13 Nov

Mr. Schu goes Whoosh!

Whoosh tease

Over at Watch. Connect. Read., Mr. Schu is unveiling the cover of Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions.

That’s my upcoming picture book with Don Tate, the follow up to our first collaboration, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

Whoosh!, a biography of the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun, comes out next May from Charlesbridge Publishing.

23 Jun

Those other robots have WHAT?

There’s a lot that I love about this recent presentation by Lonnie Johnson — rocket scientist, Super Soaker inventor, and pursuer of solutions to the world’s energy problems.

But my favorite part starts at the 5:22 mark with “When I was a kid…” He goes on to discuss how Lost in Space and Robbie the Robot inspired him as a teenager in the 1960s to build his own robot. Except that…

“Nobody told me that the other robots that I was watching [on TV] had people inside.”

Even if he had known, I doubt he would have let it stop him.

And if you’re thinking that Lonnie Johnson would make a great subject for a picture book biography, Don Tate and I agree. Our book, Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super Stream of Ideas, will be published by Charlesbridge in 2016.

02 Feb

New author photos

I just noticed that Don Tate — illustrator of my upcoming picture book biographies The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (2015, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers) and Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super Stream of Ideas (2016, Charlesbridge) — has posted his matinee-idol-good-lookin’ new author photos on his blog, and it makes me wonder why I hadn’t done the same.

There’s no good reason, and I’m more than happy to show off the work of the photographer that Don and I have both used, Austin’s Sam Bond Photography. In addition to these photos that Sam took last October of Jennifer and me, she also photographed our wedding last April. If she can get certain camera-shy offspring of ours to smile — and she did — I’m pretty sure that Sam can do anything.

Author Chris Barton. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Author Chris Barton. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Author Chris Barton. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Author Chris Barton. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Author Chris Barton. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Author Chris Barton. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Authors Chris Barton and Jennifer Ziegler. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Authors Chris Barton and Jennifer Ziegler. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Authors Chris Barton and Jennifer Ziegler. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Authors Chris Barton and Jennifer Ziegler. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Author Jennifer Ziegler. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Author Jennifer Ziegler. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Author Jennifer Ziegler. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Author Jennifer Ziegler. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I’ll be updating the author photo on my website to use one of Sam’s photos. Just as soon as I’ve got some cover art for my John Roy Lynch and Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! books, I’ll freshen up my whole site. In the meantime, enjoy the contrast between Me Then and Me Now.

30 Jul

A little bit of art made by me, and a little bit of stuff given away for free

Making mix CDs isn’t the only way outside my writing that I get my creative kicks. I also enjoy making the occasional piece of visual art, but I don’t think to do it nearly often enough. So, I’d like to thank author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds (The Dot, among other books) for giving me the prompt I needed by inviting me to contribute a piece of art for International Dot Day.

Every year on September 15, innovative educators around the world celebrate International Dot Day by making time to encourage their students’ creativity. After the last International Dot Day, we were overwhelmed by wonderful stories about the “outside-the-box” activities educators invented for their students. September 15th will be here before you know it — this year, we encourage even more kids and grown-up kids to “make their mark” in new and exciting ways!

You can see what I made here. As for how I made it: I found magazine pictures that made me think of heat and light (the sun setting over the University of Texas tower, a grilled-cheese sandwich in a skillet, a farmer inspecting his crops during a drought, a kid coming down a water slide, etc.), cut them into strips, then wove those strips together and overlaid them with a sheet of paper with a circle ripped out of the center. I had no idea what I was going to make when I started, but I had a lot of fun, found the whole thing both challenging and relaxing, and I could not have enjoyed the process more.

I’d even go so far as to say that making art is more fun than cleaning out my stash of “author stuff,” but that has its benefits, too — such as coming across random items that I thought would be fun to give away to teachers and school librarians getting ready to return to school.

What sort of stuff? Well, there are these:

Shark Vs. Train bookplates

These are three dozen signed Shark Vs. Train bookplates. Book fairs have been known to sell a copy or two of Shark Vs. Train — being able to affix the author’s signature inside the book might make that purchase all the more special.

And then there are these:

Paint pens

When I sign copies of The Day-Glo Brothers, I like to use daylight-fluorescent paint pens — orange and green, specifically. The thing is, they come in three-packs that include a yellow pen, and brilliant as those yellow ones are, I just don’t think that signatures made with them would be quite as dazzling as those made with orange or green. So, I’ve accumulated 10 of them, and I’m going to give the whole bunch of them away.

These giveaways will be to teachers and school librarians who are signed up for my Bartography Express newsletter through the “Win a Book!” section on my home page. As that wording on my site suggests, I give away books, too, and next week’s giveaway of these extra goodies will be in addition to the regular giveaway open to all Bartography Express subscribers.

And if that’s not enticement enough, in September and October, I’ll also be giving away copies of Marc Tyler Nobleman’s Bill the Boy Wonder and Gary Golio’s upcoming John Coltrane picture book biography.

So, get in the running by signing up on my home page, get that out of the way, and then go make yourself some art. If my recent experience is any indication, you’ll be glad you did.

05 May

Building a better research process

I recently embarked on the research for the next picture book biography I’m writing. It’s about an inventor whose success has come (as the success of most inventors does, I imagine) through trial and error and ongoing improvement, be it through small increments or large leaps.

It’s appropriate, then, that for this book I’ve been consciously trying to improve my own research processes — even before the actual beginning of this project.

In the past, I’ve typically juggled — tried to, anyway — multiple projects at a time. I’d write fiction while researching nonfiction, for example. The thing is, I’m not as good at that as I thought I was. Instead of getting more things done, I get more things partially done. And as you may have noticed, partially done books tend not to get published.

So, this spring I waited. I waited until I was at the right place to stop in my most recent fiction project — namely, the completion, revision, and submission of a full draft — before I lifted a finger on researching the next thing. I could tell I was getting closer to being able to begin my research by the growing ache and anticipation. It had been a really long time since I started fresh on a nonfiction project, and I was raring to go. But I also wanted to be able to give my full attention to it by not having anything undone from the previous project hanging over my head.

When the day to get started finally arrived, on Monday of last week, I sprang out of bed at 5:30 a.m. and dove right into… creating empty documents. Not actually looking up information, but organizing the documents — the containers — where I’d keep what I’d found already and my plans for what to look for later.

This was new.

I’ve long thought of myself as a methodical, organized writer. Each of the 23 rejected submissions of The Day-Glo Brothers came about through what had seemed to me to be careful, thoughtful, targeted planning — and that same planning had managed to overlook Charlesbridge Publishing, which turned out to be the perfect home for that book. So, I had a lot to learn about submissions then, and I recently came to realize that I still had a lot of room for improvement in my research methods even after The Day-Glo Brothers, Can I See Your I.D.?, and my upcoming book about John Roy Lynch.

So, what exactly did I do that first day? In Google Docs, I created a new folder bearing the name of my subject, and within that folder I created the following documents:

Contacts
Images
Patents
Potential Titles
Questions
Quotes
Science
Search Terms
Source Types
Sources
Timeline/Anecdotes

In the very productive two weeks since then, those documents have allowed me to make progress, maintain order, and lay the groundwork for my next steps, in equal measure. It’s requiring more discipline than I knew I had — to some extent, it’s slowing me down, but to a much greater extent, it’s saving me time in the long run. And my excitement for this project is stronger than ever.

I expect that I’ll write more here about my process and progress as I continue working on this book. (What, exactly, goes into each of those documents listed? Maybe that’s what I’ll go into next.) If there’s anything you’d like to know about what I’m up to, ask away in the comments, or drop me a line.

I’ll let you and my other readers know as much as I can. Maybe I’ll even surprise myself with my answers.

06 Feb

Love from (and to) libraries and librarians

Libraries and librarians have been sending some great news my way lately.

In the past few weeks, I’ve learned that The Day-Glo Brothers is a nominee for the 2011-2012 Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Program sponsored by the Pennsylvania School Libraries Association, and that Shark Vs. Train has been named to three nifty lists:

  • The Chicago Public Library‘s 2010 Best of the Best list
  • The Texas Library Association’s 2011 2×2 list
  • The Illinois School Library Media Association’s 2012 Monarch Award list
  • I just wish that libraries and librarians were on the receiving end of more good news lately. I wrote about this in my Bartography Express newsletter last weekend:

    We all love our libraries — even Shark and Train — but it’s never been more important that we take the time to say so. State and city and school district budgets this year include deep, shortsighted cuts for libraries and librarians and the services they provide. These are bad news for all of us and especially for the children in our society. If we want to be a better educated, better informed, better prepared people, none of us — not one — will come out ahead if these sorts of cuts go through.

    The Texas Library Association has provided this tool for emailing Gov. Perry and state senators and representatives to advocate on behalf of the institutions — and the people who make them run — that are such a vital part of our society, democracy and culture. If your state library association does the same, I urge you to take advantage of it.

    One bright spot for librarians, at least, is the new book by one of their own, Jeanette Larson. In her post-librarian career (though I really wonder if such a thing exists), Jeanette has written the lovely Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas, just published by Charlesbridge. It’s a beautiful book, and I hope you’ll all be able to find it on the shelves of your local library.