EXPLODING ANTS – A Lesson from Francie at Takoma Park Library…

Last year my Snails are Just My Speed! book tour took me to Takoma Park Library in Maryland. Someone asked what my next TOON book would be. This happened…

Francie was right. I was wrong. So I dedicated “Ants Don’t Wear Pants!” to “The children who teach me things, like Francie at the Takoma Park Maryland Library who told me about EXPLODING ANTS!”

Dedication page, Ants Don’t Wear Pants!

Heading back to Takoma Park Library on October 3. I hope I see Francie so I can thank her properly and give her a copy of Ants Don’t Wear Pants!

UPDATE: Francie, 10/3/.19 photo by Maurice Belanger, Takoma Park MD Library.

Well, Francie is now 5 years old. She and her family came to see me at the Takoma Park MD Library. She is such a wonderful human being. She wants to be a writer and illustrator. Francie even knows the Latin name for exploding ants – Colobopsis. I have to look it up every time.

Steven Engelfried wrote a nice review of Ants Don’t Wear Pants! at School Library Journal: “Lively and intriguing information, with high visual appeal. VERDICT: An excellent choice for younger readers who like animal facts peppered with humor.” He also noted, “the variety of ant species with some especially interesting examples such as the trap-jaw ant and exploding ants. (emphasis added) -Thanks, Francie! 

“Exploding Ants vs Rhinoceros Beetle” outtake from Ants Don’t Wear Pants!

Ants is my 5th book in 5 years for TOON Books and I am still having fun! Above is my Fall tour schedule. I’m at the great Politics and Prose Books in D.C. Then An Open Book Foundation hosts my visit to inner-city D.C. schools. I’ll be at Brooklyn Book Festival and Comics Art Brooklyn. Also doing two new festivals, Glen Rock, NJ and Easton, PA. See You!

We Dig Worms on Tour. WOW!

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Introducing my worms to Françoise Mouly at MoccaFest in NYC.

We Dig Worms! the book I wrote and illustrated at the request of my librarian wife Patt was officially released by Toon Books on April 14. Françoise Mouly, above, is editor and publisher of Toon Books. She is also the art editor of the New Yorker magazine. It was my good fortune that she personally art directed We Dig Worms! The book looks better than I imagined and has been generating a lot of excitement.

Kindergarten at Simon Elementary School, Wash, D.C
Kindergarten at Simon Elementary School, Wash, D.C.  photo courtesy: An Open Book Foundation

In less than 2 weeks I’ve done 3 school visits, 2 bookstore events and one comic book convention. I’ve signed over 200 books and got some fine reviews. Geek Dad found it “fascinating,” Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review: “McCloskey comes not to bury worms (they can handle that themselves) but to praise them in a guide to annelids that manages to be reverent in its irreverence. Painting on brown paper bags, McCloskey offers a crash course on worm physiology, habits, and environmental impact, focusing on garden-variety earthworms.”

Amazon #1 new release in Children's Zoology.
Amazon #1 new release in Children’s Zoology.

The big bounce came when the NY Times chose to feature We Dig Worms in the Sunday Book Review“One of Toon’s stylish comics-inflected early readers, this paean to the worm is a winning combination of facts and gross-out fun.” The book became Amazon’s number one bestselling new release in a number of small categories, including Children’s Zoology.

150 children for Earth Day at Politics and Prose Bookstore, Wash, D.C.
150 children for Earth Day at Politics and Prose Bookstore, Wash, D.C.

150 children showed up at Politics and Prose Bookstore for Earth Day in Washington, D.C. The crowd went wild when a large nightcrawler got out of the bucket and hit the carpet. After that bookstore event, An Open Book Foundation brought me to visit an inner city school, Simon Elementary. Thanks to the generosity of Simon’s “Book Buddies” outreach program of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, each of the nearly 90 children I met there got a copy of my book. We sang “Happy Earth Day” to the worms. It was sweet.

Each Kindergartners at Simon Elementary  got a copy of We Dig Worms!
Each kindergarten student at Simon Elementary got a copy of We Dig Worms!

The tour continues. This week I will be at Firefly Books just up the street from my home in Kutztown. I will be heading to San Francisco’s Academy of Sciences and to the Brooklyn Book Festival. The full Worm Tour schedule can be found at Toon Books or on my Amazon author’s page.

A page from We Dig Worms!
A page from We Dig Worms!

My wife Patt, has been a trooper on tour. She is fine with the new worm bins in our basement laundry room. She even made a short video of a worm race, you can see it at Vimeo.

Watch a Worm Race, link above.
Watch a Worm Race, link above.

TOON BOOKS may not be not the biggest children’s book publisher. They do make beautiful books, and in my experience give their authors great support. They even made temporary We Dig Worms tattoos for me to share at book events. They are having a “We Dig Worms” Earth Day art contest. Deadline is Monday, April, 27. Like Toon Books on Facebook and learn more about all the cool things they do.

Kid Lit Stars, near and far, coming to Kutztown

Selected works from www.mararockliff.com
Selected works from http://www.mararockliff.com

One Keynote Speaker at the 17th annual Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference is author Mara Rockliff. Mara will walk less than one block from her home on Walnut St. to campus. If you want to hear her talk, don’t knock on her door, come to the conference on April 18.

Cookie-like art © Vincent X. Kirsh for Gingerbread for Liberty.
Cookie-like art © Vincent X. Kirsh for Gingerbread for Liberty.

Thanks to Firefly Bookstore, Kutztown’s hoppin’ indie bookshop, Mara’s Gingerbread for Liberty launched at KU’s PA German Heritage Center. That location made sense as her picture books are grounded in history and geography. We got a sneak peek at her newest picture book, Mesmerized. It recounts a duel of wits in Paris between Ben Franklin and Otto Mesmer.

Me and Momma and Big John. Cover detail © 2012  William Low
“Me and Momma and Big John” cover detail © 2012 William Low

Mara’s Me and Momma and Big John was illustrated by William Low.  The book is a loving tribute to the first woman stone-cutter working on NY’s Cathedral of St John the Divine. Low is also coming to the KU conference from his home near NYC. Low is one amazing painter, adept with both the traditional paint brush and now the digital tablet. The artwork for ‘Me and Momma’ is 100% digital, which surprised me.

William Low in his studio from www.wiliamlow.com
William Low in his studio from http://www.williamlow.com

You may already have a collection of William Low art in your home. He created the ‘Winter Flowers’ stamps for the U.S. Post Office.

Forever Stamps USPS by William Low.
Forever Stamps USPS by William Low.

Another New Yorker coming is illustrator Elijah Cooper. A Yale grad, Cooper parlayed his Ivy League education into a job as a go-fer at the New Yorker Magazine. He paints in a lyrical watercolor style that appears deceptively simple. His Beach won the Society of Illustrators Gold Medal. Dance! was a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year. Other books include his memoir of fatherhood: Crawling: A Father’s First Year.

A small selection of his many picture books © Elijah Cooper
A small selection of his many picture books © Elijah Cooper

Cooper is the author/ illustrator of local favorites including Farm, A Good Night Walk, Magic Thinks Big, and Homer.

Farm, cover art © Elijah Cooper.
Farm, cover art © Elijah Cooper.

Booklist said this about Farm: “Most picture books about farms tend to be slapstick animal adventures rather than realistic views of daily life. Cooper’s latest fills that gap with a quiet, atmospheric portrait of a farm through the seasons.”

Young Adult Novels by Gary D. Schmidt.
Young Adult Novels by Gary D. Schmidt.

I’ve been on the lit conference committee all 17 years. One of my specialties is logistics, meaning I pick up authors at airports, or walk the illustrators from the Bieber Bus station. The committee thanks me profusely, but I really enjoy it. I will pick up Gary D. Schmidt at the airport when he arrives from Maine. I admitted to my colleagues that I was unfamiliar with his work. My Bad, his Wednesday Wars is a Newbery Honor winner and a fave of the committee. I went over to Rohrbach Library to find his books. Guess what? I found a literary bio he wrote about Robert McCloskey, of Make Way For Ducklings fame.

From Make Way For Ducklings © Robert McCloskey
From Make Way For Ducklings © Robert McCloskey

This may not be Schmidt’s most popular book, but I found it fascinating. I’d already read how Robert McCloskey drew real ducks on the floor of his Greenwich Village apartment. But according to Schmidt, he fed the ducks red wine to try to slow his models down!

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New books by Kutztown authors Lisa Kahn Schnell and Kevin McCloskey

Besides Mara Rockliff, two more local Kutztown authors will debut books at the conference. Lisa Kahn Schnell is author of High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs and Kevin McCloskey, (I just love him, -he’s me) will share his Toon Book, We Dig Worms!

The KU Children’s Lit Conference needs your support. The overall economy has improved since 2008, but Pennsylvania education funding has never rebounded. School districts no longer routinely reimburse teachers for professional development expenses, such as educational conferences. It’s easy to blame this on Gov. Corbett and Tea Party Republicans, but Gov. Rendell left PA with over a billion dollars in unfunded teacher pensions. Gov. Wolf says education is his top priority. Let’s hope so. We have enough prisons and casinos.

Illustration by Liz Kane, design and type by Prof. Elaine Cunfer.
Illustration by Liz Kane, design and type by Prof. Elaine Cunfer.

Kutztown University students can attend the April 18th conference for just $10. Teachers, librarians, authors, and other professionals need to pay $70 at this point. It promises to be an exciting event with top-notch speakers. Registration info can be found here.