30 Oct

Beyond Dazzle Ships: 2 new resources for educators

School librarians and classroom teachers whose students have embraced my book Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion

Dazzle Ships, illustrated by Victo Ngai and published by Millbrook Press

— should know about a pair of newly available resources that can help those young readers deepen their appreciation of the book and their understanding of dazzle camouflage and the context for its use during the first world war.

As I wrote in the “For Further Reading” section on the book’s final page, “On the subject of human-made camouflage, I believe there is no better source for information than artist, designer, historian, and teacher Roy R. Behrens,” especially his blog, Camoupedia.

So it’s no surprise that Behrens has come through again with his illustrated online essay “Disruption versus Dazzle: Prevalent Misunderstandings About World War I Ship Camouflage.”

And Behrens has also pointed me toward Dr. James Fox’s 10-minute video, “Dazzled! How a British artist transformed the seas of WWI.” I especially love the part where Fox handles (carefully!) one of the actual models used for testing dazzle patterns a century ago.

If there are other resources that you and your students have found helpful, intriguing, or otherwise engaging on the subject of dazzle camouflage, I’d love it if you would share them in the comments.

26 Aug

Dazzle Ships: The Video

About a year ago, I mentioned that my book Dazzle Ships (Millbrook Press) had received a starred review from School Library Journal.

Well, I’m delighted to let you know that Dazzle Ships has now received a second star from SLJ — this time for the 25-minute DVD produced by Dreamscape.

From the review:

Victo Ngai’s illustrations are closely scanned and sometimes simply animated as Johnny Heller narrates the text set to taut, compelling music and appropriate sound effects. … This extraordinary, fascinating look into a little-known historical event has multiple curriculum connections, from history to art. It would be a valuable addition to any collection and inspire viewers to do further research.

For a visual sampling of the magic Dreamscape has worked, here’s the trailer for the DVD:

You can order the DVD — or watch it for free on Hoopla — by visiting the Dreamscape site.

15 Aug

Dazzle Ships wins a Writers’ League of Texas Book Award

Good things happen when you take a nap.

Take this past Monday, for instance. As usual, I was up at 5 a.m. to start my workday, and by early afternoon I was no longer functioning at full strength.

So, I lay down on the couch with my dog, let my brain recharge for half an hour (give or take), and awoke to learn that I’d won the 2017 Writers’ League of Texas Book Award in the Picture Book category.

I’ve been a finalist a few times over the years, but this honor for Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (illustrated by Victo Ngai and published by Millbrook Press/Lerner Books) is the first time I’ve won the top prize from the WLT.

You can see all the winners, finalists, and other honorees here.

Many thanks to the Writers’ League and the judges — in all categories — for the work that goes into these awards. I can assure you that they’re meaningful to writers, but the reader in me appreciates them as well, as the list of titles seems like a pretty good bunch to put on my to-read list with the public library.

And if my library — or yours — doesn’t already have all of these titles in its collection, I believe a new-purchase request in order…

15 May

Fair winds and following seas for Dazzle Ships

By the time a nonfiction picture book of mine is published, I’ve already moved on to researching and writing other projects, and by the time that book has had a chance to make much of an impression on readers, there’s all the more distance between it and me. One result of that remove is that the arrival of any good news about that book is a pleasantly surprising blast from the past.

I’m feeling very fortunate lately. Here are the latest such blasts for Dazzle Ships (written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, and published last September by Millbrook Press):

The Bank Street College of Education has named the book to its list of The Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2018 Edition. Specifically, it’s on the list for ages Nine to Twelve, under the History heading.

Read On Wisconsin, a statewide literacy program operated by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, has included Dazzle Ships among its Intermediate (Grades 3-5) books for 2018-19.

Dazzle Ships has also been announced as one of the 2018-19 Junior Book Nominees for the North Carolina Children’s Book Award, just a year after Whoosh! was included on the same list.

And the book has been honored with a nomination for the 2018-2019 Crown Award from the Brackett Library at Harding University and the National Christian School Association, as well as a spot on the Lectio Book Award Master List 2018-2019.

I’m grateful for all of that good news. And I’m quick to tell students that of all my books, Dazzle Ships is the one that I needed the most editorial help with, so I’m happy to share this interview with the book’s editor, Carol Hinz. I’ll close with a bit of that:

[B]y and large, nonfiction has changed so much from my own childhood—when the norm was text-heavy books with small, black-and-white photos or illustrations. So in some ways, I would say I’m now making the type of books I wish I’d had when I was a child.

28 Mar

Entirely uncamouflaged good news about Dazzle Ships

Photo, taken by Susan Thomsen, of patron art created in February 2018 at The Westport (Connecticut) Library


It’s been nearly three months since my previous update about Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, and published last September by Millbrook Press). What’s new?

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) division of the American Library Association (ALA) has included Dazzle Ships on its 2018 Notable Children’s Books list.

The 2018 list of Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, a joint effort by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC), also includes Dazzle Ships.

CCBC Choices 2018, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s annual best-of-the-year list, includes Dazzle Ships as well.

Elizabeth Dulemba interviewed me about the book.

Dazzle Ships is the runner-up for the 2018 Denton Record-Chronicle Award for Best Children’s Picture Book, coordinated by the Texas Institute of Letters. (Be sure to check out the winner, Xelena González and Adriana M. Garcia’s All Around Us, which was also named a 2018 Illustrator Honor Book by the Pura Belpré Award committee.)

You might also enjoy…

Millbrook Press art director Danielle Carnito on Page Counts Demystified (or, Why Publishing People Need to Know Their Multiplication Tables):

After printing, the large paper sheets are folded down to the size of the individual pages. With every fold of the press sheet, the amount of pages doubles. One of the most common amount of pages in a signature is 16—as DAZZLE SHIPS was printed—so there are 8 pages on the front of a press sheet and 8 on the back. 8 is also used often, so there are 4 pages on the front and 4 on the back.

The Calling Caldecott post on Dazzle Ships:

Recurring graphic elements weave throughout the pages, from the gentle curves of the ocean waves to the zigzag dazzle patterns. Ngai’s deft use of scale allows the people — such as, painters, artists, and naval officers — to share the same spreads with the massive battleships. Particularly stunning is the spread of an awestruck King George V; he is staring, mouth agape, at a small dazzled model. The smoothness of the monarch’s face and uniform contrast sharply with the geometric edges of the model and its pattern.

And the review of Dazzle Ships in the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books:

“So just how well did dazzle work? Nobody really knows,” Barton admits. There’s no denying, however, that dazzle boosted morale and makes a heckuva great story. Barton’s lively text is matched by Ngai’s engrossing artwork, which employs dazzle techniques throughout [her] inventive spreads. Contrasting colors, unexpected curves, eccentrically layered design elements, and cleverly deployed chiaroscuro walk the line between instructive playfulness and an art deco fever dream.

I love hearing reports of Dazzle Ships (and dazzle ships) sightings out in the wild and on the web, so if you see something you think I might be interested in, there’s a very good chance that you’re right. Please let me know in the comments section, won’t you?

10 Dec

Another “Best of” for Dazzle Ships!

HuffPost has issued its list of the Best Picture Books of 2017 (Most Touching, Most Charming, Best Surprise, etc.), and the honor of Best History has gone to my collaboration with illustrator Victo Ngai, Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Millbrook Press).

It’s hard to imagine the staid military agreeing to such a plan, but this quirky slice of history is true: in World War I British and U.S. decorated warships in psychedelic patterns to confuse the enemy. A feast for the eyes, this book (much like the ships themselves) is substance cleverly disguised by wondrous art. Even readers who are typically averse to non-fiction will find themselves captivated by this delightfully bizarre moment in history.

Congratulations to the creators of the Honorable Mention books in the Best History category (Margarita Engle, Mike Curato, Monica Clark-Robinson, Frank Morrison, Vashti Harrison, Emma Otheguy, Beatriz Vidal, Debbie Levy, and Gilbert Ford) and to all of the other honored authors and illustrators whose titles are among the Best Picture Books. This gives me quite the to-read list for the next few weeks!

29 Nov

Orbis Pictus and “Best of 2017” honors for Dazzle Ships

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks for all of us who had a hand in Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, and published earlier this year by Millbrook Press.

At the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English in St. Louis, Dazzle Ships was named one of five Honor Books for the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.

(The top prize went to Grand Canyon, created by author-illustrator Jason Chin. Jason and I were two seats away from each other when we heard the news. At the time, he and I were participating on a panel — briefly interrupted — with fellow authors Tonya Bolden and Gail Jarrow about the creation of back matter in nonfiction books. Back matter, it turns out, is a key consideration in the awarding of the Orbis Pictus.)

There been other good news for Dazzle Ships: It’s been included in a few year-end “Best of” lists. Among them:

The creation of such lists of honored and recommended new books is a serious undertaking, and the results can be a goldmine for families and educators. I appreciate the efforts that have gone into these, and I’m especially grateful for the inclusion of Dazzle Ships.

04 Oct

Come see me (if you can) at Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion and I will be at Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop next Tuesday, October 10, and we should be at least as easy to spot at the three (count ’em!) cats in this sample of Victo Ngai’s art from the book:

From Dazzle Ships, published by Lerner Publishing/Millbrook Press

I look forward to seeing you there. Unless you’re camouflaged.

28 Sep

Big news for the illustrations (and illustrator) of Dazzle Ships

I’ve seen speculation here and there about Victo Ngai’s art for our book Dazzle Ships being in the running for a certain award, but there’s one prize that her illustrations have already won:

The Dilys Evans Founder’s Award, named after The Original Art founder, celebrates the most promising new talent in children’s book illustration. The jury has selected Victo Ngai’s Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Lerner Publishing Group/ Millbrook Press).

The award comes from the Society of Illustrators, whose Museum of Illustration in New York City will feature Victo’s art in for Dazzle Ships its annual Original Art exhibit from November 1 through December 23.

Congratulations, Victo!

06 Sep

On Dazzle Ships and creative problem solving

Victo Ngai’s endpaper design for Dazzle Ships

Over at my publisher’s blog, I’ve written about how I came to write my new book, Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, and why I think this niche of World War I history is worth reading about today.

Here’s a bit of what I say in that post.

As with other unconventional subjects that I developed a deep interest in (e.g. how daylight fluorescent colors were created, John Roy Lynch’s ten-year rise from slavery to the U.S. Congress, how The Nutcracker became a holiday tradition, the invention of the Super Soaker water gun), after getting my first taste of dazzle ships, I had a couple of reactions:

1. I’d better hurry up and make a nonfiction picture book about this before somebody else does.

2. How did I not know about this already?

I hope you’ll read the rest, and that you’ll like what I have to say so much that you’ll get yourself a copy of Dazzle Ships from my beloved local independent bookseller, BookPeople.

If you’re in Austin, I’ll be there at BookPeople tomorrow night — Thursday, September 7 — to read from and talk about the book.

And if getting to BookPeople tomorrow night isn’t an option, they’ll have freshly signed copies you can buy from wherever you are.