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This is a Story with John Schu and Lauren Castillo

John Schu and Lauren Castillo share This Is a Story, inviting us to imagine the myriad ways that books can foster connection and understanding--and how they can empower children, through their own passions, to transform the world.







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[3:09] Introduction

Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.

I am a teacher, a librarian, and a fan of kids. That’s you! No matter the age, no matter the stage. I’m a fan.

Today we are celebrating the power of story to connect, to inspire, to engage, and to affirm.

Our guests today are John Schu and Lauren Castillo.

John Schu is the author of This Is a School, illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison. He is also a children’s librarian at Bookelicious and a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University. He was previously the Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic Book Fairs and has worked as a classroom teacher and school librarian. He travels all over the world visiting schools and meeting with students, teachers, and administrators as he advocates for the people and things he cares about most: kids, books, schools, and the libraries—and librarians—that connect them.

Lauren Castillo is the award-winning illustrator of many books for children, including Kirkus Prize finalist Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, Happy Like Soccer by Maribeth Boelts, and Yard Sale by Eve Bunting. She is the author-illustrator of the Caldecott Honor Book Nana in the City.

[4:37] Book Summary

Matthew: This Is a Story by John Schu; illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Children's literacy advocate John Schu and Caldecott Honor recipient Lauren Castillo celebrate the power of finding the perfect book--in a story that's more relevant than ever.

This is a word on a page.

This is a page in a book.

This is a book on a shelf . . . waiting.

With a sea-horse kite in hand, a child heads out with Dad to the library. On the way they stop at a park, joining lots of people, some of whom are flying kites, too. At the library, a person toting a big pile of books hands over a story on a favorite subject: the sea horse. All around, there are readers poring over books, each with their own questions, ideas to explore, hopes for the future, and imaginations ready to spark. With a warm, lyrical text and tenderly expressive illustrations, John Schu and Lauren Castillo invite us to imagine the myriad ways that books can foster connection and understanding--and how they can empower children, through their own passions, to transform the world.

[5:51] Meet Our Guests: John Schu and Lauren Castillo

John: Hello. I'm John Shu and I am a reader. I am a teacher. I am a teacher librarian. And I am the author of This Is a Story.

Lauren: Hi, my name is Lauren Castillo. I am an author and an illustrator. And I am the illustrator of the picture book This Is a Story written by John Schu.

[6:11] Finding That Just-Right Book

Matthew: You encounter thousands, if not tens of thousands, of stories each time you visit your school or public library. And yet, finding the book that’s just right for you can feel like an impossibly hopeless task.

If all goes right, though, you’ll find that book. And that book will find you. This might be where a great teacher or librarian or grownup steps in.

It’s important to explore lots and lots of different kinds of stories because that helps you discover what stories speak most to you. And trying new stories can lead to finding new things to love.

You may not have found that just-right book for you yet. And that just-right book will probably change as you get older.

So I wonder, what does a just-right book look like for you right now?

Go ahead and share with whomever is listening with you. Or think it to yourself. Or share aloud with me. I’m always listening. I might not be able to hear you, but I promise I’m always listening.

What does a just-right book look like for you right now?

Jonah: The books that I think fit me and I think is a just-right book is a chapter book that’s kind of like Percy Jackson. That has a lot of action. That has a lot of mystery. And it is just a good book in general.

Julia: They’re cute and maybe also funny. I like when they do have pictures.

Lauren: I'll say it feels very soothing and it makes me think of the books that are the ones that I return to over and over again. Those are like comfort objects to me. So I would say yeah, a, a very soothing, comforting type object.

John: I think finding a just right book looks a lot like the child on the cover of This Is a Story, where she's holding the book, she's embracing the book, she's throwing back her head and her eyes are closed,. And I bet she’s just aken in the magic of the new book scent.

For me, finding a just right book feels really magical, especially when that book comes into your life at just the right time. As the three of us know so well, a book often walks into our life when we need it the most. In a book that I wrote called The Gift of Story, I write about how books can be the perfect prescriptions to let us know that we are going to be okay. And we know that books can make our hearts grow. They can make our hearts change. And they can make our hearts more compassionate. So for me, a just write book can do all of those magical things, especially the affective side of story.

[9:02] When You Hear the Word “Story”

Matthew: This Is a Story follows a young child on their way into the library and, ultimately, into the children’s book section. They wear a fish-print shirt and carry a seahorse kite under their arm.

But the story also starts with a book on a shelf, waiting for its reader.

And it begins, in part, with a librarian seeing that child, the whole child, and making a bridge between the story in a book on a shelf and the story of a child looking for a just-right book for them.

Story is working on lots of different levels here. And that’s kind of the way that that word works. Isn’t it?

Jonah: When I think of the word “story” I think of a book, maybe a fairy tale book, but a book that’s made up and is fiction.

Julia: When I think of the word story I feel, like, joyed and really happy, I think.

Lauren: I'm the short answer person here. Again, “comfort”. I made a little list: comfort, inspire.

You know, thinking of all the stories that inspire and stories that inspire me to create, but also just stories that I'm inspired when I read. Also, memories and, like, hearing verbal stories from older family members and, you know, hearing about family history.

Those are the three main words that come to mind for me.

John: I love that and I love this question so much, Matthew.

Recently during school visits, I started asking kids, “What is your favorite word? I want you to think about what is your favorite word, and in a moment, I'm going to ask you to raise your hand if you'd like to share with me what your favorite word is and why.”

And there's always one child who very, I mean many children, but there's always like the one who's the first to shoot their hand up and you know that they wanna share their favorite word with you, and there's a story behind it. So that student comes up and they share with me what their favorite word is. And then I say to them, I'm going to give you a copy of a book called Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, because in that book I learned what is now my favorite word

And then I say to them, “I'm gonna tell you what the favorite word is later during the book signing, but for now I'm going to tell you what my second and third favorite words are. My second favorite word is joy, and my third favorite word is story.”

I've written two books with “story” in the title: This Is a Story and The Gift of Story. And I love the word story so much because it's the word that is always swimming around inside of my mind. And I think the reason I love story so much is because of stories. I've led to many connections and many changes within my heart and within myself, and I love asking children and adults to finish the sentence starter, “Story is….”

And right away we see that the way that I define story is probably different from how you define story, Matthew. And how you define story, Matthew, is probably different from how Lauren defines story, so I love how everyone has their own personal definition of what the word story means.

[12:31] BREAK

[12:38] As John Schu Connects with Readers

Matthew: We talk a lot about books and stories on this podcast, but we don’t often get a chance to talk about you, listeners.

For many teachers, librarians, authors, and illustrators around the world, you are why we do it. You are why we keep coming back to our classrooms, our libraries, our writing desks, our drawing pads.

What’s it like for John Schu to connect with kids and readers? Let’s hear it directly from him.

John: Oh, it's so… magical is the word I keep coming back to. We are recording this in February, the end of February, and so far in 2023 I've met 16,000 students. And every experience is so different, but I leave every experience feeling joy and feeling connection and feeling grateful that I have had an opportunity to stand in front of 300 and 400 kids at a time and really show them that reading can be a workout for your heart, and reading can be a workout for your imagination. And to learn from them, to learn from you listeners, to learn from you children, what the books of your hearts are and why, and what you’re excited about and what you care about and what you want me to know about your reading life.

So it is an honor and every time I leave a school, I write down the names of kids who I've met. And I write down the stories that they've told me. And I feel, when I'm there, I'm a bearer of their stories, taking in their stories, collecting their stories, critically listening to them when they want to share their heart with you during a book signing.

I feel that I am a better person because of all of the kids who I've met around the world. And it is, I, I love being a teacher, a librarian, you know, who has 200 to 300 kids a year, but right now, in this moment, I love the most to be able to go out and meet thousands of kids every single month because I learned so much about the world and about humanity because of them.

[14:48] As Lauren Castillo Creates Her Art

Matthew: For illustrator Lauren Castillo, it’s being a present observer of everyone and everything around her that allows her to bring such presence to her art.

Lauren: Yeah, I mean, I'm always illustrating the world I see around me. So, you know, I've chosen to live in cities my whole adult life, from Baltimore in college to New York City for 10 years. And then I moved to Los Angeles for a bit. And now I'm in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

So, like, cities are the places I like to call home. And that's because I love to be surrounded by diversity and experience different cultures and different types of people. And when I illustrate, I always want the art to be representative of the many types of people in our communities.

So some of the characters in This Is a Story are modeled after children in my own neighborhood. For example, like kids I pass on the street, I might, like, you know, jot down a sketch or take a note about them and maybe that child ends up being in the book. Or even like, my wife is a nanny and one of her former kids that she nannied is a prominent character in This Is a Story. So something, you know, people kind of show up from either family, friends, community members.

And then even in This Is a Story, the librarian, of course, I had to model after John Shu, because, you know, it had to be John Schu so that the little girl interacts with in the story.

So yeah, like taking from my life experiences, like from the people that I interact with on a daily basis and really making the community that I live in, like alive in, in the art work.

[16:46] A Favorite Spread From This Is A Story

Matthew: Listeners, I’ll include a spread from the book along with the transcript for this episode on my website at You’ll get to see Lauren’s illustration of John Schu as the young reader meets him in the library. It’s also the same spread that Lauren and John describe next.

I asked if they wouldn’t mind sharing a page or two with all of you. I know you cannot see the book right now, but we have two expert describers in Lauren and John and they do a great job of communicating what’s depicted in the spread.

John: We actually have the same favorite sentence. And this happened, you know, I'm also the author of a book called,This Is a School, illustrated by Veronica Miller Jameson. And she and I did a podcast interview just like this. And we also have the same favorite spread, so it's worked out so well.

So, so really it's just one sentence. So Lauren, I'll read the sentence and then if you wanna describe what's happening in the art, does that work?

Lauren: That sounds good.

John: And all right, so here we go. The one sentence from our book, This Is a Story, is “Sometimes humans need help connecting.

Lauren: You will see… in the beginning of the story, we see, before there are any words, where in the wordless part, starting with the end pages and the title page, a little girl and her dad and her brother heading out from their home and walking through their community, stopping to fly the little girl's kite before heading to the library.

So in the scene that I'm about to describe, the little girl has come into the library dragging her seahorse kite behind her. And she's looking at the big children's book section and it seems like she needs some help connecting with a book or trying to find a book that may pique her interest.

And so the librarian is on the right side of the page and he notices this little girl. And he notices that she has a shirt with fish on it and that she's carrying a seahorse kite. And he ends up suggesting just the perfect book for her on the next page. So in this particular spread, I'm describing, the little girl is kind of lost in this area of the library and the librarian is taking notice and ready to introduce her to a book that is titled Seahorse.

John: And I think, in that moment, like Librarian Winner and myself might be thinking, “I need to take you to the 597 shelf, cause that's where the books are going to be in some libraries, in this particular library that you really, really need.”

Lauren: When I was doing, um, research and, and reference for like looking for reference. Uh, when I was doing the illustrations for this book, I got very familiar with the 597 section, too. I wouldn't have been able to tell you where to find that book, but now I can.

So, so, yes. There's actually a spread in the book that has just a shot of the shelf of those nonfiction titles about the different sea animals. And yeah, I went to my local library to get a lot of the reference of what books I was gonna show on that shelf in that spread, so I hope I described it okay.

John: You described it very, I think beautifully, very well. Yeah. And I have the actual book that she checked out right here.

Matthew: John, do you wanna share about that? Because the, the books that, that do appear in here are all actual books. I know on the back you’ve got permissions to have all the covers, but, it was so, so often as I was flipping. It was just really neat to see a lot of my friends, a lot of the books that I love as well and the books my students love, displayed throughout the story.

John: No, and that's what's so fun is there are so many Easter eggs and for some people. They'll be like, “I think it's that book. I think it's that book.”

And then when you get to the back, as you said Matthew, in the bibliography, you see all of the books. And recently someone tweeted a display that they created based on the books within the book. And, and that librarian that created the display is the great Rhonda Jenkins at Kendall Elementary School in Naperville, Illinois.

So, yeah, I love all of the Easter eggs throughout. And, you know, Lauren and I did not work closely on the book. And I love looking through and seeing all of the books that Lauren selected are many of the books that are, you know, touchstone books for me are forever books for me.

So it's fun for me to see the books that Lauren collected and that Lauren worked really, really hard to get permission from all of the publishers to draw them in her own style.

Lauren: Right. Yeah. That, that's a whole job on its own. But I was so up for the task because I really wanted to display all these books that I loved and I knew John loved within the art , you know?

And I think that that will be really fun for readers to notice some books that they love within the pages. And sometimes, you know, they're nothing more than a little scribble and you can sort of make out that. It might be that book . But I wanted to make sure that I also, I knew books that were, um, in John's top of the list kind of books that really speak to him, his heart. So I tried to include those books like One and Only Ivan of course, and you know, a few others like that.

[22:33] A Bonus For You Listeners

Matthew: John spoke of easter eggs a moment ago, those hidden things in the art that are left for readers to discover on their own. But there’s actually another hidden detail that John is revealing to the readers that he meets when he shares This Is A Story.

I’ll let John take it from here.

John: Actually, Lauren, do you wanna share what the main character's name is, even though the name is not in the text? And then what her brother's name is?

Lauren: Yes, sure. John likes to have names for his character so that when he goes from school to school, he can share the names of the characters with, you know, with all of these students.

And sometimes you run into, you know, a child has the same name and of course they're very excited when that happens. Right. But yes, Greta is the little girl and her brother is Liam.

Now these two characters are not representative of any of a Greta or Liam that I know. I just decided to choose those names.

John: And that's perfect. I love both names. They… that looks like a “Greta” and looks like a “Liam”. So Lauren, thank you for naming them for me. That's wonderful.

Lauren: I don't have kids, so I got to name the characters in my book. There you go.

[23:47] A Message from John Schu and Lauren Castillo

Matthew: Well, I had so much fun connecting over stories with all of you today. Thank you, thank you for joining us in this conversation about being a reader, finding a just-right book, and being seen by others in your life.

As I prepare to head back to my library full of children, John and Lauren each leave you with a message.

John: So first of all, will you tell them all I said “Hello”? And will you share with them actually a question? A question that I love asking everyone I meet. That I love asking Uber drivers. That I love asking servers. That I love asking children. Which is, “Is there a book that feels like a best friend to you?”

Lauren: Aw. I love that.

And I will say, “Hi friends”. You know, don't be shy to ask your librarian or your teacher or your friends for suggestions if you're having a hard time finding books that you love. Because I know that, you know, for me as a kid sometimes it was hard for me to find those books that I loved without help. And so I would, I would urge you to, to reach out and ask for help because they're, those books are out there and they're waiting for you to find them.

[25:06] Closing

Matthew: The Children’s Book Podcast is written, edited, and produced by me, Matthew Winner.

Follow the show wherever podcasts are found, and leave us a rating or review when you do. That helps us out a whole lot because it helps the show get discovered by and recommended to new listeners.

John? Lauren? Where can listeners find you?

John: MrSchuReads. So, MrSchuReads.

Lauren: You can find me at

Matthew: Visit for a full transcript of this episode plus some questions that you can use as you think about this episode.

Let me know what book feels like a best friend to you? What is your just-right book?

Write to me or send me a message at That’s M-A-T-T-H-E-W M-A-K-E-S P-O-D-S at gmail dot com.

Want a copy of This Is a Story? Jonah and Julia, where should our listeners look?

Jonah and Julia: Check your school or public library, your classroom, or, if you want to support independent bookstores, you can purchase a copy at

Matthew: I’ll have a link in the show notes.

Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (

Our music is by Podington Bear.

Podcast hosting by Libsyn.

You can support the show and buy me a coffee at

We are a proud member of Kids Listen, the best place to discover the best in kids podcasts. Learn more at

Fellow teachers and librarians, want a way to explore building a stronger culture of reading in our communities? In The Reading Culture podcast, Beanstack co-founder Jordan Bookey hosts conversations that dive into beloved authors' personal journeys and insights into motivating young people to read. And I am a big fan! Check out the Reading Culture Podcast with Jordan Bookey, from Beanstack. Available wherever podcasts are found.

Anything else you want to share, kids?

Jonah: Don’t let anyone take you down. And just be yourself.

Julia: Have a good time and have a good sleep.

Matthew: Classic

Be well. And read on.

End Of Episode

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1 Comment

My son's name is Liam. And this will be a book he'll keep for his own children. Thank you, John and Lauren, for creating this special story! I wish I'd had a school librarian when I was in elementary and junior high school who could have saved me from some disastrous "choices" that turned me off of reading until I was in my mid-20s. Terrific interview, Matthew!

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