25 Oct

Come see Jennifer and me at the Texas Book Festival!


My favorite author in the whole wide world and I are both on the bill for the Texas Book Festival in Austin on November 4 and 5. We hope you’ll come see us, and we’re pleased to note that our sessions are not scheduled at the same time, so you don’t have to choose between Jennifer and me.

(You will, however, have to choose among many other fantastic options during any single time slot. Literary life is tough.)

Here’s when and where you can find us:

Relative Hijinks
Date: Saturday, November 4, 2017
Time: 3:00 – 4:00
Location: Next Chapter Tent
Book Signing: Childrens Book Sales & Signing Tent

Families. They love us, support us, save the day and sometimes embarrass the heck out of us. The books by Jennifer Ziegler, Revenge of the Happy Campers, Karina Yan Galser, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, and Victoria Jameison, Roller Girl and All’s Fair in Middle School, all get into their share of helpful hijinks. They also remind us of the importance of those connections forged with the family we inherit and the family we choose.

Moderator: Nikki Loftin

Authors:
Victoria Jamieson
Jennifer Ziegler
Karina Yan Glaser

Educator Focus: Teaching History Through Reading
Date: Sunday, November 5, 2017
Time: 11:00 – 11:45
Location: Capitol Extension Room 1.012
Visualization is one of the best ways to help understand history. Hear from our local authors, Don Tate, Chris Barton and Cynthia Levinson about how they distill memorable and age appropriate facts for students of all ages.

Moderator: Diane Collier

Authors:
Cynthia Levinson
Chris Barton
Don Tate

Read Me A Story With Chris Barton
Date: Sunday, November 5, 2017
Time: 1:00 – 1:30
Location: Childrens Read Me a Story Tent (10th & Congress)
Book Signing: Childrens Book Sales & Signing Tent

Bestselling Austin author Chris Barton reads us TWO new books! Dazzle Ships brings to life the little-known World War I story about why British and American ships were painted with bold colors and crazy patterns from bow to stern. Book or Bell? is a hilarious, high-energy picture book about a boy who will not stop reading and a school bell that keeps interrupting!

18 Oct

Bartography Express: “Mommas would tell him, ‘just don’t kill him!'”

Every now and then, I like to throw my newsletter subscribers a curve – or, in this case, a spiral.

The Q&A for the October edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here) is with my friend Michael Hurd, author of the new nonfiction book Thursday Night Lights: The Story of Black High School Football in Texas (University of Texas Press). Michael is a longtime sportswriter as well as the director of the Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture at Prairie View A&M University.

Thursday Night Lights is geared toward adults, but it’s accessible to high school- and middle school-aged lovers of football and history. It’s an eye-opener, and it definitely would have been a revelation to the adolescent version of me, who played University Interscholastic League football in Texas without ever giving a thought to the story or structure (overseen by the Prairie View Interscholastic League, or PVIL) of the sport as it was played at African American high schools in the decades before desegregation.

(I wonder if Michael’s book might inspire students in other states to research the history of pre-integration high school sports closer to home. Any educators out there want to take that idea and run with it?)

This month, one newsletter subscriber will win a signed copy of Thursday Night Lights. (If you’re not a subscriber yet, there’s still time.) In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Michael Hurd.

Chris: The influence on and involvement in students’ lives by their coaches was one of the most striking aspects of Thursday Night Lights. Was there a particular relationship between a coach and his player – or players – that was especially meaningful or moving to you?

Photo of Michael Hurd by Taylor Johnson

Michael: That’s a great observation. What immediately comes to mind is Houston Wheatley’s Frank Walker. In the book, his daughter, Frances, talks about how her dad was so committed to building the program and taking care of his players that it confused the family’s budget.

Out of his own pocket, Coach Walker would buy needed practice equipment, maybe provide a meal now and then, and for his graduating seniors going off to college, he’d purchase their bus tickets, clothing, and give them some pocket money.

But, I doubt he was the only coach in the PVIL who did those kinds of things for his players. There was a real symbiotic relationship between the players and coaches at the PVIL schools and those relationships extended well off the field as nurturing experiences. Many of the coaches were father figures for boys who may not have had a male parenting figure at home, and even some who did.

In regard to that, my favorite quote in the book is from Joe Washington, Sr. who coached in Bay City and Port Arthur. He talks about the trust that parents had in him, and black coaches in general, to discipline and essentially raise their sons. He said the mommas would tell him to take their son and do what they needed to do, “just don’t kill him!”

Chris: Your interview subjects were frank about the bittersweetness of integration as it affected black high school football programs and the people in those programs. How did what you learned from them square with your own recollections about integration and the waning days of segregation?

Michael: That was one of the things that I really enjoyed about researching and writing the book. A lot of my interviews turned into old home week discussions, reflecting on the Sixties and what that was like for black people as segregation slowly eased into integration.

One day there were all these places – theaters, restaurants, neighborhoods – that before, we couldn’t go here, we couldn’t go there, couldn’t do this or that, then the next day, no problem, more or less. So I talked about those kinds of things with a lot of my interview subjects, especially the Houston guys, and those conversations brought back a lot of memories for me.

An example: I had always gone to segregated schools, elementary and high school, and graduated in the spring of 1967. Then, in the fall of that year, black and white schools played against each other for the first time. So, when I went back for homecoming it had a totally different feel. We were playing at a different stadium and against a white team!

10 Oct

School Library Journal weighs in (twice!) on Book or Bell?

One favorable writeup from School Library Journal would be a welcome thing for a soon-to-be-published book such as Book or Bell?, my upcoming (as in “due one week from today”) collaboration with Ashley Spires. So you can imagine how happy I am to see two such notices in SLJ.

First, there’s SLJ’s official review:

Designed to appeal to any child dreaming of the perfect read and a bit of control over their surrounding environment, this offering features plenty of action with a satisfying ending. A suggested general purchase for all libraries.

And while I love seeing the review quote my phrasing “mega-giga-decibel monstrosity illegal in seventeen states,” I especially love the reviewer’s description of the pivotal moment in the story as being the one when a boy’s teacher “discovers the call to his heart — a personal interest that builds and then surpasses his favorite book about bicycles.”

Then there’s the magazine’s roundup, Smiles of Bibliophiles: Celebrating Books and Reading:

Ultimately, a “mega-giga-decibel monstrosity,” which is more deafening than “the Daytona 500, a squadron of Blue Angels, and an army of door-to-door jackhammer sellers,” has a vibration strong enough to “jitter” and “jutter” clothing off individuals and fling backpacks “willy-nilly,” but leaves Henry unscathed and still reading. … Told with uproarious humor and illustrated with energetic, detail packed illustrations featuring a multicultural cast, Chris Barton and Ashley Spires’s Book or Bell? (Bloomsbury, Oct. 2017; K-Gr 4) will entertain youngsters while celebrating the intoxicating contentment of connecting with that perfect book.

If Henry’s love of his bike book is anything compared to my appreciation of SLJ right about now, then no wonder he doesn’t want to stop reading.

04 Oct

Come see me (if you can) at Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion and I will be at Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop next Tuesday, October 10, and we should be at least as easy to spot at the three (count ’em!) cats in this sample of Victo Ngai’s art from the book:

From Dazzle Ships, published by Lerner Publishing/Millbrook Press

I look forward to seeing you there. Unless you’re camouflaged.

28 Sep

Big news for the illustrations (and illustrator) of Dazzle Ships

I’ve seen speculation here and there about Victo Ngai’s art for our book Dazzle Ships being in the running for a certain award, but there’s one prize that her illustrations have already won:

The Dilys Evans Founder’s Award, named after The Original Art founder, celebrates the most promising new talent in children’s book illustration. The jury has selected Victo Ngai’s Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Lerner Publishing Group/ Millbrook Press).

The award comes from the Society of Illustrators, whose Museum of Illustration in New York City will feature Victo’s art in for Dazzle Ships its annual Original Art exhibit from November 1 through December 23.

Congratulations, Victo!

21 Sep

Get up, get out, get writing

On the occasion of the upcoming publication of Book or Bell? (illustrated by Ashley Spires and published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books), I’ve got a new guest post over at Mackin Books in Bloom about the intersection of physical activity and creative work.

Go have a look, will you? Here’s some of what I have to say:

The ending of Book or Bell? is a bit of a nod to one of my favorite pieces of writing advice: get outside and get active. Many story ideas have come to me while I’m walking or jogging through my neighborhood. They come from things I observe with my eyes, things I overhear (a good argument for leaving the earbuds at home), interactions with people I encounter, and random thoughts that occur to me while I’m on the move. Educators, if you ever need to point to someone to illustrate the benefits of recess, I’m your guy.

14 Sep

Modern First Library expands to Dallas!


You may have already heard me go on…

…and on…

…and on…

…and on about Modern First Library, the program that Austin bookseller BookPeople created a few years ago after I suggested an approach to getting more diverse books into the hands and onto the shelves of more families.

So given my track record, how could I not go on (and on) a bit more and celebrate the expansion of the Modern First Library concept to Interabang Books, the brand-new independent bookseller that just had its grand opening in Dallas?

To welcome Interabang’s Modern First Library into the world, the store’s children’s book buyer, Lisa Plummer, offers up this quick list of her favorites from their offerings, and it will give you a great sense of what the program is about.

And I got to play a part in the proceedings, too, with an essay I wrote for the store. Here’s a bit of it:

As I write this three years later, BookPeople’s Modern First Library continues to thrive. Every time I’m in the store, I stop by the display just to admire it.

You can bet I’ll be doing the same at Interabang Books. Knowing that from the very day the store opened, Interabang has had its own Modern First Library – well, that makes me glad all over again that I acted on my quite possibly naive idea, that I shared it, that I didn’t dismiss the notion or keep it to myself.

If you’re in or near Dallas, get yourself to Interabang and show them with your money how glad you are that they — and Modern First Library — have opened their doors.

06 Sep

On Dazzle Ships and creative problem solving

Victo Ngai’s endpaper design for Dazzle Ships

Over at my publisher’s blog, I’ve written about how I came to write my new book, Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, and why I think this niche of World War I history is worth reading about today.

Here’s a bit of what I say in that post.

As with other unconventional subjects that I developed a deep interest in (e.g. how daylight fluorescent colors were created, John Roy Lynch’s ten-year rise from slavery to the U.S. Congress, how The Nutcracker became a holiday tradition, the invention of the Super Soaker water gun), after getting my first taste of dazzle ships, I had a couple of reactions:

1. I’d better hurry up and make a nonfiction picture book about this before somebody else does.

2. How did I not know about this already?

I hope you’ll read the rest, and that you’ll like what I have to say so much that you’ll get yourself a copy of Dazzle Ships from my beloved local independent bookseller, BookPeople.

If you’re in Austin, I’ll be there at BookPeople tomorrow night — Thursday, September 7 — to read from and talk about the book.

And if getting to BookPeople tomorrow night isn’t an option, they’ll have freshly signed copies you can buy from wherever you are.

01 Sep

Dazzle Ships sails today!

Today is the official publication day for Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, and published by Millbrook Press.

I’ve posted a lot about the book recently, and you can see those collections of Dazzle Ships interviews, reviews, and articles here.

There’s still more about the book that I haven’t yet mentioned here, so how about if I correct that?

For starters, here’s this peek at the printing process for Dazzle Ships.

Then there’s my editor’s post about the element of surprise in Dazzle Ships and other picture books.

And for your listening pleasure, how about three minutes and 43 seconds of me telling (via TeachingBooks.net) the story of how this book came about?

Shelf Awareness reviewed our book about naval camouflage and saw (GET IT?) a lot to like:

Paired with Barton’s welcoming language and accessible story, Victo Ngai’s illustrations sparkle. Using mixed analogue and digital media, she re-creates historical map templates and incorporates her own dazzle, creating overlapping and interconnecting patterns with strong lines and bright colors. Ngai’s illustrations are inviting, drawing the reader in and slowing the pace of the narrative, each double-page spread an abundance of color and texture and shape, demanding time and reflection.

Finally, for any of you who landed on this page expecting something related to Dazzle Ships, the 1983 album by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), I don’t want you to go away disappointed. The album included a track called “Dazzle Ships (Parts II, III & VII),” which left four parts unaccounted for. Well…

“First shown at the Dazzle Weekend at the Museum of Liverpool, November 2014,” explains the band. “We were initially asked to create something visual to accompany Dazzle Ships (Parts I, IV, V & VI) just in case of inclement weather and for those who may struggle to access the ship’s engine room.”

For more context, see OMD to ‘dazzle’ at Museum of Liverpool:

Our interest in Dazzle Ships began in 1983 when artist and sleeve designer Peter Saville showed us a Vorticist painting by Edward Wadsworth entitled ‘Dazzle Ship in dry dock at Liverpool’ and asked if we could write some appropriate music as he wished to create an album sleeve inspired by the fractured imagery. We duly obliged with a record that not only contained a title track Dazzle Ships, but also reflected the dark and fearfully disjointed mentality of early eighties geo-politics.

Here’s hoping that the Dazzle Ships created by Victo and me will be just as appreciated 34 years later as OMD’s “Dazzle Ships” recordings have been.