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.

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.

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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?

12 Oct

Happy anniversary, JRL and SVT!

This is a slide I show in my presentations to schools about The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (often right after students have speculated that I might have spent anywhere from two days all the way up to a year and a half working on that book):

shark-vs-train-vs-john-roy-lynch

Yes, I got the idea to write about John Roy Lynch (while watching a Reconstruction documentary) the same month I got the idea for Shark Vs. Train (while jogging). And that month was exactly ten years ago, in October 2006.

You can bet that I’m pointing that out — and the fact that one book took eight and a half years to get from idea to bookstores and libraries while the “fast” one took me merely three and a half — to schools that I visit this month.

Last week, though, I was able to go one better and let the kids at one school know that of all the elementary schools in the world, theirs is the closest — just a quarter-mile or so away — to the jogging route where Shark and Train first came to me.

I’m happy as can be to have made Shark and Train’s acquaintance, and that of John Roy Lynch, and of all the readers I’ve gotten to know thanks to the three of them.

06 Oct

Justice

“Justice. Peace. Black people saw reason to believe that these were now available to them.” — from The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

I’m used to the subject of justice coming up when I visit elementary schools — it’s a central theme of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, which I discuss with third grade and up (sometimes second grade, too). And when I sign copies of that book, the inscription I use is “Strive for justice and peace!”

But it was a new — and marvelous — experience this week when I was asked to personalize a book like this:

To Ms. X’s…

the-defenders-of-social-justice

It was the first time I’ve ever been asked to address a group of kids in such a way. Won’t it be great if it’s nowhere near the last?

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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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?

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.