Get to Know… Sam Wedelich!

My name is…

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I am… a Jill-of-all-trades, which is a silly way of saying that I do a lot of things. I used to be sort of shy about this, or afraid that people would think I was bragging. I’m really not, I just like to be creative in LOTS of ways. I’m not great or even good at ALL of them, but I don’t really care. I enjoy learning and growing and trying new things! Oh, I’m also a mom and wife and eater of gluten-free foods (dang allergies!).

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As a kid… I was pretty normal. Nothing special honestly. Just loved making things and using my imagination…. usually to excess. Hmm… Not much has changed actually. Except that I wear shoes now. Even inside, I always have house slippers on.

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Writing is… crafting feelings and emotions and events into words so that other people can live in your imagination WITH YOU. AHHHHH!

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Drawing is… play! No, more seriously… For me, it’s a way of showing how I see and process the world and my life and times into images. Like writing, it’s taking a subjective reality and putting it into a framework that makes it accessible to a wider audience. If you do this well, it’s pure MAGIC!  If not, keep going at it. We’re all works in progress!

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Reading is… an adventure!  It’s the other end of the journey… being in someone else’s imagination, benefitting from their perspective and knowledge and craft in writing. You can travel, you can be other people, you can love, laugh, cry… I mean, is there anything better?!

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Books are… hard work to make, but worth it in the end! Books take so many rounds of changes and edits. So, so, so many. So, if you want to make books, you can’t be too impatient. I’ve always been pretty impatient and I’ve learned to slow down  and stay with the process in book-making. If I can do it, you can probably do it too.

You can and should have FUN and see where the story takes you.

Did you know… that it’s never too late to learn something new?

You can find me… on Instagram @samwedelich.

Get to Know… Mae Respicio!

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Mae and her newest novel, Any Day With You.

My name is… Mommy or Mom—but yelled super loudly from the opposite end of the house! That, or Mae Respicio (Res-pee-cee-yo). You can hear a pronunciation here!

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Picture of Mae’s skateboarding 12-year-old, because he thinks it’s cool that Jarrett Lerner, whose books he loves, also skateboards.

I am… an author of middle grade fiction, an avid cupcake eater, and a proud Hufflepuff. My newest MG novel is called Any Day With You.

As a kid… my mom made me write in a journal so she could check my spelling (she was a teacher) and while it wasn’t my favorite thing at first… eventually that practice stuck! I’m still an avid journaler, which helps me in so many ways—from processing life’s moments, to finding little gems of inspiration that I can expand in my work.

Writing is… the thing I’ve always done and have always wanted to do. I’ve done every kind of writing imaginable—communications writing for different companies, writing personal essays (mainly around the joys and perils parenthood), and writing on-air promotions for news stations… but I’m so happy to have found a voice in writing books for kids.

Reading is… joy!

Books are… everything. They’ve been a part of me ever since I can remember—they’ve given me escape, entertainment, laughs, cries, and support in every part of my life from childhood through adulthood. It was probably inevitable I’d end up working with books in some capacity. One of my greatest #MomBrags is how much my kids love reading. Honestly, it thrills me every time I see them immersed in a book!

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One of Mae’s kids during DEAR (“drop everything and read”) time.

Did you know… the record for eating the most cupcakes in the shortest time is 29 cupcakes in 30 seconds?! I wonder if that person was a writer on deadline…

You can find me… posting about #MGLit and #MomFails (with the occasional #MomBrag) on Twitter and Instagram—or please reach out and say hello via my website! I love hearing from readers.

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Mae’s son, who without prompting from Mom, book-talked Any Day With You during his class Zoom (definitely a laugh-cry joyful moment!).

Get to Know… Kit Rosewater!

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My name is… Kit Rosewater! Some people think that’s a pen name, but it’s my real name too! My maiden name was Watters and my partner’s was Rose, and when we got married we legally combined our last names to be Rosewater! I wish I had a derby name to share… I trained to be a roller derby referee but never got an official derby name. In 2018 I was briefly on a breakdancing crew, and my crew name was KitKat. If I were to lace up my skates again as a ref, I think my derby name would be KitKat, and my roller derby motto would be “Break me off a piece!”

I am a… children’s book author! A shenanigans-starter! A dog-howling-instigator! I am many things, and have tried many things in my life. Before writing books became my career, I worked as a children’s bookseller. Before that, I was a middle school teacher in theatre and English! I have a master’s degree in Children’s Literature and once wanted to be a college professor. But being an author has been my dream from the start. Maybe one day I’ll add illustrator to that title!

As a kid, I was… always imagining new games. I loved letting my imagination build new friends and pets and secret hideaways. My sister and I worked on building a castle in our backyard after school and on weekends. We never got the walls higher than a few inches, but we made a terrific moat to keep intruders out! I had invisible friends who followed me around like Cloud Dragon and Rosie the Pink Dog. I was also constantly making books out of scrap paper. I loved holding my stories as real objects rather than just ideas floating back and forth across my brainfolds.

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Writing is… something I do to escape, to contemplate, to think critically. I need to write stories the way people need to eat food. Taking characters on journeys fills me with a rush of excitement and energy and passion. Writing is also something I wasn’t inherently “good” at. I’m always learning how to tell stories in new ways that compel readers. Writing is a lifelong journey for me. I hope I never stop improving and changing the way I make books!

Drawing is… something I do for fun right now. I like to draw portraits with colored pencils. My favorite parts to draw are hair strands whipping around in the wind! Right now I have a notebook full of drawings I keep to myself. I would like to learn more about how to draw figures for children’s books, and one day illustrate my own graphic novel or chapter book series!

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Reading is… something I loved from when I was little. Learning how to read the alphabet was like cracking the coolest code ever. I remember reading books like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Hop on Pop for the first time and feeling so powerful. I still feel powerful when I read. I’m amazed that I can be waiting in line at the post office, pull out a book, and suddenly be transported into another world! I recommend that everyone take a book with them when they go out. It’s so much more fun to read than scroll through phone messages while waiting for the cinema flick to start, or for your food to get to the table at a restaurant.

Books are… PURE MAGIC. Books are incredible. Books are everything. I wanted to write books from the beginning because I realized they could be portals, windows, and mirrors to anywhere. One of my favorite tropes in stories is when a specific book has powers… because I actually think that all books have powers!

Did you know… that while I was growing up, I also wanted to be a wildlife conservationist? In middle school I would wander through the desert plains behind my house and catch horned lizards and snakes. My idol was Steve Irwin, known as The Crocodile Hunter. Steve didn’t hunt crocodiles though–he cared for them and helped relocate them when they were in danger. He passed away in an accident when I was a teenager, but I had always dreamed of meeting him and working at his zoo in Australia. Now I write about the adventures I thought I would go on way back when. And who knows, maybe I’ll still go on some of those adventures someday!

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You can find me… barking out the window with my dog Sadie. Or climbing up the Sandia mountain crest in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Okay, I’m not always on that mountain, or even at my office window. But I am always online. You can learn a lot more about me and my books at kitrosewater.com, and you can catch me on Twitter or Instagram at @kitrosewater!

Get to Know… Vicky Fang!

My name is… Vicky Fang!

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Photo credit: Lindsay Wiser.

I am a… children’s book author. A product designer. An Aries. A dragon. An introvert. An idealist.  

As a kid, I was… a goody goody. I hated breaking the rules or being in trouble. (But that doesn’t mean I never got in trouble!) I wanted to be a painter, and I played piano, violin, and tennis. I was also simultaneously a child model and an awkward little kid, which meant I usually wore some wacky 80’s clothing that really didn’t fit me properly. And of course, I loved reading—especially fantasy.

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Me, as a kid.

Writing is… like trying to put together a puzzle where the pieces keep changing shape! It’s so hard, but so rewarding. I love being able to create something from thoughts and words with the potential to reach and inspire kids around the world. 

Reading is… a rediscovered treasure. As a child, I read all the time. Then at some point in college, I decided to read only plays (I was a theatre major.) This was a terrible idea!! I stopped reading for a long time, until I finally returned to books and reading whatever I felt like. Phew.

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Visiting my publisher for the first time.

Books are… magic, escape, insight, fun, comfort, peace, ideas, and adventure.

Did you know… I am a debut author with five STEAM books for kids coming out this year! Layla and the Bots (Scholastic early chapter book series), Invent-a-Pet (Sterling picture book), and I Can Code (Sourcebooks board book series.)

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My 2020 books.

You can find me… on Twitter at @fangmous, on Instagram at @fangmousbooks, or on my website at www.vickyfang.com. Come say hi!

 

Get to Know… James Ponti!

Screen Shot 2020-03-05 at 10.25.51 AM.pngMy name is… James Ponti. Always James, never Jim or Jimmy. My mother insisted on this when I was little and it stuck, although there have actually been three exceptions. One was Father Heslin, the priest I was named after. One was Abraham Polonsky, a blacklisted film director who taught at my college. I was his teaching assistant and he called me Jimmy and I was cool with that. And there’s David Feherty, the golf commentator and television personality. I produce his tv show and he calls me Jimmy. I think it’s an Irish thing like it was for the priest. I was born in Italy and the thinking was to have one English and one Italian name. They went with James Marco instead of Giacomo Marcus (which would have been the reverse.) I don’t know if I could’ve pulled it off as a kid, but Giacomo works now. So you can call me that if you’re daring.

I am… an upbeat and optimistic person. I think this has been essential throughout my life. There have been a lot of setbacks and some real heartbreak, but I’ve always felt really fortunate to have the life that I do. I’ve been surrounded by amazing loving people who believe in me and no matter what’s going on. I always feel like there are great things on the horizon.

As a kid, I was… a terrible reader. I really struggled with it. In my first grade classroom we had poster with all of our names on it and every time you finished reading something you got a star to put by your name. I only got one star all year and I was so embarrassed. I almost never read for pleasure and now try to write books that I think would’ve engaged me when I was younger.

Writing is… so much fun. I’ve always loved it. I decided to become a writer when I was in Mr. Prothro’s fifth grade English class and I have literally never wanted to be anything else. It’s been great and introduced me to amazing people. It’s taken me all over the US and to nearly a dozen countries. What I love about it most is that it’s universal. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone’s story is unique to them. It doesn’t take money or special equipment. Just your imagination and some paper. (Oh, and something to write with. But that’s all.)

Reading is… something I’ve grown to love. Although, it’s a bit of a luxury. I have so many deadlines and while I love reading, it’s still not a very fast process for me. I’ve always joked that I could write a book faster than I can read one. My favorite books are mysteries as well as books by friends like JARRETT LERNER!!!!

Books are… passports. They take you everywhere real and imagined. But most of all, they connect us. I love the fact that I can write a book all alone in my office in Florida and some kid in Minnesota who I’ll never meet can pick it up and read it and connect with me. It’s a two way street for writer and reader. And when you read a book you complete that connection. And when you recognize yourself in the manuscript both you and the writer are elevated.

 

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You can find James’s newest book, CITY SPIES, shelved between “Patterson” and “Rowling” starting TODAY!

Did you know… I worked for a long time writing scripts for shows on Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, and PBS. I actually wrote on the Mickey Mouse Club when the mouseketeers included Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera. They were just kids I saw and talked to every day and it’s crazy to see them as superstars. One of the shows I wrote for PBS was Clifford’s Puppy Days and that was a lot of fun too.

 

You can find me… hanging out with my family, going to the movies, traveling to some interesting location or at my desk writing. As for my books, you can find them almost everywhere books are shelved. I have a trick to find them quickly when I enter a bookstore by looking for the huge James Patterson and JK Rowling sections. I’m alphabetized right between them!

 

Get to Know… Hena Khan!

My name is… Hena, which is pronounced “hen-na,” like the tattoo (never “hee-na” please, which is a pet peeve). My last name, Khan, is pronounced from the throat but most people, including me sometimes, say “con.” I’m named after the plant that is dried into the dark green strong smelling paste used for making deep orange henna tattoos. My mom said she named me after a girl in her grade school in Pakistan who she admired, and even though I didn’t love my name growing up, I’m happy with it now. And I kept my last name after marriage because I couldn’t imagine being called anything else!

I am a… scaredy cat. I hate thrills of all kinds. I’ve never ice skated, clung to the walls the few times I stood on roller skates, avoid theme parks, and despise roller coasters. I’m a big fan of naps, drinking good coffee and baking delicious things, and going for walks, which I know makes me sound pretty boring. But I will feed you something tasty, tell you interesting stories, and listen to yours, if you want to hang out with me on solid ground!

As a kid, I was… self-conscious, awkward and a bit of an old soul, and I still feel the same way on the inside as an adult. I’ve gotten a little better at hiding it, most of the time. I like to think that I was kind and a good friend, too.

Writing is… something I’ve done since I was a little kid, in one form or another. I never expected an audience, even when I wrote a family newspaper. And I didn’t dare to dream I would write a book, or books, or imagine that it was something possible. I’m still amazed that I get to do what I do when I stop to think about it.

Reading is… a gift. I still remember my mother teaching me how to read, and being super proud of me when I started sounding out words that I didn’t understand. She used to make me perform in front of her friends. And as bored as they probably were, I never forgot her pride and the feeling that what I was doing was something special and important.

Books are… some of my most prized possessions, along with photos and old letters and cards that I can’t part with. I just recycled some of my old outdated college textbooks, and it was hard to say goodbye to them. I feel guilty when I turn a book upside down to save my place, but I do it sometimes. I NEVER turn down the corners of pages though and feel sad when I see bent pages of a library book.

Did you know… that I have lived within the same five-mile area for my entire life? But I’ve also been lucky to have studied in Spain for a semester when in college, and to have traveled to 35 different countries, on four continents. I haven’t visited nearly as many American states as countries, but being an author and visiting schools has taken me to a bunch of new ones. And I hope to explore a lot more of both the US and the rest of the world in the future.

You can find me… at home, cooking, baking, writing or procrastinating, when I’m not traveling. And you can connect with me online through my website, www.henakhan.com, on instagram and twitter @henakhanbooks, and on Facebook @hena.khan.books, which I hardly use anymore.

Get to Know… Aron Nels Steinke!

My name is… Aron, spelled with one “A” because my great-grandfather’s name was spelled that way. Nels, because of my Finnish grandfather’s nickname. It’s still unclear to me if it was his nickname or the name that appeared on his birth certificate. And Steinke, which is German for “stone cutter” because the Steinkes in my family were 1800s German immigrants.

For years I was embarrassed by my name and I used to get teased because of my last name as a kid. I wish I had known how to deal with it better.

I am a… cartoonist. That means I draw and write comics. I am both illustrator and writer. I am also a teacher. I like being both but I struggle with that dual identity. Am I taken less seriously as a teacher because I devote so much of myself toward making books? Am I taken less seriously as an author because I spend a majority of my energy toward teaching?

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As a kid, I was… lucky because I had access to roam around hundreds of acres of forests. I grew up on eleven acres in rural SW Washington State. My brother and/or my friend and I would just wander through neighboring forests and fields. Ducking electric fences and scaling barbed wire. I got to know crawdads and frogs pretty well. Snakes, newts, and garden spiders too. If I was bored in the house I’d just go outside on my bicycle and ride down “the trail,” which was a path that connected the road in front of our house to the road way in the back of our house. I became a connoisseur of huckleberry and thimbleberries. I ate wild hazelnuts from the filbert bushes and made arrows from the same plant and used red alder for bows and swords sharpened from hours of whittling with my pocket knife.

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Writing is… something that I didn’t love or feel I understood at all until I started making comics. I love writing now but that only happened because I forced myself to get better at it. I still find it very difficult, but I now have a strategy to get better at it. Writing is re-reading. Writing is continually editing and putting down things that don’t work and chipping away at it until it does.

Writing plot is so very hard. I never want to write something that is contrived. I don’t want my work to be obviously derivative of other popular works or predictable for any age of reader. I want my writing to feel like it’s a real conversation happening in front of you. I want it to feel authentic and natural.

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Drawing is… something that always came natural for me. There are so many styles and ways to make art—how can we settle on a form or a material? For me I settled on a cartoony style but it took me until I was twenty-five to find that style. My early illustrative work and animation was derivative of the people I was influenced by. You could tell when I was really into Miyazaki or Sendak. Now I feel like my style is just a natural amalgamation of the hundreds and possibly thousands of visual influences I’ve had in my life.

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Reading is… something we should all have more time for. I love getting lost in a book and learning from books. I get distracted easily and because of that I’m a slow reader.

It took me a while to connect with reading as a kid. I loved reading the comic strips in my newspaper and I read collections of Garfield and The Far Side. I would often check out books from my library that I couldn’t actually access because of either my lack of reading stamina, my lack of a strong vocabulary, or both. I remember checking out a novel with a wizard and a wolf on the cover in third or fourth grade. I’d carry this book around with me and pretend I could read it because I thought of the book’s cover and what must be inside as an extension of my identity.

When I first discovered the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series by Alvin Schwartz I had that feeling of a book that finally connected with me. It was the short story format, allowing me to skip around the book, and the content that appealed to my abilities and interests. I read those books over and over. The illustrations by Stephen Gammell haunted me.

When I was in seventh-grade my friends and I started reading the Anne Rice vampire books and we had a teacher who gave us a long silent sustained reading period. That was very important for me. I didn’t really give myself chunks of time to read for pleasure at home so here I was forced to just sit and read. My peers were reading and I wanted to perform as well as them and to keep up with the conversations afterward. Reading those books felt like I was getting away with something. Those books were scandalous for a middle schooler. I remember thinking, “What if my teacher actually knew what I was reading?!”

In some ways reading prose is more private. Comics, on the other hand, telegraph exactly what you’re reading to the outside observer because it’s immediately clear to others what you’re reading. They can glance over and accidentally read your book.

That’s really the only limitation I see comics having, if it is a limitation. Maybe it’s not a limitation but it does make it hard for those who feel a stigma in our society about reading comics. I’m speaking about adults or kids who want to read outside of their perceived demographic. They may censor their public reading choices because their reading choice is out in the open. I make comics and I love reading them but I still feel a little daring when I’m reading a graphic novel out in the open at a coffee shop, on the bus, or on a flight.

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Books are… always going to exist in print. As a teacher it is very clear. The novelty of reading on a screen has some merit for some kids but nothing can replace the physical act of turning a page.

I do think reading is one of the coolest things you can do. When I first met my wife she was very relieved that I read books for pleasure and for personal fulfillment. She reads very quickly and is always getting something new from the library.

To help raise readers we need to model to kids that we are readers ourselves, not just of articles on our phone, but of real, physical books. So if you’re a parent or teacher and kids don’t see you read for yourself maybe think about how you can better model your love for reading to them.

I also think it’s important to model that you read across demographics. I’m thinking specifically about how much adults would benefit from reading children’s nonfiction picture books. I’m lucky because I get to do it as part of my teaching job. That’s not to dismiss kids’ fiction books. I write children’s fiction but I just know that with children’s nonfiction I’m always learning something new very quickly. They’re designed to communicate ideas efficiently.

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Did you know… my third middle-grade graphic novel in the Mr. Wolf’s Class series, Lucky Stars, is coming out on September 3rd?! And, I’m busy working on a fourth Mr. Wolf’s Class book due out next year!

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You can find me… at www.mrwolfsclass.com, on twitter as @mrwolfcomics and instagram as @aronnelssteinke.