to?

Ann: I’m really excited about the conversations this book has already started. And since the book brings up topics that aren’t often discussed, it can be good to have supports in place. Here is an Educator’s Guide that I put together in partnership with Equity Solutions, a non-profit focused on leading powerful conversations about economic class with people from all kinds of class backgrounds. Besides discussion questions, it includes extension activities, such as analyzing a budget of someone who only gets paid minimum wage and working to find the common ground of a controversial topic in the community. I also created a Flipgrid where educators can reflect on key questions in the books and discuss. Plus, the introductory video on the Flipgrid highlights a few key ways to make sure that discussions of the book are empowering for kids. 

Anna – Lastly, sometimes in life, in the most difficult of circumstances, you can see a lifeline emerge from the fog. For Zoey, it’s joining the debate club. What would you say toreaders about paying attention to those unexpected lifelines?

Ann – We never know where a choice will lead us, and it’s amazing what can happen when we say “Yes” to things. Even a small step forward can shift the ground beneath us in the best of ways. Still, sometimes if your head is down and you’reworking as hard as you can, no matter how many steps forward you try to take it seems like nothing will ever change. That’s when we need to be able to rely on allies who are ready to listen and those who are ready to team up and work to change the  underlying systems that make it so hard for some to make end meet. We all have to look for the opportunity to be lifelines for each other. Because when you’re in that fog, it’s often not possible to do it on your own. We have to remember that we’re all in this together.

Anna – Okay, one more question. For all readers (of all ages), there is a message about taking hold of your own potential, which is why this book is hopeful. What would you say to us about this idea of claiming your own power as your hope?

 Ann – Our own power is the tool that is ALWAYS with us, whether we can see it or not, and it’s up to us whether we wield it. When I was about two years into leading a movement in support of common ground gun laws in Vermont, something that I had never thought I would do and something that taught me I was far stronger than I had thought, I was catching my breath in the midst of months of 60-hour weeks. And in that quiet moment I was reminded that way back in middle school I had also discovered that I was stronger than I thought because that was when I first got into chopping wood. In that moment, I splurged on a small axe charm and I hung it around my neck because I knew there were many more steps I needed to take to help get gun laws passed, and I wanted to make sure I always remembered my own strength – and most importantly, remembered to wield it.Silver-Axe-Accessory

 I kept that necklace around my neck in am-packed statehouse committee rooms and when I was the target of online bullying. And those people who were trying to intimidate me into silence weren’t able to. Because at the end of the day, my eyes were focused on the kind of civil discourse I believed the issue deserved and I had faith in myself that I could help make that happen. That’s why I had hope, and, ultimately, landmark legislation was able to get passed. Zoey’s situation is similar. She had hope because she had memories of what her mom used to be like, and she found a way to keep her eyes focused on what she loved. And when that hope was combined with her courage to use her voice, it shifted the ground beneath her. Maybe all kids get that same chance to find their voice and use it.

 


The Realities Students Face: A Discussion with Teachers

by Kat Shepherd

Ann Braden’s long-awaited debut, The Benefits of Being an Octopus, is a powerful read that is sure to be a staple for schools and libraries for years to come. It received a starred review from School Library Journal, and it’s gone into a second printing before it’s even been released. Following the story of seventh-grader Zoey, it is a deftly-told tale that is both heartbreaking and hopeful. Octopus highlights struggles faced by students living in poverty, and takes an honest and compassionate look at how those struggles play out both inside and outside the classroom. Zoey’s teacher, Ms. Rochambeau, plays an important role in Zoey’s life, so I decided to invite some educators to share their thoughts on this beautifully-written novel.Octopus123

Q: When I read Zoey’s story I so wanted her to have that fairytale ending where everything works out perfectly, but the ending of this book, while hopeful, isn’t that perfect fairytale. Why is it important for kids to have books that don’t always have the perfect happy endings we want for characters?

Erin Varley: There are so many books out there that already have the fairy tale endings, so it’s just as important to have a lot of books that don’t have that ending. Life isn’t fairy tale perfect and kids figure that out really fast. In fact, for kids like Zoey, they figure it out too fast. For a kid to see that life, while not perfect, can still offer hope, well that’s just as important. Kids know when they are being lied to, and sometimes fairy tales can seem like that. They don’t buy the lies. Books like Octopus offer an alternate path that still is positive, but also realistic.

Kristin Crouch: I love the ending and agree that it not being perfectly wrapped up is a strength of the novel. In my school, I have so many fifth graders in transition. I’ve taught children in shelters, children who’ve moved several times through a year, children who move in with friends (resulting in 14 people in one two bedroom apartment), children in houses that have been condemned, children living in hotels until a new apartment is found (and those are just housing transitions!). Ending the book with Zoe in transition shows my students that transition is not, in and of itself, an ending… It proves what the teacher tries to convey to Zoe~ that she is not the product of her circumstance. She can, and will, make more of her experiences, but that doing so is not a quick, easy fix. It will take years of working hard to overcome her challenges.

Jennifer Druffel: I loved that it was not a fairytale ending! Kids need realistic books that mirror their own lives and see characters that can be strong despite their circumstances. Also, for kids who have never experienced such hardships, it helps them put themselves in someone else’s shoes and be less judgmental about their peers’ circumstances.

Cassie Thomas: Real life is not perfect, in any way. It’s so important for kids to be able to relate to stories, and if every student just reads books where everything turns out good in the end then in their life they may feel defeated and unsure. Every year I read Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson out loud to kids and the ending is not happy, it’s not perfect, but it’s real, and it leaves my students with jaws dropped and questions. Then they realize that in life they don’t get happy endings for every single thing. It’s a great message to have discussions over.

Q: Many adults have concerns that books dealing with issues like poverty and domestic violence are “too adult” for children to be exposed to. As a teacher, how do you respond to those concerns?

EV: Well, first I like to make sure each parent is heard. To be honest, I defer to the parent. If a parent tells me they don’t want a certain title being read by their child, I respect their wishes. However, I don’t remove the book from my library. Just because the book isn’t right for one certain child, doesn’t mean the same thing for every child. There might be another child in that same class that finds that book to be a lifeline, as I know Octopus might be.

KC: While I’m on the bandwagon that yes, these topics and concepts are too tough for kids, the fact is the kids who are exposed to it must know they are not alone. They are not invisible, they should not be hiding, and they will get through it.

JD: I would never force a student to read such a book. And if a parent is concerned, I’d ask them to read it first before they let their child read it so they can be the judge for their own child, but NOT for other people’s children!

CT: I teach 5th grade, and this comment irks me in a lot of ways. These students are SO mature and they truly know so much already. If they don’t, they are so eager to learn. When discussing social justice last year I had some outside people say this exact same thing, and my response was Do you know what your child is watching on TV? On their iPad? What the lyrics in their music actually say/mean?  Because they do, they totally know. They are smart and they want to be treated like an adult, especially at this age. I make sure I choose my words wisely, but we do have discussions. The reality is that some kids in class ARE experiencing that life, who are we to act that it doesn’t happen when it is reality for some.

(Name Withheld): When I read Octopus I immediately said… “THIS is what my kids deal with.” Honestly… this book is exactly what some of my kids go through on a daily basis. The trailer park, watching their younger siblings, new boyfriends/girlfriends all the time. Not that this makes any of the parents bad people or bad parents, and I know that everyone is doing the best they can, but I know that some of my students deal with a lot and have a lot of responsibility that I never had as a kid. Which makes this book even more important to include in my library!! It is the first book I’ve read that I really felt MY student’s struggles come through.

Q: When you read this book how did you envision it as a teaching tool in your own classrooms?

EV: I’m not sure I plan to read this book as a read aloud, but def as one to include and book talk in my classroom. I thought perhaps an excerpt would work as a discussion tool. Many tough topics are written with grace and hope, and kids need to see that tough times are not the end of the world, that things can get better, and that sometimes people need help or are doing the best they can in that moment.

KC: I was hoping to use this book to spark a discussion about verbal abuse. What it is, what it can sound like, and how it can affect your own thoughts about yourself and your abilities. From there, I was hoping to discuss negative and positive self talk as well. Even the character of the boyfriend’s father who lived in the house added to the stress. While he was less insulting toward the kids, they were living in a home in which people didn’t adore them~ they barely tolerated them. This affects the psyche, and I want my students to be able to recognize it so they can try to protect themselves any way they need to.

JD: I would book talk this book to my classes and then students can choose to read it if they wish!!

CT: As an educator I can’t even begin to explain to you the quiet importance that Ms. Rochambeau plays in this story. This will be a book that will not only be a very vital window for students to look in, but also a mirror to know they aren’t alone. Ann has touched on topics that I know for a fact students experience, or something similar, on a day in, day out basis, but are not quick to speak up. I feel as though all middle grade students and teachers need to read this book, and soon… One of our school wide behavior expectations is empathy and this book provides the opportunity to teach and understand empathy in Zoey’s life.

Q: I love that Ann views books as means of bridging the divides between people, as is evidenced in her excellent podcast with Saadia Faruqi. One thing I loved about Octopus is that it delves into the the complexity of issues that are often painted as simple black-or-white answers in the cultural narrative. What can educators do to help students find the complexity in these hot-button issues?

JD: It would be awesome to have a book club of students discuss this and their opinions on those issues!

CT: A way that I foresee us bringing up the complexity is giving multiple experiences and then having discussions, constantly. Everyone’s story isn’t the same in real life and Zoey’s story is one that some may relate to in SOME ways but not all ways, or the entire way. Another way is that I love for students to start figuring out solutions. What could we do as a community to help make these situations better.

Q: My husband, who grew up poor, talks often about how profoundly his life was impacted by a teacher who encouraged him to apply to a free Jesuit high school in Manhattan. He is still moved when he talks about what it meant for him to have an adult see him and believe that he had something great to offer the world. Jarrett Krosoczka still remembers being in school and having an author visit from Jack Gantos. Jack complimented Jarrett’s drawing of a cat, and it’s part of what encouraged him to become an author/illustrator. Zoey has Ms. Rochambeau. Who were those adults in your lives that encouraged you, and how do you see your role as teachers in helping kids reach their potential?

Octopus123 EV: I think about coaches first, actually. I was so involved with swimming and my coaches were the ones who stick out in my mind. They believed in me and saw potential in me that I didn’t always see. Encouraging kids and helping them see their good and their successes are what I try to do as a teacher. Always staying positive and helping develop a growth mindset are also things I try to encourage.

JD: I strive to let EVERY child I teach know they are valued for who they are. I notice strengths in each child and point them out often. I listen to let them know their voice is important. I can only hope that this will make a difference!!

CT: One of the educators who played the biggest role in my life was my middle grade creative writing teacher. I was going through a lot. Bullying was unbearable (to the point where we moved my 8th grade year), but Mrs. Ward helped me learn to write, how to escape that reality that I was dealing with and get thoughts out on paper through poetry. I was published. I was proud. I was finally happy. I knew that at that moment I wanted to be that light for students. There were a lot of teachers who weren’t there for me because they were friends with the parents of the students who were being ugly, so they just brushed my stresses aside. I knew then what I did NOT want to be as an educator. I feel that it has helped me significantly in building relationships and also with helping place that heart print book in the hands of a child who needs it. I don’t ever look at myself as a “savior” but an extra mom so to speak. I have told them I wear many hats as a teacher and I want nothing more than our classroom to be a safe place for them. So far it has proven to be just that.

Many thanks exceptional educators like Erin, Kristin, Jennifer, Cassie, and others for taking the time to chat with me and celebrate the debut of The Benefits of Being an Octopus. We are so excited to help welcome this wonderful book into the world!  For teachers who want to join this discussion, please visit Ann’s Octopus Flipgrid.


The Appeal Factors of Being An Octopus

by Christina Uss

Let’s not forget how librarians are going to get this tender, tough, many-tentacled story into the hands of readers. I was lucky enough to get some training as a library assistant last year and learned about successfully matching a reader with their next read as a reader’s advisor.  One of the keys to advising wisely is ferreting out a book’s APPEAL FACTORS, which turns out to be way cooler than solely recommending titles by t

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he same author or the pushing the newest thing in the same genre. Thanks to the metadata librarians at NoveList, we’ve got a whole list of potential appeal factors, and I consider it an honor to be the first to point out to all librarians how they might describe The Appeal Factors of Being An Octopus:

  • Character – the main character is believable, relatable, courageous, likeable, spirited, strong, and well-developed. Kids are going to wish Zoey was their big sister, especially those who already know all about the eight-armed juggling that comes with taking on caregiving tasks for siblings (and sometimes parents) at a young age.
  • Writing Style – candid, compelling, engaging, with well-crafted dialogue. The book satisfyingly fills our minds’ eyes with rich details that make Zoey and her friends and family come alive (and our minds’ mouths with the comforting scrunch of Easy Cheese and crackers.)
  • Pace – intensifying. Will everything work out for Zoey and her family? How??
  • Storyline – both plot- and character-driven, mixing uncertainty in plot with Zoey’s determination
  • Tone -often intense with an emotional edge, moving from heartwarming to heart-wrenching, hopeful, sobering, eye-opening, thought-provoking, with a strong sense of place.

I can’t wait until Tuesday when my library system will load in its first copies of this fabulous and I can start advising readers to check it out!


Ann Braden writes about kids struggling to find their voice despite the realities of life, and about cultural divides and possibilities for bridges across.  She writes because even when life is throwing the entire kitchen at you…there is HOPE.  Come chat with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.


Ann's schedule

 

 

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Breezy Battles and Baseball Bloopers, Plus a HUGE Giveaway!

I left you (and Sly Stallone) hanging yesterday, but now I’m back to give you exactly what I promised and more!Cliffhanger 2

Yesterday, GOOGLE IT! author Anna Crowley Redding gamely answered questions about her past work as an investigative television reporter.  I saved an extra-special, best-for-last anecdote for today’s post.

Anna, what is your funniest memory from when you were on TV?

There are a lot, but one comes to mind. I was asked to throw the first pitch out for Charlotte, NC’s minor league team. I did not grow up playing sports, so I was secretly VERY nervous about this whole proposition. I practiced and practiced and practiced. I really just wanted the ball to make it to the plate.Anna Baseball 1

I get to the ballpark, they call my name, and I head out there to get ready. But I was in big trouble immediately. What I did not prepare for… was the catcher. He was so handsome! I mean, he looked like he had just walked off a soap opera set . . . and he smiled at me just as I started to throw the ball. Anna Baseball 2I don’t even know where the ball went, but certainly nowhere near the plate. To say it was embarrassing is an understatement.

Even worse, I had to anchor the news the next morning for three hours. My co-anchor had video of the whole thing and played it over and over again, and every time, I turned from serious journalist into this puddle of giggles. Oh, Lawdy! That was a doozie.

As we wrap up this interview, Anna, I have to ask you the question that’s on everyone’s mind. What is the weirdest, wackiest, most way-out topic you’ve ever…Googled?

Most of my random Google searches come from my boys (ages 6 and 9), and it goes like this “Hey, Google! Tornado vs. Hurricane. What happens?” And luckily, we always get a solid answer!

 

That’s one big-time battle of the breezes!

Anna’s Google search highlight is way more exciting than mine, but I happen to know that if you Google “Squirrel Expert,” Squirrel gradyou’ll find one. I did!

Many thanks, Anna, and congratulations on your debut book, GOOGLE IT! IMG_8310

GIVEAWAY ALERT! To celebrate the launch of Google It: A History of Google,  Teachers and Librarians have a chance to win a classroom set of 25 copies! The lucky winner will also receive a classroom set of Google It! bookmarks plus a free Skype visit. A winner will be picked on September 4, 2018. Click here to enter.

 


About Hayley BarrettHayley's Author Photo-2 MB-JPEG

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in fall 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. GIRL VS. SQUIRREL, a funny STEM-based picture book illustrated by Renée Andriani, is coming from Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House in spring 2020. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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You know you want to GOOGLE IT!

IMG_8310Anna Crowley Redding’s lively nonfiction debut, GOOGLE IT!: A History of Google from Feiwel & Friends brightens up nonfiction shelves across the nation tomorrow, August 14, 2018. We here at Emu’s Debuts can’t recommend it highly enough – read on to learn how Anna’s book will enlighten students and engage reluctant readers, plus find out how editor Holly West started Anna down the path to publication.

GOOGLE IT: Curriculum Connections

by Ann Braden

I tore through my copy of Google It like my life depended on it. There have only been a few books that have been as much of page-turner for me and one of them was The Hunger Games, so you get the idea. For me, the fire it lit inside me was my teacher fire because suddenly here was this amazing story of two (big) kids who ran with an idea, weren’t afraid of failure, and were creative as all get out to make it work.
A turning point in my teaching career was when I was introduced to the concept of “Effective effort.” It recognized that saying “Good job!” or “You need to put in more effort” often didn’t have much impact, and that instead we needed to break down “effort” into meaningful, concrete chunks. Six chunks, specifically. As soon as I saw this list of six, I immediately made posters for my classroom for each one.
Six Types of Effective Effort
1) Putting in the Time
2) Being Focused
3) Reaching Out for Help When You Need It
4) Using Different Strategies and Alternatives
5) Getting Feedback and Using It
6) Sticking With It Even When It’s Hard
IMG_9311Suddenly, I could point to Poster #4 to congratulate a student for finding a new way to attack a problem, or point to Poster #1 when a student tried to turn in a rushed assignment. It made it clear that there was no such things as smart or stupid: the only difference was one’s willingness to attack something with whatever kind of effort is needed. It was empowering for me, and most importantly, for the students.
For me, reading GOOGLE IT got at the same empowering essence. The story of how two college students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, transformed the Internet (and our daily lives) is not just riveting; it also demonstrated step-by-step the power of Effective Effort.
Example #1 — Putting in the Time: When their thesis project started exploding and going international Larry and Sergey actually dropped out of college (very much against their parents’ wishes) so that they would have the time to dedicate to their project. (Their parents later agreed that it had been the right decision.)
Example #2 — Being Focused: Larry and Sergey prioritized this project over everything else at the time.
Example #3 —  Reaching Out for Help When Needed– Larry and Sergey had lots of ideas about new ways to approach technology, but they didn’t actually know much about running a business, so they found someone who did and made him the CEO.
Example #4 — Using Different Strategies and Alternatives – Google is based on the idea of using different strategies to approach the Internet and that failure is only teaching us what hasn’t worked yet, but here’s just one example: Larry and Sergey actually built their first server using legos.
Example #5 — Getting Feedback and Using It: Larry and Sergey make a practice of listening to their employees and giving them time to explore their own projects. For example, Gmail grew out of one of these employee-driven projects.
Example #6: Stick With It Even When It’s Hard — When Larry and Sergey didn’t have enough server capacity when they were first experimenting with their idea, they “borrowed” servers from other college departments and keep going. When at the beginning Google kept losing money, and losing money, and losing more money, they didn’t give up. They found someone who could be a good CEO, and they kept going.
Not only does story of Google help us understand how the things we take for granted now (e-mail, online maps, internet searches), but it helps students understand that they have the power to make their OWN mark on the world.
Plus, as a sidenote, I’ve seen Anna Crowley Redding  with kids, and she would be an amazing author to have for a school visit. Check out her website here for some of the school programs she offers.
P.S. Teachers and Librarians! Keep reading, for your chance to win a classroom set of 25 copies of GOOGLE IT!

Three Cheers for Nonfiction Books!

by Kat Shepherd

I am so excited to celebrate Anna Crowley Redding’s fabulous new book, Google It!, a delicious read that is chock full of fascinating facts about one of the most recognizable companies in the world. I was drawn in from the very first page, and within minutes I was yelling across the house to my husband: “Hey! Listen to this! Did you know…?”

pangolin peekingI have avidly devoured nonfiction since childhood, partly because I love learning new things, but even more so because every new book reminds me that the world of facts is far more interesting than we could even begin to imagine. Pangolins! Winchester Mystery House! Biddy Mason! Thank you, nonfiction. (And thank you, Google!)

Nonfiction can be a draw to any curious kid, and in my classroom I found that boys in particular would ask me for recommendations from the nonfiction bin. My fourth grade nephew, Leo, who eschews fiction books as ‘lies’, loves taking true-fact deep dives into some of his favorite subjects: soccer, presidents, and the Revolutionary War. Many a time I have been approached by dismayed parents who lament, “My kid just won’t read,” as they gesture toward a gleaming pile of award-winning novels. When I suggest they offer magazines, news articles, encyclopedias, or how-to guides, they suddenly find an engaged scholar who is begging for more.)

I recently returned from a national conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, where Melissa Stewart moderated a panel on nonfiction. At the beginning of the panel, Melissa threw out some surprising facts about expository nonfiction, which she shared in this excellent blog post for The Nerdy Book Club. She also wrote,

Many students connect more strongly to books with an expository writing style, and they’re most likely to develop a love of reading if they have access to fact-filled books with clear main ideas and supporting details, intriguing patterns, analogies, concepts, and calculations. These children read with a purpose. They want to understand the world and how it works and their place in it. They want to understand the past and the present, so they can envision the future stretching out before them.

This is why the world is so hungry for fabulous books like Google It!. Redding has given us a high-interest subject for tech-savvy kids, and she has presented the info in a way that students love to read. And not only are books like Google It! meeting student demand for engaging expository texts; they’re also preparing kids for the kind of reading they will absolutely rely on as they enter the world of adults. So as you’re preparing your classroom library for the year or taking a back-to-school book shopping trip, don’t forget to stock up on plenty of nonfiction books for satisfying, fact-filled reads!


An Interview with GOOGLE IT editor Holly West

by Christina Uss

Holly, what was it about Google It that drew you in and made you decide you wanted to publish it?
The original concept for Google It was something that I had wanted to  publish for a long time. I’m most interested in non-fiction that expands upon or explains things that are relevant to our lives today, and I don’t know about you, but I use Google, and Google based products and services several times a day. Whether its holding meetings with authors over Google Hangouts, using Google Maps to find the restaurant I’m going to, constantly checking both my work and personal Gmails, or simply googling that thing I can’t quite remember.  And when I noticed how omnipresent Google was in my life, I decided I wanted to know more about it. And then I realized that September 2018 was going to be the twentieth anniversary of the founding of Google, and I knew the time was right to publish a book.
I didn’t realize a publisher might have a nonfiction project in mind and then go looking for the right author to bring it to life. How did you connect with Anna? (Did you Google her?)
did Google Anna at one point early on. As I mentioned above, I had been wanting to do a non-fiction book about Google for a while, but I was having a hard time finding the right author to tackle this subject. But then a colleague of mine introduced me to Anna’s wonderful agent, Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary, and she told me all about this new debut author she’d just signed who she thought would be perfect for the book. One Google search later, and I was writing Joan and asking for an introduction. And many moons later, we have this wonderful book!
The format of the book is so appealing: chock-full of facts with plenty of sidebars and side notes set off from the rest of the text. Did you and Anna come up with these layouts together? How did you decide what would be part of the main text and what would be pulled out as an extra tidbit?
I love the design of this book as well! The actual layouts were the work of our fantastic England, Wiltshire, Longleat Maze, aerial viewdesigner, Raphael Geroni, who did a wonderful job.  But Anna and I did have a few conversations about the inclusions of sidebars and inserts. We wanted to book to feel right to an audience used to reading online, and we both have a tendency to take “Wiki Walks” when browsing online, where if you want more information on something or have a question like the one she opened the book with: “How many stacked pennies would it take to reach the moon?”  you can immediately open a new tab and Google the answer. So we wanted a way to have those answers and extra information readily available without disrupting the flow of the main text. And there were definitely some discussions mid-edits about which stories needed to be part of the main text and which tidbits and explanations could live in the sidebars.
What was your favorite part of working on this book with Anna?
Anna was just lovely to work with all around, but I think my favorite bit was always reading the new draft and seeing what wonderful new stories and facts she’d found.  She used to be an investigative journalist, so her research skills are top-notch!
Each new draft must have been so much fun to read. Any advice for other nonfiction kidlit authors on how to polish their manuscripts to have as much appeal as Google It?
I think the most important thing for authors is to find a topic that you can be passionate about. If you think what you are writing about is fascinating, then that will probably come through for your readers. Also, you are going to spend a LOT of time thinking, and writing, and reading, and rewriting, and re-researching information about your topic, so it better be something you enjoy!
We here at Emu’s Debuts know Anna’s genuine enthusiasm is on every page, and it’s sure to hook readers right from the beginning.  What are you waiting for? Google how close the nearest copy is to you right now!
Attention Amazing Teachers and Librarians, to celebrate the launch of Google It: A History of Google, you have a chance to win a classroom set of 25 copies! The lucky winner will also receive a classroom set of Google It! bookmarks plus a free Skype visit. A winner will be picked on September 4, 2018. Click here to enter.

Anna Redding

Anna Crowley Redding’s inquisitive nature lends itself perfectly to nonfiction writing for kids. She can tell you how many stacked copies of her favorite books it would take to reach the moon.

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Don’t Know Who Anna Crowley Redding is? GOOGLE IT!

She’s smart. She’s curious. She’s dig-down-deep determined to get her story. Meet today’s dazzling debut, the one and only Anna Crowley Redding!Google It!

Anna, I’m excited your first book—GOOGLE IT! A History of Google—is on bookshelves at last. Young readers will love learning about how Google—the idea, the software, the company, the verb, the proprietary eponym—began and how it became what it is today.

How did you decide to write this book?

Holly West, my brilliant editor at MacMillan’s Feiwel & Friends, first approached my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. Then Holly called me to talk about her idea… a book about Google! I jumped at the chance! It’s a fascinating company and the people and very human experience behind the company is compelling, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant.

Before you began writing for children, you were a real-life investigative reporter, and I have a picture to prove it!AnnaCR 1

How did you decide to become a journalist?

Becoming a journalist was a path I began walking as a child. I have always loved writing, loved to find stuff out (and tell everybody)! I also have a deep sense of justice and advocacy, a respect for the truth and for fighting for people. That’s a fundamental part of journalism, caring about people and telling their stories in a way that gets others to connect with them.

What education and training did you need to start off in television reporting? 

I earned my journalism degree from Northeastern, and they require students to work in their chosen field as part of the curriculum.

I remember walking into New England Cable News (NECN) for the first time. News was breaking. There was a mad rush to the set, and people were barking information and directions. It was chaos, but it was a special chaos. It made sense to me. Then came the countdown, and on cue, massive professionalism and topnotch storytelling. I knew had to do this work.

Back in the olden days, we had radio, newspapers, and scheduled television news programs. That’s it. Today’s journalists-to-be can’t imagine our limited access to information. We couldn’t Google anything!

What’s exciting for young journalists today, those just learning their craft, is the opportunity to start reporting right now using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc.

Can you tell us about what the work was like? What did you enjoy? What was difficult?

There was a lot that I loved. The camaraderie of the entire team, the thrilling pace, those instances where storytelling or digging into an investigation really changed someone’s life were deeply satisfying. And newsrooms are rife with humor. It’s how we got through the raw, emotional intensity of the work. I loved the head-thrown-back belly laughing.

But the schedule is punishing. When you first get in to the news business, the intensity is super fun. Eventually, it can be tiring. The news cycle is insane, and I feel for reporters who sacrifice themselves (time with family, sleep, vacations, you name it) to cover it all. And then to face massive admonition? It’s tough. Balance is not a word often used in newsrooms.

How does your experience with journalism inform your new job? 

Writing nonfiction books is an extension of journalism in a longer format. The years of working on deadline, digging for details and facts, reaching out to people for information or interviews, and finally organizing everything into a cohesive story, all of it helps.

I’m fascinated, but we should get back to GOOGLE IT! *inserts giant picture*IMG_8310

What was it like to retell Google’s history in a kid-friendly, kid-interesting way?

Our middle schoolers and teens are so smart. I tried to approach the subject in a way that really honored that. For me, that meant having fun with it while also being cognizant of making sure I explained terms specific to business or technology.

One of the most important and interesting things I learned from researching Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page is how to take life’s problems, any problems, and look at them as a puzzle that needs to be solved and can solved.

A message we all need to hear and sure to resonate with many readers. Thanks for letting me pepper you with questions, Anna. I have just one more:

What is the weirdest, most random topic you’ve ever Googled, Anna?

Cliffhanger 2

(Cliffhanger! Tune in to Emu’s Debuts tomorrow for Anna Crowley Redding’s answer to this all-important question. There will also be a funny story involving Anna and a baseball.)

 

GIVEAWAY ALERT! To celebrate the launch of Google It: A History of Google,  Teachers and Librarians have a chance to win a classroom set of 25 copies! The lucky winner will also receive a classroom set of Google It! bookmarks plus a free Skype visit. A winner will be picked on September 4, 2018. Click here to enter.

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Hayley's Author Photo-2 MB-JPEGAbout Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. GIRL VS. SQUIRREL, a funny STEM-based picture book illustrated by Renée Andriani, is coming from Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House in spring 2020. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE is Launched!

It’s the release date for the incredibly engaging and moving story, THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE by Christina Uss and the EMU’s Debut Group couldn’t be more excited! A novel about “a girl who loves her home in the Nearly Silent Monastery, but the pull of friendship leads her on a coast-to-coast cycling adventure, complete with hauntings, runaway stallions, lucky inventions, and a mysterious black-clad pursuer.”

Here is Elizabeth Acevedo‘s interview with the brilliant editor of BICYCLE, Margaret Ferguson.

Interview with Margaret Ferguson, Editor of THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE

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What was it about Christina Uss’ THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE that first got you interested in acquiring it and that made this book strike a chord for you?

Every once in awhile, an editor is lucky enough to have a manuscript come across their desk that seems unique and that’s how I felt about THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE. I loved that it was about someone who is an introvert and that it captured that special relationship some children have with their bicycles and all the freedom that goes with being able to get on a bike and go somewhere by yourself.  And I loved the sense of community and that so many people care and watch out for Bicycle on her journey.

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Would you say you were a big cycling fan prior to acquiring this book?

I will admit that I have never been a fan of cycling–it is a very time consuming sport and my husband spends a lot of time on his bike when I think he should be doing other things–but after I read THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE I came home and said, “I get it now.”

Who is you favorite character from the book and why are you drawn to them?

There are too many to pick from–but if I have to, it would be Griffin G. Griffin, the friendly ghost who haunts Bicycle’s bicycle for part of her journey. He is such a good friend–he sings when the pedaling gets tough, offers wisdom, and has her back. Those kinds of friends are hard to come by.

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A book that reads and fast as Bicycle’s bicycle, Clunk, this is a fresh take on  an adventurous twelve-year old looking to find her place in the world. As the Kirkus
starred review claims: “Readers will eagerly join Bicycle and “pedal headfirst” into this terrific adventure, which is chock-full of heart and humor.” Buy your copy here, or here, or here.

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Thank you, for that fabulous interview, Elizabeth! And now the celebration continues with Hayley Barrett and a Bookish Bike Ride.

A Bookish Bike Ride

The Emus are celebrating with Christina Uss! Her debut novel, THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE, follows intrepid cyclist and friend-finder Bicycle as she pedals across the United States.

From the start of her ride in Washington, DC on trusty, rusty Clunk to when she dismounts The Fortune, her whiz-bang, Inspector Gadget-style bike, in San Francisco, Bicycle’s determination and resourcefulness pave the way to her success. She pushes ever onward, through prairies and over mountains, despite challenges and troubles. Along the way, she helps and is helped by others, including a ghost named Griffin, an herbivore named Cannibal, a chef by the name of Marie Petitchou, and a big-hearted pie-fryer called Jeremiah. Finally, Bicycle victoriously concludes her two-wheeled tour of the USA surrounded by new friends and reunited with those who loved her from the start.

I enjoy biking, but unlike Christina, I’m no adventure cyclist. Reading THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE made me realize I’ve rarely pedaled more than a few miles. I wondered where I would go if I decided to try a longer ride. California was immediately out of the question. I needed a doable destination, someplace far but not too far, and because this ride was inspired by a book, someplace with a literary connection. The answer was easy:

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House!

For now, I’ll pedal there in my imagination. Let’s go!

Orchard House is two hour bike ride from home, but given my lack of experience, I’ll probably get there in three. I coast past my own childhood home, but I have to walk (and huff and puff) my bike up the steep Lowell Street hill. I remount and continue into Wilmington, Woburn, and Burlington. The roads are busy, but most drivers are courteous. I wave my thanks to those who slow down and give me space.

I spin through neighborhoods, past strip malls and industrial sites. After two hours, I’m in Lexington. The landscape gets greener here, with fewer houses, more conservation land, and almost no commercial areas. I have to hustle through Tophet Swamp to outrace the mosquitoes. (note to self: John was right. Remember bug spray next time!)

When I skirt the edge of the tree-hidden Air Force base, I know I’m in Concord. I pedal along the pretty country roads, listening to birdsong, and appreciating the shade offered by old, gnarled maples with soft, new leaves. I pause by the big farm near the Battle Road and admire their Highland cow’s sturdy calf. 

I go a little further, swing around the bend, and speed down the final stretch of Old Bedford Rd. At last, I reach the big brown house and dismount. I’m glad to see the parking lot across the street is full. A woman in a old-fashioned dress (Marmee?) greets a tour group at the front door. Kids on a field trip laugh and bump each other as they roll hoops on the lawn. I remember doing that with my friend Diane when we were kids.

I park my bike and take my lunch.  The gardens are in their summer glory. Bees zip around the swaying sunflowers and hollyhocks. I choose a spot beside Bronson Alcott’s church-like schoolhouse to enjoy my solo picnic. LITTLE WOMEN’s four March sisters loved to picnic, so I feel right at home. 

As I rest and eat my sandwich, I can almost hear one of Christina’s characters, Sister Wanda. She asks her usual question, “What have you learned from this?”

Here’s what I’d say:

Riding a bike is a great way to experience the world.

Know when to heed good advice about bug spray.

This land is beautiful from sea to shining sea and full of helpful, generous people, delicious food, sunflowers, and wonderful books like Christina Uss’s THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE.

Lastly, cookies rule! Good thing I brought some. I’ll need them for the long ride home.

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Cookies, of course, are good both on and off the bike. You might want to go get some to munch on as you enjoy Anna Redding‘s interview of Christina herself!

Anna Redding’s Interview of Christina Uss

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle launches today and I have to say I was charmed THROUGH and THROUGH by this amazing middle-grade novel. And you will be, too. It’s one of those stories, the world is so richly drawn, the characters so lovingly crafted… that they come to live with you forever. You just find yourself thinking about these characters, their lives, long after you have read the last line.

I am so thrilled to be able to have a conversation with author Christa Uss about her novel, The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle.

Anna–  I want to start with a couple of questions about craft. From the first sentence of The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, I was swept away. Your world building and character development are so complete and rich, and yet effortlessly falls off the page. And into that, you’ve worked in marvelous pacing and tension. (Readers, I’m not kidding, wait until you open this book, better have a comfy seat!) I’m curious about your process. Was this book inside of you and developed that way? Was the conscious effort? Please, give us fellow writers some insight!

Christina –  This book literally began with its title. My husband was commenting on how I was doing a lot of freelance writing about bicycling while also reading all these books from my childhood when I wanted to relax, and he said, “Someday, you’re going to write a children’s book.” And I said, “Oh yeah? What will that book be?” And he replied, “It’ll be called The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle.” I leapt out of my chair and said, “YES. I AM going to write that book. Why is she called Bicycle? What adventures does she have? I think she rides her bike across the United States.” And I ran upstairs and the story started pouring out of me. (This was before I had my twins, so I could write on a whim instead of having to schedule and protect writing time like I do now.) I wrote nearly every day for weeks, and edited for months. It was so much fun to dive into this universe that was balanced somewhere between reality and the way I wish reality was and ask my characters What Happens Next? And they always had an answer for me.

Anna–  Authenticity is an important aspect of any writing and it’s clear that you have some experience cycling! Was it fun to bring your own experiences into the book? And how do you mine your own experience to inform your writing?

Christina –   It was THE BEST to bring in my own experiences riding a bike across the United States into the story. I felt completely confident that everything I was writing about cycling was as true as I could make it – the thrills, the exhaustion, the chasing dogs, and especially the unstoppable kindness of people towards a two-wheeled traveler who shows up on their doorsteps. I faithfully kept journals from the two times I rode across the country (first east-to-west, then north-to-south), plus during my years working as an adventure tour guide all over the U.S., and I frequently went back to those journal entries to make sure I was capturing what I’d really felt, heard, seen, smelled, and tasted on my own journeys. 

Anna–  Reading The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, I felt constantly surprised which is a rare gift for readers…surprise. Thinking about that, part of the surprise is the sweetness between your cast of characters, and unlikely friendships. There is a real love that comes through the pages of this book and fills you up as you are reading, even though there is still tension, even though we are marching forward. How did you do that?! Where does that come from?

Christina –  Awww, I love that you said this. I certainly hope kids feel the sweetness. Traveling by bike endlessly renews my faith in humanity. I and many other long-distance cycling friends experience so much surprising generosity whenever we pedal into the unknown – people giving us sandwiches! fresh peaches! cookies! ice-cold lemonade in the desert! a place to sleep! a place to shower! letting us borrow a car to watch fireworks! giving us lifts to the emergency room!  – finding those connections time and time again never stops being magical.  I wanted to communicate to kids that when you meet people face-to-face, especially if you’re perched on the seat of a bike, their first instinct is to help you. 

Anna– And on riding! Bicycle’s packing list for her backpack shows us what’s most important to her, the must-have’s before a top-secret cross country journey. What would you put in your own pack?

Christina –  Oooooh. My favorite riding clothes made out of space-age fabric that keep me warm even when I’m wet, as many snacks as I could cram in including lots of Trader Joe’s crunchy peanut butter and a big ol’ spoon, a credit card, maps from the Adventure Cycling Association, a book of Rumi poetry, and a nice thick journal and a pen. And postcard stamps. I would not bring a phone – I’d stop at libraries and email home when I could!

Anna–  I think the idea of having the freedom to find your own destiny, your own identity, and your own friends is so powerful. Has there been a moment in your own cycling where you touched that, an experience, a chance meeting, a decision that really formed you?

Christina –   I moved away from my home when I was eleven due to my dad changing jobs. (I remember telling my parents I wasn’t going to move with them, I was going to live with my best friend and sleep on her family’s couch for the rest of my life instead. Somehow, that plan didn’t materialize.) When I went in to the first day at my new school, the teacher showed me a seat next to a nice-looking girl with very long hair and said, “Nancy, you be Christina’s friend, all right?” And Nancy did just that – she not only became my instant friend, she made sure all of her friends became my instant friends as well. We’re still friends to this day. Something about that convinced me that if you’re open to the possibility, friendships can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone –  it it’s one of the beautiful mysteries of life.  

Readers, all I can say, is we all have some book shopping to do!

Enjoy!
Anna

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To close out our celebration, here’s Ann Braden with Curriculum Connections.

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle: Curriculum Connections

Kirkus gave The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle a STARRED review and said: “Readers will eagerly join Bicycle and ‘pedal headfirst’ into this terrific adventure, which is chock-full of heart and humor.”

This will be a fabulous book to have on classroom shelves. Introverts especially will be able to connect with this AND imagine going on an amazing cross-country adventure. As we all know the imagination can be a wide open expanse in the middle grade years, and when we’re willing to tap into it as educators, the learning can be remarkable.

I still remember (in vivid detail) the project I did as a sixth grader for a unit on Canada. With three friends I got to plan our own cross-country trip across Canada’s provinces, determining where to stop and what to do there, driving distances, what to bring, etc. We kept a journal to document our (virtual) trip, and my memories are so strong it’s as though I actually went on the real trip.

Not only is The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle a fun story, but it could be a great tool to prompt students to plan out their own cross-country bike trip. Where would they go? How long would it take to get from one place to another? What would they have in their pack? It brings it math, geography, and the all-important investigation into a student’s priorities and passions.

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Here’s to The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle! And here’s where you can buy it: Indiebound (it’s on the 2018 Summer Kids Indie Next List!), Barnes and Noble, and Amazon!

Happy reading!

 

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THE POET X LAUNCHES (part 2)

The Poet X

Oh friends! How I have been looking forward to this day! We have a book launch to celebrate. Stop what you are doing right now. I’ve got an interview for you to read and book that must be added to your collection. Elizabeth Acevedo’s, THE POET X, is waiting at a bookstore near you. And boy, do we need this book. Acevedo’s novel-in-verse tackles the heart of finding your voice, your power, your place in this world, while challenging preconceived notions, ideas, beliefs . . .  and I am just scratching the surface in this summary. THE POET X is entering this world while teens across the country (and beyond) are finding their own voices and using that powerful energy for change. What timing.

 

Here’s how Harper Collins sums up THE POET X.

 Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.”

 THE POET X received a star review from Kirkus, saying “It’s about how the power that we find in other peoples’ stories is a power we can claim for ourselves. That we, ourselves, can become the storytellers.

And it’s about how acknowledging and expressing hard personal truths—truths rooted in pain, fury, exhaustion—can lead us to hope and joy and wonder and optimism.”download

I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Elizabeth about her book, about this rising voice, the importance of girls of color seeing their own stories on bookshelves. Friends, grab your coffee, you are going to want to savor every word of what Elizabeth has to say. And then RUN to the bookstore and grab a copy of her debut novel-in-verse. This book will move you.

Now, without further adieu, my special conversation with Elizabeth Acevedo, author, slam poet, and woman extraordinaire.

 

ENJOY!

Anna Crowley Redding

 Anna –  One of the powerful things that struck me about THE POET X is your main character, Xiomara Batista, and her struggle to find her voice and thus, her own path, her own journey, her own place in this world. I started thinking about your readers and how that core truth might move them. Do you think about that, too? What do you hope they take from your pages and from Xiomara’s words?

Elizabeth – I definitely want my readers to feel that that their voice matters and that their unique story is important. It’s easy to feel small in this world, and a reminder that you can be your own narrator, and hero, is definitely a theme I hope comes through.

Anna –  Your book is hitting the shelves at a time when young people, teenagers in particular, are reacting to powerful events in our country. They, too, are finding their voice and learning the incredible value it has. What would you say to these teens?

Elizabeth – “Go on! Y’all have the answers.” I really am inspired by the young people I’ve seen in Florida, and the teens I saw protesting in Baltimore and Ferguson before them, and the teens I saw at the Women’s March. Time and again I’m reminded that it’s young people who have led most major movements in this country and it will be young people who will leads us, this country, this world, towards a more empathetic and fuller future.

Anna – Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street, had this to say about THE POET X: “Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero.” Tell me what it’s like to read that sentence and to add your powerful book to the shelves of young girls and girls of color in particular?

Elizabeth – I loved reading that sentence by Ibi. I think she gets the world in a different level than many readers, firstly because we are friends, but also because we have similar ideas about getting girls of color from the hood into books and showing their full complexity. We both understand that young women from urban areas contain multitudes beyond how they’ve been represented in literature to date. I hope to continuing writing stories that celebrate those many sides.

Anna –  Is there hope that the world is actually changing? We have #metoo, #ownvoices, #blacklivesmatter, #neveragain and . . . on the movie/entertainment front, we have The Black Panther! Is there hope for more diverse books in publishing for children and young adults? And more voices, period. A more authentic view and experience of the actual diverse world we live in?

Elizabeth – I think the publishing industry is beginning to realize that stories from marginalized backgrounds are necessary for the future readers of our country. I think they are responding to the demand that those stories be published, I just hope that they also remember this is not a trend; it’s an ongoing effort to equalize publishing and reflect the many cultural experiences that make up this nation.

Anna –  What would you say to young writers, who are lucky enough to get a copy of your book!

Elizabeth – I hope you enjoy!

Anna – Lastly, if you could hop a plane right now, and sit next to yourself as a junior in English lit class . . . what would you whisper into the ear of your younger self?

Elizabeth – There is no blueprint. There is no one path. No one can tell you how to be the woman you want to became. You must make her up. And you are brilliant and bold enough to do so.


Emu’s Debuts author Anna Crowley Redding‘s GOOGLE IT: A History of Google comes out August 2018 from Feiwel & Friends.

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Initiate Interview of Erica Sussman, Editor of THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY

I’m delighted to introduce Editorial Director Erica Sussman of HarperCollins. She graciously agreed to be interviewed for Emu’s Debuts as we celebrate author Katie Slivensky’s debut middle grade novel, THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY. 

To begin, Erica, can you explain what was it about THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY manuscript that made you sit up and pay attention? When during your initial reading did you decide to acquire it for HarperCollins?

“I was drawn into the story from the very first page. Miranda is an incredibly sympathetic and relatable narrator, despite the fact that she’s in a pretty crazy situation! I was never a science buff, but Katie’s story is so accessible that I didn’t get confused by any of the technical aspects of the space travel—I was too busy trying to figure out what would happen next! And Katie’s manuscript also made me cry – in the best and most surprising way – which is a pretty tough feat! She’s crafted the most wonderful friendship between Miranda and Ruby, a robot that Miranda built. There’s a moment of such heartbreaking sacrifice in the book (I won’t tell you what happens, don’t worry!) that is handled so deftly – when I read it I knew I had to get Katie’s debut novel on my list.”

Confession: I haven’t read THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY yet. If I asked you for a book recommendation, how would you persuade me to drop everything and read THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY?

Here’s what I’d say: If you’ve ever felt out of your depth, if you’ve ever had to make new friends, if you’ve ever had to step up and be brave, if you’ve ever had to stand up for yourself or a friend, if you’ve ever longed for an out of this world adventure…PICK UP THIS BOOK.

I’ve had to face situations like those, but always right here on terra firma. This book’s readers, on the other hand, will encounter such relatable challenges as they thrillingly zoom through space. Much more fun and interesting.

What were your favorite books when you were a kid? Does THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY have anything in common with them?

I had a bunch of favorites, but the one that stands out in relation to The Countdown Conspiracy is SpaceCamp, which now that I think about it may possibly have just been the novelization of the movie with Lea Thompson. It was about a group of teenagers accidentally sent up into space and I think I read it approximately a zillion times. There was a lot about Countdown Conspiracy that reminded me of it in the best ways: unlikely friendships, strong characters, a great sense of humor, fast-paced adventure, danger—and, thank goodness, a happy ending.

And with that, we are GO for launch. Editorial Director Sussman, in six seconds and six words, please commence the launch sequence for THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY.

Six…BRAVE

Five…KIDS

Four…HAVE

Three…THE

Two…BEST

One…ADVENTURES

I couldn’t agree more! I can’t wait to blast off with Miranda and Ruby. Thank you, Erica, for all you do to bring exciting, uplifting books into the world. THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY will surely encourage in its readers an enterprising spirit and a love of science and space.

You can purchase THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY at your local bookstore or here:

Indiebound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780062462558
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Countdown-Conspiracy…/dp/0062462555
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/…/the…/1124860410

To learn more about author and science educator Katie Slivensky, visit her website. https://www.katieslivensky.com

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About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming in spring 2019 from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is also coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.

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Filed under Book Launch, Characters, Editor, Interviews, Launch, Middle Grade, Publishers and Editors, Uncategorized

WHOOO WHOOO! Interview with Whobert Whover’s Illustrator Jess Pauwels!

We’re wrapping up the party for Jason Gallaher’s debut picture book Whobert Whover, Owl Detective with an interview with Jess Pauwels, the talented illustrator. It’s such a thrill for me to chat with Jess, because not only do I love this “whodunnit” fun story starring an owl (one of my favorite animals), but I adore the wonderful illustrations!

First, WHO is Jess Pauwels? In her own words:

I live in Brussels Belgium. I grew up in a family of professional dancers, but pencils were more appealing to me (and less exhausting ^!^) ! I studied arts and I graduated in illustration from St Luc-Brussels. For a few years, I was both an illustrator and a bookseller.

Six years ago, I chose to concentrate only on my graphic career. I drew for magazines, music labels, and picture books publishers. Since then, I have illustrated great stories, mostly in France, and some of them have been translated into Chinese and Italian.

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is my very first USA picture book

And now, on to the interview!

Tell us a little about your creative process. What are the steps you take before you start working on the book’s illustrations? How did you come up with Whobert and the other cast of characters?

First, I sketched all the characters. Like a « forest theme » movie casting – how should they look like to stick to the story? It helped me to get their reactions and to find the appropriate facial expressions for each one.

Then, I waited for the publisher’s creatives to send me the text layout – the way they want the text to be spread from one page to another.

After they decided where to put the text and where my illustrations would stand, I made several storyboards (small fast drawings with the same proportions of the book) to settle who is in the picture doing what and what is the general ambiance. I tried to find a balance between close ups, large views, etc. It helps with the dramatization of the image.

The drawings part was the most creative, fun, personal touch part. I was able to choose how I would tell Jason’s great story with my own touch.

Then, when the publisher’s team validated this part, they pretty much left me to decide on the rest of the job. They gave me advice more than asked for changes.

So next, I drew properly the whole thing, with all the details and the intentions I wanted – every image at the final book size, this time. Sometimes when the image is bigger than in my storyboard, things didn’t work anymore, so I changed or got rid of some stuff. I’m not usually very satisfied with the firsts results. Slowly, I found the right tone to satisfy me.

To complete and color, I scanned my drawings to the computer. This helped me to make final changes (eyes too close together or add a feather here and there, resize a worm …). If I had to do it in traditional techniques it would have taken ages.The computer can be a wonderful tool if you don’t skip important first creative steps.

Were there any specific challenges you encountered during the process? Any particular joys?

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is my first USA picture book collaboration. Humor is very different over there (in the USA). You are less serious and you seem to trust more the kids’s sense of humor. It’s very liberating to illustrate.

But the most challenging thing for me was the long wait before the launch of the book. In Europe, it takes around 3 to 6 months. With my project for Whobert, it took more than a year between the finished illustrations to the real printed copies.

But the real challenge for me was when I was finishing the pictures, because my 10-year-old French bulldog became very hill. Rushing into work helped me not to be too depressed about it, as he was my hairy muse for so long. He left us in February 2016.

A year and a half later we are welcoming our new puppy and Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is going out. It’s been a long, dog-free, but projects-full year in my studio. The wait for this fun picture book gave me hope and kept me focused on my other books to finish.

Meeting Jason through this project and seeing him be so enthusiastic, proud, and thrilled with the result was a vitamin shot to my self esteem.

Who is your favorite character from Whobert Whover, Owl Detective? Why?

This is quite a tough question, because when I draw a story I need to step into the shoes of every character. But, I think it’s really Whobert I like the most. He is so funny and stubborn. He’s a determined hero even if he’s mostly naive. With that kind of character you just cannot stay serious about life. He’s kind of a mix between Sherlock Holmes and Kimmy Schmidt, and I’d love to be this kind of mix! ^!^

(I LOVE Jess’s answer!)

Finally, can you show us a picture of your work space (I’m obsessed with creative work spaces.) What is your favorite part of your work area? Do you have any special rituals or talismans?

I work at home in our apartment in Brussels Belgium. I have my own studio. I tried to work in an outside place with other creative friends, but I was suddenly not so productive (morning coffee talks/lunch breaks talks/afternoon coffee talks). It became harder to focus on the jobs. I love to socialize a little too much.

So back home I’m more effective. I have my morning coffee in front of my social media and news, and I’m launched.

As talismans, I need several things to reassure myself, like music (Nina Simone, Laura Veirs, Joan As police Woman). On the walls, inspiring images like Lewis Carroll’s drawing of Alice in Wonderland, other illustrators’ prints. or pictures of our trips. On my desk are my favorites pencils and markers and two mini statues of Ganesh, brought from India and Lao, which are taking care of my projects.

…and lately COOPER our new companion, watching me from his pillow…not very calmly yet. !-)

Thank you, Jess! Congratulations to you and Jason on Whobert Whover, Owl Detective! You and Jason make a fabulous team!


Debbi Michiko Florence writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her puppy, Kiku; rabbit, Aki; and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth, the first two books of her debut chapter book series is now available from Farrar Straus Giroux. Two more books will follow next year: Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl (4/3/18) and Jasmine Toguchi, Flamingo Keeper (7/3/18).

You can visit her online on her web site and her reading blog. She’s also on Twitter.

 

 

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Filed under Book Launch, Celebrations, Illustrators, Interviews, Launch, Picture books, process, Uncategorized

Show Yourself in Your Work: An Illustrator’s Story

It’s launch week! It’s launch week! Hold onto your summer floppy hats, we have a book…well, actually two to launch into the world this week. A little bit from the publisher about our first book baby!

Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen

by Debbi Michiko Florence (illus. by Elizabet Vukovic)

Eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi is a flamingo fan, tree climber, and top-notch mess-maker!

She’s also tired of her big sister, Sophie, always getting to do things first. For once, Jasmine wishes SHE could do something before Sophie—something special, something different. The New Year approaches, and as the Toguchi family gathers in Los Angeles to celebrate, Jasmine is jealous that her sister gets to help roll mochi balls by hand with the women. Her mom says that Jasmine is still too young to join in, so she hatches a plan to help the men pound the mochi rice instead. Surely her sister has never done THAT before.

But pounding mochi is traditionally reserved for boys. And the mochi hammer is heavier than it looks. Can Jasmine build her case and her mochi-making muscles in time for New Year’s Day?

Ages 6 – 9

Available July 11, 2017 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR)

And even better? This is the first book in a series. The second book is also available this week! At the end of this post, you can enter to wind a copy!

To kick off a week of Jasmine Toguchi celebrations, I sat down with illustrator Elizabet Vukovic. Ok, technically, she was in the Netherlands and I was in Maine… but laughing all the way through our video chat, it was as if we were sitting at the same table. Elizabet is not only talented and brilliant, but she’s bubbly, fun, spunky, and there are some big surprises in her journey.  You are going to love her as much as I do. Let’s get to it.

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Elizabet knows exactly what it’s like to have a big sister who gets everything first! Reading the pages of Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen, Elizabet related to Jasmine immediately. She laughed heartily as we talked about her own childhood and the misery of hand-me downs.

Growing up in the Netherlands, Elizabet lived around the corner from a bicycle store. Every summer, she looked through the shop window at the new bikes. So shiny! So new! And every summer, she watched her older sister pick out a new bike… while Elizabet got her sister’s old bike to ride. (Eventually Elizabet would get a new bike, but not until high school!)

Elizabet wore her sister’s hand-me-down clothes and played with hand-me-down toys––until one day Elizabet had enough. It happened in the toy store. The girls had begged their father to walk into the toy store, promising only to look at the toys. Finally, their father agreed. The three of them walked into the store and that’s when Elizabet saw it: a microphone. Not just any microphone, but one that echoed. Elizabet was always singing and this microphone would be the perfect accessory. She had to have it.

She asked her dad to buy it. He said no.

So Elizabet refused to leave the store––without that microphone. That’s when her father and big sister left her there and went home.

But Elizabet did not budge.

Finally, her father returned to the store. And he bought Elizabet that microphone!

As we talked about this story, Elizabet’s eyes sparkled and her grin grew wide. Tapping into these experiences, brought Jasmine to life for Elizabet. She says the illustration on page 37 of the book put in a fine point on what both girls dealt with. (And no sneak previews. The only way to see this emotional scene is to buy the book or request it at the library or win it in our book give away! Also, it’s totally worth it.) But, it’s that illustration in particular that captured both Elizabet’s experience and Jasmine’s: complete frustration and irritation. The contrast of Jasmine’s level of anger juxtaposed to the oblivious prancing around of her older sister really nails the dynamic.

Elizabet says that level of personal connection is critical to her work. You can learn anatomy, she explains, but you have to put yourself in those characters. “Show yourself in your work,” Elizabet said.

But Elizabet’s path to accomplishing that, to creating the space where that’s even possible is interesting. She is the child of immigrants from Croatia. Her parents are hard workers and always expected that of their kids. Because they had to overcome so much and accomplish so much to establish their new lives in the Netherlands, they are also very practical and pragmatic.

Elizabet was interested in drawing as a very small child. Her kindergarten teacher used to say to her parents, “You have a real Picasso on your hands.” Even in high school, a teacher mentioned that Elizabet should go into drawing.

But as a profession? That was hard for Elizabet’s parents to accept or encourage. After all, they wanted Elizabet to have a paying job, security. .. all of the things they had immigrated to the Netherlands to build.

But as effervescent and charming as Elizabet is, she also has steely determination and an unyielding drive to prove herself.

So, what could she do in that situation? First, Elizabet got a degree in optometry. That’s right, optometry. She worked full time in the field to save money for art school. She worked during the day and studied illustration at night through online coursework until she graduated from the San Francisco Art Academy.

Then, she rode her bike 45 minutes to work every day, put in her hours, rode her bike home––which was another 45 minutes, climbed into her studio chair and began working on her illustration portfolio. Every night.

But Elizabet swears that something magical happened in those late hours. It was like her illustration time was protected. Because she had a full time job, she could really give herself permission to go for it at night. Permission to take risks, to enjoy her passion. Her artwork was not burdened with the responsibility of having to make money.

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Once her portfolio was ready, Elizabet prepared herself mentally for the process. She was ready for the rejections, the long, hard, and difficult path to an agent and publication.

She started by picking her top three agencies. Then one morning, she submitted her work by e-mail. She had an offer by that afternoon. She ran around her room screaming. Elizabet doesn’t remember much of her call with her agent Justin Rucker, just that he said he loved her work. “I was so high on emotion and he talked a lot and I kept thinking is this real? Oh my God!” she remembers.

And Elizabet brings all of that to these illustrations. You’ll see it immediately, the joy and spunk…. the struggle and conflict. They flow out of her pen onto the page. These masterful illustrations are a treasure for readers and an invitation to all of us to show ourselves in our work.

Enjoy!

Anna Crowley Redding

P.S. Elizabet and her older sister are close friends today !

P.P.S. Keep reading, there’s a book give away at the bottom of this post!

Also available this week: Book 2 in this delicious, unforgettable series:

Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth (Book 2)

by Debbi Michiko Florence (illus. by Elizabet Vukovic)

It’s a big weekend for Jasmine Toguchi! She’s excited to celebrate Girl’s Day―a Japanese holiday honoring women and girls―with her sister, mother, and best friend, Linnie. When Linnie comes over to plan for the Girl’s Day celebration, Jasmine’s neighbor lets them play dress up in her garage. But the garage is dark, which is kind of scary. And Linnie decides to go home early, which is kind of weird. And Jasmine’s big sister, Sophie, doesn’t seem to want to join in the Girl’s Day fun this year, which is kind of confusing. WHAT is going on?

As her big weekend plans start to unravel, Jasmine must use her sleuthing skills to spot the clues around her. Then maybe, just maybe, she can fix things and make sure the Girl’s Day celebration happens!

Ages 6 – 9

Available July 11, 2017 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR)

Enter to win MOCHI QUEEN and SUPER SLEUTH! One entry per one comment per post this launch week for a maximum total of five entries. The winner will be drawn at random. Must have U.S. mailing address. Enter by midnight EST Sunday July 16th. Good luck!

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Character Development, Dreams Come True, Families, Illustrating, Illustrators, Inspiration, Interviews, process, Uncategorized