07 Oct

“While there certainly are rivalries that grow into friendships, it generally takes more than one kickball game (and possibly more than one freakout) to get there.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for October 2019)

Welcome to the Q&A and giveaway for the October edition of my Bartography Express newsletter, which you can read here and sign up for here.

This month my Q&A is with Texas illustrator and author Beth Mills. Beth’s debut picture book, Ella McKeen, Kickball Queen, was published last month by Carolrhoda Books. School Library Journal summed up its review of the book by saying, “Emotions ring true in this relatable story. A good read-aloud choice to spark discussion.”

I’m giving away a copy of Ella McKeen, Kickball Queen to a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address. If you want that winner to be you, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on October 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Beth Mills.

Chris: There’s an attention-getting, epic freakout at the center of Ella McKeen, Kickball Queen, but I think readers are also going be intrigued by something much lower-key: the ending, which has a sort of itchy, unresolved feeling, as things don’t get entirely squared away between Ella and her new kickball rival, Riya Patel.

Was that always how you envisioned concluding this story? Were you ever tempted — or pressured — to wrap things up a bit more neatly?

Beth: I knew from the beginning I didn’t want a completely tied-up ending. In fact, the last line of my first draft is essentially the same as the last line in the published book.

Part of my motivation was wanting Ella and Riya to stand out from the plethora of “enemies to friends” characters out there, but I also wanted to reflect real life. While there certainly are rivalries that grow into friendships, it generally takes more than one kickball game (and possibly more than one freakout) to get there. I wanted to leave some space for the reader to think about Ella and Riya’s relationship and imagine where they might go from there.

I was lucky enough that both my agent, Claire Easton, and my editor, Carol Hinz, liked my ending, so changing it was never brought up. I don’t think the story could end any other way — Ella and Rita are both way too competitive!

Chris: Readers of this Q&A may not know that in most picture books, typically on the copyright page, there’s a mention of the medium that the illustrator used. For Ella McKeen, Kickball Queen, it says, “The illustrations in this book were painted digitally.” What’s the appeal to you of working in digital media, and when do you prefer not to work digitally?

Beth: I work from home where I also have a two-year-old and a five-year-old, so I love the “pick it up and put it down easily” aspect of digital media; I don’t have to worry about dry times, mixing colors (and then matching that mix when I invariably run out of paint), cleaning brushes, or scanning and formatting final art. I can jump into a piece and do a little work in the small increments of time I might have during the day.

That said, I don’t like doing my preliminary sketches or character designs digitally. If I work on them digitally, I tend to get too locked into a concept too early. Honestly, I would love to go back to mostly traditional work – it’s what I did in art school, and I miss it a lot! I think there’s often something in my work that’s lost when I do everything digitally; the finished piece can look too slick to me. I am currently exploring a work process that combines digital and traditional tools and am excited with some of the effects I’m getting.

04 Oct

“…and Congress had to decide what to do about it.”

I don’t know what resources educators might have used in 1973 and 1974 to try to put Watergate into some sort of context for their students, or to what extent they even tried. Perhaps in that era before round-the-clock marination in media coverage, the subject of a president’s misdeeds and Congress’ obligation to investigate and address them could be easily sidestepped during the school day.

But as so many of us are reminded each hour (at least) that we’re awake, times have changed. One way that they’ve changed is that Watergate now is the context — or at least some of the context — for viewing the current impeachment inquiry by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Another change is that, thanks to the increasingly expansive view within children’s publishing of what stories can and should be told for young readers, there are age-appropriate resources for a variety of difficult topics. Topics including presidential abuse of power, Constitutional violations, and impeachment.

I could not have imagined, when I began writing What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan in 2013, how relevant it would be in 2019.

I viewed Congresswoman Jordan’s story as essential history, and I strove to both show her timeless significance and the explain the momentousness of her specific times in the main text (excerpted above) as well as in the timeline at the back of the book:

How I wish that we, as a nation, had made different choices — choices that would have kept What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? from being quite so timely, quite so relevant.

But here we are, and here’s my book, wonderfully illustrated by Ekua Holmes and published last year by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster. I hope educators will put Barbara Jordan’s story to use, so that maybe we won’t need it quite so much a generation or two from now when the young readers of today are leading our country.

26 Sep

Ernie vs. author shamelessness

Who will win?

It’s remarkable to me that, as uneasy as Ernie appears in his promotional role in the first photo, he somehow seems even less comfortable with it in the second one.

Not me, though. I’m an old hand at this, and I could not be more enthusiastic about sharing with the world Fire Truck vs. Dragon, illustrated by Shanda McCloskey, which will be published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers next March.

19 Sep

Celebrating Constitution Day with What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?

Something terrific happened across the Houston area on Tuesday:

The Houston Bar Association has compiled photos from many of the readings, along with a list of the readers, campuses, and area bar associations that partnered in the effort, which spanned 18 school districts and four private schools.

Thank you all for making time to bring What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? to so many students. My appreciation of y’all is whole, it is complete, it is total.

13 Sep

How to Diversify Your Kidlit-Related Lists flowchart (for attendees of the Bill Martin Jr. Symposium)

Greetings to those of you attending my Saturday-morning keynote at Texas A&M University–Commerce’s Bill Martin Jr. Symposium. Near the end of that talk, I mention this How to Diversify Your Kidlit-Related Lists flowchart, so I’d like to also extend this greeting to anyone else interested in making use of this tool.

You can read here about the history and intent of this flowchart, including the help I received from Karen Blumenthal and Janie Bynum.

And you can download a PDF of it.

But if an image file of How to Diversify Your Kidlit-Related Lists will meet your needs, here you go:

I hope you enjoy it greatly and share it widely!

09 Sep

“I told my editor, ‘I want to write a Pakistani American version of Little Women, but Beth can’t die and Jo can’t marry the old guy.’” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for September 2019)

Welcome to the Q&A and giveaway for the September edition of my Bartography Express newsletter, which you can read here and sign up for here.

This month my Q&A is with Maryland author Hena Khan, whose new middle-grade novel, More to the Story, was inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. More to the Story is published by Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, as was her previous novel, the much-lauded Amina’s Voice.

Instead of Jo March and her sisters in Civil War-era Massachusetts, More to the Story follows Jameela Mirza and her Muslim family in contemporary Atlanta. In its starred review of the book, Publishers Weekly says, “Khan nimbly incorporates details of modern life and allusions to Alcott’s classic — including financial troubles and a health scare — into a tale that is, fittingly, strongest in the moments when family dynamics are on display.”

I’m giving away a copy of More to the Story to a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address. If you want to be that winner, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on September 30, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Hena Khan.

Chris: How did paying homage as a writer to a book that you loved as a reader compare to what you thought the experience would be like? Are there ways that the process was different, or more challenging, or more beneficial to your writing skills than you had anticipated?

author Hena Khan; photo by Zoshia Minto

Hena: When I had originally thought about writing a book inspired by Little Women, I imagined the process would be smoother.

I adored the classic growing up and for years had thought it would adapt well to a retelling that featured a Pakistani American family. After all, I saw many aspects of my culture in the book, like overly worrying about reputation, marriage proposals, and traditional gender roles.

When I spoke to my editor Zareen Jaffery about the idea, I told her “I want to write a Pakistani American version of Little Women, but Beth can’t die and Jo can’t marry the old guy,” and I’m pretty sure she cheered with joy.

But when I sat down to write the book, which I imagined as a young adult novel, I couldn’t capture the voice I wanted. I didn’t like my protagonist, Jameela, as a high schooler, and realized I didn’t want to immerse myself in marriage proposals or romance or struggles against societal rules.

Instead, I wanted to write the book from a middle-grade perspective, and to focus on universal issues and the strong relationships I savored in the original book. But then it wouldn’t quite be the retelling I imagined. In the end, the story I wrote includes nods to my favorite book and aspects of it that I love, like a memorable scene or moment or the basic personalities of the characters.

It ended up being liberating, because I stopped worrying that readers would compare it to the original book, since it’s now so different. I hope it will be fun for fans of the classic to recognize the similarities or tributes to the Louisa May Alcott classic, and for new readers to enjoy an original story with characters they connect with.

Writing the book was a test in expressing new emotions, pushing my dialogue scenes, and trying to write flirting, which I’m really bad at in real life!

Chris: Speaking of flirting, the character doing most of that is Ali — a eighth grade, Pakistani British version of Laurie from Little Women. I loved reading your author’s note and learning that your assumptions about Briticisms paralleled the Mirza sisters’ curiosity and observations about Ali’s cultural background. What’s your response going to be to readers who inevitably want more about Ali and his soccer playing in a follow-up book?

Hena: I hadn’t considered that parallel, but you’re so right! The silly things the girls say to Ali probably reflect a lot of things I assumed myself about British culture. And like Jameela, as a child I was curious the first time I met a South Asian with a full British accent.

I’m so glad that while I was writing More to the Story I had a real British teen, living in London, who I could call and read my Ali dialogue scenes to, and have him very patiently correct my completely made-up or TV-inspired Briticisms. The best was when I said “lumps” (referring to sugar cubes because of my extensive knowledge of proper tea terminology from Looney Tunes) and he cracked up and thought it sounded perverted.

I loved writing Ali as a character, someone who is a little mysterious but also super charming and kind. And I ultimately had fun including the flirting and the slightest hint of romance without hitting anyone over the head with it. My husband read the book and asked, “What romance?” But I promise it’s in there!

I hadn’t thought about readers asking for more about Ali, although now that I think of it, readers wanted more of Mustafa from Amina’s Voice, too! Honestly, I hadn’t considered extending the story before, but if readers clamor for it, I’d be more than happy to give it to them!

06 Sep

Literacy in Action: next Saturday’s Bill Martin Jr. Symposium in Mesquite, TX

28 Aug

All the college kidlit conferences (as of August 2019)

Or, more formally, “A Comprehensive List of U.S. College- and University-Sponsored or -Hosted Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conferences, Festivals, and Symposia.” (All of them that I could find, anyway).

Several years ago, I was looking for such a list, wondered why I couldn’t find one, and decided to just go ahead and make one myself.

Since then, I’ve periodically updated and reposted it, and I plan to continue doing so. If I’ve missed any, or included some that no longer exist, won’t you please let me know in the comments section?

Arizona
University of Arizona Tucson Festival of Books

California
University of Redlands Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Literature Festival

This is me, and these are some of my books. Get info on my school visits.

Colorado
Metropolitan State University of Denver and University of Colorado at Denver Colorado Teen Literature Conference

Connecticut
University of Connecticut Connecticut Children’s Book Fair

Georgia
Kennesaw State University Conference on Literature for Children and Young Adults
The University of Georgia Conference on Children’s Literature

Hawaii
Chaminade University of Honolulu Conference on Literature and Hawai’i’s Children

Illinois
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Youth Literature Festival

Indiana
Anderson University Elizabeth York Children’s Literature Collection & Festival

Kansas
Kansas State University Conference of Children’s Literature in English, Education, and Library Science

Coming from me in March 2020: Fire Truck vs. Dragon (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Kentucky
Asbury University Children’s Literature Conference
Thomas More University Ohio Kentucky Indiana Children’s Literature Conference

Maryland
Frostburg State University Spring Festival of Children’s Literature
Salisbury University Children’s and Young Adult Literature Festival

Massachusetts
Framingham State University Swiacki Children’s Literature Festival
Simmons College Children’s Literature Summer Institute

Minnesota
University of Minnesota Kerlan Award Ceremony and Chase Lecture
University of St. Thomas Hubbs Children’s Literature Conference

Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival

Missouri
Missouri State University Children’s Literature Festival of the Ozarks
Truman State University Children’s Literature Festival
University of Central Missouri Children’s Literature Festival

Coming from me in February 2020: All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing (Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing)

Nebraska
Concordia University Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival

Nevada
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Gayle A. Zeiter Young Adult and Children’s Literature Conference
University of Nevada, Reno Reading Week Reimagined

New Jersey
Montclair State University New Jersey Council of Teachers of English Spring Conference
Rutgers University One-on-One Plus Conference

New York
Bank Street College of Education BookFest @ Bank Street
The Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York The Color of Children’s Literature Conference
Monroe Community College Rochester Children’s Book Festival (thanks to librarian Karen Wilson for the suggestion!)
Nazareth College Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival
The State University of New York at Potsdam Journey Into Literacy
Stony Brook University – Southampton Southampton Children’s Literature Conference

Ohio
Bowling Green State University Literacy in the Park
Kent State University Virginia Hamilton Conference
The University of Findlay Mazza Museum Fall Weekend Conference and Summer Conference
Youngstown State University English Festival

My most recent picture book: What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster)

Pennsylvania
Community College of Philadelphia African American Children’s Book Fair
Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference
University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg Children’s Literature Conference

Tennessee
Middle Tennessee State University Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival

Texas
Texas A&M University – Commerce Bill Martin Jr. Symposium

Utah
Brigham Young University Symposium on Books for Young Readers
Utah Valley University For the Love of Reading Conference

Virginia
The College of William and Mary Joy of Literacy and Literature Conference
Hollins University Francelia Butler Conference
Longwood University Summer Literacy Institute and Virginia Children’s Book Festival
Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference

Washington
University of Washington 2020 Children’s Literature Association Conference (ChLA 2020)
Western Washington University Children’s Literature Conference

27 Aug

Knowing where I’m going, and who was there before

I’ve added a new step to the planning I do for my school visits and appearances at conferences and festivals: using the map tool from Native Land Digital to learn about the Indigenous histories of the places I go and current information about the nations represented.

So, for instance, over the summer I appeared at a university whose history, according to Native Land Digital, included Massawomeck and Manahoac people. My first visit in 2019-20 will be at a school where the history comes up as Tonkawa and Comanche.

Again, my goal is to learn this for every school I visit, every conference site, every festival location. I’m going to learn a lot.

14 Aug

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? is the 2019 Texas Great Read!

Rebekah Manley and me at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

I’ve got some pretty exciting news — Texas-sized news, if you ask me.

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, written by me and illustrated by Ekua Holmes, has been named the 2019 Texas Great Read.

This is a program of the Texas Center for the Book at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, which describes the whole shebang thusly:

“Every year, the Library of Congress asks each state Center for the Book to select a title that represents the state’s literary landscape to highlight at the National Book Festival. The event showcases the importance of books and reading. The festival is sponsored by the Library of Congress and takes place during Labor Day weekend in Washington, D.C.”

I’m beyond thrilled that my picture book biography of true Texas hero Barbara Jordan will represent the literary culture shared by Texans from El Paso to Beaumont, Brownsville to Dalhart, and Texarkana to Terlingua, not to mention the great lady’s hometown of Houston and adopted home city of Austin.

Many thanks to Rebekah Manley (she of the matching boots in the photo above) and her colleagues at the TSLAC for their support of this book, and to everyone who rooted for this book to get the nod. And here’s to new generations of Texans getting to know just what Barbara Jordan did with a voice like that.

Published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster