06 Sep

Literacy in Action: next Saturday’s Bill Martin Jr. Symposium in Mesquite, TX

14 Aug

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? is the 2019 Texas Great Read!

Rebekah Manley and me at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

I’ve got some pretty exciting news — Texas-sized news, if you ask me.

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, written by me and illustrated by Ekua Holmes, has been named the 2019 Texas Great Read.

This is a program of the Texas Center for the Book at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, which describes the whole shebang thusly:

“Every year, the Library of Congress asks each state Center for the Book to select a title that represents the state’s literary landscape to highlight at the National Book Festival. The event showcases the importance of books and reading. The festival is sponsored by the Library of Congress and takes place during Labor Day weekend in Washington, D.C.”

I’m beyond thrilled that my picture book biography of true Texas hero Barbara Jordan will represent the literary culture shared by Texans from El Paso to Beaumont, Brownsville to Dalhart, and Texarkana to Terlingua, not to mention the great lady’s hometown of Houston and adopted home city of Austin.

Many thanks to Rebekah Manley (she of the matching boots in the photo above) and her colleagues at the TSLAC for their support of this book, and to everyone who rooted for this book to get the nod. And here’s to new generations of Texans getting to know just what Barbara Jordan did with a voice like that.

Published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster

12 Jul

“What was Left Out, Powered by PechaKucha,” from TLA 2019

Twenty presentation slides, 20 seconds per slide, no stopping. Four hundred seconds long, period. That’s PechaKucha.

At the Texas Library Association conference this past April, I participated — alongside Christina Soontornvat, Susan Fletcher, Traci Sorell, and Varian Johnson — in what we believe to be the first-ever PechaKucha TLA session, orchestrated by our fellow author and friend Kathi Appelt.

Here’s the official description of our session, “What was Left Out, Powered by PechaKucha“:

This will be a panel of five children’s book authors who will discuss their revision process on their latest books, with special focus on “what was left out.” The panel will occur at the annual conference for the Texas Library Association, and is focused toward an audience of librarians and educators

And here’s what that looked like in my case, as I talked about aspects of Barbara Jordan’s story that I did not include in What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.

Please take a look (it’s six minutes, 40 seconds!), and don’t miss Christina’s, Susan’s, Traci’s, or Varian’s. I loved this session as both presenter and audience member, and I hope we’ll see more of the PechaKucha format at TLA 2020.

28 Jun

In which I discuss Barbara Jordan with a shaggy blue puppet

Hey, it’s me on The Van Show!

Talking about What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? with the Austin Public Library’s spokespuppet was truly a highlight of my experiences at this spring’s Texas Library Association conference.

And a highlight of that highlight was being able to show Van the Barbara Jordan statue that he’s been missing from inside the box he’s usually in when passing through the Austin airport.

23 May

Come “dig deep” with me!

This week, I’m a guest on author Melissa Stewart’s blog with a contribution to her “Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep” series.

The title of this series is no joke: Melissa urged me to dig deeper than I’d been inclined to on the first draft of my post, and I’m glad she did. It’s probably no surprise that in my post I talk quite a bit about Barbara Jordan and What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?

Thank you, Melissa, for that encouragement, and for the opportunity to share what I’ve learned about what young readers, Barbara Jordan, and I have in common.

Here’s a bit of what I had to say:

This great woman whose oratorical powers inspired her constituents, brought out the best in her colleagues, and helped end Richard Nixon’s shameful presidency had once possessed a talent as undeveloped as it was promising. Just like the talents of the students I’m speaking to. Just like my own.

16 May

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? among Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books of the Year

From the Bank Street College of Education’s Children’s Book Committee:

The Children’s Book Committee strives to guide librarians, educators, parents, grandparents, and other interested adults to the best books for children published each year. The list includes more then 600 titles chosen by reviewers for literary quality and excellence of presentation as well as the potential emotional impact of the books on young readers. Other criteria include credibility of characterization and plot, authenticity of time and place, age suitability, positive treatment of ethnic and religious differences, and the absence of stereotypes.

I’m pleased as can be that the 2019 list includes What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (written by me, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster) among its best books for readers ages nine to twelve.

In a brief write-up, the Committee said, “Jordan’s bold voice took her to places few African American women had been in the 1960s, and finally to the US Congress, where her oratory and integrity shone.”

Not only that, but our book received special recognition for Outstanding Merit and Diversity.

As that long paragraph above says, there are hundreds of other titles on this year’s list, from books for kids under five up to books for readers over 14. Have a look at the whole list, and you’re bound to find something terrific for the young reader(s) in your life.

24 Apr

My remarks at the Barbara Jordan Media Awards


As I mentioned last month, my book What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (illustrated by Ekua Holmes and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster) won the 2018 Barbara Jordan Award for children’s books.

Three weeks ago, Jennifer and I had the honor of attending the awards ceremony at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. Not only did I get to meet some of the other winners —

— but I also got to appreciate some of their award-winning work. And I’ve got great news: You can enjoy it, too, after about 60 seconds of remarks by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. (Excerpts from What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? begin at about the four-minute mark.)

Upon receiving the award, each of the winners had an opportunity to say thank you and share other thoughts. What I said during my three minutes was:

I must admit, I was really, really, really hoping that my Barbara Jordan children’s book would win the Barbara Jordan children’s book award.

I am so grateful for this honor, and I can’t help but also be a little tickled by it. And based on what I learned about Barbara Jordan in the course of researching and writing What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?, I think she would have gotten a kick out of it, too.

That shared sense of humor would not be the only thing Barbara Jordan and I have in common, despite our significant demographic differences. We’re both native Texans. We both found a home and a community in our adopted city of Austin.

I admire and aspire to emulate Barbara Jordan’s talent for and interest in listening to those whose viewpoints and experiences differ from our own.

Her forceful insistence on integrity and ethical behavior has led me, regarding many situations, to wonder — occasionally, then frequently, now daily — What Would Barbara Jordan Do?

And like Barbara Jordan, I believe in putting my own success and privilege — and, yes, my own voice — to work pulling up or helping along others who, for various reasons, are not yet there themselves.

My favorite example of how Barbara Jordan lived that value is how she, after accumulating significant political capital herself, applied that capital to shoring up — rather than restricting — the voting rights of Mexican-American citizens and others.

In my work as a member of the children’s book community, that impulse has taken the form of advocating for authors, illustrators, readers, and characters who tend to share Barbara Jordan’s demographics more so than my own.

I don’t know how many other titles were in the running for this year’s honor, but nothing would make me happier than for my Barbara Jordan book for children winning the Barbara Jordan children’s book award to inspire many more children’s books about Texans with disabilities and by Texas authors and illustrators with disabilities.

I want there to be plenty of fierce competition for this prize in the future, and for the judges to have their work cut out for them every year.

Thank you, judges, and to all who work on behalf of the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. Many thanks to illustrator Ekua Holmes and to our publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Thank you to my wife, Jennifer — I love you — and to all the family and friends and librarians who have supported me and my work. Thank you, Barbara Jordan, for your inspiration and for that voice. Thank you all.

Since the awards ceremony three weeks ago, I’ve begun making some inquiries about the accessibility of conferences for writers and illustrators, in hopes of helping make those events more accessible for people with disabilities.

If you’ve had experiences or can offer suggestions that might contribute to those conversations, please leave them in the comments section below, and I’ll be glad to pass them along to the folks I’m in touch with.

01 Apr

Come see Jennifer and me at TLA!

Whenever I try to explain to anyone how much Jennifer Ziegler and I love the annual gathering of the Texas Library Association, I just let them know that when we got married six years ago, the TLA conference in Fort Worth was our honeymoon.

Whether the person I’m talking to is appalled by that choice or totally gets it, there’s no mistaking how strongly we feel about TLA.

And we’re thrilled that this year’s conference will be in our home city of Austin — and that we’re both featured with sessions and signings. Here’s where and when you can find us, and what we’ll be up to (with helpful screenshots from the TLA app):

Monday, April 15

2:45 p.m. The Myth of ‘Girl Books’ and ‘Boy Books’: Exploring Gender Bias with Middle Grade Authors

9C, Level 3

Middle-grade authors explore gender bias and gender diversity in children’s literature, and discuss challenges librarians face in getting diverse stories into the hands of readers regardless of their gender. Learn about resources for locating, evaluating, promoting, and sharing gender diverse texts with readers.

5 p.m. Author Signing with Jennifer Ziegler

Authors Area, Aisle 12

Game-show host/puppet Van

9 p.m. The Van Show

19A, Level 4

Authors Jeff Anderson, Tom Angleberger, Chris Barton, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Shelley Johannes, Stacy McAnulty, Carmen Oliver, Andrew Smith, Jo Whittemore, and Jennifer Ziegler will compete in Van’s Game of Games.

Tuesday, April 16

10 a.m. What Was Left Out: Powered by Pecha Kucha

19B, Level 4

Discovering what was cut from a story can be as informative as what was left in. In this panel, five authors will share how they made crucial decisions that shaped their final stories. The authors will use the fast-paced format called Pecha Kucha which has possibilities for educators and students.

1:30 p.m. Author Signing with Chris Barton

Authors Area, Aisle 2

3:15 p.m. How to Make a Diverse Kid-Lit List

5ABC, Level 3

Youth librarians love to make lists highlighting books and authors. Each list is an opportunity to consider the demographics of who is included – and who is left out. Learn from two veteran librarians and two award winning authors how to make those lists increasingly inclusive and diverse.

Wednesday, April 17

2 p.m. Author Signing with Chris Barton & Don Tate

Charlesbridge Booth #2445

29 Mar

Voice wins Texas Institute of Letters award for Best Children’s Picture Book

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan has picked up another close-to-home, deep-in-the-heart-of-Texas honor: the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL) award for Best Children’s Picture Book.

Written by me, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? is among several books being honored this year by TIL, a “non-profit Honor Society founded in 1936 to celebrate Texas literature and to recognize distinctive literary achievement. The TIL’s elected membership consists of the state’s most respected writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, journalism, and scholarship.”

As a lifelong Texan and author of a book about a Texas hero, I’m so proud to receive this honor, and to get to share the spotlight with this year’s other honorees, including Naomi Shihab Nye, Ben Fountain, Natalia Sylvester, Brent Nongbri, David Bowles, Varian Johnson, Tarfia Faizullah, Clay Reynolds, Megan Peak, and Stephen Markley. Thank you, TIL!

21 Mar

Barbara Jordan book wins Barbara Jordan Award


The life of Texas hero Barbara Jordan included many facets, and one of those was her experience with multiple sclerosis, which began soon after she entered Congress in 1973.

Fittingly, the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities bestows the Barbara Jordan Award each year on authors and journalists whose work “accurately and positively reports on individuals with disabilities, using People First language and respectful depictions.”

I’m delighted to report that my book What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (illustrated by Ekua Holmes and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster) has won the 2018 Barbara Jordan Award for children’s books.

I strove to get all aspects of her story right, and this recognition means the world to me. I look forward to thanking the committee in person at the awards luncheon next month here in Austin.

Plus, what’s not to love about a book about Barbara Jordan winning an award named for Barbara Jordan? I like to think that the great lady herself would have gotten a kick out of that.