21 Jun

Bartography Express: “I hope I wasn’t the mean cousin Eddie!”

The Q&A this month in my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here) is with my friend Debbi Michiko Florence, whose Jasmine Toguchi chapter book series debuts next month.

This month, I’m giving away to one subscriber a set of the first two books in the series, Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi: Super Sleuth, both of which will be available July 11. The books have illustrations by Elizabet Vukovic and are published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

I’ve already read Mochi Queen, which Booklist‘s review describes as “an adorable and heartwarming story about a kid who wants to feel special and do something first for once, along with a nice overview of a Japanese New Year celebration.” I’m eager as can be to get my hands on Super Sleuth.

Chris: To what extent are your Jasmine Toguchi books in general — and Mochi Queen in particular — rooted in your own experiences? Did you have a “mean cousin Eddie”? Were you the mean cousin Eddie?

Debbi: Your question about mean cousin Eddie made me laugh out loud, and gave me pause. I hope I wasn’t the mean cousin Eddie! And no, he is not based on anyone in my family. I will admit, however, that I was like Sophie and was a bossy big sister to my younger sister. In my defense, my sister always seemed happy to go along with any of my games and ideas.

There is much in the Jasmine books based on my own childhood. Little things, like I grew up in Los Angeles in a neighborhood very much like Jasmine’s. I really did have a neighbor who let me climb her apricot tree. My mom, like Jasmine’s, did make a lot of rules. (My daughter who is grown will tell you I was the same kind of rule-maker when she was a child.) We used chopsticks for many meals. My maternal grandmother (who lived with us) spoke broken English and my paternal grandparents lived in Hiroshima like Jasmine’s obaachan does.

Growing up in my family, I enjoyed Japanese traditions. While we never made our own mochi, we did have big New Year celebrations with extended family with a lot of food (including store-bought). Food has always been a big deal in all our celebrations. In book 2, Super Sleuth, just like Jasmine and her sister, my sister and I celebrated Girl’s Day at home by setting up the special dolls and taking photos. When we got older, my mom invited our girlfriends over to celebrate — much like a birthday party. I loved Girl’s Day!

Author Debbi Michiko Florence. Photo by Roy Thomas.

Chris: The Toguchi family’s mochi-making reminded me a lot of the tamalada that my in-laws host each year, and Mochi Queen makes me want to pay enough attention next time we make tamales to be able to view that process through the eyes of an eight-year-old like Jasmine. Since your family didn’t make your own mochi, what were the challenges in researching that part of the story and telling it right?

Debbi: Oh, I love tamales! What fun! I’d never heard of a tamalada and I’m very intrigued now.

While I’d never made mochi in the traditional way, I have eaten a LOT of mochi over my lifetime. I’m kind of a mochi snob and don’t like the pre-packed ones sold in markets (not that I can find any here in coastal Connecticut). I love fresh mochi best and when I lived in the Bay Area in California, I would drive to the specialty shops that made fresh mochi in J-Town (Japantown) in San Jose and San Francisco. I miss that! My favorite mochi is the one with azuki (red bean) in the middle.

But that certainly didn’t prepare me for writing Jasmine’s story. My research consisted of interviewing my mom about her memories and experience making mochi, watching a LOT of YouTube videos, and going to a mochi-tsuki event. I had hoped to be able to have a turn pounding mochi, but it was an event for kids so only kids were invited up. It helped to watch a little girl close to Jasmine’s age try to pound mochi. The hammer was heavy and she needed assistance from an adult.

I haven’t given up the dream of being able to pound mochi, though. I’m keeping my eye out for mochi-tsuki events and someday maybe I’ll get a chance to pound the steamed sweet rice into mochi!

16 Jun

Good news from Kirkus — and from Kirkus!

Yesterday I went looking for the just-published Kirkus review of my next book, Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, and to my surprise I also found a review of Book or Bell?, my other upcoming 2017 title.

To my delight, too, as both reviews have favorable things to say. Whew!

From the review of Book or Bell?:

[T]he text and artwork become silly to the point of laughter, as Henry’s refusal to leave his book causes a messy chain reaction… One elected official after another each demands louder bells, which cause increasingly more mayhem. … Finally, Ms. Sabio, who was rudely interrupted by the mayor when she tried to explain why Henry stayed put, saves the day with a simple solution. A zany, rollicking story with hilarious illustrations.

I’m glad to see that the reviewer loves Ashley Spires‘ art in Book or Bell? as much as I do, and the same goes for Victo Ngai‘s illustrations in Dazzle Ships.

From the Kirkus review of Dazzle Ships:

Ngai uses analog and digital media to great effect, from the dazzling cover (which will attract many readers all by itself) to the range of designs employed, applying an appropriate period aesthetic throughout. [I]t’s a fascinating volume about a little-known side of the war. An eye-catching title sure to dazzle.

Dazzle Ships will be published by Lerner Publishing/Millbrook Press September 1, and Book or Bell? is due out from Bloomsbury on October 17.

17 May

I’m visiting schools in the Mid-Atlantic states in 2018!

My largest school audience ever. I’m pretty good with smaller groups, too.

Details are still coming together, but I’m going to be making my first-ever author visits to schools in the Mid-Atlantic states in spring 2018. If you’re in Delaware, Maryland, eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, northeastern Virginia, and thereabouts and would be interested in booking me, I’d love to hear from you.

My Author Visits page has more information about my presentations. I can expand or condense my “Write What You’d Love to Learn” presentation to suit a wide range of audience ages and sizes, and I’ll be tailoring it for each of my upcoming books (Dazzle Ships, Book or Bell?, and What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?, my 2018 picture book biography of Barbara Jordan).

I’ve also got lots more photos of me in action at my school visits. Those all represent great memories for me, and I do my best to make that true for the schools I visit, too. How about if we make some more of those memories together?

30 Apr

Proud-husband alert: Revenge of the Happy Campers is out now!

Revenge of the Happy Campers, the third book in Jennifer’s Brewster Triplets series, was published this past Tuesday. In this follow-up to Revenge of the Flower Girls and Revenge of the Angels, her 11-year-old protagonists venture away from their home in Johnson City, Texas. The sisters go on a camping trip with their beloved Aunt Jane, during which they square off against a trio of similarly competitive boys.

Writing in yesterday’s Austin American-Statesman, reviewer Sharyn Vane says:

Ziegler’s young democratic-process aficionados are as appealing as ever, brimming with confidence and problem-solving savvy. They’re empathetic enough to notice that their aunt is saddened by the state of the campground she remembers visiting each summer with the triplets’ mother. And they’re also “almost 12,” which means there are hints of tween-appropriate realizations that these boys could be more than just foes to vanquish … “Campers” is very much like the triplets themselves — full of real-world adventures, both wise and witty.

And like its predecessors, this book is as funny, warm, and big-hearted as the woman I married — and that’s saying a lot. Congratulations, love of mine!

19 Apr

Bibliography for Dazzle Ships

The back matter for Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion includes a two-page timeline with archival photographs, my author’s note, Victo Ngai’s illustrator’s note, and suggestions for further reading.

With all this material that Millbrook Press did include in those final pages, there wasn’t room for a bibliography of the sources I found most helpful in writing the text for the book.

So, I’m presenting them here, and the book includes the URL for the Dazzle Ships page on my website, which in turn links to this post.

Anderson, Ross. Abbott Handerson Thayer. Syracuse, New York: Everson Museum, 1982.

Ball, Philip. Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen. New York: Random House, 2014.

Behrens, Roy R. Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books, 2009.

Behrens, Roy R. Camoupedia (blog). Available at http://camoupedia.blogspot.com. Accessed March 21, 2017.

Behrens, Roy R. False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books, 2002.

Black, Jonathan. “‘A few broad stripes’: Perception, deception and the ‘Dazzle Ship’ phenomenon of the First World War,” in Contested Objects: Material Memories of the Great War, edited by Nicholas J. Saunders and Paul Cornish. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Blechman, Hardy. Disruptive Pattern Material: An Encyclopedia of Camouflage. Richmond Hill, Ontario: Firefly Books, 2004.

Edwards, Paul, editor. Blast: Vorticism 1914-1918. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2000.

“First World War dazzle ships.” Merseyside Maritime Museum. Available at http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/archive/displays/dazzle-ships/index.aspx. Accessed March 21, 2017.

Forbes, Peter. Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2009.

Friedman, Norman. Naval Weapons of World War One. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Seaforth Publishing, 2011.

Goodwin, Paul. “Dazzle Ships.” Mystic Seaport. Available at http://educators.mysticseaport.org/artifacts/dazzle_ships/. Accessed March 21, 2017.

Gordon, Jan. “The Art of Dazzle Painting,” Land & Water, December 12, 1918.

Hartcup, Guy. Camouflage: A History of Concealment and Deception in War. New York: Scribner’s, 1980.

Hurd, Archibald. The Merchant Navy, Vol. III. London: John Murray, 1929.

Hurst, Hugh. “Dazzle Painting in War-Time.” The International Studio, Volume 68, 1919.

Kaempffert, Waldemar. “Fighting the U-Boat with Paint,” Popular Science Monthly, April 1919.

Massie, Robert K. Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea. New York: Random House, 2003.

McRobbie, Linda Rodriguez. “When the British Wanted to Camouflage Their Warships, They Made Them Dazzle.” Smithsonian.com, April 7, 2016. Available at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/when-british-wanted-camouflage-their-warships-they-made-them-dazzle-180958657/. Accessed March 21, 2017.

Murphy, Hugh, and Martin Bellamy. “The Dazzling Zoologist: John Graham Kerr and the Early Development of Ship Camouflage.” The Northern Mariner, Volume 19, April 2009.

Naval Investigation: Hearings Before the Subcommittee of the Committee on Naval Affairs, United States Senate, Sixty-Sixth Congress, Second Session. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1921.

Overy, Paul. “Vorticism,” in Concepts of Modern Art: From Fauvism to Postmodernism, edited by Nikos Stangos. London: Thames and Hudson, 1994.

“Patterns in Practice: The Art of Conflict” (interview with James Taylor of the Imperial War Museum). Patternity, October 3, 2014. Available at http://explore.patternity.org/news/patterns-in-practice-the-art-of-war/. Accessed March 21, 2017.

Rankin, Nicholas. A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Raven, Alan. “The Development of Naval Camouflage.” USN Camouflage 1941-1945. Available at http://www.shipcamouflage.com/development_of_naval_camouflage.htm. Accessed March 21, 2017.

“Razzle Dazzle.” 99% Invisible, October 5, 2012. Available at http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/episode-65-razzle-dazzle/. Accessed March 21, 2017.

Rose, Kenneth. King George V. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

Wilkinson, Norman. A Brush with Life. London: Seeley Service & Co Ltd., 1969

Wilkinson, Norman. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 12th ed., vol XXX, “Camouflage: Naval Camouflage.” London: The Encyclopaedia Britannica Company, Ltd., 1922

Williams, David L. Naval Camouflage 1914-1945: A Complete Visual Reference. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2001.

Wilson, David A. H. “Avian Anti-Submarine Warfare Proposals in Britain, 1915-18: The Admiralty and Thomas Mills,” International Journal of Naval History, April 2006.

13 Apr

Revealing the dazzling cover of my next book!

This tiny little image of Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion is all I’ll show you here today, but if you’ll hop on over to A Fuse #8 Production, you’ll see librarian Betsy Bird’s post providing a first, up-close look at debut illustrator Victo Ngai’s stunning artwork for our book due out from Lerner/Millbrook Press this September.

Texas librarians, you can see more of Dazzle Ships next week at the Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio. A lot more — as in, hot-off-the-press copies of the entire book, which I’ll be signing in the Author Area at 10:15 next Thursday morning.

28 Mar

“What happened to John Roy’s brother?”

I get that question a lot after talking with students about — and reading to them — The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch. And I guess I should have anticipated that question, considering that William figures prominently in the book’s first few pages, not only in my text but also in Don Tate’s art:

But the answer I’ve had for that question must be as unsatisfying as they come: “I don’t know.”

A slightly more elaborate answer would be, “I never did learn much, and it’s been long ago enough since I researched this book that I’ve had time to forget a lot of things I knew.” Which, let’s face it, isn’t any more satisfying to a kid with a burning — and, at least to them, obvious — question.

So, I’ve dug back into some of my research materials, and here’s what I can tell you about William Lynch.

John Roy Lynch’s autobiography, Reminiscences of an Active Life, mentions William by name only three times.

After his father’s death, John Roy Lynch recounts an initial conversation between his mother, Catherine, and the family’s new owner, Alfred Vidal Davis, at Tacony Plantation. In that conversation, Davis tells Catherine, “Upon my return I shall have you and your children live with me and my family — you to be one of our housemaids and your oldest boy, William, to be a dining-room servant, and the other boy, John, I shall take for my own valet.”

In Natchez after the family’s emancipation, John Roy writes, “My brother had secured employment at army headquarters, as an attendant upon General W. Q. Gresham, the general in command of the Union troops there at that time. … My mother was an excellent cook and in that capacity she frequently earned a good sum of money in the course of a month, but the employment was not continuous and permanent, hence the income from that source was uncertain and doubtful. It was absolutely necessary, therefore, that my brother and I should do something to assist in meeting the expense of the home.”

The other reference is in historian John Hope Franklin’s introduction to the book, when discussing John Roy Lynch’s real-estate transactions in the Natchez area between 1869 and 1905: “Lynch’s brother, William, was involved in some of the transactions and perhaps served as his attorney and business manager.” A footnote explains further, “In several of the transactions William Lynch is the grantor, the ‘agent and attorney’ for John R. Lynch, or the plantation lessor.”

I don’t see a US Census record for William Lynch after this one from 1880, in which he was listed as an unmarried, 36-year-old planter in Natchez.

But if I were going to research The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch all over again, knowing how curious many readers are about William Lynch, I would want to know how far his trail extends beyond 1880. My first step would be to spend some time with those property purchase and sale records. And for that, I would start with the office of the chancery clerk in Adams County, Mississippi.

If any student projects result from that tip, I’d love to hear what they find.

22 Mar

In which I am interviewed by students from Bradfield Elementary

Following my most recent batch of school visits, I received a bundle of cards from Bradfield Elementary in Dallas. Including these:

In addition to a lot of nifty artwork, they had a few questions that I hadn’t addressed in previous installments of In which I am interviewed…, so I thought I’d answer those. Thank you, Bradfield, for the creativity and the questions!

How does it feel to be an author of fiction and nonfiction books?

It feels like I’ve lucked into having the best job in the world, and I love that I haven’t had to choose between writing fiction vs. writing nonfiction, because they both make me happy.

What’s it like writing books for the world?

I haven’t thought of it that way. My books go into the world, and the whole world is welcome to enjoy them, but I write my books for a more specific audience — readers your age!

Are you ever under any pressure while you write?

Most of the pressure on me comes from myself. I have high expectations for the books that I create and the work that I do, and I’m always striving to meet those expectations and make the best books I can.

What’s it like being a famous author?

I wouldn’t say that I’m famous, but being an author has meant that I get to spend my life interacting with people who love books or have stories to tell, and that makes me feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

Were you scared of going on stage?

Nope! I was well prepared, and I also knew that everyone else in the room I wanted me to do well. That’s a pretty good combination. What was there for me to be afraid of?

What was your childhood like?

Slow-paced, safe, generally happy. Not perfect, but populated with good people who kept an eye out for me.

Do your children read the books first?

My kids used to be the first audience for my newest stories, but the youngest is now 13, and he and his siblings seem happy to wait until the book is finished. Now, Jennifer is usually my first reader, and it’s always exciting for me to show her a new story nobody else has seen yet.

How old were you when The Day-Glo Brothers came out?

On its publication date, I was a a few days away from my 38th birthday.

At what age did you truly decide to become an author?

I was 29 when I realized I wanted to write children’s books. I’m glad nobody told me it was going to be eight and a half years before my first book was published, though the wait sure turned out to be worth it.

Any tips for escaping writer’s block?

Go for a long walk, pay attention to the world around you, and when you get home, write about something you saw, heard, smelled, imagined, etc., while you were out.

When will you write another book?

I plan to work on one tomorrow. Or maybe right now, since I’ve answered the last of these questions…

15 Mar

WHOOSH! keeps on going

From Whoosh!, illustrated by Don Tate

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions has been treated kindly by list-makers lately, and I’m beyond grateful. Thank you to all who have shown and shared your appreciation for this book.

It’s high time I mirrored that appreciation by rounding up some of that good news in one place — especially since the first two of the lists I’m about to share are up for a public vote.

Bank Street College of Education
The Cook Prize (Best Science, Technology, Engineering and Math [STEM] picture book) – 2017 Finalist

Every Child a Reader
2017 Children’s Choice Book Awards, 3rd-4th Grade Book of the Year – Finalist

A school or library can register here to vote for the Cook Prize, and kids can vote here for the Children’s Choice Book Awards.

Association for Library Service to Children
Notable Children’s Books 2017 (Non-Fiction) – Nominee

The Children’s Book Council and the National Council for the Social Studies
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2017

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center
CCBC Choices 2017

Maine Association of School Libraries
The Chickadee Award, The Maine Children’s Choice Picture Book Award – 2017-2018 Nominee

Maryland Association of School Librarians
2017-2018 Black-Eyed Susan Book Award (Picture Book, Grades 4-6) – Nominee

Maryland Library Association, Children’s Services Division
2017 Maryland Blue Crab Young Reader Award, Transitional Non-Fiction – Winner

Pennsylvania School Librarians Association
2017 – 2018 Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Program Master List, Grades 3-6

Texas Institute of Letters
Denton Record Chronicle Award for Best Children’s Picture Book – 2017 Finalist

Vermont Center for the Book/Mother Goose Programs and the Vermont Department of Libraries
2017-2018 Red Clover Award (Vermont’s Picture Book Award For Children in Grades K-4) – Nominee

I guess I should specify that when I say “lately,” I mean in the past three months. So, if you’re still getting caught up on “Best of the Year” lists from the end of 2016, you’ve come to the right place. Or at least an understanding one.

Nerdy Book Club
The 2016 Nerdies: Nonfiction Picture Book Winners

The Nonfiction Detectives
The Best Nonfiction Books of 2016

Denver Public Library
Best & Brightest Biographies of 2016

Betsy Bird was especially prolific with the list-making over at A Fuse #8 Production, where she spotlighted her favorite books of 2016 in different categories each day in December, including Science and Nature Books for Kids and Nonfiction Picture Books before capping it all off with:

A Fuse #8 Production
100 Magnificent Children’s Books 2016

Whoosh! was also included in Booklist Online’s Classroom Connections: Overlooked Inventors and Their Notable Inventions, Pernille Ripp’s My Favorite Picture Books of 2016, Colours of Us’ 40 Best Multicultural Picture Books of 2016, Here Wee Read’s 55 of the Best Diverse Picture and Board Books of 2016, Daydream Reader’s My Top 16 Books in 2016, and Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook’s Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday – My 2016 Favorites

If you or a young reader you know is still craving more information about the inventor of the Super Soaker, this new Q&A with Lonnie Johnson conducted by Forbes is one of the best I’ve seen.

And if you still want more, might I recommend these brief videos in which Don Tate and I discuss how we made Whoosh! and answer other questions posed to us by the Texas Bluebonnet Award committee. We hope you enjoy ’em!

09 Mar

On segregating author-visit audiences by gender

I’ve never had a school segregate my presentation audiences by gender, but I know of authors who have experienced that.

I’m not aware of schools keeping girls out of presentations by male authors, only of hosts keeping boys out of female authors’ sessions.

For any author who wants to use it, I’m going to share the wording I include in the letter of agreement for my school visits. It is:

“Also, please note that I will not speak to an all-male or all-female student audience at a school that enrolls both boys and girls.”