08 Nov

Fall Ohio colors

Used filters at the DayGlo factory.

Used filters at the DayGlo factory.

When I saw my first-ever jet-black squirrel on the campus of the College of Wooster yesterday morning, I didn’t have my camera with me. But that’s OK — it was only the second most impressive spectacle I witnessed during my two-day trip to Ohio for the Buckeye Book Fair.

The most impressive came soon after I landed at the Cleveland airport. David Wiesenberg, owner of book fair sponsor Wooster Book Company, picked me up joined me for a guided tour of the headquarters of the DayGlo Color Corporation.

My research for The Day-Glo Brothers had never taken me there. The story I tell in the book pretty much leaves off at the point when Bob and Joe Switzer founded the company that exists today, and so my fact-finding had focused on how the brothers had gotten to that point.

But as much fun as it had been getting to know the Switzer brothers on paper, through their original notes on their early experiments, there’s a lot to be said for getting a firsthand look at what continues to this day to result from that experimentation.

It made for one brilliant afternoon.

Imagine how Bob and Joe must have felt to see this color for the first time.

Imagine how Bob and Joe must have felt to see this color for the first time.

As they say at DayGlo, the dirtier the factory gets, the brighter it looks.

As they say at DayGlo, the dirtier the factory gets, the brighter it looks.

Inside the bright pink belly of the manufacturing process.

Inside the bright pink belly of the manufacturing process.

Note the footprints; I found this stuff still on the soles of my shoes hours later.

Note the footprints; I found this stuff still on the soles of my shoes hours later.

Some of the finished products, ready to ship.

Some of the finished products, ready to ship.

Your author. Photo by David Wiesenberg.

Your author. Photo by David Wiesenberg.

04 Oct

The Buckeye Book Fair beckons

Since The Day-Glo Brothers came out in July, author-appearance opportunities have loomed before me like a really, really good buffet, and I’ve been sampling a little bit of everything: one bookstore event, one presentation to other authors, one public library visit, one school visit (this coming Wednesday), and one homeschool workshop (next week).

Next month, I’ll make it to the dessert cart, with my first out-of-state trip since publication. On Saturday, November 7, I’ll be signing books at the Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster, Ohio — just down the road from Cleveland, where Bob and Joe Switzer invented their daylight-fluorescent colors.

If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by to say hello — and to check out the other authors on the bill.

30 Aug

Upcoming Events: BookPeople, Sept. 12 & Sulphur Springs Public Library, Sept. 18

After having such a great time at my book launch party in July, I’ve really been looking forward to my next chance to be center stage. Turns out, I’ll have two chances in one week in September.

First, I’ll be the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Six days later, I’ll get to make a presentation at the public library in my hometown.

Semi-official descriptions and details are below — I’d love to see you at either event, and I hope you’ll consider spreading the word about them.

What: Who Did It First? Who Did It Best? Who Did It Differently?
When: Saturday, September 12, 2009, 11:00 a.m. – 12 noon (Austin SCBWI monthly meeting)
Where: BookPeople, 603 North Lamar, Austin, TX

Whatever you’re passionate about, there’s somebody in that field whose life story would be best told by you — and as a picture book biography, no less. Chris will help you figure out who in the world that person is and what on earth you should do about it.

Chris is the author of the new picture book biography The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors (Charlesbridge Publishing; illustrated by Tony Persiani), which has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal. His other upcoming books for children and young adults include Shark Vs. Train (June 2010; Little, Brown and Company; illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld) and Just Who Do You Think You Are? (2011; Dial Books for Young Readers). You can visit him at http://www.chrisbarton.info.

What: Local boy makes good with The Day-Glo Brothers
When: Friday, September 18, 2009, 10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Where: Sulphur Springs Public Library, 611 North Davis, Sulphur Springs, TX

If you’ll be in Sulphur Springs the day before the World Championship Hopkins County Stew Cook-Off, join author Chris Barton for a “colorful” presentation at his hometown public library.

With the assistance of the younger members of the audience, he’ll be discussing the story, the science, and the patience behind his first book for young readers, The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors.

It’s an “enlightening story” (says WIRED magazine) … “of quintessentially American ingenuity” (Publishers Weekly) … that “makes a bright idea stand out even more” (The Washington Post).

If you’d like to learn more about the book, please visit http://www.chrisbarton.info/books/dayglo.html.

And if you’ll be in town on the 18th, dress in your Day-Glo best and come join Chris!

01 Jul

Bartography Express today, and BookPeople on July 11

Two announcements today on this, the official publication date for The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors:

1) I’ve just sent out the first edition of my occasional Bartography Express newsletter. For the next few weeks, you can view it here, and you can always sign up on my home page to have Bartography Express emailed to you directly.

2) If you’ll be in Austin on Saturday, July 11, I hope you’ll join me at BookPeople at 1 p.m. for a celebration of The Day-Glo Brothers, which is my first book for young readers.

It’s an “enlightening story” (says WIRED)…

…”of quintessentially American ingenuity” (Publishers Weekly)…

…with illustrations that are “retro funk, dipped in Day-Glo… guaranteed to suck any kid straight in” (Blue Yonder Ranch).

In honor of The Day-Glo Brothers, we’ll have daylight-fluorescent crafts, prizes*, and activities, including a high-tech viewing station (a cardboard box rigged with black lights). With some assistance from the younger members of the audience, I’ll talk a little about the story and science behind the book.

If you’d like to RSVP on Facebook, go here. If you’d like to learn more about the book, go here.

And if you’ll be in Austin on the 11th, I hope you’ll dress in your Day-Glo best and come join me!

* “Reading, ‘Riting, Researching” kits including a black light, a copy of the book, and some other Day-Glo-hued goodies. Nifty, yes?

28 Jun

The Day-Glo Brothers and other nonfiction about entrepreneurs

Bob and Joe Switzer weren’t just inventors — they were businessmen, too. As eagerly as they sought better and brighter colors, their interests were entrepreneurial as well as aesthetic. Making advances in the science of color was thrilling to them, but so was creating a successful company where they could have the freedom to pursue those discoveries in the ways they thought best.

The Day-Glo Brothers honors and explores that entrepreneurial streak. And while the shelves are not overflowing with other children’s and young adult titles that do the same, it’s not alone. So, as I’ve done with nonfiction about other notable siblings and picture books about the 1930s, I’ve compiled a list of other titles complementing this aspect of the Switzers’ story.

I have no doubt that I’ve missed some good ones, so if any come to mind, please tell me what they are — I’d be happy to add them to an updated version of this list.

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum
by Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade
2009
Equal parts show and business, the Barnum portrayed in Fleming’s riveting, rollicking new biography possessed a quality essential to entrepreneurs — resiliency — in a quantity so freakish it belonged in a sideshow exhibit of its own. His eye-opening forays into politics and the ASPCA only add to the appeal of this title.

Vision of Beauty: The Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker
by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Nneka Bennett
Candlewick Press
2000
In too short a lifetime, Walker made the journey from the daughter of former slaves to the inspirational employer of hundreds. Lasky and Bennett vividly depict the determination, ingenuity, and activism that contributed to the rise of beauty products magnate known as Madam C.J. Walker.

Everyone Wears His Name: A Biography of Levi Strauss
by Sondra Henry and Emily Taitz
Dillon Press
1990
Offering much more than a retelling of how we all ended up with copper rivets on our jeans, Henry and Taitz weave a gold-dusted tale of immigration, industriousness, and enterprise. And they do it against a backdrop of 50 years of San Francisco history, which is fascinating in its own right.

Bill Gates (Up Close)
by Marc Aronson
Viking Juvenile
2008
Heavy on character analysis, short on computer jargon and corporate play-by-play, and structured as a series of “Principles of Getting Rich Fast,” Aronson’s account focuses on the factors that — like them or not — led to Gates’ rise as a programmer, businessman, billionaire and philanthropist.

Model T: How Henry Ford Built a Legend
by David Weitzman
Crown Books for Young Readers
2002
There’s plenty to dislike about Henry Ford, but the tinkerer and entrepreneur himself gets only a few pages in this picture book. Instead, Weitzman refreshingly focuses on the car Ford created, the workers who made it, and the resulting cultures of the assembly line and the open road.

Inventing the Future: A Photobiography of Thomas Alva Edison
by Marfé Ferguson Delano
National Geographic Children’s Books
2002
Edison made no bones about being both an inventor and a businessman: “Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent.” With compelling text and gripping photos (my favorite is the two-page spread of Edison zonked out on a lab table), Delano gives both sides of the man’s legacy their due.

Chocolate by Hershey: A Story About Milton S. Hershey
by Betty Burford, illustrated by Loren Chantland
Carolrhoda Books
1994
If at first you don’t succeed, fail and fail again. Milton Hershey did. But as Burford’s crisp text and Chantland’s affecting woodcuts show, the disappointing end to those first few ventures couldn’t compete with ambition and vision far greater than the candy maker’s simple ingredients would suggest.

And for more lists of suggested US history reading, you’ve come to the right place.

24 Jun

It’s no myth

Last week’s radio episode of This American Life (“Origin Story”) began by poking holes in what it called “corporate creation myths.” The prototypical one is the story of how Hewlett-Packard was founded — by two guys with a dream and a garage.

Host Ira Glass interviewed Dan Heath, who wrote about this topic in Fast Company a couple of years ago:

[C]ompanies aren’t born in garages. Companies are born in companies.

This reality shouldn’t diminish these monumental achievements. Yet it feels like it does, because all of us crave the excitement of these creation myths. Your startup “emerged from a systematic discussion of market opportunities, conducted at a networking function at the Marriott”? Yawn. Give us the garage. In fact, the story would be even more satisfying if [Apple Computer’s founders] had built the garage first. Out of toothpicks, scavenged from local restaurants.

He makes a good point about how the achievements of the HPs and Apples and YouTubes of the world should be enough for us, regardless of whether there’s a great story behind how they came about. That said, I’d just like to point out that the story — which I tell in The Day-Glo Brothers — of how Bob and Joe Switzer got started down the road to inventing daylight-fluorescent colors is no myth at all.

Instead of a garage, it was their family’s basement. And the only company remotely involved was the one Bob had been working for (not named, but identifiable by the shape of the ketchup bottles in a hallucinatory spread wonderfully rendered by Tony Persiani) when he busted his head and got sent to the dark basement to recover.

Another segment of last week’s This American Life episode discussed how difficult it can be to correct an origin story once an inaccurate version of it gets publicized. A few details of Day-Glo’s origins published elsewhere have missed the mark, but I’ll try to keep in check my aspirations for setting the record straight once and for all. Besides, some of those errors were contained in the first article I ever read about Bob and Joe Switzer, which means those mistakes are now part of my book’s own origin story.

15 Jun

It’s a book, it’s an animation, it’s a download!

Have you seen the terrific animation that Charlesbridge Publishing put together showing how regular color, fluorescence, and daylight fluorescence work? For all the words in The Day-Glo Brothers, and all the clever art, Charlesbridge rightly figured that a little something extra was the best way to get those concepts across.

Well, now Charlesbridge and I have come up with another little something extra: The Day-Glo Brothers Activity and Discussion Guide. In its four downloadable pages, you’ll find discussion questions for before and after reading, a bevy of activity ideas, a glossary, and links to other online resources. It’s absolutely free and available now, and I’d love to know what you think of it.

10 Jun

“Shocking,” “high-octane,” “electric,” “fantastic”

Sounds like a book I’d like to read — and I’m just over the moon to be able to say that it’s a book I’ve written.

Here’s some of what Elizabeth Bird had to say about The Day-Glo Brothers over at Goodreads:

Barton brings us what is pretty much the world’s first biography of the inventors of Day-Glo colors. And what better format to use than the picture book? … When you actually see your first appearance of Day-Glo it’s shocking. And the second time when Bob and Joe rediscover it? Persiani has the wherewithal to turn that moment into its own undulating, high-octane, visually blinding two-page spread. … This is Barton’s first work of non-fiction. With his extensive research skills and way with words, I hope that it is safe to say that it won’t be his last.

And here are some equally encouraging words from Dr. Quinn’s Book Blog:

Barton does a fantastic job taking the reader through the life and times of the Switzer brothers. … Persiani’s retro illustrations are “highlighted” with various day-glo colors. Even the end pages use these electric colors to support this fun and informative book. I definitely recommend this book.

Dr. Quinn and Betsy, I’m so glad you both liked the book. Thank you for taking the time to say so.

10 May

If the catalog says so, it must be true

Charlesbridge Publishing’s fall 2009 catalog came out this week, and in its listing for The Day-Glo Brothers, it included something I’d never really thought much about: curriculum links.

Here’s what the good folks at Charlesbridge say my book can be connected to in the classroom:

Language Arts: expository text, biography; chronological development

Science: physical science (properties of materials, light and color, chemical reactions); science and technology (technological design and application)

Social Studies: science, technology, and society (uses of fluorescent paints, technology in World War II)

Not bad, huh?

06 May

Two magazines, two boys, my book, and me

Before I found my way into children’s books, I wanted to work in magazines. In my teens and 20s, I interned for three magazines (Texas Monthly, Rolling Stone, and — yes, indeed — Sassy) and subscribed to tons more.

The potentially powerful connection between a magazine and its readers appealed to me deeply, and I hope that a similar relationship will develop between my books and the young people who read them.

Magazines are on my mind these days because of the role that two of them — and their affect on two particular boys — played in bringing The Day-Glo Brothers into existence.

In the early 1930s, Joe Switzer was a teenage reader of Popular Science. In its pages, he read an article that changed his life. And mine. And yours.

The article was in the December 1932 issue, and it carried the headline, “Homemade Ultra-Violet Lamp Produces Magic ‘Black Light.'” Not long after he saw that how-to article, Joe and his older brother, Bob, built their own UV lamp. Thus began the experiments that led to their invention of the daylight fluorescent colors commonly known as Day-Glo. Your world would not look the same, and I wouldn’t have a book, if not for the inspiration Joe received from Popular Science.

Three decades later, a pre-teen named Gary Hoover received his first issue of Fortune magazine. Here’s Gary from a post last week for his new book-filled blog, HooversWorld:

[E]very year beginning in 1963, when I was 12 years old, I have received the new Fortune Magazine list of the 500 largest companies and dashed off to study it – who’s up, who’s down, which industries had a good year and which ones had a bad year, who merged with whom.

I discovered my first Fortune 500 issue – and still have it – when I was a kid trying to understand General Motors, by far the most important force in my hometown. Back then it took a lot of work to find out information about companies. So I went down the list, name by name, and found out what they did, and a bit about their history. If I didn’t know anything about them – which meant most of the companies on the list – I went to the library or the local stock brokerage office to bury myself in Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s Manuals, and later Value Line and other sources of company data. I took page after page of notes.

What does Gary’s love for Fortune magazine have to do with The Day-Glo Brothers? It was his resulting passion for business research — combined with his later experience as a bookseller — that inspired him 28 years later to found a publisher of business reference books.

And it was as an editor for the subsequent online incarnation of his company, responsible for combing each day’s business publications for news worth including in our company profiles, that I encountered Bob Switzer’s obituary in The New York Times in 1997.

If not for Fortune, I wouldn’t have seen that obituary and gotten the idea for my book, and if not for Popular Science, there wouldn’t have been a story for that obituary to tell in the first place. And who knows how many other examples there are of weeklies or biweeklies or monthlies having that sort of impact on their readers, and on the wider world?

No wonder I wanted to work in magazines.