13 Sep

How to Diversify Your Kidlit-Related Lists flowchart (for attendees of the Bill Martin Jr. Symposium)

Greetings to those of you attending my Saturday-morning keynote at Texas A&M University–Commerce’s Bill Martin Jr. Symposium. Near the end of that talk, I mention this How to Diversify Your Kidlit-Related Lists flowchart, so I’d like to also extend this greeting to anyone else interested in making use of this tool.

You can read here about the history and intent of this flowchart, including the help I received from Karen Blumenthal and Janie Bynum.

And you can download a PDF of it.

But if an image file of How to Diversify Your Kidlit-Related Lists will meet your needs, here you go:

I hope you enjoy it greatly and share it widely!

09 Sep

“I told my editor, ‘I want to write a Pakistani American version of Little Women, but Beth can’t die and Jo can’t marry the old guy.’” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for September 2019)

Welcome to the Q&A and giveaway for the September edition of my Bartography Express newsletter, which you can read here and sign up for here.

This month my Q&A is with Maryland author Hena Khan, whose new middle-grade novel, More to the Story, was inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. More to the Story is published by Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, as was her previous novel, the much-lauded Amina’s Voice.

Instead of Jo March and her sisters in Civil War-era Massachusetts, More to the Story follows Jameela Mirza and her Muslim family in contemporary Atlanta. In its starred review of the book, Publishers Weekly says, “Khan nimbly incorporates details of modern life and allusions to Alcott’s classic — including financial troubles and a health scare — into a tale that is, fittingly, strongest in the moments when family dynamics are on display.”

I’m giving away a copy of More to the Story to a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address. If you want to be that winner, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on September 30, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Hena Khan.

Chris: How did paying homage as a writer to a book that you loved as a reader compare to what you thought the experience would be like? Are there ways that the process was different, or more challenging, or more beneficial to your writing skills than you had anticipated?

author Hena Khan; photo by Zoshia Minto

Hena: When I had originally thought about writing a book inspired by Little Women, I imagined the process would be smoother.

I adored the classic growing up and for years had thought it would adapt well to a retelling that featured a Pakistani American family. After all, I saw many aspects of my culture in the book, like overly worrying about reputation, marriage proposals, and traditional gender roles.

When I spoke to my editor Zareen Jaffery about the idea, I told her “I want to write a Pakistani American version of Little Women, but Beth can’t die and Jo can’t marry the old guy,” and I’m pretty sure she cheered with joy.

But when I sat down to write the book, which I imagined as a young adult novel, I couldn’t capture the voice I wanted. I didn’t like my protagonist, Jameela, as a high schooler, and realized I didn’t want to immerse myself in marriage proposals or romance or struggles against societal rules.

Instead, I wanted to write the book from a middle-grade perspective, and to focus on universal issues and the strong relationships I savored in the original book. But then it wouldn’t quite be the retelling I imagined. In the end, the story I wrote includes nods to my favorite book and aspects of it that I love, like a memorable scene or moment or the basic personalities of the characters.

It ended up being liberating, because I stopped worrying that readers would compare it to the original book, since it’s now so different. I hope it will be fun for fans of the classic to recognize the similarities or tributes to the Louisa May Alcott classic, and for new readers to enjoy an original story with characters they connect with.

Writing the book was a test in expressing new emotions, pushing my dialogue scenes, and trying to write flirting, which I’m really bad at in real life!

Chris: Speaking of flirting, the character doing most of that is Ali — a eighth grade, Pakistani British version of Laurie from Little Women. I loved reading your author’s note and learning that your assumptions about Briticisms paralleled the Mirza sisters’ curiosity and observations about Ali’s cultural background. What’s your response going to be to readers who inevitably want more about Ali and his soccer playing in a follow-up book?

Hena: I hadn’t considered that parallel, but you’re so right! The silly things the girls say to Ali probably reflect a lot of things I assumed myself about British culture. And like Jameela, as a child I was curious the first time I met a South Asian with a full British accent.

I’m so glad that while I was writing More to the Story I had a real British teen, living in London, who I could call and read my Ali dialogue scenes to, and have him very patiently correct my completely made-up or TV-inspired Briticisms. The best was when I said “lumps” (referring to sugar cubes because of my extensive knowledge of proper tea terminology from Looney Tunes) and he cracked up and thought it sounded perverted.

I loved writing Ali as a character, someone who is a little mysterious but also super charming and kind. And I ultimately had fun including the flirting and the slightest hint of romance without hitting anyone over the head with it. My husband read the book and asked, “What romance?” But I promise it’s in there!

I hadn’t thought about readers asking for more about Ali, although now that I think of it, readers wanted more of Mustafa from Amina’s Voice, too! Honestly, I hadn’t considered extending the story before, but if readers clamor for it, I’d be more than happy to give it to them!

06 Sep

Literacy in Action: next Saturday’s Bill Martin Jr. Symposium in Mesquite, TX

28 Aug

All the college kidlit conferences (as of August 2019)

Or, more formally, “A Comprehensive List of U.S. College- and University-Sponsored or -Hosted Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conferences, Festivals, and Symposia.” (All of them that I could find, anyway).

Several years ago, I was looking for such a list, wondered why I couldn’t find one, and decided to just go ahead and make one myself.

Since then, I’ve periodically updated and reposted it, and I plan to continue doing so. If I’ve missed any, or included some that no longer exist, won’t you please let me know in the comments section?

Arizona
University of Arizona Tucson Festival of Books

California
University of Redlands Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Literature Festival

This is me, and these are some of my books. Get info on my school visits.

Colorado
Metropolitan State University of Denver and University of Colorado at Denver Colorado Teen Literature Conference

Connecticut
University of Connecticut Connecticut Children’s Book Fair

Georgia
Kennesaw State University Conference on Literature for Children and Young Adults
The University of Georgia Conference on Children’s Literature

Hawaii
Chaminade University of Honolulu Conference on Literature and Hawai’i’s Children

Illinois
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Youth Literature Festival

Indiana
Anderson University Elizabeth York Children’s Literature Collection & Festival

Kansas
Kansas State University Conference of Children’s Literature in English, Education, and Library Science

Coming from me in March 2020: Fire Truck vs. Dragon (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Kentucky
Asbury University Children’s Literature Conference
Thomas More University Ohio Kentucky Indiana Children’s Literature Conference

Maryland
Frostburg State University Spring Festival of Children’s Literature
Salisbury University Children’s and Young Adult Literature Festival

Massachusetts
Framingham State University Swiacki Children’s Literature Festival
Simmons College Children’s Literature Summer Institute

Minnesota
University of Minnesota Kerlan Award Ceremony and Chase Lecture
University of St. Thomas Hubbs Children’s Literature Conference

Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival

Missouri
Missouri State University Children’s Literature Festival of the Ozarks
Truman State University Children’s Literature Festival
University of Central Missouri Children’s Literature Festival

Coming from me in February 2020: All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing (Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing)

Nebraska
Concordia University Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival

Nevada
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Gayle A. Zeiter Young Adult and Children’s Literature Conference
University of Nevada, Reno Reading Week Reimagined

New Jersey
Montclair State University New Jersey Council of Teachers of English Spring Conference
Rutgers University One-on-One Plus Conference

New York
Bank Street College of Education BookFest @ Bank Street
The Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York The Color of Children’s Literature Conference
Monroe Community College Rochester Children’s Book Festival (thanks to librarian Karen Wilson for the suggestion!)
Nazareth College Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival
The State University of New York at Potsdam Journey Into Literacy
Stony Brook University – Southampton Southampton Children’s Literature Conference

Ohio
Bowling Green State University Literacy in the Park
Kent State University Virginia Hamilton Conference
The University of Findlay Mazza Museum Fall Weekend Conference and Summer Conference
Youngstown State University English Festival

My most recent picture book: What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster)

Pennsylvania
Community College of Philadelphia African American Children’s Book Fair
Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference
University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg Children’s Literature Conference

Tennessee
Middle Tennessee State University Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival

Texas
Texas A&M University – Commerce Bill Martin Jr. Symposium

Utah
Brigham Young University Symposium on Books for Young Readers
Utah Valley University For the Love of Reading Conference

Virginia
The College of William and Mary Joy of Literacy and Literature Conference
Hollins University Francelia Butler Conference
Longwood University Summer Literacy Institute and Virginia Children’s Book Festival
Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference

Washington
University of Washington 2020 Children’s Literature Association Conference (ChLA 2020)
Western Washington University Children’s Literature Conference

27 Aug

Knowing where I’m going, and who was there before

I’ve added a new step to the planning I do for my school visits and appearances at conferences and festivals: using the map tool from Native Land Digital to learn about the Indigenous histories of the places I go and current information about the nations represented.

So, for instance, over the summer I appeared at a university whose history, according to Native Land Digital, included Massawomeck and Manahoac people. My first visit in 2019-20 will be at a school where the history comes up as Tonkawa and Comanche.

Again, my goal is to learn this for every school I visit, every conference site, every festival location. I’m going to learn a lot.

14 Aug

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? is the 2019 Texas Great Read!

Rebekah Manley and me at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

I’ve got some pretty exciting news — Texas-sized news, if you ask me.

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, written by me and illustrated by Ekua Holmes, has been named the 2019 Texas Great Read.

This is a program of the Texas Center for the Book at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, which describes the whole shebang thusly:

“Every year, the Library of Congress asks each state Center for the Book to select a title that represents the state’s literary landscape to highlight at the National Book Festival. The event showcases the importance of books and reading. The festival is sponsored by the Library of Congress and takes place during Labor Day weekend in Washington, D.C.”

I’m beyond thrilled that my picture book biography of true Texas hero Barbara Jordan will represent the literary culture shared by Texans from El Paso to Beaumont, Brownsville to Dalhart, and Texarkana to Terlingua, not to mention the great lady’s hometown of Houston and adopted home city of Austin.

Many thanks to Rebekah Manley (she of the matching boots in the photo above) and her colleagues at the TSLAC for their support of this book, and to everyone who rooted for this book to get the nod. And here’s to new generations of Texans getting to know just what Barbara Jordan did with a voice like that.

Published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster

05 Aug

Introducing Fire Truck vs. Dragon


I’d like you to meet Fire Truck and Dragon!

I’m happy as can be to offer this first look at the cover of Fire Truck vs. Dragon, written by me and marvelously illustrated by Shanda McCloskey. (Shanda is also the author-illustrator of last year’s delightful Doll-E 1.0 and the soon-to-be-published T-Bone the Drone.)

Fire Truck vs. Dragon — a companion of sorts to my 2010 picture book Shark vs. Train — will be published next March by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

From the front jacket flap:

What’s something that dragons are really good at? And what’s something that fire trucks are really, really, really good at? Put the two of them together, and imagine what happens next!

05 Aug

“I’ve had to create my own education … I learned how to be subversive in picture books, to say more than meets a first read.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for August 2019)

Welcome to the Q&A and giveaway for the August edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).

My Q&A this month is with Las Vegas-based author and illustrator Daria Peoples-Riley, creator of the new picture book I Got Next. I Got Next was published last week by Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, which also published her ballet-focused 2018 debut, This Is It.

In one of several enthusiastic reviews that I Got Next has received, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books declared, “Peoples-Riley’s art is witty and superb … The sharp-edged, mixed-gender group of playground kids … are a highly individual, deeply plausible collection. Use this [book] to demonstrate how stories often have deeper meanings and to elicit discussion, but also just to revel in the city life made beautiful.”

I’m giving away a copy of I Got Next to a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address. If you want that winner to be you, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on August 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Daria Peoples-Riley.

Chris: I’ve read that This Is It was inspired by your family’s first trip to New York City, but what about the setting of I Got Next? It seems so specific and genuine. Did you base it on a particular real-life neighborhood, or did you incorporate elements from various places, including your imagination?

Daria Peoples-Riley (photo by Kelsey Arrington)

Daria: When I wrote This Is It and placed it in NYC, I knew then I wanted I Got Next to take place in Brooklyn mainly because it is where I romanticize street ball and street ball legends, so the art is definitely inspired by Brooklyn’s outdoor basketball courts.

However, I didn’t get a chance to go back to NYC to visit Brooklyn before final sketches or final art for I Got Next, but I did visit Washington, DC, for the first time, and sat at an outdoor basketball court, and observed the kids, the parents, and the natural elements of what playing basketball in an outdoor urban setting might feel and look like through a child’s eyes.

So, essentially, the art is specifically inspired by that court in Washington, DC. It was important to me that the art in I Got Next came from that same sense of childlike wonder that I experienced when I visited NYC for the first time.

What I noticed, and what I hope is conveyed in I Got Next, is that a child’s environment is often their adversary. Instead of the universe conspiring on the hero’s behalf (like it does for the heroine in This Is It), the environment conspires against the hero, as it often does for young people who come from marginalized, under-resourced communities.

Chris: On the endpapers of I Got Next, readers will find the text, “in loving memory of Sonia Lynn Sadler,” the illustrator of the 2010 picture book Seeds of Change. How have her life and work shaped your own?

Daria: I learned of Seeds Of Change and Sonia Lynn Sadler when I was chosen to receive an illustration award in her honor through the Salisbury Children’s Book Festival. After receiving the award, Sonia’s art and life became a mentor text for me, which was very influential for my work.

Because I have no formal art training, I’ve had to create my own education, and from Sonia’s work, I learned how to be subversive in picture books, to say more than meets a first read. I also learned to approach each project as its own entity, which gives me permission to trust myself and change media and art processes according to the heart of the story.

Also, Sonia’s entry into children’s literature came later in life, as a second career, as it did for me, and within a few weeks of her passing, I took my first portfolio to a Illustrator’s Day in LA, which I thought was very symbolic in my journey. Her art and work allows me to see myself in this industry, thriving and contributing in a way I wouldn’t have been able to imagine without her legacy.

I included a dedication in the endpapers, and Greenwillow added it to the jacket of the book to bring more awareness to Sonia’s work and hopefully more financial support for her award. Honestly, I was disappointed that I hadn’t known of her before receiving the honor, and I want young readers, librarians, parents, teachers, and aspiring artists to know her and celebrate her contribution to children’s literature.

New generations of writers and artists of color should know we are here because others paved the way, and began the breaking of barriers on our behalf long before we entered the arena.

01 Aug

Whoosh! subject Lonnie Johnson last month at Kennedy Library Forums

As I write this, I’m listening to the audio of Lonnie Johnson’s presentation this past July 20 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Even for someone who knows Lonnie Johnson’s story well, this telling of it is riveting.

For those not quite ready to consume an hour — even a fascinating hour — of the story of the NASA engineer who invented the Super Soaker water gun, might I recommend my picture book biography Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions?

illustrated by Don Tate, published by Charlesbridge

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.