31 Oct

What do you do with a Bluebonnet book like that?

You celebrate it!

It was a thrill to be in the audience in Austin last Saturday at the Texas Book Festival for the announcement of the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List books for the 2020-21 school year:

I try to attend the announcement every year, but it was especially exciting this time because among the 20 titles on next year’s list is my picture book biography What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster), illustrated by Ekua Holmes.

Ekua Holmes and me in Austin, the day before the announcement

As a native Texan long residing here in our capital city, I am beyond delighted that this biography of an inspiring hero from my home state will reach so many readers participating in the Texas Bluebonnet Award program during the next school year.

I think the world of this program, and I am honored and immensely grateful that the selection committee chose to include What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? Among students and classes that invest their time in voting for their favorite Bluebonnet books, the excitement — not only for those titles, but for reading, writing, and literacy in general, all of which contributes to greater academic achievement — is palpable, and I’m so proud to again be a part of that.

From my two previous stints on the list (both times with books illustrated by my friend Don Tate), I know that having a Bluebonnet author or illustrator visit a school is a powerful way to generate student enthusiasm and drive participation. And I appreciate the fact that my being based in Austin means lower travel costs for my hosts here in the Lone Star State.

While I do still have some author-visit dates available in winter/spring 2020, I am already beginning to actively schedule visits to Texas schools for September 2020 and beyond.

With two new picture books next year — All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing and Fire Truck vs. Dragon (a companion to Shark vs. Train) — along with my third appearance on the Bluebonnet list, there will be lots for students and me to talk about.

If you’d like me to visit your school, or if you have a friend or colleague looking for an author to host, I’m more than happy to start having that conversation. Here’s a good place to start.

09 Jan

“I hadn’t anticipated how the story would resonate with so many readers.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for January 2019)

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

My Q&A this month is with Donna Janell Bowman, author of the nonfiction picture book Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, illustrated by Daniel Minter and published by Lee & Low.

Step Right Up tells the true story of how formerly enslaved William “Doc” Key relied on the power of kindness to transform a sickly colt named Beautiful Jim Key into an astounding equine specimen capable of feats of reading, writing, and math. The book has been selected as a finalist for readers’ choice awards in six states, including the Bluebonnet Award in Donna’s home state of Texas.

Donna is also the author of Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, a 2018 picture book (illustrated by S.D. Schindler and published by Peachtree) about a little-known scrape that Lincoln got himself into as a young man — a duel that could have ended his career or even his life. And like me, Donna loves doing school visits.

I’m giving away one signed copy of Step Right Up. If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and you want that winner to be you, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on January 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Donna Janell Bowman.

Chris: Step Right Up was published in October 2016, which means that librarians and other educators have now had more than two years to try out ways of connecting young readers to the story of Doc and Jim Key. There’s been time for word of their efforts to get back to you, and for you to see some of those efforts for yourself.

During that time, what has stood out to you about the ways that kids and adults have responded to Step Right Up?

Donna: There’s an extra dose of my heart woven into Step Right Up, but I hadn’t anticipated how the story would resonate with so many readers. The ways Doc and Jim inspired kindness is worthy on its own, but the fortuitous timing of the book’s release — a month before the presidential election that put families and neighbors at odds — elevated the story’s appeal even more. The time was ripe for a kindness story then as now.

It is heartwarming to know that schools and libraries are using Step Right Up to spark discussions about kindness and to promote anti-bullying environments. I occasionally receive fan mail or the unexpected gift, like the kindness book made up of twenty or so pages illustrated in watercolor — an Iowa class’ random act of kindness to me. Yep, they instituted a random-act-of-kindness tradition. Be still my heart!

Through letters and photos from educators and at the schools I visit, I am humbled by hallways plastered with student-signed copies of the downloadable Step Right Up Kindness Pledge, artwork inspired by Daniel Minter’s exquisite illustrations, painted kindness-inspired keywords, paper kindness chains with links produced by every student, Popsicle-stick horses, horseshoe-shaped compliments exchanged between students, pet blankets made for local animal shelters. And on and on. Educators are brilliant at weaving impactful lessons into fun art projects. They know that, while kids busy their hands making things, their minds and hearts are connecting to the story.

Chris: Is there a book that you’ve come across — either in your creation of Step Right Up or since your book was published — that you think complements Doc and Jim Key’s story especially well? Something that readers who love Step Right Up might also enjoy?

Donna: I’m gonna be a rebel here, because it’s almost impossible for me to zero in on a single recommended title for young readers, in part because Step Right Up seems to appeal to a very broad age range, and it touches on several concepts, especially kindness.

I hope Step Right Up primes kids to learn more about the people who championed the humane treatment of animals, and Nancy Furstinger’s Mercy: The Incredible Story of Henry Bergh, Founder of the ASPCA and Friend to Animals is a great introduction.

For a contemporary true story about a woman who took extreme measures to rescue a horse from an abusive situation, I recommend G. Neri and Corban Wilkin’s middle-grade graphic novel, Grand Theft Horse.

For picture book readers who love animal stories, Maria Gianferrari and Luisa Uribe’s Operation Rescue Dog ticks a lot of boxes, including information about animal shelters.

And, goodness, I hope readers will rediscover the preeminent book to spark empathy for animals — Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, which has the bonus appeal of a connection to Beautiful Jim Key. You see, Jim was seen as the living example of Black Beauty’s message.

15 Mar

WHOOSH! keeps on going

From Whoosh!, illustrated by Don Tate

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions has been treated kindly by list-makers lately, and I’m beyond grateful. Thank you to all who have shown and shared your appreciation for this book.

It’s high time I mirrored that appreciation by rounding up some of that good news in one place — especially since the first two of the lists I’m about to share are up for a public vote.

Bank Street College of Education
The Cook Prize (Best Science, Technology, Engineering and Math [STEM] picture book) – 2017 Finalist

Every Child a Reader
2017 Children’s Choice Book Awards, 3rd-4th Grade Book of the Year – Finalist

A school or library can register here to vote for the Cook Prize, and kids can vote here for the Children’s Choice Book Awards.

Association for Library Service to Children
Notable Children’s Books 2017 (Non-Fiction) – Nominee

The Children’s Book Council and the National Council for the Social Studies
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2017

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center
CCBC Choices 2017

Maine Association of School Libraries
The Chickadee Award, The Maine Children’s Choice Picture Book Award – 2017-2018 Nominee

Maryland Association of School Librarians
2017-2018 Black-Eyed Susan Book Award (Picture Book, Grades 4-6) – Nominee

Maryland Library Association, Children’s Services Division
2017 Maryland Blue Crab Young Reader Award, Transitional Non-Fiction – Winner

Pennsylvania School Librarians Association
2017 – 2018 Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Program Master List, Grades 3-6

Texas Institute of Letters
Denton Record Chronicle Award for Best Children’s Picture Book – 2017 Finalist

Vermont Center for the Book/Mother Goose Programs and the Vermont Department of Libraries
2017-2018 Red Clover Award (Vermont’s Picture Book Award For Children in Grades K-4) – Nominee

I guess I should specify that when I say “lately,” I mean in the past three months. So, if you’re still getting caught up on “Best of the Year” lists from the end of 2016, you’ve come to the right place. Or at least an understanding one.

Nerdy Book Club
The 2016 Nerdies: Nonfiction Picture Book Winners

The Nonfiction Detectives
The Best Nonfiction Books of 2016

Denver Public Library
Best & Brightest Biographies of 2016

Betsy Bird was especially prolific with the list-making over at A Fuse #8 Production, where she spotlighted her favorite books of 2016 in different categories each day in December, including Science and Nature Books for Kids and Nonfiction Picture Books before capping it all off with:

A Fuse #8 Production
100 Magnificent Children’s Books 2016

Whoosh! was also included in Booklist Online’s Classroom Connections: Overlooked Inventors and Their Notable Inventions, Pernille Ripp’s My Favorite Picture Books of 2016, Colours of Us’ 40 Best Multicultural Picture Books of 2016, Here Wee Read’s 55 of the Best Diverse Picture and Board Books of 2016, Daydream Reader’s My Top 16 Books in 2016, and Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook’s Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday – My 2016 Favorites

If you or a young reader you know is still craving more information about the inventor of the Super Soaker, this new Q&A with Lonnie Johnson conducted by Forbes is one of the best I’ve seen.

And if you still want more, might I recommend these brief videos in which Don Tate and I discuss how we made Whoosh! and answer other questions posed to us by the Texas Bluebonnet Award committee. We hope you enjoy ’em!

06 Jan

John Roy chose to stay

Texas students in grades 3 through 6 will be voting this month for their 2016-17 Texas Bluebonnet Award favorites, and one of the many blessings of having The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch on this year’s list is that it has given me the opportunity to talk about the book at scores of schools in my home state.

I often read the book in its entirety to audiences, and when I’ve finished the text on this page —

When the Altamont chugged away, taking its crew home to the North, John Roy could have gone along. He had the choice to stay or go, and he chose to stay. Natchez was his home. Fellow former slaves reveled in the promises of freedom — family, faith, free labor, land, education. John Roy wanted to be part of that.

— I stop.

“How many of you,” I ask, “knowing only what you know now at this point in the story, and knowing only what John Roy Lynch himself knew at this point in his life, would have gone on to the North with the crew of the Atlamont?”

Sometimes two or three hands go up. Sometimes, it’s only one. Often, no one in the audience says they would have headed north.

“And raise your hand if you would have chosen to stay — to participate in those promises of freedom: family…”

By this point, at least some hands are already held high.

“…faith…”

More hands.

“…free labor…”

More
hands.

“…land…”

More.

“…education.”

Pretty much every child in the room has a hand aloft by this moment. And each and every time, I take that as a sign of hope.

You see, I know what happens next in the story. I know what became of these “promises of freedom” in the South immediately after the Civil War.

As I put it in the text on the very next page, “Freedom, however, soon turned sour. Mississippi whites passed laws to make Mississippi blacks into slaves under different names: ‘Apprentices.’ ‘Vagrants.’ ‘Convicts.'” Don Tate’s art on that next page depicts a whipping in progress, and a lynching about to occur.

Students often gasp when we get to that next page.

But on the page before, as the Altamont heads off into that beautiful sunset, the children in the room are guided by their optimism, by their sense of fairness and what’s right, by an innate belief in what should happen next. Of course it should be freedom. Of course.

I am, by nature, an optimist. I think I’m a realist, too, but when viewing that reality I tend to err on the side of expecting good and hopeful things to happen. For many people I know, however, this year has begun with such expectations deeply challenged.

Maybe that describes you, too.

I wish you could experience that feeling I get when I share the “When the Altamont chugged away…” spread of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch with children. When I see by the show of hands their expectations of progress, justice, and equality, how could I not be optimistic?

And at the same time, how could I not be determined to do what I can in my life — to do the work — to help make their expectations more often come to pass?

Jennifer surprised me last month with an early Christmas present. And she had help from Don. Unbeknownst to me, she got a piece of his original artwork from The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch framed and snuck into our house.

It now resides on our living room wall, where it will serve as a daily reminder of what the young people in Texas and elsewhere in this country expect from me, from you, from us, and from our future.

10 Nov

Whoosh! is on the brand-new Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List

john-roy-and-bluebonnet-and-whoosh
I’m happy as can be to spread the news that the 2017-18 Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List announced last weekend at the Texas Book Festival here in Austin includes Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions.

Whoosh! is my second collaboration with my friend Don Tate. Its predecessor, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, is on the 2016-17 Bluebonnet list. Students and librarians often ask me how it feels — and what it means to me as an author — to have a Bluebonnet book, so I want to talk a little about that.

Put simply, the recognition has had a gigantic impact on my career.

How gigantic? Well, having a book on the Bluebonnet list created an opportunity for me — 15 1/2 years into my career as a children’s author — to make a leap of faith and leave my day job. For the past several months, I have gratefully, blessedly, enthusiastically been a full-time author.

I now spend many of my days visiting Texas schools. I’ve been to 52 campuses so far this school year, with many others in store during the next few months.

So, getting onto the list once has been marvelous. But to be back on the Bluebonnet list for a second straight year? I hardly know what to say except, to the Texas Bluebonnet Award committee, thank you for again including Don Tate and me in such fine company.

Readers, here’s the full list for 2017-18 — congratulations to all these authors and illustrators!

Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

The Best Man by Richard Peck (Penguin/Dial)

Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles by Philippe Cousteau and Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Meilo So (Chronicle)

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers/Workman Publishing)

The Great Pet Escape (Pets on the Loose!) by Victoria Jamieson (Macmillan/Henry Holt) [Special congrats to Victoria, author/illustrator of Roller Girl, for also returning to the Bluebonnet list for a second year in a row!]

The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg (Bloomsbury)

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall, illustrated by James Mark Yellowhawk (Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS)

The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd (Scholastic Inc.)

The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Holgate (Penguin/Viking)

Little Cat’s Luck by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Lola Levine: Drama Queen by Monica Brown, illustrated by Angela Dominguez (Little, Brown)

The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown by Crystal Allen (HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray)

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)

The Princess and the Warrior by Duncan Tonatiuh (Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS)

Soar by Joan Bauer (Penguin/Viking)

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart (Scholastic Inc.)

The Storyteller by Evan Turk (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum)

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown)

Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung (Scholastic Inc.)

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate (Charlesbridge)

13 Mar

Don Tate goes for sound effects, while I go to the dogs. (Well, a dog.)

The Texas Bluebonnet Award committee invited authors and illustrators with books on the 2016-17 Master List to answer a few questions about their books — not in writing, but on camera.

Don and I each got a little gimmicky as we discussed The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, but we both had a lot of fun. I hope our readers will, too.

07 Nov

Hear me on the Picturebooking podcast

image

Nick Patton hosted me this week for an interview on the newest edition of his Picturebooking podcast.

I loved talking with Nick about ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America and The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch and about being married to my favorite author in the whole world, as well as answering his curveballier questions. Such as:

What was my life like right before the moment I got inspired to write children’s books?

And if neither time nor money was a limitation, what would my ultimate project be?

I had to really think about those, and I’m so glad to have had the opportunity. Thank you, Nick!

21 Oct

Amazing Age on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List

Bluebonnet

A few weeks ago I received some news that it’s been just killing me not to share with you.

It was finally made public this past weekend at the Texas Book Festival, and I’m exhilarated to at last be able to tell you that…

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch has been named to the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List for 2016-17!

This means that readers in grades 3-6 at schools and libraries all over the state of Texas will be considering my collaboration with Don Tate along with 19 other titles as they prepare to pick their favorite in January 2017.

A lot of work goes into creating state lists such as the Bluebonnet and into coordinating the voting by students. The librarians responsible for this and similar programs provide a vital service in connecting young readers with a host of great books that they might not otherwise encounter. I’m always thankful for the work that these folks do — but, admittedly, this year I appreciate it even more than usual!

Our publisher, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, asked me to share my thoughts about this particular book getting this particular honor. I hope you’ll read the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt:

I’m especially happy to know that because of the inclusion of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List, elementary school students throughout this state will receive a basic, honest introduction to Reconstruction. Texas children have not been consistently well-served by their textbooks — witness the recent title that referred to slavery as “immigration” and to enslaved human beings as “workers” — and there is a role for books such as ours in furthering their education.

There has long been a big hole in our country’s collective understanding of why a March on Washington was necessary 100 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and why a Voting Rights Act was necessary a century after the end of the Civil War. The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch helps fill that hole with a true account of the progress in civil rights and social justice that occurred during Reconstruction, as well as the violence and terrorism and indifference than turned back that progress.