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I got the news from Charlesbridge last week that my second book with Don Tate, Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, is going to be available as a paperback through Scholastic Reading Club (which used to be known as Scholastic Book Clubs). That means a lot more kids and families are going to be able to have their own copy, and that’s exciting to me.
I haven’t yet seen any of the Scholastic flyers with Whoosh!, and I don’t know which grade level(s) will include the book, so keep an eye out for me, won’t you please?
In spring of 2014, I had an idea for something a bookstore might try out — an idea for selling more copies of diverse books by leveraging shoppers’ impulses to buy well-known books as baby gifts.
So I emailed a friend at Austin’s BookPeople and asked, “Would there be an effective way to encourage these adults to buy the classic titles they have in mind and a new picture book that reflects the modern, diverse world that the recipients inhabit?”
Long story short, the result was BookPeople’s Modern First Library program, which launched that summer. The Modern First Library display was positioned front-and-center in the picture book department. You couldn’t miss it.
I would have been happy for this experiment of ours to last only through the December holidays. A bookstore is a business, after all. It has to make money. And if something they try out — Modern First Library, for instance — doesn’t end up selling many books, they have to try something else.
But two years later, BookPeople’s Modern First Library continues to thrive and grow. I’m so glad I expressed that one idea — that I acted on it, and didn’t dismiss the notion or keep it to myself.
This past June, BookPeople’s Meghan Goel and I discussed the program with a roomful of four dozen booksellers from across the country. Maybe one of them — maybe several of them — will create their own Modern First Library displays.
In the meantime, BookPeople is celebrating the second anniversary of Modern First Library with a series of guest blog posts by some folks worthy of your attention. More essays are on the way, but for now, I hope you’ll enjoy — and be inspired by, and share — the first few:
I’ve also contributed a few thoughts — complete with flowchart and with tongue somewhat in cheek:
So, you’ve heard about Modern First Library, but you’re not sure that new picture books reflecting the diverse society experienced by today’s kids are for you. Let me help you decide.
Thanks to all who have supported Modern First Library in any way. Here’s to the program’s first two years, and to the connections made — and connections still to come — between all sorts of kids and Modern First Library’s marvelous variety of marvelous books.
There’s been an accumulation of splendiffery in the four weeks since 88 Instruments was published, and I can’t stand to keep it to myself.
For starters, there’s this 88 Instruments Educators’ Guide and Activities download from Random House.
On her new blog A Book and A Pie, Lindsay Leslie has paired her review of 88 Instruments with her selection of the ideal pie to go with the book. This is not a theoretical pie, but an actual pie. Or rather, a pie that was actual prior to being presumably happily devoured. Thanks, Lindsay!
88 Instruments has also received a review (though no pie) from The Horn Book:
The galloping rhymed text, featuring toe-tapping dictionary rejects (‘thrummiest’), is a song unto itself. … The loose-handed, even jittery illustrations foreground [the protagonist’s] attempts to play many of the instruments; meanwhile, his parents are a mute chorus of comical anxiety.
This book is perfect for talking about growth mindset in a fun way–the last few pages of the book that include the decision of instrument and the plan for learning are simple yet powerful for conversations around learning and growth mindset.
Some of my favorite tweets about the book have included:
— kbport714 (@kbport714) August 25, 2016
— Scott Fillner (@sfillner) September 8, 2016
— Brazos Bookstore (@BrazosBookstore) September 3, 2016
— Dylan Teut (@dylanteut) August 30, 2016
I also appreciated the mentions from Beth Shaum (A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust), Alicia Salazar (There’s a Story in All of Us), Catherine Coyne (Youth Services Book Review), Michele Knott (Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook), Jana Eschner (Jana The Teacher), and Mrs. ReaderPants.
Finally, many thanks to my hometown indie, BookPeople, for already featuring 88 Instruments as a storytime readaloud. I wish I’d been there — it takes a while to learn how to present in public a book you wrote in private, and I could probably pick up some pointers!
Whoosh! will be among the 230 titles included in the 2016 ABC Best Books for Young Readers catalog put out this fall by the American Booksellers Association. The complete list spans from board books all the way up to YA fiction and nonfiction, and you can view the titles here.
Celebrate Picture Books featured Whoosh! for National Relaxation Day:
The subject of today’s book invented a great way to take advantage of a day off—and also demonstrates that sometimes work and relaxation go hand-in-hand! … Chris Barton’s biography of Lonnie Johnson is a fascinating look at a man who succeeds in turning “No” into “Yes” by the power of his intelligence, ideas, and determination.
Kiss the Book called Whoosh! “essential.”
Children’s Atheneum said Whoosh! “is exactly what I want a picture book biography to be. Informative, engaging, fascinating, and new”
Anastasia Suen featured the book for STEM Friday.
Holly Mueller included Whoosh! in her list of ten Picture Books That Support the Growth Mindset.
The growth mindset model is very important for gifted learners (and of course, every learner). They can make mistakes, continue to grow, and continue to be commended for hard work, not talent/intelligence alone. These books show how mistakes can be made into opportunities, hard work and persistence pay off, and circumstances and talent don’t control destinies.
Finally, Junior Library Guild invited Whoosh! illustrator Don Tate and me to chat about the book during this year’s Texas Library Association conference. Here’s a bit of that conversation:
If you know a reader who has enjoyed Whoosh! — or if you yourself have enjoyed it — I urge you to check out this recent BBC interview with Lonnie Johnson.
In it, Lonnie goes into greater detail about many aspects of the story Don Tate and I tell in Whoosh!. He also offers up anecdotes that he shared with us but which we didn’t include.
One of my favorites of the latter:
I put together a working engine out of parts from a scrapyard, and we stuck that engine on one of our go-karts. It had thin wagon wheels instead of tyres, and the hood was just a crate. You controlled the steering with a piece of string. It was not perfect. We had to push the car to get it going, but after that it could sustain itself. And we had a lot of fun with it — though we were stopped by the police, because the vehicle was not exactly street-legal.
I also appreciated this, which I know will resonate with lots of Whoosh! readers:
I also take [Super Soakers] into schools to give talks. Kids need exposure to ideas, and they need to be given an opportunity to experience success. Once you get that feeling, it grows and feeds itself — but some kids have got to overcome their environments and attitudes that have been imposed on them. In spite of the things that have been perpetrated on my race — holding us in bondage under slavery, then making it illegal to educate us and then subjecting us to long-term discrimination and criticism — we succeed anyway, to a very large extent. We just need to realise what we’re capable of.
To get Bartography Express in your inbox each month — and to have a shot at the September giveaway of This Is Our Baby, Born Today, written by Varsha Bajaj and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler — you can sign up on my home page.
My favorite author in the whole wide world and I (and our favorite quadruped) thought we’d get you all caught up on what we’ve been up to this summer and what’s in store for us this fall.
When I visited with the fourth graders at Graham Elementary here in Austin this past April, they followed up with many questions — and artwork. Such as this recreation of one of Don Tate’s illustrations in The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch:
That drawing of John Roy Lynch is just an example of the great stuff they sent. I believe I’m overdue in answering their questions. So…
Do you enjoy making children’s books?
Yes, I do. I think it’s the perfect job for me.
Do you like animals?
Not all of them, but I like a lot more animals than I dislike.
What inspired you to become an author?
My toddler son wanted me to tell him over and over the story of how I installed a smoke alarm in our house. I wrote that story down, and it was awful, but it got me going.
How long have you been writing?
Almost as long as I’ve been reading. The first story of mine that I know of is one that I wrote in second grade, “The Ozzie Bros. Meet the Monsters.”
Will you make chapter books?
I sure hope so. I’ve written a nonfiction book called Can I See Your I.D.? that had ten chapters, and I wrote a short story for a YA collection, and I hope that I will have more longer-than-a-picture-book fiction published.
How many books have you written?
88 Instruments, which was published just yesterday, is my tenth published book. I’ve written many more that have not been published.
Where do you get your ideas from?
All over. Things I see, things I read about, ideas that pop into my head while I’m running, suggestions from friends and editors — these are just some examples.
How old were you when you started to do books?
I was 29 when I realized I wanted to write books for kids, and almost 38 when my first book was published.
What inspired you to write the book “The Ozzie Bros. Meet the Monsters”?
Star Wars, the Muppets, and Abbott and Costello movies where they meet famous Hollywood monsters.
Do you have any books about your dog?
Not yet, but there are dogs in some of my manuscripts that sure remind me of Ernie.
Do you talk in a different language?
I’ve started relearning the Spanish that I began forgetting after my sophomore year in high school. Duolingo says I’m now 4% fluent.
Have you ever visited different countries?
I went to Mexico and Canada when I was growing up, and this past spring I traveled to Singapore to visit the Singapore American School. That trip included some time wandering around an airport in Qatar.
Have you been on tour?
Yes — to schools in Utah last December to celebrate my nonfiction book The Nutcracker Comes to America, and to cities in Texas and Oklahoma this past spring, in support of my book Mighty Truck.
Have you ever experienced difficult, frustrating times?
I sure have. I’ve been lucky to have family and friends to lean on during those times.
How many awards have you won?
I don’t know how many, but I can tell you the biggest: My first book, The Day-Glo Brothers, won a Sibert Honor from the American Library Association.
And that’s it! Thank you for the great questions, fourth graders — now FIFTH graders! — at Graham Elementary.