A WORK IN PROGRESS

Here it is! The book I alluded to yesterday morning on social media and here on my blog.

A Work in Progress is an illustrated novel in verse based on my own experiences with body image, body dysmorphia, disordered eating, and self-worth, and will be published Fall of 2022 by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin.

I’ll be sharing much more about the book and the decade-long process behind its creation in the coming months. For now, I just want to thank everyone who sent messages of care, support, and encouragement yesterday after I shared all I shared and announced the book. It all truly means the world to me. I feel like I’ve spent the past 20 years walking around with a rock in my shoe, and like I’ve just finally gotten it out.

~ Jarrett

Last night…

Last night I shared on social media that I’ll be helping Alyson Gerber celebrate her new book, Taking Up Space, next week. I said we’ll be having “an honest, personal conversation on why we need to talk to kids about body image, food, and self-worth.”

Some people may have wondered why Alyson asked ME to be at one of her events for the book. Which would be totally understandable – body image and its relationship to self-worth is not something I’ve ever really spoken about on here.

But these are things that I have quietly – for a long time, even secretly – struggled with for going on 25 years now. So, why have I decided to start talking about them now?

My mission as a children’s book creator is to help kids: help them fall in love with reading, help them discover all the things that books can do for them, help them find their creative voice and learn how to most powerfully use it.

A year or so ago, it occurred to me that I could potentially help kids in another way by sharing a part of myself, an aspect of my story, that I had never really shared before. And so, eventually, I made the decision to share it.

I dusted off an old manuscript based on my own experiences with body image, body dysmorphia, disordered eating, and self-worth (or extreme lack of it) and committed to finishing it. (I did. And will share more about all of that soon).

And now, starting with Alyson’s event next week, I am ready and even a bit excited (if also kind of nervous) to share my story and ongoing struggles – in, of course, appropriate settings and situations and, I hope, useful ways.

I’m grateful for Alyson and creators like her who have shown me how to begin to do all this, and who have helped make me feel strong enough to do it, and who have made plain all the potential good it can do.

Alyson’s new book, Taking Up Space, is not only an excellent book in and of itself. Like all her novels, it tackles tough, important topics in brilliant ways and, though it’s not even officially out yet, has already done a ton of good.

I’m also grateful to Alyson for giving me an opportunity and a place to begin sharing my story and discussing these topics and issues. As with all of my work – the book-making and beyond – I sincerely hope it helps some kids.

~ Jarrett

(If you want to join Alyson and me next week, head to my Appearances page and use the link provided to register for the event.)

GIVE THIS BOOK A COVER pub day!

Today’s the day!

My second activity book, Give This Book a Cover, is officially here!

Thanks to everyone who has used and shared my activities — it’s in large part thanks to YOU that these activity books (which I’ve been wanting to make for years and years!) are a reality. Now, I hope they help turn tons of kids into more confident, capable creative forces!

And just a reminder: if you want signed copies of Give This Book a Cover, or ANY of my books, you can always order from my local independent bookstore, Porter Square Books. Click HERE to check out all my books at their site!

~ Jarrett

GEEGER THE ROBOT GOES TO SCHOOL on the SSYRA Jr. List!

Yesterday, Geeger the Robot had a very good day.

At 10 o’clock yesterday morning, I learned that Geeger the Robot Goes to School had been included on this year’s Sunshine State Young Readers Award Jr. list. What does that mean? It means that kindergarteners, first-graders, and second-graders all across the state of Florida will be reading Geeger the Robot Goes to School this coming year, along with the 14 other book that were named to the SSYRA Jr. list. Then, in April, all those kids — tens of thousands! — will vote to decide which book is their favorite. The book with the most votes gets the award.

Two years ago, another one of my books — EngiNerds — was on the SSYRA list (not the Jr. list, but the one for third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders). I was honored, of course, and excited — but I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea just how creative, energetic, and enthusiastic Florida librarians, educators, and KIDS are — and especially when it comes to BOOKS. Because of EngiNerds‘s inclusion on the list, I met hundreds of educators and librarians and connected with thousands of kids that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise met and connected with. Getting a book on an SSYRA list is kind of like getting invited to a year-long party — and everyone at the party is a big ol’l BOOK NERD.

Here are the other books keeping Geeger company on the the SSYRA Jr. list.

I’ve read — and loved! — about half of these other books, and being on the list along with them makes the honor all the more awesome. I plan to read the rest over the course of the year (or, you know, maybe just over the course of this weekend…). But anyway, I can’t recommend them enough. And I can’t recommend enough that you check out the SSYRA lists for Grades 3-5 and Grades 6-8. The committees put together some truly exceptional lists. (You can find those lists, plus past ones, and learn more about SSYRA in general by clicking HERE. More info about SSYRA Jr. can be found HERE.)

Thank you to the SSYRA Jr. committee for including Geeger the Robot Goes to School on this year’s list, and thank you to the Florida Association for Media in Education (FAME) for all the work they do to create such a robust and joyful culture of reading in their state and its schools. Let the party begin!

~ Jarrett

Get to Know… Shelley Johannes!

My name is… Shelley Johannes.

I am… the author and illustrator of the Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker chapter book series, and other exciting things to come!

More randomly, I am a hoper, dreamer, and over-thinker. Lover of people, process, and celebratory pizza. Former architectural designer. Sappy parent, bird nerd, and brand-new guitarist. Most of all, I am a kid whose biggest dream came true, and I am ridiculously grateful.

As a kid, I was… nicknamed Sonar because I was always listening in on the conversations around me, often from the way-back of our wood-paneled station wagon. I had high hopes and big dreams, and an epic pair of cloud-patterned bellbottoms to accompany them.

Writing is… the way I process the world. I’m a slow processer, but that struggle to conjure vague thoughts into something tangible is a compulsion I couldn’t live without.

Drawing is… a haven. There’s nothing as relaxing as disappearing into the page and letting everything else fall away.

Reading is… my favorite way to connect.

A friend bought me Alice Ozma’s memoir, The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, as a birthday gift when I was a fairly new parent. Alice and her dad’s sweet, awkward, messy story of connecting through books impacted me deeply. Especially the idea that sharing books is sharing ourselves. Before I finished the last page, I vowed to cherish and protect reading time with my kids as a gift to all of us. A promise to be in the pages together for a lifetime. My boys are now twelve and fifteen, and reading together each night is still the best part of our day, and we defend that time like the precious thing it is.

I love that publishing has extended that reading connection to include an even broader family, and has woven threads of connection all over the place.

Books are… magic.

I’ve always wanted the power of teleportation. Books perform that magic every day. They take us endless places. They make us laugh and cry and learn and see and heal and grow. They challenge us, expose us, and enlarge us. My favorites make me pay attention and appreciate being alive—and see the wonder all around.

Did you know… my debut picture book, More Than Sunny, releases from Abrams on Tuesday, May 11th? I hope it brings readers as much joy as making it brought me. If you pre-order from Literati Bookstore by May 10th, you’ll receive a signed copy of the book, plus two free signed art prints with each purchase!

You can find me… working at home in my studio most days. Extremely high odds I’ll be in my yellow hat with a bird or two on my shoulder!

You can also find me at www.shelleyjohannes.com and—sharing birds, doodles and more!—as @shelleyjohannes on Instagram and Twitter. 

Get to Know… Elizabeth Eulberg!

My name is… Elizabeth Eulberg.

I am a… connoisseur of cheese and cupcakes, a lover of long walks around London and the Green Bay Packers, an avid singer of karaoke and dancing around to boy bands while cleaning, a player of the piano, guitar, clarinet, AND drums, the proud mother of a stuffed Baby Yoda. Oh, I also write books.

Elizabeth’s next novel, The Best Worst Summer, comes out on May 4th!

As a kid, I was… not the best student. Or reader. I was put in remedial reading in first grade and really struggled with school. I remember feeling very frustrated that my friends could easily pick up reading while I couldn’t. In second grade, I had to take a test, where we found out I have a couple learning differences, including dyslexia. Around fourth grade, I really started to love to read and became a stronger student thanks to my mom and teachers. I ended up graduating high school and college with honors. But I still think of the little girl who was so down on herself because she felt “dumb” and got bullied for her big buck teeth, glasses, and frizzy hair. And you know what, she turned out okay! 

Writing is… a necessity. It helps keep all those voices in my head in check. Wait, having voices in your head is normal, right? RIGHT?! 

Reading is… magical! How else can you go on mythical adventures, solve a crime, go back in time, or have a meet-cute without leaving the couch? It’s all just a turn of the page away.

Books are… THE BEST! I recently moved to a different country and had to go through alllll my books. It was really, really hard! I donated most so they could have a good home, but there were some that I refused to part with. But no matter where my favorite books are–in London, in storage in NYC, or on a school bookshelf–they’ll always have a place in my heart.

Did you know… that I only listened to music that came out in 1989 while writing part of The Best Worst Summer? Since half of the book takes place in 1989, I had a special playlist of fun songs from that time. Full disclosure: most of it was the New Kids on the Block. Hands off, Joey! He’s mine! 😉 

You can find me… wandering tiny alleys and courtyards in London. Or you can follow my British adventures online at www.elizabetheulberg.com, Twitter: @ElizEulberg, and Instagram: @ElizabethEulberg.

Independent Bookstore Day Giveaway!

Today is the last Saturday in April, and that means today is Independent Bookstore Day — a day where the book world comes together to celebrate and support independent bookstores and all the ways in which they contribute to their communities and the book industry as a whole. To help celebrate the day, and to send a bunch of support toward a bunch of different indies, I’m doing a giveaway:

That’s right — if you purchase or preorder ANY of my books from ANY indie this weekend, you can be entered to win one of three $100 gift certificates to the independent bookstore of your choice. All you have to do is send proof of purchase and/or preorder to JarrettLernerBooks@gmail.com. And I say “and/or” because if you get multiple books of mine, you will be entered into the giveaway multiple times.

Don’t have a local indie? Consider ordering from mine, Porter Square Books. Bonus: if you get any of my books from Porter, I’ll go sign them! Click HERE to check out my page at Porter Square Books.

If you decide to enter this giveaway, let me say THANK YOU for the support — not just of me, but also of independent bookstores. Independent bookstores enrich their communities in countless ways, and are a vital part of the book world. Without them, we’d all be worse off. If you value them, make sure you show them, however you are able and whenever you are able — not just today, but as much as possible throughout the year.

~ Jarrett

GIVE THIS BOOK A COVER Preorder Giveaway!

In three short weeks, on May 4th, my second activity book — Give This Book a Cover — hits shelves. The book offers more of the sort of creativity-boosting activities that can be found in Give This Book a Title — How to Draw instructions, writing/drawing prompts, and Finish this Comic comics — while also challenging those who’ve used the previous book to explore some imaginative territory they may not have before. I hope these carefully crafted and thoughtfully arranged activities not only give kids something fun and creative to do, but get them excited about using their creativity, and also help train their brains to see the potential stories both all around and within them.

If you have, or plan on, preordering the book, make sure to enter the Give This Book a Cover preorder giveaway. What can you win? a 30-minute visit with me! It can be used as a classroom, library, or whole school visit (if you are in a school or wish to donate the visit to one); it can be used as a small-group workshop (for a comics club or during a birthday party, for instance) or one-on-one lesson; it can be used as a consultation (if you are an author, illustrator, or author-illustrator looking for some insight or advice); or it can be used however else you wish!

To enter the giveaway, send proof of your preorder to LernerPreorder@gmail.com. And as always for my preorder giveaways, if you get your copy (or copies!) from an independent bookseller, you’ll be entered into the giveaway twice.

Thank you, as always, for the support, and I hope you and/or the young creators in your life enjoy this next batch of my activities!

~ Jarrett

Get to Know… Lisa Fipps!

My name is… Lisa Fipps.

I am an… introspective extroverted introvert. I love being around people, especially people I can laugh or have a deep, meaningful conversation with, but then I need to escape, retreat to my quiet, private space. When I’m extroverting (I love to make nouns into verbs), not only do I like to have fun and explore the world, but I also gather in my brain basket everything I see, hear, and feel. Then when I’m introverting, I process it all to use it in my writing. Natalie Goldberg describes this process perfectly in Writing Down the Bones. “Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life … But there’s another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives everything a second time.”

As a kid, I was… the good girl, the responsible one, the resourceful one, the problem-solver, the fixer, the glue. Even though I come from a dysfunctional home and am the survivor of several childhood traumas, as a kid I was terrified of losing my family. So, I assumed the above-listed roles. The weight of the world was on my shoulders. All. The. Time. I think that’s why I gravitate toward issue-oriented books for kids. They’re living tough topics. They need books about tough topics.

Writing is… my life. I don’t write. I’m a writer. It’s who I am. I never feel more me than when I’m writing or hanging out with other writers. We see the world differently. We experience it differently. We’re our own artistic creatures that others often don’t understand.

Reading is… part pleasure and part pain. I love reading a good book. Some make me laugh. Some make me cry. Some make me think. Some teach me. Some do a combination of those things. That’s the pleasure part. But as a writer, I often find myself studying how the writer wrote the book. You know how a new mechanic will take an engine apart to identify and understand each piece and how it all goes together? That’s what I do. I dismantle the plot, dialogue, conflict, and so on to figure out how it all comes together, how it works. That gets to be a pain when all I want to do is enjoy a book.

Books are… my escape. When I was struggling with a lot of things as a kid, I could open a book and instantly be transported to England or Florida or another galaxy – far away from the chaos of home. I loved feeling like I was the character in a book and living a different life. If only for a while.

Did you know… I used to test-drive cars and write about them from a consumer point of view. That’s when I was a journalist. A limited-edition Camaro. Convertibles. A new car every week to drive as much as I wanted – I only had to put gas in them if I ran out – for several years. I’ve always had a thing for cars, especially new ones with all the bells and whistles. I never knew my dad because he died when I was 13 months old, but I’m told he was the same. Must be in my genes. 

You can find me… writing, doing school visits and events, reading, dabbling in art (watercolor and photography), and driving. Driving relaxes me. Oh, and you can find me virtually through my website, https://authorlisafipps.com/, or Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Just search for Author Lisa Fipps.

Get to Know… Kevin and Basil Sylvester!

My name is… Kevin Sylvester.

I am a… goofball.

Which is useful to be when you write and illustrate books for kids.

I try to write books that would have pleased and entertained a 12-year-old me, and I think I’m still that kid with more (thank goodness) adult behaviour on top.

But the things that made laugh back then (word play, snark, bizarre and unexpected juxtapositions) still make me laugh.

The types of stories that made me want to read back then (comic books, mysteries, adventure) still make me want to read.

As a kid, I was… a quiet geek. Awkward, shy, slightly hyperactive. I found an outlet in drawing. I can lose myself for hours with a pencil and paper.

But it was in third grade that I thought I might not be bad at it. I drew a witch for a Halloween drawing contest and won a pack of bubble gum. It’s still the most I’ve been paid for a single drawing, and it made me start taking art more seriously.

Writing is… frantic.

You know this, Jarrett, but there’s a pattern to writing that always starts with an idea, then the excitement of following that idea… then the slog of trying to get that down on paper (or computer).

Drawing, as a process, can be relaxing.

Writing CAN be like that, but never (in my experience) until I’ve reached the smoothing out stage of draft #3+. But we were all prepared for this as kids, because our editors today are basically just telling us the same things our teachers told us back when:

Read this over before you hand it in.

Read it out loud.

Show it to someone else.

Drawing is… as close to prayer and meditation as anything in life.

Everything around me quiets and settles. I’m still conscious, making decisions about the drawing, but I can lose myself within the drawing.

Part of this was embracing messiness, mistakes, and the joy of doodling.

I know that the process, if allowed to continue on its own, will often yield interesting results.

I’m actually finding this hard to articulate in a way that might be useful to someone else.

I guess the bottom line is that you should never judge a drawing until it is done, and you know it is done when it is…. done.

(See earlier answer about writing).

Reading is… as important as writing.

To be a writer is to be a reader. You HAVE to read. Not just because that’s where you encounter new ideas and POVs but because it’s the best place to pillage and plunder for nuggets of gold. You might be wowed by a sentence in a new book. A writer will deconstruct why that sentence worked, and how it used the placement of words or sounds or images to lead to a specific result.

Then a writer will learn from that and will use it in their own writing.

But, I also want to say that reading is half of a book, even if you are not a writer.

Our culture is obsessed with the idea of a “work of art” as an object in and of itself. We go to museums and look at works of art that are completely taken out of their context, their utility in the real world. The viewer merely observes, rarely interacts.

Books blast that wall down. Why? Because once I’m done a book, it is a dead object. Paper and ink. I call this the first “half circle” of the book.

The book is completed, made alive again, when a reader reads it. Let’s say The Fabulous Zed Watson sells a million copies (please, Basil and I need the money). Well, there is no longer one Zed Watson. There are a million. Each reader closes the circle in their own personal way.

Books are… see earlier response.

But I would add two things. Each book a writer makes is the answer to a question. What if we lived in Space? What if the greatest book ever written was never published, but buried in a hidden location?

I think of books as messengers. Not in a didactic way (although they can be that), but as couriers for ideas, feelings, experiences. I learn so much about the world by reading books from perspectives, or about experiences, that are different from mine.

Did you know… I play hockey as many as four times a week? And I freeze a skating rink every year in my backyard?

I also love baseball. Maybe too much.

You can find me… in my messy attic.

In schools (I love doing school visits – virtually or in person).

Online, all over the place.

And, once this pandemic is over, at as many NerdCamps as will have me in person. Finding people who are smarter than you, and put kids first, is invigorating, inspiring, and humbling.

My name is… Basil Sylvester.

I am a… weirdo (and since I cite my sources: my family has said this me for years. I come by it honestly, though!).

As a kid, I was… super intense. Always! Ask my dad, ask anyone–I was always talking everyone’s ears off all the time. My mom had to give us a “no tapping on the shoulder” rule because of how many times I just could not wait for her to be done with her conversation before I needed her attention. I think I’m a lot like Zed in this respect, ha ha.

Writing is… HARD. some people–like my dad–write very quickly and have a ton of ideas happening at once. I do not. It can take me literal years to write a word of a story idea. By the time we got the email from our friend and colleague Suzanne Sutherland, asking us if we’d be interested in writing a middle grade book with a nonbinary kid, I had given up on becoming a writer. I was too critical, and could never write anything. I’d delete it or I’d cross it out. But the universe did not give up on me, and i really do thank my lucky stars every single day for that!

A slight tangent, but: I get asked a lot if Zed is the book I needed at that age, or if I wrote with that kid in mind, and the answer is actually no, I didn’t. I wasn’t ready for that then, personally. I was too busy with all the other things that made me feel like an outsider; I only started questioning my gender in my late teens, right before graduating high school. Kids these days are lightyears ahead of me at that age, and that’s part of why I’m so excited about having Zed out in the world! I’ve already had kids say they or their friends are trans/nonbinary. I didn’t even know that existed when I was younger, and if I did, I don’t think I would have connected with it at that age. I was too busy realizing I wasn’t straight to add not being cis onto that, too.

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that kids (especially at that age) have literally SO MUCH going on in their lives that it’s a treat to write for them because you really never know what kind of story they need to hear–and sometimes they don’t, either!

Drawing is… ALSO HARD. I think one of the things I’m proudest of on Zed is that I designed the cover and did the lettering! It took a frankly unbelievable amount of time and I thought, wow, how do artists do this every day? What the heck? Then it turned out I wasn’t using Procreate properly and when they asked me to do the spine lettering as well, I did the first rough sketch in 45 minutes. You live and learn. (Although I am a bit bummed because I like the spine lettering so much better! You can see I kind of know what I’m doing!) Can you tell I’m a bit of a lazy creative? I much prefer editing to writing, actually; my dream is to be a fiction editor because I love helping other people achieve their vision for a project. It’s like a fossil! The shape is there, you’re just helping them reveal the awesome colossus underneath.

Reading is… something I need to do more! I own almost too many books to fit in my studio apartment, and I’ve probably only read about 30% of them…

Books are… magic! And that’s not just a beloved indie bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. Books can provide escapism and community, sometimes at the same time! I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true! I was doing an author visit a couple weeks ago and a kid raised his hand and said he had a friend who was nonbinary, like in my book. And I smile every time I think about that–I hope Zed and other books let that kid see his friend living a full life, and that the friend sees that there are so many possibilities out there!

I’ve made some incredible and lifelong friends through books, bookselling, and book launches and events, and it’s really such an amazing community. Hooray for books!

Did you know… that I’ve seen the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (directed by Joe Wright) over 400 times? That there might be dinosaur remains on the moon and even as far as MARS?! That the voyager golden record has greetings from Earth in 55 different languages? That scientists have taught spinach to send emails? (I think Gabe would really like that.)

You can find me… in my little hobbit hole of an apartment, avoiding doing my dishes and reading my friends’ Star Trek: The Original Series fanfiction. (And also intermittently on Instagram, @ghostbasil.)