27 Nov

How are educators using The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch?


I’d like to act as a clearinghouse for schools/educators who have taught/would like to teach The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

There’s already an educator’s guide that was made before the April 2015 publication date. Lots has happened since.

If you or someone else at your elementary, middle, or high school has taught and discussed the book with students, what has worked well? What other materials (books, videos, current news) were incorporated? What questions did students have? What would have been helpful?

A summary of the book, for those not familiar with it:

“From enslaved teenager to U.S. congressman in ten years…

“John Roy Lynch spent most of his childhood as a slave, but the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War promised African Americans in the South the freedom to work and learn as they saw fit. While many people there were unhappy with the changes, John Roy thrived in the new era. He was appointed to serve as Justice of the Peace and at age 25 was elected into the United States Congress, where he worked to ensure that the people he represented were truly free.

“This biography, accompanied by Don Tate’s splendid illustrations, gives readers an in-depth look at the Reconstruction period through the life of one of the first African American congressmen.”

Librarians and teachers, please share with me what you’ve got, and I’ll figure out a way to share that with those who could use it.

Thanks, y’all. The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is a story about an era in which great progress was made and then undone. I think it’s very relevant. I want kids to know it.

14 Aug

Key steps on my journey with Don Tate (so far!)

Yesterday morning marked the debut of a new presentation with a longtime friend.

As you may know, Don Tate and I have created two picture books together: The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch and Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions.

John Roy Lynch and George Moses Horton and Lonnie Johnson

Yesterday, we got to present about our journey “From Critique Partners to Collaborators” at the monthly meeting of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, after which Don received the SCBWI Crystal Kite award for his book Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton. (Congratulations, Don!)

Preparing for this presentation meant plunging into our electronic archives as well as the memories stored up in our heads, and the process was a lot of fun for us both.

The big takeaway of our presentation was a set of ten tips equally applicable to critique partners and collaborators alike, based on our own experiences with each other over these past 11 years. But we opened with this timeline, which we thought might be of interest to folks who weren’t able to attend yesterday’s meeting.

First (documented) contact!
First manuscript critique
First lunch together

First road trip together
Chris suggests Don write about George Moses Horton.

Don critiques unfinished first draft of Chris’ manuscript, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers acquires The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

Chris recommends Don to Eerdmans as candidate to illustrate The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

Charlesbridge Publishing agrees to publish biography of Lonnie Johnson written by Chris.

Don is announced as illustrator of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.
Chris recommends Don to Charlesbridge as illustrator of Lonnie Johnson book.

Peachtree Publishers acquires Don’s biography of George Moses Horton.
Don is announced as illustrator of Whoosh!

Chris and Don make first in-person appearances as author-illustrator team.
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is published.
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton is published.

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions is published.

And that’s just the high-level version — the nitty-gritty could take up a month of blog posts. But if you’re involved with a conference or organization that would be interested in hearing more of the story, well, maybe we’ll just have to update our timeline to include you.

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


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.

12 Sep

Elizabeth Bird on The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch


Elizabeth Bird, librarian extraordinaire, had a lot to say this week about The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch on her School Library Journal blog.

This book has received some great attention, but there’s nothing quite as rewarding for an author as knowing without a doubt that someone has made a point of thinking deeply about your work.

Here’s a bit of what she said:

[Y]ou just have to stand in awe of Barton’s storytelling. Not making up dialogue is one thing. Drawing a natural link between a life and the world in which that life lived is another entirely. Take that moment when John Roy answers his master honestly. He’s banished to hard labor on a plantation after his master’s wife gets angry. Then Barton writes, “She was not alone in rage and spite and hurt and lashing out. The leaders of the South reacted the same way to the election of a president – Abraham Lincoln – who was opposed to slavery.” See how he did that? He managed to bring the greater context of the times in line with John Roy’s personal story. Many is the clunky picture book biography that shoehorns in the era or, worse, fails to mention it at all. I much preferred Barton’s methods. There’s an elegance to them.

She’s just as insightful about Don Tate’s illustrations, pointing out key aspects of them that I hadn’t noticed and am now kicking myself for having missed. I’m so glad that she set me straight.

Thank you, Betsy, for the attention you gave our book.

17 Aug

See you soon, Mississippi! And thank you, Black History Channel!

I remember the excitement of the first Texas Book Festival twenty years ago, as well as my more personal enthusiasm two years later when I had the honor of shepherding Mississippi author (with deep Texas ties) Willie Morris around the annual event.

Mississippi Book Festival logo

This week, it’s Mississippi’s turn for its inaugural book festival, and I’m delighted to be attending as one of the featured authors. I hope some of you will be able to attend my panel this coming Saturday at 11:30 a.m.:

Children’s Illustrated Books – Room 113

Presented by First Commercial Bank and the Friends of University Libraries / University of Southern Mississippi

  • Ellen Ruffin, Curator de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, University of Southern Mississippi, Moderator
  • Sarah Campbell, Wolfsnail, Growing Patterns, Mysterious Patterns
  • Sarah Frances Hardy, Dress Me!
  • Susan Eaddy, Poppy’s Best Paper
  • Hester Bass, The Secret World of Walter Anderson, Seeds of Freedom
  • Lori Nichols, Maple & Willow Apart
  • Chris Barton, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

In the meantime, I hope you’ll have a look at the Black History Channel’s review of my book and consideration of the Reconstruction era. In a nutshell, reviewer Rita Lorraine says that The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch‘s “text and illustrations … depict the whirlwind of change, hope, and the infinite possibilities that defined this rocky time in American history.”

I truly appreciate that, Rita. Thank you for sharing my book with your readers.


09 Aug

Revisiting Reconstruction (Week of August 9, 2015)

Put simply, white Southerners resisted and then reversed — through legislation and violence — the extension of freedom to their black neighbors. And as Reconstruction neared its end, the U.S. government did not keep up its efforts to protect its African American citizens in those states. It wasn't until the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that the nation's course was put right, back toward equality.

Excerpt from the Historical Note in my book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; illustrated by Don Tate)

Here are the most timely and intriguing items about Reconstruction that I found this past week. (What did I miss? Let me know in the comments…)

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

For scholars of African-American studies, the police killings of unarmed black men in several cities over the past year have been personally searing and unusually powerful pedagogically. …

Each new event has forced scholars to make pedagogical choices. Some have made the incidents the explicit topics of a new lesson or course; others have used them as entry points to teach previously existing material. …

Historians, for example, have linked current developments in Ferguson and elsewhere to the Watts riots of 1965, to Reconstruction, even back to the slave laws established in the 17th-century colony of Virginia.

From the U.S. Army:

In May 1865, there were approximately 1 million Soldiers in the Union Army. A rapid demobilization followed and by January 1866, there just 87,550 occupation troops in the South, and by October 1867, there were a mere 20,117 Soldiers.

The end of the Civil War, the freeing of the slaves, and demobilization did not usher in a period of peace and tranquility, [Mark Bradley, a historian at the Army’s Center of Military History] noted. The institution of slavery and the antebellum way of life had roots that were deep.

Beginning in early 1866, Southern states began passing a series of laws and regulations, known collectively as Black Codes, which restricted the rights of blacks from voting, owning firearms and even gathering in public under certain conditions. Many were arrested for minor infractions and sentenced to involuntary labor. “It was about controlling the workforce and keeping blacks in as close to a position of slavery as possible,” he said.

And from Tom Dillard in the Democrat-Gazette:

I was taking Arkansas history in the seventh grade in 1960 when I was introduced to the history of Reconstruction. My textbook, which I still own, was The Story of Arkansas by Hazel Presson, my revised edition having been published in Little Rock in 1948. Mrs. Presson certainly had no sympathy with Reconstruction or the newly freed black citizens.

Here is how Presson described the creation of the Ku Klux Klan: ‘The people of Arkansas had no legal way of stopping these lawless bands of Negroes, and the horrible deeds continued. In most of the Southern States the carpetbaggers had secured control of the government by unfair elections and had aroused the colored people to villainy. Finally, the citizens of the States formed an organization to try to scare the Negroes and carpetbaggers into being good. This organization was called the Ku-Klux Klan …’

At age 13, I was too young to question Presson’s textbook, but as my study of Arkansas history deepened through the years, I discovered that Hazel Presson was merely one in a flood of Southern textbook authors who painted Reconstruction in starkly biased ways. It turns out that Clio, the muse of history, wore a laurel of cotton blossoms.


07 Aug

More news from Mississippi (and 51 other states and territories)

Center for the Book Great Reads

Says the Library of Congress:

Every year, a list of books representing the literary heritage of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands is distributed by the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book during the National Book Festival.

The pick for Mississippi this year is The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (written by me, illustrated by Don Tate, and published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers), for which I’m most grateful. And now I want to get a look at those books picked for all the other states…

02 Aug

Revisiting Reconstruction (Week of August 2, 2015)

From my book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; illustrated by Don Tate)

Excerpt from my book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; illustrated by Don Tate)

Here are the three most notable items pertaining to Reconstruction that I found this past week. Or, at least, two notable items preceded by one blatantly self-promotional one. (What did I miss? Let me know in the comments…)

In advance of this month’s inaugural Mississippi Book Festival, this interview with me from Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger:

Question: Briefly, why did Reconstruction after the Civil War fail in the South? (History seems to suggest that had it not failed, things in the South could have been very different.)

Answer: Reconstruction failed because racists in the South wanted it to fail more than the general population of the United States wanted to see it through. White terrorists and their political allies were firm in their resolve to deny civil rights and social equality to black Americans, and the will of the federal government faltered.

From Ishmael-Lateef Ahmad in the The St. Louis American:

In February 1988 I team-covered a story when then state Rep. Thomas Reed and 13 others were arrested in an attempt to scramble to the crest of the state capitol and remove the Confederate battle flag from atop the dome. They never got over an 8-foot construction fence before they were arrested and taken to jail. Flag supporters celebrated and vowed the flag would never come down. …

At the time, Reed was president of the Alabama NAACP. In 1970 he was among the first blacks elected to the Alabama state legislature since Reconstruction…

And from Will Moredock in the Charleston City Paper, writing about Mary C. Simms Oliphant, 20th century author of the South Carolina state history textbook:

Oliphant’s primary way of dealing with black people in South Carolina history was to ignore them. In her 432-page text are hundreds of illustrations, yet blacks are depicted in only nine. Of those nine, two show blacks picking cotton, one is a 19th-century engraving showing blacks running a cotton gin, while another shows blacks hauling cotton bails on the wharves in Charleston. The only black person identified by name in the entire book is Denmark Vesey, the accused organizer of a failed slave revolt in 1822.

The keepers of South Carolina’s history, archives, and monuments have been ignoring black people for generations. This weekend we begin to correct that with two days of scholarship and observances honoring Civil War hero and Reconstruction reformer Robert Smalls. It is part of the Civil War sesquicentennial observance in the city where that terrible conflict began. The organizers of this four-year series of events are determined to avoid the mistakes of the centennial observance 50 years ago. These events will be dignified and historically inclusive. This weekend’s observance will be a small step toward understanding that war and its aftermath.