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.

24 Aug

Speaking of Victo Ngai’s art in Dazzle Ships


(as I was just the other day)

…today there are two generous posts showing off her illustrations for our book.

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion will be published next Friday, September 1, by Millbrook Press, which is an imprint of Lerner Publishing. The Lerner blog is featuring 5 Questions for Dazzle Ships illustrator Victo Ngai, a post that includes two full spreads from the book in addition to the one you see here. And you’ll get to hear from Victo herself:

[W]hen I showed an advance copy of the finished book to my friends, most of them thought I’d made up the wild patterns on the ships! I had to show them the historical photos at the end of the book to set them straight.

And at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Julie Danielson treats us to The Art of Victo Ngai — specifically, another three spreads from Dazzle Ships.

Many thanks to Jules, Lerner, and especially Victo.

Oh, and a reminder: I’ll be sharing Dazzle Ships with Central Texans at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 7, at BookPeople in downtown Austin. If you think you might be there, please let me know, and if you know someone who should be there, please spread the word!

22 Aug

Victo Ngai’s art in Dazzle Ships: “breathtaking,” “fascinating,” “incredible,” “stunning”


But don’t take my word for it. Let’s see what readers of advance copies of Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Millbrook Press) have had to say about Victo’s illustrations in her first picture book.

Unadulterated:

[D]on’t let me out of here without performing some kind of obeisance to Victo Ngai — this is her first picture book but her editorial, product, cover, and advertising work demonstrates a breathtaking breadth of skill. I’m thinking of getting a new tattoo.

Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook:

The illustrations by Victo Ngai are fascinating. I really like the choice of media and although done digitally, it almost looks like it was done in colored pencil. I felt like this spotlighted the artistry of the camouflage.

Miss Magee’s Reads:

Ngai’s incredible illustrations are dazzling in and of themselves.

Jen Robinson’s Book Page:

Visually, Dazzle Ships is stunning, particularly Victo Ngai’s rendering of the dazzle ships themselves. [She] uses a mix of digital and analog media that works particularly well in conveying backgrounds, like the waves of the ocean, and golden skies. A page spread illustrating the concept of camouflage is sure to both entertain and educate young readers, while a futuristic image at the end is inspiring.

Folks in Central Texas can get an up-close look at Victo’s art at BookPeople on Thursday, September 7, at 6:30 p.m. I’ll be reading, discussing, and signing Dazzle Ships — and showing off its magnificent illustrations — and would love to see you there.

20 Aug

Don Tate and me, together again!

Well, in yesterday’s Austin American-Statesman, anyway.

Don and I don’t have a third book together, but we do both have new books, and our home city’s daily newspaper featured them both, along with several other new titles.

And Don and I both have events coming up in Austin.

Next Sunday, August 27, Don will be launching Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became The Strongest Man On Earth at 3 p.m. at the University of Texas’ Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports.

Then, at BookPeople at 6:30 p.m. on September 7, I’ll be reading from and signing Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion.

We’re both hoping for a strong showing, and we’ll each do our best to dazzle our audience. (Sorry.)

18 Aug

Starred reviews and other good news for Dazzle Ships

I’ve already mentioned the coverage in Kirkus this review, and this interview — of Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, published by Millbrook Press, and available on September 1.

Now I’m happy as can be to point you toward what some of the other major review publications have had to say about the book.

Booklist calls the book “an inspiring story of creativity and adds:

Ngai’s swirling, art nouveau–style illustrations replicate some of the bold shapes and designs on the so-called “dazzle ships,” and the soft colors and stylized figures nicely soften the wartime theme and focus attention to the ships. Barton adds plenty of historical context, illuminating other naval defense schemes of the period, as well as the role of women in creating dazzle patterns.

Dazzle Ships received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which said in part:

“Sometimes desperate times call for dazzling measures,” writes Barton in conclusion, underscoring the importance of creative problem solving. Reflective author and artist notes, a timeline with b&w photographs, and a reading list wrap up a conversational, compelling, and visually arresting story that coincides with the 100th anniversary of its subject.

And our book earned a second starred review, from School Library Journal:

The well-written, intriguing text is complemented by Ngai’s vibrant and surreal illustrations that skillfully recreate the glittering water and the striking camouflaged vessels. … With the commemoration of the centenary of World War I, this book is a fascinating selection that will captivate readers, especially war story enthusiasts.

I hope you’re intrigued enough to get the word out — and show up in person, if you can — for my September 7 reading, discussion, and signing of Dazzle Ships at Austin’s BookPeople.

17 Aug

My first extended conversation about Dazzle Ships*

*with someone not a) directly involved in its creation, or b) married to me

Julie Danielson recently interviewed me for Kirkus Reviews about my upcoming picture book Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Millbrook Press), illustrated by Victo Ngai. Here’s a taste:

Jules: So, what was it like for you to see Victo’s illustrations for the first time?

Chris: My reaction to the first cover sketch my editor shared was (and I have the email to prove it): “Oooooh!!!” And I was at least somewhat prepared for what Victo’s art in this book might look like, because I had seen samples of her work before she was selected as the illustrator. I knew it was going to be a visually fantastic book.

But even then, when I saw the first color art for Dazzle Ships — it was the two-page spread for “Britain, the United States, and their allies turned things around…” — my response was, “[H]oly moly, is that artwork astounding! I’m looking forward more than ever to seeing the rest.”

I had fun chatting with Julie, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.

If you like the sound of this book, here are a couple of dates to keep in mind:

September 1: Publication day! Buy Dazzle Ships from your most beloved independent bookseller.

September 7: If you’re in Austin, come hear me read and discuss Dazzle Ships that evening at my most beloved independent bookseller.

20 Sep

Modern First Library: Connecting shoppers with diverse books for two years and counting

Modern First Library

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:

Our Modern First Library Turns Two by Meghan Goel

Ellen Oh on the Modern First Library: The Word Library

Phoebe Yeh on the Modern First Library: I Need a Diverse Book

Angie Manfredi on the Modern First Library: “Everett Anderson was my first.”

Modern First Library: Starting the Conversation with AISD Educators

Modern First Library: Divya Srinivasan on Mama (Amma)

Modern First Library: Duncan Tonatiuh on Fairy Tales for a Modern Library

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.

09 Jan

Many thanks to Joe McDermott and Phil Bildner

The recent KidLit TV segment on Modern First Library would not have happened without the enthusiastic support of my friends Phil Bildner and Joe McDermott.

Phil’s role was obvious — he was on-camera with me and BookPeople‘s Meghan Goel. But what part did Joe play?

Well, who do you think was behind the camera?

That’s right. Not only is Joe McDermott a high-spirited singer, songwriter, and children’s performer, he’s also pretty handy with video production.

So help me thank him, why don’t you? If you’re in Central Texas, you could book him for a show.

Or you could buy his new CD and coloring book combo, Coconut Beach:

Coconut Beach

Phil’s been busy, too, which makes me all the more appreciative of his taking the time to support Modern First Library while he was visiting Austin for the Texas Book Festival.

How busy? Well, he did have two new books out in 2015:

A Whole New Ballgame

MarvelousCornelius

And he is pretty occupied with the approximately 75,000 school visits he does each year.

So, as with Joe, you can show your thanks to Phil by buying one of his latest or by booking him for a visit to your school. You’ll be glad you did, and I’d appreciate it, too.

29 Nov

Join Jennifer and me in supporting the Giving Tree

But you're on your own for the Taco Cleanse.

But you’re on your own for the Taco Cleanse.

On Saturday, December 5, Jennifer and I will celebrate the release of our new holiday-themed books — her Revenge of the Angels and my ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America — with an open-to-the-public event at Austin’s BookPeople benefiting the store’s Giving Tree charity program.

Giving Tree provides a way for BookPeople customers to provide books for children in need who are served by three locally based charities. Instead of an author Q&A this month, I’ve invited leaders of each organization to share with you a little bit about the work they do. Just follow these links to read about the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas, Saint Louise House, and BookSpring.

Guests at our December 5 event who buy any hardcover children’s book to donate to Giving Tree will be in the running for the giveaway of signed sets of Revenge of the Angels and ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America.

Two subscribers to my Bartography Express will also be winners. In addition to the BookPeople event, Jennifer and I are giving away a signed copy of each book. If you’d like one of those winners to be you, just 1) subscribe to Bartography Express, if you haven’t already, and 2) say so in the comments to this post, and we’ll enter you in the drawing.