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.

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?

16 Sep

A 2nd starred review (from Booklist) for the Christensen brothers!

Christensens at barre

Things are shaping up nicely for Willam, Harold, and Lew Christensen, the subjects of my new book with Cathy Gendron, ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition (Millbook Press).

Here’s some of what ALA Booklist had to say in the starred review that it published this week:

Barton offers a lively, colorful text and follows up with a very informative time line, illustrated with period photos, in the back matter. In her picture-book debut, Gendron turns in a virtuoso performance. Her handsome illustrations capture the distinctive posture and poise of ballet dancers, while portraying even minor characters as individuals. Suffused with light and warmth, the varied, imaginative paintings include dynamic textured effects as well as an inventively used ribbon to tie pages together. Even readers familiar with The Nutcracker will probably learn a good deal from this engaging picture book. Bravo! Brava!

14 Sep

A star for Nutcracker from Publishers Weekly!


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!

09 Sep

“Music, dance, a holiday tradition”

Thank you, Teresa Rolfe Kravtin, for this appreciation of ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition. It cites a book I adore, but whose connection to my own I had never considered:

Every year, The Nutcracker is staged in communities across America, and with this book, author Chris Barton tells the history behind how it came to be. More than just that, the story unfolds and explores how three brothers made their way through life pursuing their passion of dance, and creatively found ways of making money and becoming entertainers. In some ways, this reminds me of Melissa Sweet’s Balloons Over Broadway, another tale of a creative artist, Tony Sarg, a puppeteer who made something no one had quite ever made before, upside-down helium balloon puppets for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and it became a part of our national holiday tradition.


01 Sep

‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America is out today!

A mere 12 years, 6 months, and 23 days after I saved my first file on the topic of Utah-born Willam, Harold, and Lew Christensen, today marks the launch of my newest book, ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition.


It’s published by Lerner Books/Millbrook Press and gorgeously illustrated by Cathy Gendron, making what I think is a stellar picture-book debut. I’ve already shared the Huffington Post’s enthusiastic review of the book, but not yet these glowing notes from Margie Myers-Culver:

As surely as this ballet is a part of the Christmas season, you are going to want The Nutcracker Comes To America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created A Holiday Tradition written by Chris Barton with illustrations by Cathy Gendron to become a favorite read aloud with your students, children, family and friends. The story of these three brothers continuing to follow their passion despite life’s trials is truly inspirational. … This is nonfiction at its finest for all ages. At the close of the book the Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, Timeline, The Whole Shebang, In A Nutshell: A Summary Of The Nutcracker and Suggestions For Further Reading are must reads.

(Thanks, Margie!)

And if you’re looking to pair ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America with another new holiday-themed book featuring three siblings — bonus points if it, too, features a stage curtain on the cover — might I suggest the latest effort from my favorite author in the whole wide world? (That would be my wife, Jennifer Ziegler, of course!)

Revenge of the Angels

25 Jul

Bartography Express for July 2015, featuring Lindsey Lane’s Evidence of Things Not Seen

This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of Evidence of Things Not Seen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Lindsey Lane.

If you’re not already receiving Bartography Express, click the image below for a look. If you like what you see, click “Join” in the bottom right corner, and you’ll be in the running for the giveaway at the end of next week.

20150723 Bartography Express

19 Jul

Huffington Post review of ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America


Those of us who write for kids don’t write only for kids. We want our books to be shared and enjoyed widely. That’s why it’s so gratifying to me when one of my books for young readers gets acknowledged and appreciated by folks outside of the children’s literature world.

It doesn’t happen all that often, but it does happen: Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet got some splashy coverage on Boing Boing last year, and The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch has recently been included in the Charleston Syllabus.

And now, this review from the Huffington Post of my upcoming book ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition:

This is much more than the story of the transplanting of a famous Russian ballet. And not just a book for little girls who dream of dancing in tutus and pink satin pointe shoes. This is a real-life adventure story about “a trio of small-town Utah boys” with grit and talent, who bucked stereotypes, endured failures and persevered, and who individually and together enriched the cultural life of America.

Thank you, Carla Escoda, for this review, for your insight as a dancer, and for seeing all that illustrator Cathy Gendron, publisher Millbrook Press, and I tried to put into our book.

15 Feb

The stunning cover of ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America

Sometimes my dog will be sitting in my lap, being hugged and petted on, and he will begin to whine and whimper as if there’s still not enough affection getting expressed, as if it’s impossible that there could ever be any demonstration that would measure up to the love he feels.

It has long seemed absurd to me, but I think I finally get it. I do.

Because, y’all, I just can’t love this enough:


This is what the front of my upcoming book with Millbrook Press, ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition, will look like. It’s illustrator Cathy Gendron‘s first picture book, and I think she’s done just an astounding job.

I love how Willam, Harold, and Lew Christensen pop right off the page even amid the terrific onstage action. I love the shade of blue that the scene is bathed in. I love the swords. I love everything about this cover.

The book will be out this coming fall, and I hope to be able to share with you some of the interior illustrations soon. (If you’re at the Texas Library Association conference in April, maybe you can even see an advance copy in person.)

But in the meantime, here’s what the entire jacket — front, back, and flaps — looks like:


Whine. Whimper.

07 Jan

Keep keepin’ at it, folks

You know how I mentioned the other day that it had been eight years since I started working on my John Roy Lynch book? By the publication date, it will be more like eight years and three months, which tops the eight years it took from my first efforts on The Day-Glo Brothers until the publication date. During school visits, it blows kids’ minds when I tell them that — especially, I suspect, the minds of those eight and younger.

But wait. Yesterday, while admiring Cathy Gendron’s gorgeous new cover art for my next book, ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America, I looked up the date when I began working on that one. At first, I’d thought it was 2006 — but then I saw other documents in my files from early 2003. My Nutcracker book comes out this September, so with a twelve-year, seven-month gestation, it will easily become the new champ (and allow me to blow the minds of kids as old as seventh grade).

For now. Because just yesterday, I sent my agent a new revision of a picture book I began writing on October 7, 2002. I think this latest version is pretty good, and if it sells, the publication date would likely be somewhere around fifteen years after inception.

Fifteen years. (High school sophomores, I’m looking at you.)

Keep keepin’ at it, folks. Just make sure you’re enjoying yourself along the way.