14 Aug

Key steps on my journey with Don Tate (so far!)

Yesterday morning marked the debut of a new presentation with a longtime friend.

As you may know, Don Tate and I have created two picture books together: The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch and Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions.

John Roy Lynch and George Moses Horton and Lonnie Johnson

Yesterday, we got to present about our journey “From Critique Partners to Collaborators” at the monthly meeting of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, after which Don received the SCBWI Crystal Kite award for his book Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton. (Congratulations, Don!)

Preparing for this presentation meant plunging into our electronic archives as well as the memories stored up in our heads, and the process was a lot of fun for us both.

The big takeaway of our presentation was a set of ten tips equally applicable to critique partners and collaborators alike, based on our own experiences with each other over these past 11 years. But we opened with this timeline, which we thought might be of interest to folks who weren’t able to attend yesterday’s meeting.

First (documented) contact!
First manuscript critique
First lunch together

First road trip together
Chris suggests Don write about George Moses Horton.

Don critiques unfinished first draft of Chris’ manuscript, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers acquires The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

Chris recommends Don to Eerdmans as candidate to illustrate The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

Charlesbridge Publishing agrees to publish biography of Lonnie Johnson written by Chris.

Don is announced as illustrator of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.
Chris recommends Don to Charlesbridge as illustrator of Lonnie Johnson book.

Peachtree Publishers acquires Don’s biography of George Moses Horton.
Don is announced as illustrator of Whoosh!

Chris and Don make first in-person appearances as author-illustrator team.
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is published.
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton is published.

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions is published.

And that’s just the high-level version — the nitty-gritty could take up a month of blog posts. But if you’re involved with a conference or organization that would be interested in hearing more of the story, well, maybe we’ll just have to update our timeline to include you.

04 Aug

A morning spent inside the Don Tate-Chris Barton archives

I spent this morning delving into various archives to piece together a chronology of the relationship Don Tate and I have enjoyed as friends, critique partners, and collaborators. Our history stretches back to way before the publication of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch in 2015 and of Whoosh! earlier this year.

I know this exercise sounds like sheer entertainment and everyone’s idea of a good time, but there’s also a practical reason for this exercise: Don and I are presenting to Austin SCBWI on August 13 about our experiences as a manuscript-critiquing and book-creating duo.


As far as I can tell, our initial communication was in a comment Don left on my brand-spanking-new blog in July 2005. And I can tell you that it then took us about 4 1/2 months of talking about having lunch before we actually got around to having lunch for the first time, in December 2005. He picked up the check at Brick Oven Pizza.

Don and I got our acts together somewhat and managed to pull off a road trip to San Antonio a mere month later for the 2006 midwinter meeting of the American Library Association. Here’s the account I wrote about that event, which also happened to be the first time I met my literary agent, Erin Murphy, in person. It was a great weekend that looks even better in retrospect.


13 Jul

A Whoosh! of good news

WHOOSH picnic

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions was among the Notable Children’s Books Nominees discussed by the Association for Library Service to Children during the American Library Association’s annual conference in Orlando last month. I’m not sure how nervous I would have been while hearing my book discussed in such a public setting, so it’s just as well that I had to leave the conference earlier that morning.

Publishers Weekly‘s PW KidsCast features this 17-minute conversation with me about Whoosh! (among other things).

The July/August issue of The Horn Book Magazine reviews Whoosh!, remarking on the book’s straightforward approach to Lonnie Johnson’s ups and downs, the “upbeat, you-can-do-it attitude,” and Don Tate’s eye for period detail in his illustrations (“from pegged jeans to bell-bottoms to cut-off shorts with knee socks”). The issue also includes a Q&A — literally, one Q and one A — with me about writing about a living person.

Shelf Awareness says, “Barton’s clean, lively prose and Tate’s boldly composed, often comical illustrations–including a dramatic gatefold capturing the Super Soaker’s mighty trajectory–make Lonnie Johnson’s story of passion and persistence whoosh to life.”

First Book, which provides access to new books for children in need, calls Whoosh! “perfect for budding scientists and engineers” and has listed it among Our Five Favorite Books this July.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science includes Whoosh! in Summer Reading: Invention and Innovation (“Our list of books to spark creativity for kids of all ages!”).

The National Science Teachers Association points out that Whoosh! “focuses on an unlikely character who is not privileged, but has a persistence and patience that will act as a role model for all young inventors. A great depiction of an inventor with the ‘right stuff’!”

The Nonfiction Detectives say that “Whoosh! is an inspiring story that will make children delight in what is possible.”

Alcalde, my college alumni magazine, notes the book’s “appeal to young inventors everywhere.”

The Booklist Reader says that “For elementary schools and public library collections, [Whoosh!] is a must.”

The Toledo Blade calls Whoosh! a “story of dreams and perseverance.”

Sonder Books says, “It’s hard to imagine a more kid-friendly picture book biography.”

And finally, here’s what Here Wee Read had to say about Whoosh!:

This book teaches kids things like: creativity, problem-solving, tenacity, grit, patience, rejection, and hard work. I’d highly recommend this book for kids who have a love for rockets, inventions, water guns, and a mind for creativity. Also great for studying Black inventors. I think they will enjoy learning about the many challenges Lonnie faced and how he solved his problems. A fun summertime read!

Thank you all who have embraced this book. I sincerely appreciate it. I hope you all have a blast this summer — and I can recommend just the toy to help you with that…

05 Jul

To Jupiter and beyond (and back)!

With Jupiter in the news — NASA’s Juno spacecraft has arrived to do what spacecraft do — it’s not hard for me to make a leap to Lonnie Johnson, subject of my newest book with Don Tate.

Before Lonnie became known as the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun, he worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Galileo orbiter and probe. Here’s a piece of the spread where Whoosh! goes into some detail about Lonnie’s contribution to that mission:

Galileo for Bartography

Lonnie’s backup system had Galileo‘s back. “Much of what we know about Jupiter could have been at risk in a power failure if not for Lonnie,” explains the full text.

Sounds like we’re about to learn a lot more about Jupiter. Remember to save your files frequently, Juno!

23 May

Whoosh! (or, What’d I Miss?, part 1)

I just got back from teaching for twelve days as author-in-residence at the Singapore American School (yes, there will be photos here).

And that stretch was only part of the nearly four weeks that went by between my previous two posts, thanks to a technical issue that was tough to fix from afar for someone like me who has, well, technical issues.

All in all, I’m feeling a little like this guy:

So, what all was going on over here while I was over there teaching writing workshops to second- through fifth-graders?

Whoosh!The biggest thing is that Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions had its publication day on May 3.

I’m super-proud of this second collaboration with my friend Don Tate. Previously, Don and I teamed up for The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, a biography set a century before Whoosh! and a couple of states over.

(John Roy Lynch spent his early life in Louisiana and Mississippi, and Alabama native Lonnie Johnson now lives and works in Georgia.)

Don commemorated the occasion with a pair of blog posts — packed with sketches and examples of his attempts at finding the right illustration style — about the research and revision that went into this book:

Our publisher, Charlesbridge, celebrated by sharing my author’s note for Whoosh!:

I loved talking with Lonnie Johnson for this book. I have never laughed as hard during an interview as I did when we discussed his work on Linex and how his family “put up with” his efforts—or rather, how they encouraged him.

School Library Journal included the book in its roundup of titles about “Tenacious Trailblazers“:

Readers follow the many obstacles and setbacks Johnson experienced as he tirelessly worked to launch his invention. The narrative … adeptly captures the passion and dedication necessary to be an engineer.

Booklist had this to say about Lonnie Johnson and Whoosh!:

The text emphasizes the continuing support he received from his family, and the vibrant illustrations are especially effective at capturing expressions and mannerisms that bring Johnson to life (as when Johnson and his fellow Tuskegee Institute students party to a sound and light system constructed from leftover electronics). This upbeat tribute makes an engaging and inspiring addition to STEM collections.

Scholastic named Whoosh! to its list of “50 Sensational Books of Summer“:

The brisk storytelling and pictures transport us from the ’60s through the ’80s, as Johnson invents everything from rockets to robots to the Super Soaker water gun.

Whoosh! has also been featured on A Year of Reading:

I love so much about this book. I love that it expands the scientists our children know. I love how it ties into the maker movement with all that Lonnie Johnson has created. And I love that we can continue to follow his work.

And on Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook:

Recently, the Makerspace movement is getting a good push. Makerspace, defined as a DIY space where people gather to create, invent and learn, has become popular in libraries and classrooms. There were several times when I stopped and marked pages or sentences that reminded me of the Makerspace ideals. What a perfect book to use when talking about what the spirit of Makerspace is all about.

And on Readin’, Ritin’, But Not Much ‘Rithmatic:

The team of Chris Barton and Don Tate missed the memo that nonfiction is dry and boring. Together again after The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, they … use words and illustrations woven seamlessly together to add child-appealing humor without compromising the struggles Lonnie faced to fulfill his dreams.

And on Kid Lit Frenzy!

Chris Barton is in his element when writing picture book biographies and his newest biography of Lonnie Johnson is a fascinating and informative read.

Finally, in its guide to summer reading, the Austin American-Statesman led off with Whoosh!:

“Whoosh!” provides an important counterweight to the traditional image of scientists as exclusively white, Einstein-like figures.

Wow. I’m so grateful for all the attention this book received while I was away. Maybe I should (be forced to) take a break more often…

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! 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…

13 Nov

Mr. Schu goes Whoosh!

Whoosh tease

Over at Watch. Connect. Read., Mr. Schu is unveiling the cover of Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions.

That’s my upcoming picture book with Don Tate, the follow up to our first collaboration, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

Whoosh!, a biography of the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun, comes out next May from Charlesbridge Publishing.

15 Oct

Another weekend, another event with Don Tate (and, soon, another book!)

This Sunday at 3 p.m., attendees of the Texas Book Festival here in Austin can find Don and me sharing The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch in the Read Me a Story tent.

It will be terrific seeing Don again, since we haven’t shared a stage since … well, last Saturday, when he and I participated in our home city stop of Don’s Freedom Tour at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. We were joined by author Kelly Starling Lyons, visiting from North Carolina, for this celebration of Don’s book Poet; Kelly and Don’s book, Hope’s Gift; and my first collaboration with Don, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.


There was a fantastic cake, depicting a scene from Poet, made by Akiko White:


We enjoyed readers’ theater for all three books, put on by students from St. Elmo Elementary; a panel discussion led by Michael Hurd of (among many other things) the Texas Black History Preservation Project; and a whole lot of good feeling among members of the reading and writing communities.

I also was glad to encounter tributes at the Carver to a couple of old acquaintances (and upcoming book subjects) of mine. As I mentioned recently, I’ve got a Barbara Jordan picture book on the way in 2018, and there was the great lady herself:


Arriving even sooner will be my biography of Lonnie Johnson.


Illustrated by, yes, Don Tate, Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super Stream of Ideas will be published next May by Charlesbridge — and followed soon after by more events with Don!