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.

05 Apr


Let’s take care of those acronyms right away.

“TLA” is the Texas Library Association conference, which filled three terrific days for me in Houston last week.

“WIP” is short for work-in-progress, which for me is my young-adult nonfiction collection of profiles of impostors and other folks who pretended to be someone else.

And “SVT” has long been the secret code name for my upcoming second picture book, whose actual title I hereby unveil as…

[patter of palms on desk simulating a drumroll]

Shark Vs. Train.

One of my favorite parts of TLA was showing off a couple of Tom Lichtenheld‘s hilarious illustrations for Shark Vs. Train. (Boy, it feels good to say that: Shark Vs. Train, Shark Vs. Train, Shark Vs. Train!)

Another was getting to catch up with or meet for the first time many fine librarians, authors, illustrators, marketing folks, editors, and others — especially those who were so kind as to look at my daylight-fluorescent green T-shirts, ask, “So, who did invent that color?” and then oooh and ahhh over the copy of The Day-Glo Brothers that I just happened to have handy.

If I were to start listing names of those I hobnobbed with, I would miss someone that I’d hate to accidentally exclude, and I’d spend all evening just on the names that do come to mind.

It still sounds tempting, though. One thing I’ve discovered about me and children’s-literature-related conferences, workshops, retreats, and other gatherings is that once they’re finished, I’m rarely ready to be done with them. It’s fun to pretend that those gatherings are what real life is like, and to pretend that the stuff that fills the rest of the day or week or year is the aberration. It can also be a little tough to get back in the swing of that aberrant stuff.

Which is why I’m glad to have that YA nonfiction project to turn my attention to. I haven’t looked at my manuscript in more than three months, and it’s revision-time. More to the point, it’s time to transform that manuscript from its current condition into one worthy of the time and attention of the readers ultimately served by gatherings like the one we just had in Houston.

Almost time, anyway. First, I think I’ll take another quick look at the illustrations for Shark Vs. Train(!). And mark my calendar for TLA in San Antonio next spring.


One more thing, while you’re here. Or rather, while you’re not here, for those of you reading this post through your feed reader. The redesign of Bartography to match the rest of my site is complete, and in addition to the URL changes I mentioned previously —

New blog URL: http://www.chrisbarton.info/blog/index.php
New feed URL: http://feeds2.feedburner.com/Bartography

— I did want to point out the general spiffiness of things around here. Here’s a glimpse, with much thanks going to the knockout job done by Sarah Rehm and Edgar Dapremont:

29 Mar

Ready, ready, ready for TLA

If you’ll be attending the Texas Library Association conference this week, I’ll be easy to spot, if you’re so inclined. I’ll be the guy in the T-shirt approximating the shade of daylight-fluorescent green used in The Day-Glo Brothers.

What’s in it for you? Well, I’ll show you my last remaining advance copy of my book. (Just try and stop me.)

What else? How about a sneak preview of SVT, the picture book that Tom Lichtenheld and I have coming out next year from Little, Brown?

Want more? Fine. I’ll even let you in on the closely held secret of what “SVT” stands for, an entire week or two before it gets spilled here on Bartography.

I hope we have a deal, and that I’ll see you there.

19 Feb

A sneak preview of The Day-Glo Brothers

Here in Austin on Saturday, March 7, The Day-Glo Brothers is going to be a small part of “the biggest open house in Texas.”

The public debut of the book (and of me as an author) will be one of the many, many goings-on at Explore UT, a huge, campus-wide to-do designed to give school-aged kids a taste of what the University of Texas has to offer.

The festivities at the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) will also include presentations from other local children’s book creators Liz Garton Scanlon, Christy Stallop, Brian Anderson, and Jane Peddicord. When the schedule is confirmed, I’ll post that here.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve done research at the PCL for some of my books, and The Day-Glo Brothers is among them. A December 1932 article in Popular Science (“Homemade Ultra-Violet Lamp Produces Magic ‘Black Light'”) inspired the work that led to Bob and Joe Switzer’s discovery of daylight fluorescence, and it was there at the PCL that I first laid eyes on the actual article — in glorious black-and-white.

If you’d like an advance peek at some reading material that’s a little more brightly colored — nearly four months before its publication date — I hope you’ll come on by.

28 Jan

The Day-Glo Brothers and other picture books about the 1930s

Most of The Day-Glo Brothers takes place in the 1930s, when Bob and Joe Switzer began experimenting with inks and paints that glowed under black light while moving ever closer to their discovery of daylight fluorescence.

For some additional context about that era, I’ve assembled a list of some of my favorite picture books set (at least partially) during the 1930s. There are undoubtedly some worthy subjects and titles that I’ve overlooked and would do well to add in updates to this post — I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Aliens Are Coming! The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast
by Meghan McCarthy
Alfred A. Knopf
McCarthy revisits Orson Welles’ famously panic-inducing radio play by combining a smattering of the original script, a matter-of-fact description of the aftermath (“One man thought he saw a Martian spaceship”), and illustrations that offer the old-fashioned kick of cheesy sci-fi.

Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator
by Shelley Tanaka, illustrated by David Craig
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Tanaka’s stirring account of the aviator’s daring and determination awakened my own, long-dormant childhood fascination with Earhart.

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman
by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Alfred A. Knopf
Nobleman and MacDonald make a dynamic duo in their depiction of how mild-mannered teens Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster parlayed the strength of their imaginations into an enduring hero.

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa
by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children
Hip feline “Scat Cat Monroe” takes readers on a stylish, jazzy tour through Fitzgerald’s rise from big-dreaming Yonkers girl to unforgettable First Lady of Song.

Hoover Dam
by Elizabeth Mann, illustrated by Alan Witschonke
Mikaya Press
Mann’s Wonders of the World books are wonders in their own right. Her words and Witschonke’s art pay as much tribute and attention to the underappreciated workers as they do to the feat of engineering that tamed the Colorado River.

Seabiscuit Vs. War Admiral: The Greatest Horse Race in History
by Kat Shehata, illustrated by Jo McElwee
Angel Bea Publishing
The story of the 1938 contest runs on two tracks — a ticker-tape version in the staccato stylings of a stadium announcer, and another in the warm prose of an author who knows how to unfold the winning tale of an unlikely champion.

Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building
by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James E. Ransome
Schwartz & Wade Books
A boy with a newly unemployed father watches the rise of the New York City landmark — from the 50-foot toss of a red-hot rivet to the finished tower’s glow against Manhattan’s nighttime sky — with wonder and inspiration. Readers will, too.

That Book Woman
by Heather Henson, illustrated by David Small
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Henson and Small depict a pack-horse librarian’s impact on a farm family, told through the skeptical eye and mountain vernacular of a non-reading boy named Cal.

Woody Guthrie: Poet of the People
by Bonnie Christensen
Alfred A. Knopf
With a generous dose of Guthrie’s own lyrics, Christensen shows how the singer and activist came to give voice to Americans in need through “This Land Is Your Land” and a thousand other songs.

22 Jan

From f&g to Frank&g

Last weekend, a total stranger cut up my one advance, unbound copy of The Day-Glo Brothers.

I guess I should state that 1) he put it back together, 2) it was mostly my idea, 3) I paid for the privilege, and 4) I’m happy with the results.

See, I’ve been invited to present my first public reading of the book (yeah!) nearly four months before the publication date (wow!). But I have a hard enough time keeping an f&g (for “folded and gathered”) together here at my desk, and I couldn’t imagine reading aloud to an audience (even, at this point, a purely theoretical one) while trying to manage one of those slippery things.

So, I took my f&g to the Copy Shop Formerly Known as Kinko’s, and on the fly the young guy at the desk and I came up with a solution: cutting each four-page sheet down the middle, so that we’ve got 24 individual pages instead of three sets of four four-page sheets, and then spiral-binding the whole thing.

To the pages being bound, we added a couple of sheets of 100-pound paper at each end to make the whole thing a little more rigid. I plan to glue the front and back pages to the inside of the cover, and have myself something that resembles a picture book — albeit one with a plastic black spiral in place of the gutter — and holds together in one piece at that March reading.

Maybe that spiral will go as unnoticed as the scar on the forehead of Frankenstein’s monster. I’d take a picture of this Day-Glo monster of mine so you can see for yourself, but I’m out of natural light for the day, and fluorescent lighting doesn’t do the colors justice. I don’t want anyone (especially the illustrator or designers) coming after me with pitchforks.

18 Jan

Day-Glo Spotting #2

Highland Neighborhood, Austin, Texas.

Alison Dellenbaugh recently pointed out something I hadn’t considered — that colorblind readers will perceive The Day-Glo Brothers quite differently from other readers. Thank you, Alison — I’m so grateful that I won’t be caught completely off-guard by this the first time it comes up during an author visit.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a couple of images run th
rough Vischeck, a site recommended by Alison that simulates various forms of colorblind vision. First, the above image —

— and finally the spread from my book that I featured a couple of months ago:

Got Day-Glo photos of your own that you’d like to share? Please send them to chris [at] chrisbarton [dot] info.

04 Jan

Day-Glo Spotting #1

The corner of Anderson and Mays, Round Rock, Texas.

A couple of times this past week I went for a walk, camera in hand, to document examples of daylight fluorescence in everyday life. In The Day-Glo Brothers, I discuss how the colors created by Bob and Joe Switzer have become part of the landscape, and spending part of a beautiful day zeroing in on the use of those colors was a fun refresher course.

I’ll post more Day-Glo photos here in the weeks ahead. If you’d like to take your own and send them my way, I’d be happy to share them. For now, here’s one more from the same intersection: