11 May

Two lessons in keeping an eye on your files

In my school visits, I often shock audiences by revealing that it took THREE AND A HALF YEARS from the day I got the idea for Shark Vs. Train until the official publication date. And then I tell them that The Day-Glo Brothers took EIGHT years, and they all lose their minds — especially those who haven’t yet hit the eight-year mark themselves.

But some upcoming books of mine — and projects that might become books — will end up having gestation periods that make The Day-Glo Brothers look positively possumlike.

The two picture books I’ve got on tap for 2015, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch and Pioneers & Pirouettes: The Story of the First American Nutcracker, made their first appearances in my computer files in 2006 and 2003, respectively. And the picture book manuscript I’m working on revising this week dates back to October 7, 2002, but it has a way of getting new life breathed into it periodically. Maybe this latest version is the one that will take, but even if it’s not, there’s something immensely satisfying in having an editor point out potential in it that I’d never noticed before in all these years.

The thing is, such projects continue having potential for me only when I continue paying attention to them, or at least when I routinely check in on my files to see if anything about them grabs me anew. There’s a project I had pursued — a biography of trombonist Melba Liston — that I took my eye off of for too long, and I learned this week that someone else has beaten me to it. My consolation is that this summer I get to read Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, the version of Liston’s story that Katheryn Russell-Brown and Frank Morrison have created for Lee & Low, and that’s something for me and you both to look forward to.

In the meantime…

05 Feb

O Trem Contra O Tubarão!

SVT in Portuguese

And now you know how to say Shark Vs. Train — or, rather, Train Against Shark — in Portuguese.

I’d received word a while back that a Brazilian translation of SVT was in the works, but it was still a surprise when copies arrived yesterday, especially when I saw the cover of my book peeking out from a mailing envelope that I knew full well was too small to contain it.

It turns out that the trim size of the Brazilian edition is considerably smaller than that of the US edition. This difference will add another point for audiences and me to discuss when I display this book alongside the Korean version of Shark Vs. Train and The Day-Glo Brothers during my school visits.


15 Apr

Signing times at IRA in San Antonio

ira-20130415-Conference logo
I hope to see lots of you at the jam-packed panel discussion on nonfiction picture books this coming Sunday at the International Reading Association conference in San Antonio.

There’s lots of good stuff going on at the same time, though, so if you can’t make it to our talk at 3 p.m., I’d love to catch up with you during the hour before. At 2 p.m., I’ll be signing The Day-Glo Brothers and Shark Vs. Train at the Anderson’s Bookshop booth, #1003.

IRA has a helpful guide to which authors will be signing which books at which times.

19 Mar

They both won

Colorado Children's Book Award for SVT

I was in Denver last month to attend the annual conference of the Colorado Council International Reading Association and pick up the Colorado Children’s Book Award won by Shark Vs. Train. The award itself turned out to be this magnificent, hefty thing, which I opted to have shipped to me instead of trying to slip into my carry-on bag for the flight home.

I wish I’d thought to snap a photo of the award before the CCIRA folks kindly packed it away, but here’s how the pewter versions of Train and Shark look now that they’ve arrived in their natural habitat.

By the way, here’s what I said at the luncheon where I received the award:

The thing in life that we’re going to be our best at may be something we haven’t started doing yet. That’s something I realized for myself about 15 years ago — a few years before I started writing books for children — and it’s something that’s almost entirely undermined by the ineptitude displayed by Shark and Train as they try their hands… fins… driving rods at playing piano, traveling through outer space, and attempting to jump a row of parked vehicles while riding motorcycles. All the same, I think it’s true — for me, and for you, and for the young people whose lives you help shape. When you go back to your libraries and classrooms, please make sure they understand that creating picture books was, at one point, something I hadn’t started doing yet, and the same goes for illustrator Tom Lichtenheld. But we didn’t let that stop us, and now I think we’re each getting pretty good at it. Having our book honored with the Colorado Children’s Book Award will only encourage us to keep at it, so we hope that’s what the children of Colorado had in mind. We thank them, and we thank you.

09 Mar

33 books and one question


Nearly three years after publication, Shark Vs. Train is still getting lots of support from my beloved independent local seller, BookPeople. How much support? Well, here’s the latest stack of 33 copies that I just stopped by the store to sign. (You can order them online if you can’t stop by their store in downtown Austin.)

Now for my question. As I was autographing books, the “Have your next birthday party at BookPeople!” sign was right in front of me. And I couldn’t help but wonder: Might a certain picture book near and dear to my heart make a great theme for an in-store birthday party?


20 Nov

It pays to say “Thanks!”

Yesterday morning, I learned that Shark Vs. Train is among the 2012-13 nominees for the Association of Indiana School Library Educators’ Young Hoosier Book Award. Yes, I posted the happy news in the usual social media spots. But I also took the time to email the YHBA committee chairs to thank them directly.

It took a little doing to find out who the chairs are and track down their email addresses, but nothing compared to the work that the committee did in narrowing the candidate titles down to the 55 or 60 that made the final middle grade, intermediate, and picture book lists. (It’s a good-looking bunch of books. Seriously, you should check it out.) I truly am appreciative of the committee’s efforts, and I’m honored to have now had both The Day-Glo Brothers and Shark Vs. Train on YHBA lists, and I want them to know that.

Besides, I learned earlier this year just what a big payoff there can be for my spending a few minutes chasing down that contact information and sending an email. When Shark Vs. Train was named to the Texas Library Association’s 2×2 Reading List, I emailed my thanks to the committee members. From that one act of basic good manners came an invitation for a solid week of presentations at the nine elementary schools in the district of one of those committee members.

If I had been inclined to see such a thank-you email as purely optional, that turn of events surely cured me of it. Saying thanks for that sort of recognition isn’t optional; it’s a must-do. And I don’t think it’s enough to simply exude an appreciative vibe via tweet or status update — I really believe that the thank-you is more genuine and sincere when it goes directly to the people being thanked.

The bottom line: Authors and illustrators and any other professionals using the one-to-multitudes reach of social media, don’t forget the power of the one-to-one thank-you note.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get this blog post up on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…