16 Jun

Advance copies of What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?

What does an author do with (not-yet-bound and not-quite-finished) advance copies of his new book? In the case of me and my upcoming picture book of Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (illustrated by Ekua Holmes), the answer yesterday was, “Tweet about them just as soon as they cross the threshold into my home!”

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to all of you who share my enthusiasm for this book, privately or publicly. It will be published this September 25 by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster. I can’t wait for you to be able to see it.

01 Jun

“Writing a book is like making a friend. Some … open up immediately…” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for June 2018)


Welcome to the Q&A for the June edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).

This month I’m talking with novelist Samantha M. Clark. Her debut middle-grade novel, The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast, will be published later this month by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster. Samantha is also the regional advisor of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

(Full disclosure: I’ve been a member of Austin SCBWI my entire career, and through the chapter I’ll be teaching two online classes — here and here — next month.))

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast is a lyrical adventure story with, at its center, an unconventional mystery: Who is the titular boy (he himself doesn’t know), how did he get to the island where he is now, and how will he get home, wherever that may be?

In its review of Samantha’s book, School Library Journal says, “With a sharp focus on the isolated protagonist and his internal struggle, it is character development that shines most clearly, though the external environmental dangers and the mystery keep the suspense taut.”

If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and you want to be the winner of The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on June 30, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Samantha M. Clark.

Chris: Young readers often want to know how long it takes to write a book, and I find that there’s typically both a short answer and a long one to that seemingly simple question. So: In your experience, how long does it take to write a book?

Samantha: Hahaha I’m not sure there is a short answer to this question, unless it’s: It depends.

Writing a book is like making a friend. Some friends open up immediately and you feel like you know everything about that person really quickly; other friendships build over time, and you might discover something new about that person years after you meet.

For example, the first draft of The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast took about six months for me to write, and it wasn’t an easy draft to complete. I floundered through a lot of it, not knowing where the story should go next. I would basically say, let’s try this… and see what would happen. It wasn’t until I got to the end of that draft and I wrote that final scene — which is pretty much the same in the final book — that I truly understood what the boy’s journey was and why I was writing it.

I then had to go back to the beginning and revise with that in mind. I did around nine or ten revisions, each time getting to know the boy and his story a bit more, before I signed with my agent, then another two or three with her before it went on submission to editors. Then I did another big revision while it was on submission, and that’s the one that sold.

With my editor, I did a few more smaller revisions before it went to copy edits, and I even changed a few lines and one small section in the final passes before the book went to press. All that took about seven and a half years, but between those revisions I wrote and revised four more novels. Phew! So how long does it take to write a book? My answer is: As long as the story needs.

Chris: Four other novels, on top of The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast? That’s a whole lot of work, on top of your efforts these past few years as a regional advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. How have those two time-consuming pursuits — that inward-facing work of advancing your own writing, and that outward focus of supporting scores of others in advancing their own creative work — fed into and reinforced each other?

Samantha: Yes, writing is definitely inward-facing, because until the story is on paper — digital or print ;) — you are the only one who can live it. You’ll have critique partners and maybe an agent or editor who’ll read drafts and make suggestions, but only you know whether you’ve fully achieved what you see in your head. Only you can invent the world, breathe life into the characters, and grow this story through first draft, and revision and more revisions.

It’s kind of like playing singles tennis, where you might have your team of coaches and sponsors and fans behind you, but when it comes down to it, you’re the only one on your side of the net — in the good times and the bad. So that’s why it’s so important to have other people who support you.

Aside from my husband and family, I found those people with organizations like SCBWI and the Writers’ League of Texas. I’m generally a shy person, so volunteering was a great way for me to meet people and I jumped in with small jobs. But my last five years as the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter of SCBWI has been especially valuable to me.

I took the position on the encouragement of friends who thought I’d do a good job, but I quickly realized that I was going to get out of it far more than I put in. I’ve met amazing people within our close to 330-member chapter; I’ve been able to learn and network with the speakers I’ve brought in to teach others; and the generous thank yous I’ve received from our members helped me feel a lot less of a failure when I received rejections for my manuscripts.

That old “do unto others…” guidance really is the best advice. I feel good every time I recommend a book by a friend, or share their good news, and I’m propped up by the feeling of accomplishment for every event I organize that goes off well.

Sadness and feelings of not being good enough tend to fester, dig into our hearts and spawn when we’re alone and spend too much time inward-facing. But when we’re looking out, inspired by those around us, and allowing them to lift us up with hope in our darkest moments, we will achieve as well.

28 May

Bibliography for What Do You Do With a Voice Like That?

The back matter for What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan will include a two-page timeline, my author’s note, Ekua Holmes’ illustrator’s note, and suggestions for viewing, listening, and further reading.

With all this material that Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster does include in those final pages, there wasn’t room to also include a bibliography of the sources I found most helpful in writing the text for the book.

So, I’m presenting them here, and the book includes the URL for the What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? page on my website, which in turn links to this post.

Ackerman, Todd. “TSU remembers famous alumna,” Houston Chronicle, January 18, 1996.

“Barbara Charline Jordan, February 21, 1936 – January 17, 1996,” Houston Chronicle, January 19, 1996.

“Barbara Jordan: American Hero”: Speech. Interview with Mary Beth Rogers. C-SPAN, January 24, 1999.

“Barbara Jordan wills her estate to sisters, friend and mother,” Jet, February 12, 1996.

Baxter, Norman. “Jordan to quit Congress,” Houston Chronicle, December 11, 1977.

Baxter, Norman. “Rep. Jordan expected to announce that she won’t run for re-election,” Houston Chronicle, December 9, 1977.

Bernstein, Alan. “Admirers share their many memories,” Houston Chronicle, January 21, 1996.

Bernstein, Alan. “Ethical ideas won respect,” Houston Chronicle, January 18, 1996.

Bernstein, Alan. “Supreme Court may undermine Jordan’s legacy,” Houston Chronicle, January 21, 1996.

Bowers, Molly. “Attorney Advocates Effective Use of Ballot,” The Houston Post, August 28, 1963.

Broyles, William. “The Making of Barbara Jordan,” Texas Monthly, October 1976.

Bryant, Ira B. Barbara Charline Jordan: From the Ghetto to the Capitol. Houston: D. Armstrong Co., Inc., 1977.

Burka, Paul. “Major Barbara,” Texas Monthly, March 1996.

“Camera Highlights from Phillis Wheatley High School, Houston, Texas,” The Texas Standard, March-April 1951.

Campbell, Brett. “More than a Voice: Barbara Jordan, the Teacher,” American Educator, Spring 1996.

Chaze, William L. “Barbara Jordan: A little dramatic, a little aloof, a lot of clout,” The Dallas Times Herald, July 11, 1976.

Clines, Francis X. “Barbara Jordan: Bold voice behind U.S. Constitution in Congress, classroom,” The New York Times, January 18, 1996.

Cox, Wayne. “Houston Liberal Legislator Visits,” San Antonio Express, October 6, 1966.

Dworin, Diana. “UT bids fond farewell to Jordan,” Austin American-Statesman, January 20, 1996.

Dyer, R.A. “The Fifth Ward: ‘We don’t get them like Barbara Jordan often,'” Houston Chronicle, January 21, 1996.

Eskenazi, Stuart. “Her inspiration reached far beyond native Texas,” Austin American-Statesman, January 18, 1996.

“Eulogy,” Houston Chronicle, January 18, 1996.

Fenno, Richard F. Going Home: Black Representatives and Their Constituents. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Franks, Zarko. “Sen. Jordan: Even as Little Girl She Was One of the Rare Ones,” Houston Chronicle, November 30, 1969.

“From 5th Ward to 93rd Congress,” Houston Chronicle, January 18, 1996.

Harmon, Dave. “Jordan’s legacy gains and gives strength,” Austin American-Statesman, January 19, 1996.

Harmon, Dave. “Paying tribute amid the morning mist,” Austin American-Statesman, January 21, 1996.

Haskins, James. Barbara Jordan. New York: The Dial Press, 1977.

Hines, Cragg. “A voice for justice dies,” Houston Chronicle, January 18, 1996.

Herrera, Clara G. “City homeless to get a hand from Jordan,” Austin American-Statesman, January 25, 1988.

Hine, Darlene Clark, editor. Black Women in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hiott, Debbie. “Hundreds visit coffin, bid farewell to Jordan,” Austin American-Statesman, January 19, 1996.

Holmes, Barbara A. A Private Woman in Public Spaces: Barbara Jordan’s Speeches on Ethics, Public Religion, and Law. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000.

“In her own words,” Houston Chronicle, January 18, 1996.

Ivins, Molly. “A profile of Barbara Jordan,” The Texas Observer, November 3, 1972.

Jayson, Sharon. “Pupils told to reap rewards of education,” Austin American-Statesman, January 18, 1996.

Jones, Nancy Baker and Ruthe Winegarten. Capitol Women: Texas Female Legislators, 1923-1999. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 2000.

Jordan, Barbara. “Is the Necessity for a Higher Education More in Demand Today Than a Decade Ago?” Essay. 1952.

Jordan, Barbara and Shelby Hearon. Barbara Jordan: A Self-Portrait. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1979.

“Jordan Discusses Re-Districting: Reapportionment Aids Liberals,” The Rice Thresher, October 14, 1965.

“Jordan recovering after near-drowning,” The Record, August 1, 1988.

Kelley, Mike. “Jordan’s legacy extolled by colleagues,” Austin American-Statesman, January 20, 1996.

Kleiner, Diana J. “Fifth Ward, Houston,” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association. Available at http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hpfhk. Accessed May 28, 2018.

Laville, Helen, and Scott Lucas. “The American Way: Edith Sampson, the NAACP, and African American Identity in the Cold War,” Diplomatic History, October 1996.

Lee, Larry. “Black Houston,” The Texas Observer, May 13, 1966.

Lindell, Chuck. “For some blacks, Jordan leaves ambiguous legacy,” Austin American-Statesman, January 18, 1996.

Lum, Lydia. “Massive crowd honors woman ‘who made it,'” Houston Chronicle, January 20, 1996.

Lutz, Mike. “Jordan won’t seek 4th term in Congress,” The Denton Record-Chronicle, December 11, 1977.

Makeig, John, and Jerry Urban. “Fifth Ward full of memories, sad reminders,” Houston Chronicle, January 18, 1996.

Marcello, Ronald E. “Interview with Senator Barbara Jordan,” transcript of an oral history conducted on July 7, 1970, by Ronald E. Marcello, North Texas State University Oral History Collection.

Marshall, Thom. “The whole truth and nothing but,” Houston Chronicle, January 21, 1996.

Mathis, Nancy. “The White House: ‘She trotted her horse, made a path wide, deep,'” Houston Chronicle, January 21, 1996.

“Milestones,” Austin American-Statesman, January 18, 1996.

Miller, Char, editor. Fifty Years of the Texas Observer. San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2004.

Milling, T.J. “She had ‘too short of a lifetime,'” Houston Chronicle, January 21, 1996.

Morris, Anne. “Jordan on Jordan,” Austin American-Statesman, January 18, 1996.

Moss, J. Jennings. “Barbara Jordan: The other life,” The Advocate, March 5, 1996.

“New Phillis Wheatley Senior High School to Open,” The Texas Standard, September-October 1950.

Nocera, Joseph. “The Failure of Barbara Jordan’s Success,” The Washington Monthly, March 1979.

“Overview: Texas Senate Districts 1846-1982,” Texas Legislative Council. Available at http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/redist/history/overview.html. Accessed May 28, 2018.

Palomo, Juan R. “Barbara Jordan honored by a president, the people,” Austin American-Statesman, January 21, 1996.

Palomo, Juan R., and David Harmon. “Houston’s Fifth Ward, Texas Southern feel loss in special way,” Austin American-Statesman, January 18, 1996.

Palomo, Juan R. “Jordan remembered as woman who practiced what she preached,” Austin American-Statesman, January 19, 1996.

Pando, Patricia. “In the Nickel, Houston’s Fifth Ward,” Houston History. Available at http://houstonhistorymagazine.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Fifth-Ward.pdf. Accessed May 28, 2018.

Phelan, Charlotte. “State Sen Barbara Jordan wins her battles through ‘the system,'” The Houston Post, May 24, 1970.

Pierce, Paula Jo. Let Me Tell You What I’ve Learned: Texas Wisewomen Speak. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 2002.

Rodriguez, Lori. “‘For all she meant to us,'” Houston Chronicle, January 20, 1996.

Rogers, Mary Beth. Barbara Jordan: American Hero. New York: Bantam Books, 1998.

Roser, Mary Ann. “Jordan lent spark to UT,” Austin American-Statesman, January 18, 1996.

Sherman, Max, editor. Barbara Jordan: Speaking the Truth with Eloquent Thunder. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 2007.

Tolson, Mike. “Praise and Prayer: Friends say farewell to Barbara Jordan,” Houston Chronicle, January 21, 1996.

“T.S.U. Debaters Beat Harvard,” The Houston Chronicle, April 5, 1956.

Turner, Allan. “Mourners recall woman who made difference,” Houston Chronicle, January 19, 1996.

Tutt, Bob. “Priceless gift: inspiration,” Houston Chronicle, January 18, 1996.

U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, Societal and Legal Issues Surrounding Children Born in the United States to Illegal Alien Parents. Joint Hearing on H.R. 705, H.R. 363, H.J. Res. 56, H.J. Res 64, H.J. Res. 87, H.J. Res 88, and H.J. Res. 93 before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims and the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary, 104th Congress, 1st session, December 13, 1995.

Various items in Congresswoman Barbara Jordan Papers, Robert J. Terry Library, Texas Southern University.

Walls, Ellie A. “Executing the Guidance Program in a Large High School,” The Texas Standard, September-October 1949.

Walt, Kathy. “Blazing trails even in her death,” Houston Chronicle, January 21, 1996.

Walt, Kathy. “Justice, ethics Jordan embodied remain with students, colleagues,” Houston Chronicle, January 18, 1996.

West, Richard. “Only the Strong Survive,” Texas Monthly, February 1979.

Wheelock, Ernestine. “Dream Comes True For Young Senator,” Austin American-Statesman, January 22, 1967.

“When Barbara Jordan spoke to you, you knew you had been spoke at,” Austin American-Statesman, January 18, 1996.

Winegarten, Ruthe. Black Texas Women: 150 Years of Trial and Triumph. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1995.

Woodfin, Max, Ben Barnes, and Rodney Ellis. “Three among many lives Jordan touched,” Austin American-Statesman, January 20, 1996.

Interviews
Carlos Barrera, March 2, 2016.
Courtney Brown, March 14, 2016.
Thomas Freeman, December 2, 2015.
Rose Mary McGowan, December 2, 2015.
Karen Neuwald, February 24, 2016.
Amy Praskac, March 4, 2016.
Max Sherman, March 25, 2016.

25 May

Coming this September: What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan

“…Wonderful, Enjoyable, Exciting, Adventurous, Adorable, Unforgettable, Rapturous…”

That’s how Houston native Barbara Jordan described the train trip to Chicago that took her outside Texas for the first time in her life, for a high school oratorical contest. (She won, unsurprisingly.)

Those words are also an apt summation of how I feel about Ekua Holmes’ art for our upcoming picture book biography of Jordan, the legislator, teacher, and voice of public conscience who died in 1996.

You’ll be able to see that glorious art for yourself soon enough. What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? will be published this September 25 by Beach Lane Books. Today, I’m pleased to start by sharing with you the cover —

— as well as the publisher’s description:

“When Barbara Jordan talked, we listened.” — Former President of the United States, Bill Clinton

Congresswoman Barbara Jordan had a big, bold, confident voice — and she knew how to use it! Learn all about her amazing career in this illuminating and inspiring picture book biography of the lawyer, educator, politician, and civil rights leader.

Even as a child growing up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, Barbara Jordan stood out for her big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice. It was a voice that made people sit up, stand up, and take notice.

So what do you do with a voice like that?

Barbara took her voice to places few African American women had been in the 1960s: first law school, then the Texas state senate, then up to the United States congress. Throughout her career, she persevered through adversity to give voice to the voiceless and to fight for civil rights, equality, and justice.

New York Times bestselling author Chris Barton and Caldecott Honoree Ekua Holmes deliver a remarkable picture book biography about a woman whose struggles and mission continue to inspire today.

You can pre-order What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? here, and you can see more of the art here.

22 May

Sign up now for my summer online classes about school visits


Registration is now open for two webinars I’m teaching this July on the topic of school visits. If you know an author or illustrator who might benefit, won’t you please share this with them?

School-Visit Basics with author Chris Barton
Monday, July 16, 2018, 7 p.m. Central
In this 90-minute webinar geared toward authors and illustrators doing from one to ten school visits (mostly local) per year, Chris Barton shares his insights about setting rates, getting bookings, making effective presentations, managing details, and providing the best possible experience for everyone involved. If you’re relatively new to doing school visits and want to get up to speed, or have limited availability that you want to make the most of, bring your questions and get them answered by someone who has made the transition from total newbie to 100-visits-per-year veteran.
Register for the basic class through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. (SCBWI members receive a discounted rate of just $10.)

School-Visit Advanced with author Chris Barton
Wednesday, July 18, 2018, 7 p.m. Central
In this 120-minute webinar geared toward authors and illustrators doing more than ten school visits (or more than five out-of-town visits) per year, author Chris Barton shares his insights about managing your calendar, working with (and without) a booking agent, finding and communicating with interested schools, coordinating with your hosts, improving your presentations, traveling smartly and healthily, and dealing with glitches, snags, and setbacks — all while tending to your creative work and enjoying your career. If you’re experienced at school visits and want more — more bookings than you’ve been getting, or more satisfaction with the number of visits you’re doing now — bring your questions and get them answered by someone who visits more than 100 schools per year and pretty much loves it.
Register for the advanced class through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. (SCBWI members receive a discounted rate of just $35.)

Thank you to the Austin chapter of SCBWI for making these online classes happen. I miss doing school visits during the summer, so as I prepare for the webinars, at least I’ll be thinking about doing school visits!

15 May

Fair winds and following seas for Dazzle Ships

By the time a nonfiction picture book of mine is published, I’ve already moved on to researching and writing other projects, and by the time that book has had a chance to make much of an impression on readers, there’s all the more distance between it and me. One result of that remove is that the arrival of any good news about that book is a pleasantly surprising blast from the past.

I’m feeling very fortunate lately. Here are the latest such blasts for Dazzle Ships (written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, and published last September by Millbrook Press):

The Bank Street College of Education has named the book to its list of The Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2018 Edition. Specifically, it’s on the list for ages Nine to Twelve, under the History heading.

Read On Wisconsin, a statewide literacy program operated by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, has included Dazzle Ships among its Intermediate (Grades 3-5) books for 2018-19.

Dazzle Ships has also been announced as one of the 2018-19 Junior Book Nominees for the North Carolina Children’s Book Award, just a year after Whoosh! was included on the same list.

And the book has been honored with a nomination for the 2018-2019 Crown Award from the Brackett Library at Harding University and the National Christian School Association, as well as a spot on the Lectio Book Award Master List 2018-2019.

I’m grateful for all of that good news. And I’m quick to tell students that of all my books, Dazzle Ships is the one that I needed the most editorial help with, so I’m happy to share this interview with the book’s editor, Carol Hinz. I’ll close with a bit of that:

[B]y and large, nonfiction has changed so much from my own childhood—when the norm was text-heavy books with small, black-and-white photos or illustrations. So in some ways, I would say I’m now making the type of books I wish I’d had when I was a child.

04 May

“If you’ve never drawn a steamroller, I recommend it.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for May 2018)

Mighty Truck: On the Farm
Welcome to the Q&A for the May edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).

This month I’m talking with illustrator and author Troy Cummings and giving away three signed books: his new picture book Can I Be Your Dog? (Random House) and our even-newer easy readers Mighty Truck: On the Farm and Mighty Truck: The Traffic Tie-Up (HarperCollins).

Our I Can Read books come on the heels — make that wheels — of our two picture books about Mighty Truck, his ordinary-pickup-truck alter ego Clarence, and various vehicular acquaintances.

In Can I Be Your Dog?, the canine main character embarks on a letter-writing campaign to come up with a human companion. Kirkus says in its review, “A large format and bold, exuberant illustrations are well-matched with Arfy’s enthusiastic personality and can-do attitude. The letter format makes this a fine choice for early-elementary students learning to compose letters.”

If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and you want to be the one lucky, lucky, lucky winner of signed copies of On the Farm, The Traffic Tie-Up, and Can I Be Your Dog?, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on May 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Troy Cummings.

Chris: There were some pretty big differences for me between the process of writing our Mighty Truck easy readers and my previous experiences writing picture books, but I’m curious about your perspective as an artist. How did illustrating for the I Can Read format compare to your prior work on picture books and your Notebook of DOOM series?

Troy: It’s been really fun to learn how to illustrate for these different types of books, and the types of reader each book serves.

Troy Cummings

In a picture book, the audience ranges from a baby on a lap, to pre-K kid studying the pictures, to a grade-schooler who can read, to the parent/teacher/librarian/stevedore reading out loud. It’s a wide audience, and I feel like we have lots of room to play in the illustrations.

I can put in some little background details that might be a surprise for the second or third reading, or visual jokes/surprises that happen across the page turn. And I think picture books work best when the illustrations aren’t just showing us what the words are saying, but instead are complementing — or even contrasting — what’s happening in the text.

As for the Notebook of DOOM series, which is a heavily-illustrated early chapter book series, my readers are a more focused group: students who know how to read, and are ready to transition into full chapter books. The DOOM books are structured like a middle grade book — many chapters, multiple characters, with a mystery in each book and an arc that connects the books together.

But they’re also heavily illustrated, with a lower word count and an easier vocabulary (both in terms of what the words mean, and how to “decode” the words for students learning to read). In these books, my illustrations can behave similarly to those in a picture book, but they also need to be a little more direct, in terms of supporting vocabulary or keeping the story clear for readers who come back to chapter 9 a couple days later.

But still, the DOOM books work as read-alouds for parents/teachers/librarians. They kind of straddle that line.

Finally, the I Can Read books have a very specific audience: students who are learning to read — right now! So to that end, I think my job is to support what’s going on in any given moment of the story. The illustrations need to be clear, and simple, and explicit, and show exactly what’s happening in the sentence on that very page. We can still put in some jokes and surprises, but they should never overcomplicate things, or make the reader have to pause and puzzle out what’s going on.

Chris: Mighty Truck and Mighty Truck: Muddymania! have centered on Clarence and his best pal, Bruno, but one of the things I’ve enjoyed about making these easy readers is that they’ve given us a chance to focus on the side characters. Stella is prominent in The Traffic Tie-Up, and Hattie and Mr. Dent get their turns in the upcoming third and fourth I Can Read books.

As the illustrator, do you have a favorite Mighty Truck supporting character, or one that you’re especially hoping to see more of?

Mighty Truck: The Traffic Tie-UpTroy: The supporting characters have all been a blast to dream up. I think my favorite may be Hattie, though, because steamrollers are super-fun to draw. (If you’ve never drawn a steamroller, I recommend it. Very therapeutic.)

I also really enjoyed drawing Zip and Beep, Hattie’s young bulldozer cousins. [Chris adds: These little ones were Troy’s idea, and they’ll be the title characters in our third I Can Read book, coming this December.] They’re loosely based on certain fast-running, sand-digging, early-reading family members of my own!

The character I want to see more of would have to be Throttle, the cat belonging to Mr. Dent, the surf wagon. Throttle has some funny surfing scenes with Mighty Truck in the fourth I Can Read book.

If you’ve never drawn a cat surfing with a monster truck, I recommend it! Less therapeutic, but really fun.

26 Apr

Upon closer inspection

This was one of several thank-you cards I received from students at a school in Maryland last week.

It contains one of my favorite elements that I sometimes see in such cards: a depiction of the author himself!

Really, just look at this:

I mean, seriously:

One of these is by photographer Sam Bond, but I’m not saying which one

But the best part? If you’ll look verrrrry closely at one of the eyes, you’ll see it looks just like a heart:

That’s certainly how I feel when I look out on an audience that’s excited about reading and writing and drawing and creating their own stories, but I never realized I was so obvious about it.

23 Apr

A great idea for local authors and indie booksellers

And it comes from Austin, Texas — home to me, a thriving chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and my favorite bookstore, BookPeople.

Just one sign — literally, and from 8 years ago this week — of BookPeople’s longtime support for me and my books.

Meghan Goel is the store’s children’s book buyer and programming director, and she also contributes to Publishers Weekly‘s ShelfTalker blog.

In her post last week, Meeting the Authors in Our Neighborhood, Meghan introduces what I think is a great idea — one that can benefit local authors and independent booksellers alike, not just in Austin but far beyond.

Here’s a little bit of Meghan’s ShelfTalker post:

[T]his July we’re going to test out a new bookseller intro and q&a for Austin’s SCBWI author class of 2018. If it works well, we’ll make it an annual thing. We’ll obviously emphasize that this is a great opportunity for new authors to tell us about their books, but authors new and old can come and ask us anything at all—general questions about bookselling, best practices for working with us on book launches, ideas for how to help promote their books between releases, or anything on their minds about working with a bookstore like ours.

Retailers and children’s authors/illustrators elsewhere, what do you think? Worth a try in your community?

11 Apr

“It’s the story of female smarts and strength saving the day” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for April 2018)

Welcome to the Q&A for the April edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).

This month I’m talking with author Sayantani DasGupta and giving away one signed copy of her demon-filled and very funny new middle-grade novel, The Serpent’s Secret (Scholastic Press).

In its starred review of The Serpent’s Secret, Booklist writes, “Inspired by Bengali folktales, this is an exciting, fantastical debut grounded by Kiran’s wry, clever voice and her experiences as a child of immigrants. With a vibrant supporting cast, a world steeped in Bengali folk stories, and an action-packed story line, this is a series starter that rivals Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief (2005). A breathtaking adventure.”

If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and you want the winner of The Serpent’s Secret to be you, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on April 30, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Sayantani DasGupta.

Chris: You’ve written about how your own children’s love of the Percy Jackson books helped inspire The Serpent’s Secret (“a story in which my own kids could see themselves being brave, dashing, smart, funny, strong and true”). Was the freshness of these Bengali folktales to American readers — compared to the familiarity of the Greek myths adapted by Rick Riordan — liberating to you as a writer, or did you feel a responsibility to be faithful to elements of these stories that you grew up with?

Sayantani: The Serpent’s Secret draws from many beloved Bengali children’s stories and folktales — regional stories that have, for the most part, an oral tradition to begin with. These were tales my grandmothers and aunts would tell to me when I was young, and would go on my long summer vacations to Kolkata, India. Even then, I was aware that each teller would slightly change the story as they were telling it, adding their own embellishments and moral lessons. (Say, if a cousin had been caught lying that day, suddenly a character in the story might have to face consequences for lying too!) Because oral stories have this tradition of adapting to context, of changing at each telling, I actually felt free while writing The Serpent’s Secret to mix and match, trying to stay true to the heart of any one character or story, but simultaneously putting them in a 21st century diasporic context.

Kiranmala, my heroine, is a Bengali folktale heroine — she comes from this story called “Arun, Barun, Kiranmala.” In the original folktale, Kiranmala’s older brothers Arun and Barun go off on adventures, leaving her at home because she’s the youngest and she’s the girl. Of course, when they get in trouble, it’s Kiranmala who has to go save them — so it’s the story of female smarts and strength saving the day, and I loved that even as a kid. So I wanted to stay true to that. But in The Serpent’s Secret, I got rid of Kiranmala’s brothers and made her the only daughter of loving, if kooky, immigrant parents living in New Jersey. Her friends, Lalkamal and Neelkamal, are princely brothers from an entirely different folktale, as is her talking bird companion Tuntuni. So clearly, I was playing fast and loose with many tales.

The one important point I want to make too is that while I draw from many children’s and folk stories, I don’t draw from myths in The Serpent’s Secret — in other words, stories based primarily on spiritual or religious traditions. While my own family’s particular identities undoubtedly creep into the novel, the Bengali folktales I draw from are regional not religious in nature — beloved by people of many faiths and multiple nations — both West Bengal, India and the country of Bangladesh as well, not to mention the entire Bengali speaking diaspora! I want to make that point because it’s really important to me that these wonderful stories don’t get falsely attributed to one nation of people or any one religious group. Bengal all used to be one common region prior to the bloody 1947 Partition of South Asia at the time India and Pakistan gained our independence from the British (Bangladesh later gained its independence from Pakistan in their own independence battle). So these are pre-partition stories shared by Bengalis of many faiths and nationalities!

Chris: With the arrival of The Serpent’s Secret, you’re now a published author of children’s books in addition to being a pediatrician and a teacher. Which of those three pursuits would be most surprising to those who knew you while you were growing up in Ohio?

Sayantani: While pediatrician, narrative medicine scholar, and children’s writer seem like they are three disparate careers, they’re ultimately each about giving and receiving stories, and being wholly present for another person. They’re also, of course, about power and justice — paying attention to issues like whose stories get heard and whose silenced, whose are centered and whose are marginalized. They’re about questioning who gets to tell the story, and who gets to be the hero.

As a lifelong lover of stories who grew up in an activist, immigrant household, I’m not sure any of my careers would surprise anyone who really knew me well as a kid growing up in Ohio. My best friend from third grade on is still a dear friend and actually flew out recently for the launch of The Serpent’s Secret. (Hi, Kari!) Would she be surprised at any of my careers? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. We were the kids who lived in the library and inside the pages of books, we were always imagining our way into fantasy tales or out into the galaxy through our favorite space shows and movies. We were into science, and we were into stories — so really no surprise my careers are at the intersection of those two things!

I’ve been so lucky — to be able to explore so many different approaches to my interests and passions, to be able to contribute to the world in these different ways.