Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Your Alien by Tammi Sauer

A spaceship crashes in the backyard ...

A little green alien emerges...

Smiles are exchanged...


A new friendship begins.

Your Alien written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Goro Fujita (published by Sterling Children's Books) is a beautiful book about the joy of true friendship.  The two new friends are followed throughout a day.  The little boy's parents don't really pay attention to what they are agreeing, his classmates are delighted by their visitor and his teacher can't quite believe her eyes.  Exploring together after school and sharing dinner help to expand and strengthen this new friendship. Until bedtime...

This is when the true meaning of friendship is tested and when the little boy "knows exactly what the alien needs". He does everything that he possibly can to take care of his new friend.  

Sauer's simple, warm text and Fujita's playful use of light and darkness create a gorgeous story that pulls you in, hugs you and melts your heart.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

An Interview with Jeff Anderson

Jeff Anderson's professional books (Mechanically Inclined, Everyday Editing, 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know, and Revision Decisions) have been influencing, guiding and teaching educators for years. 

Jeff Anderson

On August 4, Jeff's debut middle grade novel, Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth (Sterling Children's Books), will be released. I had the opportunity to receive an advance copy at ALA Midwinter. I found it to be a book that dealt with some serious issues in a very humorous way. Recently, I re-read it and while still funny and enjoyable, the importance of the social issues addressed were even more apparent.

Cover by Tad Carpenter

I had the opportunity to interview Jeff. I hope that you enjoy!

KS:  You are a very successful author of several professional books for teachers/writers.  What made you decide to give middle grade fiction writing a try?

JA:  I am so lucky to write for and work with teachers, but the truth is my love of writing started with fiction. In my late 20s, the desire to write a novel for kids came on the tail end of my masters degree in Language and Literacy from UT Austin. Within the program, I  read around 100 children’s literature books. As a teacher of grades 4 and 5 at the time, I read many more. Even though it took awhile, I am so thrilled to have the chance to write a book that kids can actually hold in their hands or be read aloud to from. 

KS:  Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth tackles some important social issues.  What do you hope your readers will take away from it?

JA:  To tell the truth, I didn’t really want to write an issue book. I wanted to write something the students I taught would enjoy. However, I did note that sometimes the solutions to bullying were overly simplified. As a bullied child, I knew telling someone didn’t always stop it. It may send it underground. But it didn’t stop it. 

I do not solve the bullying problem in this book. Another social issue the book deals with is diversity.  The book is not about diversity, the book is humming with diverse characters that find a way to work together toward a common goal. These characters are like the kids I taught. This is a book I looked for as a teacher. A true middle grade book that wasn’t full of death, cursing, sex, and outer struggles. The inner struggles are always more interesting to me. And the inner struggles are the ones we have the most power over. 

I want my readers to take away the fact that our differences make us stronger as a group. We need to understand and relate to others' pain and joy. We have to be open and ready for change. We can’t expect everything to change all at once. But mostly I just want readers to laugh, think,  and pick up another book. 
Illustration by Andrea Miller

KS:  How did your work as a former teacher help you create the characters and shape the storyline of this book?

JA:  As a teacher of grade 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 for over 20 years, my experiences with and around students and school couldn’t help but feed the characters, dialogue, cadences, plot points, and more. But I also used my own experiences as a kid and the ones I watched kids of this age go through over and over. I believe I grew along with all the characters in the book.

KS:   In the story, Zack is in sixth grade.  How is sixth grade Zack Delacruz like sixth grade Jeff Anderson?

JA:  Oh, my! Believe it or not, like Zack,  I’m  shy and don’t like standing out. My presenter public persona most people know is different than how I am when I go to a party or a conference where I don’t know people. I need to have permission to be wild and funny and get attention. If you show up to hear me speak, you are giving permission. If I meet you at a party, I have to know you’re enjoying me before I let loose. Taking on another persona who has permission  is how I got beyond being painfully shy and withdrawn as a result of severe bullying in grades 3-6. In seventh grade, I found drama. Being someone else gave me permission to stand out. I went on to win regional awards as best actor in high school and began college on a theater and drama scholarship.

Oh, and I overeat peanut butter when under great stress.

Sixth Grade Jeff

KS:  Will we see more of Zack Delacruz in the future?  If so, can you share what is next for him?  

JA:  Great question, Kurt. The final cover has a ONE on the binding to show that Zack Delacruz will be a series. Right now, book two is in the revision stages. Let me tell you that Zack's still observing and commenting. Janie shines even more, a few new characters enter and El Pollo Loco is still El Pollo Loco. The second book is still set in 6th grade a few weeks after the Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth book ends.

Zack's Peanut Butter Coma
Illustration by Andrea Miller

KS:  I love to share author interviews with my students.  What advice would you share with young writers?

JA:    Write. Write what you want. Get a journal or writer’s notebook. Write your thoughts, dreams, stories, observations, and life. Write as often as you can. Share your writing with people who will enjoy it.

And when someone asks you to write something you don’t want to write, find an angle or a way of addressing the topic that you are interested in. Tell the truth. Even when it’s scary. And like my friend Katie Wood Ray says, read a lot of books that are like what you want to write. I’m still reading and loving middle grade humorous fiction.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me today.  I look forward to seeing Zack Delacruz officially "out in the world" very soon.  It is going to make many young readers very happy!

Thanks for sharing my work with the people, Mr. Stroh Reads!

Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth, published by Sterling Children's Books, will be available on August 4, 2015!

You can find Jeff on Twitter (@writeguyjeff)  or on his website (

Saturday, July 11, 2015

SAIL (Summer Activities in the Library)

This past Thursday, my library hosted SAIL (Summer Activities in the Library) Night. This night (and two more like it) were planned by the teacher-librarians and literacy specialists in my district.  The purpose was to keep kids connected to books and reading during the summer months.

Our district already has a strong commitment to summer reading:  Three times a summer, our Mobile Library travels around the district, allowing students the opportunity to exchange summer reading books.

We desired the chance to increase the summer connections that we had with our students.  So we decided to open up our libraries three times this summer.  This, in addition to our Mobile Library,  would allow us to connect with our readers twice a month....So, SAIL was created.

SAIL was designed to open up our libraries and give families a chance to come together and share the  love of reading.  The library is open for 90 minutes.  During this time, families may read together, listen to stories, talk about books, watch book trailers,  make book-related crafts and eat book related snacks.

When families first came in, they chose some great books, found a comfy place and read together.  Teachers and librarians circulated to touch base and share in their reading.

We then gathered together and shared what we had been reading this summer.  I shared that I had just had the opportunity to meet author Josh Funk, and had been fortunate to get a sneak peek of his upcoming book Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast (illustrated by Brendan Kearney and published by Sterling Children's Books).  We watched the awesome book trailer and voted whether we were "Team Pancake" or "Team French Toast".  We are all very excited for this book to come out on September 1! (Make sure you pre-order it NOW!)

We had fun reading together Gemma Merino's The Crocodile Who Didn't Like Water and Bob Shea's Buddy and the Bunnies in:  Don't Play With Your Food!

Families then had time to do more reading and visit some reading activity stations:

  • read The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli and have a watermelon snack, 
  • read Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos and make a fun mustache, 
  • read Pete the Cat books and do a Pete the Cat puzzle
  • make Elephant and Piggie puppets to help read the Mo Willems favorites.

Students then gathered together again.  Carrie Davies (@readwithdavies) joined me to read two great books:  I Don't Want to Be a Frog! written by Dev Petty/illustrated by Mike Boldt and You Are (Not) Small written by Anna King/illustrated by Christopher Weyant. Both books were such fun to read aloud.

The remaining time was used to read more and finish up any activities.  

It was a great night of reading!!!!