09 Jun

Good news & good company for The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

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This past week has brought a couple of happy developments for my new book with Don Tate, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers).

First, the book has received a Silver Honor from the Parents’ Choice Awards. Thank you, Parents’ Choice!

And another big thank you goes to Colby Sharp and Jon Samuelson for including The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (along with Bob Shea’s Ballet Cat and Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl) in the latest episode of the Booklandia podcast.

I love the surprise in Jon’s voice when he realizes that the story of Lynch’s 10-year rise from slavery to the U.S. House of Representatives during Reconstruction is nonfiction rather than historical fiction. I also appreciate the thorough notes on this episode — very helpful, guys.

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04 Jun

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center on The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

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[F]our reasons why most of us need to read this book” sounds pretty terrific to me. Thanks, APAC!

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29 May

Giveaway: a copy of John Roy Lynch signed by Don and me

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Angie Manfredi, one of the most passionate librarians I know, is giving away a copy of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch that’s been signed by both illustrator Don Tate and me.

Here’s a bit of what Angie has to say about the book:

Everything about The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is special. It’s a book that asks children to think big thoughts and ask hard questions about eras of history that are too often glossed over and about the era we live in now. It’s ambitious, interesting, original and very beautiful. It’s meant to be shared and discussed with kids and I recommend it as a first purchase for public libraries looking to enrich their children’s non-fiction collection and especially for elementary school librarians and classroom teachers working with 3rd-6th grades. It’s a great supplement for history lessons and will hopefully make young learners even more curious about our country’s history, all the parts of it — the amazing and hard ones.

To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is go to this blog post at Fat Girl Reading and leave a comment.

But you’ll probably want to do more than that, like stick around a while and read what Angie has to say about this book and other things, because did I mention that she’s one of the most passionate librarians I know?

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26 May

6 tips from 6 years of school visits

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With terrific visits last week to Carrollton and Midland, Texas, I’ve wrapped up my sixth year of school presentations. I’ve learned a lot of things along the way, and for the benefit of other visiting authors, here are half a dozen of them — one for each year I’ve been at it.

1. Find out what the school wants you to talk about.
If you’ve got multiple books, don’t assume that your host wants you to focus on your newest one. Your host might not know much about it, and in fact may have led their students to expect something else. I’ve found that schools can be pretty flexible in accommodating authors, but that flexibility ought to go both ways. If it’s practical for you to tailor your presentation to the school’s preferences, do it. But at the very least, be aware of what those preferences are.

2. Get to the room before the kids do.
Getting there first allows you to deal with any kinks in the technical setup (laptop, projector, etc.) without a crowd observing your troubleshooting skills in action. It gives you a chance to request any particular configurations of the audience (I like having an aisle down the middle so that I can get closer to students not sitting on the front row). And one of my favorite parts of any visit is standing by the door as the kids enter the room, greeting them, and watching them realize (maybe 33% of the time) that I’m “the arthur.”

3. Learn the school’s hand signal or magic phrase for getting a crowd to hush.
Pretty much every school has something they use, be it a gesture or a call-and-response chant. Learning this — and good-naturedly letting kids know that you know what it is and how to use it — is an essential tool for restoring your audience’s focus on you and what you have to say.

4. Even if they treat you like a big deal, you don’t have to act like one.
Your visit may be a highlight of the school’s year. It may be the first author visit they’ve ever had, or the first they’ve been able to afford in a long, long time. As such, they may treat you like a rock star — going so far as to use the phrase “rock star. But that doesn’t mean you need to act like one. For one thing, deflating and demystifying yourself will help make what you do seem more accessible and more attainable to the kids you’re presenting to — and we all want that, right? For another, if you’re gracious, humble, helpful, flexible, and generally easygoing, word-of-mouth to that effect will spread among librarians, and more schools will want you to come visit.

5. They may not treat you like a big deal.
But that’s not why you’re there, so no problem. Be a pro, and speak up for your needs — and for things that will make the experience better for your audience — but keep your focus on connecting with those kids and giving them a good, meaningful show that at least some of them will remember for a long time.

6. Q&A just may not happen.
I love the question-and-answer portion at the end of my presentations. I get a lot of insight into which aspects of my books — and of my presentations — made the biggest impressions on my audience. But sometimes the conditions just aren’t right — say, if your presentation is the last thing scheduled for the day and kids have already moved on mentally to their departure. Or if the audience you’re speaking to just isn’t clear on the difference between a question and a statement (e.g. “I like sharks.”). When that happens, don’t get frustrated — just accept it. You can generally go out on a high note by asking if any of the adults in the room have a question.

Other authors, I’d love to hear what you’ve learned. And the same goes for those of you who have hosted authors during school visits — let me know in the comments any advice you’ve got to share. The next school-visit season is just three months away…

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20 May

Bartography Express for May 2015, featuring Elena Dunkle’s Elena Vanishing

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This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of Elena Vanishing (Chronicle Books) by Elena Dunkle and Clare B. Dunkle, and another subscriber will win its companion memoir Hope and Other Luxuries by Clare B. Dunkle.

If you’re not already receiving Bartography Express, click the image below for a look. If you like what you see, click “Join” in the bottom right corner, and you’ll be in the running for the giveaway at the end of this week.

20150519 Bartography Express

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15 May

A first look at Jennifer Ziegler’s next book

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Those of you who loved my wife Jennifer’s 2014 novel Revenge of the Flower Girls might just be interested in what’s coming this August:

Revenge of the Angels

And if you’re sensing a theme running through the books Jennifer and I have coming out later this year, you’re right:


Between her Revenge of the Angels — in which the Brewster triplets find themselves woefully miscast in their church’s Christmas pageant — and my ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America arriving in September, we’ll start celebrating the holidays around here when it’s still 102 degrees.

But if you’re inclined to put off getting into the spirit of the season until you reach a more reasonable page on the calendar, that’s quite all right. We’ll be celebrating both books — and encouraging donations to the Giving Tree program — at Austin’s BookPeople on Saturday, December 5 (only 204 shopping days away).

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09 May

More (from me, and from my host) about last week’s Twitter chat

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So, a little more about last week’s Twitter chat

Librarian Colleen Graves has written about the chat from her perspective. Here’s a bit of that —

I loved, loved, loved being able to take teachable moments while Chris was typing to talk with students about what he was saying. At one point, the students asked Chris, “What do you do when you don’t know what to write?” To which he so eloquently said, “Pay attention to what you can’t stop thinking of.” So while he was typing up his next response, I told the kids, “What great advice! Think back to your research, what was something you learned that you can’t stop thinking of?

— but I think her entire post is worth your while, especially if you’re a librarian or educator and think you might be interested in doing this with your own students.

From my own perspective, here’s what I told Colleen afterwards (pieced together and lightly edited from a series of private messages I sent her via — what else? — Twitter):

My thoughts on our chat: It was a lot of work! In our standard presentations, we authors can more or less stick to a script. Not here!

And I don’t mean “a lot of work” in a negative way. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. But it called for constant engagement and thought.

It had a big advantage over the Q&A sessions with an in-person audience: I knew that each question you chose to include was widely relevant.

The challenge for me was in distilling my answers into 140 characters but also in having to decide for myself when I’d sufficiently answered.

We didn’t have the immediate, glazed-eyes feedback loop that you get in person when an answer is going down the wrong track.

But then, that’s what follow-up questions are for, right?

Following up on my “widely relevant” remark above: You never know if the kid who asks a question in person is the ONLY one who wants it answered.

As for structure, I think it worked out great having main questions come from you and visual questions from students on different account.

I don’t think I could have stayed on top of questions from more than two accounts, and having the visual from students reinforced the fact that it was the kids doing the asking so that I could keep them in mind as I answered.

As for attempting a chat between a classroom and multiple authors simultaneously, I’d recommend against it, unless it’s two authors or an author and an illustrator who collaborated on a project. In that case, I can see how their comments would complement each other. Otherwise, I think it would be cacophonous for authors and students alike.

This chat was an experiment for Colleen and me alike, and I’m extremely happy with the results. So happy, in fact, that I’m henceforth adding Twitter chats to my school-visit offerings.

If you think you might be interested in scheduling one for me and your students, just drop me a line!

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04 May

My Twitter chat with an 8th grade class

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I’ve done in-person school visits and Skype presentations, but this past Friday School Librarian of the Year finalist Colleen Graves and I tried something new: a Twitter chat between me and a roomful of eighth graders needing some help transforming their research into a story:

How did it go? I thought it was terrific, but you can see for yourself in this handy Storify recap of our conversation. I’ll be back soon with some additional thoughts on the experience.

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30 Apr

A is for Awwww…

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Thanks for sharing this, Crystal!

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24 Apr

Good company for John Roy Lynch

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The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is featured on the Children’s Book Council’s April 2015 “Hot off the Press” list.

“This unique online bibliography features anticipated bestsellers, either recently released or forthcoming, published by CBC members.”

I do like the sound of that, and I love the looks of this excerpt from the full list:

Hot off the Press  Children's Book Council

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