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…

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.”

28 Feb

All the college kidlit conferences (as of March 2017)

Or, more formally, “A Comprehensive List of U.S. College- and University-Sponsored or -Hosted Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conferences, Festivals, and Symposia.” (All of them that I could find, anyway).

A few years ago, I was looking for such a list, wondered why I couldn’t find one, and decided to just go ahead and make one myself.

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, written by me and illustrated by Don Tate

Since then, I’ve periodically updated and reposted it, and I plan to continue doing so. If I’ve missed any, or included some that no longer exist, won’t you please let me know in the comments section?

Arizona
University of Arizona Tucson Festival of Books

California
University of Redlands Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Literature Festival

Colorado
Metropolitan State University of Denver and University of Colorado at Denver Colorado Teen Literature Conference

Connecticut
University of Connecticut Connecticut Children’s Book Fair

Florida
Stetson University M. Jean Greenlaw Children’s Literature Conference
University of South Florida 2017 Children’s Literature Association Conference (ChLA 2017)

Georgia
Kennesaw State University Conference on Literature for Children and Young Adults
The University of Georgia Conference on Children’s Literature

Hawaii
Chaminade University of Honolulu Conference on Literature and Hawai’i’s Children

Illinois
Northern Illinois University Children’s Literature Conference
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Youth Literature Festival

Indiana
Anderson University Elizabeth York Children’s Literature Collection & Festival

Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio
Northern Kentucky University, Thomas More College, University of Cincinnati, and Xavier University Ohio Kentucky Indiana Children’s Literature Conference

Kansas
Kansas State University Conference of Children’s Literature in English, Education, and Library Science

Maryland
Frostburg State University Spring Festival of Children’s Literature
Salisbury University Children’s and Young Adult Literature Festival

Massachusetts
Framingham State University Swiacki Children’s Literature Festival
Lesley University What’s New in Children’s Books Annual Conference
Simmons College Children’s Literature Summer Institute and The Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium

Minnesota
University of Minnesota Kerlan Award Ceremony and Chase Lecture
University of St. Thomas Hubbs Children’s Literature Conference

Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival

Missouri
Missouri State University Children’s Literature Festival of the Ozarks
Truman State University Children’s Literature Festival
University of Central Missouri Children’s Literature Festival

Nebraska
Concordia University Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival

Nevada
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Gayle A. Zeiter Young Adult and Children’s Literature Conference

New Hampshire
Keene State College Children’s Literature Festival

New Jersey
Montclair State University New Jersey Council of Teachers of English Spring Conference
Rutgers University One-on-One Plus Conference

New York
Stony Brook University – Southampton Southampton Children’s Literature Conference

Ohio
Bowling Green State University Literacy in the Park
Kent State University Virginia Hamilton Conference
The University of Findlay Mazza Museum Summer Conference and Weekend Conference
Youngstown State University English Festival

Pennsylvania
Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference
West Chester University University Children’s Literature Conference

Tennessee
Middle Tennessee State University Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival

Texas
Texas A&M University – Commerce Bill Martin Jr Memorial Symposium
The University of Texas at San Antonio National Latino Children’s Literature Conference, co-sponsored by The University of Alabama School of Library and Information Studies

Utah
Brigham Young University Symposium on Books for Young Readers
Utah Valley University Forum on Engaged Reading

Vermont
Vermont College of Fine Arts Children’s Literature New England Symposium

Virginia
The College of William and Mary Joy of Literacy and Literature Conference
Hollins University Francelia Butler Conference
Longwood University Summer Literacy Institute and Virginia Children’s Book Festival
Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference

Washington
Western Washington University Children’s Literature Conference

20 Feb

Whoosh!, race, and “ALL students”


One day last month (it happened to be Inauguration Day), my friend Alia Jones posted this on Facebook:

Something interesting happened today. A school visited our store on a field trip & the teacher read a story to her class (4th graders?). She picked Whoosh! from our shelves. In the story, Lonnie takes his robot to a 1968 Science Fair at Univ. of Alabama “where only five years earlier, African American students hadn’t even been allowed.” You can feel the tension in the illustrations…Anyway, this teacher, on the fly, edited the book to “where only five years earlier ALL students hadn’t even been allowed.” I turned my head real quick!! She made a decision not to mention race. As she discussed the book with her students, she said Lonnie overcame a lot, but did NOT mention racism/segregation. She was white and her class was mostly white students. I just thought this was fascinating…

A couple of weeks later (it happened to be Groundhog Day), I followed up with Alia:

I have been thinking about your anecdote about Whoosh! at the bookstore for two weeks now — a sure sign that my brain needs to write something about it. Would you allow me to share your original Facebook post on my blog, and/or would you be willing to have a conversation with me via email that I could publish?

Alia said yes to both. What follows is our ensuing email conversation (lightly edited for clarity).

Chris: Thanks for being willing to give some more time/thought to that strange episode with Whoosh! in your store. My mind is still reeling. And I’ve got questions!

First off, do teachers often bring their students on field trips to the store? And did Whoosh! just seem to be a random selection on the teacher’s part?

Alia: No problem at all!

Field trips aren’t a regular thing at our store but when they happen, classes get a special story time.

The teacher decided to read a book while her students took bathroom breaks. 4th/5th graders maybe? I saw her walk over to our Non-Fiction/History bookshelf. I always display select books on top of the shelf and she picked Whoosh!

I think it was a random selection; she didn’t seem familiar with the story as she read it aloud.

Chris: So she got to the page in Whoosh! where the text alludes to the infamous — and historically well documented — episode in 1963 when Gov. George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door to try to prevent two Black students from entering the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. And this teacher spontaneously reworked the text so that, what — the governor of Alabama had been trying to keep any students from attending the state university?

Alia: Exactly. I don’t think she expected your book to have a “racial element” and when she got to the line:

“where only five years earlier, African American students hadn’t even been allowed,”

she made a quick decision to change it even though it makes no sense. Maybe she wasn’t expecting her impromptu story time to be a lesson on “race issues.” I think she made the story into what she needed it to be, one that didn’t mention racism/discrimination explicitly.

Chris: This makes no sense to me. I mean, none. Am I missing something?

Alia: I don’t think you’re missing anything. At first glance, your book doesn’t “look” like it will be historical; it just looks like a fun story about inventions and a guy with a water gun. She didn’t see it coming…

Chris: Did any of the kids ask about her nonsensical edit?

Alia: No they didn’t. She keep moving on with the story.

Chris: Were you tempted to say anything, or is this the sort of thing they cover in “The Customer Is Always Right” training for booksellers?

Alia: Oh yeah, I considered asking her why she did it as she walked by the counter on her way outside. I didn’t though…and got busy with something else.

After almost three years of bookselling/customer service, as a woman of color, I’ve learned to pick my battles. People often walk up to me and ask “Do you know a lot about the books here?” I’m starting to be more vocal about obvious bias/gatekeepers shutting down diverse books. Respectful…but more honest.

Chris: “Respectful…but more honest.” I like that.

My discussion of race and racism with student audiences has been much more blunt with regard to The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, since race and racism are central to the story that book tells of his life, both before and during Reconstruction. And they’re central to the echoes of that era found in Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement on up through voter-restriction laws enacted in America in the past few years. I talk about all of that when I talk about John Roy Lynch.

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch and Whoosh!, both illustrated by Don Tate

Alia: Yeah. In The Amazing Age, racism in the story is more “obvious,” so I doubt this teacher would’ve picked it up to begin with.

The cover of The Amazing Age tells the audience right away that “This is historical and therefore, IT MIGHT INVOLVE RACISM.” What people do with that visual information is their choice. Whoosh!‘s cover is deceptive when it comes race; a contemporary setting with rockets & water guns. It’s always interesting to see how people interact with covers…Will they pick up the book or walk away? If it has a brown person on the cover, it’s more likely they’ll walk away..BUT I’ve noticed that kids are more open-minded than adults.

Chris: In considering how the teacher in your store avoided the issues of race and racism, I see an opportunity to engage with them all the more — honestly, and with respect for my audience — when I share Whoosh! with students. I can pause at the science fair page, and take a moment to talk a little about George Wallace and that particular episode that occurred in Lonnie Johnson’s home state when he was around the same age as the students I’m talking to. [Note to Bartography readers: I did this for the first time last Wednesday, showing a few photographs from that June 1963 day that ended with Vivian Malone and James Hood enrolled as students at the University of Alabama. The second- through fifth-grade students I was presenting to seemed to handle that additional historical context just fine.]

So, I’ve got to thank you, Alia, for bringing that episode in your store to my attention. And I guess I’ve got to thank that teacher, too — her avoidance of any talk of race or racism is going to have the unintended effect of putting it front and center for a lot of other readers.

Alia: Oh good! I’m glad to hear that! Touching on that more will stress just how much Lonnie had to overcome. Kids of color in the audience, especially, might understand how he felt not being welcome in a white space (even after desegregation). I wonder what his experience was like at NASA. Hidden Figures has me thinking about POC [people of color] experiences there! :)

Thanks for having this discussion with me. Rarely do I get to talk about my bookstore experiences in such a thoughtful and detailed way! :)

17 Feb

H.M. Bouwman on writing A Crack in the Sea: “I am adding my words to a giant pile of kindling”

From the February 2017 issue of my Bartography Express email newsletter:

I’m delighted this month to feature A Crack in the Sea (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), the magical new middle-grade novel by my friend H.M. Bouwman, with beautiful illustrations by Yuko Shimizu.

The starred review the book received from Publishers Weekly began this way: “The Middle Passage and the fall of Saigon: two terrible events, separated by centuries, with seemingly nothing in common. But for Bouwman anything is possible, including the existence of a second world.”

Also, that second world? It includes sea monsters.

I’m giving away a signed copy of A Crack in the Sea to one Bartography Express subscriber residing in the US. If you’d like that winner to be you, just say so in a reply to this email before midnight on February 26, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, as always, I’ve got a brief Q&A with the author. But H.M. — I know her as Heather — did a terrific interview recently with Caroline Starr Rose. I recommend their conversation so highly that my feelings will not be one bit hurt if you go read that first and then come back for the one I had with Heather.

Chris: You mentioned [in the interview with Caroline Starr Rose] that, after your writing of A Crack in the Sea began with the image of a giant raft and the story of the Zong slave ship, “More images and stories and real world events influenced the writing as the manuscript progressed.” Can you please talk a little more about that interplay between the fiction you were creating and the unfolding of real life around you?

Heather: It’s hard to remember exactly how things progressed in drafting and revising, Chris! I feel like I’m making up a story about how the book was written….

That said, I do remember very clearly revising this book as I was seeing and hearing news reports about boatloads of people fleeing Syria. There are particular photos and stories….

I know, too, that I felt then (and still feel) in some ways very helpless to change world events. I can give money to organizations that help others, I can vote and write letters to support change, I can show up at marches — but I’m not myself a lawmaker or a doctor without borders or an aid worker.

But I do write stories. I think that writing for young people is a long game — you are putting stories out there that have the power (as all stories do) to influence people’s hearts and lives, but you don’t see any evidence of that for years sometimes, if ever. I hope that 20 years from now there will be a teacher or politician or medical professional or store clerk who will be a better person because of something they read when they were a kid — maybe even something I wrote. I feel sometimes like I am adding my words to a giant pile of kindling, all these loving and thoughtful and creative works for kids, and that immense bonfire burns so bright, and I love thinking that I’ve contributed to it.

In this illustration by Yuko Shimizu, the characters Caesar and Kinchin ride on the head of a Kraken.

Chris: I see lots of ways in which A Crack in the Sea will have just that power for its audience — and many ways in which your book will seem especially timely to readers. I’m struck not only by the themes of escape, immigration, and refuge, but also by the ways that different cultures and abilities (in both humans and in sea monsters!) are appreciated, and in how citizens of Raftworld intervene when their leader is prepared to make a decision out of pure self-interest that would have a dramatic and damaging effect on his own people.

Do you yourself see any of that? Now that your book has been published while life around it goes on, are you still noticing new ways in which A Crack in the Sea may resonate with kids, new ways in which readers may interpret its stories, new ways in which educators can put your book to use?

Heather: With this book, I was thinking mostly about issues of escape, immigration, and refuge (as you put it so well). For sure.

But yes, there were other issues, too, that floated to the surface as I was writing. For example, I have a friend and the son of a friend who are both faceblind, so I was thinking about that — and about my own struggles over the years with chronic back issues — thinking about the ways that invisible (or somewhat invisible) differences are handled in our society.

And I was thinking a lot about villains as I wrote this book: What makes for a good antagonist, and how might an antagonist be also a basically good person — a person capable of growth and change and empathy just as much as a protagonist?

And I was thinking, from 2011 forward (in other words, not just in the past couple of months, though it might seem that way) about how political leaders should make decisions, and how they should govern — not through autocratic or dictatorial means, and not through condescension, but through careful listening to the people and tending of their best and most noble hopes and dreams. (In this sense, Jupiter the storyteller is the ideal politician…which is kind of interesting, yes?)

I’m sure there were other things I’m not thinking of right now. Oh! I was thinking about food; I get hungry when I write. I’m fairly sure that’s why Caesar is always hungry.

08 Feb

A book about a girl, a book for a boy


Two exchanges I had with students last week in the booming town of Prosper, Texas, have remained on my mind back at home this week.

The first exchange was right before one of my elementary-school presentations, with a girl who handed me a letter that read in part:

I wonder if you have a book about a girl? If you don’t can you please make one? Sorry if I’m wasting your time. But I want you to please make a book about a girl. p.s. I have a french name.

The Texas girl with the French name was absolutely was not wasting my time.

I told her about my book coming out next year about a real girl from Texas, Barbara Jordan, who grew up to be a Congresswoman and teacher of ethics in public service. While we wait for What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?, I wish I could have told this student that I had more books with female lead characters. There have been manuscripts of mine that have focused on girls and women but which haven’t (yet!) gotten acquired by a publisher, and books of mine with a mix of male and female characters. But those aren’t of much use to a young reader who would like to read a book, right now, that’s primarily about a girl and written by the author visiting her school. This is something for me to work on.

I did ask the librarian to make sure the girl with the French name received one of the bookmarks I’d brought for Jennifer Ziegler‘s warm, funny series about the fictional Brewster Triplets, 11-year-old Texas sisters who aspire to be President, Chief Justice, and Speaker of the House, respectively. Especially for this girl, I signed my name and wrote Jennifer’s URL on the bookmark. I also asked the librarian to please emphasize that I was not delegating responsibility for writing female characters to my wife — it’s just that Jennifer’s books about girls already exist, and mine don’t yet. But I’m working on them, and I suspect I’ll be working harder at them from now on.

I mentioned two exchanges with students, and that was the first. The second was right after another of my sessions. Toward the end of my presentations, I share the cover of Jennifer’s first Brewster Triplets book and let my audience know that not only am I an author, but I’m married to one, too.

So, it was a few minutes after that revelation that a boy came up to me and asked, “What was the name of your wife’s book?”

“It’s called Revenge of the Flower Girls,” I told him. “I think you’d like it.”

26 Jan

La mejor noticia I’ve had all week


Monday afternoon, right between two school presentations, I checked my phone and received news that I’ve been hoping for for a long time: There’s going to be a Spanish-language translation of Shark Vs. Train!

There have been editions of Shark Vs. Train in Korean and Portuguese, as well as two different Chinese translations, but none in Spanish, a language spoken in the homes of so many students I see here in Texas.

Spanish is also the language that I learned in high school, promptly began forgetting, and started relearning in the past year. So now I’ve got myself a goal: By the time Scholastic Reading Club begins offering this new translation of Shark Vs. Train in September 2017, I want to be able to perform the book with all the confidence and enthusiasm that I’ve had when reading aloud the original version for all these years.

¡Deséame suerte!

As for how this came about, at my request last fall, my agent reached out last fall to Little, Brown to ask about the possibility of an edition in Spanish. Boy, did my publisher act fast, as did Scholastic. I cannot thank them enough — nor emphasize enough that my fellow authors are well within reason to ask their own publishers about Spanish-language translations of their own books. You don’t ask, you don’t get.