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This Is A School! The Joy of Reading, Writing and Connecting with Students

Read this post, then leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of This Is a School by John Schu.

Hello! Visiting schools was one of my greatest joys and honors during my time as the Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic Book Fairs. I met with thousands and thousands of students and educators. My heart grew bigger. It became more open. I experienced daily moments of joy and heart-growing connections. The most memorable connections were always waiting around every corner. Truly.

Now, I’m visiting schools with Bookelicious–an online independent bookshop and resource for students, teachers, and families–through my own consulting, and with Candlewick Press for the launch of This Is a School, a picture book illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison and written by me.

Even though I’ve delivered thousands of presentations, a Q&A segment wasn’t built into the experiences. I use every moment. I’ve never felt as though there was time or a real reason to incorporate a formal Q&A. I thought it would change the energy of the experience. I thought I might struggle to answer questions exactly the way I wanted. I thought I would toss and turn in bed each night imagining how I should have answered the questions. I should have said it this way. I should have included X, Y, and Z. Something I experience after almost every interview. It takes a lot of energy. It makes me doubt myself. I thought if someone had a question for me, they could ask it after the presentation. I enjoy one-on-one questions.

On March 29, 2022,

something interesting,

something unexpected,

something I almost

didn’t welcome in

happened.

To an enthusiastic group of students, I said,

“Your teachers may have told you there would be time to ask questions. They probably discussed the difference between a question and a comment. They may have encouraged you to PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE ask questions and not make comments. (Maybe they begged and pleaded like I did when I hosted children’s book creators in my former school library. I regret that.) Well, I welcome questions and COMMENTS. Actually, I prefer comments. I’m pretty sure I can turn any comment into a question—a question for you. We can have a dialogue. So, does anyone have a question or a comment.”

They asked questions.

They made comments.

Oh, how I loved their questions AND comments.

Especially the comments.

I felt connected.

It created a different energy. A new energy.

I realized it was my first time answering questions about me as a writer with a large group of students. As soon as our time together ended, I wrote down four of the questions they asked. I’m keeping the comments for myself.

I’ll do my best to write down what I said in response to their amazing questions.

Mr. Schu, who inspires you to write?

Who inspires me to write? You. You inspire me to write. Talking to you inspires me. Learning about your reading life inspires me. Finding out what you’re excited about inspires me. I collect stories.

Kate DiCamillo, Katherine Applegate, Renée Watson, Veronica Miller Jamsion, Kelly Yang, Maulik Pancholy, Lauren Castillo, and many, many more authors and illustrators inspire me to write.

Who inspires you?

Why do you write?

I resisted writing for a long time. I didn’t see myself as a writer. Thanks to author Amy Krouse Rosenthal and agent Molly O’Neill, I was inspired to write down what was bouncing around inside my heart. I decided to be brave. Writing requires a lot of bravery. Writing requires a level of trust and vulnerability.

What story would you like to write down?

When did you write your first picture book?

This Is a Story is the first picture book manuscript I wrote. It is the picture book of my heart. It is an ode to story. It contains everything I believe in about connection and how stories have the ability to change us. Caldecott Honor illustrator Lauren Castillo put her heart into every illustration. A tear falls out of the corner of my eye whenever I see a new spread. This Is a Story comes out next year. I hope you’ll read it.

Would you like to write and/or illustrate a picture book?

A teacher asked, “What advice do you have for us as writers?”

I think each writer needs to find a routine that works for them.

This is what I do.

I spend a lot of time writing inside my head. Terry Thompson, the brilliant editor of The Gift of Story: Exploring the Affective Side of the Reading Life, the professional book of my heart, says I spend a lot of time pre-writing in my head. He’s a fan of mental pre-writing. It helps. Try it.

I spend a lot of time processing the status of my heart. That helps me write. It helps me keep my ears open. It helps me keep my eyes open.

School visits, walking, music, and live musical theatre spark my creativity. They help me write.

What advice do you have for me? What helps you? I cannot wait to read your story.

Happy reading and writing!

John Schu

John Schu is the children’s librarian for Bookelicious, was the Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic Book Fairs, a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University, and a former classroom teacher and school librarian. He has visited schools all over the world and has met with over 130,000 students, teachers, and administrators as he advocates for the people and things he cares about most: kids, books, schools, and the libraries — and librarians — that connect them. This Is a School is his picture book debut. John Schu lives in Naperville, Illinois.


Giveaway Information

  • This giveaway is for a copy of This Is a School by John Schu. Many thanks to Candlewick Press for donating a copy of the book to one of our commenters.
  • For a chance to win this copy of This Is a School, please leave a comment about this post by Sunday, May 8th at 6:00 a.m. EDT. Stacey Shubitz will use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name she will announce at the bottom of this post, by Thursday, May 12th. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter the giveaway.
    • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Stacey can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.
  • If you are the winner of the book, Stacey will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – SCHU. Please respond to Stacey’s e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Congratulations to Mona Rajab whose commenter number was selected to win the giveaway.

14 thoughts on “This Is A School! The Joy of Reading, Writing and Connecting with Students Leave a comment

  1. I love the story you unfolded for us here, of entertaining children’s questions and comments – and how you created a dialogue, a conversation with them. I learned so much about your writing process – thank you!

    Like

  2. I’m retired now, but I think it’s wonderful authors are still visiting schools and sharing their writing craft along with the trials and tribulations of creating.

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  3. Oh, the difference between questions and comments. Always a hard thing to teach kids, and yet we as teachers also have to learn to value both.

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  4. I cannot wait to read your book! Thank you for reminding us that writing is personal and the process is different for everyone. You are the best Mr. Schu!

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  5. I love how you said you spend a lot of time, “processing the status of your heart.” How important it is to, “keep your eyes and ears open”, reflect and process in your mind. I think once you start to live that way, life becomes elevated because you are thinking and noticing. Perhaps you see or hear things with renewed insight as a writer, and are encouraged also to read more and reflect on living.
    Thank you for sharing, a level of living which is integral for how we reach children. I think in so doing it will enhance all our lives as writers and readers.

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  6. The reading and writing world is a much better place with humans like you. Thank you for putting your heart into all you do. Can’t wait to share this book with my class(es)…current and future!

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  7. I am intrigued and felt connected by the way the author has responded to the question ‘Why do you write?’ Everyone has that hesitancy. Be brave – Underlying meaning It’s ok to be vulnerable. Powerful to me. Thank you .

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  8. I love seeing what Mr Schu is up to. His enthusiasm is beautiful and contagious. We need more people like him in our schools. Thank you a chance at this beautiful book.

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  9. Thank you for this beautiful story of sharing with kids and their teachers. It’s amazing what that kind of dialogue can bring. One of my most favorite things is author visits – I’m always so inspired.
    🙂

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  10. As a former middle school teacher (35 years), I am interested in getting my four preschool, kindergarten grandchildren to start writing or dictating stories for publication. I feel limited in dealing with younger children and inspiring writing to this age group. This book would help so much! Would LOVE a copy of this!

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  11. Thank you for this wonderful post! I’ve been following John Schu on Twitter for many years! He has always been an inspiration! What a beautiful book he has written! Can’t wait to read it!

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  12. I have had the extreme pleasure (twice!) of listening to John speak at CCIRA!! Even better, he came to my elementary school and met with the teachers for an entire day!!! Everybody needs to meet John, and hear his wonderful message!!

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  13. I have had the privilege of meeting John and hearing him speak- he really is an ambassador for books and reading! I cannot wait to read this book! I love his take on questions AND comments!

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