21 Mar

Barbara Jordan book wins Barbara Jordan Award


The life of Texas hero Barbara Jordan included many facets, and one of those was her experience with multiple sclerosis, which began soon after she entered Congress in 1973.

Fittingly, the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities bestows the Barbara Jordan Award each year on authors and journalists whose work “accurately and positively reports on individuals with disabilities, using People First language and respectful depictions.”

I’m delighted to report that my book What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (illustrated by Ekua Holmes and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster) has won the 2018 Barbara Jordan Award for children’s books.

I strove to get all aspects of her story right, and this recognition means the world to me. I look forward to thanking the committee in person at the awards luncheon next month here in Austin.

Plus, what’s not to love about a book about Barbara Jordan winning an award named for Barbara Jordan? I like to think that the great lady herself would have gotten a kick out of that.

13 Feb

SLJ‘s recommendations for “Honoring African American Women and Girls, Past and Present”

School Library Journal has compiled a list of 20 recent nonfiction titles “celebrating African American women [that] highlight their important contributions to the arts, activism, literacy, politics, science,” etc.

Thanks to the magic of alphabetical ordering by author’s last name, the list features my book What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (illustrated by Ekua Holmes and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster) at the very top.

I’ve got a lot of catching up to do in my own reading, and maybe you do, too. Check out the entire list.

30 Jan

Voice on three “notable” lists

I’m happy to report that my newest picture book, What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (illustrated by Ekua Holmes and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster), has been named to a trio of lists that are, literally, notable.

Voice is among the 25 titles on the list of Notable Books for a Global Society 2019 put out by the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) of the International Literacy Association. The group says, “These books for all levels (preK-12) reflect diversity in the broadest sense, celebrating a wide variety of voices and topics.” (Reviews of some of the winners are compiled here.) Thank you so much to the members of the CL/R SIG for this honor.

My picture book biography of Barbara Jordan is also included on the 2019 list of Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People put together by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC). The NCSS says, “The selection committee looks for books that emphasize human relations, represent a diversity of groups and are sensitive to a broad range of cultural experiences, present an original theme or a fresh slant on a traditional topic, are easily readable and of high literary quality, and have a pleasing format and, when appropriate, illustrations that enrich the text.” Many, many thanks to the NCSS and CBC for including Voice.

Finally, the book was on the Notable Children’s Books Discussion List at the just-completed midwinter meetings of the American Library Association. I’m looking forward to seeing the final Notables list and am delighted that the ALA included Voice in their discussion.

24 Jan

A great day with My Favorite Author in the Whole Wide World


Yesterday was pretty terrific, because I got to spend it visiting schools with my wife — and, as it happens, My Favorite Author in the Whole Wide World — Jennifer Ziegler.

Even better, we were not presenting at the same time, so Jennifer and I got to watch each other at work. This was such a treat for me, y’all, because she is so good at what she does. Jennifer has a great rapport with kids —

— and is generous as can be about sharing her writing advice, messy/marked-up drafts, and egregious typos.

We spent the day at schools in the Houston area. “These are some of my books,” Jennifer told her audience. “They are all set in Texas, because when I was growing up, all the books I read were set in New York for some reason.”

Then she told them about the time a New York copyeditor marked on a manuscript, “Tacos are not a breakfast food.”

This being Texas, where breakfast tacos are indeed a thing, 500 sixth-graders gasped.

But, she assured them, she stood up for breakfast tacos, and that’s what the Brewster Triplets ate in Revenge of the Angels.

At that point, a cafeteria full of sixth-graders cheered for Jennifer Ziegler. And for breakfast tacos.

Just to prove that I did indeed do a presentation of my own, here are a few photos of me discussing my What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.

But I like the pictures of Jennifer better — I could watch her talk to students all day, and I highly recommend that you give it a try.

14 Jan

Barbara Jordan on This American Life

If you’ve read and enjoyed What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, I think you’ll appreciate the latest episode of This American Life:

Where Have You Gone, Barbara Jordan? Our Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You

Back in the 1990s, a bipartisan team led by the charismatic Barbara Jordan came up with a solution to the immigration debate that would have fixed a lot the things we’re arguing about today. Producer Miki Meek tells the story.

08 Jan

“How do you get the information for all your nonfiction books?”

At a recent school visit, a student asked about my research process for my nonfiction books such as Whoosh! and Dazzle Ships: Where do I get all that information from?

There’s a lot to say about that, but here’s how I often get started.

03 Jan

Year-end (and New Year’s) excitement for What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?


New Year’s Day brought some exciting news for What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster).

My most recent picture book, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, was named one of the 2018 Elementary/Middle Grade Non-fiction Finalists for the Cybils (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards).

Chris Barton’s text begs to be read aloud. Using alliteration and repetition, it reverberates with the big booming voice of former U. S. Congresswoman from Texas, Barbara Jordan. Ekua Holmes’ mixed media illustrations are as bright and bold as Barton’s text and perfectly capture the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the author’s note and a two-page spread timeline in the back matter, readers discover that Barbara Jordan — who retired early from public service because she had multiple sclerosis — died too young at 59. What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? is a wonderful choice for Black History Month, for Women’s History Month, and for all the months of the year.

Long ago, I was a Cybils judge, so I know the great collective effort that goes into whittling the year’s nonfiction books down to a shortlist and finally a single winner. Thank you to all the folks who gave their time to this year’s Cybils, and especially to those who chose to recognize What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?

That gratitude extends to everyone who has embraced this book about a Congresswoman and teacher from Texas who — as I’ve learned these past few months — was not as much of a household name as my lifelong experience as a Texan of a certain age had led me to believe.

That includes those who placed the book on the lists for

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? has also been included on a couple more Mock Caldecott lists. Thank you, Pernille Ripp and Bickering Book Reviews!

It was included as well as in booksellers’ roundups in the Houston Chronicle

The picture book is a beautiful reminder of the impact Jordan had on the nation. It’s a must have for every Texas young reader.

— and in the Abilene Reporter News. Many thanks to Joy Preble and Glenn Dromgoole, respectively.

Finally, I must express my deep appreciation for Margie Myers-Culver’s detailed commentary on What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?. An excerpt:

I can’t imagine a personal or professional collection of books without a copy of What Do You Do With A Voice Like That: The Story Of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan written by Chris Barton with illustrations by Ekua Holmes on their shelves. This fresh, vibrant depiction in a stunning blend of words and images will promote discussions and further research.

It’s one thing to love a book, another thing to reflect upon it, but something else entirely to so generously share those thoughts with the public. Thank you, Margie.

18 Dec

Celebrating the Texas Topaz Reading List twice over

Not long ago, the Texas Library Association created the Texas Topaz Reading List “to provide children and adults with recommended nonfiction titles that stimulate reading for pleasure and personal learning.”

I love that this list spans all ages and isn’t tied to any sort of curriculum — heck, it’s not even Texas-specific. The Texas Topaz list recognizes that nonfiction reading can be a joy, and it suggests that anyone not on board with that notion perhaps just hasn’t yet found the right book.

Well, the new Texas Topaz list just came out, and I’m thrilled to see that it includes not only two of the adult titles I’ve most enjoyed this past year or so — Michael Hurd’s Thursday Night Lights: The Story of Black High School Football in Texas and Lawrence Wright’s God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State — but also two of my own books.

Hooray for Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, illustrated by Victo Ngai and published by Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing…

…and for What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, illustrated by Ekua Holmes and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster.

And thank you many times over to the Topaz committee, and not just for including my books among this terrific bunch. I know a lot of work goes into reading books for these lists and making hard choices between what to include and what to almost include. I want y’all to know that nonfiction readers like me surely appreciate it.

28 Nov

What do they say about What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?

It’s been several weeks since I last compiled news about What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster).

Considering that the book has been out in the world for just over two months, that means I’ve essentially been neglecting my most recent book for more than half its life.

So, let’s correct that with this roundup.

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? has been named a 2019 Orbis Pictus Recommended Book by the National Council of Teachers of English.

The California Reading Association has listed it as a 2018 Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Book Awards Honor Book.

Kirkus Reviews has named What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? among the best picture books of 2018, and at Waking Brain Cells, Tasha Saecker has compiled those books into a single, easy-to-read list.

Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop has included the book in its list of the 25 best books of 2018 across all categories, recommending the book “For every school and library in Texas, as well as family bookshelves.”

The Nonfiction Detectives write:

In this age of partisan, negative politics, Barbara Jordan is a model of dignity, civility and justice. What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? is the perfect read aloud to inspire children to speak up and use their voices to help others and to make the world a better place.

The San Francisco Chronicle says:

Using her sonorous voice for good, she participates in the Watergate hearings, speaks out for equality and justice, and fights for the powerless. Bright mixed-media art, as strong and stately as Jordan herself, helps chronicle her setbacks and successes, both personal and political.

In The Christian Century, Baylor University theologian Beverly Roberts Gaventa writes:

[T]he book instructs its readers about an extraordinary woman, but it also invites them to find their own voices and put them to use to make the world a better place. I need to give myself a copy, since my grandson is tired of loaning me his.

(If you want to read only my favorite final line in any recent review, you can stop right there.)

The Horn Book writes:

This large book, with its lush, vivid, mixed-media illustrations, makes an artistic statement as bold as groundbreaking African American congresswoman Barbara Jordan’s own giant voice. Smart page-turns — often prompted by a series of questions and frequently repeating the titular one — lead readers to think about, rather than simply learn about, Jordan’s life.

The Austin American-Statesman says:

Barton’s “Voice” showcases Jordan as a trailblazer who always championed what was right, such as in her famous speech during President Richard Nixon’s impeachment hearings, when she vowed that she would not “sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.”

The New York Times includes the book in a roundup of

several immersive picture books about women leaders. The standout books of the bunch tell the stories of two remarkable women of color. In WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A VOICE LIKE THAT? (Beach Lane, 48 pp., $17.99; ages 4 to 8), a biography of Representative Barbara Jordan written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Ekua Holmes, we go from Jordan’s modest upbringing in Houston to her civil rights activism to the halls of Congress and back to Texas after a multiple sclerosis diagnosis takes her out of public life. All the way, Jordan’s distinct “big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice” guides us.

(I can’t wait to get my hands on Martha Brockenborough’s Unpresidented. I see her book and mine as complementary and equally necessary. Teens can benefit from both. And readers of all ages deserve truth and honesty.)

Barnes & Noble says of Barbara Jordan’s story:

The chronicle of her rise is thrilling, but the next chapter of her life is just as instructive: when diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she came home to Texas and kept giving to others, as a teacher.

The Alcalde — the alumni magazine for the University of Texas, where I got my degree and where Barbara Jordan taught — says:

Accompanied by brilliantly detailed collages from artist and illustrator Ekua Holmes, the book explores Jordan’s legacy in the realm of civil rights and equality. Meant to educate and inspire young readers, Barton showcases Jordan’s milestones as a lawyer and politician, as well as the obstacles she overcame on her path to success.

In PW Shelftalker, bookseller Cynthia Compton includes the book in her roundup of recent titles with themes of voice or voicelessness.

Ekua Holmes’ illustrations have landed What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? on Mock Caldecott lists overseen by Megan Dowd Lambert, Michele Knott, and John Schumacher and Colby Sharp.

And over at Kid Lit Frenzy, Alyson Beecher has added What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? to her Mock Sibert list.

Thank you, one and all, for your appreciation for this book, and for all the ways — public and otherwise — that you’ve expressed it. If you’re ever wondering if an author might like to hear kind words about their new (or old) book, the answer is always “Yes!”