14 Apr

Encouraging words and recommended reading

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I’m pausing just a moment to catch my breath between last week’s whirlwind (my first school visit for The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

Reilly visit cropped

— the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival, and the San Antonio Book Festival) and this week’s excitement of the Texas Library Association annual conference here in Austin.

While I’m pausing, I’m happy to share a few things published elsewhere recently either about my new book or written by me, starting with this generous review by Margie Myers-Culver at Librarian’s Quest:

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch written by Chris Barton with illustrations by Don Tate is a remarkable biography. This is a man with whom we should all be familiar. The blend of narrative and pictures is compelling from beginning to end. After the two pages of his speech a single page shows an older John Roy Lynch with a continuation of his beliefs about this country. There is a single page Historical Note about Reconstruction, a Timeline of important dates in John Roy Lynch’s life alongside historical dates, an Author’s Note, an Illustrator’s Note, sources For Further Reading and two maps. This is a back matter goldmine.

School Library Journal also has good things to say about The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch:

Tate’s illustrations, rendered in mixed media, ink, and gouache on watercolor paper, are extraordinary and carry the lengthy story well. The excellent cartoon-style paintings soften potentially disturbing details, such as the Ku Klux Klan burning a church. The book concludes with a thorough historical note. Teachers will find this remarkable story of hope and perseverance a valuable supplement to social studies lessons on the Civil War and Black History Month.

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy with a couple of guest posts. At The Little Crooked Cottage, I was asked to write about my favorite picture book biographies:

There are too many excellent picture book biographies — and too many excellent authors and illustrators working in this field — for me to narrow them down to my all-time favorite five. But there are a handful that have been especially meaningful to me at one time or another, so I’m going to limit my list to those.

And Austin Reading Mama asked for my reading recommendations for grown folks. I was happy to offer up a handful — all of them nonfiction, as it turned out. And the list doesn’t event include the book I’m in the midst of loving right now, Tomlinson Hill, Chris Tomlinson’s fascinating exploration of the histories of his white Texas family and of the African-American Tomlinsons whose ancestors had once been owned by the author’s forebears. It’s eye-opening and well worth your while.

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12 Apr

Austin authors’ efforts on behalf of diverse books

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My local kidlit community — including not only authors and illustrators, but librarians and booksellers as well — shines quite nicely in this weekend’s article in the Austin American-Statesman:

As librarians across the state are set to gather in Austin next week for the annual Texas Library Association conference, it’s worth noting what a difference a year makes: There’s a national festival devoted to children’s diverse books planned for next year in Washington, D.C., and a writing award with corresponding grant supported by celebrated author Walter Dean Myers’ estate. The Texas Book Festival featured a We Need Diverse Books panel in October, as did the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association earlier this year. Next week’s Texas library conference will include a diversity summit as part of its program as well as a “Colorful Canon” panel exploring how to build diversity in children’s literature.

The Austin-area creators of children’s books mentioned in the article include Cynthia Leitich Smith, Don Tate, Shana Burg, Varian Johnson, Bethany Hegedus, Jo Whittemore, and me, but I assure you that many more are actively involved in this movement in one way or another. Here’s to keeping things going.

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08 Apr

See you in San Antonio this Saturday?

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SABF2015
The San Antonio Book Festival is this Saturday, and Don Tate and I will be there to share The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

From her perspective as a parent, San Antonio blogger Inga Cotton has written a thoughtful post about our book, the festival, and the Reconstruction era in general:

How do I talk to my kids about that era of history? By focusing on the amazing story of John Roy Lynch—in ten years, transformed from teenage slave to U.S. Congressman—illustrator Tate and author Chris Barton have created a wonderful resource for families to have that conversation.

You can find Don and me this Saturday from 1:45 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. in the Children’s Reading Tent outside San Antonio’s Central Library. Get to the festival a little earlier, though, and you can also catch my all-time favorite author at 12 noon.

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07 Apr

Speaking of things that are amazing…

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…you have got to take a look at the outstanding site Mapping Occupation: Force, Freedom and the Army in Reconstruction, especially if you’re an educator, history buff, or lover of great design.

Mapping Occupation

For me, it’s fascinating to see how the presence of the U.S. Army grew and dwindled in the South — especially in John Roy Lynch’s Mississippi — during the era that Don Tate and I cover in The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch. And it’s a reminder of how much more there will always be for us to learn about our past.

Gregory P. Downs and Scott Nesbit headed up the project, but the whole team deserves heaps of praise for this illuminating and highly interactive look at Reconstruction.

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06 Apr

See me, Don Tate, and John Roy Lynch in Hattiesburg, MS, this Wednesday

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Fay Kaigler logo
I’m excited to be returning this week to the fantastic Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival this week at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.

Much of the festival requires registration, but the Hattiesburg American reports that there are exceptions, and my session is one of them:

First panel open to the public: Chris Barton, Don Tate and Kathleen Merz discuss “The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch,” a picture book biography of the Mississippi slave-turned-congressman, 11:30 a.m. April 8, Thad Cochran Center ballrooms.

(Kathleen is the editor of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, and I’m delighted that she’ll be joining Don and me. On only one other occasion in my career have I gotten together in person at the same time with both the editor and the illustrator of one of my books, so this will be special.)

Another open-to-the-public panel ends the festival on Friday, with David Levithan and Deborah Wiles discussing their relationship as editor an author.

Whether you’re able to make it to the beginning of the festival, the end, or the whole thing, you’re in for a treat. If you see me, won’t you please say hello?

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05 Apr

Booklist gives a star to The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

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You spend eight-plus years working on a book, and it’s easy to lose perspective — to no longer have any sense of how your work is going to be received by someone who hasn’t, you know, spent eight-plus years working on that book.

This starred review from Booklist
dispelled any worries in its very first sentence:

The fascinating story of John Roy Lynch’s life from slavery to his election to the U.S. House of Representatives at age 25, gets a stirring treatment here.

That makes two stars for The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, and one very happy writer.

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02 Apr

Book trailer for The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

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(Narrated by yours truly.)

Many thanks to Don Tate and Eerdmans Books for Young Readers for their work in putting this together, and to John Roy Lynch himself for the inspiring quote at the end.

You’ll find lots more about the book here.

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01 Apr

Don, Tom, and me

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Don Tate, Tom Lichtenheld, Chris Barton

I had the great pleasure of serving on a panel at last month’s Austin SCBWI conference with illustrators Don Tate (shown on the left) and Tom Lichtenheld (the guy in the middle). If those names sound familiar, it’s because I’ve created a book with each of them.

In fact…

Today (no fooling) is the publication date not only of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, which Don illustrated, but also of the board book version of the Tom-illustrated Shark Vs. Train. Both books give readers something to chew on — one figuratively, one literally — so if you know someone with a big appetite for something new to read, won’t you please keep these in mind?

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30 Mar

Living symbols of the spread of freedom — and its opposite

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Black Congressional representation from South

This graphic is from an upcoming presentation that I’ll be giving about The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, and I thought a wider audience might appreciate it.

For context, here’s an excerpt from my Historical Note in the book:

During Reconstruction, approximately two thousand African American men served as local, state, or national officials. Some of them were freemen before the war, and others – including John Roy Lynch – were freed only as a result of the conflict. Those who held office in the South were living symbols of the spread of freedom. Most notably, between 1870 and 1877, there were 16 African Americans who served in the US Congress from former Confederate states.

But there were only six more who served between 1878 and 1901. And between 1902 and 1972, there were zero.

What happened?

In The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, illustrator Don Tate and I have done our best to explain while telling the inspiring story of this one young man.

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29 Mar

Eric Foner on Reconstruction and The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

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“Citizenship, rights, democracy — as long as these remain contested, so will the necessity of an accurate understanding of Reconstruction.”

That quote comes from “Why Reconstruction Matters,” a new, short essay by Eric Foner, author of Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 and the Pulitzer-prize-winning DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University. I can’t recommend enough taking a few minutes to read it.

While Don Tate was working on the illustrations for The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, our publisher asked Professor Foner to have a look at the text. Here’s what he had to say about our picture book biography of this young man who went from teenage slave to U.S. congressman in ten years:

Like adults, young readers should know about the era of Reconstruction and the remarkable individuals who struggled to give real meaning to the freedoms blacks achieved during the Civil War. John Roy Lynch was one of them and he is brought vividly to life in this book.

I’m thankful to Foner not only for those kind words about our book, but especially for all the work he’s done to shape our modern understanding of the Reconstruction era.

“Preoccupied with the challenges of our own time,” he writes in this New York Times essay, “Americans will probably devote little attention to the sesquicentennial of Reconstruction, the turbulent era that followed the conflict.”

Not if I can help it.

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