27 Mar

Dazzling doings in Illinois and Virginia

Dazzle Ships, illustrated by Victo Ngai and published by Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing

I’ve learned lately that Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion has been named to the 2020 Illinois Bluestem Readers’ Choice Award Nominees Master List sponsored by the Association of Illinois School Library Educators (AISLE) and to the elementary nominees for the 2019-20 Virginia Readers’ Choice award organized by the Virginia State Reading Association (VSRA) and supported by the Virginia Association of School Librarians (VAASL).

This terrific news comes on the heels of Dazzle Ships being added to state lists in Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you, AISLE, VSRA, and VAASL!

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.

17 Mar

All the college kidlit conferences (as of March 2019)

Or, more formally, “A Comprehensive List of U.S. College- and University-Sponsored or -Hosted Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conferences, Festivals, and Symposia.” (All of them that I could find, anyway).

Several years ago, I was looking for such a list, wondered why I couldn’t find one, and decided to just go ahead and make one myself.

Since then, I’ve periodically updated and reposted it, and I plan to continue doing so. If I’ve missed any, or included some that no longer exist, won’t you please let me know in the comments section?

This is me, and some of my books. Get info on my school visits.

University of Redlands Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Literature Festival

Metropolitan State University of Denver and University of Colorado at Denver Colorado Teen Literature Conference

University of Connecticut Connecticut Children’s Book Fair

Kennesaw State University Conference on Literature for Children and Young Adults
The University of Georgia Conference on Children’s Literature

Chaminade University of Honolulu Conference on Literature and Hawai’i’s Children

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Youth Literature Festival

Anderson University Elizabeth York Children’s Literature Collection & Festival
Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis and Indiana University East 2019 Children’s Literature Association Conference (ChLA 2019)

Northern Kentucky University, Thomas More College, University of Cincinnati, and Xavier University Ohio Kentucky Indiana Children’s Literature Conference

Kansas State University Conference of Children’s Literature in English, Education, and Library Science

Asbury University Children’s Literature Conference

Frostburg State University Spring Festival of Children’s Literature
Salisbury University Children’s and Young Adult Literature Festival

Framingham State University Swiacki Children’s Literature Festival
Simmons College Children’s Literature Summer Institute

University of Minnesota Kerlan Award Ceremony and Chase Lecture
University of St. Thomas Hubbs Children’s Literature Conference

The University of Southern Mississippi Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival

Missouri State University Children’s Literature Festival of the Ozarks
Truman State University Children’s Literature Festival
University of Central Missouri Children’s Literature Festival

Concordia University Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival

University of Nevada, Las Vegas Gayle A. Zeiter Young Adult and Children’s Literature Conference
University of Nevada, Reno Reading Week Reimagined (Thanks to Juana Martinez-Neal for bringing this one to my attention.)

New Jersey
Montclair State University New Jersey Council of Teachers of English Spring Conference
Rutgers University One-on-One Plus Conference

New York
Bank Street College of Education BookFest @ Bank Street
The Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York The Color of Children’s Literature Conference
Nazareth College Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival
The State University of New York at Potsdam Journey Into Literacy
Stony Brook University – Southampton Southampton Children’s Literature Conference

Bowling Green State University Literacy in the Park
Kent State University Virginia Hamilton Conference
The University of Findlay Mazza Museum Summer Conference
Youngstown State University English Festival

Community College of Philadelphia African American Children’s Book Fair
Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference
University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg Children’s Literature Conference

Middle Tennessee State University Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival

Brigham Young University Symposium on Books for Young Readers
Utah Valley University Forum on Engaged Reading

The College of William and Mary Joy of Literacy and Literature Conference
Hollins University Francelia Butler Conference
Longwood University Summer Literacy Institute and Virginia Children’s Book Festival
Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference (I’ll be at this one in June 2019 — if you’re there, please say hello!)

Western Washington University Children’s Literature Conference

15 Mar

My first-ever New York State school-visit trip

I did my first New York State school visits last week, outside Rochester, so the first thing I needed to do was head northeast. Here’s what that looked like:

All week long, I saw terrific examples of the preparation and investment of time and energy on the part of these schools — from kindergartners to administrators — as they made the most of the opportunity to have an author visit and talk with their students. The most evident sign was in the artwork I saw throughout the schools:

Also: It was supercold last week, at least by my Central Texas standards. We’re talking 10 degrees Fahrenheit at some points, and not all that much warmer until my last afternoon, when it got all the way up to 34. And the skies were blue, and I had some free time before catching my flight home.

My dilemma: Do I seek out the local Rochester delicacy known as the “garbage plate,” or do I commune a little with nature and history?


Yep. I opted for a walk through the Mount Hope Cemetery. I’ll just have to return to Rochester for that garbage plate.

05 Mar

“I don’t think there’s a kid in the world who hasn’t felt like an underdog at some point.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for March 2019)

Welcome to the Q&A and giveaway for the March edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).

My Q&A this month is with Melissa Stewart and Stephanie Laberis. Melissa and Stephanie are the author and illustrator, respectively, of Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, an acclaimed nonfiction picture book published last year by Peachtree.

The biggest animals, the fastest ones, the strongest, etc., get plenty of attention in picture books — but not in Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers, which instead shines a light on species (zorillas, anyone?) whose survival-aiding attributes are less heralded.

I’m giving away one copy of Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers to a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address. If you want to be that winner, please let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on March 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Melissa Stewart and Stephanie Laberis.

Chris: Was there a certain animal — a particular pipsqueak, slowpoke, or stinker — that you gravitated toward when creating this book? One that drew you to this topic in the first place or that you were especially excited to write about or depict?

Melissa: I was a clumsy, uncoordinated, unathletic kid, so the western fence lizard is kind of my hero. See how its “weakness” helps it catch prey?

Let’s face it. Eating is pretty important if you want to stay alive, and this lizard has come up with a completely unique way to get the job done.

This lizard’s surprising hunting strategy is just one example of this book’s core concept. Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs is a book about animal adaptations and celebrating the traits that make us different and unique.

I think that’s an important message for kids because we all have our weaknesses, our foibles, and I don’t think there’s a kid in the world who hasn’t felt like an underdog at some point.

Stephanie: I’ve got to say, it was the okapi that won me over from the start. They’re one of my favorite animals, and I didn’t even know they existed until I was in my late 20s.

Illustrator Stephanie Laberis

I was at the San Diego Zoo and wandering about, sketching the animals. I glanced up and saw a gorgeous okapi just emerge from the bushes of its habitat and couldn’t believe what I was seeing! I love how they look like they’re cobbled together from other animals.

I was happy to not only have an excuse to illustrate an okapi, but to introduce kids to them! They don’t get enough recognition as other African animals do, like elephants or lions.

Originally, I was going to have the okapi depicted with a paper bag over its head, because they’re so shy! It was deemed a little too silly in the end and didn’t make it to the final artwork, but that’s typically how I like to approach my animal artwork: light hearted, with a splash of fiction.

I’m happy with the representation of all the species in the book and hope that readers are intrigued to find out more about their favorite underdogs!

Chris: What’s next for you? What do your readers (and their parents, teachers, librarians, etc.) have to look forward to in the not-so-distant future?

Stephanie: I’m happy to say that I have a lot of animal-themed books on the horizon, both fiction and nonfiction! March 5th marks the release of Unhappy Birthday, Grumpy Cat!, marking Grumpy Cat’s first book in the Step Into Reading series by Random House.

Later this year and in 2020 we’ll see two more picture books, Peppermint Post by Bruce Hale and Just So Willow by Sara Shacter. I also have completed a nonfiction book focused on nocturnal animals with Highlights, but it’s a little too early to reveal details on that one!

Author Melissa Stewart

Melissa: I’m really excited for the publication of my next book with illustrator Sarah S. Brannen. Seashells: More than a Home will hit bookshelves on April 2. It’s a companion title to our 2014 book Feathers: Not Just for Flying.

Seashells describes some of the unexpected ways sea creatures use their shells to swim, anchor themselves, find and eat food, avoid enemies, and more. It has received a starred review from Booklist and is a Junior Library Guild selection.

27 Feb

Thank you (again!), Pennsylvania school librarians

Earlier this month, my nonfiction picture book Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing), illustrated by Victo Ngai, was named to the Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Program Master List for Grades 3-6 for 2019-2020.

All by itself, that was great news, and immediately I was tremendously thankful for the efforts of the PYCRA committee and for the award’s sponsor, the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association.

And then I thought, “PYCRA — that sounds familiar. Wasn’t Whoosh! on one of those lists?”

I did a little digging, and sure enough, it was. Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (Charlesbridge), illustrated by Don Tate, was on the 2017-2018 PYCRA Master List for Grades 3-6.

But that’s not all I found when I searched my own website for references to the Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award.

It had slipped my mind that both The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors (Charlesbridge), illustrated by Tony Persiani, and Shark vs. Train (Little, Brown), illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, were on PYCRA Master Lists (in two different categories) in 2011-2012. Shark vs. Train, in fact, had been the Kindergarten-Grade 3 winner that year.

I felt like a dope for those honors having slipped my mind, though I’d certainly appreciated them at the time. I’m going to chalk that memory lapse up to the fact that my knowledge and understanding of the children’s literature world have grown continually during the 18-plus years I’ve been pursuing this work, and that one aspect that it took me a while to grasp was the significance of state awards such as the PYRCA.

I fully appreciate now just how vital state award lists are for getting new books in front of young readers and their librarians. And that appreciation is multiplied by four for the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

20 Feb

Coming soon to Mobile, AL: the Lonnie G. Johnson Educational Complex

Don Tate’s depiction in Whoosh! of Lonnie and his Williamson High teammates at a 1968 science fair

Lonnie Johnson, the subject of my book Whoosh! (illustrated by Don Tate and published by Charlesbridge), went home to Mobile, Alabama, recently for quite a special occasion.

Lonnie’s alma mater, Williamson High School, is getting a $4 million addition that will include a science center. And it’s going to be called the Lonnie G. Johnson Educational Complex.

On hand for the groundbreaking was Lonnie’s high school science teacher Walter Ward. Of all the quotes in the article about the new learning center and Williamson’s new robotics team, this one from Lonnie stands out:

Having teachers who care is the most important thing you can have for a child. We think it’s just words, but it’s more than words. When you see greatness, they will live up to your expectations. If you have faith in children and believe in them, they will believe in themselves.

13 Feb

SLJ‘s recommendations for “Honoring African American Women and Girls, Past and Present”

School Library Journal has compiled a list of 20 recent nonfiction titles “celebrating African American women [that] highlight their important contributions to the arts, activism, literacy, politics, science,” etc.

Thanks to the magic of alphabetical ordering by author’s last name, the list features 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) at the very top.

I’ve got a lot of catching up to do in my own reading, and maybe you do, too. Check out the entire list.

05 Feb

“Her life is changed forever because of the kindness of strangers she meets along the way.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for February 2019)

Welcome to the Q&A and giveaway for the February edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).

My Q&A this month is with author Lesléa Newman and illustrator Amy June Bates, creators of the new picture book Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story, which is officially published today by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Based on Lesléa’s own family history, Gittel’s Journey tells the story of a child’s immigration across the Atlantic — on her own, after a dramatic separation from her mother — and the compassionate welcome she receives from a port worker upon her arrival in America. This second collaboration by Lesléa and Amy has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal.

I’m giving away one copy of Gittel’s Journey to a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address. If you want that 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 Lesléa Newman and Amy June Bates.

Chris: Gittel’s Journey isn’t your first collaboration. How have your experiences of making this book and bringing it into the world compared to those of your previous effort together, Ketzel, the Cat who Composed?

Leslea Newman. Photo by Mary Vazquez.

Lesléa: I started writing Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed and Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story in the same way I always start writing: from a deep, heartfelt connection to the subject matter.

Ketzel and Gittel have a lot in common: Both books are based on true stories, both books contain Jewish themes that translate into universal themes, and both books are about finding home.

In the case of Ketzel, a homeless cat is taken in by composer Moshe Cotel. Because of Mr. Cotel’s kindness, Ketzel’s life is changed and in turn, she rewards him in a completely unexpected and delightful way. In the case of Gittel, persecution forces her to leave her home and journey to a new land. Her life is also changed forever because of the kindness of strangers she meets along the way.

In terms of writing, the idea for each book came about in a totally different way. Let’s start with Ketzel:

I found out about this story purely by happenstance. One day I was sitting in my writing room with a blank piece of paper in front of me and not an idea in my head. Bored, I picked up my synagogue’s newsletter from the coffee table in front of me, hoping for distraction. The theme of my Rabbi’s monthly column was the concept of being open to the unlikely opportunities that lie in every moment and which offer delight and surprise.

As an example, he cited the true story of Ketzel, who ran down Moshe Cotel’s piano keyboard one morning for no apparent reason. Mr. Cotel jotted down what he heard and sent it into a contest, and lo and behold, Ketzel’s composition won honorable mention and Ketzel became world famous! Before I even finished reading the Rabbi’s column, I knew this was a children’s book waiting to happen.

The story of Gittel is one that I have known all my life.

My Aunt Phyllis’ mother, the real Gittel, came to America at the turn of the 20th century by herself when she was just a child. She was given a piece of paper with the name and address of a relative written on it and told to hold that piece of paper tight and give it to an immigration officer when she got to the USA. She did so, but to her surprise, all the ink had worn off on her hand and the note could not be read. Her photo was put in the newspaper and her relatives recognized her and came to Ellis Island to claim her.

In 2015, I kept seeing images of Syrian refugees in small boats washing ashore with fear, relief, sorrow, and hope etched on their faces. I kept thinking of the fact that my own grandparents traveled across an ocean with the same hopes and fears. And that’s when the story of Gittel resurfaced in my heart and my mind and I knew it was time to tell this story.

I wrote many many drafts of both books and did a great deal of research, so that I could get the details right. The absolutely gorgeous illustrations for both books added so much depth and brought the stories to life in a way that I never could have imagined. I know Amy June Bates worked very very hard on both books, and in my opinion, she is a genius!

Amy June Bates

Amy: I love hearing these stories, Lesléa. Lesléa is an amazing genius writer and I have been profoundly lucky to work with her on these two books.

In the case of Ketzel: The year I illustrated Ketzel, I did two books back to back about stray animals being befriended. Now I have two dogs.

It’s a funny process illustrating a book, getting into the mind of the characters, sympathizing with them and imagining how they must have felt. One of the things that I love about Ketzel is that the two, they save each other. Moshe saves Ketzel, but Ketzel also saves Moshe. I really feel like that is what animals do for us. Especially when you rescue an animal, it is A LOT of work to rehabilitate an animal, but I also feel like it is repayed in full.

I took piano lessons for 18 years, and my mother was very happy to learn that I put my piano knowledge to good use. For example, in the spread where Ketzel the cat was across the keyboard, the keys that the cat is walking on are the notes in the music.

I want to emphasize, however, that dogs should not play the piano. If my dog Chester walked across my keyboard, we would none of us recover.

Gittel’s Journey is such an important book for this time, and for all times because it is the story of so many Americans, no matter if you immigrated today or hundreds of years ago. Many don’t want to leave their homes, but are forced to leave because of danger or economics. Either way it is difficult and dangerous.

In light of recent events it is particularly excruciating to think of the fear that Gittel must have felt with no way to communicate or find her mother or family. Terrifying. Her story is everyone’s American story. Every immigrant is America’s story.

I enjoy illustrating history. I love doing the research. I found travel logs of boats that carried immigrants like Gittel and traced their routes. I could look up a specific steamer, find its brochure with pictures of the bunks and and even menus. Sometimes I do fall down a rabbit hole…but that is the fun of it, I guess.

Chris: Your dedications for this book each seem so fitting. Amy, you dedicated Gittel’s Journey “For all children who come to this country seeking freedom and safety,” and Lesléa, you went with “For Aunt Phyllis — I love you to pieces!”

I’m curious — whenever either of you dedicates a book to a specific person, as you both did with Ketzel, when and how do you let them know? Or do you let them discover that for themselves?

Amy: This is dedicated to the one I love:

Usually when I do a book there is a sentiment or a feeling, or something going on in my life that connects me to this book at this time and in a specific way. Sometimes that is outside my immediate friends and family, for example in the the case of Gittel’s Journey. I have ancestors that crossed that ocean to escape famine and hunger and economic despair or religious freedom, and I am grateful for their sacrifice, but when I was making this book I was thinking of the people that are going through those same sacrifices right now.

When I dedicate a book to a specific person, I like to let them find it themselves.

Lesléa: I never realized how much a book dedication meant until a book was dedicated to me (Cat Talk by Patricia MacLachlan). Usually I know to whom I am going to dedicate a book the moment I start writing it. Though I keep that knowledge to myself until the book is published (which in at least one case took ten years!). Luckily I am very good at keeping secrets! When the book comes out, I send a copy to the person named in the dedication.

In the case of Gittel, the choice was obvious. The book is about my Aunt Phyllis’ mother, so of course I dedicated the book to Aunt Phyllis, from whom I heard the story. My Aunt Phyllis ends every phone call (and I speak to her almost every night) with the words, “I love you to pieces.” I presented the book to her in person, and when she read the dedication she laughed and then she cried. Being able to give my aunt that much joy is one of the highlights of my literary career.

30 Jan

Voice on three “notable” lists

I’m happy to report that my newest picture 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 been named to a trio of lists that are, literally, notable.

Voice is among the 25 titles on the list of Notable Books for a Global Society 2019 put out by the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) of the International Literacy Association. The group says, “These books for all levels (preK-12) reflect diversity in the broadest sense, celebrating a wide variety of voices and topics.” (Reviews of some of the winners are compiled here.) Thank you so much to the members of the CL/R SIG for this honor.

My picture book biography of Barbara Jordan is also included on the 2019 list of Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People put together by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC). The NCSS says, “The selection committee looks for books that emphasize human relations, represent a diversity of groups and are sensitive to a broad range of cultural experiences, present an original theme or a fresh slant on a traditional topic, are easily readable and of high literary quality, and have a pleasing format and, when appropriate, illustrations that enrich the text.” Many, many thanks to the NCSS and CBC for including Voice.

Finally, the book was on the Notable Children’s Books Discussion List at the just-completed midwinter meetings of the American Library Association. I’m looking forward to seeing the final Notables list and am delighted that the ALA included Voice in their discussion.