02 Nov

“It’s gratifying to think that I may be introducing a reader to a scientist whose life might inspire them.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for November 2018)


Welcome to the Q&A and giveaway for the November edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).

This month my Q&A is with author Mélina Mangal and illustrator Luisa Uribe, creators of the new picture book biography The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just.

The Vast Wonder of the World (Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing) introduces readers to Just, an author, teacher, and expert in marine organisms. A South Carolina native, Just spent much of his career working in Europe to avoid limitations imposed by racism and segregation in the United States.

“Ernest was not like other scientists,” Mangal writes. “He saw the whole, where others saw only parts. He noticed details others failed to see. On the dock at dawn, he wrote poetry.”

In a starred review, School Library Journal calls the book a “must-purchase picture book biography of a figure sure to inspire awe and admiration among readers.”

I’m giving away a copy of The Vast Wonder of the World. If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and want to be the winner, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on November 30, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Mélina Mangal and Luisa Uribe.

Chris: I read a lot of biographies as a kid (and have continued to since then), but until your book I’d never heard of Ernest Everett Just.

How did you each become aware of him, and how do you feel knowing that — because of The Vast Wonder of the World — young readers are going to be much more aware of Just’s life and work than their parents and grandparents have been?

Author Mélina Mangal

Mélina: I had never head of Ernest Everett Just before the night I attended a Black History celebration at my daughter’s school. She picked up a coloring sheet that featured his picture and a brief bio. When I saw it, I wondered, Who is he? Because I’m a school library teacher, I’m familiar with quite a few scientists and other famous people from history. Ernest Everett Just was a mystery to me.

I went home, did a quick Internet search, and found out that Dr. Just had been featured on a US postage stamp. Dr. Kenneth Manning at MIT wrote a book about him called Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just. I bought it, read it, and became even more fascinated with Ernest Everett Just.

After reading more about him, I thought, this is a scientist that young people should know about. Very few kids are able to name important scientists, and even fewer know about other African American scientists.

I was also in awe of the quality of the book. Dr. Manning did such careful research and brought together so many facts in such an interesting way. His book inspired me too. I wanted to create for children what he had created for adults.

Throughout the over five years it took to research and write the book, I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, poured through even more books and documents, and interviewed family members and scientists.

Knowing that my book will now be in the hands of young readers is such an uplifting feeling. It’s gratifying to think that I may be introducing a reader to a scientist whose life might inspire them. This is especially important to me as there were so few books about African Americans available to me as a child.

It’s so important for young readers to read about people who look like them, people who may have experienced some of the same challenges, yet persevered and succeeded. I’ve benefitted from the scholarship and work of so many before me. To be able to continue this legacy, and perhaps even inspire readers to actively pursue their dreams, is a dream come true for me.

Luisa: I heard about Ernest Everett Just when Alli Brydon at Bright Literary Agency wrote to me to see if I was interested in illustrating Mélina’s book, and after reading the manuscript and a bit more about EEJ I definitely was. As I am Colombian, as much as I love American history and culture, it would have been unlikely for me to find out about him before that.

Illustrator Luisa Uribe

Before I started working on the book, editor Carol Hinz recommended to me the book Mélina mentions. Black Apollo of Science truly is a fascinating book! I read it in one sitting (and then reread it just to take in all the details, references, and mentions). I also recommend it to any grownups who want to know more about EEJ or just read a great biography.

Luckily I was also able to visit Charleston and see the birthplace of EEJ, and it was a great opportunity to see up close the environment he grew up in and take in the history and atmosphere of some of the places represented in the book.

What Mélina says about seeing yourself represented in the media you consume is so true, and I don’t think there are enough books like this, and I’m glad I got to contribute to one. It makes me happy thinking that kids reading this book are going to have new figures to emulate and look up to that look like them.

Chris: Besides welcoming your Ernest Everett Just book into the world, what are you each working on or excited about now?

Luisa: These days I’m grateful to always be working on a couple of books and other projects, but something I’ve been wrestling with for some time now is my first picture book as an author/illustrator.

I have two different ideas I’m trying to develop, one for a silent book and another that I’m writing a manuscript for. The first one is about a journey, and the second one is a more complex idea about the thoughts inside your head that I’m trying to simplify in a fun way.

I’m learning as I go so it’s taking time and a lot of thinking (and some translating, as I’m writing in English) but I’m hoping to have something to show for it next year.

Mélina: I often have too many ideas whispering to me. I try to focus on the ones that start to shout!

One of those projects is a collection of short stories focusing on different kids in nature. It’s been really fun to follow these imaginary kids in their daily lives and help them find their voices. Working on these stories has been taking me outside more, which I love.

Another project involves research for my next picture book biography, this time about a woman from up here in the North Country. I’m in the early stages of research, poking around for articles and books she has written, looking through newspapers and notices.

This is the discovery phase for me where I sit with some of the facts that I find and try to see where they’ll take me. It’s a lot of fun. I’m enjoying taking my time to get to know her and hope to introduce young readers to this remarkable person in the near future.

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…

10 Jan

All of a Sudden and Forever

I’ve got a new nonfiction picture book in the works with Lerner Publishing’s Millbrook Press imprint, publisher of my books on The Nutcracker and on dazzle camouflage. This new project was announced just yesterday in PW Children’s Bookshelf, and here are the details:

All of a Sudden and Forever has been a challenge to write, but I’m so glad for the conversations it’s allowed me to have with people whose lives were forever changed in 1995 by the Oklahoma City bombing. And I love Nicole Xu’s art. I think she’s just right for this project.

04 Oct

Come see me (if you can) at Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion and I will be at Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop next Tuesday, October 10, and we should be at least as easy to spot at the three (count ’em!) cats in this sample of Victo Ngai’s art from the book:

From Dazzle Ships, published by Lerner Publishing/Millbrook Press

I look forward to seeing you there. Unless you’re camouflaged.

28 Sep

Big news for the illustrations (and illustrator) of Dazzle Ships

I’ve seen speculation here and there about Victo Ngai’s art for our book Dazzle Ships being in the running for a certain award, but there’s one prize that her illustrations have already won:

The Dilys Evans Founder’s Award, named after The Original Art founder, celebrates the most promising new talent in children’s book illustration. The jury has selected Victo Ngai’s Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Lerner Publishing Group/ Millbrook Press).

The award comes from the Society of Illustrators, whose Museum of Illustration in New York City will feature Victo’s art in for Dazzle Ships its annual Original Art exhibit from November 1 through December 23.

Congratulations, Victo!

06 Sep

On Dazzle Ships and creative problem solving

Victo Ngai’s endpaper design for Dazzle Ships

Over at my publisher’s blog, I’ve written about how I came to write my new book, Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, and why I think this niche of World War I history is worth reading about today.

Here’s a bit of what I say in that post.

As with other unconventional subjects that I developed a deep interest in (e.g. how daylight fluorescent colors were created, John Roy Lynch’s ten-year rise from slavery to the U.S. Congress, how The Nutcracker became a holiday tradition, the invention of the Super Soaker water gun), after getting my first taste of dazzle ships, I had a couple of reactions:

1. I’d better hurry up and make a nonfiction picture book about this before somebody else does.

2. How did I not know about this already?

I hope you’ll read the rest, and that you’ll like what I have to say so much that you’ll get yourself a copy of Dazzle Ships from my beloved local independent bookseller, BookPeople.

If you’re in Austin, I’ll be there at BookPeople tomorrow night — Thursday, September 7 — to read from and talk about the book.

And if getting to BookPeople tomorrow night isn’t an option, they’ll have freshly signed copies you can buy from wherever you are.

16 Jun

Good news from Kirkus — and from Kirkus!

Yesterday I went looking for the just-published Kirkus review of my next book, Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, and to my surprise I also found a review of Book or Bell?, my other upcoming 2017 title.

To my delight, too, as both reviews have favorable things to say. Whew!

From the review of Book or Bell?:

[T]he text and artwork become silly to the point of laughter, as Henry’s refusal to leave his book causes a messy chain reaction… One elected official after another each demands louder bells, which cause increasingly more mayhem. … Finally, Ms. Sabio, who was rudely interrupted by the mayor when she tried to explain why Henry stayed put, saves the day with a simple solution. A zany, rollicking story with hilarious illustrations.

I’m glad to see that the reviewer loves Ashley Spires‘ art in Book or Bell? as much as I do, and the same goes for Victo Ngai‘s illustrations in Dazzle Ships.

From the Kirkus review of Dazzle Ships:

Ngai uses analog and digital media to great effect, from the dazzling cover (which will attract many readers all by itself) to the range of designs employed, applying an appropriate period aesthetic throughout. [I]t’s a fascinating volume about a little-known side of the war. An eye-catching title sure to dazzle.

Dazzle Ships will be published by Lerner Publishing/Millbrook Press September 1, and Book or Bell? is due out from Bloomsbury on October 17.

13 Apr

Revealing the dazzling cover of my next book!

This tiny little image of Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion is all I’ll show you here today, but if you’ll hop on over to A Fuse #8 Production, you’ll see librarian Betsy Bird’s post providing a first, up-close look at debut illustrator Victo Ngai’s stunning artwork for our book due out from Lerner/Millbrook Press this September.

Texas librarians, you can see more of Dazzle Ships next week at the Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio. A lot more — as in, hot-off-the-press copies of the entire book, which I’ll be signing in the Author Area at 10:15 next Thursday morning.