Exclusive Cover Reveal: THIS IS A SCHOOL by John Schu and Veronica Miller Jamison
I’ve been friends with John Schumacher since 2010, when we did the world’s first live Twitter book review.
We’ve spent a lot of time together since, talking about our ideas and plans and hopes.
A hope we shared was to publish books someday. So it’s with great pleasure that I get to reveal the cover for This Is a School, John Schu’s debut picture book, illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison.
But first, I had some questions about the book for John and Veronica.
Travis Hi Veronica and John! John, have you made your coffee run yet?
John Schu: Hi, Travis! Happy Tuesday! Thank you for hosting This Is a School’s cover reveal.
You know me super well! There’s a Starbucks Trenta Iced Coffee with milk and 7 pumps of caramel syrup next to me right now.
Travis: Are you ready to talk about your first book? This is exciting stuff!
JS: Yes, please bring on the questions!
Travis: John – How did the idea for This Is a School develop?
JS: Oh, Travis, this is my favorite question to ask during interviews. It feels strange and exciting sitting on the other side of the table.
The idea for This Is a School came about because of how much fun I had writing This Is a Story, illustrated by Lauren Castillo and releasing in 2023. They are companions and follow a similar structure. Three things are almost always on my mind: schools, stories, and theatre. Hmmm…
I rewrote This Is a School’s opening stanza and revised the outline inside this room in the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Travis: Hi Veronica! First of all – what was your reaction when you read the story for the first time? Had you met John before?
Veronica Miller Jamison: I hadn’t met John before but of course I’d known about his work as the Ambassador for Libraries with Scholastic and his Book Joy Live series. So being approached to illustrate one of his first books was WILDLY exciting. When I read the manuscript, I immediately fell in love with it. I’m a person who’s always loved learning, and I have very warm memories of my first years of school. So to be able to revisit those memories and feelings through John’s manuscript was amazing. It was such a wonderful trip down memory lane that I dedicated the book to two of my very first teachers.
Travis: Veronica – I love how you keep adding to your Twitter thread about the art for this book. I think that’s such a good idea. How did the illustration wheels start turning? What’s your first step?
VMJ: Thank you! I wanted to be more intentional about documenting my process for this book — it’s easy to just get lost into a flow of creating and forget to record your progress.
JS: Isn’t it an AWESOME thread? My heart smiles whenever Veronica tweets about her process. It’s such a gift! I love her joyful and warm illustrations!
VMJ: When I read a manuscript for the first time and fall in love with it, pictures immediately start forming in my head. That’s what happened for THIS IS A SCHOOL. I instantly envisioned this eclectic group of kids having tons of fun while learning in a bright, warm classroom setting.
And there’s usually one passage in particular that gets the wheels turning. For THIS IS A SCHOOL, that passage was, “Some days we get so excited, we can’t wait to try something new.” So it starts with a bunch of fast and furious sketching to get all the ideas out, and at the same time I start experimenting with colors and technique to figure out how I’m going to approach the final art. The image that accompanied the book announcement was a result of that first round of inspired sketching.
Travis: John – You’ve been in front of kids A LOT. As a teacher, school librarian, as Ambassador for School Libraries. How did those experiences shape This Is a School?
JS: This Is a School wouldn’t exist without those life-changing experiences. As you know, I think one of the best ways to connect with others is by reading aloud a story together. One of my favorite rituals during the first month of school is selecting read-alouds that go directly from the heart to the classroom. Stories that help facilitate important and meaningful conversations. Stories that imbue joy into the school day. I wrote This Is a School with the first month of school in mind and a very specific spot in my school visit presentation where we discuss community, connection, and the power of story.
During each stage of the writing and revision process, I thought about the students I’ve had the honor of learning with and the schools I visited as the Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic Book Fairs.
Travis: Veronica – Did you draw any inspiration from your real life for the artwork?
VMJ: I drew SO MUCH inspiration from my real life! The first character I developed after reading the manuscript was a kid I named DJ, who is just a 6-year-old version of my husband, David, who loves science and making music. There are also characters based on my niece and my younger brother, and a few characters who were inspired by my friends’ amazing kids.
It was so much fun to draw upon all these different personalities to create these adorable characters.
The school that you see on the cover pulls some inspiration from the elementary school I attended – the archway over the door and the colorful windows are both inspired by Beechwood Elementary’s architecture. I had a wonderful time there as a kid, and I wanted to bring that same spirit to the artwork.
Travis: John – We’ve been friends for a while now, so you can be honest with me. Did you dedicate this book to me, and if not, why not?
JS: THIS IS an epic question! I’m sorry to share This Is a School isn’t dedicated to you, BUT I’m currently writing a story in which one of the main characters constantly misplaces his glasses. Thankfully, a kind friend always helps him find them again. I’ve already jotted down a possible dedication for that story…
Travis: Veronica – What’s your process for making a cover? Do you have any key elements that you feel make a good cover?
VMJ: This is the second picture book I’ve illustrated, so I’m still developing my process for creating covers. I generally want my covers to feel bright and optimistic – and be eye-catching, of course – and for THIS IS A SCHOOL, I wanted to capture the energy of a school community.
The cover can be a bit of a puzzle to solve, because you’re trying to distill the essence of the book and all this art you’ve made into one image! We (the art director and I) had what felt like a million different ideas for it – we could show the kids in a classroom, entering a hallway, sitting in a reading circle.
At one point I pitched a panel idea inspired by the work of illustrator Alain Grée to try to get all this action in, but we agreed that that wasn’t quite the right fit either.
Ultimately, the best choice turned out to be the most obvious one – let’s show everyone starting their day at school! So you see this fun blue brick school building, with the kids, parents, teachers and janitor all arriving and being so excited to see each other.
Travis: One last, important question: What snack puts you in peak creativity mode? Or what snack fueled the making of This Is a School? Veronica, you want to go first?
VMJ: Oh goodness. I’m afraid if I start talking about snacks, we’re going to run out of room here. The truth is, if I’m thinking about snacks, I’m not thinking about painting. But yes, they do give me fuel to let me focus on my creativity.
My favorites are the chocolate coconut almonds from Trader Joe’s – it’s a literal mashup of all my favorite things. Twizzlers are another fave. But I have to be careful because too many will upset my stomach, and then I’m just sad and don’t feel like drawing anything. And then I have honeycrisp apples and peanut butter, which turns into a little creative exercise in itself – I cut the apple into 12 perfect slices, put a dollop of peanut butter in the middle of a small glass bowl, and then meticulously arrange the slices around the peanut butter for a pretty glamorous snack presentation.
I told you, I could talk about snacks all day.
Travis: John, how about you? What snack puts you in peak creativity mode?
JS: This is my favorite question you ask in interviews. Now it’s my turn to answer it!!! Hooray!
Cretors Cheese & Caramel Popcorn Mix. My keyboard is often covered in cheese dust.
A bit about the book, from the publisher:
A moving celebration of school and all it may signify: work and play, creativity and trust, and a supportive community that extends beyond walls
A school isn’t just a building; it is all the people who work and learn together. It is a place for discovery and asking questions. A place for sharing, for helping, and for community. It is a place of hope and healing, even when that community can’t be together in the same room. John Schu, a librarian and former ambassador of school libraries for Scholastic, crafts a loving letter to schools and the people that make up the communities within in a picture book debut beautifully illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison.
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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