23 May

Whoosh! (or, What’d I Miss?, part 1)

I just got back from teaching for twelve days as author-in-residence at the Singapore American School (yes, there will be photos here).

And that stretch was only part of the nearly four weeks that went by between my previous two posts, thanks to a technical issue that was tough to fix from afar for someone like me who has, well, technical issues.

All in all, I’m feeling a little like this guy:

So, what all was going on over here while I was over there teaching writing workshops to second- through fifth-graders?

Whoosh!The biggest thing is that Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions had its publication day on May 3.

I’m super-proud of this second collaboration with my friend Don Tate. Previously, Don and I teamed up for The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, a biography set a century before Whoosh! and a couple of states over.

(John Roy Lynch spent his early life in Louisiana and Mississippi, and Alabama native Lonnie Johnson now lives and works in Georgia.)

Don commemorated the occasion with a pair of blog posts — packed with sketches and examples of his attempts at finding the right illustration style — about the research and revision that went into this book:

Our publisher, Charlesbridge, celebrated by sharing my author’s note for Whoosh!:

I loved talking with Lonnie Johnson for this book. I have never laughed as hard during an interview as I did when we discussed his work on Linex and how his family “put up with” his efforts—or rather, how they encouraged him.

School Library Journal included the book in its roundup of titles about “Tenacious Trailblazers“:

Readers follow the many obstacles and setbacks Johnson experienced as he tirelessly worked to launch his invention. The narrative … adeptly captures the passion and dedication necessary to be an engineer.

Booklist had this to say about Lonnie Johnson and Whoosh!:

The text emphasizes the continuing support he received from his family, and the vibrant illustrations are especially effective at capturing expressions and mannerisms that bring Johnson to life (as when Johnson and his fellow Tuskegee Institute students party to a sound and light system constructed from leftover electronics). This upbeat tribute makes an engaging and inspiring addition to STEM collections.

Scholastic named Whoosh! to its list of “50 Sensational Books of Summer“:

The brisk storytelling and pictures transport us from the ’60s through the ’80s, as Johnson invents everything from rockets to robots to the Super Soaker water gun.

Whoosh! has also been featured on A Year of Reading:

I love so much about this book. I love that it expands the scientists our children know. I love how it ties into the maker movement with all that Lonnie Johnson has created. And I love that we can continue to follow his work.

And on Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook:

Recently, the Makerspace movement is getting a good push. Makerspace, defined as a DIY space where people gather to create, invent and learn, has become popular in libraries and classrooms. There were several times when I stopped and marked pages or sentences that reminded me of the Makerspace ideals. What a perfect book to use when talking about what the spirit of Makerspace is all about.

And on Readin’, Ritin’, But Not Much ‘Rithmatic:

The team of Chris Barton and Don Tate missed the memo that nonfiction is dry and boring. Together again after The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, they … use words and illustrations woven seamlessly together to add child-appealing humor without compromising the struggles Lonnie faced to fulfill his dreams.

And on Kid Lit Frenzy!

Chris Barton is in his element when writing picture book biographies and his newest biography of Lonnie Johnson is a fascinating and informative read.

Finally, in its guide to summer reading, the Austin American-Statesman led off with Whoosh!:

“Whoosh!” provides an important counterweight to the traditional image of scientists as exclusively white, Einstein-like figures.

Wow. I’m so grateful for all the attention this book received while I was away. Maybe I should (be forced to) take a break more often…

13 Mar

Don Tate goes for sound effects, while I go to the dogs. (Well, a dog.)

The Texas Bluebonnet Award committee invited authors and illustrators with books on the 2016-17 Master List to answer a few questions about their books — not in writing, but on camera.

Don and I each got a little gimmicky as we discussed The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, but we both had a lot of fun. I hope our readers will, too.

04 Feb

John Roy and George and Don and me

POET

To commemorate Black History Month, the Texas Book Festival has posted an interview with Don Tate and me about his book Poet: The Remarkable True Story of George Moses Horton and our book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

Here’s a bit of what Don has to say about the stories he wants to tell:

As a reader, I was a late bloomer. I didn’t become an avid reader until I was in my early 20s. I started reading more as a result of being inspired by authors like Richard Wright, Claude Brown, Gordon Parks, even Malcolm X and Nathan McCall. They wrote stories about black males who overcame obstacles to make great contributions to society. I’d never been introduced to these stories in grade school If I had, I might have become a reader earlier. I want to tell stories that inspire all young readers, but especially young black males who don’t have as many books where they can see themselves.

And here’s me on my inspiration for telling the story of John Roy Lynch:

I wanted kids today to grow up with a better understanding than I ever had of why there was even a need for a Civil Rights Movement a century after the Emancipation Proclamation, and a need for a Voting Rights Act 100 years after Appomattox. It all goes back to the racist determination to undo Reconstruction, and the recent wave of voter-suppression laws in this country shows that’s an impulse that still exists today.

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On the subject of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch and Poet, it’s been a good week for the former and an exceptional week for the latter. Both books have been honored by the Children’s Book Council and the National Council for the Social Studies:

Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People is an annual reading list of exceptional books for use in social studies classrooms, selected by social studies educators. This is an annual project of the [NCSS] and the CBC. This bibliography features K-12 annotated titles published in the previous calendar year, selected by a book review committee appointed by the NCSS.

On top of that, Don’s Poet has won the 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award:

“We are proud to present the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award to the best new talents in children’s illustrated literature each year. These are writers and illustrators whose books reflect the spirit of Keats, and at the same time, are refreshingly original,” said Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. “This year is Ezra’s 100th birthday! So we are especially delighted to celebrate him by honoring those whose books, like his, are wonderful to read and look at and reflect our multicultural world.”

Congratulations, Don!

31 Dec

Recognition, celebration, validation

Here’s to the end of 2015, everybody. I hope you’ve had a satisfying year, and that no matter how well things have gone, it’s wrapping up for you on a positive note.

If you’re reading this, you’re one of the reasons I feel so fortunate to be doing what I do. Thank you for taking an interest in me and my books.

And if you’re someone who has taken the time to publicly recognize or celebrate or validate the work done by authors of books for kids, thank you especially for that. It makes a difference to us, and I know I’m not the only one who appreciates your efforts.

To close out the year here at Bartography, I want to recognize, celebrate, and validate those efforts by sharing with my readers a few of the kind gestures that folks have made toward my work recently.

If you follow these links, I hope you’ll look around a bit and see what other books have caught their eyes. Maybe you’ll discover your first favorite read of 2016…

Authors Chris Barton and Jennifer Ziegler. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Authors Chris Barton and Jennifer Ziegler. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Kate Hannigan interviewed me and also interviewed Jennifer for the Author Of… blog:

Attack Boss Cheat Code - May 2014

Michele Knott at Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook generously spotlighted all of my picture books and then named Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet to her list of My Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books from 2015

Mighty Truck

Public Libraries Online featured An Interview with Troy Cummings, illustrator of my text for our upcoming Mighty Truck series

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The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch was…

Nutcracker_frontcover

‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America was…

15 Nov

Four new books from me in 2016

Now that the cover of my next book with Don Tate has been revealed, I can show it off here, too. But why stop with just that one?

Through a combination of flukes, good fortune, and starting my work at 5 a.m. far more often than not, I’ve got four new picture books coming out in 2016. They are:

That's Not Bunny!

That’s Not Bunny! (illustrated by Colin Jack; Disney-Hyperion; February 2016)

Mighty Truck

Mighty Truck (illustrated by Troy Cummings; HarperCollins; April 2016)

Whoosh!

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (illustrated by Don Tate; Charlesbridge; May 2016)

88 Instruments

88 Instruments (illustrated by Louis Thomas; Knopf; August 2016)

I’ve been lucky throughout my career to get paired with terrific illustrators, and I’m delighted that you’ll get to see so much evidence of that throughout 2016.

Now, back to work on 2017…

13 Nov

Mr. Schu goes Whoosh!

Whoosh tease

Over at Watch. Connect. Read., Mr. Schu is unveiling the cover of Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions.

That’s my upcoming picture book with Don Tate, the follow up to our first collaboration, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

Whoosh!, a biography of the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun, comes out next May from Charlesbridge Publishing.

01 Nov

“Chris Barton pulls no punches when writing about the White resistance to change.”

"Back home, white terrorists burned black schools and black churches. They armed themselves on Election Day to keep blacks away. They even committed murder."

“Back home, white terrorists burned black schools and black churches. They armed themselves on Election Day to keep blacks away. They even committed murder.”

As a friend pointed out to me, K.T. Horning literally wrote the book on reviewing children’s literature. So her review of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch for the Reading While White blog would have meant a lot to me no matter what.

But I especially appreciate Horning’s recognition of the honesty and authenticity that Don Tate and I — and our publisher, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers — strove for with this book:

I can’t recall when I’ve seen a book for children that is so deliberate about calling out racism for what it is. And he does it with such clear, simple language, making this complex period in history accessible to young readers, just as Don Tate’s clear stylized illustrations do. Even though the illustrations use a cartoon style, there are no happy, smiling slaves here. What we see instead is the pain and suffering they endured and later, the look of pride and determination on the face of John Roy Lynch, a free man.

I do hope you’ll read the whole thing, and spread the word about this review and about The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch to those you think would appreciate our efforts or benefit from them. And in case you’re wondering what Reading While White is all about, please check out the site’s mission statement.

21 Oct

Amazing Age on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List

Bluebonnet

A few weeks ago I received some news that it’s been just killing me not to share with you.

It was finally made public this past weekend at the Texas Book Festival, and I’m exhilarated to at last be able to tell you that…

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch has been named to the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List for 2016-17!

This means that readers in grades 3-6 at schools and libraries all over the state of Texas will be considering my collaboration with Don Tate along with 19 other titles as they prepare to pick their favorite in January 2017.

A lot of work goes into creating state lists such as the Bluebonnet and into coordinating the voting by students. The librarians responsible for this and similar programs provide a vital service in connecting young readers with a host of great books that they might not otherwise encounter. I’m always thankful for the work that these folks do — but, admittedly, this year I appreciate it even more than usual!

Our publisher, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, asked me to share my thoughts about this particular book getting this particular honor. I hope you’ll read the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt:

I’m especially happy to know that because of the inclusion of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List, elementary school students throughout this state will receive a basic, honest introduction to Reconstruction. Texas children have not been consistently well-served by their textbooks — witness the recent title that referred to slavery as “immigration” and to enslaved human beings as “workers” — and there is a role for books such as ours in furthering their education.

There has long been a big hole in our country’s collective understanding of why a March on Washington was necessary 100 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and why a Voting Rights Act was necessary a century after the end of the Civil War. The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch helps fill that hole with a true account of the progress in civil rights and social justice that occurred during Reconstruction, as well as the violence and terrorism and indifference than turned back that progress.

15 Oct

Another weekend, another event with Don Tate (and, soon, another book!)

This Sunday at 3 p.m., attendees of the Texas Book Festival here in Austin can find Don and me sharing The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch in the Read Me a Story tent.

It will be terrific seeing Don again, since we haven’t shared a stage since … well, last Saturday, when he and I participated in our home city stop of Don’s Freedom Tour at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. We were joined by author Kelly Starling Lyons, visiting from North Carolina, for this celebration of Don’s book Poet; Kelly and Don’s book, Hope’s Gift; and my first collaboration with Don, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

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There was a fantastic cake, depicting a scene from Poet, made by Akiko White:

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We enjoyed readers’ theater for all three books, put on by students from St. Elmo Elementary; a panel discussion led by Michael Hurd of (among many other things) the Texas Black History Preservation Project; and a whole lot of good feeling among members of the reading and writing communities.

I also was glad to encounter tributes at the Carver to a couple of old acquaintances (and upcoming book subjects) of mine. As I mentioned recently, I’ve got a Barbara Jordan picture book on the way in 2018, and there was the great lady herself:

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Arriving even sooner will be my biography of Lonnie Johnson.

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Illustrated by, yes, Don Tate, Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super Stream of Ideas will be published next May by Charlesbridge — and followed soon after by more events with Don!