Happy 10th anniversary to my first book, The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors — illustrated by Tony Persiani, and published on this day in 2009 by Charlesbridge!
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.
Earlier this month, my nonfiction picture book Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing), illustrated by Victo Ngai, was named to the Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Program Master List for Grades 3-6 for 2019-2020.
All by itself, that was great news, and immediately I was tremendously thankful for the efforts of the PYCRA committee and for the award’s sponsor, the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association.
And then I thought, “PYCRA — that sounds familiar. Wasn’t Whoosh! on one of those lists?”
I did a little digging, and sure enough, it was. Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (Charlesbridge), illustrated by Don Tate, was on the 2017-2018 PYCRA Master List for Grades 3-6.
But that’s not all I found when I searched my own website for references to the Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award.
It had slipped my mind that both The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors (Charlesbridge), illustrated by Tony Persiani, and Shark vs. Train (Little, Brown), illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, were on PYCRA Master Lists (in two different categories) in 2011-2012. Shark vs. Train, in fact, had been the Kindergarten-Grade 3 winner that year.
I felt like a dope for those honors having slipped my mind, though I’d certainly appreciated them at the time. I’m going to chalk that memory lapse up to the fact that my knowledge and understanding of the children’s literature world have grown continually during the 18-plus years I’ve been pursuing this work, and that one aspect that it took me a while to grasp was the significance of state awards such as the PYRCA.
I fully appreciate now just how vital state award lists are for getting new books in front of young readers and their librarians. And that appreciation is multiplied by four for the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association.
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:
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.
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 â€” 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?
You can also see which books I’ll be giving away in coming months to Bartography Express subscribers (if you liked Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s One for the Murphys, you’ll love the February giveaway!), as well as images from my school visits and other appearances.
And you guys, the art I’ve seen from Cathy Gendron for our fall 2015 book, ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition, is flat-out gorgeous. I can’t wait to start pinning images from that, so keep an eye out, OK?
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.
I’m a few days late to the party, thanks to my participation in the YALSA and ILF events, but I’m happy this morning to share with you this recently recorded interview I did for Katie Davis’ kidlit podcast, Brain Burps About Books.
In addition to discussing Shark Vs. Train and Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!, Katie and I talked quite a bit about my email newsletter, Bartography Express, which I wrote about earlier this year for Cynsations. And in fact, while I was listening to our interview, I was actually putting the finishing touches on this month’s edition.
The November edition includes, among other things, a Q&A with K.A. Holt and a giveaway of her new book, Rhyme Schemer. If you want to receive this issue in your very own inbox and get in the running for the giveaway, you can sign up on my home page.
It’s been three and a half years to the day since the publication of my previous book, Can I See Your I.D.?, and today also brings the release of my new book, Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet.
It was not my intention to go so long between books, and according to my publishing schedule I’ll be making up for lost time in the next year and a half. That said, you probably didn’t even notice the gap — heaven knows there’s lots else in the world more worthy of your attention.
But I noticed, and I appreciate the patience of my wife and family, my agent and editors and friends.
And I especially appreciate all you readers out there who let me know in the meantime how much joy you were getting out of Shark Vs. Train and The Day-Glo Brothers. I’m so glad to finally offer proof that there’s more where that came from.
The Day-Glo Brothers, my first book, was published five years ago this week, and when I began doing school visits, I brought along this 32″ x 10″ visual aid. It consists of seven sturdy posterboard panels, joined by three metal rings, that help explain how ordinary light and color, ultraviolet light and fluorescence, and daylight fluorescence work.
Once Shark Vs. Train came along, the focus of my presentations shifted, and this teaching aid no longer got much use. But I’ve taken good care of it, and it’s in great shape, and I’d like someone out there to have it.
But not too far out there, because I don’t want to risk it getting damaged during shipping. So if you’re an educator in the Austin area — which I’m defining as “within 20 miles of my house” — you’re eligible to win this Day-Glo Brothers artifact.
Two weeks from today, I will select one person who has subscribed to my Bartography Express newsletter with an Central Texas educational email address (one ending with @austinisd.org, @pfisd.net, @roundrockisd.org, etc.), and this teaching aid will be theirs to keep. I’ll even deliver it myself and explain how to use it.
How do you subscribe, if you aren’t already receiving Bartography Express? It’s easy: Just click here and fill out the form.
Good luck! And here’s to a happy new home for something I made all by myself.