Tag Archive for Julie Halpern

Chicago Bound

I’m flying off to the Windy City this afternoon to visit two schools, Thomas Middle School and Northbrook Junior High. This will be my first visits of the new school year, so I’m looking to kick out the cobwebs, blow the rust off my thumb drive, and hopefully make a positive impression. The idea for me is always to try to leave each school a little bit better than when I first arrive.

This is another example of my book, Bystander, opening new doors for me, as it was my first true middle school book, featuring 7th-grade characters. So many books fade away with barely a whimper (even the good ones!), it’s such a blessing that this one seems to have taken hold in schools across the country, places where they are eager to read, explore and perhaps illuminate some of the issues that center on the bully-target-bystander dynamic. But mostly I hope this is a book that keeps readers turning the pages, a book they’ll enjoy. If it inspires students to think, well, amen to that. We can use all the thinking we can get around here.

Tomorrow, my kids, Maggie (6th) and Gavin (8th), go off the Middle School together, so I’m pretty steeped in this age group. My oldest, Nick, is now a sophomore in college. Yikes.

One other really nice aspect of this trip is that I am finally going to meet two of my publishing pals, Julie Halpern and (the insanely prolific) Matthew Cordell. That’s right, I’m spending a night on their couch — and I’m keeping any change I find under the cushions. That money’s mine. And the Cheetos, too. Matthew and I first met, electronically, when we did a picture book together, Mighty Casey (speaking of books that fade away). We bonded over Arnold Lobel and William Steig, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt, and we’ve become true friends entirely through email. Now I guess we’re putting that notion to the test. I also share a publisher with Matt’s wife, Julie, who is a librarian and a terrific writer. She’s deep and funny and I’m a huge fan.

I am really looking forward to hanging out with those guys. They have a young daughter, too, Romy, who keeps asking, “When’s Preller coming?” That cracks me up.

Good, Clean Fun: ANOTHER BROTHER Book Trailer

I first learned of Matthew Cordell when he was hired to illustrate my picture book, MIGHTY CASEY. Despite Matt’s great artwork, the book never really found an audience, and I guess it sort of died on the vine, as they say. But there are two great things that came out of that book. First,  my ongoing friendship with Matthew and his amazingly talented wife, Julie Halpern. Someday I hope we’re all in the same room! In my opinion, Matt is a hugely gifted illustrator, and a true artist, and an heir in his approach and dedication to Arnold Lobel, who is one of my all-time heroes. He’s also got a touch of William Steig.

Look, I’ll say it. A lot of children’s book illustration, while technically spectacular, isn’t very appealing to kids. Matt’s work, on the other hand, is loose and inviting and draws readers into the story. Like Lobel, and Steig, and James Marshall, and all the best. I really think Matt is that good, and he’s just scratching the surface.

Secondly, I’m gladdened by the consistent pleasure I experience when on odd times I pull out MIGHTY CASEY and read it aloud to large groups of students. I’m telling you, it works every time. We laugh, we have fun, and by the end these kids are right there, leaning in, eager for the play at the plate. Sales or not, those experiences tell me that Matt and I did good together — we made something, you know, put it out into the world. It’s all we can do.

Anyway, Matt created a homemade trailer for his new picture book, ANOTHER BROTHER. Now on sale on every street corner, car trunk, haberdashery — and independent bookstore, too!

Enjoy . . .

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Let Kids Read Comic Books . . . D’uh!

Instead of “Let Kids Read Comic Books,” I almost titled this entry, “Don’t Be an Idiot.” Because I can’t believe this needs to be discussed anymore.

Over at Imagination Soup, they ran a good piece with a solid message: “8 Reasons to Let Your Kids Read Comics.” Check it out, there’s a lot of worthwhile links attached to the article.

Here’s their list of “8 reasons” in brief.

1. Comics are fun to read.

2. Comics contain the same story elements and literary devices as narrative stories.

3. Comics provide built-in context clues.

4. Reading a comic is a different process of reading using a lot of inference.

5. Readers need variety in their reading diet.

6. We’re a visual culture and the visual sequence makes sense to kids.

7. Reading comics may lead to drawing and writing comics.

8. The selection of graphic novels is bigger, better, and reaches a wider age-range than before.

Yeah, feh, okay. I get that. We have to establish that comics are credible resources, that they’re valid in the classroom, so there’s a perceived need to throw in a lot of pedagogical goobledygook. But I don’t care. Because one thing I know is that many (many!) professional authors began their childhood love of reading with comic books. And that those authors are frequently men (AKA, ex-boys).

They read what they wanted to. They read what they liked. They read, period.

This dismissive notion of “boys reading junk” must be addressed. As well-meaning adults, we need to become sensitized to our bias against certain types of reading. We have to become aware of the messages we send to boy readers, the disapproving way we view their personal choices. Some of these boys pick up a comic book to read — TO READ! — and the message they get is, “That choice is stupid and you’re a dummy.”

We must trust in the process.

When I was working on my belly-up blog, Fathers Read, I received written contributions from several children’s book authors, including Matthew Cordell, Lewis Buzbee, Michael Northrop, Eric Velasquez, and Jordan Sonnenblick. One recurring strain in their reflections on their lives as young readers was the love and appreciation they felt toward comic books and, I should add, books that in general would not be considered literary. Yet somehow, despite reading what they liked, these boys became avid readers and skilled writers. Hmmm, go figure.

Here’s an excerpt from one such author/illustrator, my pal Matthew Cordell:

Five Things About Me as a Young Reader

1. Picture books I most remember liking were Dr. Seuss and Richard Scarry. And, sad to say, crappy series books like Berenstain bears. Hoo-boy.

2. I remember liking superhero comics very early on. Maybe even before I could actually read. It lasted til around middle school then tapered off. Quite significant here, being comics that made me want to be an artist.

3. I also was obsessed with Archie comics. They were easy to get because the Archie digests were at the grocery store checkout. These I liked for the gags and the weird 50’s vibe. Not so much for the cool factor. But I loved hanging out with these funny, upbeat, wholesome characters.

4. I loved Beverly Cleary books. The Ramona stuff, but especially the Henry books. I remember liking that it wasn’t over in just one book. Like you could still hang out in that world with these characters for the follow-up and so on. I guess like I did with my pals back in Riverdale.

5. There was this book, The Fledgling by Jane Langton, that was burned into my memory for years. I didn’t finish this book (it was required reading in 5th grade, which never really worked for me as a reader… I even fudged a book report on the thing). But I actually liked it and had always regretted never finishing it. Years went on and I eventually forgot the title and wanted more and more to go back and finish it. Last year, I finally sleuthed it out and remembered the name and re-read it. It was very surreal.

Matthew Cordell is a Chicago-based illustrator (and sometimes author, too!) of many terrific books, including: Justin Case (Rachel Vail), Toby and the Snowflakes (Julie Halpern) . . .

Mighty Casey (James Preller), Trouble Gum . . .


Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie (Julie Sternberg), and more.

How to Be Bully Smart — Yikes!

This 1995 video offers helpful advice for victims of bullying . . . if they wish to receive the beating of their lives.

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On a different note, I received some good news about Bystander. Based on a vote by independent booksellers from around the country, Bystander has been listed as one of 60 titles in their Winter 2009-2010 Kids Indie Next List“Inspired Recommendations for Kids from Indie Booksellers.”

Here’s a brief excerpt from the letter sent by the folks at IndieBound to my publisher:

The Winter 2009-2010 Kid’s Indie Next List flyers will be distributed to all stores in the November Children’s White Box mailing, scheduled to ship the week of November 16th.  The announcement of the full Winter 2009-2010 Kid’s Indie Next List will appear in the November 12th edition of Bookselling This Week.

What does this mean? I have no idea. But for authors like me, struggling to make a mark in the hardcover world, it’s a drop-in-the-bucket business. Any review, any positive word of mouth, can only be seen as a positive thing. After all, we write these books not for ourselves, but to be read by others, anything that helps get the word out is appreciated.

I’m happy to share the honor with my Facebook pal, fellow Feiwel author, and all-around culture vulture, Julie Halpern, for her new book, Into the Wild Nerd Yonder.

Ever wonder, “Why shop indie?” Click and scroll down to find your answer.

An Interview, a Few Links, and Song

Let’s take it around the horn:

1) I recently answered a few questions from the good folks at the pithily named blog, Books We Love from the Park Ridge Public Library Children’s Staff.

Here’s a taste of the goodness you’ll find there:

Do you find it hard to stop editing/revising, or do you have a definite ending point?

Well, deadlines help, because they force you to knuckle down. I generally know when a book is finished, and I’m all too happy to push myself away from the desk and say, “Done.” But when I read my so-called “finished” books — published books that have sat on my shelves for years — I still come across things I’d like to change, do differently. It’s never perfect, far from it. I forget who said it, but somebody once observed, “Books are never finished, they are abandoned.” That kind of makes sense to me.

(And so on and so forth.)

2) The ever-entertaining Julie Halpern, author, librarian, blogger, sugar addict, and pop culture vulture, had some fun tweaking an old 1991 book cover. It’s part of a new series of blog entries she intends to write, “Julie’s Most Awesome Book Covers.” If you like that kind of stuff — and who doesn’t? — then git on over there. Julie’s new book, Into the Wild Nerd Yonder: My Life on the Dork Side, is coming out someday. I don’t know exactly when; just ask her.

3) Sometimes we get busy and forget. So this is just a reminder of what great children’s book blogging looks like. Count me in as a big Peter D. Sieruta fan.

4) And while we’re talking blogs and swapping links, nobody does a better job at eliciting lively, thoughtful discussion in the comments section than Roger Sutton. He’s been having a very good week.

5) Sometimes I worry that with the influence of “American Idol,” and the over-the-top song stylings it favors (we used to call it “showing off”), people may have forgotten what a great vocal performance sounds like. The difference between real soulfulness and the trappings of soul. Click on this one, featuring Mavis Staples, and remember . . .

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