15 Mar

My first-ever New York State school-visit trip

I did my first New York State school visits last week, outside Rochester, so the first thing I needed to do was head northeast. Here’s what that looked like:

All week long, I saw terrific examples of the preparation and investment of time and energy on the part of these schools — from kindergartners to administrators — as they made the most of the opportunity to have an author visit and talk with their students. The most evident sign was in the artwork I saw throughout the schools:

Also: It was supercold last week, at least by my Central Texas standards. We’re talking 10 degrees Fahrenheit at some points, and not all that much warmer until my last afternoon, when it got all the way up to 34. And the skies were blue, and I had some free time before catching my flight home.

My dilemma: Do I seek out the local Rochester delicacy known as the “garbage plate,” or do I commune a little with nature and history?


Yep. I opted for a walk through the Mount Hope Cemetery. I’ll just have to return to Rochester for that garbage plate.

13 Sep

A Horn Book review, a custom-made pie, and other good stuff for 88 Instruments


There’s been an accumulation of splendiffery in the four weeks since 88 Instruments was published, and I can’t stand to keep it to myself.

For starters, there’s this 88 Instruments Educators’ Guide and Activities download from Random House.

On her new blog A Book and A Pie, Lindsay Leslie has paired her review of 88 Instruments with her selection of the ideal pie to go with the book. This is not a theoretical pie, but an actual pie. Or rather, a pie that was actual prior to being presumably happily devoured. Thanks, Lindsay!

88 Instruments has also received a review (though no pie) from The Horn Book:

The galloping rhymed text, featuring toe-tapping dictionary rejects (‘thrummiest’), is a song unto itself. … The loose-handed, even jittery illustrations foreground [the protagonist’s] attempts to play many of the instruments; meanwhile, his parents are a mute chorus of comical anxiety.

And from Franki Sibberson at A Year of Reading:

This book is perfect for talking about growth mindset in a fun way–the last few pages of the book that include the decision of instrument and the plan for learning are simple yet powerful for conversations around learning and growth mindset.

Some of my favorite tweets about the book have included:

I also appreciated the mentions from Beth Shaum (A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust), Alicia Salazar (There’s a Story in All of Us), Catherine Coyne (Youth Services Book Review), Michele Knott (Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook), Jana Eschner (Jana The Teacher), and Mrs. ReaderPants.

Finally, many thanks to my hometown indie, BookPeople, for already featuring 88 Instruments as a storytime readaloud. I wish I’d been there — it takes a while to learn how to present in public a book you wrote in private, and I could probably pick up some pointers!

88 Instruments

31 Aug

August 2016 Bartography Express: The smashiest, the crashiest — and the animalsiest

To get Bartography Express in your inbox each month — and to have a shot at the September giveaway of This Is Our Baby, Born Today, written by Varsha Bajaj and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler — you can sign up on my home page.

20160827 Bartography Express

21 Aug

In which I am interviewed by fourth graders from Graham Elementary

When I visited with the fourth graders at Graham Elementary here in Austin this past April, they followed up with many questions — and artwork. Such as this recreation of one of Don Tate’s illustrations in The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch:

cb-20160817-John Roy Lynch at desk cropped

That drawing of John Roy Lynch is just an example of the great stuff they sent. I believe I’m overdue in answering their questions. So…

Do you enjoy making children’s books?

Yes, I do. I think it’s the perfect job for me.

Do you like animals?

Not all of them, but I like a lot more animals than I dislike.

What inspired you to become an author?

My toddler son wanted me to tell him over and over the story of how I installed a smoke alarm in our house. I wrote that story down, and it was awful, but it got me going.

How long have you been writing?

Almost as long as I’ve been reading. The first story of mine that I know of is one that I wrote in second grade, “The Ozzie Bros. Meet the Monsters.”

Will you make chapter books?

I sure hope so. I’ve written a nonfiction book called Can I See Your I.D.? that had ten chapters, and I wrote a short story for a YA collection, and I hope that I will have more longer-than-a-picture-book fiction published.

How many books have you written?

88 Instruments, which was published just yesterday, is my tenth published book. I’ve written many more that have not been published.

Where do you get your ideas from?

All over. Things I see, things I read about, ideas that pop into my head while I’m running, suggestions from friends and editors — these are just some examples.

How old were you when you started to do books?

I was 29 when I realized I wanted to write books for kids, and almost 38 when my first book was published.

What inspired you to write the book “The Ozzie Bros. Meet the Monsters”?

Star Wars, the Muppets, and Abbott and Costello movies where they meet famous Hollywood monsters.

Do you have any books about your dog?

Not yet, but there are dogs in some of my manuscripts that sure remind me of Ernie.

Do you talk in a different language?

I’ve started relearning the Spanish that I began forgetting after my sophomore year in high school. Duolingo says I’m now 4% fluent.

Have you ever visited different countries?

I went to Mexico and Canada when I was growing up, and this past spring I traveled to Singapore to visit the Singapore American School. That trip included some time wandering around an airport in Qatar.

Have you been on tour?

Yes — to schools in Utah last December to celebrate my nonfiction book The Nutcracker Comes to America, and to cities in Texas and Oklahoma this past spring, in support of my book Mighty Truck.

Have you ever experienced difficult, frustrating times?

I sure have. I’ve been lucky to have family and friends to lean on during those times.

How many awards have you won?

I don’t know how many, but I can tell you the biggest: My first book, The Day-Glo Brothers, won a Sibert Honor from the American Library Association.

And that’s it! Thank you for the great questions, fourth graders — now FIFTH graders! — at Graham Elementary.

16 Aug

Sounds like 88 instruments to me…

The author bio for my picture book being published today, 88 Instruments, says: “Chris Barton doesn’t have a favorite instrument, but his favorite piece is Rhapsody in Blue because it has everything there is to love about music.”

But I don’t mean just ANY recording of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. I mean THIS version, by Marcus Roberts. I think you’ll absolutely love it.

15 Nov

Four new books from me in 2016

Now that the cover of my next book with Don Tate has been revealed, I can show it off here, too. But why stop with just that one?

Through a combination of flukes, good fortune, and starting my work at 5 a.m. far more often than not, I’ve got four new picture books coming out in 2016. They are:

That's Not Bunny!

That’s Not Bunny! (illustrated by Colin Jack; Disney-Hyperion; February 2016)

Mighty Truck

Mighty Truck (illustrated by Troy Cummings; HarperCollins; April 2016)


Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (illustrated by Don Tate; Charlesbridge; May 2016)

88 Instruments

88 Instruments (illustrated by Louis Thomas; Knopf; August 2016)

I’ve been lucky throughout my career to get paired with terrific illustrators, and I’m delighted that you’ll get to see so much evidence of that throughout 2016.

Now, back to work on 2017…

22 Jan

Bartography Express for January 2015, featuring Trent Reedy’s Burning Nation

This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of Burning Nation (Scholastic), the second book in Trent Reedy’s Divided We Fall YA trilogy

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.

20150122 Bartography Express

18 Jan

And then sometimes books happen very (relatively) quickly

So, I was talking about how long these books can take, right? Of course, then, this past Thursday’s edition of PW Children’s Bookshelf contained this announcement:

88 Instruments announcement

The way that 88 Instruments has come together is far different from how my John Roy Lynch or Nutcracker books developed.

In March of last year, editor Julia Maguire let it be known that she’d be interested in a picture book about a child picking which instrument to learn. I had not yet written any such picture book, and it wasn’t until late May that I started coming up with an idea for how to tell that story.

For the next month or so I jotted down notes (no musical pun intended, but if you saw one anyway, I’ll gladly take credit) by longhand. In early July, I had a first draft. In mid-August, I swapped a revised draft with a critique partner and got some helpful feedback. A couple of weeks after that, I did a revision at my agent’s request. Three or four weeks later — late September — I did another revision, this one based on notes I got from Julia herself.

(Notice how I’m using words such as “month” and “weeks” and not “years,” “decade,” “lifetime.” Anyway…)

Julia liked that revision, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers offered to buy the book, I revised some more, and by early November the text was done. (Yes, my fellow picture book authors, I know. Famous last words.)

The holidays came and went. Nothing ever happens in publishing during the holidays — except in this case, I guess, because early January brought the news that Louis Thomas would be illustrating.

Louis Thomas' 2014 holiday card

Louis Thomas’ 2014 holiday card

Not only that, but Louis Thomas would be illustrating very soon, with publication expected in summer 2016, roughly two years after my first draft.

Now, whether the development of this book has been speedy depends on your perspective. At a school visit this past Friday, a second-grader asked me how many books I can write in a day, so I suspect that she wouldn’t be impressed.

But at least now, when kids ask me how long it takes to create a book, I can provide an updated answer: from as many as twelve and a half years (and counting!) to as few as two (fingers crossed!!!).