02 Nov

Parents magazine calls Whoosh! the year’s best nonfiction picture book

Whoosh!Big news this week from a magazine read by millions of parents: Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (Charlesbridge) has been named the best Nonfiction Picture Book of 2016 by Parents magazine.

I’m so glad that my second collaboration with Don Tate has been honored in this way, especially considering the wealth of top-notch nonfiction picture books published this year. (For instance, check out the nonfiction titles named by Publishers Weekly as being among the best picture books of 2016.) My understanding is that Parents asked librarians and other experts in the literary field to nominate children’s books published this year, and the magazine then ran those books past actual kids, and it was those child readers who came up with Whoosh! and the winners in other categories.

Maybe the newsstand edition of the magazine will have more details about the process, because I’m curious about how pretty much everything in this business works, but regardless I’m pleased and proud and grateful. Thank you, Parents — and thanks, kids.

26 Oct

In which I am interviewed by students from Patsy Sommer Elementary

bookcover-johnroylynchStudents at Sommer Elementary in Round Rock, Texas, recently had some questions for me, so I thought I’d answer them here (just as I did a few months back with questions from Graham Elementary students).

Our class read your book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch. It was so interesting! Where did you learn all of this knowledge?

Thank you! Here’s a list of the books, newspaper articles, scholarly articles, and other sources I used for my research into John Roy Lynch’s life and times, including Reconstruction. I also traveled to Mississippi and Louisiana to visit places where John Roy Lynch lived and worked before he became a Congressman.

Were you alive in his time period?

No, I wasn’t. John Roy Lynch lived a long time, but he died in 1939, and I wasn’t born until 1971.

What inspired you to write about him?

I first learned about John Roy Lynch from the PBS documentary Reconstruction: The Second Civil War. His story was one of the individual stories used to convey the big picture of Reconstruction. I knew right away that the story of his incredible transformation — from teenage slave to US Congressman in just ten years — was one that I wanted to tell for readers your age.

Why do you want to write biographies?

As interesting as history, art, science, and politics are, it’s the stories of the individuals involved — the twists and turns and joys and hardships of their lives — that truly fascinate me. Researching people well enough to accurately and honestly get across their personalities and experiences and legacies in few enough words to fit into a picture book is a fun challenge. I learn so much from each biography I write. They make me smarter, and I love getting smarter.

Do you have any more books in the public library?

I sure do — nine other books so far (you can see the whole list of them here), and eight more books on the way in 2017-18.

Are you friends with Don Tate?

Don and I are indeed friends. Here’s a brief history of our friendship and our history as collaborators.

Are you from the family of Clara Barton?

Not that I’m aware of, but if I research back far enough, who knows what I’ll find?

27 Sep

Whoosh!-ing into Scholastic Reading Club

Whoosh!

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?

07 Sep

The newest good news for Whoosh!

Whoosh!

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:

01 Sep

“We succeed anyway,” and lots more from Lonnie Johnson

Whoosh!

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.

21 Aug

In which I am interviewed by fourth graders from Graham Elementary

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:

cb-20160817-John Roy Lynch at desk cropped

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.

14 Aug

Key steps on my journey with Don Tate (so far!)

Yesterday morning marked the debut of a new presentation with a longtime friend.

As you may know, Don Tate and I have created two picture books together: The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch and Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions.

John Roy Lynch and George Moses Horton and Lonnie Johnson

Yesterday, we got to present about our journey “From Critique Partners to Collaborators” at the monthly meeting of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, after which Don received the SCBWI Crystal Kite award for his book Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton. (Congratulations, Don!)

Preparing for this presentation meant plunging into our electronic archives as well as the memories stored up in our heads, and the process was a lot of fun for us both.

The big takeaway of our presentation was a set of ten tips equally applicable to critique partners and collaborators alike, based on our own experiences with each other over these past 11 years. But we opened with this timeline, which we thought might be of interest to folks who weren’t able to attend yesterday’s meeting.

2005
First (documented) contact!
First manuscript critique
First lunch together

2006
First road trip together
Chris suggests Don write about George Moses Horton.

2007
Don critiques unfinished first draft of Chris’ manuscript, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

2009
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers acquires The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

2010
Chris recommends Don to Eerdmans as candidate to illustrate The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

2011
Charlesbridge Publishing agrees to publish biography of Lonnie Johnson written by Chris.

2012
Don is announced as illustrator of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.
Chris recommends Don to Charlesbridge as illustrator of Lonnie Johnson book.

2013
Peachtree Publishers acquires Don’s biography of George Moses Horton.
Don is announced as illustrator of Whoosh!

2015
Chris and Don make first in-person appearances as author-illustrator team.
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is published.
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton is published.

2016
Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions is published.

And that’s just the high-level version — the nitty-gritty could take up a month of blog posts. But if you’re involved with a conference or organization that would be interested in hearing more of the story, well, maybe we’ll just have to update our timeline to include you.

04 Aug

A morning spent inside the Don Tate-Chris Barton archives

I spent this morning delving into various archives to piece together a chronology of the relationship Don Tate and I have enjoyed as friends, critique partners, and collaborators. Our history stretches back to way before the publication of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch in 2015 and of Whoosh! earlier this year.

I know this exercise sounds like sheer entertainment and everyone’s idea of a good time, but there’s also a practical reason for this exercise: Don and I are presenting to Austin SCBWI on August 13 about our experiences as a manuscript-critiquing and book-creating duo.

Whoosh!

As far as I can tell, our initial communication was in a comment Don left on my brand-spanking-new blog in July 2005. And I can tell you that it then took us about 4 1/2 months of talking about having lunch before we actually got around to having lunch for the first time, in December 2005. He picked up the check at Brick Oven Pizza.

Don and I got our acts together somewhat and managed to pull off a road trip to San Antonio a mere month later for the 2006 midwinter meeting of the American Library Association. Here’s the account I wrote about that event, which also happened to be the first time I met my literary agent, Erin Murphy, in person. It was a great weekend that looks even better in retrospect.

bookcover-johnroylynch

14 Jul

“When every man, woman, and child can feel and know…”

From The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

From The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

“[W]hen every man, woman, and child can feel and know that his, her, and their rights are fully protected by the strong arm of a generous and grateful Republic, then we can all truthfully say that this beautiful land of ours, over which the Star Spangled Banner so triumphantly waves, is, in truth and in fact, the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.'”

Spoken by John Roy Lynch in 1875. He was talking about the future.

Still true in 2016. And it’s still the future that we’re talking about. Not the present. Not yet.

13 Jul

A Whoosh! of good news

WHOOSH picnic

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions was among the Notable Children’s Books Nominees discussed by the Association for Library Service to Children during the American Library Association’s annual conference in Orlando last month. I’m not sure how nervous I would have been while hearing my book discussed in such a public setting, so it’s just as well that I had to leave the conference earlier that morning.

Publishers Weekly‘s PW KidsCast features this 17-minute conversation with me about Whoosh! (among other things).

The July/August issue of The Horn Book Magazine reviews Whoosh!, remarking on the book’s straightforward approach to Lonnie Johnson’s ups and downs, the “upbeat, you-can-do-it attitude,” and Don Tate’s eye for period detail in his illustrations (“from pegged jeans to bell-bottoms to cut-off shorts with knee socks”). The issue also includes a Q&A — literally, one Q and one A — with me about writing about a living person.

Shelf Awareness says, “Barton’s clean, lively prose and Tate’s boldly composed, often comical illustrations–including a dramatic gatefold capturing the Super Soaker’s mighty trajectory–make Lonnie Johnson’s story of passion and persistence whoosh to life.”

First Book, which provides access to new books for children in need, calls Whoosh! “perfect for budding scientists and engineers” and has listed it among Our Five Favorite Books this July.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science includes Whoosh! in Summer Reading: Invention and Innovation (“Our list of books to spark creativity for kids of all ages!”).

The National Science Teachers Association points out that Whoosh! “focuses on an unlikely character who is not privileged, but has a persistence and patience that will act as a role model for all young inventors. A great depiction of an inventor with the ‘right stuff’!”

The Nonfiction Detectives say that “Whoosh! is an inspiring story that will make children delight in what is possible.”

Alcalde, my college alumni magazine, notes the book’s “appeal to young inventors everywhere.”

The Booklist Reader says that “For elementary schools and public library collections, [Whoosh!] is a must.”

The Toledo Blade calls Whoosh! a “story of dreams and perseverance.”

Sonder Books says, “It’s hard to imagine a more kid-friendly picture book biography.”

And finally, here’s what Here Wee Read had to say about Whoosh!:

This book teaches kids things like: creativity, problem-solving, tenacity, grit, patience, rejection, and hard work. I’d highly recommend this book for kids who have a love for rockets, inventions, water guns, and a mind for creativity. Also great for studying Black inventors. I think they will enjoy learning about the many challenges Lonnie faced and how he solved his problems. A fun summertime read!

Thank you all who have embraced this book. I sincerely appreciate it. I hope you all have a blast this summer — and I can recommend just the toy to help you with that…