05 Aug

Introducing Fire Truck vs. Dragon


I’d like you to meet Fire Truck and Dragon!

I’m happy as can be to offer this first look at the cover of Fire Truck vs. Dragon, written by me and marvelously illustrated by Shanda McCloskey. (Shanda is also the author-illustrator of last year’s delightful Doll-E 1.0 and the soon-to-be-published T-Bone the Drone.)

Fire Truck vs. Dragon — a companion of sorts to my 2010 picture book Shark vs. Train — will be published next March by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

From the front jacket flap:

What’s something that dragons are really good at? And what’s something that fire trucks are really, really, really good at? Put the two of them together, and imagine what happens next!

15 Mar

My first-ever New York State school-visit trip

I did my first New York State school visits last week, outside Rochester, so the first thing I needed to do was head northeast. Here’s what that looked like:

All week long, I saw terrific examples of the preparation and investment of time and energy on the part of these schools — from kindergartners to administrators — as they made the most of the opportunity to have an author visit and talk with their students. The most evident sign was in the artwork I saw throughout the schools:

Also: It was supercold last week, at least by my Central Texas standards. We’re talking 10 degrees Fahrenheit at some points, and not all that much warmer until my last afternoon, when it got all the way up to 34. And the skies were blue, and I had some free time before catching my flight home.

My dilemma: Do I seek out the local Rochester delicacy known as the “garbage plate,” or do I commune a little with nature and history?

Well:

Yep. I opted for a walk through the Mount Hope Cemetery. I’ll just have to return to Rochester for that garbage plate.

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.

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!

18 Jul

Coming in spring 2020: Fire Truck Vs. Dragon

There’s a newly published illustrator that you’re going to be hearing a lot about — and you’re especially going to be hearing a lot about her from me.

Her name is Shanda McCloskey, and we’re making a book together!

Shanda is the author and illustrator of Doll-E 1.0

— and its upcoming companion book, T-Bone the Drone, both published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Little, Brown has published one of my books, too —

— and I could not be happier that they’ve brought Shanda and me together to create Fire Truck vs. Dragon. Here’s the Official Announcement from Publishers Weekly:

I can’t wait to see the characters of Fire Truck and Dragon come to life — especially now that I’ve see a bit of Shanda’s own process behind creating Doll-E 1.0.

And you’ll all be able to meet them yourself in spring 2020! (Though maybe there will be a sneak peek or two in the meantime…)

26 Jan

La mejor noticia I’ve had all week


Monday afternoon, right between two school presentations, I checked my phone and received news that I’ve been hoping for for a long time: There’s going to be a Spanish-language translation of Shark Vs. Train!

There have been editions of Shark Vs. Train in Korean and Portuguese, as well as two different Chinese translations, but none in Spanish, a language spoken in the homes of so many students I see here in Texas.

Spanish is also the language that I learned in high school, promptly began forgetting, and started relearning in the past year. So now I’ve got myself a goal: By the time Scholastic Reading Club begins offering this new translation of Shark Vs. Train in September 2017, I want to be able to perform the book with all the confidence and enthusiasm that I’ve had when reading aloud the original version for all these years.

¡Deséame suerte!

As for how this came about, at my request last fall, my agent reached out last fall to Little, Brown to ask about the possibility of an edition in Spanish. Boy, did my publisher act fast, as did Scholastic. I cannot thank them enough — nor emphasize enough that my fellow authors are well within reason to ask their own publishers about Spanish-language translations of their own books. You don’t ask, you don’t get.

12 Oct

Happy anniversary, JRL and SVT!

This is a slide I show in my presentations to schools about The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (often right after students have speculated that I might have spent anywhere from two days all the way up to a year and a half working on that book):

shark-vs-train-vs-john-roy-lynch

Yes, I got the idea to write about John Roy Lynch (while watching a Reconstruction documentary) the same month I got the idea for Shark Vs. Train (while jogging). And that month was exactly ten years ago, in October 2006.

You can bet that I’m pointing that out — and the fact that one book took eight and a half years to get from idea to bookstores and libraries while the “fast” one took me merely three and a half — to schools that I visit this month.

Last week, though, I was able to go one better and let the kids at one school know that of all the elementary schools in the world, theirs is the closest — just a quarter-mile or so away — to the jogging route where Shark and Train first came to me.

I’m happy as can be to have made Shark and Train’s acquaintance, and that of John Roy Lynch, and of all the readers I’ve gotten to know thanks to the three of them.

23 Sep

Writing what I’d love to learn

A post I wrote for the Nerdy Book Club has gone online, and I think you’ll like it. It’s titled “Write What You Know? Try Writing What You’d Love to Learn,” and it expands on a theme I discuss a lot in my school visits.

Here’s a taste:

As I write, I also discover more holes in what I know. My progress so far, however, gives me confidence that I’ll be able to fill those gaps, too. Students can fill those gaps as well. What I do, they can do — or learn to do. And I believe they can love it just as much.

If that doesn’t interest you, how about if you just come check out the 80-year-old footage of a pirouetting gas station attendant?

01 Apr

Don, Tom, and me

Don Tate, Tom Lichtenheld, Chris Barton

I had the great pleasure of serving on a panel at last month’s Austin SCBWI conference with illustrators Don Tate (shown on the left) and Tom Lichtenheld (the guy in the middle). If those names sound familiar, it’s because I’ve created a book with each of them.

In fact…

Today (no fooling) is the publication date not only of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, which Don illustrated, but also of the board book version of the Tom-illustrated Shark Vs. Train. Both books give readers something to chew on — one figuratively, one literally — so if you know someone with a big appetite for something new to read, won’t you please keep these in mind?

06 Feb

My conversation with Matthew Winner on the Let’s Get Busy! podcast

Lets Get Busy logoI love Matthew Winner’s podcast to pieces. Listening to Let’s Get Busy! is a highlight of my week, every week, and I’m so honored to be the guest on his latest episode. If books for young readers play any significant role in your life, there’s a good chance you’ll love the conversations that elementary teacher librarian Matthew has with the creators of those books.

In this episode, we discuss how Tom Lichtenheld and I adapted Shark Vs. Train for “board-book-chewing enthusiasts,” finding a way in The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch to let some light shine through the dark legacy of Reconstruction, and why it’s important to write awful stories.

I also take a swing (a kick? a boot?) at Matthew’s traditional episode-ending stumper: In an all-star, dream-team, kidlit kickball tournament, what one figure from the world of children’s books would I want to make sure was on my team?

The whole experience has been lots of fun, and Matthew’s enthusiasm is infection. I hope you’ll give us a listen!