everything grows with love

Stories about My Experiences with Writers & Illustrators Who Bring Light into the World…by Bonnie Ingber Verburg

Archive for Bonnie Verburg: Editorial

Anniversary of Virginia Hamilton’s Passing

On this day, February 19, 2002, the blazing spirit of magnificent Virginia Hamilton, friend, mentor, writer, confidante, and kick-around girlfriend, took off with the power of a comet and left this world for the next. Virginia was–and still is–the most distinguished writer of books for young readers in the world, and she was given every major award in her field, including some that had never been given before, such as her MacArthur (genius) Fellowship. As her longtime editor and pal, my life has been blessed more than words can say. And I don’t want closure. I want every door and window and drawer she opened inside my heart and mind to STAY open. Virginia, I miss you every day. You go, girl. You go…. You reconfigure the stars in the sky and keep on shining.

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Rodman Philbrick Answers a Few Questions about ZANE AND THE HURRICANE

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Rodman Philbrick’s newest novel, Zane and the Hurricane, has caught the attention of young readers, and it has received three starred reviews and inclusion on the Texas Bluebonnet Master List. Philbrick has been writing since he was a teenager, and it took him many, many years to finally have a book published…but he never gave up. I asked him to answer a few brief questions about Zane.  (BIV) 
Why did you choose to write a novel set during Hurricane Katrina?
Shortly after Hurricane Andrew devastated parts of Florida, I had the germ of an idea for a story about a hurricane set in the Florida Keys, where I live for half of the year. By the time I got around to writing it, New Orleans had been hit by Katrina, and I thought that would make a bigger and more important story.

Is the process of writing a novel set during a famous event different than writing a novel set in a place of your own invention—such as the town where Freak the Mighty takes place?

Freak The Mighty was inspired by real people in a real place, but I purposely didn’t name the specific location in the hope that  readers might think it was set in their own back yard. But writing about a specific event – the Battle of Gettsyburg, or the devastation of New Orleans – means you have to get the details right. And that means lots of research. Lucky for me many of the survivors’ impressions and experiences are preserved on video, or in interviews with journalists such as Douglas Brinkley and Jed Horne, both of whom wrote terrific books on the subject. Those recollections and impressions helped me get inside the head of my character Zane–and see the flooded world through his eyes, in a way that I hope rings true to the experiences of the actual survivors.

Are there any autobiographical angles in Zane and the Hurricane?
None, I guess. Oh wait, Zane is a boy from New Hampshire. Me, too.
What are some of the more interesting comments and questions that have come to you about the book?

A couple of readers wanted to know if the strong and willful character Malvina was inspired by the young girl in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild.’ The answer is no, because I began working on Zane’ in 2011, a year before the film was released, and long before I heard about it. Still haven’t seen the movie, but I hear it’s fabulous.

What do you consider the main themes of this novel? When you were weaving the story, were there specific issues in the story that you wanted your reader to think about?

I don’t really think about themes while writing (or much of anything but the narrative itself), but on reflection all of my stories seem to be about overcoming adversity. This is no exception. And if the story illuminates injustice, and class and racial divides, or makes readers think or want to read further on the subject, so much the better.

 

Zane and the Hurricane is popular among young readers for many reasons. Some of them are its fast pace, interesting characters, dramatic scenery, and real-life setting. How did you manage to balance these and other story elements?

Writing a novel is like juggling flaming bowling balls while riding a unicycle on a tightrope strung across the Grand Canyon. Lots of things can go wrong, and do. I concentrate on making each scene as crisp and visual as possible. My intention is that every scene – and every conversation – carries the story forward. I very much have my fifth-grade self in mind as a potential reader. Would I read this? Would I be intrigued? Would I want to turn the page? Does it ‘sing’ when read aloud? (By the way, Jerry Dixon did a fantastic job as narrator of the audio version.)

Thanks to Rodman Philbrick for answering these questions–but most of all, thank you, Rod, for continuing to write for young readers! (BIV)
(just for fun–proof of upcoming Zane and the Hurricane paperback cover)

USHER reads IF KIDS RAN THE WORLD by the Dillons’ Book to 2 million children

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Today the R&B superstar Usher graced Scholastic with his typical generosity and warm respect for people of all backgrounds. In an event to promote reading–called “Open a World of Possible”–Usher spoke to an auditorium of excited students and also read Leo & Diane Dillons’ If Kids Ran the World. It was the perfect message of love, peace, feeding the hungry, building homes for the homeless, giving medicine to the sick, and providing good schools and loving homes to all children–something Usher has been doing in his own very powerful and inspiring initiative: Usher’s New Look.

Here is a link to the event, a webcast that occurred today:

http://usherwebcast.scholastic.com/

And here’s an article from Vanity Fair, covering the event.

http://www.vanityfair.com/vf-hollywood/2014/11/usher-book-reading-tour:

We Watched Usher Read a Book to a Crowd of Screaming Children

“Kids, by the way, are what keep me young,” he said.

NOVEMBER 6, 2014 4:46 PM

BY STUART RAMSON/INVISION FOR SCHOLASTIC/AP IMAGES

 

 

 

 

 

Usher treated an excited, decidedly pro-reading crowd of schoolchildren to a reading and performance in New York on Thursday. The kids were packed into an auditorium at Scholastic’s Soho offices for a “BiggerThan Words” Web cast, which marked the launch of the book company’s “Open a World of Possible” campaign.

“You’re all Internet stars,” Scholastic’s Billy DiMichele told the audience, who was quite pleased to hear that “as many as 2 million people” were watching the live-stream of the proceedings.

“I read to escape the reality that I have in my day-to-day life,” Usher said after emerging to a frenetic reception, telling the audience that his favorite books include Green Eggs & Ham and the Winnie the Pooh series. Usher said that while his mother and other relatives would read to him, it was his first-grade teacher, Ms. Harris, who first showed him “how to use my imagination beyond what’s on the page.”

He then read If Kids Ran the World, by Leo and Diane Dillon, and performed a stripped-down version of “Without You.” Scholastic peppered the event with pre-taped video interviews with children who explained what they think “possible” means. One boy said he thinks “possible” is about making the unusual normal, “like, pigs flying, or fish out of water.” Another pint-size reader offered this rationale for why he liked books: “There is no limit. Like in a car, there’s a speed limit. But there’s no limit on reading, you can read forever, unless if you have to go to a birthday or something.” Indeed.

VF Hollywood caught up with the performer and father after the event, and asked if he was able to reconnect with Ms. Harris as an adult. “I’ve tried my hardest to reach out to family members who had a connection, because the school I actually attended was torn down,” he said. “Ridgedale was the name of the school.”

Usher offered an eclectic group when asked by a student member if he could name five people he would invite to a book club: “Morgan Freeman, because he has the coolest voice, Scarlett Johansson, and not just because she’s hot, SpongeBob, Oprah Winfrey, and my kids.”

“Kids, by the way, are what keep me young,” Usher told VF Hollywood. “One thing I will say about inner-city kids, is that a lot of what they say is, ‘When I have tough days, or I want to escape my reality, I go to reading.’ You might not realize it, but kids internalize things differently than we do . . . They’re just innocent, man. That’s what I keep in tact, and reading does that.”

Usher said he tries to read with his sons, ages five and six, as much as possible. “They’re now at the age where they want to participate,” he said. “It could be any of the library of books that we have in the house, but now it’s more about engaging them instead of just reading it to them. But sometimes they use that as an excuse to stay awake.”

“The imagination of my kids is pretty hard to keep up with,” he admitted. VF Hollywood asked if Usher thought he’d still be putting out music when the youngest elementary-school children in the crowd on Thursday grew up to attend high-school dances. “As long as I can make music, and as long as I have my voice, I’m going to continue to make it,” he said. “I could be any age.”

At 36, Usher is somewhat of a premature veteran (his self-titled debut studio album turned 20 years old this August). He recently kicked off his first tour in three years, though he’s doing so without a new album to promote. “When we finished rehearsing, we had an idea of what could happen,” Usher told us. “It’s kind of like you add water and stir—or milk, because it’s a little bit creamy. But it’s been a good trip back for me.”

“I was so happy that I didn’t have an album to promote, because this is really about talent,” he continued. “It’s about being able to communicate and connect through conversation. Maybe we talk about where inspiration came from, or an offbeat tribute, or a drum solo, or an ultimate soulful moment. All those things are what I wanted to introduce to my fans . . . every night is a different journey.”

“The reaction to ‘You Got It Bad,’ ‘Let It Burn,’ ‘Yeah,’ ‘D.J. Got Us Fallin’ in Love,’ and ‘Without You’ is just incredible, on a consistent basis,” he said. “I feel like I’m living in a golden moment, man.”

In hyping up the crowd for Usher’s arrival, DiMichele told the children that, if children actually did run the world, “I guarantee it would be a better place.” They screamed their agreement.

Eat Spam, You Dumb Bunnies! Dav Pilkey and the Funny “Good Night Moon” Room Story

 

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A friend who loves Dav Pilkey’s funny books about the Dumb Bunnies recently asked me how we were able to get permission to use the famous Good Night Moon room on the cover of the first book, The Dumb Bunnies. Her question reminded me of a wild and unexpected series of events that happened as we created that cover. It makes me laugh now, but at the time, I was not laughing.

Dav sent me the dummy for The Dumb Bunnies long ago before The Adventures of Captain Underpants made him a household name. I put the dummy in my work bag and took it home. I remember it was raining, because I was standing in my NJ kitchen in my wet, black raincoat when I pulled the package out of my bag and put it on my kitchen counter. I was still wearing my coat when I read the whole thing.

You probably don’t know my sister JoAnn, but one of the things we share is a passion for Jim Marshall’s picture book The Stupids Die. A million years ago when we both lived in Boston, we used to read that book together, over and over, with peals of laughter. I had the same kind of laughter when I read The Dumb Bunnies, and I knew my sister would love it. I had tears streaming down my face, and I called her on the kitchen phone to tell her about it.

In-house we had many discussions about this controversial book. Other than Marshall’s The Stupids Die and the other Stupids books, I’m not sure this kind of humor had seen the light of day very often in children’s books. But Jean Feiwel and Barbara Marcus both understood great humor and both had a wonderful sense of what appeals to children. They could see what was appealing about the book, and they both backed Dav and me–so we were able to proceed.

We were in a meeting talking about marketing and publicity one day when Barbara came up with the idea of putting a sticker on the cover—a gold sticker that would be the kind we use when one of our books wins an award. It was her suggestion that the sticker should say something to this effect: This book is too dumb to win an award.

Geniuses, both of them. So we found a nice spot on the side of the front jacket for the sticker and proceeded to have them manufactured.

Meanwhile I was biting my nails because we still needed permission to use the famous Good Night Moon room on the cover of the book. Good Night Moon is about as sacred and treasured a classic as any children’s book can be, so I was hyperventilating about getting permission from both Harper and the Hurd estate to use Dav’s funny parody of it. I had been Editor-in-Chief at Harcourt prior to coming to Scholastic, and it was my private opinion that at Harcourt I would not have had a prayer of getting approval to use that cover parody. Jean assured me that Scholastic had very good relationships with Harper, in part because of our book clubs and book fairs, and that she didn’t think they would object. Another major difference between Scholastic and every other children’s publisher—I was constantly being amazed by the contrast.

Time passed, and the job of designing The Dumb Bunnies was given to Kathy Westray, who was either freelancing or had just joined Scholastic full-time after designing From Sea to Shining Sea. Her office was a cubicle, and she brought the finished mechanicals to my desk and left them for me to proofread. She’d done a lot of innovative, interesting things with the cover and interiors, and it was the first book of mine she’d designed. I could immediately see her brilliance—in my opinion, she is the best living book designer in the world—and after I carefully checked the mechanicals, I went to her cubicle, dazed.

“In all my years of being an editor, this is the very first time I have ever received a set of mechanicals that is perfect,” I said. It was true. Every design choice she’d made on the book enhanced it. For more than a dozen years, I was used to designs that had to be done again and again with typeface changes, margins off, ugly borders, unreadable titles…and The Dumb Bunnies was perfect in every way. (I would soon ask Kathy to become the Art Director for my imprint, the Blue Sky Press, and more than twenty years later, she still designs all my books…and I am thankful every day.)

Not long after, I got the amazing green light from Jean Feiwel that she had gotten approval for me to use the Good Night Moon room parody on the cover. So we went to press.

And I am trying to remember when exactly it was that I saw I had made a very big mistake on the book cover.

It was so big a mistake that I have probably blocked it out of my mind.

There, on a table next to the fireplace, was a can of Spam.

Yes, Spam.

     A trademarked can of ham—or something like ham–manufactured by Hormel.

And had I gotten permission from Hormel to use Spam on my book cover?

No.

     I was so occupied with getting permission from Harper and the others for the Good Night Moon room parody that I hadn’t even thought about the Spam. There it sat, and the book was printed—not shipped, but printed—and I dashed out a letter to Hormel and politely gave them all the reasons why it was an excellent idea to have Spam featured on the cover of The Dumb Bunnies.

     I was very, very, very worried about getting permission, but I could not imagine that they would deny it. Surely they would see the humor, and there wasn’t any harm in it, and it was a relatively small print run of a book by a relatively new talent….

Permission denied.

Hormel did not see the humor in the way its “food product” (I quote) was presented on the cover of my book.

I drafted more letters. Made phone calls. Begged. Pleaded.

Permission denied.

     I believe we shredded 30,000 posters that featured Spam on the cover of the book. We used to make a lot of posters back then, and I remember that our Marketing/Publicity Director, Doris Bass, was sympathetic. But what to do about the cover?

Barbara Marcus had saved the day with her idea of a sticker on the book. The sticker looked great, and miraculously the glue on the sticker was like cement. Once pressed onto the cover, it would not come off.

And although we had not planned to place the sticker so close to the center of the book jacket, it did a terrific job of eliminating the can of Spam. (This isn’t a great reproduction, but you can see where the sticker was placed on this first edition/first printing. As well, you may be able to see that the author, Dav, called himself “Sue Denim,” and it was always interesting that a vast number of people wanted to know about “Sue”–I hope you get the joke. If you don’t, think about it. In later editions the credits both went to Dav Pilkey, and the display type was changed to match The Adventures of Captain Underpants.)

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So that is why, if you are lucky enough to have a first edition/first printing of The Dumb Bunnies, you now know that under that sticker is hidden a can of Spam. “This book is too dumb to win an award” is the perfect gold medal to cover it up, don’t you agree?

We removed the Spam in the second printing, and the third and fourth and fifth and who-knows-how-many since; all these years later the book is still fresh and popular–because Dav had created a magnificent book that gave millions of children (including my sister and me) many more opportunities to laugh.

And I was—and still am—the happiest Dumb Bunny of all.

Why Head Lice are More Popular than Congress: David Shannon Understood It First

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Last night on THE DAILY SHOW, Jon Stewart announced that Congress is currently LESS popular than head lice.
This past fall, I published David Shannon’s BUGS IN MY HAIR!–a funny book about head lice. And it’s true, they are much more appealing than Congress.

HEAD LICE GET MY VOTE!

Ten Reasons Why Head Lice Are Better than Congress:

1. Head lice don’t fight among themselves.

2. Head lice get the job done.

3. Although it’s a challenge, you can make head lice go away.

4. Head lice are honest about what they do (feed on your blood and multiply), where Congress does the same thing but pretends to be helping you.

5. Head lice do not discriminate between rich or poor, black or white. Head lice treat every American the same way.

6. Head lice do not spend money and bankrupt anybody.

7. Head lice do not lie about themselves and one another.

8. Head lice do not send me 20-30 emails a day.

9. Head lice don’t pretend to care about what people think, where Congress doesn’t care but pretends they do.

10. Head lice come, and head lice go, but they don’t permanently wreck our lives. Congress, on the other hand, is destroying democracy.

VOTE FOR HEAD LICE!

Bonnie Verburg

VP, Scholastic Inc.
Editorial Director of the Blue Sky Press, an Imprint of Scholastic.

I published this book, and I approve this endorsement of replacing Congress with head lice!

(August 1, 2014)

Leo and Diane Dillon: Diane Dillon interviewed by Julie Danielson at Kirkus.com

I just read this lovely interview of Diane Dillon, written by Julie Danielson at Kirkus.com–and I want to share it. Thank you, Julie…especially for celebrating the enormous contributions the Dillons have made to children for more than five decades.
See the original at this link (with photos, illustrations, and nice typography):

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/features/making-better-world/

Making a Better World
By Julie Danielson on August 7, 2014

The dedication of the upcoming picture book with the names Leo and Diane Dillon on the cover reads as such: “In Memory of Leo, who wasn’t able to finish this one.”

The pair, who had been writing and illustrating picture books since 1970 and were twice awarded the Caldecott Medal, did indeed collaborate on If Kids Ran the World, a book from Scholastic’s Blue Sky Press, scheduled to hit shelves in late August. However, Leo died in 2012, just as they were finishing the book.

It’s a tale spilling over with unfettered joy, one that imagines a world full of peace, purity and utter harmony in the hands of children alone. A book that strikes such an unsullied and merry tone is certainly the best possible one with which to leave readers. “Leo was a very positive person and had a great sense of humor,” Diane tells If Kids Ran the Worldme. “One of his favorite sayings was: ‘Everything is going to be all right.’ The book was in its final stage when he died. The preliminary decisions had been made about the layout and what style and technique to use, and the research and many of the drawings were finished.”

The book also includes a note about the very collaborative process involved in the writing—that is, between Leo, Diane and their editor, Bonnie Verburg. This note states that the concept and multiple drafts came from Verburg, and despite protests from Leo and Diane, “she chose to be publisher rather than author.” Diane adds: “We had many conversations with [her] for nearly thirty years about how we wanted to approach the book—especially in the beginning. For instance, the underlying issues include hunger, homelessness, poverty, and war, but we wanted to illustrate the positive and hopeful actions people are taking, such as feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, and promoting equality and peace.”

It’s a book that has been met with mixed reviews, given the pie-in-the-sky view of the world with children fully in charge. Think The Lord of the Flies and turn it on its head (or, really, just altogether throw it out the window): There’s no waste, no cruelty, no war, no strife whatsoever. But the Dillons, Diane explains, had their reasons: “We feel that children want to be needed and like to be helpful. They have an innate sense of fairness and honesty and a capacity for joy. Even in the midst of the most dire circumstances, children can be seen playing and laughing. They have an innocence that we tend to lose as we grow older. It’s true that If Kids Ran the World presents a utopian world, but why not aim for the highest possibility?”

In fact, it’s to this notion of underestimating children that Diane returns when I ask about diversity in picture books today. If Kids Ran the World is an overt celebration of multiculturalism and inclusion, something the pair had championed in their long and lauded careers. In Margalit Fox’s New York Times piece on Leo’s death, she notes the “stylistic diversity” that characterized their work, as well as their dedication to portraying people of all colors. “All schools should have the same quality teachers, equipment, and books, and the expectation that all children can learn,” Diane says when I ask what schools can better do to champion diversity today. “The best way to teach children about diversity and peace is to live it ourselves as parents, teachers, and leaders of governments and religions. Too often some children are underestimated and under-challenged. This book was meant to inspire them to be their best. They have a part in making a better world.”

And what’s next for someone who spent decades working so successfully in tandem with her life partner that their work was described (again by Fox) as “a seamless amalgam of both their hands”?

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“There is something in the works,” Diane says, “but it’s too early to talk about it yet. It’s a time of introspection and reinvention for me, and right now I am enjoying a life without deadlines.”

We fans can surely wait patiently for Diane’s re-emergence and for the stories to come.

Illustrations from If Kids Ran the World © 2014 by Leo & Diane Dillon. Used with permission from The Blue Sky Press/Scholastic.

Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.

Southie, Fergus, and Dog Heaven

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When my son was still in diapers, he met David Shannon’s dog, Fergus. They were the same age, and they played together as puppies. I have always thought of Fergus as my son’s first friend. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a Westie entered our family, too. We named her Southie, short for Southpaw, and at first we also called her Fergus’s fiancé–although when he came for a visit, the Westies weren’t remotely interested in each other. Southie was busy with her “gift” bone, and Fergus just wanted to get out past the kitchen dog gate and into the living room where his humans were. Yesterday, at age 12, Southie trotted off to Dog Heaven, where she is chasing rats and catching squirrels (finally). No more cancer, no more pain. And I am grateful to Cyndi Rylant for writing and illustrating Dog Heaven, a book I love and am very proud to have published, because it is that image of my dog running across God’s fields that allows me to imagine Southie is still loved and being petted by hands so great they know no bounds and are generous with the roasted chicken strips. I am counting on you, God, to have a generous supply of squeaky banana toys.

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