27 Mar

Dazzling doings in Illinois and Virginia

Dazzle Ships, illustrated by Victo Ngai and published by Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing

I’ve learned lately that Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion has been named to the 2020 Illinois Bluestem Readers’ Choice Award Nominees Master List sponsored by the Association of Illinois School Library Educators (AISLE) and to the elementary nominees for the 2019-20 Virginia Readers’ Choice award organized by the Virginia State Reading Association (VSRA) and supported by the Virginia Association of School Librarians (VAASL).

This terrific news comes on the heels of Dazzle Ships being added to state lists in Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you, AISLE, VSRA, and VAASL!

27 Feb

Thank you (again!), Pennsylvania school librarians


Earlier this month, my nonfiction picture book Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing), illustrated by Victo Ngai, was named to the Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Program Master List for Grades 3-6 for 2019-2020.

All by itself, that was great news, and immediately I was tremendously thankful for the efforts of the PYCRA committee and for the award’s sponsor, the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association.

And then I thought, “PYCRA — that sounds familiar. Wasn’t Whoosh! on one of those lists?”

I did a little digging, and sure enough, it was. Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (Charlesbridge), illustrated by Don Tate, was on the 2017-2018 PYCRA Master List for Grades 3-6.

But that’s not all I found when I searched my own website for references to the Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award.

It had slipped my mind that both The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors (Charlesbridge), illustrated by Tony Persiani, and Shark vs. Train (Little, Brown), illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, were on PYCRA Master Lists (in two different categories) in 2011-2012. Shark vs. Train, in fact, had been the Kindergarten-Grade 3 winner that year.

I felt like a dope for those honors having slipped my mind, though I’d certainly appreciated them at the time. I’m going to chalk that memory lapse up to the fact that my knowledge and understanding of the children’s literature world have grown continually during the 18-plus years I’ve been pursuing this work, and that one aspect that it took me a while to grasp was the significance of state awards such as the PYRCA.

I fully appreciate now just how vital state award lists are for getting new books in front of young readers and their librarians. And that appreciation is multiplied by four for the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

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.

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.

30 Oct

Beyond Dazzle Ships: 2 new resources for educators

School librarians and classroom teachers whose students have embraced my book Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion

Dazzle Ships, illustrated by Victo Ngai and published by Millbrook Press

— should know about a pair of newly available resources that can help those young readers deepen their appreciation of the book and their understanding of dazzle camouflage and the context for its use during the first world war.

As I wrote in the “For Further Reading” section on the book’s final page, “On the subject of human-made camouflage, I believe there is no better source for information than artist, designer, historian, and teacher Roy R. Behrens,” especially his blog, Camoupedia.

So it’s no surprise that Behrens has come through again with his illustrated online essay “Disruption versus Dazzle: Prevalent Misunderstandings About World War I Ship Camouflage.”

And Behrens has also pointed me toward Dr. James Fox’s 10-minute video, “Dazzled! How a British artist transformed the seas of WWI.” I especially love the part where Fox handles (carefully!) one of the actual models used for testing dazzle patterns a century ago.

If there are other resources that you and your students have found helpful, intriguing, or otherwise engaging on the subject of dazzle camouflage, I’d love it if you would share them in the comments.

04 Sep

When boxes of bookmarks arrive, it must be school-visit season again

Lo and behold, look what showed up on Friday:

Just in time for the start of this year’s school visits, it was our first shipment of our newest two-sided, hers-and-his bookmarks, and I think they’re beautiful.

Jennifer and I will leave these bookmarks for the audiences at each campus where we give presentations, though some lucky students will receive bookmarks from before the publication of Jennifer’s Revenge of the Teacher’s Pets (this past June) and my own What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? (coming three weeks from today).

But those aren’t leftovers — they’re vintage!

26 Aug

Dazzle Ships: The Video

About a year ago, I mentioned that my book Dazzle Ships (Millbrook Press) had received a starred review from School Library Journal.

Well, I’m delighted to let you know that Dazzle Ships has now received a second star from SLJ — this time for the 25-minute DVD produced by Dreamscape.

From the review:

Victo Ngai’s illustrations are closely scanned and sometimes simply animated as Johnny Heller narrates the text set to taut, compelling music and appropriate sound effects. … This extraordinary, fascinating look into a little-known historical event has multiple curriculum connections, from history to art. It would be a valuable addition to any collection and inspire viewers to do further research.

For a visual sampling of the magic Dreamscape has worked, here’s the trailer for the DVD:

You can order the DVD — or watch it for free on Hoopla — by visiting the Dreamscape site.

15 Aug

Dazzle Ships wins a Writers’ League of Texas Book Award

Good things happen when you take a nap.

Take this past Monday, for instance. As usual, I was up at 5 a.m. to start my workday, and by early afternoon I was no longer functioning at full strength.

So, I lay down on the couch with my dog, let my brain recharge for half an hour (give or take), and awoke to learn that I’d won the 2017 Writers’ League of Texas Book Award in the Picture Book category.

I’ve been a finalist a few times over the years, but this honor for Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (illustrated by Victo Ngai and published by Millbrook Press/Lerner Books) is the first time I’ve won the top prize from the WLT.

You can see all the winners, finalists, and other honorees here.

Many thanks to the Writers’ League and the judges — in all categories — for the work that goes into these awards. I can assure you that they’re meaningful to writers, but the reader in me appreciates them as well, as the list of titles seems like a pretty good bunch to put on my to-read list with the public library.

And if my library — or yours — doesn’t already have all of these titles in its collection, I believe a new-purchase request in order…

15 May

Fair winds and following seas for Dazzle Ships

By the time a nonfiction picture book of mine is published, I’ve already moved on to researching and writing other projects, and by the time that book has had a chance to make much of an impression on readers, there’s all the more distance between it and me. One result of that remove is that the arrival of any good news about that book is a pleasantly surprising blast from the past.

I’m feeling very fortunate lately. Here are the latest such blasts for Dazzle Ships (written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, and published last September by Millbrook Press):

The Bank Street College of Education has named the book to its list of The Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2018 Edition. Specifically, it’s on the list for ages Nine to Twelve, under the History heading.

Read On Wisconsin, a statewide literacy program operated by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, has included Dazzle Ships among its Intermediate (Grades 3-5) books for 2018-19.

Dazzle Ships has also been announced as one of the 2018-19 Junior Book Nominees for the North Carolina Children’s Book Award, just a year after Whoosh! was included on the same list.

And the book has been honored with a nomination for the 2018-2019 Crown Award from the Brackett Library at Harding University and the National Christian School Association, as well as a spot on the Lectio Book Award Master List 2018-2019.

I’m grateful for all of that good news. And I’m quick to tell students that of all my books, Dazzle Ships is the one that I needed the most editorial help with, so I’m happy to share this interview with the book’s editor, Carol Hinz. I’ll close with a bit of that:

[B]y and large, nonfiction has changed so much from my own childhood—when the norm was text-heavy books with small, black-and-white photos or illustrations. So in some ways, I would say I’m now making the type of books I wish I’d had when I was a child.

28 Mar

Entirely uncamouflaged good news about Dazzle Ships

Photo, taken by Susan Thomsen, of patron art created in February 2018 at The Westport (Connecticut) Library


It’s been nearly three months since my previous update about Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, and published last September by Millbrook Press). What’s new?

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) division of the American Library Association (ALA) has included Dazzle Ships on its 2018 Notable Children’s Books list.

The 2018 list of Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, a joint effort by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC), also includes Dazzle Ships.

CCBC Choices 2018, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s annual best-of-the-year list, includes Dazzle Ships as well.

Elizabeth Dulemba interviewed me about the book.

Dazzle Ships is the runner-up for the 2018 Denton Record-Chronicle Award for Best Children’s Picture Book, coordinated by the Texas Institute of Letters. (Be sure to check out the winner, Xelena González and Adriana M. Garcia’s All Around Us, which was also named a 2018 Illustrator Honor Book by the Pura Belpré Award committee.)

You might also enjoy…

Millbrook Press art director Danielle Carnito on Page Counts Demystified (or, Why Publishing People Need to Know Their Multiplication Tables):

After printing, the large paper sheets are folded down to the size of the individual pages. With every fold of the press sheet, the amount of pages doubles. One of the most common amount of pages in a signature is 16—as DAZZLE SHIPS was printed—so there are 8 pages on the front of a press sheet and 8 on the back. 8 is also used often, so there are 4 pages on the front and 4 on the back.

The Calling Caldecott post on Dazzle Ships:

Recurring graphic elements weave throughout the pages, from the gentle curves of the ocean waves to the zigzag dazzle patterns. Ngai’s deft use of scale allows the people — such as, painters, artists, and naval officers — to share the same spreads with the massive battleships. Particularly stunning is the spread of an awestruck King George V; he is staring, mouth agape, at a small dazzled model. The smoothness of the monarch’s face and uniform contrast sharply with the geometric edges of the model and its pattern.

And the review of Dazzle Ships in the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books:

“So just how well did dazzle work? Nobody really knows,” Barton admits. There’s no denying, however, that dazzle boosted morale and makes a heckuva great story. Barton’s lively text is matched by Ngai’s engrossing artwork, which employs dazzle techniques throughout [her] inventive spreads. Contrasting colors, unexpected curves, eccentrically layered design elements, and cleverly deployed chiaroscuro walk the line between instructive playfulness and an art deco fever dream.

I love hearing reports of Dazzle Ships (and dazzle ships) sightings out in the wild and on the web, so if you see something you think I might be interested in, there’s a very good chance that you’re right. Please let me know in the comments section, won’t you?