23 Sep

Writing what I’d love to learn

A post I wrote for the Nerdy Book Club has gone online, and I think you’ll like it. It’s titled “Write What You Know? Try Writing What You’d Love to Learn,” and it expands on a theme I discuss a lot in my school visits.

Here’s a taste:

As I write, I also discover more holes in what I know. My progress so far, however, gives me confidence that I’ll be able to fill those gaps, too. Students can fill those gaps as well. What I do, they can do — or learn to do. And I believe they can love it just as much.

If that doesn’t interest you, how about if you just come check out the 80-year-old footage of a pirouetting gas station attendant?

03 Jul

Central Texas educators: Win this Day-Glo Brothers teaching aid

Day-Glo visual

The Day-Glo Brothers, my first book, was published five years ago this week, and when I began doing school visits, I brought along this 32″ x 10″ visual aid. It consists of seven sturdy posterboard panels, joined by three metal rings, that help explain how ordinary light and color, ultraviolet light and fluorescence, and daylight fluorescence work.

Once Shark Vs. Train came along, the focus of my presentations shifted, and this teaching aid no longer got much use. But I’ve taken good care of it, and it’s in great shape, and I’d like someone out there to have it.

But not too far out there, because I don’t want to risk it getting damaged during shipping. So if you’re an educator in the Austin area — which I’m defining as “within 20 miles of my house” — you’re eligible to win this Day-Glo Brothers artifact.

Two weeks from today, I will select one person who has subscribed to my Bartography Express newsletter with an Central Texas educational email address (one ending with @austinisd.org, @pfisd.net, @roundrockisd.org, etc.), and this teaching aid will be theirs to keep. I’ll even deliver it myself and explain how to use it.

How do you subscribe, if you aren’t already receiving Bartography Express? It’s easy: Just click here and fill out the form.

Good luck! And here’s to a happy new home for something I made all by myself.

11 Jun

Summer reading and home library suggestions from the ALSC


If you need summer reading lists for students in grades K-8, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) has your back.

ALSC — a division of the American Library Association (ALA) — has updated its lists and provided them in color and black & white formats that make it easy to print these up and distribute them.

ALSC also has the backs of Shark Vs. Train and The Day-Glo Brothers, both of which are included on this year’s summer reading lists. Not only that, but Shark Vs. Train is also included among the titles the ALSC included on its updated home library recommendation lists.

Thank you, ALSC!

20 May

So, what’s in those documents, anyway?

A couple of weeks ago, I listed the documents that I’m using to coordinate my research efforts for my new nonfiction project, but I didn’t say how I’m using them, or think I might in the future. So, here goes:

Contacts: This spreadsheet contains two worksheets, “Potential Sources” and “Existing.” This is where I keep track of people I think I might want to get in touch with, or whom I already have contacted and may want to acknowledge come publication time.

Images: Until Pinterest allows for private pinboards, this is where I keep links to photographs and illustrations that might be helpful for my work in progress.

Patents: When the person I’m researching is a US inventor, a list of his or her patents — with dates and collaborators — comes in mighty handy.

Potential Titles: I don’t know yet what this book is going to be called, but some key words and phrases have come to mind, and I store those here along with various combinations of them.

Questions: What would I want to ask my subject? What would I want to ask other people about my subject?

Quotes: What did my subject actually say? Are any of these statements likely candidates for inclusion in my text? And even if not, what light do they shed on my subject’s personality?

Science: If I’d had this document when I was researching The Day-Glo Brothers, here’s where I would have kept multiple explanations of how light, color, fluorescence, and daylight fluorescence work so that I could refer to them again and again until I knew them well enough to confidently state them in my own words.

Search Terms: If my subject’s name is not unique, I’ll need to combine it with other words and phrases — the name of his or her hometown, for instance — to find articles that make more than just a passing reference. I keep those relevant words and phrases here, which makes my actual querying of databases a lot more efficient.

Source Types: This is a handy reminder to myself of all the different types of sources out there that I might be able to turn to for a nonfiction research project. It’s essentially a distillation of the far-reaching bibliography from Can I See Your I.D.?

Sources: Another spreadsheet, with worksheets for “Reviewed Already” (with sources already formatted for inclusion in a bibliography, plus a link to an online version, if available) and “Not Yet” (which is much less structured, since there’s no reason to spend time polishing that information if it turns out not to yield anything useful for my research).

This is my biggest document by far, as it includes a detailed chronology of my subject’s life, according to the sources in the “Reviewed Already” worksheet. Being thorough here pays off, because getting seemingly redundant information from multiple sources — and seeing it all side by side — highlights inconsistencies and errors perpetuated by those sources.

Those inconsistencies and errors will be the subject for a separate post soon.

10 Jul

Getting back

At this particular moment, I’m on a bus leading me away from the Southampton Children’s Literature Conference, toward the flight that will take me back home to Texas. But I’m also, at this very moment, trying to figure out just how soon I might make it back up to Long Island for another experience like the one I just had.

Folks, I am fired up. I have had more new story ideas in the past few days than I’ve had in I don’t know how long. I’ve read aloud unpublished manuscripts of mine in front of rooms full of strangers (well, they used to be strangers) for the first time in, I think, eight years. Since Wednesday afternoon, I’ve had the enormous pleasure of working with and learning from a host of creative, enthusiastic, and quite brave writers and authors ranging from complete beginners to some of the most accomplished talents our industry has to offer.

And to think that I enjoyed all these benefits and opportunities at a conference where I was not a paying student but rather a member of the faculty — well, it really feels like I’ve just gotten away with something.

Did I mention the cross-pollination? The readings of hilarious and bold and not-at-all-for-children new plays? The on-stage conversations I witnessed with director Chris Weitz (About a Boy, A Better Life) and with Jules Feiffer, a one-man graduate course in creative cross-pollination? The fact that I twice sang — OK, warbled — in public, one of those times in the presence of a somewhat well-known woman who knows a thing or two about The Sound of Music?

I’m gushing. A bit. I’m gushing a bit. That wasn’t what I set out to do here. I set out to thank Emma Walton Hamilton for inviting me to join the Southampton faculty, and to thank the other children’s lit faculty members (Andrea Davis Pinkney, Tor Seidler, Patricia McCormick, Peter H. Reynolds) and guests (Leonard Marcus, Susan Raab, Kate and Jim McMullan, Connie Rockman and Kate Feiffer), and the playwriting and screenwriting and digital media instructors, and my picture book students and everyone else’s for giving so much of themselves.

I was not entirely sure I had it in me to teach a three-day class. Honestly, the prospect scared me a bit, but it was that little surge of fear that clued me in to the fact that I really had to do this. And even before I arrived in New York, the mere act of preparing for my class had taught me so much I didn’t know (or had forgotten that I knew) about writing picture books that those hours I’d invested were already more than made up for, many times over.

(And here I must thank the many authors whose books and, in most cases, conversations with me about their books helped me zero in on what I wanted my students to know. The work and insights from these immensely creative folks helped fuel many conversations about — and, I hope, much inspiration for — writing both playful fiction and seriously researched nonfiction picture books. The complete reading list for my class is below.)

What does all this add up to? I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally, I’ve never been more excited about getting back to writing, and about carving out time in my life to make that writing a priority. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been willing to tolerate at least a little fear of what I was getting myself into when I told Emma, “Yes.”

For a long while, I’ve been reluctant to look for inspiration in the same place twice, lest a once-thrilling experience become too comfortable and easy to take for granted and result in diminishing returns. With the Southampton Children’s Literature Conference, I do believe I’m willing to risk making an exception.


Reading list for “You Don’t Have to Choose: Balancing Playful Picture Books with Rigorous Research”

Bubba and Beau, Best Friends by Kathi Appelt; illustrated by Arthur Howard
Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt; illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School by Laurie Halse Anderson; illustrated by Ard Hoyt
Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson; illustrated by Matt Faulkner

Handel, Who Knew What He Liked by M.T. Anderson; illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Me, All Alone, at the End of the World by M.T. Anderson; illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Audubon: Painter of Birds in the Wild Frontier by Jennifer Armstrong; illustrated by Jos. A. Smith
Once Upon a Banana by Jennifer Armstrong; illustrated by David Small

Not So Tall for Six by Dianna Hutts Aston; illustrated by Frank W. Dormer
A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston; illustrated by Sylvia Long

Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm
Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang

The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton; illustrated by Tony Persiani
Shark Vs. Train by Chris Barton; illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Ice Cream by Elisha Cooper
Magic Thinks Big by Elisha Cooper

A Big Cheese for the White House: The True Tale of a Tremendous Cheddar by Candace Fleming; illustrated by S.D. Schindler
Seven Hungry Babies by Candace Fleming; illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca
The Racecar Alphabet by Brian Floca

A Book by Mordicai Gerstein
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein

Eggs by Marilyn Singer; illustrated by Emma Stevenson
Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer; illustrated by Josee Massee

Mozart, The Wonder Child: A Puppet Play in Three Acts by Diane Stanley
Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter by Diane Stanley

Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick; illustrated by Daniel Jennewein
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick; illustrated by Don Tate

Boogie Knights by Lisa Wheeler; illustrated by Mark Siegel
Mammoths on the Move by Lisa Wheeler; illustrated by Kurt Cyrus

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino
Lawn to Lawn by Dan Yaccarino

How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Mark Teague
The Perfect Wizard: Hans Christian Andersen by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Dennis Nolan

23 Jan

A new look for www.chrisbarton.info!

And here it is:

(Yes, I realize that if you’re on my site right now, you can see for yourself that it looks like this, without having to look at a screenshot. But if you’re seeing this on Facebook, or in your feed reader, etc., it won’t be quite so obvious.)

Why the change? The biggest reason is that I’ve got a new book, Can I See Your I.D.?, coming out in less than three months, so I needed to get that book its own page, as well as a spot on my home page. And because the previous design was tailored largely to the colors in the covers of The Day-Glo Brothers and Shark Vs. Train, there was also an opportunity to tweak the colors on the site to work with the new cover.

What else is different? There’s a new page for frequently asked questions. And in a still-to-come change, on Bartography we’ll be replacing my blogroll with my Twitter feed, which will be much easier to keep current while also making it easier to direct my blog readers to new content from sites that hadn’t been included in my blogroll, as well as to good stuff from bloggers I’ve been following for years.

My web designer, Sarah Rehm, has done a terrific job, I think. Thank you, Sarah!

04 Oct

My essay in First Opinions, Second Reactions

The new issue of the Purdue University journal First Opinions, Second Reactions is out now, and it includes an essay by me as well as two pieces about The Day-Glo Brothers.

Here’s a taste of the essay:

One day during the revisions of my book The Day-Glo Brothers, I was reviewing a round of sketches while waiting in the dentist’s chair. The hygienist came in and asked what I was looking at. I gave her a quick spiel about how I had written but not illustrated a children’s book about Bob and Joe Switzer’s trial-and-error invention of daylight-fluorescent colors.

“They sound like nerds,” she said.

My next stop that morning was at the auto mechanic’s. When he handed me an invoice printed on what would commonly be described as neon-green paper, I pulled out the sketches and said, “I’ve written a book about the guys who invented this color.”

His reaction? “Wow!”

The story of how I turned the Switzers’ obscure, chemistry-intensive, entrepreneurial tale into an award-winning picture book has everything to do with those two reactions. It was all about my belief that, unlike the hygienist, the children I was writing for had the capacity to respond to the invention of Day-Glo with “Wow!” rather than with “They sound like nerds.”

06 Jun

Join me (and Bob and Joe and Shark and Train) this Thursday!

I’ve cooked up a new presentation combining elements from both Shark Vs. Train and The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors.

If you want to see it, and you’re in Austin this week, you’re in luck. I’ll be debuting the Shark and Train and Bob and Joe Show this Thursday afternoon at a “Meet the Author” event put on by the Writers’ League of Texas and the Austin Public Library.

The details:

Thursday, June 10th @ 2PM
Ruiz Branch
Austin Public Library
1600 Grove Blvd., 78741
FREE and open to the public!

21 Feb

That book, this book, and the next book

A neat piece of news about The Day-Glo Brothers came my way yesterday: Korean publisher Munhakdongne has bought translation rights. I don’t know how long it typically takes for a translated version to become available, but it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll get to have a look at it here just as soon as I get my hands on a copy.

Shark Vs. Train had some great news of its own this week, in the form of its first review — and a starred one, no less, from Publishers Weekly:

This is a genius concept … Just when readers will think the scenarios can’t get more absurd, the book moves into even funnier territory. … Lichtenheld’s watercolor cartoons have a fluidity and goofy intensity that recalls Mad magazine, while Barton gives the characters snappy dialogue throughout.

(You should know that Tom Lichtenheld supplied lots of snappy dialogue himself.)

Finally — and I do mean “finally!” — it looks like my young-adult nonfiction project with Dial has a title that will stick, after having had several that turned out not to be so sticky. Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities is scheduled to publish in spring 2011. I’ve spent the past week responding to final edits, and soon I’ll get to see sketches from illustrator Paul Hoppe.

But it’s Paul Hoppe, so really my only question is just how terrific they’re going to be…