28 Mar

Entirely uncamouflaged good news about Dazzle Ships

Photo, taken by Susan Thomsen, of patron art created in February 2018 at The Westport (Connecticut) Library


It’s been nearly three months since my previous update about Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, and published last September by Millbrook Press). What’s new?

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) division of the American Library Association (ALA) has included Dazzle Ships on its 2018 Notable Children’s Books list.

The 2018 list of Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, a joint effort by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC), also includes Dazzle Ships.

CCBC Choices 2018, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s annual best-of-the-year list, includes Dazzle Ships as well.

Elizabeth Dulemba interviewed me about the book.

Dazzle Ships is the runner-up for the 2018 Denton Record-Chronicle Award for Best Children’s Picture Book, coordinated by the Texas Institute of Letters. (Be sure to check out the winner, Xelena González and Adriana M. Garcia’s All Around Us, which was also named a 2018 Illustrator Honor Book by the Pura Belpré Award committee.)

You might also enjoy…

Millbrook Press art director Danielle Carnito on Page Counts Demystified (or, Why Publishing People Need to Know Their Multiplication Tables):

After printing, the large paper sheets are folded down to the size of the individual pages. With every fold of the press sheet, the amount of pages doubles. One of the most common amount of pages in a signature is 16—as DAZZLE SHIPS was printed—so there are 8 pages on the front of a press sheet and 8 on the back. 8 is also used often, so there are 4 pages on the front and 4 on the back.

The Calling Caldecott post on Dazzle Ships:

Recurring graphic elements weave throughout the pages, from the gentle curves of the ocean waves to the zigzag dazzle patterns. Ngai’s deft use of scale allows the people — such as, painters, artists, and naval officers — to share the same spreads with the massive battleships. Particularly stunning is the spread of an awestruck King George V; he is staring, mouth agape, at a small dazzled model. The smoothness of the monarch’s face and uniform contrast sharply with the geometric edges of the model and its pattern.

And the review of Dazzle Ships in the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books:

“So just how well did dazzle work? Nobody really knows,” Barton admits. There’s no denying, however, that dazzle boosted morale and makes a heckuva great story. Barton’s lively text is matched by Ngai’s engrossing artwork, which employs dazzle techniques throughout [her] inventive spreads. Contrasting colors, unexpected curves, eccentrically layered design elements, and cleverly deployed chiaroscuro walk the line between instructive playfulness and an art deco fever dream.

I love hearing reports of Dazzle Ships (and dazzle ships) sightings out in the wild and on the web, so if you see something you think I might be interested in, there’s a very good chance that you’re right. Please let me know in the comments section, won’t you?

10 Dec

Another “Best of” for Dazzle Ships!

HuffPost has issued its list of the Best Picture Books of 2017 (Most Touching, Most Charming, Best Surprise, etc.), and the honor of Best History has gone to my collaboration with illustrator Victo Ngai, Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Millbrook Press).

It’s hard to imagine the staid military agreeing to such a plan, but this quirky slice of history is true: in World War I British and U.S. decorated warships in psychedelic patterns to confuse the enemy. A feast for the eyes, this book (much like the ships themselves) is substance cleverly disguised by wondrous art. Even readers who are typically averse to non-fiction will find themselves captivated by this delightfully bizarre moment in history.

Congratulations to the creators of the Honorable Mention books in the Best History category (Margarita Engle, Mike Curato, Monica Clark-Robinson, Frank Morrison, Vashti Harrison, Emma Otheguy, Beatriz Vidal, Debbie Levy, and Gilbert Ford) and to all of the other honored authors and illustrators whose titles are among the Best Picture Books. This gives me quite the to-read list for the next few weeks!

29 Nov

Orbis Pictus and “Best of 2017” honors for Dazzle Ships

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks for all of us who had a hand in Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, and published earlier this year by Millbrook Press.

At the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English in St. Louis, Dazzle Ships was named one of five Honor Books for the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.

(The top prize went to Grand Canyon, created by author-illustrator Jason Chin. Jason and I were two seats away from each other when we heard the news. At the time, he and I were participating on a panel — briefly interrupted — with fellow authors Tonya Bolden and Gail Jarrow about the creation of back matter in nonfiction books. Back matter, it turns out, is a key consideration in the awarding of the Orbis Pictus.)

There been other good news for Dazzle Ships: It’s been included in a few year-end “Best of” lists. Among them:

The creation of such lists of honored and recommended new books is a serious undertaking, and the results can be a goldmine for families and educators. I appreciate the efforts that have gone into these, and I’m especially grateful for the inclusion of Dazzle Ships.

04 Oct

Come see me (if you can) at Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion and I will be at Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop next Tuesday, October 10, and we should be at least as easy to spot at the three (count ’em!) cats in this sample of Victo Ngai’s art from the book:

From Dazzle Ships, published by Lerner Publishing/Millbrook Press

I look forward to seeing you there. Unless you’re camouflaged.

28 Sep

Big news for the illustrations (and illustrator) of Dazzle Ships

I’ve seen speculation here and there about Victo Ngai’s art for our book Dazzle Ships being in the running for a certain award, but there’s one prize that her illustrations have already won:

The Dilys Evans Founder’s Award, named after The Original Art founder, celebrates the most promising new talent in children’s book illustration. The jury has selected Victo Ngai’s Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Lerner Publishing Group/ Millbrook Press).

The award comes from the Society of Illustrators, whose Museum of Illustration in New York City will feature Victo’s art in for Dazzle Ships its annual Original Art exhibit from November 1 through December 23.

Congratulations, Victo!

06 Sep

On Dazzle Ships and creative problem solving

Victo Ngai’s endpaper design for Dazzle Ships

Over at my publisher’s blog, I’ve written about how I came to write my new book, Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, and why I think this niche of World War I history is worth reading about today.

Here’s a bit of what I say in that post.

As with other unconventional subjects that I developed a deep interest in (e.g. how daylight fluorescent colors were created, John Roy Lynch’s ten-year rise from slavery to the U.S. Congress, how The Nutcracker became a holiday tradition, the invention of the Super Soaker water gun), after getting my first taste of dazzle ships, I had a couple of reactions:

1. I’d better hurry up and make a nonfiction picture book about this before somebody else does.

2. How did I not know about this already?

I hope you’ll read the rest, and that you’ll like what I have to say so much that you’ll get yourself a copy of Dazzle Ships from my beloved local independent bookseller, BookPeople.

If you’re in Austin, I’ll be there at BookPeople tomorrow night — Thursday, September 7 — to read from and talk about the book.

And if getting to BookPeople tomorrow night isn’t an option, they’ll have freshly signed copies you can buy from wherever you are.

01 Sep

Dazzle Ships sails today!

Today is the official publication day for Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, and published by Millbrook Press.

I’ve posted a lot about the book recently, and you can see those collections of Dazzle Ships interviews, reviews, and articles here.

There’s still more about the book that I haven’t yet mentioned here, so how about if I correct that?

For starters, here’s this peek at the printing process for Dazzle Ships.

Then there’s my editor’s post about the element of surprise in Dazzle Ships and other picture books.

And for your listening pleasure, how about three minutes and 43 seconds of me telling (via TeachingBooks.net) the story of how this book came about?

Shelf Awareness reviewed our book about naval camouflage and saw (GET IT?) a lot to like:

Paired with Barton’s welcoming language and accessible story, Victo Ngai’s illustrations sparkle. Using mixed analogue and digital media, she re-creates historical map templates and incorporates her own dazzle, creating overlapping and interconnecting patterns with strong lines and bright colors. Ngai’s illustrations are inviting, drawing the reader in and slowing the pace of the narrative, each double-page spread an abundance of color and texture and shape, demanding time and reflection.

Finally, for any of you who landed on this page expecting something related to Dazzle Ships, the 1983 album by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), I don’t want you to go away disappointed. The album included a track called “Dazzle Ships (Parts II, III & VII),” which left four parts unaccounted for. Well…

“First shown at the Dazzle Weekend at the Museum of Liverpool, November 2014,” explains the band. “We were initially asked to create something visual to accompany Dazzle Ships (Parts I, IV, V & VI) just in case of inclement weather and for those who may struggle to access the ship’s engine room.”

For more context, see OMD to ‘dazzle’ at Museum of Liverpool:

Our interest in Dazzle Ships began in 1983 when artist and sleeve designer Peter Saville showed us a Vorticist painting by Edward Wadsworth entitled ‘Dazzle Ship in dry dock at Liverpool’ and asked if we could write some appropriate music as he wished to create an album sleeve inspired by the fractured imagery. We duly obliged with a record that not only contained a title track Dazzle Ships, but also reflected the dark and fearfully disjointed mentality of early eighties geo-politics.

Here’s hoping that the Dazzle Ships created by Victo and me will be just as appreciated 34 years later as OMD’s “Dazzle Ships” recordings have been.

24 Aug

Speaking of Victo Ngai’s art in Dazzle Ships


(as I was just the other day)

…today there are two generous posts showing off her illustrations for our book.

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion will be published next Friday, September 1, by Millbrook Press, which is an imprint of Lerner Publishing. The Lerner blog is featuring 5 Questions for Dazzle Ships illustrator Victo Ngai, a post that includes two full spreads from the book in addition to the one you see here. And you’ll get to hear from Victo herself:

[W]hen I showed an advance copy of the finished book to my friends, most of them thought I’d made up the wild patterns on the ships! I had to show them the historical photos at the end of the book to set them straight.

And at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Julie Danielson treats us to The Art of Victo Ngai — specifically, another three spreads from Dazzle Ships.

Many thanks to Jules, Lerner, and especially Victo.

Oh, and a reminder: I’ll be sharing Dazzle Ships with Central Texans at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 7, at BookPeople in downtown Austin. If you think you might be there, please let me know, and if you know someone who should be there, please spread the word!

22 Aug

Victo Ngai’s art in Dazzle Ships: “breathtaking,” “fascinating,” “incredible,” “stunning”


But don’t take my word for it. Let’s see what readers of advance copies of Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Millbrook Press) have had to say about Victo’s illustrations in her first picture book.

Unadulterated:

[D]on’t let me out of here without performing some kind of obeisance to Victo Ngai — this is her first picture book but her editorial, product, cover, and advertising work demonstrates a breathtaking breadth of skill. I’m thinking of getting a new tattoo.

Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook:

The illustrations by Victo Ngai are fascinating. I really like the choice of media and although done digitally, it almost looks like it was done in colored pencil. I felt like this spotlighted the artistry of the camouflage.

Miss Magee’s Reads:

Ngai’s incredible illustrations are dazzling in and of themselves.

Jen Robinson’s Book Page:

Visually, Dazzle Ships is stunning, particularly Victo Ngai’s rendering of the dazzle ships themselves. [She] uses a mix of digital and analog media that works particularly well in conveying backgrounds, like the waves of the ocean, and golden skies. A page spread illustrating the concept of camouflage is sure to both entertain and educate young readers, while a futuristic image at the end is inspiring.

Folks in Central Texas can get an up-close look at Victo’s art at BookPeople on Thursday, September 7, at 6:30 p.m. I’ll be reading, discussing, and signing Dazzle Ships — and showing off its magnificent illustrations — and would love to see you there.

18 Aug

Starred reviews and other good news for Dazzle Ships

I’ve already mentioned the coverage in Kirkus this review, and this interview — of Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, published by Millbrook Press, and available on September 1.

Now I’m happy as can be to point you toward what some of the other major review publications have had to say about the book.

Booklist calls the book “an inspiring story of creativity and adds:

Ngai’s swirling, art nouveau–style illustrations replicate some of the bold shapes and designs on the so-called “dazzle ships,” and the soft colors and stylized figures nicely soften the wartime theme and focus attention to the ships. Barton adds plenty of historical context, illuminating other naval defense schemes of the period, as well as the role of women in creating dazzle patterns.

Dazzle Ships received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which said in part:

“Sometimes desperate times call for dazzling measures,” writes Barton in conclusion, underscoring the importance of creative problem solving. Reflective author and artist notes, a timeline with b&w photographs, and a reading list wrap up a conversational, compelling, and visually arresting story that coincides with the 100th anniversary of its subject.

And our book earned a second starred review, from School Library Journal:

The well-written, intriguing text is complemented by Ngai’s vibrant and surreal illustrations that skillfully recreate the glittering water and the striking camouflaged vessels. … With the commemoration of the centenary of World War I, this book is a fascinating selection that will captivate readers, especially war story enthusiasts.

I hope you’re intrigued enough to get the word out — and show up in person, if you can — for my September 7 reading, discussion, and signing of Dazzle Ships at Austin’s BookPeople.