05 Mar

“I don’t think there’s a kid in the world who hasn’t felt like an underdog at some point.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for March 2019)

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

My Q&A this month is with Melissa Stewart and Stephanie Laberis. Melissa and Stephanie are the author and illustrator, respectively, of Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, an acclaimed nonfiction picture book published last year by Peachtree.

The biggest animals, the fastest ones, the strongest, etc., get plenty of attention in picture books — but not in Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers, which instead shines a light on species (zorillas, anyone?) whose survival-aiding attributes are less heralded.

I’m giving away one copy of Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers to a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address. If you want to be that winner, please let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on March 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Melissa Stewart and Stephanie Laberis.

Chris: Was there a certain animal — a particular pipsqueak, slowpoke, or stinker — that you gravitated toward when creating this book? One that drew you to this topic in the first place or that you were especially excited to write about or depict?

Melissa: I was a clumsy, uncoordinated, unathletic kid, so the western fence lizard is kind of my hero. See how its “weakness” helps it catch prey?

Let’s face it. Eating is pretty important if you want to stay alive, and this lizard has come up with a completely unique way to get the job done.

This lizard’s surprising hunting strategy is just one example of this book’s core concept. Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs is a book about animal adaptations and celebrating the traits that make us different and unique.

I think that’s an important message for kids because we all have our weaknesses, our foibles, and I don’t think there’s a kid in the world who hasn’t felt like an underdog at some point.

Stephanie: I’ve got to say, it was the okapi that won me over from the start. They’re one of my favorite animals, and I didn’t even know they existed until I was in my late 20s.

Illustrator Stephanie Laberis

I was at the San Diego Zoo and wandering about, sketching the animals. I glanced up and saw a gorgeous okapi just emerge from the bushes of its habitat and couldn’t believe what I was seeing! I love how they look like they’re cobbled together from other animals.

I was happy to not only have an excuse to illustrate an okapi, but to introduce kids to them! They don’t get enough recognition as other African animals do, like elephants or lions.

Originally, I was going to have the okapi depicted with a paper bag over its head, because they’re so shy! It was deemed a little too silly in the end and didn’t make it to the final artwork, but that’s typically how I like to approach my animal artwork: light hearted, with a splash of fiction.

I’m happy with the representation of all the species in the book and hope that readers are intrigued to find out more about their favorite underdogs!

Chris: What’s next for you? What do your readers (and their parents, teachers, librarians, etc.) have to look forward to in the not-so-distant future?

Stephanie: I’m happy to say that I have a lot of animal-themed books on the horizon, both fiction and nonfiction! March 5th marks the release of Unhappy Birthday, Grumpy Cat!, marking Grumpy Cat’s first book in the Step Into Reading series by Random House.

Later this year and in 2020 we’ll see two more picture books, Peppermint Post by Bruce Hale and Just So Willow by Sara Shacter. I also have completed a nonfiction book focused on nocturnal animals with Highlights, but it’s a little too early to reveal details on that one!

Author Melissa Stewart

Melissa: I’m really excited for the publication of my next book with illustrator Sarah S. Brannen. Seashells: More than a Home will hit bookshelves on April 2. It’s a companion title to our 2014 book Feathers: Not Just for Flying.

Seashells describes some of the unexpected ways sea creatures use their shells to swim, anchor themselves, find and eat food, avoid enemies, and more. It has received a starred review from Booklist and is a Junior Library Guild selection.

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.

24 Aug

In which I give away Don Tate’s Poet — and a little behind-the-scenes info

One week from tomorrow, you can buy this beauty — the first book that my friend Don Tate has both written and illustrated:


In the meantime, you can get in the running for a copy of Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree) that I’ll be giving away. More on that in a minute.

But first, Don and I thought you might like to know where he got the idea to write this true story about the enslaved North Carolinian who became the first African American to be published in the South.

At one meeting of the critique group that Don and I were in nearly a decade ago (the same crit group, by the way, where Don became one of the very first people to read The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch), I mentioned a story I’d heard on the radio.

I must have thought it sounded like a promising idea for a nonfiction book — one that might be right up Don’s alley — and I let him know that it was his for the taking.

“Well, give, give,” Don said. “I’m taking.”

So, a few days later, I sent him this email:

From: Chris Barton
To: Don Tate
Sent: Fri, 28 Apr 2006 12:14:20 (CDT)
Subject: “Well, give, give. I’m taking.”

OK, then — here’s that story I told you about last

All Things Considered, March 30, 2006 · The University
of North Carolina is naming a building after a slave
who worked nearby and used to come to campus to recite
poetry. Decades before the Civil War, George Moses
Horton was known on campus as a talented speaker and
poet, and students often paid him to create poems for


Barely an hour later, I got this reply:

From: Don Tate
To: Chris Barton
Sent: Friday, April 28, 2006 1:26 PM
Subject: Re: “Well, give, give. I’m taking.”

Ah very cool! Thanks. Just the lead I needed.


Apparently, it was just the lead he needed. But that was only the beginning, because Don then proceeded to pour into this book all the love and effort and patience that it warranted. It shows on the cover, and it shows throughout. Congratulations, Don!

And congratulations in advance to one of you Bartography readers on this fine book you’re soon soon going to win. If you want to have a shot at it, all you have to do is say so in the comments.

On publication day next Tuesday, I’ll pick a winner at random. Good luck!