04 May

“If you’ve never drawn a steamroller, I recommend it.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for May 2018)

Mighty Truck: On the Farm
Welcome to the Q&A for the May edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).

This month I’m talking with illustrator and author Troy Cummings and giving away three signed books: his new picture book Can I Be Your Dog? (Random House) and our even-newer easy readers Mighty Truck: On the Farm and Mighty Truck: The Traffic Tie-Up (HarperCollins).

Our I Can Read books come on the heels — make that wheels — of our two picture books about Mighty Truck, his ordinary-pickup-truck alter ego Clarence, and various vehicular acquaintances.

In Can I Be Your Dog?, the canine main character embarks on a letter-writing campaign to come up with a human companion. Kirkus says in its review, “A large format and bold, exuberant illustrations are well-matched with Arfy’s enthusiastic personality and can-do attitude. The letter format makes this a fine choice for early-elementary students learning to compose letters.”

If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and you want to be the one lucky, lucky, lucky winner of signed copies of On the Farm, The Traffic Tie-Up, and Can I Be Your Dog?, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on May 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Troy Cummings.

Chris: There were some pretty big differences for me between the process of writing our Mighty Truck easy readers and my previous experiences writing picture books, but I’m curious about your perspective as an artist. How did illustrating for the I Can Read format compare to your prior work on picture books and your Notebook of DOOM series?

Troy: It’s been really fun to learn how to illustrate for these different types of books, and the types of reader each book serves.

Troy Cummings

In a picture book, the audience ranges from a baby on a lap, to pre-K kid studying the pictures, to a grade-schooler who can read, to the parent/teacher/librarian/stevedore reading out loud. It’s a wide audience, and I feel like we have lots of room to play in the illustrations.

I can put in some little background details that might be a surprise for the second or third reading, or visual jokes/surprises that happen across the page turn. And I think picture books work best when the illustrations aren’t just showing us what the words are saying, but instead are complementing — or even contrasting — what’s happening in the text.

As for the Notebook of DOOM series, which is a heavily-illustrated early chapter book series, my readers are a more focused group: students who know how to read, and are ready to transition into full chapter books. The DOOM books are structured like a middle grade book — many chapters, multiple characters, with a mystery in each book and an arc that connects the books together.

But they’re also heavily illustrated, with a lower word count and an easier vocabulary (both in terms of what the words mean, and how to “decode” the words for students learning to read). In these books, my illustrations can behave similarly to those in a picture book, but they also need to be a little more direct, in terms of supporting vocabulary or keeping the story clear for readers who come back to chapter 9 a couple days later.

But still, the DOOM books work as read-alouds for parents/teachers/librarians. They kind of straddle that line.

Finally, the I Can Read books have a very specific audience: students who are learning to read — right now! So to that end, I think my job is to support what’s going on in any given moment of the story. The illustrations need to be clear, and simple, and explicit, and show exactly what’s happening in the sentence on that very page. We can still put in some jokes and surprises, but they should never overcomplicate things, or make the reader have to pause and puzzle out what’s going on.

Chris: Mighty Truck and Mighty Truck: Muddymania! have centered on Clarence and his best pal, Bruno, but one of the things I’ve enjoyed about making these easy readers is that they’ve given us a chance to focus on the side characters. Stella is prominent in The Traffic Tie-Up, and Hattie and Mr. Dent get their turns in the upcoming third and fourth I Can Read books.

As the illustrator, do you have a favorite Mighty Truck supporting character, or one that you’re especially hoping to see more of?

Mighty Truck: The Traffic Tie-UpTroy: The supporting characters have all been a blast to dream up. I think my favorite may be Hattie, though, because steamrollers are super-fun to draw. (If you’ve never drawn a steamroller, I recommend it. Very therapeutic.)

I also really enjoyed drawing Zip and Beep, Hattie’s young bulldozer cousins. [Chris adds: These little ones were Troy’s idea, and they’ll be the title characters in our third I Can Read book, coming this December.] They’re loosely based on certain fast-running, sand-digging, early-reading family members of my own!

The character I want to see more of would have to be Throttle, the cat belonging to Mr. Dent, the surf wagon. Throttle has some funny surfing scenes with Mighty Truck in the fourth I Can Read book.

If you’ve never drawn a cat surfing with a monster truck, I recommend it! Less therapeutic, but really fun.

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

bookcover-johnroylynch

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch was…

Nutcracker_frontcover

‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America was…

15 Nov

Four new books from me in 2016

Now that the cover of my next book with Don Tate has been revealed, I can show it off here, too. But why stop with just that one?

Through a combination of flukes, good fortune, and starting my work at 5 a.m. far more often than not, I’ve got four new picture books coming out in 2016. They are:

That's Not Bunny!

That’s Not Bunny! (illustrated by Colin Jack; Disney-Hyperion; February 2016)

Mighty Truck

Mighty Truck (illustrated by Troy Cummings; HarperCollins; April 2016)

Whoosh!

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (illustrated by Don Tate; Charlesbridge; May 2016)

88 Instruments

88 Instruments (illustrated by Louis Thomas; Knopf; August 2016)

I’ve been lucky throughout my career to get paired with terrific illustrators, and I’m delighted that you’ll get to see so much evidence of that throughout 2016.

Now, back to work on 2017…

23 Nov

Bartography Express for November 2014, featuring K.A. Holt’s Rhyme Schemer

This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of Rhyme Schemer (Chronicle), the new middle-grade novel in verse by Kari Anne Holt.

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 this week.

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14 Mar

Announcing my new series: Super Truck!

Bartography Express subscribers were among the first to hear my big news from yesterday. In case you missed it:

I’m so glad to announce my six-book Super Truck! series with HarperCollins. Starting in early 2016, illustrator Troy Cummings (Giddy-Up, Daddy!) and I will be introducing the world to ordinary dump truck Clarence and his revved-up, to-the-rescue alter ego.

Here’s an image of the entire newsletter. For the next few weeks, you can click the image to get a fully linked version. And if you act fast, you can still get in the running for the giveaway of Texas Bluebonnet-winning author Phil Bildner‘s new book, The Soccer Fence.

20140313 Bartography Express