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.

28 Oct

October 2016 Bartography Express: “They are amazed at what he accomplished.”

To get Bartography Express in your inbox each month — and to have a shot at the November giveaway of Space Dictionary for Kids: The Everything Guide for Kids Who Love Space, written by Amy Anderson and Brian Anderson — you can sign up on my home page.

20161021-bartography-express

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.

20 Nov

Giving Back for the Holidays, Part 3: BookSpring

When Jennifer and I celebrate our new holiday-themed books with an event at Austin’s BookPeople on December 5, we’re going to spotlight the store’s annual Giving Tree charity program.

Guests buying any hardcover children’s book to donate to Giving Tree will be in the running for the giveaway of signed sets of Jennifer’s Revenge of the Angels and my own ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America.

Giving Tree is benefiting three local nonprofit organizations this year, and this week I’m telling you a little bit about each of them.

BookSpring

As stated in its mission, “BookSpring provides reading experiences, tools, and books to children and their families so they can develop a desire to read and succeed in school and life.”

BookSpring executive director Emily Cicchini elaborates:

BookSpring aims to reach 300,000 infants, toddlers, and young children in Central Texas. We want to influence the reading habits, not only of children, but also of whole families. Parents who have books get to read to their kids, creating a love for reading and a critical skill for future success. Those kids will read more and want more books—a perpetual circle of literacy.

We primarily serve children in low-income families, so we hope our influence will provide the advantage they may lack without sufficient reading resources at home. We want to reduce the number of high school drop-outs, welfare dependents, and even the number of prisoners. Our endeavors will help the children of today earn higher paying jobs and be contributing members of society in the future.

BookSpring is equipping children, families, and communities with the tools and skills required for long-term life success.

I truly appreciate Emily and all the BookSpring staff and volunteers for the vital work they do. And thank you, Bartography readers, for anything you can do to spread the word about BookSpring, the Giving Tree, or the BookPeople event on December 5.

18 Nov

Giving Back for the Holidays, Part 2: Saint Louise House

When Jennifer and I celebrate our new holiday-themed books with an event at Austin’s BookPeople on December 5, we’re going to spotlight the store’s annual Giving Tree charity program.

Guests buying any hardcover children’s book to donate to Giving Tree will be in the running for the giveaway of signed sets of Jennifer’s Revenge of the Angels and my own ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America.

Giving Tree is benefiting three local nonprofit organizations this year, and this week I’m telling you a little bit about each of them.

SLH_Logo_Landscape

The mission of Saint Louise House is “Empowering women with children to overcome homelessness in Central Texas.” But, says executive director Laura Ward, “it may be the children who live at Saint Louise House who gain the most.”

Here’s more of what Laura has to say about the organization she leads.

Children talk about their home at Saint Louise House with wonder of the most basic things: “I have a bed,” “I feel safe,” and “I get to go to school”.

Homelessness has a profound impact on children’s health and education, as well as mothers’ abilities to find a job and stay employed. Homeless children are hungry and sick more often. They are highly anxious. They wonder if they will have a roof over their heads at night and what will happen to their families. Many homeless children struggle in school, missing days, repeating grades, and some drop out entirely. The stress of being homeless leads to chronic and acute health problems, and has a profound negative effect on a child’s development and ability to learn. This uncertainty affects more children in our city than you might think.

The women living at Saint Louise House are determined to build better futures, especially for their children. Each of their journeys is unique, each goal and milestone exclusive, and it begins with the goodness that comes from having a place to call home.

Saint Louise House is a home where families can set goals, work together to achieve them, and kids can be kids. As we help moms with access to nutritious food, needed transportation and healthcare, we also help their children. This year, 85 children called Saint Louise House home. No longer feeling scared about the uncertainty of where they might sleep, these kids are busy doing all the things every mother wants for her children as they grow. They are attending school, learning, eating healthy, regular meals, getting good sleep, and following their interests. Children at Saint Louise House are playing outside on scooters and trikes; they are playing music – the bassoon, clarinet, oboe, flute, guitar and even saxophone; they are playing sports – football, basketball and tennis, they are dancing and cheerleading; they are creating art and even participating in chess club.

Perhaps most importantly, children at Saint Louise House are developing the confidence to overcome the adversity of their past, the resiliency to find joy in the present, and the courage to believe in a better future.

Thank you for sharing that, Laura, and for all the work that Saint Louise House does. And thank you, Bartography readers, for anything you can do to spread the word about Saint Louise House, the Giving Tree, or the BookPeople event on December 5.