02 Jan

“…the balance between what readers NEED and what readers WANT”

I always enjoy learning more about how the editors of my books work and think, which makes this interview with Carol Hinz by Ryan G. Van Cleave at his Only Picture Books blog highly satisfying.

Carol is Editorial Director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books at Lerner Publishing Group. She and I are in the process of making our fourth picture book together, following The Nutcracker Comes to America, Dazzle Ships, and our upcoming All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing, which will be published next month.

Given the difficult topic that we explore in All of a Sudden and Forever, I’m especially interested in Carol’s comments when Ryan asks — in the context of Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship and Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story — “How do you negotiate the balance between what readers NEED and what readers WANT?”

Part of Carol’s answer:

I think adults … don’t give kids enough credit for what they can handle. This often comes out of a desire to protect kids from all the terrible things that are a part of our world. But we need to keep in mind that not all kids receive that protection, and we can’t control when a kid is going to first encounter something biased, racist, or hateful. To those adults who feel uncomfortable, I say: Isn’t it far better for a kid to encounter [difficult subject matter] for the first time in the pages of the book, when there’s time and space for a kid to think about it and talk with a trusted adult about it, rather than encountering it first in some other way when there might not be opportunity for thought and conversation?

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…