26 Jul

“…I am glad that *you* are here today with me.”

This spring, I changed the way I greet students at the beginning of each of my school presentations. It seemed necessary, and it seems even more so today.

Here’s what I say:

“My name is Chris Barton, and whoever *you* are… whatever your family looks like… wherever your parents, or your grandparents, or your great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents are from… I am glad that *you* are here today with me.”

I miss giving kids that affirmation. I’m looking forward to getting back to it in September.

06 Jul

How to begin a new year with a good night’s sleep

It’s my birthday today, and my most recent journey around the sun ended with a piece of welcome news:

That I have missed out on a good-paying speaking gig at a children’s literature event.

Wait, why is that welcome news?

It’s definitely not because I am burdened with a surfeit of money, or because I lacked any desire to appear before that audience. This news is welcome because the author/illustrator lineup that I would have joined was already disproportionately populated with white men. If I’d been added, the children’s-book creators featured at the event would have been even less representational of the readers we create books for.

After the organizer expressed an interest in having me join the roster, I got together with a non-white-guy friend of mine and talked through my options, which ranged from taking the gig (and fee) to publicly, indignantly declining the invitation with a bit of social-media grandstanding.

That conversation helped. When I replied to the event organizer, I privately, respectfully, and somewhat nervously brought up my discomfort with the situation. I suggested some non-white-guy authors/illustrators as alternatives. When those didn’t pan out, I suggested some more.

The organizer, to their credit, kept making inquiries — for longer, probably, than they expected to — but their efforts paid off. And late yesterday I learned that, because of my encouragement, the event will now include a terrific, creative person who not only will make an outstanding speaker but will also provide balance and diversity that I absolutely would not have. A little bit of progress got made.

I’ll miss that speaker’s fee, no doubt about it. But I sure slept well last night.

30 Sep

September 2016 Bartography Express: “If children learn to love and respect the elephant through this book, I will be overjoyed”

To get Bartography Express in your inbox each month — and to have a shot at the October giveaway of Tiny Stitches, written by Gwendolyn Hooks and illustrated by Colin Bootman — you can sign up on my home page.

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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.

20 May

Bartography Express for May 2015, featuring Elena Dunkle’s Elena Vanishing

This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of Elena Vanishing (Chronicle Books) by Elena Dunkle and Clare B. Dunkle, and another subscriber will win its companion memoir Hope and Other Luxuries by Clare B. Dunkle.

If you’re not already receiving Bartography Express, click the image below for a look. If you like what you see, click “Join” in the bottom right corner, and you’ll be in the running for the giveaway at the end of this week.

20150519 Bartography Express

12 Apr

Austin authors’ efforts on behalf of diverse books

My local kidlit community — including not only authors and illustrators, but librarians and booksellers as well — shines quite nicely in this weekend’s article in the Austin American-Statesman:

As librarians across the state are set to gather in Austin next week for the annual Texas Library Association conference, it’s worth noting what a difference a year makes: There’s a national festival devoted to children’s diverse books planned for next year in Washington, D.C., and a writing award with corresponding grant supported by celebrated author Walter Dean Myers’ estate. The Texas Book Festival featured a We Need Diverse Books panel in October, as did the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association earlier this year. Next week’s Texas library conference will include a diversity summit as part of its program as well as a “Colorful Canon” panel exploring how to build diversity in children’s literature.

The Austin-area creators of children’s books mentioned in the article include Cynthia Leitich Smith, Don Tate, Shana Burg, Varian Johnson, Bethany Hegedus, Jo Whittemore, and me, but I assure you that many more are actively involved in this movement in one way or another. Here’s to keeping things going.

20 Dec

Podcast interview: Life. Leadership. Video Games. And me.

Classically Trained

I really enjoyed my conversation this fall with Jon Harrison, author the upcoming book Mastering The Game: What Video Games Can Teach Us About Success In Life, who interviewed me for his ClassicallyTrained podcast (“Life. Leadership. Videogames”).

We got to talk about video games (of course), fatherhood, Joey Spiotto’s art, the diversity of characters represented in Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet, the trickiest letter in the book (not Q, X, or Z), my Games & Books & Q&A interview series, and my earliest experiences as a reader and writer.

And let the record show that I caught myself (eventually) after declaring that there are 28 letters in the alphabet.