Tag Archive for Matthew McElligott

McElligott & Preller Join Forces for a Super “Team Up” at The Open Door Bookstore: 12/2 @ 1:00 – 2:30

It’s two for the price of none! Matt McElligott and I are teaming up for a unique book signing at Schenectady’s Open Door Bookstore on 12/2 at 1:00 – 2:30. Come say hello and take care of that holiday shopping with signed books!

Matt is the big brain behind the ground-breaking “Mad Scientist Academy” series, which brings scientific fact to young readers in a fresh, graphic, fun-filled format. The latest title is The Space Disaster.

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“McElligott has concocted a winning formula for learning as entertainment.”Kirkus Reviews.

I’ll be there to celebrate the publication of my own space-themed Jigsaw Jones book, The Case from Outer Space, along with the return-to-print of eight “classroom classics.” In addition, I’ll be signing my hot-off-the-presses release, Better Off Undead, for slightly older readers (grades 4-8).

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“The latest early chapter book in Preller’s long-running Jigsaw Jones Mystery series has plenty of appeal for young independent readers.”Booklist.

“This uproarious middle grade call to action [Better Of Undead] has considerable kid appeal and a timely message. A strong addition to school and public library collections.” — School Library Journal.

 

 

 

5 QUESTIONS with MATTHEW McELLIGOTT, author/illustrator of “MAD SCIENTIST ACADEMY: THE WEATHER DISASTER”

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Here we are, oh sunny day, the latest installment of my “5 Questions” interview series with luminaries of the children’s book world. Here comes my friend, Matt McElligott!

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Matt, I’m looking at the second book in your “Mad Scientist Academy” series, The Weather Disaster. And all I can think is, Boy that looks like a lot of work! Seriously, I’m exhausted. So I’m just going to take a brief nap and, yawn, we’ll pick this up later. Zzzzzzzzzz.

You’re not the first person to tell me my books put them to sleep! 

Okay, I’m up! For readers who might be unfamiliar with this science series, you are essentially taking a nonfiction topic and giving it a fresh, contemporary spin. All told in an appealing format that’s a hybrid between the graphic novel and traditional picture book. As someone who has admired your work for many years, it strikes me that this series –- which is spectacular in every way — represents a culmination for you, a distillation of your many and varied talents. I don’t think you could have done this ten years ago. All of your past work informs this one book: your intellectual curiosity, your love of comic books and old Hollywood movies, your silliness, your experience with book design and storytelling, plus the signature McElligott sense of what kids genuinely like. How did this series begin?

The sentiment is much, much appreciated. And I agree completely -– I don’t think I could have done this ten years ago, and I’m not sure I could even do it now without the tremendous help of my wife Christy. It really is a lot of work. Not only does the story have to be compelling, but it also has to deliver a lot of real science along the way, hopefully while still captivating the reader. Finding that balance has been, by far, the trickiest part of putting these together, but I can honestly say I enjoy every part of it.

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The idea began with a suggestion from my longtime editor, Emily Easton, who felt that there was a real opportunity for a new series that could make science accessible for kids. We spent about a year and a half trying out various ideas and approaches until it finally started to gel. The graphic novel format came from both my love of classic comics and a practical need to fit all the information into thirty-two pages.

There must have been a point, early on, when you thought to yourself, “Uh-oh.” Just that pure terror of, What have I gotten myself into? Can I actually do it?

Boy, you nailed it with that question. The feeling of terror hit me a couple weeks into the first book and has lingered ever since. There are roughly a hundred illustrations in each book, and the thought of how long it will take to draw the next book keeps me up at night. I’ll spend about a year, maybe a little more, researching, plotting, sketching, and illustrating pretty intensely until it’s finished. But the good thing is that I’m not in it alone. I happen to be married to a very talented woman who’s a whiz at both researching and drawing (we met thirty years ago in art school) and we can divide up many of the tasks to keep everything manageable. Three books in, and we’re still married!

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Now correct me if I’m wrong, but your cruel editors don’t allow you to just make up stuff for this book? Is that true? So you’ve actually got to know what you are talking about? What’s the research process like? In this book you thank an actual weatherman, Jason Gough. Otherwise known as a, cough-cough, “stratospheric meteorologist.”

Oh, no. I make most of it up. (That part about how rain forms? That totally came to me in a dream.) Seriously, there’s a ton of research for each book, and meeting real scientists has been one of my favorite parts. For The Weather Disaster I worked with Jason Gough, and for the Dinosaur Disaster I worked with a man named Carl Mehling, a paleontologist who’s in charge of all 32,000 fossils at the American Museum of Natural History. For the upcoming Space Disaster, I worked with the astronomer Bob Berman, who you may know from his work on the radio station WAMC.

All of these scientists were so helpful, patient, and fully willing to engage my strange questions. (“Say, Jason, if you needed to create a tornado from scratch, how would you do it?”) Best of all, they embodied a perfect combination of science and imagination, and I was really lucky to find them. I’ve posted interviews with Carl and Jason on my website, and will be posting more soon.

Matt, you and I are both active with school visits. And I always recommend you to media specialists. The funny thing is, they usually say, “Yeah, he was already here.” At which point I figure out that I’ve been invited because they are working their way down, down, down the list. Not that I mind playing second fiddle –- I’m happy to be in the orchestra! But talk to me a little about your experience in schools. I mean, there you are at home, slaving away on these impossible books. Then you get out of the house! What do you hope to achieve when you visit a school? And also, if you don’t mind me cobbling questions together, what do you think that you get out of your school visits?

Don’t sell yourself short –- you have quite a reputation in the schools! I suspect you’re there because the teachers are actually working their way up the list. (Preller? Why not? Anyone’s got to be better than McElligott.)

I get paid in Ramen Noodles and old Lotto tickets. I think that’s a big part of my appeal.

I love your questions about author visits. The first is pretty straightforward: I hope the kids see that authors are real people, that making books is a thing that real grownups do, and that the writing and illustrating process can be hard, but is totally worth it. (Authors, after all, get to control the world.)

On school visits, Matt always shows readers the joy of . . . the thrill of . . . nevermind!

On school visits, Matt always shows readers the joy of . . . the thrill of . . . nevermind!

As for what I get out of the visits, I’m not sure anyone’s ever asked me that. I know I get to share my love of books –- that’s a big part –- and get to meet future authors and illustrators, as well as terrific librarians and teachers. But I also get to represent something bigger than myself, a duty I take very seriously. When a school hosts an author, and when they present the author/illustrator as someone of importance, the school is sending a message about the value of the arts that kids are almost certainly not getting anywhere else. I’m honored to be that representative, if even for just a day.

I like that, we are ambassadors from a distant land. I’ve never been comfortable with the “rock star” aspect of being a visiting author. Sometimes we get put on a pedestal. But when you view it as beyond the self, that we are representing something bigger than “Jimmy” or “Matt,” then it makes more sense.

Ambassadors is such a great word for it. We may be the only authors some of those kids will ever meet. If we’re funny, if we’re engaging, if it shows that we love our jobs, they’ll assume that all authors are that way. Those kids will come away with the idea that reading and making books is something they want to do too.

I recall Tedd Arnold telling me in an interview that he enjoyed checking in with their “squirmy reality.” That phrase always stuck with me. You get to look at those faces, and interact, and reconnect with the fact that, hey, a second grader in October is still really, really young. The visits land us in their world. You know what? It’s like going on a safari! You drive the jeep, Matt. I’ll grab the pith helmets!

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Exactly! It’s field research, and we can learn so much from studying the indigenous population of the elementary school.

You’ve tackled dinosaurs, you’ve wrestled with weather. What’s your next topic?

I can tell you that next up is The Solar System Disaster, out next summer. After that, maybe the ocean? Or maybe the science of belly-button lint. It’s probably between those two.

Well, I think we’ve all learned something today. Every book in this series is a disaster.

In more ways than one!

 

MATT McELLIGOTT keeps a terrific website which you can visit by clicking, madly, here

 

AND IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ PREVIOUS “5 Questions” interviews, thank you — just click on the names below. Coming next week: Jessica Olien and her blobfish! And after that: London Ladd, Matthew Cordell, Lizzy Rockwell, Nancy Castaldo, Matthew Phelan, and more (but not necessarily in that order).

* Hudson Talbott

* Hazel Mitchell

* Ann Hood

 

5 QUESTIONS with HAZEL MITCHELL, author/illustrator of “TOBY”

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Welcome to the second installment of my “5 Questions” series. On a weekly or bi-weekly or completely random basis, I will interview an author or illustrator and focus on a specific book. In the coming weeks, we’ll spend time with Matthew Cordell, Jessica Olien, Matthew McElligott, Lizzy Rockwell and more. Why? I like these people and I love their books. Sue me. Today we get to hang out with Hazel Mitchell, who is as glorious as a glass of champagne at a good wedding. Drink deeply, my friends . . .

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JP: Greetings, Hazel. Thanks for stopping by my swanky blog. I hope you don’t find the vibe too intimidating. I put up the tapestry just for you. The lava lamps have been here for a while. Because nothing says “classy” quite like a lava lamp. Sit anywhere you like, but the milk crates are most comfortable.

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Hazel: Thanks, JP. This is certainly an eclectic place you’ve got here. Wow, is that a glitter ball? Next you will be wearing a white suit. Excuse me while I remove this stuffed meerkat from the milk crate . . . 

1c971b5bc7c4a067d09cad45ee38361cCareful with that meerkat, it’s expensive. Hey, do I detect an accent? Wait, let me guess! You are from . . . Kentucky?

No getting anything past you! Kentucky, Yorkshire, England. OK, just Yorkshire, England. I’m a late pilgrim.

We recently sat side-by-side at the Warwick Children’s Book Festival, where I got the chance to read your wonderful new picture book, Toby, and eavesdrop on your lively interactions with young readers. At times, alarmingly, you spoke in the voice of a hand puppet. So let me see if I’ve got this straight: Toby is a real dog, but not a true story, exactly? How does that work?

toby-realistic-sketchesYes, we did sit next to each other and it was a lot of fun to see you in action! I didn’t know you were eavesdropping, I’d have dropped in some of those Shakespearean ‘asides’ just for you. And I must watch that hand puppet voice, I even do it without the hand puppet . . .

OK, to the question: Yes, Toby is a real dog. I rescued him from a puppy mill situation back in 2013. He was so endearing and his journey from frozen dog to bossy boots captured my heart. I began drawing him, because that’s what illustrators do, and before I knew it I was weaving a story round him. But I didn’t want to feature myself as the owner in Toby’s story, that was kind of boring and I figured Toby needed a younger owner, one who children could relate to. So I gave Toby a boy who adopts him and a Dad who is struggling with moving house, looking after his son AND now a new dog. The fictionalized setting gave me lots of ideas and emotions to play with, but the stuff Toby gets up to in the book is taken from things he did in real life.

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I can see it’s a work that comes from your heart. And by “see” I mean: I could feel it. A heartwarming story for young children living in a cynical age. The book is beautifully designed. I especially admire the pacing of it, the way you vary the number and size of the many illustrations. Please tell me a little about that decision-making process.

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Thank you. I love that you say ‘feel.’ I wanted this book to be about emotions and feelings and bring the reader into the internal dialogue of the boy and dog’s fears and frustrations. Just small things you know, but life is full of small things that make up the big things. And again, thank you for your kind words on the design, working with Candlewick, my editor (Liz Bicknell) and art director (Ann Stott), was a joy. We did a lot of drafts at rough sketch stage and as the layout of the book evolved a lot of graphic novel style panels crept in and then the wide double-spreads to open out the story. I like how it flows. The choice of colors really adds to the story I think, moody blues and beiges that reflect the emotions and then brighter colours when things are going well. The boy and dog are connected by the colour red –- Toby’s collar and the boy’s sneakers. 

Oh, thank you, Hazel, for sharing those behind-the-scenes details. I appreciate seeing the black-and-white sketches, too. I think even when readers don’t consciously notice those subtle details, they still manage to seep into our unconsciousness. It’s fascinating how much thought goes into the work that most readers probably don’t think they see.

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I like that your book doesn’t gloss over the challenges of owning a dog. It’s not always cuddles and sunshine. Why did you feel it was important to include the downside of dog ownership?

Because that is the reality of life and children are very capable of dealing with realities and working through problems. Sometimes it’s adults who want everything to be cuddles and sunshine, and try to save youngsters from the real world. Well we can’t do that, because it comes at us fast. I never get tired of seeing or hearing about a child responding to a book and saying, “Yeah, that happened to me,” or “I know that feeling.” It’s like you’ve been given a gift. 

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I see that you live in Maine. You must get this question a lot, but why isn’t Toby a moose? Do you see many moose up there? Can we please just talk about moose for a little while? And what goes on in Maine? Do you eat lobster all the time? While reading Stephen King? Or do I have some misconceptions? How did you end up there?

Toby channels his inner moose at times, which is scary in a poodle. There aren’t so many moose around our way, but drive a little North and there is moose-a-plenty (that could be a good name for a snack?). 

Sounds delicious.

I once drove home from a school visit in the FAR NORTH at twilight (that was my first mistake), it was misty and I was driving down a road where I swear there was a moose every 5 yards. I drove 30 miles at 5 MPH. I got home after six months. These moose were SO darn big and SO close to the car I could literally see up their nostrils. Man, moose need help with superfluous hair.

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Wow, you really did see up their nostrils. You are scaring me a little bit, Hazel. Eyes on the road. Speaking of scary . . .

Stephen King lives in the next town over, but you know, he’s a recluse. I eat lobster with lobster on top. Delish. When I moved to the US of A from over the pond I landed in the South. Then moved to Maine. I like the cold much better! (And the lobster).

Do you have ideas for any more Toby stories? I think readers will want more.

I do have more ideas about stories for Toby. But we will have to wait and see. Readers! Write to my publisher! 

I’m so glad you visited, Hazel. It’s nice spending time with you. I hope Toby enjoys a long and mischievous life in children’s books.

It’s been fun. Best five questions anyone asked me all morning. Thanks for having me drop by … oops … there goes a lava lamp!

Six bucks down the drain. We’re done here.

 

imanismooncvr_300-819x1024In addition to Toby, Hazel Mitchell has illustrated several books for children including Imani’s Moon, One Word Pearl, Animally and Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? Originally from England, where she attended art college and served in the Royal Navy, she now lives in Maine with her poodles Toby and Lucy and a cat called Sleep. You may learn more about Hazel at www.hazelmitchell.com

TOBY Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts

Stay Home, Please. Don’t Celebrate Children’s Book Day at “Sunnyside” in Tarrytown, NY, 9/25

Just stay home. Please.

Find something else to do.

Each year I do this event, which features more than 60 amazing children’s book authors and illustrators, and it’s always such a disappointment. For starters, check out some of the people who’ll be there, and you’ll understand why I’m so bummed:

Tony Abbott, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Nick Bruel, Bryan Collier, Katie Davis, Bruce Degen, Jean Craighead George, Charise Mericle Harper, Susan Jeffers, Peter Lerangis, Gail Carson Levine, Carolyn MacCullough, Rafe Martin, Wendy Mass, Matthew McElligott, Helen Perelman, Wendell Minor, Gloria Pinkney, Lizzy Rockwell, Todd Strasser, Mark Teague, Jean Van Leeuwen, Eric Velasquez, Sarah Weeks, Ed Young, and more.

Why so down-in-the-dumps you ask? Because I never get to talk to any of them. I never get a chance to meet the new (to me!) people, like Will Moses (Mary and Her Little Lamb), Lena Roy (Edges), Daniel Kirk (Library Mouse), Peter Brown (You Will Be My Friend!) . . .

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. . . and Jerry Davis (Little Chicken’s Big Day). Who are these people? Might they become my new best pals? Um, not likely! Because they are sitting at tables forty feet away, surrounded by happy children, shopping grandparents, and strong-armed educators, hauling bags of books like Sherpa guides.

Best I can do is throw rocks at ’em.

And, oh, hey, look over there, it’s Jean Craighead George. She’s only a freakin’ legend. I can’t throw rocks at Jean Craighead George. She’ll throw them back — and her arm is a bazooka.

Oh,  wait.  Here’s old friends like Mark Teague and Helen Perelman and Peter Lerangis. Can I talk to any of them? Can we hang out? Maybe shoot the breeze? Commiserate?

Nooooooo. I’m too busy signing books, meeting young readers, gabbing with families, prostrating myself before the cheerful & smiling hordes.

Writing is a solitary business, folks. And it’s frustrating for me to sit there at gorgeous Sunnyside . . .

. . . just feet away from my peerless peers, and never have a free minute to chat with them.

So my dream is for just one year, nobody comes. No book sales, no signings, no musicians, no storytellers, no-bah-dee. Just us authors, finally (finally!) enjoying a few moments when we can hang out and complain about the crappy jobs our publishers do with publicity and marketing. It’s how we bond. We bitch and moan about Kindles.

So this coming Sunday, clean the garage, watch football, wax the car. But if you insist on coming . . . click here for full details.

As always, blue skies are personally guaranteed. It never rains on my parade.

Celebrate Children’s Book Day @ Washington Irving’s “Sunnyside” in Tarrytown, NY: 9/19

You should know that children’s book impresarios Susan Brandes and Beth Vetare-Civitello have put together another spectacular lineup of authors and illustrators for this year’s (13th annual?) Children’s Book Festival.

With more than 50 authors/illustrators on hand, the list is too excruciatingly long to include everyone. So I’ll only name my favorites:

JAMES PRELLER!

Well, it looks like we’ve run out of time. Sunnyside is a gorgeous location, with historic buildings nestled in beside the mighty Hudson . . .

What’s that? Hold on. I just got a text . . .

Tony Abbott: WTF??!!

Anyway, as I was saying . . .

Eric Velasquez: Punk!

Charise Mericle Harper: When I see you there, I will throw a CUPCAKE in your face!

Jean Craighead George: Die, die, die!

Rebecca Stead: How would you like to have a Newbery Medal shoved up your . . .

Whoa, whoa, people, CALM DOWN! Obviously, some of these “artists” — and I’m using the term loosely — have ego issues. Touchy, touchy. Seriously, I don’t even know these people. And I don’t want to know them! But, okay, here’s a few other names before I get into any more trouble (but believe me, I’m pretty confident I can handle Jean Craighead George in a tussle, if it’s a fair fight and she doesn’t carry a crude knife fashioned out of tree bark and a plastic spork; and as far as Ms. Stead’s “offer,” that may be as close as I’ll ever get):

Nora Raleigh Baskin * Judy Blundell * Katie Davis * Jules Feiffer * Susan Jeffers * Peter Lerangis * Gail Carson Levine * Wendy Mass * Wendell Minor * Jerry Pinkney * Peter Sis * Hudson Talbott * Ed Young * James Howe * Michael Rex * Nick Bruel * Bruce Degan * Diane Goode * and many, many more, including JAMES FREAKING PRELLER!

I’m also glad to see that my friend, Matthew McElligott, will be attending this year. His new book, Even Monsters Need Haircuts, looks pretty great.

Maybe I’ll offer him a ride . . . if he pays for gas.

And tolls.

Show time: 12:00 – 4:30.

Oh, yeah, one more thing. I’ll do something that these other children’s authors and illustrators are afraid to do. That’s right: I am personally guaranteeing a beautiful day. Blue skies, warm sun, good times. Trust me on this, people.  It’s my personal promise to you.

This year, I mean it.

So come on out and bring lots of money bring the kids!

Click here for full details, directions, etc.