12 Jul

“What was Left Out, Powered by PechaKucha,” from TLA 2019

Twenty presentation slides, 20 seconds per slide, no stopping. Four hundred seconds long, period. That’s PechaKucha.

At the Texas Library Association conference this past April, I participated — alongside Christina Soontornvat, Susan Fletcher, Traci Sorell, and Varian Johnson — in what we believe to be the first-ever PechaKucha TLA session, orchestrated by our fellow author and friend Kathi Appelt.

Here’s the official description of our session, “What was Left Out, Powered by PechaKucha“:

This will be a panel of five children’s book authors who will discuss their revision process on their latest books, with special focus on “what was left out.” The panel will occur at the annual conference for the Texas Library Association, and is focused toward an audience of librarians and educators

And here’s what that looked like in my case, as I talked about aspects of Barbara Jordan’s story that I did not include in What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.

Please take a look (it’s six minutes, 40 seconds!), and don’t miss Christina’s, Susan’s, Traci’s, or Varian’s. I loved this session as both presenter and audience member, and I hope we’ll see more of the PechaKucha format at TLA 2020.

28 Jun

In which I discuss Barbara Jordan with a shaggy blue puppet

Hey, it’s me on The Van Show!

Talking about What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? with the Austin Public Library’s spokespuppet was truly a highlight of my experiences at this spring’s Texas Library Association conference.

And a highlight of that highlight was being able to show Van the Barbara Jordan statue that he’s been missing from inside the box he’s usually in when passing through the Austin airport.

23 May

Come “dig deep” with me!

This week, I’m a guest on author Melissa Stewart’s blog with a contribution to her “Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep” series.

The title of this series is no joke: Melissa urged me to dig deeper than I’d been inclined to on the first draft of my post, and I’m glad she did. It’s probably no surprise that in my post I talk quite a bit about Barbara Jordan and What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?

Thank you, Melissa, for that encouragement, and for the opportunity to share what I’ve learned about what young readers, Barbara Jordan, and I have in common.

Here’s a bit of what I had to say:

This great woman whose oratorical powers inspired her constituents, brought out the best in her colleagues, and helped end Richard Nixon’s shameful presidency had once possessed a talent as undeveloped as it was promising. Just like the talents of the students I’m speaking to. Just like my own.

16 May

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? among Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books of the Year

From the Bank Street College of Education’s Children’s Book Committee:

The Children’s Book Committee strives to guide librarians, educators, parents, grandparents, and other interested adults to the best books for children published each year. The list includes more then 600 titles chosen by reviewers for literary quality and excellence of presentation as well as the potential emotional impact of the books on young readers. Other criteria include credibility of characterization and plot, authenticity of time and place, age suitability, positive treatment of ethnic and religious differences, and the absence of stereotypes.

I’m pleased as can be that the 2019 list includes What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (written by me, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster) among its best books for readers ages nine to twelve.

In a brief write-up, the Committee said, “Jordan’s bold voice took her to places few African American women had been in the 1960s, and finally to the US Congress, where her oratory and integrity shone.”

Not only that, but our book received special recognition for Outstanding Merit and Diversity.

As that long paragraph above says, there are hundreds of other titles on this year’s list, from books for kids under five up to books for readers over 14. Have a look at the whole list, and you’re bound to find something terrific for the young reader(s) in your life.

24 Apr

My remarks at the Barbara Jordan Media Awards


As I mentioned last month, 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) won the 2018 Barbara Jordan Award for children’s books.

Three weeks ago, Jennifer and I had the honor of attending the awards ceremony at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. Not only did I get to meet some of the other winners —

— but I also got to appreciate some of their award-winning work. And I’ve got great news: You can enjoy it, too, after about 60 seconds of remarks by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. (Excerpts from What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? begin at about the four-minute mark.)

Upon receiving the award, each of the winners had an opportunity to say thank you and share other thoughts. What I said during my three minutes was:

I must admit, I was really, really, really hoping that my Barbara Jordan children’s book would win the Barbara Jordan children’s book award.

I am so grateful for this honor, and I can’t help but also be a little tickled by it. And based on what I learned about Barbara Jordan in the course of researching and writing What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?, I think she would have gotten a kick out of it, too.

That shared sense of humor would not be the only thing Barbara Jordan and I have in common, despite our significant demographic differences. We’re both native Texans. We both found a home and a community in our adopted city of Austin.

I admire and aspire to emulate Barbara Jordan’s talent for and interest in listening to those whose viewpoints and experiences differ from our own.

Her forceful insistence on integrity and ethical behavior has led me, regarding many situations, to wonder — occasionally, then frequently, now daily — What Would Barbara Jordan Do?

And like Barbara Jordan, I believe in putting my own success and privilege — and, yes, my own voice — to work pulling up or helping along others who, for various reasons, are not yet there themselves.

My favorite example of how Barbara Jordan lived that value is how she, after accumulating significant political capital herself, applied that capital to shoring up — rather than restricting — the voting rights of Mexican-American citizens and others.

In my work as a member of the children’s book community, that impulse has taken the form of advocating for authors, illustrators, readers, and characters who tend to share Barbara Jordan’s demographics more so than my own.

I don’t know how many other titles were in the running for this year’s honor, but nothing would make me happier than for my Barbara Jordan book for children winning the Barbara Jordan children’s book award to inspire many more children’s books about Texans with disabilities and by Texas authors and illustrators with disabilities.

I want there to be plenty of fierce competition for this prize in the future, and for the judges to have their work cut out for them every year.

Thank you, judges, and to all who work on behalf of the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. Many thanks to illustrator Ekua Holmes and to our publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Thank you to my wife, Jennifer — I love you — and to all the family and friends and librarians who have supported me and my work. Thank you, Barbara Jordan, for your inspiration and for that voice. Thank you all.

Since the awards ceremony three weeks ago, I’ve begun making some inquiries about the accessibility of conferences for writers and illustrators, in hopes of helping make those events more accessible for people with disabilities.

If you’ve had experiences or can offer suggestions that might contribute to those conversations, please leave them in the comments section below, and I’ll be glad to pass them along to the folks I’m in touch with.

29 Mar

Voice wins Texas Institute of Letters award for Best Children’s Picture Book

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan has picked up another close-to-home, deep-in-the-heart-of-Texas honor: the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL) award for Best Children’s Picture Book.

Written by me, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? is among several books being honored this year by TIL, a “non-profit Honor Society founded in 1936 to celebrate Texas literature and to recognize distinctive literary achievement. The TIL’s elected membership consists of the state’s most respected writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, journalism, and scholarship.”

As a lifelong Texan and author of a book about a Texas hero, I’m so proud to receive this honor, and to get to share the spotlight with this year’s other honorees, including Naomi Shihab Nye, Ben Fountain, Natalia Sylvester, Brent Nongbri, David Bowles, Varian Johnson, Tarfia Faizullah, Clay Reynolds, Megan Peak, and Stephen Markley. Thank you, TIL!

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.