20 Feb

“I love stories of resilience and tenacity, and I look for hopeful stories everywhere”


As promised, my Q&A for the February edition of my Bartography Express newsletter is with my friend Rose Brock. Formerly a school librarian in the Dallas area, Rose is now assistant professor in the Department of Library Science at Sam Houston State University. She’s an expert in young adult literature, and she’s the editor of the soon-to-be-published Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration (Philomel).

Hope Nation is a Junior Library Guild selection, and it includes stirring contributions by Libba Bray, Angie Thomas, Marie Lu, Alexander London, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, and many other accomplished members of the YA community. The authors are all donating their fees to charity, with the publisher matching those contributions.

In the book’s introduction, Rose talks a bit about her own story, including her family’s immigration from Germany when she was in elementary school, the hardships her new life entailed, and what helped her get past them.

“In my childhood home, finding hope was a directive,” she writes. “It was expected that the world’s lemons would be made into fresh lemonade. Perhaps that is the reason I’m an optimist. A dreamer. A hoper. And whether it’s in my genetic makeup to see the glass as half full or it’s a product of conditioning, I love stories of resilience and tenacity, and I look for hopeful stories everywhere—in books, in movies, and most importantly, in real life.”

I’m giving away one copy of Hope Nation. If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and you want the winner to be you, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on February 28, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Rose Brock.

Chris: I don’t know if the parameters you provided to your contributors were anything more specific than “Write something hopeful,” though I imagine you must have had a general idea of the sort of pieces they would create. But what did you receive in their essays that you weren’t expecting?

Rose: That’s a great question, Chris. I feel like when I first approached my contributors, I did give them a great deal of latitude in regard to the personal story/essay they wanted to share, but I did ask them to make dig deeply into their own experiences and share about those moments where hope felt elusive.

Since you’ve read the collection, you know that each author tackled this call differently. The one thing each selection in Hope Nation has in common with the others is that what each of these writers shares is simply a piece of a collective human experience. Each of them (and us) has been a teen, and we know that teens are as passionate as people come about the things that matter most in their lives. That’s why hard times for them feel so stinking hard. Without a bit more of what I call “butt time on Earth”, it’s difficult and sometimes impossible to have perspective—you need life experience for that. These writers have that in spades, and these personal stories capture that—abuse, family financial ruin, death, lost body parts, immigrant experiences—it’s all there and more.

So with that said, what was I not expecting? I didn’t expect these contributions to be so personal even though that’s what I asked for—my first idea of this book was that this would be a modern Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, and in some ways it is, but I believe it’s much more than that, too. It’s raw and it’s real, and the thing I love most is that these brave writers of YA (who love their readers the way I’ve loved the thousands of teens I’ve worked with over the years) is that they have opened themselves up in such intimate ways, allowing all of us to see the scars they’ve endured and wear as badges of honor. The stand on the other side of those experiences saying, “I’m still here, and I’m here for you.”

Chris: Hope Nation would be a terrific book to get into the hands of young people eligible to vote for the first time in 2018 or 2020. Are there other particular audiences that you hope will read this book, take it to heart, and get motivated by it?

Rose: In my mind, ALL readers can benefit from this book—I think regardless of age, I want teens to know that they can make hope a decision, one that is definitely rooted in advocacy for themselves and for others.

The inspiration for this book really goes back to two young women in my life who were pretty devastated by the outcome of the 2016 elections. For them, they hated that their voices as marginalized young women went unheard. They wanted a shot to speak up and out, and I think that’s the case with many teens.

As for how that plays out in regard to politics, I think a heightened awareness of the need to never be apathetic or complacent in regard to all types of leadership is essential; certainly that’s the case for our high elected offices, but it’s even a battle cry for us all in our personal worlds and local government.

Truly, it is my hope that this book will inspire all the young people who read it to fight for what they want and what they believe is right—shouldn’t we all do that?

20 May

Bartography Express for May 2015, featuring Elena Dunkle’s Elena Vanishing

This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of Elena Vanishing (Chronicle Books) by Elena Dunkle and Clare B. Dunkle, and another subscriber will win its companion memoir Hope and Other Luxuries by Clare B. Dunkle.

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.

20150519 Bartography Express

17 Nov

Goodbye, YALSA! Hello, ILF and B&N!

There’s nothing better than a crowd of librarians and authors to remind me how lucky I am to be in this line of work, and to inspire me to keep on writing and earning my place among this bunch.

This past weekend, Austin hosted the annual YA symposium of the Young Adult Library Services Association. I participated in the Saturday evening Book Blitz — in which authors seated behind stacks of publisher-donated books get blitzed by librarians snagging their share of signed copies — as well as a Sunday-morning panel discussion including (left-to-right in Paula Gallagher’s photo above) Jonathan Auxier, Lisa Yee, Andrew Smith, moderator/organizer/wrangler Kelly Milner Halls, Bruce Coville, and Laurie Ann Thompson.

It’s going to be a full week, as I’ll also be speaking at the Indiana Library Federation’s annual conferenceShark Vs. Train is a winner of the Young Hoosier Book Award — and then reading Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! at a Barnes & Noble back here in Austin.

If you’re interested in hearing me talk for, oh, 27 minutes and 59 seconds, but won’t be making it to either of those events, I’m happy to offer a third option: this podcast interview that author Jason Henderson recorded with me last week. Enjoy!

06 Jul

Games & Books & Q&A: Tanita S. Davis

A la CarteNext among the children’s/YA authors that I’m featuring in the Games & Books & Q&A series is Tanita S. Davis. Tanita is the Coretta Scott King Honor author of Mare’s War. Her other YA novels (all published by Knopf) include Happy Families, which was included on the ALA’s 2013 Rainbow Project List, and A la Carte. Her fourth YA novel, Peas & Carrots, is scheduled to be published in 2016. Tanita blogs at fiction, instead of lies.

CB: What do you remember about the first video game you ever played?

TSD: I remember that I was GOOD at the first video game I ever played. My cousins were kids who got everything on the bleeding edge of new when we were growing up, and we didn’t have video games, and they did… the first time they let me play, I smoked ALL OF THEM. They were disconcerted. I was disconcerted! Being raised very conservative Christians, we were all about the “thou shalt not kill,” and I was good at something with a GUN!? How did that happen? The game was, of course, Duck Hunt. Apparently, if you subtract mud, bugs, real ordinance and actual ducks, I am an awesome shot!

CB: What games did you play the most when you were a kid? What did you love about them?

Tanita Davis bwTSD: My cousins had Frogger — in which I was frequently flattened – Donkey Kong, and Pac-Man, of course. There was also Spy Hunter, and some race car driver game (Grand Prix, I think), where I flipped my car over and over and over again… (apparently I can shoot, but cannot drive).

CB: What role do games play in your life today?

TSD: My hand-eye coordination as a kid was fairly awful, and now it’s even worse! Every once in awhile, I’ll find an old game like Frogger and play it on the computer, or go to the arcade at the mini-golf place, and waste a bunch of quarters playing Pac-Man, but mostly I stick to thinks I can actually, you know, win. Like air hockey. I’m terrible at video games, but I like to watch others play and enjoy.

I expect to continue this series through the October publication of my book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet. If there’s anyone in the gamer or kidlit camp that you’d love to see me feature in upcoming posts in this series, please drop me a line or tweet at me or just leave a message in the comments.

03 Sep

“We had no idea what kind of person we were getting”

Today I saw the (R-rated) documentary The Imposter, which was disturbing, amazing, and entertaining in equal, ample measure. What it wasn’t, though — at least not for me — was surprising, since I knew so much of what to expect through my research into other stories of false identities for Can I See Your I.D.?

The Imposter lets out — bit by excruciating bit — the true story of a San Antonio family who, three years after the disappearance of their 13-year-old son and brother, was notified that he had turned up in Spain. The young man that they brought home to live with them was different from their lost loved one in crucial, obvious ways that couldn’t have been explained by whatever trauma he had been through in the intervening years, yet they allowed themselves to believe that the person lost and the person found were one and the same.

As the title gives away, they weren’t the same, but anyone who has read the “key lessons” I offer near the end of Can I See Your I.D.? should be able to pick up on the tricks and techniques employed by the imposter to convince the family otherwise.

He kept his mouth shut, saying little that would conflict with what known about the boy whose identity he had appropriated.

He did his best to look the part, and to explain away the ways in which he didn’t.

But rather than “let [his] would-be discoverers feel smart,” the imposter seized upon an impulse more primal than the craving for an ego boost: the desire for even a shred of hope to hang onto, the belief against all logic that someone given up for gone might still be alive. A better way to state that lesson in my book might have been “let your would-be discoverers feel what they most need to feel.”

The imposter’s behavior was reprehensible. His story, however, is grippingly and cleverly told and would make a terrific companion to Can I See Your I.D.? for upper YA readers.

29 Jan

Coming down from a conference is easier with good news like this

I spent last Sunday with authors and editors and agents and illustrators and — oh, yeah! — librarians at ALA Midwinter in Dallas. After an extraordinary day among some of my favorite people on the planet, readjusting to everyday life can be tough.

Two things have made it easier.

First, Can I See Your I.D.? has been named to the Young Adult Library Services Association’s 2012 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers. What’s that about? Well…

The Quick Picks list, presented annually at the ALA Midwinter Meeting suggests books that teens, ages 12-18, will pick up on their own and read for pleasure; it is geared to the teenager who, for whatever reason, does not like to read. The 2012 list features 117 titles; the committee also selected a top ten list, denoted here by an asterisk.

“There is something here for everyone, from our struggling readers in middle school to the overscheduled young adult looking for a really good read,” said Chair Heather Gruenthal. “I am really proud of this year’s committee for their work with teen groups from across the country and coming up with such a diverse list. Only on Quick Picks can you find zombies, superheroes, gangs, ghost hunters, murderers, monsters, goth girls, baby animals, gross facts, and sports heroes all in the same place.”

And then there’s this review of my book (combined with praise for Badass: The Birth of a Legend and The Oxford Companion to Beer):

In Can I See Your ID?, Barton cleverly places readers in the centre of the action by addressing them with the word “you,” as if they are the impostors. Whether writing about a slave posing as a slave owner to escape the Deep South or a penniless woman finding food and lodging by pretending to be an exotic foreigner, Barton captivates, in part because the stories allow him to explore the fascinating psychology of deceit. Each story ends with a sidebar explaining the fate of the impersonator or con artist. At about 120 pages, Can I See Your ID? is a slim but entertaining volume appropriate for middle schoolers and up.

***

A technical glitch kept this post from appearing for several days after it was written. In the meantime, another kind review of Can I See Your I.D.? popped up, so I’ll quote from that one, too. Many thanks to Kiss the Book!

Engaging and easy to read, Can I see Your ID? would be an excellent way to interest young readers in nonfiction or biographies.

21 Oct

Three chances to see me and my I.D.

If you’re in Austin this weekend for the Texas Book Festival, please join me Saturday night at the Texas State Cemetery and Sunday afternoon at the Capitol. (Customize your own festival calendar here.)

If you’re in the Dallas area on Tuesday, please join me at 7 p.m. at a Real Bookstore in Fairview as I read from, discuss, and sign Can I See Your I.D.? You can even ask if you can see my I.D. I promise you nobody else has ever done that.

And if you’re in Austin this weekend and in the Dallas area on Tuesday, please know that you’ve got an excellent chance to make me your best friend for life.

Here are the details on the Texas Book Festival events I’ll be participating in:

A Convergence of Souls
a collaboration with Austin Bat Cave featuring the Festival’s young adult writers

Date: Saturday, October 22, 2011
Time: 9:00 – 9:45
Location: Lit Crawl: Texas State Cemetery

What’s spookier than a slew of the nation’s finest young adult authors all gathered together in one place? Well, a lot actually – that sounds downright pleasant. But did we mention they’re gathering in the Texas State Cemetery, where the hallowed graves of countless former statesmen (and sometime ghosts) pass their grim vigil? OK, so it might be more than a little spooky, but terror aside, this collection of sheer talent should make for a rather fun evening. You’ll get to meet the writers (listed below), hear them talk about their newest books, and maybe even watch them compete for literary glory. And don’t worry, we promise to keep the prospect of your looming mortality to, you know, a minimum. Bring a blanket and flashlight!

Authors:
Jennifer Ziegler
Margaret Stohl
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Joe Schreiber
Alex Sanchez
Louis Sachar
David Rice
Kathy Reichs
Shelia P. Moses
Barry Lyga
David Levithan
Joe R. Lansdale
Ellen Hopkins
Kami Garcia
Sarah Dessen
James Dashner
Rosemary Clement-Moore
Libba Bray
Chris Barton
Jay Asher
Jessica Lee Anderson
Jill S. Alexander
Emceed By: Kathleen Houlihan

Kids Read Nonfiction, Too!
Date: Sunday, October 23, 2011
Time: 2:00 – 3:00
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.012

We often recall childhood reading as the time when books we love took us to other worlds, times, and people. But those books aren’t always fiction – well-crafted nonfiction for kids and adolescents engage us in the actual world, without feeling like homework. Come listen to Chris Barton, Jeanette Larson, and Elaine Scott in conversation about how they connect with readers.

Moderator and children’s author Anne Bustard is a former children’s bookseller and teacher, avid listmaker, and fan of Kailua Beach.

12 Oct

A Texas Lone Star nomination and two new reviews for Can I See Your I.D.?

The full list of nominations for the Texas Library Association’s 2012 Lone Star award for YA books is out now, and I’m thrilled that Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities is on it. Anyone looking for recommendations for new books for young adult titles now has a terrific place to start.

Can I See Your I.D.? has also been nominated for the Cybils, and with that nomination have come a pair of thoughtful new reviews of the book. From Not Just for Kids:

One thing Barton does particularly well is to throw the reader directly into the deception. Along with the use of the second person narration, each fraud is already in full swing when the reader joins. … While the individuals involved might have had plenty of time to plan how they were going to carry out their impersonations, the reader does not and needs to be ready to run with the situation from the get-go. Barton does take a small step back to provide some background information, but then it is back to the business at hand, which is basically, ‘will you pull this off?’

And from Wrapped in Foil:

Starting with a young man who manages to trick the New York City Transit Authority into letting him operate the A Train, to a high school dropout who serves as a navy surgeon, to a woman who passes herself off as a male soldier during the Civil War, it is truly amazing what these imposters are able to carry out. In fact, reading the book might entice someone to give it a try if Barton hadn’t included so much information about how stressful it was to pretend to be someone else. In many of the examples the deception was not voluntary, but a response to a desperate situation.

25 Sep

In which I identify a bunch of YA titles about identity…

I spent this past Friday in San Antonio at the regional Library Resource Roundup. Highlights of my day included:

Meeting Adam Gidwitz, the Brooklyn-based author of A Tale Dark & Grimm. Adam not only gave the keynote address — he also gave me a lot to think about (starting with, “How can I make the audience laugh as much as he did?”) as I prepare for my own keynote at a similar event in Waco in November. During an informal Q&A (as opposed, I guess, to the rigidly formal Q&A sessions the librarians have come to expect from children’s authors), Adam discussed the eye-opening usefulness of a certain screenwriting guide. Well, that same guide — Save the Cat! — happens to be the very one I’ve been using to help me out in rewrites of my current manuscript, so I knew he was good people, even if he did set an unwelcomely high bar for keynotes.

Hearing Viki Ash of the San Antonio Public Library — and chair of the 2012 Newbery Award Selection Committee — explain the process for choosing the medal winner. Understanding better how it all works makes me all the more hopeful that I can be in the room in Dallas this coming January when the latest crop of ALA winners is announced.

Debuting my new presentation, “Can You See Their I.D.’s?”

When we’re teenagers, we’re all trying on new identities, we’re all on an adventure, and we’re all at least a little bit off. Author Chris Barton brings those three elements together in his YA nonfiction thriller Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities. In this presentation, he’ll discuss how books — from the comic to the tragic — with characters in the throes of identity crises can better equip teen readers to deal with their own.

As part of the presentation, I provided a couple of reading lists. Why, here they are now:

A Pretty Thorough List of Books for Young Readers Written in Second Person
Barton, Chris – Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities
Benoit, Charles – You
Jenkins, A. M. – Damage
Lynch, Chris – Freewill
Montgomery, R. A. – Choose Your Own Adventure 1: The Abominable Snowman

A Highly Selective List of Books for Young Readers With Identity As a Major Theme
Barton, Chris – Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities
Bjorkman, Laura – My Invented Life
Cannon, A. E. – The Loser’s Guide to Life and Love
Cottrell Boyce, Frank – Cosmic
Fletcher, Ralph – Also Known As Rowan Pohi
Larbalestier, Justine – Liar
Perkins, Mitali – First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover
Sonnenblick, Jordan – Zen and the Art of Faking It
Tashjian, Janet – The Gospel According to Larry
Ziegler, Jennifer – How Not to Be Popular

Which titles would you add to either list?