02 Jan

“…the balance between what readers NEED and what readers WANT”

I always enjoy learning more about how the editors of my books work and think, which makes this interview with Carol Hinz by Ryan G. Van Cleave at his Only Picture Books blog highly satisfying.

Carol is Editorial Director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books at Lerner Publishing Group. She and I are in the process of making our fourth picture book together, following The Nutcracker Comes to America, Dazzle Ships, and our upcoming All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing, which will be published next month.

Given the difficult topic that we explore in All of a Sudden and Forever, I’m especially interested in Carol’s comments when Ryan asks — in the context of Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship and Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story — “How do you negotiate the balance between what readers NEED and what readers WANT?”

Part of Carol’s answer:

I think adults … don’t give kids enough credit for what they can handle. This often comes out of a desire to protect kids from all the terrible things that are a part of our world. But we need to keep in mind that not all kids receive that protection, and we can’t control when a kid is going to first encounter something biased, racist, or hateful. To those adults who feel uncomfortable, I say: Isn’t it far better for a kid to encounter [difficult subject matter] for the first time in the pages of the book, when there’s time and space for a kid to think about it and talk with a trusted adult about it, rather than encountering it first in some other way when there might not be opportunity for thought and conversation?

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?


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

31 Aug

August 2016 Bartography Express: The smashiest, the crashiest — and the animalsiest

To get Bartography Express in your inbox each month — and to have a shot at the September giveaway of This Is Our Baby, Born Today, written by Varsha Bajaj and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler — you can sign up on my home page.

20160827 Bartography Express

21 Aug

In which I am interviewed by fourth graders from Graham Elementary

When I visited with the fourth graders at Graham Elementary here in Austin this past April, they followed up with many questions — and artwork. Such as this recreation of one of Don Tate’s illustrations in The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch:

cb-20160817-John Roy Lynch at desk cropped

That drawing of John Roy Lynch is just an example of the great stuff they sent. I believe I’m overdue in answering their questions. So…

Do you enjoy making children’s books?

Yes, I do. I think it’s the perfect job for me.

Do you like animals?

Not all of them, but I like a lot more animals than I dislike.

What inspired you to become an author?

My toddler son wanted me to tell him over and over the story of how I installed a smoke alarm in our house. I wrote that story down, and it was awful, but it got me going.

How long have you been writing?

Almost as long as I’ve been reading. The first story of mine that I know of is one that I wrote in second grade, “The Ozzie Bros. Meet the Monsters.”

Will you make chapter books?

I sure hope so. I’ve written a nonfiction book called Can I See Your I.D.? that had ten chapters, and I wrote a short story for a YA collection, and I hope that I will have more longer-than-a-picture-book fiction published.

How many books have you written?

88 Instruments, which was published just yesterday, is my tenth published book. I’ve written many more that have not been published.

Where do you get your ideas from?

All over. Things I see, things I read about, ideas that pop into my head while I’m running, suggestions from friends and editors — these are just some examples.

How old were you when you started to do books?

I was 29 when I realized I wanted to write books for kids, and almost 38 when my first book was published.

What inspired you to write the book “The Ozzie Bros. Meet the Monsters”?

Star Wars, the Muppets, and Abbott and Costello movies where they meet famous Hollywood monsters.

Do you have any books about your dog?

Not yet, but there are dogs in some of my manuscripts that sure remind me of Ernie.

Do you talk in a different language?

I’ve started relearning the Spanish that I began forgetting after my sophomore year in high school. Duolingo says I’m now 4% fluent.

Have you ever visited different countries?

I went to Mexico and Canada when I was growing up, and this past spring I traveled to Singapore to visit the Singapore American School. That trip included some time wandering around an airport in Qatar.

Have you been on tour?

Yes — to schools in Utah last December to celebrate my nonfiction book The Nutcracker Comes to America, and to cities in Texas and Oklahoma this past spring, in support of my book Mighty Truck.

Have you ever experienced difficult, frustrating times?

I sure have. I’ve been lucky to have family and friends to lean on during those times.

How many awards have you won?

I don’t know how many, but I can tell you the biggest: My first book, The Day-Glo Brothers, won a Sibert Honor from the American Library Association.

And that’s it! Thank you for the great questions, fourth graders — now FIFTH graders! — at Graham Elementary.

20 Mar

The Nutcracker Comes to America is a Texas Institute of Letters finalist

So many friends to root for!

That was my first reaction upon seeing this year’s finalists in the various children’s literature categories of the Texas Institute of Letters awards.

I’m honored that my The Nutcracker Comes to America, illustrated by Cathy Gendron, is in the running for the Denton Record-Chronicle Award for Best Children’s Picture Book.


But regardless of the outcome next month, isn’t this some great company to be in?

H-E-B/Jean Flynn Award for Best Children’s Book ($500)
Liz Garton Scanlon, The Great Good Summer (Beach Lane Books); Anne Bustard, Anywhere But Paradise (EgmontUSA); Don Tate, Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree Publishers)

H-E-B Best Young Adults Book ($500)
David Bowles, The Smoking Mirror (IFWG Publishing), Brian Yansky, Utopia, Iowa (Candlewick); Rene S. Perez II, Seeing Off the Johns (Cinco Puntos Press)

Denton Record-Chronicle Award for Best Children’s Picture Book ($500)
Pat Mora, The Remembering Day / El dia de los muertos (Arte Público Press); Kathi Appelt, Counting Crows (Atheneum Books for Young Readers); Chris Barton, The Nutcracker Comes to America (Millbrook Press)

Congratulations to all the finalists in all the categories, and especially to Sarah Bird for her career-honoring Lon Tinkle Award. Talk about great company

31 Dec

Recognition, celebration, validation

Here’s to the end of 2015, everybody. I hope you’ve had a satisfying year, and that no matter how well things have gone, it’s wrapping up for you on a positive note.

If you’re reading this, you’re one of the reasons I feel so fortunate to be doing what I do. Thank you for taking an interest in me and my books.

And if you’re someone who has taken the time to publicly recognize or celebrate or validate the work done by authors of books for kids, thank you especially for that. It makes a difference to us, and I know I’m not the only one who appreciates your efforts.

To close out the year here at Bartography, I want to recognize, celebrate, and validate those efforts by sharing with my readers a few of the kind gestures that folks have made toward my work recently.

If you follow these links, I hope you’ll look around a bit and see what other books have caught their eyes. Maybe you’ll discover your first favorite read of 2016…

Authors Chris Barton and Jennifer Ziegler. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Authors Chris Barton and Jennifer Ziegler. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Kate Hannigan interviewed me and also interviewed Jennifer for the Author Of… blog:

Attack Boss Cheat Code - May 2014

Michele Knott at Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook generously spotlighted all of my picture books and then named Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet to her list of My Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books from 2015

Mighty Truck

Public Libraries Online featured An Interview with Troy Cummings, illustrator of my text for our upcoming Mighty Truck series


The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch was…


‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America was…

23 Dec

My Nutcrackerrific trip to Utah

The Salt Lake Tribune interviewed me a couple of weeks ago about ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America, but I’ve done more in Utah this month than just appear in print.

Street sign

Considering that it was dance-loving Utah brothers Willam, Harold, and Lew Christensen who made The Nutcracker into a US holiday tradition, what better time and place to share my book than in Salt Lake City as Ballet West began staging its production for the 60th year?

So, I headed west for the week, getting a great view of the Rocky Mountains and Salt Lake City as I flew in on a Sunday afternoon.

Heading west

The next morning, I drove down to Alpine for a school visit at Westfield Elementary. Schools just south of Salt Lake City, I learned, have somewhat different scenery from those in Texas.

First school visit

In the gym at Westfield, I presented to an audience containing around 700 kids grades 1-6 — my single biggest school-visit audience ever.


On this trip, in between my reading of ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America

George and Shura at Westfield

— and my discussion of how I did my research, I began showing this 1938 clip of two of the Christensen brothers dancing in Filling Station. That visual made for a great addition to my presentation. At Westfield, one of the kids exclaimed, “That’s ballet?” — a perfect response.

Marc Tyler Nobleman — author of the picture book biographies Boys of Steel and Bill the Boy Wonder, about the creators of Superman and Batman, respectively — had visited Westfield previously, though you’d certainly never suspect that from the decor in the library:

Westfield superheroes 4

Westfield superheroes 5

Westfield superheroes 3

Westfield superheroes 2

Afterwards, I had lunch with three of my writer friends who happen to live near the school: Christine Hayes (Mothman’s Curse), Heidi Lewis (I can’t wait for you to read her nonfiction), and Amy Finnegan (Not in the Script).

With EMLAs

On the way back to my hotel, I stopped by King’s English and signed stacks of ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America and Shark Vs. Train. I loved chatting with Whitney Berger and Rob Eckman while I signed — it was my first visit to the store, and they made me feel completely at home.

The day’s last event was a dinner in Park City, where I discussed The Nutcracker alongside Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute and met lots of enthusiastic young dancers, at least a couple of whom I’d see again in my school visits later in the week.

Upon my Tuesday morning arrival at Waterford School in Sandy, I saw perhaps the most impressive sunrise I’d ever witnessed.

Sunrise and Waterford School

Sunrise and mountains

Two other nifty things that came with my presentation to Waterford’s students were 1) a new-to-me trick for displaying my books during my presentation…

Book display genius

…and 2) this most excellent, highly personalized nutcracker (delivered to me by four ballet-dancing students!):

My nutcracker

That afternoon, I went up to Park City with Sarah West, the aptly named development director of Ballet West as well as the granddaughter of Ballet West’s founder, Mr. C himself, Willam Christensen.

Our first stop was the weekly luncheon of the warmly irreverent Park City Rotary Club, where the featured speaker was Sarah Pearce, managing director of the Sundance Institute.

After that, I had the delightful honor of reading ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America to a preschool class where one of the students was one of Mr. C’s great-grandsons. I did my best to explain the concept of great-grandparents, as well as the idiom “knock their socks off” and the point of a standing ovation. I’m pretty sure I got through on at least the last of those, as the kids did provide (with maybe a little encouragement from me) a standing O after my reading.

Sarah showed me around Park City’s Main Street, where I met (and got kinda fresh with) this bear:

Fresh bear

The last event of the day was a reading and discussion of my book at the Kimball Art Center. Beforehand, I got to check out the custom-chairlift charity contest entries outside. These were a couple of my favorites:

Kimball chairlift


Inside, kids did Nutcracker-themed crafts — painting nutcracker statues and wooden cutouts. After my reading, I met Mr. C’s daughter and got a family photo with three generations of Christensens:

With family of Mr C

I arrived back at my hotel just in time to cross the street to the Capitol Theater and watch most of the first half of a Ballet West Nutcracker rehearsal. I didn’t take any photos, but I doubt they would have conveyed how captivating it was to watch dancers in sweatpants and T-shirts and the occasional mask bring the story to life accompanied by a single piano.

The highlight of Wednesday was my school visit to Rowland Hall. One of the students there was a girl I’d met at the Monday dinner. She was very self-possessed, as were all the kids at the school. This audience was kindergartners through second graders, so instead of going into details of my research process, after reading ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America and showing them the Filling Station clip, I read them Shark Vs. Train. That one never grows old for me. Or for them, I’m pleased to say.

The runner-up on Wednesday was this blue macaron (salted caramel, surprisingly) that I bought at Eva’s Bakery with my afternoon coffee:

Blue cookie before

Blue cookie after

Thursday brought three presentations back in Sandy at Grace Lutheran. The first audience consisted of the sixth- through eighth-graders, the oldest student audience I’ve presented my Nutcracker book to so far.

I still did a reading — I don’t think there’s any age where people are too old to be read to — but I prefaced my reading by pointing out several technical things that I wanted them to pay attention to: how I played off readers’ expectations about The Nutcracker, struck a balance among the three Christensen brothers without giving any of them short shrift, kept straight the sequences of events and geographic relocations, and provided an introduction to ballet without a data dump.

That evening, it was showtime. Ballet West executive director Scott Altman provided a backstage tour of the company’s operations — including the costume shop — for an audience that included Utah Governor Gary Herbert and and First Lady Jeanette Herbert. At the beginning of the tour, to my surprise, Sarah West handed the Herberts a signed copy of ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America, which the governor carried throughout the tour.

Herberts backstage 2

Herberts backstage 1

From left to right, Gay Cookson, director of the Utah Division of Arts and Museums; Adam Sklute, artistic director of Ballet West; Utah First Lady Jeanette Herbert; Utah Governor Gary Herbert; Scott Altman, executive director of Ballet West; and me.

From left to right, Gay Cookson, director of the Utah Division of Arts and Museums; Adam Sklute, artistic director of Ballet West; Utah First Lady Jeanette Herbert; Utah Governor Gary Herbert; Scott Altman, executive director of Ballet West; and me

But an even bigger surprise came when, onstage with Scott Altman and Adam Sklute before the curtain rose, Gov. Herbert showed off and talked up my book before the entire crowd — immediately becoming my second-favorite politician, after John Roy Lynch.


During the show, I sat next to Gay Cookson, brand-new in her role as director of the Utah Division of Arts and Museums. During intermission, we posed with this guy:

With Gay Cookson

The show itself was marvelous. Ballet West still uses the choreography created in the 1950s by Willam Christensen, and so in addition to being highly entertaining (he was a former vaudevillian, after all), it was also extremely meaningful to witness in person the living, breathing, leaping, waltzing work of one of my subjects.

If you’re anywhere near Salt Lake City, there’s still time to go see it. I highly recommend it.

The last bit of business on my Utah trip came on Friday morning, when I headed back to newly snowed-upon Park City with Joshua Jones, Ballet West’s associate director of press and social media. Bookended (for reasons still not clear to me) by Lenny Kravitz songs, KPCW interviewed Josh and me live on the air about the Christensens, The Nutcracker, and Ballet West’s production.

Afterwards, we walked over to Dolly’s Bookstore so that I could sign copies of ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America.

With Sue Fassett at Dolly's Bookstore

With Sue Fassett, manager of Dolly’s Bookstore

I was delighted to see Jennifer’s Revenge of the Angels on prominent display at Dolly’s. It made me miss her all the more. It had been a great week, but I was glad to get home that night.

06 Dec

Humanities Texas Holiday Book Fair on Saturday, December 12

What’s not to love about getting signed copies of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America, and books by 22 other talented Texas folks — especially when those books are sold at a discount and sales benefit Texas libraries?

The answer, my friends, is nothing. Hope to see you in Austin at the Humanities Texas Holiday Book Fair on Saturday, December 12.

2015_Humanities Texas Book Fair_Flyer

29 Nov

Join Jennifer and me in supporting the Giving Tree

But you're on your own for the Taco Cleanse.

But you’re on your own for the Taco Cleanse.

On Saturday, December 5, Jennifer and I will celebrate the release of our new holiday-themed books — her Revenge of the Angels and my ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America — with an open-to-the-public event at Austin’s BookPeople benefiting the store’s Giving Tree charity program.

Giving Tree provides a way for BookPeople customers to provide books for children in need who are served by three locally based charities. Instead of an author Q&A this month, I’ve invited leaders of each organization to share with you a little bit about the work they do. Just follow these links to read about the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas, Saint Louise House, and BookSpring.

Guests at our December 5 event who buy any hardcover children’s book to donate to Giving Tree will be in the running for the giveaway of signed sets of Revenge of the Angels and ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America.

Two subscribers to my Bartography Express will also be winners. In addition to the BookPeople event, Jennifer and I are giving away a signed copy of each book. If you’d like one of those winners to be you, just 1) subscribe to Bartography Express, if you haven’t already, and 2) say so in the comments to this post, and we’ll enter you in the drawing.

20 Nov

Giving Back for the Holidays, Part 3: BookSpring

When Jennifer and I celebrate our new holiday-themed books with an event at Austin’s BookPeople on December 5, we’re going to spotlight the store’s annual Giving Tree charity program.

Guests buying any hardcover children’s book to donate to Giving Tree will be in the running for the giveaway of signed sets of Jennifer’s Revenge of the Angels and my own ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America.

Giving Tree is benefiting three local nonprofit organizations this year, and this week I’m telling you a little bit about each of them.


As stated in its mission, “BookSpring provides reading experiences, tools, and books to children and their families so they can develop a desire to read and succeed in school and life.”

BookSpring executive director Emily Cicchini elaborates:

BookSpring aims to reach 300,000 infants, toddlers, and young children in Central Texas. We want to influence the reading habits, not only of children, but also of whole families. Parents who have books get to read to their kids, creating a love for reading and a critical skill for future success. Those kids will read more and want more books—a perpetual circle of literacy.

We primarily serve children in low-income families, so we hope our influence will provide the advantage they may lack without sufficient reading resources at home. We want to reduce the number of high school drop-outs, welfare dependents, and even the number of prisoners. Our endeavors will help the children of today earn higher paying jobs and be contributing members of society in the future.

BookSpring is equipping children, families, and communities with the tools and skills required for long-term life success.

I truly appreciate Emily and all the BookSpring staff and volunteers for the vital work they do. And thank you, Bartography readers, for anything you can do to spread the word about BookSpring, the Giving Tree, or the BookPeople event on December 5.