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Five questions for Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick

Audrey Vernick and Liz Garton Scanlon. Photo: Sam Bond Photography.

In new picture book Dear Substitute (Disney-Hyperion, 4–7 years), a little girl arrives at school to find her regular teacher out sick (“Dear Substitute, / Wow. This is a surprise. / What are you doing here?”). She works through the disorientation of her disrupted routine through a series of free-verse letters that are sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, always emotionally honest.

1. Tell us about your most memorable substitute.

AV: One time in fifth grade, my very own aunt was my substitute teacher for a day! My classmates pushed me to tell her we had gym all afternoon. I declined.

LGS: We used to have a substitute who’d bring bags of those wrapped cubes of caramels with her for bribery. The naughtier we got, the more desperate she became and the more caramel we received — an imperfect but delicious system!

2. How did you decide who (or what) to address letters to?

LGS and AV: Some of the letters seemed obvious to us — hearing substitute teachers mispronounce names is a truly universal experience, not unlike the way everyone looks forward to being line leader. But some of the other letters emerged from this particular narrator’s misadventures with Miss Pelly in Room 102.

3. What do you think is Miss Pelly’s favorite poem?

LGS and AV: The one in which our hero declares her love of poetry — that’s when the whole day turns around! But Miss Pelly might also be especially proud of the turtle/dirtle poem.

4. Will Mrs. Giordano return to school the next day? By book’s end, she looks much better, but she also looks pretty happy all tucked up with her tea, etc.

LGS and AV: Mrs. Giordano does look pretty cozy! Maybe one more day, just to be sure she’s not contagious.

5. Complete this sentence: “Dear readers…”

LGS and AV: Thank you! Now get out there and mix things up a little!

From the August 2018: Back-to-School issue of The Horn Book Herald.

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