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Mark Tatulli: Becoming Short & Skinny

Short & Skinny cover“You wrote a graphic novel memoir? Who wants to read a story about you?!”

This ungallant sentence was spoken to me by a cartooning compatriot when I gave him the news that I had sold Short & Skinny, a mini-memoir of my life in the summer of 1977. You might think my first reaction would be to get indignant and huffy.

But all I could think in that shocking moment was: “Holy crap! He’s right! Who wants to read a story about me?!

I hadn’t thought of this before! I was so wrapped up in wanting to tell my story and analyzing my life as a detached, outside reporter that I never stopped to think, why was this a story worth telling? Who would want to read this? I forgot to ask myself the first question I always ask …why do I care?

How did I miss that very basic thing? What was different this time?

So I stepped back and reviewed…I remember reading Raina Telgemeier’s Smile (who hasn’t?) and being so moved and engaged by her very personal middle school story, and relating to the same thoughts and feelings at that age. And without hesitation, I jumped into writing/drawing my own middle school epoch…my story. As I pondered my early teens, the words and pictures came flooding out, right there in those spiral Strathmore sketch books. With no forethought. I just started to draw panels…and then myself in those panels, and suddenly it was May 1977 again and there I was at a desk in Memorial Jr High…drawing in my private world and swathed in insecurity.

The memories continued to bubble up and fill the pages. Soon my thoughts moved faster than I could draw, and I began to cram the anecdotes and events of my experience onto single Post-it notes, forcing me to keep them simple and to the point. I honestly, and at times painfully, examined my 13-year-old self (but always with a bent toward humor), with each distant recollection unleashing two or three more. Before I knew it, I had an entire door in my office, ceiling to floor, full of these little orange and yellow flashbacks.

Then I assembled the memory-squares into an arc of my life from that far past summer, and like a puzzle coming together piece-by-piece, the full picture of Short & Skinny emerged.

Then, I sat down and converted the story into comic pages like I saw in other graphic novels for middle schoolers. I had never written a long form comic story (I make two daily newspaper comic strips three or four panels at a time—a very different genre), and the process was sort of scary and exhilarating at the same time. I love learning how to do something new, especially if it combines cartoons and storytelling.

Soon I had 60 rough pages and the story treatment, which was passed along to publishers and before long, BOOM! A sale to Little Brown Books for Young Readers was made. Taa-Dah!

“You wrote a graphic novel memoir? Who wants to read a story about you?!”


For the first time I thought about the “why do I care?” question after the story was written. And it dawned on me:  middle school is this weird, awkward bump in time for everybody. Everybody has that cringe worthy, outcast, ill-fitting, body-conscious period…when you have one foot in childhood fantasies and the other foot slowly making the turn into young adulthood, and nothing you do seems right or normal and you’re filled with doubt. When you are trying to find yourself. Everybody has a story about that time. And Short & Skinny is mine.

Who wants to read a story about me?

I do. Middle school me. I wrote this for middle school me, and all those other kids that feel like I did. In retrospect there’s nothing especially cataclysmic about being short and skinny, but when you are 12, 13 or so, it’s pretty devastating to be the smallest kid in your class. With no end in sight. So I wanted to let that me know it’s going to be ok. That in the end it doesn’t matter how tall or short or fat or slow or dorky or clumsy or different you think you are. It’s about finding your voice. All kids have that hidden voice, that something special just waiting to come out. For me, it was my storytelling voice and how STAR WARS unlocked that back in ’77. And I can only hope that Short & Skinny will be that kind of inspiration too. That being different isn’t a bad thing. As my Mom used to say, “It’s all about what you do with those dancing shoes.”

Barb Rosenstock

Barb Rosenstock photo

Dive into History with Otis & Will Discover the Deep

 

“How come you write about famous people?” asked a third grader.

 

There I stood at another school visit stumped by a young person asking a question I’ve heard over and over again. You’d think that by now, since I write picture book biographies, I’d have a handy answer. But each time, that “fame question” throws me. I guess it’s because I don’t choose my subjects because they’re famous.

 

Instead, I’m drawn to stories about people who’ve changed history. For me, history has never made sense as a series of facts or dates (which I still rarely remember!). Instead, I tend to agree with the quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “There is properly no history, only biography.” In my books, I try to show students that history, whether in science, politics, or the arts, is made by regular people. People who pursued a dream or a skill in a deep way—not because someone forced them, not because they wanted to be popular; but usually just because they were curious and liked the work. In other words, the young Abraham Lincoln didn’t know he was gonna be ABRAHAM LINCOLN. He was just Abe, that tall kid; the one who loved to read and made friends easily.

 

This view of history holds true for my new book, Otis & Will Discover the Deep: The Record-setting Dive of the Bathysphere, illustrated by Katherine Roy. It’s the story of how mechanical engineer, Otis Barton, and natural scientist, William Beebe, worked together to create the bathysphere—the first submersible craft that took human beings into the deep ocean.

 

William Beebe is well-known in scientific circles, but hardly a household name; and Otis Barton’s name is kind of off-the-grid all together. I didn’t know about either man ahead of writing the book. Instead, a few years ago, I read a small news item that used the word “bathysphere,” which I’d never heard, and became fascinated with the men who built it. I learned that Otis Barton started as a curious kid who built homemade diving equipment to see deeper into the ocean. And Will Beebe was so in love with nature’s mysteries that once he dove into the ocean for the first time, he never studied anything else.

 

Early on in the research of Barton and Beebe’s amazing adventures, the universe cooperated. My generic request to the Library of Congress website happened to be answered by a librarian, Constance Carter, who’d been Beebe’s assistant in the 1950’s. Photos, film, diaries, and archives were uncovered. There were historical accounts of at least nineteen bathysphere dives over four years. The challenge became how to winnow that much information into one picture book story. I decided to concentrate on a single bathysphere dive in June, 1930—the first time Otis and Will saw the deep ocean they’d dreamed of visiting since they were kids.

 

These childhood dreams drove Otis and Will to great discoveries. To satisfy their own questions, they struggled with scientific and mechanical problems. Most impressively, they put their lives on the line over and over again. Otis and Will became the first to see what lived below the ocean’s light level, or as the book’s refrain puts it, down, down, into the deep.

 

So, are Otis and Will famous? Well, none of the Kardashians have to worry that Otis Barton or Will Beebe will ever have more Instagram followers. At least not yet. But I hope you will agree that Otis and Will are better than famous; they are important.

 

And from now on that’ll be my answer. I don’t write about “famous people.” I write about “important people.” Why? Because each child is important and deserves role models with the same questions, curiosities, and feelings. Because each student is history’s future.

Higher, Steeper, Faster

Higher Steeper Faster coverHigher, Steeper, Faster

The Daredevils Who Conquered the Skies

By Lawrence Goldstone

Genre: Juvenile Non-Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Science: Astronomy/Space/Aviation, Science: Inventions, Social Studies: History

Grades: 3-7

 

Educator Guide LB School Podcast

Aviator Lincoln Beachey broke countless records: he looped-the-loop, flew upside down and in corkscrews, and was the first to pull his aircraft out of what was a typically fatal tailspin. As Beachey and other aviators took to the skies in death-defying acts in the early twentieth century, these innovative daredevils not only wowed crowds, but also redefined the frontiers of powered flight.

 

Higher, Steeper, Faster takes readers inside the world of the brave men and women who popularized flying through their deadly stunts and paved the way for modern aviation. With heart-stopping accounts of the action-packed race to conquer the skies, plus photographs and fascinating archival documents, this book will exhilarate readers as they fly through the pages.

 

PRAISE

★ “For those who love history, aviation, or stories of great daring, this is pure pleasure.” —Kirkus

 

★ “Goldstone deftly combines captivating descriptions of the personalities—male and female—with discussion of the many improvements and ever-present hazards of early flying.” —Publishers Weekly

★ “Readers will breathlessly follow the race to conquer the sky as these early aviators perform daring stunts and break achievement records that seem unbelievable today.” —School Library Connection

No Better Friend

No Better Friend coverNo Better Friend

A Man, a Dog, and Their Incredible True Story of Friendship and Survival in World War II

By Robert Weintraub

Genre: Juvenile Non-fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Animals, Social Studies: Biographies, Social Studies: America

Grades: 5 & up

 

<a class=”lb-school-library-button” href=”https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/PR4663_NoBetterFriend_EG_Final.pdf” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Educator Guide</a>

A middle-grade edition of the New York Times bestselling No Better Friend-the extraordinary tale of friendship and survival in World War II.

 

No Better Friend tells the incredible true story of Frank Williams, a radarman in Britain’s Royal Air Force, and Judy, a purebred pointer, who met as prisoners of war during World War II. Judy, who became the war’s only official canine POW, was a fiercely loyal dog who sensed danger-warning her fellow prisoners of imminent attacks and, later, protecting them from brutal beatings. Frank and Judy’s friendship, an unbreakable bond forged in the worst circumstances, is one of the great recently uncovered stories of World War II.

 

As they discover Frank and Judy’s story in this specially adapted text, young readers will also learn about key World War II moments through informative and engaging sidebars, maps, photographs, and a timeline.

 

PRAISE

“Well-written and engaging.” —Booklist

 

“Riveting and highly moving.” —Kirkus Reviews

 

“An enormously readable account of animal and human companionship and survival; recommended for budding historians and fans of survival stories.” —School Library Journal

 

 

Finding Winnie

Finding Winnie

The True Story of The World’s Most Famous Bear

By Lindsay Mattick

Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Genre: Juvenile Non-Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Social Studies: Biographies, Folk Tales/Fairy Tales/Classics: Animals, Adventure: Animals

Grades: Pre-K-1st

 

[button link=”http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/podcasts/index.html?channel=5&podcast=458″]Listen to Author & Illustrator Interview[/button][button link=”https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/EG_9780316324908.pdf”]Educator Guide[/button]

Before Winnie-the-Pooh, there was a real bear named Winnie.

 

In 1914, Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian on his way to tend horses in World War I, followed his heart and rescued a baby bear. He named her Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg, and he took the bear to war.

 

Harry Colebourn’s real-life great-granddaughter tells the true story of a remarkable friendship and an even more remarkable journey–from the fields of Canada to a convoy across the ocean to an army base in England…

 

And finally to the London Zoo, where Winnie made another new friend: a real boy named Christopher Robin.

 

Here is the remarkable true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.

 

PRAISE & ACCOLADES

Winner of the 2016 Randolph Caldecott Medal

 

★ “Little ones who love Milne’s classic stories will be enchanted by this heartening account of the bear’s real-life origins.” — Booklist

 

★ “The sum total is as captivating as it is informative, transforming a personal family story into something universally resonant.” — The Horn Book

 

★ “The book strikes a lovely, understated tone of wonder and family pride…[Sophie Blackall] proves that she’s equally imaginative at chronicling straight-on reality too.” — Publishers Weekly

 

★ “A perfect melding of beautiful art with soulful, imaginative writing, this lovely story, penned by Colebourn’s great-great granddaughter, is ideal for sharing aloud or poring over individually.” — School Library Journal

 

“Written by one of the descendants of the veterinarian that started it all. Add in the luminous artwork of Sophie Blackall and you’ve got yourself a historical winner on your hands.” – A Fuse #8 Production

 

VIDEOS

Me…Jane

Me…Jane

By Patrick McDonnell

Genre: Picture Book

Curriculum subjects: Self-Discovery, Individuality, Careers

Grade: PreK-1st

 

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In his characteristic heartwarming style, Patrick McDonnell tells the story of the young Jane Goodall and her special childhood toy chimpanzee named Jubilee. As the young Jane observes the natural world around her with wonder, she dreams of “a life living with and helping all animals,” until one day she finds that her dream has come true.

 

One of the world’s most inspiring women, Dr. Jane Goodall is a renowned humanitarian, conservationist, animal activist, environmentalist, and United Nations Messenger of Peace. In 1977 she founded the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), a global nonprofit organization that empowers people to make a difference for all living things.

With anecdotes taken directly from Jane Goodall’s autobiography, McDonnell makes this very true story accessible for the very young– and young at heart.

 

PRAISE

A 2012 Caldecott Honor Book

A Charlotte Zolotow Award Winner

A New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book

 

★ “This remarkable picture book is one of the few that speaks, in a meaningful way, to all ages.” –Booklist

 

★ “McDonnell’s book is… inspirational.” –The Horn Book

 

★ “Children will appreciate McDonnell’s original format and take heart that interests logged in their own diaries might turn into lifelong passions.” –Kirkus Reviews

 

“McDonnell’s concentration on [Goodall’s] childhood fantasies carries a strong message to readers that their own dreams – even the wildly improbable ones–may be realizable, too.” –Publishers Weekly

 

“[A] tender homage… engaging… an appealing and satisfying introduction to a well-known scientist and activist.” –School Library Journal

Dave the Potter

Dave The Potter

By Laban Carrick Hill

Illustrated by Bryan Collier

Genre: Non-Fiction Picture Book

Curriculum Subjects: African American Heritage, Poetry

Grade: PreK-1st

 2011 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award 

2011 Caldecott Honor Book

Dave was an extraordinary artist, poet, and potter living in South Carolina in the 1800s. He combined his superb artistry with deeply observant poetry, carved onto his pots, transcending the limitations he faced as a slave. In this inspiring and lyrical portrayal, National Book Award nominee Laban Carrick Hill’s elegantly simple text and award-winning artist Bryan Collier’s resplendent, earth-toned illustrations tell Dave’s story, a story rich in history, hope, and long-lasting beauty.

 

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★ “The volume is a visual feast, packed with contemporary photographs, reproductions, magazine covers, and posters, and enhanced by an interesting design. Together, the words and images bring this extraordinary period to life.”
 —School Library Journal

 

 

 

 

 

I Will Always Write Back

I Will Always Write BackI Will Always Write Back

How One Letter Changed Two Lives

By Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda with Liz Welch

Genre: Juvenile Non-Fiction

Curriculum Subjects: Personal Development: Character Development, Personal Development: Friendship, Personal Development: Diversity, Social Studies: Europe/Asia/Africa, Personal Development: Responsibility

Grade: 7 & up

 

[button link=”http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/podcasts/index.html?channel=5&podcast=359″]Listen to interview with authors[/button][button link=”http://media.hdp.hbgusa.com/titles/assets/reading_group_guide/9780316241311/EG_9780316241311.pdf”]Educator Guide[/button]

It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin’s class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. All the other kids picked countries like France or Germany, but when Caitlin saw Zimbabwe writer on the board, it sounded like the most exotic place she had ever heard of — so she chose it.

 

Martin was lucky to even receive a pen pal letter. There were only ten letters, and forty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one.

 

That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives.

 

In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends — and better people — through letters. Their story will inspire readers to look beyond their own lives and wonder about the world at large and their place in it.

 

PRAISE

★ “Sensitively and candidly demonstrating how small actions can result in enormous change, this memoir of two families’ transformation through the commitment and affection of long-distance friends will humble and inspire.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

 

This is a well-written, accessible story that will open Western adolescents’ eyes to life in developing countries. Told in the first person, with chapters alternating between Caitlin’s and Martin’s points of view, this title effectively conveys both of these young people’s perspectives… A strong and inspiring story.” — School Library Journal

Of Beetles and Angels

Of Beetles and Angels

By Mawi Asgedom

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Social Studies: Immigration, Social Studies: Biographies, Personal Development: Character Development, Social Studies: African American Heritage, Family Life: Daily Life and Play

Grades: 5-17

Now in a paperback edition, this acclaimed memoir tells the unforgettable story of a young boy’s journey from a refugee camp in Sudan to Chicago, where his family survived on welfare. Mawi followed his father’s advice to “treat people . . . as though they were angels sent from heaven, ” and realized his dream of a full-tuition scholarship to Harvard University. Updated with 14 black-and-white photos and a new epilogue.

 

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 PRAISE

“A moving memoir.” * Chicago Tribune

“An amazing story.” * Oprah Winfrey

“His simple lyrical narrative, both wry and tender, stays true to the child’s viewpoint as he grows up…What stays with you is the quiet, honest drama of a family’s heartrending journey.” –Booklist

“This earnest account of his life up to his graduation from Harvard is peppered with powerful moments.” –Publishers Weekly

A BookSense ’76 pick