02 Aug

Revisiting Reconstruction (Week of August 2, 2015)

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From my book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; illustrated by Don Tate)

Excerpt from my book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; illustrated by Don Tate)

Here are the three most notable items pertaining to Reconstruction that I found this past week. Or, at least, two notable items preceded by one blatantly self-promotional one. (What did I miss? Let me know in the comments…)

In advance of this month’s inaugural Mississippi Book Festival, this interview with me from Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger:

Question: Briefly, why did Reconstruction after the Civil War fail in the South? (History seems to suggest that had it not failed, things in the South could have been very different.)

Answer: Reconstruction failed because racists in the South wanted it to fail more than the general population of the United States wanted to see it through. White terrorists and their political allies were firm in their resolve to deny civil rights and social equality to black Americans, and the will of the federal government faltered.

From Ishmael-Lateef Ahmad in the The St. Louis American:

In February 1988 I team-covered a story when then state Rep. Thomas Reed and 13 others were arrested in an attempt to scramble to the crest of the state capitol and remove the Confederate battle flag from atop the dome. They never got over an 8-foot construction fence before they were arrested and taken to jail. Flag supporters celebrated and vowed the flag would never come down. …

At the time, Reed was president of the Alabama NAACP. In 1970 he was among the first blacks elected to the Alabama state legislature since Reconstruction…

And from Will Moredock in the Charleston City Paper, writing about Mary C. Simms Oliphant, 20th century author of the South Carolina state history textbook:

Oliphant’s primary way of dealing with black people in South Carolina history was to ignore them. In her 432-page text are hundreds of illustrations, yet blacks are depicted in only nine. Of those nine, two show blacks picking cotton, one is a 19th-century engraving showing blacks running a cotton gin, while another shows blacks hauling cotton bails on the wharves in Charleston. The only black person identified by name in the entire book is Denmark Vesey, the accused organizer of a failed slave revolt in 1822.

The keepers of South Carolina’s history, archives, and monuments have been ignoring black people for generations. This weekend we begin to correct that with two days of scholarship and observances honoring Civil War hero and Reconstruction reformer Robert Smalls. It is part of the Civil War sesquicentennial observance in the city where that terrible conflict began. The organizers of this four-year series of events are determined to avoid the mistakes of the centennial observance 50 years ago. These events will be dignified and historically inclusive. This weekend’s observance will be a small step toward understanding that war and its aftermath.

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01 Aug

“Prince Valiant soon realized this was a bad idea”

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I felt like making something today, and then several Sundays’ worth of newspaper comics unexpectedly arrived, along with some cardboard, so…

"Prince Valiant soon realized this was a bad idea"

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31 Jul

A reminder to myself (and maybe to you, too)

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This #TenThingsToSayToAWriter contribution by author Jen Malone (Maps to the Stars) —

— was a welcome reminder for me. And a needed one, too.

Each time recently that I’ve heard a favorite podcast include a request for reviews, stars, likes, etc., it’s been at an inopportune time. But it’s also always spurred the recognition that, yes, when my hands (or at least my thumbs) are free, I should support the podcasts and books I love by helping them catch the eyes of other potential listeners and readers.

Reviews do that. And heaven knows that those of us who put things out for the public — to absorb, and to think about — love hearing that we’ve hit our mark.

I always forget, though. I mentally acknowledge that leaving positive feedback is as easy as it is appreciated, and then my mind veers elsewhere. But I’m going to try to get in the habit of doing that favor for others.

Maybe on Fridays.

Definitely on this Friday.

Right now, in fact.

How about you?

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27 Jul

Revisiting Reconstruction (Week of July 26, 2015)

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From the Historical Note in my book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch(Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; illustrated by Don Tate)

Excerpt from the Historical Note in my book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; illustrated by Don Tate)

Here are the most timely and intriguing items about Reconstruction that I found this past week. (What did I miss? Let me know in the comments…)

From the University of South Carolina Beaufort:

The University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB), in partnership with the City of Beaufort, Penn Center, and the University Of South Carolina College Of Education, will host 30 K-12 teachers from around the country for a three-week summer institute July 12 – August 1, 2015. The institute, “America’s Reconstruction: The Untold Story,” will guide the educators through more than a century of American history—from the final years of the cotton kingdom in the South, through the Civil War and Reconstruction, and up to the modern civil rights era.

The institute is funded as a result of a $200,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant awarded in 2014 to J. Brent Morris, Ph.D., assistant professor of history in the Department of Humanities and Fine Arts at USCB.

From Tom Dillard in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

Recently a columnist in this newspaper wrote a scathing attack on the post-Civil War period known as Reconstruction. He then made a series of statements justifying his conclusion that “the ugly history of Reconstruction is dawning anew.” We supposedly face a different type of Reconstruction: “This time the culprits seething with malice and seeking to once again crush and conquer the old Confederacy are the Radical Revisionists.”

I guess I am a radical revisionist. For years I have written about Reconstruction in Arkansas, and now more than ever I see it as a great experiment which offered so much but which, admittedly, fell short in many ways. While it failed in guaranteeing the liberty and rights of the freedmen, Reconstruction was the beginning of the modernization of Arkansas–a process which more or less continues to this day.

And from Stephen Kantrowitz at We’re History:

Ben Tillman reminds us that the defeat of the Confederacy was not the end of our reckoning with slavery. We are also living in the shadow of Reconstruction and its overthrow, a war that Tillman and his comrades won. A large statue of Tillman stands on the South Carolina statehouse grounds in Columbia, and prominent buildings on several campuses bear his name, tributes to his power and popularity. To take full account of Ben Tillman is to understand a far more difficult truth: for a hundred years after the Confederate flag fell in 1865, the white supremacy for which Tillman proudly stood was part of the governing ideology of the United States. The slaveholders lost the Civil War, but they and their sons won the battle that followed. Ben Tillman’s career charts the nature and scope of that victory, and his legacies continue to shape our world.

Tillman’s career reminds us that the world of the post-Civil War South was shaped, to a staggering degree, by murder. His service as a “Red Shirt” foot soldier in 1876 included election-day violence aimed at preventing South Carolina’s black majority from voting. A black political organizer approached the polls in November to find Tillman waving a pistol: “If I come any further,” he reported Tillman telling him, “I would come through blood.” Such terror cast the election of 1876 into doubt, installed a Republican president who no longer counted on southern votes, and returned the former slaveholding class to power in South Carolina. Slavery was not reestablished, but through violence and intimidation slavery’s champions and their heirs replaced it with a racial caste system.

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25 Jul

Bartography Express for July 2015, featuring Lindsey Lane’s Evidence of Things Not Seen

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This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of Evidence of Things Not Seen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Lindsey Lane.

If you’re not already receiving Bartography Express, click the image below for a look. If you like what you see, click “Join” in the bottom right corner, and you’ll be in the running for the giveaway at the end of next week.

20150723 Bartography Express

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19 Jul

Huffington Post review of ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America

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Vaudeville

Those of us who write for kids don’t write only for kids. We want our books to be shared and enjoyed widely. That’s why it’s so gratifying to me when one of my books for young readers gets acknowledged and appreciated by folks outside of the children’s literature world.

It doesn’t happen all that often, but it does happen: Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet got some splashy coverage on Boing Boing last year, and The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch has recently been included in the Charleston Syllabus.

And now, this review from the Huffington Post of my upcoming book ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition:

This is much more than the story of the transplanting of a famous Russian ballet. And not just a book for little girls who dream of dancing in tutus and pink satin pointe shoes. This is a real-life adventure story about “a trio of small-town Utah boys” with grit and talent, who bucked stereotypes, endured failures and persevered, and who individually and together enriched the cultural life of America.

Thank you, Carla Escoda, for this review, for your insight as a dancer, and for seeing all that illustrator Cathy Gendron, publisher Millbrook Press, and I tried to put into our book.

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05 Jul

The lineup for the inaugural Mississippi Book Festival…

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Mississippi Book Festival logo

…is taking shape. And I’m pleased to say that I’m among the authors who will be participating in Jackson on August 22.

Where better for me to share The Amazing of Age of John Roy Lynch with the public than in the city where he began his political rise?

In 1868 the US government

“In 1868 the U.S. government appointed a young Yankee general as governor of Mississippi. The whites who had been in charge were swept out of office. By river and by railroad, John Roy traveled to Jackson to hand Governor Ames a list of names to fill those positions in Natchez. After John Roy spoke grandly of each man’s merits, the governor added another name to the list: John Roy Lynch, Justice of the Peace.”

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25 Jun

Bartography Express for June 2015, featuring Jacqueline Kelly’s The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

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This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate (Henry Holt and Co.) by Jacqueline Kelly.

If you’re not already receiving Bartography Express, click the image below for a look. If you like what you see, click “Join” in the bottom right corner, and you’ll be in the running for the giveaway at the end of this week.

20150622 Bartography Express

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22 Jun

The latest (great!) reviews for The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

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I’m excited to the see the word get out — and the favorable reviews come in — for my book with Don Tate, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). Here’s a sampling of the latest batch:

From Kendal Rautzhan’s nationally syndicated column:

“This inspirational story of John Roy Lynch, going from a teenage slave to a U.S. Congressman in just 10 years, should not be missed.”

From librarian Tasha Saecker’s Waking Brain Cells blog:

“An important book focused on an important figure in a dynamic time in American history, this picture book biography will inform new audiences about the potential for both progress and defeat during [Reconstruction].”

From the Mississippi Library Commission’s MLC Reference Blog:

“Growing up in Mississippi, we remember learning about John Roy Lynch in history class. We wish this book had been around then, because it is truly amazing.”

From WCMU’s Children’s Bookshelf:

“[A] powerful story … Chris Barton’s descriptions of the time period in which John Roy Lynch lived and the challenges and heartache that he experienced may have a profound impact on young people.”

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14 Jun

Coming from me & Ashley Spires in 2017: Book or Bell

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This past Thursday’s PW Children’s Bookshelf included the news that I’ve got another new picture book on the way: Book or Bell, to be illustrated by Ashley Spires and scheduled to be published by Bloomsbury in spring 2017.

I bet whoever assembled that issue of the PW newsletter got a little chuckle out of how my author photo and Ashley’s illustrator photo fit together:

Barton Spires

It looks like I was mooning on one side of a wall and Ashley on the other, each of us thinking, “If only there were someone nearby that I could collaborate with on a picture book.”

That origin story for this project would have been a lot simpler than how things actually came about, which involves a YA nonfiction project that fell apart after the contract was signed and an entirely unrelated (or so I thought) picture book manuscript with a first draft that I saved on leap day in 2008.

It’s bonkers, really, but also sweet — sort of like the tale we tell in Book or Bell, about a schoolboy’s disruptive refusal to put down a captivating book, the outlandish means that the authorities resort to as they try to restore order, and the teacher who understands what’s really going on.

I can’t wait for you to be able to pick this book up. Maybe you’ll even refuse to put it down.

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