20 Jun

Come say hey at the Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference!

Librarians and other educators in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., I’m looking forward to seeing many of you next week at the Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference in Winchester, Virginia.

I’m excited about not only delivering a brand-new presentation — “Who Am I, and Why Did I Write This Book?” — but also participating in a pair of Q&A sessions with attendees and also talking with local elementary students attending a summer enrichment program.

This year’s CLC lineup includes 15 other authors and illustrators. Here’s who and when —

Monday 6/24/19
Kwame Alexander
Kevin Henkes
Bob Shea

Tuesday 6/25/19
Leslie Connor
Scott Magoon
Yuyi Morales

Wednesday 6/26/19
Denise Fleming
Brian Lies
Adam Rex
Aisha Saeed

Thursday 6/27/19
Chris Barton
Ben Hatke
Kevin Lewis
Dashka Slater

Friday 6/28/19
Adam Gidwitz
Colby Sharp

— and the all-important how-to-register-to-attend.

Hope to see you there!

13 Jun

First Day-Glo, then Dazzle, now Glitter!

First I wrote about daylight fluorescent colors — those superbright oranges and yellows and pinks and greens — in The Day-Glo Brothers.

A bit later, I tackled another visually inventive topic — camouflage — in Dazzle Ships.

Now, word is out about an upcoming nonfiction picture book of mine in the same vein: Glitter Everywhere: Where It Came From, Where It’s Found, And Where It’s Going, which will be published by Charlesbridge.

I’ve worked before with Charlesbridge on both The Day-Glo Brothers and Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, and I’m as excited as can be to be teaming up with them again for this exploration of the sparkly stuff.

I’m deep in my research now, and it’s fascinating. For me, the hardest part of gathering information for any nonfiction book is stopping my research so that I can move on to the next one, and I suspect that glitter will be especially hard to get away from…


07 Jun

An animated look at what’s inside a Super Soaker

Here’s a fascinating, captivating, three-minute stop-motion video composed of more than 4,000 individual photos of a vintage Super Soaker 100. It’s a must-see for anyone who loved Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (written by me, illustrated by Don Tate, and published by Charlesbridge):

The creator of the video says:

This thing is almost entirely plastic and most parts are permanently glued together. Those features make it very hard to actually restore, but slightly easier to repair. … I am “pumped” this works again…

03 Jun

“I’m shocked by how readers in all states ask, ‘Did you train surf like Bryan?’ Readers reread those scenes, a lot.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for June 2019)

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

My Q&A this month is with teacher and author Torrey Maldonado, whom you can learn more about at his website and follow on Twitter at @TorreyMaldonado.

Torrey’s tense, brisk middle grade novel Tight (available here!) was published last year by Nancy Paulsen Books. In the book, comics-loving seventh-grader Bryan grapples with conflicting feelings when his interactions with new classmate Mike turn increasingly toxic.

School Library Journal gave Tight a starred review, saying, “The complex emotional lives of young boys of color are portrayed through a nascent friendship,” adding that the author “excels at depicting realistic and authentic interactions between middle school boys. An excellent addition to libraries.”

I’m giving away a copy of Tight 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 June 30, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Torrey Maldonado.

Chris: As a teacher, as a parent, and as someone who used to be a kid, you may have had the chance to see relationships like the one between Bryan and Mike from multiple perspectives. What’s something about that sort of dynamic that you only really came to understand by writing Tight — something you maybe wish you’d realized earlier?

Torrey: Have I seen and experienced Bryan’s and Mike’s dynamic? My whole life, everywhere. We all have. THAT is what I know after writing Tight. In states I author-visit, people of all ages and positions tell me about their Mikes. A fifth grade girl said, “I broke up with my friend since she’s Mike.” A school principal who also is a parent said, “I made my family read Tight. We all have Mikes.”

Mike may be in your life, too — a friend, relative, or person who sometimes doesn’t act so friendly? Someone who may be a frenemy? Just now I Googled ambiguous ambivalent friend. There are 6 million of us with Mikes! I hope Tight helps us put Mike on a bully spectrum so we better handle our Mikes.

Chris: Well, let’s talk about those author visits to other states. You’re a lifelong Brooklynite, I believe, and that’s where Tight is set. (My maternal grandmother was from there, by the way, but you could probably tell that from my accent.) Even if Tight didn’t have the A train and C train on the cover, that sense of place would still be strong as can be.

As you’ve visited readers in other states, have they responded to — or connected with — the Brooklyn setting and your Brooklyn background in any ways that have surprised you?

Torrey: I’m Brooklyn, born and raised, with so much Brooklyn-love that I yell with Miles Morales “BROOKLYN!!!!” as he takes his leap of faith in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Thanks for saying even without the trains on the cover that Brooklyn in Tight is as strong as it can be. I’m always wowed at how book buyers stage-dive at that cover. The cover is a nice hint at the train-surfing scenes. I’m shocked by how readers in all states ask, “Did you train surf like Bryan?” Readers reread those scenes, a lot.

It’s cool that so many ask, “How does Bryan sound?” They’re glad to learn that his voice is in the audiobook of Tight. Guess who narrated it? Woohoo! [Note from Chris: It’s true! You can listen to a bit of Torrey’s narration here.] It’s my first audiobook narration, so I’m still impressed that Tight was named an ALA Notable Children’s Recording.

How my Brooklyn background amplifies the Brooklyn flavors of Tight surprises me so much that I sometimes reread the award announcement. Here, I’ll read it now: “Maldonado’s dynamic Brooklyn accent perfectly suits his story of Bryan, as he struggles with finding the right friends, set against the backdrop of the city streets.” Whoah.

30 May

“This is Chree-yus!”

In 1976, when I was four years old, members of my family recorded audio greetings for my great-grandmother on the occasion of her 87th birthday. My Northeast Texas accent (and that of my older brother) was a lot stronger back then. Listen for yourself!

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.

06 May

“It was meant to be funny. This little zombie kid embracing a big ol’ root vegetable like it was his teddy bear. But then it hit me: That was Mo.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for May 2019)

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

My Q&A this month is with married collaborators Megan and Jorge Lacera, the creators of the picture book Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies!, published last month by Lee & Low Books.

In a starred review, Kirkus said, “Tasty and homegrown, this hits a strange and specific trifecta: a lightly bilingual book that feels inclusive not only for Latinx kids, but also for different eaters and for those who aren’t afraid of gory, monster-themed humor.”

To a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address, I’m giving away one copy of Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies! If you want to be that winner, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on May 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Megan Lacera and Jorge Lacera.

Chris: Side-by-side collaboration between author and illustrator is the exception in picture books — usually the author creates the text and then, for the most part, steps aside while the illustrator brings in the visual aspect of the storytelling.

What’s something that Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies! would have lost if the two of you had worked on it in that traditional way? Is there a particular page or attribute or other element of the book or story that comes to mind?

Megan Lacera

Megan: Such a great question, Chris! I don’t think we would have arrived at the same story if we hadn’t collaborated so deeply.

Early on, after I had written several versions and Jorge had storyboarded out the book numerous times, we were looking at all of the different pieces together. There was good stuff happening, but it wasn’t gelling the way we hoped. While we talked about the issues, Jorge sketched. The result was an image of Mo hugging a carrot. It was meant to be funny — and it was! This little zombie kid embracing a big ol’ root vegetable like it was his teddy bear. We both cracked up.

But then it hit me: That was Mo.

Veggies were much more than something he liked to eat. He loved them. Growing them, harvesting them, mincing them, dicing them. All of it. They were essential to who he was. That realization led to a key discovery for our story: that Mo had to fully embrace his differences. There wasn’t another choice because this wasn’t a food preference. It was love.

Jorge: Megan is a pun master, and we tossed a lot of them back and forth that we thought were funny and worked with the story.

Early on in the story we had a series of vignettes where Mo is trying to convince his parents to give veggies a try. We knew we wanted a bunch of visual gags, so I went to the list we kept of puns and spotted “head of lettuce” and immediately the visual of a scarecrow but with a lettuce head popped into my head.

I think the whole time it was an organic back and forth between the art and the text.

Jorge Lacera

Chris: Your website credits your six-year-old as “Studio Lacera’s Chief of Research and Story Development.” Reading abilities and interests can grow and change so quickly at that age — are there ways that your own storytelling has evolved as a result?

Jorge: Thankfully for us, Kai’s interests seem to match ours. From the start we knew we wanted to collaborate on a variety of stories, from picture books to middle grade and beyond. We hope Kai keeps up with us — otherwise he might need to be transitioned to another department.

Megan: Maybe because he is a only child, or maybe it’s just who he is, but Kai has always wanted to be involved in our work. He loves stories of all kinds and has a gigantic imagination.

The truth is that part of including him on our site is because he wanted to be — and he certainly is a big part of what we do. He loves to share his thoughts on projects and has very strong, definite ideas.

I think our own storytelling has evolved with Kai because we see how he (and other kids) has so many things vying for his attention, like tablets and smartphones and all kinds of gadgets. Instead of being deterred by that, we embrace that there is “competition.” We think about how we can grab his attention with a character or idea — and tell stories that keep that attention. It’s a big challenge!

03 May

My seedling from the Oklahoma City Survivor Tree

Three years ago, a book tour took me to Oklahoma City, and before I left town, I made my first visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. The experience — especially the storytelling achieved by both the Memorial and the Museum — made a big impression on me.

Among the many facets of the story that began with the bombing of Oklahoma City’s Murrah Building on April 19, 1995, is the Survivor Tree that stands between the Museum and the Memorial. Here’s a photo I took of the tree on the day I visited:

After my visit, I could not stop thinking about the bombing and the effect it had — and still has — on the lives of so many people. That’s always a pretty good sign, for me, that there’s a book I should write.

I began reading a lot about the bombing and the resulting Memorial. In June 2017 I returned to Oklahoma City to do more research, which included quite a bit of time in the Museum’s archives. That’s where I saw this photo showing the Survivor Tree soon after the bombing:

Collection, Oklahoma National Memorial & Museum

I also took some close-up photos of the tree itself, demonstrating just how carefully it is tended to —

— and how healthy and full of life it became in the two decades-plus after the bombing:

Not long after, Lerner Publishing agreed to publish my picture book, All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing, with illustrations by Nicole Xu. The book is almost finished and will be published next February.

Jennifer and I talk with an Oklahoma couple who had just received Survivor Tree seedlings (photo by Danielle Carnito)

Two weeks ago, for the 24th anniversary of the bombing, I returned to Oklahoma City again, along with the book’s editor, Carol Hinz; art director, Danielle Carnito; and my wife, Jennifer Ziegler. We attended the annual Remembrance Ceremony, after which Survivor Tree seedlings were distributed to attendees.

Though our book is not only about the Survivor Tree, the tree and its offspring definitely are integral parts. Yet this was the first time I had seen the seedlings, some of which were larger than I expected.

It was also my first opportunity to meet some of the people I had interviewed by phone, including Mark Bays, an urban forestry coordinator with Oklahoma Forestry Services.

Mark, Jennifer, Carol and me in front of the Museum (photo by Danielle Carnito)

Mark has helped lead efforts to revive, preserve, and propagate the Survivor Tree since shortly after the Murrah bombing, and he was stationed at the entrance to the Museum to distribute seedlings.

By the time I got there, only a few seedlings remained, but the line of recipients had dwindled down to nothing, and I took a seedling for myself.

Later that day I visited the Memorial at night for the first time — by the light of a full moon, as it happened — and got a view of the Survivor Tree that I’d never had before:

Early the next morning, Jennifer and I got on a flight home. I heeded the advice I received from her — and from Carol, and from Danielle — not to try to pack my Survivor Tree seedling inside my carry-on suitcase. (No, I was told, not even if I tried to do so carefully.)

So, from Oklahoma City to Dallas to Austin, my seedling poked out of my leather messenger bag that I kept between my feet.

When we got home, I bought a new blue pot and planted the seedling. That won’t be where it stays permanently, but I don’t know that our pecan trees leave enough room for an American elm to grow and thrive. There’s a good chance that I’ll offer to plant the my Survivor Tree seedling — by then, perhaps, a sapling — next spring, sometime close to the 25th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.

In the meantime, I’ll appreciate seeing it outside my front door — and remembering all that it represents — each time I come and go.