30 Apr

Proud-husband alert: Revenge of the Happy Campers is out now!

Revenge of the Happy Campers, the third book in Jennifer’s Brewster Triplets series, was published this past Tuesday. In this follow-up to Revenge of the Flower Girls and Revenge of the Angels, her 11-year-old protagonists venture away from their home in Johnson City, Texas. The sisters go on a camping trip with their beloved Aunt Jane, during which they square off against a trio of similarly competitive boys.

Writing in yesterday’s Austin American-Statesman, reviewer Sharyn Vane says:

Ziegler’s young democratic-process aficionados are as appealing as ever, brimming with confidence and problem-solving savvy. They’re empathetic enough to notice that their aunt is saddened by the state of the campground she remembers visiting each summer with the triplets’ mother. And they’re also “almost 12,” which means there are hints of tween-appropriate realizations that these boys could be more than just foes to vanquish … “Campers” is very much like the triplets themselves — full of real-world adventures, both wise and witty.

And like its predecessors, this book is as funny, warm, and big-hearted as the woman I married — and that’s saying a lot. Congratulations, love of mine!

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.”

06 Jan

John Roy chose to stay

Texas students in grades 3 through 6 will be voting this month for their 2016-17 Texas Bluebonnet Award favorites, and one of the many blessings of having The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch on this year’s list is that it has given me the opportunity to talk about the book at scores of schools in my home state.

I often read the book in its entirety to audiences, and when I’ve finished the text on this page —

When the Altamont chugged away, taking its crew home to the North, John Roy could have gone along. He had the choice to stay or go, and he chose to stay. Natchez was his home. Fellow former slaves reveled in the promises of freedom — family, faith, free labor, land, education. John Roy wanted to be part of that.

— I stop.

“How many of you,” I ask, “knowing only what you know now at this point in the story, and knowing only what John Roy Lynch himself knew at this point in his life, would have gone on to the North with the crew of the Atlamont?”

Sometimes two or three hands go up. Sometimes, it’s only one. Often, no one in the audience says they would have headed north.

“And raise your hand if you would have chosen to stay — to participate in those promises of freedom: family…”

By this point, at least some hands are already held high.

“…faith…”

More hands.

“…free labor…”

More
hands.

“…land…”

More.

“…education.”

Pretty much every child in the room has a hand aloft by this moment. And each and every time, I take that as a sign of hope.

You see, I know what happens next in the story. I know what became of these “promises of freedom” in the South immediately after the Civil War.

As I put it in the text on the very next page, “Freedom, however, soon turned sour. Mississippi whites passed laws to make Mississippi blacks into slaves under different names: ‘Apprentices.’ ‘Vagrants.’ ‘Convicts.'” Don Tate’s art on that next page depicts a whipping in progress, and a lynching about to occur.

Students often gasp when we get to that next page.

But on the page before, as the Altamont heads off into that beautiful sunset, the children in the room are guided by their optimism, by their sense of fairness and what’s right, by an innate belief in what should happen next. Of course it should be freedom. Of course.

I am, by nature, an optimist. I think I’m a realist, too, but when viewing that reality I tend to err on the side of expecting good and hopeful things to happen. For many people I know, however, this year has begun with such expectations deeply challenged.

Maybe that describes you, too.

I wish you could experience that feeling I get when I share the “When the Altamont chugged away…” spread of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch with children. When I see by the show of hands their expectations of progress, justice, and equality, how could I not be optimistic?

And at the same time, how could I not be determined to do what I can in my life — to do the work — to help make their expectations more often come to pass?

Jennifer surprised me last month with an early Christmas present. And she had help from Don. Unbeknownst to me, she got a piece of his original artwork from The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch framed and snuck into our house.

It now resides on our living room wall, where it will serve as a daily reminder of what the young people in Texas and elsewhere in this country expect from me, from you, from us, and from our future.

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.

20160926-bartography-express

31 Aug

August 2016 Bartography Express: The smashiest, the crashiest — and the animalsiest

To get Bartography Express in your inbox each month — and to have a shot at the September giveaway of This Is Our Baby, Born Today, written by Varsha Bajaj and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler — you can sign up on my home page.

20160827 Bartography Express