At a recent school visit, a student asked who or what inspired me to write What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. Here’s my answer.
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
- The 2018 Nerdy Book Club Award for Nonfiction Picture Books
- The Nonfiction Detectives’ Best Biographies of 2018
- Kid Lit Frenzy’s Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books of 2018
- Booklist Editors’ Choice: Books for Youth, 2018 — Nonfiction — Middle Readers
- Lone Star Literary Life’s Top Twenty Texas Books of 2018
- The Penn Graduate School of Education’s Best Books of 2018 for Young Readers
- A Mighty Girl’s 2018 Books of the Year
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
[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.)
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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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!”
My newest 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 received a couple of shiny new reviews that I’m excited to share.
In a starred review, School Library Journal called the book “a timely yet subtle call-to-action … supremely accessible … an extraordinary book,” adding that “Everything succeeds in this collaborative effort to accurately reflect the power of Jordan’s voice and the impact she made on those she worked with and for” and concluding that the book is “An essential purchase for nonfiction collections.”
Chris Barton’s (Dazzle Ships) strong, engaging text is well-matched by the stunning hues and bold textures of Ekua Holmes’s (Out of Wonder) mixed-media illustrations. Differing type sizes and colors, along with a generous trim size and strategic use of blank space, make the text easily readable and each illustration stand out.
Those professional reviews mean a lot, but so do the responses to the book from schools I’ve visited in Indiana, Virginia, Maryland, and Texas, including one I received yesterday.
Upon seeing me, one student asked, “You wrote What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? — that’s my favorite book!”
That’s the first time I’ve heard that about this new book, and there’s no better feeling.
Today — 1,889 days after my friend Kathi Appelt first suggested I write this book — brings the publication of 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, our book tells the story of how my fellow native Texan developed the natural gift of her speaking voice into a tool for instructing, imploring, and inspiring colleagues, students, and fellow citizens to make our political system work better for all of us.
Over at the Nerdy Book Club, I’ve got a guest post today called 22 More Barbara Jordan Books, Please. I hope you’ll go take a look. Here’s some of what you’ll see:
[F]or What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?, I’ve got an additional hope: that readers of all ages will be inspired to make more books about Barbara Jordan. That’s a pretty lofty dream, but hear me out: Barbara Jordan’s life and career are fascinating to me. And I frankly find it incredible that â€” more than 22 years after her death â€” this picture book created by Ekua Holmes and me is the only literary nonfiction title about her to be published for young readers.
I’m also delighted to see others already celebrating the publication of this book, none with more enthusiasm than leaping librarian Stacey Rattner and her elementary students in Castleton, New York.
They’re already thinking about how they’re going to use their voices. How are you going to use yours?
We’re six days away from the September 25 publication of What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster). And I know that, given that this book has been in the works for more than five years, a few more days should barely register as a blip.
But I’m so excited about this book, and for this book, and for all the readers who will be getting reacquainted with Barbara Jordan, or getting better acquainted, or learning about her for the first time, that the wait for next Tuesday just seems to go on and on.
Last week helped. I visited half a dozen elementary schools in San Antonio and read What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? to student audiences at each of them. Would it make me a little self-conscious to tell you that reading my text aloud — in the context of Ekua Holmes’ artwork, and of the video clips of Barbara Jordan included in my presentation, and of the historical moment we find ourselves in — gave me goosebumps?
Yes, it would. But y’all…
It gave me goosebumps.
So, that’s been my reaction to this book. Here’s what some other folks have been saying about What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?:
Publishers Weekly called the book “a timely, lyrical celebration of Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.”
This book is a story of tenacity — Barbara ran and lost twice before being elected to the Texas Senate. It’s a story of helping those with less power — she fought for better pay for farmers and for the voting rights of Mexican Americans. A story of finding common groundâ€”Barbara was known for befriending colleagues on both sides of the political aisle so that they could find a way to work together. Barbara Jordan passed away in 1996, but the things she fought for and the way she fought for them are more relevant than ever.
Ekua Holmes’ artwork is absolutely stunning. The more I see of her work the more I am blown away. Holmes captures the spirit and emotions of Barbara Jordan’s life and work on each page.
In his review, teacher Gary Anderson concluded:
Is Barbara Jordan still relevant? Oh, yes. Thanks to Chris Barton, Ekua Holmes, and this book, she will now speak to a new generation
At A Year of Reading, Franki Sibberson added:
This is an incredible biography for several reasons. The writing makes the story very engaging for readers who don’t know. Barbara Jordan. The focus on her work and the power her voice had works well and the illustrations are unbelievable.
Michele Knott included What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? on her “2019 Mock Sibert list… so far!”
And librarian Barbara Moon made my day when she wrote:
This exceptional picture book is a treat for the mind, heart, and eyes. What a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman. Well done, Mr. Barton and Ms. Holmes.
Finally, I’d also like to point out that the beauty created by Ekua Holmes this year isn’t limited to our book. In fact, it’s not limited to books at all.
This week the Lone Star Literary Life newsletter features an interview with me, discussing What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? and lots more.
Among the questions that Michelle Newby Lancaster asked me:
You’ve said that in these unsettling times you often ask yourself, “What would Barbara Jordan do?” What do you think she would do today as the country faces extraordinary times again?
Welcome to the featured post for the September edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here)!
Instead of a two-question Q&A with another author, this month I’m focusing on What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, written by me, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, and coming September 25 from Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster.
Kirkus has given a starred review to this book, which it calls “a moving portrait of a true patriot who found ways to use her gift to work for change.”
I’m giving away five (!!!!!) signed copies of What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and would like to be one of the winners, just let me know via email before midnight on September 30, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.
Now, let’s talk about Barbara Jordan’s grandfather.
The average time it takes one of my picture books to go from initial idea to publication is around five years, and sure enough it was five years ago this Saturday that I finished the first draft of what I was already calling What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?
Many parts of the text in the finished book — for instance, “The president, Barbara said, must go. The president went.” — were there from the very beginning. Some parts of the final text came later, as recently as the past few months.
And then there’s Grandpa Patten. Originally, he was right there in the opening paragraphs of the manuscript. On September 8, 2013, it began like this:
Growing up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, Barbara Jordan didn’t look like other kids — not even her own sisters.
She didn’t act like other kids, either. Her father insisted on that. Grandpa Patten did, too, in his way.
And she sure didn’t sound like other kids. Not with that voice of hers.
Grandpa Patten, Barbara’s maternal grandfather, was special to Barbara. She would go visit him each weekend. In fact, the first chapter in her 1979 autobiography was titled “Grandpa Patten.”
Here’s part of what she said about him in Barbara Jordan: A Self-Portrait, co-authored by Shelby Hearon:
When I knew him best, those years of my going there every Sunday, he was in the junk business. He had a very large wagon and two mules, which he kept in the heart of the old Fourth Ward, which is now downtown Houston. … Grandpa didn’t want me to be like the other kids. That came through loud and clear. He would say this very directly. There were kids who lived just behind my grandfather’s house in Fourth Ward that he did not want me to associate with because he said: “You don’t have to be like those others.” In relation to other kids he would say: “You just trot your own horse and don’t get into the same rut as everyone else.”
Over the years, the opening lines in What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? changed in a few key respects, one of which was that Grandpa Patten went away. To streamline the text and get to that first mention of Barbara’s voice more quickly, by the end of 2013 I had delayed the introduction of her father and cut the reference to her grandfather entirely.
In 2015 Beach Lane Books bought the manuscript and brought on Ekua Holmes to illustrate the book. In her own research for this project, Ekua came across the story of Grandpa Patten and asked if I might be open to including in the text a mention of Barbara’s relationship with him. She even had a specific spot in mind.
Ekua’s insight was a great one. The ideal place for Grandpa Patten was right where she had suggested:
Barbara was proud of herself, and proud of her voice.
It was laying a path for her.
But where would that path lead?
On Sunday evenings, Barbara would talk things over with Grandpa Patten.
Would she become a preacher like her father, and like her mother could have been?
Or a teacher, like those who encouraged her at Phillis Wheatley High?
Or perhaps she’d become a lawyer.
Not only was bringing back Grandpa Patten — the person in Barbara Jordan’s childhood to whom she was the closest — the absolute right thing to do for the text, but it also set the stage for Ekua to create what has become my absolute favorite illustration in this entire book:
Thank you, Grandpa Patten, for all that you did to shape Barbara Jordan. And thank you, Ekua Holmes, for all that you did — cover to cover — to shape What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?
“Striking mixed-media illustrations capture the relationships between people and the influence of place. Barton’s narration is colloquial, appropriately relying on rhetorical devices… A moving portrait of a true patriot who found ways to use her gift to work for change.”
What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster), illustrated by Ekua Holmes, will be out on September 25.