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.

09 Jan

“I hadn’t anticipated how the story would resonate with so many readers.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for January 2019)

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

My Q&A this month is with Donna Janell Bowman, author of the nonfiction picture book Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, illustrated by Daniel Minter and published by Lee & Low.

Step Right Up tells the true story of how formerly enslaved William “Doc” Key relied on the power of kindness to transform a sickly colt named Beautiful Jim Key into an astounding equine specimen capable of feats of reading, writing, and math. The book has been selected as a finalist for readers’ choice awards in six states, including the Bluebonnet Award in Donna’s home state of Texas.

Donna is also the author of Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, a 2018 picture book (illustrated by S.D. Schindler and published by Peachtree) about a little-known scrape that Lincoln got himself into as a young man — a duel that could have ended his career or even his life. And like me, Donna loves doing school visits.

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

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Donna Janell Bowman.

Chris: Step Right Up was published in October 2016, which means that librarians and other educators have now had more than two years to try out ways of connecting young readers to the story of Doc and Jim Key. There’s been time for word of their efforts to get back to you, and for you to see some of those efforts for yourself.

During that time, what has stood out to you about the ways that kids and adults have responded to Step Right Up?

Donna: There’s an extra dose of my heart woven into Step Right Up, but I hadn’t anticipated how the story would resonate with so many readers. The ways Doc and Jim inspired kindness is worthy on its own, but the fortuitous timing of the book’s release — a month before the presidential election that put families and neighbors at odds — elevated the story’s appeal even more. The time was ripe for a kindness story then as now.

It is heartwarming to know that schools and libraries are using Step Right Up to spark discussions about kindness and to promote anti-bullying environments. I occasionally receive fan mail or the unexpected gift, like the kindness book made up of twenty or so pages illustrated in watercolor — an Iowa class’ random act of kindness to me. Yep, they instituted a random-act-of-kindness tradition. Be still my heart!

Through letters and photos from educators and at the schools I visit, I am humbled by hallways plastered with student-signed copies of the downloadable Step Right Up Kindness Pledge, artwork inspired by Daniel Minter’s exquisite illustrations, painted kindness-inspired keywords, paper kindness chains with links produced by every student, Popsicle-stick horses, horseshoe-shaped compliments exchanged between students, pet blankets made for local animal shelters. And on and on. Educators are brilliant at weaving impactful lessons into fun art projects. They know that, while kids busy their hands making things, their minds and hearts are connecting to the story.

Chris: Is there a book that you’ve come across — either in your creation of Step Right Up or since your book was published — that you think complements Doc and Jim Key’s story especially well? Something that readers who love Step Right Up might also enjoy?

Donna: I’m gonna be a rebel here, because it’s almost impossible for me to zero in on a single recommended title for young readers, in part because Step Right Up seems to appeal to a very broad age range, and it touches on several concepts, especially kindness.

I hope Step Right Up primes kids to learn more about the people who championed the humane treatment of animals, and Nancy Furstinger’s Mercy: The Incredible Story of Henry Bergh, Founder of the ASPCA and Friend to Animals is a great introduction.

For a contemporary true story about a woman who took extreme measures to rescue a horse from an abusive situation, I recommend G. Neri and Corban Wilkin’s middle-grade graphic novel, Grand Theft Horse.

For picture book readers who love animal stories, Maria Gianferrari and Luisa Uribe’s Operation Rescue Dog ticks a lot of boxes, including information about animal shelters.

And, goodness, I hope readers will rediscover the preeminent book to spark empathy for animals — Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, which has the bonus appeal of a connection to Beautiful Jim Key. You see, Jim was seen as the living example of Black Beauty’s message.

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.

04 Dec

Rolling out today: my latest Mighty Truck book!

Do you know Mighty Truck, my series of picture books and early readers illustrated by Troy Cummings and published by HarperCollins?

First, in 2016, there was the origin story: How an ordinary, muddy pickup named Clarence became a day-saving (and unrecognizably clean) superhero.

Then, in 2017, came Mighty Truck: Muddymania!, in which Clarence grappled with 1) keeping his commitments to his best friend, Bruno, 2) maintaining his secret super identity, and 3) preventing disaster at Axleburg’s premier mud-flinging spectacular.

Earlier this year, two new Mighty Truck books arrived: I Can Read! titles On the Farm (Can Clarence get a mighty break from his super responsibilities when he goes back home to visit his parents?) and The Traffic Tie-Up (Can Mighty Truck undo the unintended effects of Clarence’s unsolicited advice to a friend?).

Today, they’re joined by the third (but not the final!) I Can Read! installment in the series. That’s right, it’s publication day for Mighty Truck: Zip and Beep, in which Mighty Truck helps Clarence tackle the biggest challenge of them all: keeping up with his boss’ energetic young cousins on his day off.

Working with Troy Cummings is a hoot (the characters of Zip and Beep were his idea!), and writing for the early-reader format is such a fun challenge, that Mighty Truck: Zip and Beep may just be my favorite book in the series.

So far, anyway. Ask me again this coming May when I’m holding in my hands a copy of Mighty Truck: Surf’s Up!

Click here for more information on all the Mighty Truck books. I really (wheely!) think you’ll like them.