This time, the joke is on readers: unlike the rivals in Shark vs. Train, Fire Truck and Dragon are besties (“We get along great!” says Fire Truck. “Why wouldn’t we?”). Each time there’s a possible confrontation involving Dragon’s incendiary talents and Fire Truck’s capacity to extinguish them, the result is comically companionable. … Frustrated expectations have seldom been so funny; Barton’s misdirections are beautifully timed, and McCloskey’s digitally enhanced pencil-and-watercolor drawings are bright and exuberant.
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 —
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…)
I want to talk about rock stars.
Schools often go to great lengths to get their students excited about an upcoming presentation by a visiting author. That makes sense to me — after whipping up that enthusiasm, educators can then harness it for thoughtful, mind-expanding explorations of that author’s work, and for all sorts of creative undertakings by the students themselves.
Sometimes, though, the anticipation-stoking tactics include the use of certain words or phrases that make me uncomfortable. I feel uneasy when I see them on a sign in front of a school or hear them as part of the introduction right before I start talking to the students. The main ones are:
Rock star. (Yes. As in, “He’s a rock star!”)
I’d guess that most creators of books for young readers aren’t even celebrities in their own neighborhoods, let alone the “world famous” types they sometimes get described as to impressionable students.
But even allowing for a little hyperbole, I’m bothered by these characterizations because they run counter to what I see as the main purpose of my presentations to students: 1) making myself relatable to them, and 2) making a career like mine seem attainable to them.
Right after my greeting to them, I go straight into listing several other things — many of which will be recognizable and familiar to audience members — that I am in addition to “Author.”
These include “Former Kid,” “Texan,” “Son,” “Brother,” “Dog Owner,” “Spanish Learner,” “Researcher,” and “Rewriter,” which I say three more times because I want them to understand the effort that goes into becoming a published author.
Over the course of my presentation I try to replace any air of mystique about my career with a sense of awareness of what this fun, challenging job entails and how happy this hard work makes me.
Then I leave them with my hope that when they’re grown they will find something they love just as much — not an easy job, not a job that brings them fame, and certainly not one that bestows “rock star” status — but rather a calling that suits them.
And not only a calling that suits them, but also one that they can fully participate in without unfair and unnecessary restrictions, distractions, or impediments.
Which brings us to the subject of sexual harassment in children’s publishing, a phrase that I never imagined would find its way onto Bartography when I started this blog nearly 13 years ago. That mostly just shows how privileged and naive I was.
Harassment isn’t new. But the attention it’s getting in this industry — “ecosystem” is more like it, with libraries and booksellers and conferences playing vital roles — is not just new but raw, painful, chaotic, long overdue, and rapidly developing.
As of this afternoon, the best overview I’ve seen of where things stand is this article published this morning by Publishers Weekly. Long story short, a number of men in children’s publishing — guys who I bet have heard themselves described as “rock stars” more than a few times — are being accused of unacceptable behavior. Names are being named.
But what does all of this have to do with you and the young people who look to you for books and guidance? Three things.
First, I believe that young readers will wind up with better books when the creative process and literary life aren’t sullied or ruined for so many by male misbehavior.
Second, as the children’s literature community succeeds in its efforts to become a more hospitable place, there will be fewer obstacles to success for student writers who get encouragement from authors such as me.
And third, the book I’d been preparing to feature in my giveaway in this month’s Bartography Express newsletter includes an essay by an author who, in recent days, has been named in allegations by several anonymous accusers. I do not doubt these women’s stories. But I decided to proceed as planned with the featured book, as even under the current circumstances I believe it offers much more cause for hope than for despair.
I’ll soon post my Q&A with the editor of the anthology featured in the February issue of Bartography Express.
I’ve already mentioned the coverage in Kirkus — this review, and this interview — of Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, published by Millbrook Press, and available on September 1.
Now I’m happy as can be to point you toward what some of the other major review publications have had to say about the book.
Ngai’s swirling, art nouveauâ€“style illustrations replicate some of the bold shapes and designs on the so-called “dazzle ships,” and the soft colors and stylized figures nicely soften the wartime theme and focus attention to the ships. Barton adds plenty of historical context, illuminating other naval defense schemes of the period, as well as the role of women in creating dazzle patterns.
Dazzle Ships received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which said in part:
“Sometimes desperate times call for dazzling measures,” writes Barton in conclusion, underscoring the importance of creative problem solving. Reflective author and artist notes, a timeline with b&w photographs, and a reading list wrap up a conversational, compelling, and visually arresting story that coincides with the 100th anniversary of its subject.
And our book earned a second starred review, from School Library Journal:
The well-written, intriguing text is complemented by Ngai’s vibrant and surreal illustrations that skillfully recreate the glittering water and the striking camouflaged vessels. … With the commemoration of the centenary of World War I, this book is a fascinating selection that will captivate readers, especially war story enthusiasts.
I hope you’re intrigued enough to get the word out — and show up in person, if you can — for my September 7 reading, discussion, and signing of Dazzle Ships at Austin’s BookPeople.
I couldn’t be happier with this starred review from Publishers Weekly for ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition.
Here’s an excerpt:
Balancing evocative turns of phrase with a crisp, forthright narrative, Barton delivers an involving account of how watching The Nutcracker ballet, which originated in Russia, became an American holiday tradition. … [A] fascinating bit of artistic investigation, one with year-round appeal.
Read the whole thing for the apt praise for illustrator Cathy Gendron’s work. Congratulations and thank you to her and the team at Lerner Publishing/Millbrook Press!