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Chris Barton writes about Chris Barton's writing ... and other, more fascinating elements of the world of children's book publishing.
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The first thing I did upon hitting the exhibition hall at this month’s Texas Library Association conference was go straight to the Candlewick booth — not just because they produce great books in general, but because I wanted to grab an advance reader copy of one upcoming book in particular: One Death, Nine Stories.
Edited by Marc Aronson and Charles R. Smith Jr., this YA anthology weaves together a collection of interrelated short stories (as did their previous collaboration, Pick-Up Game: A Full Day of Full Court). Contributors to One Death, Nine Stories include:
Nora Raleigh Baskin (Anything But Typical)
Marina Budhos (Sugar Changed the World)
Ellen Hopkins (Crank)
A.S. King (Ask the Passengers)
Torrey Maldonado (Secret Saturdays)
Will Weaver (Memory Boy)
Rita Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer)
and me (Shark Vs. Train. No, wait — let’s say Can I See Your I.D.?)
One Death, Nine Stories will be published this August. My contribution, “Two-A-Days,” will be my first piece of fiction published for a YA audience. I loved the challenge, and I hope you’ll like the results.
The latest issue of my Bartography Express newsletter — focusing on the Texas Library Association conference, recent discussions of diversity in children’s literature, and Elizabeth Bluemle and G. Brian Karas’ new picture book, Tap Tap Boom Boom — went out to subscribers a few days ago.
Here’s an image of the entire newsletter. For the next few weeks, you can click the image to get a fully linked version.
And if you’ll give me a shout in the comments section of this post, you can still get in the running for the giveaway of Elizabeth’s lively, rhyming urban thunderstorm story, of which The Horn Book says, “The emphasis here is not on a child’s fear of storms but on the excitement of the experience.”
Jenny’s latest question for me is a timely one, as it comes the morning after a friend’s birthday celebration and the week before the festivities at the Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio:
What is guaranteed to make any party better?
More so than the setting, food, drink, or even music, it comes down the partygoers themselves. Some revelers love to talk about themselves, and some love to ask questions of others. The greater the percentage of the latter, the more spontaneous and unpredictable and real the conversation will be, and the better the party.
What did I ask Jenny?
Jenny’s question for me today is:
What is your least favorite household chore, and why?
Unclogging bathroom sinks. It’s not an everyday chore, or even an every week chore, but every so often, it has to be done. (“Not on my account,” he added, rubbing what few short hairs remained on his head.) And the typical options are:
1) Use some clog-busting chemical agent that gives off noxious fumes and does who-knows-what-else,
2) Use baking soda and vinegar, which in my experience is pretty ineffective, or
3) Take apart the drain and physically remove the gunk lining the pipes, which is highly effective but extremely nasty.
If there’s another option that doesn’t involve simply selling the house and moving away, I’d love to hear about it.
Or, actually, I can just research it myself and see that I do indeed have other options. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll need to come up with a new least-favorite chore, which will be fine by me.
What did I ask Jenny today?
Today, Jenny asks me:
What celebrity would you like to see make a comeback?
Well, it would have to be someone in music, because that’s what I pay attention to the most. So, that narrows the field a bit.
And it would need to be someone I’d actually want to hear make new music, not just someone who hasn’t had a hit for a while. That narrows it a bit more.
So, who’s got a terrific recording history but who hasn’t been — for far too long — pushed and prompted and handled and cajoled into working on new music for the public to hear? And who do I think might still be capable of delighting audiences and saying something worth paying attention to?
What question do I have for Jenny today?
On our return from a long weekend, Jenny asks me:
What are you a self-proclaimed expert at?
Well, I hate to brag, but right now you are reading the blog of perhaps the world’s foremost expert on do-it-yourself supercheap microwave popcorn, the ingredients for which include 1/3 of a cup of popcorn, a paper lunch bag, and a microwave. Salt, butter, etc., are optional.
It’s not a foolproof method — quality control of paper sacks can be pretty spotty, and they sometimes lack the necessary structural integrity. As with any form of microwave popcorn there is the risk of a hideously stinky mess if you fail to pay attention and let it burn. And yes, I could cheapen things up even more if I bought my kernels in bulk at Costco instead of getting store-brand sacks one pound at a time.
But still. For quick, cheap, DIY popcorn, I’m your guy.
What question did Jenny get from me?
Bartography Express subscribers were among the first to hear my big news from yesterday. In case you missed it:
I’m so glad to announce my six-book Super Truck! series with HarperCollins. Starting in early 2016, illustrator Troy Cummings (Giddy-Up, Daddy!) and I will be introducing the world to ordinary dump truck Clarence and his revved-up, to-the-rescue alter ego.
Here’s an image of the entire newsletter. For the next few weeks, you can click the image to get a fully linked version. And if you act fast, you can still get in the running for the giveaway of Texas Bluebonnet-winning author Phil Bildner‘s new book, The Soccer Fence.
Jenny’s question for me today is one that I could easily answer in a not-so-serious way:
What frightens you?
But my answer is as serious as can be. What frightens me, more than anything, is the amount of poverty amid such wealth in the United States.
More to the point, I’m frightened by our collective failure to recognize — or at least to act on — the fact that poverty is the primary crisis facing America’s efforts to educate its youngest citizens:
The 21st century has sharply increased the proportion of parents who are unemployed, whose jobs do not pay enough to provide basic food, shelter, clothing and health care for their children, and/or whose immigrant status limit their capacity to navigate the education system and restrict them to a shadow economy.
This devastating reality demands a set of education reforms radically different from those on which policy has fixated of late. Without a set of supports that enable all students to acquire basic literacy, problem-solving and communications skills, kindergarten teachers must tailor their instruction to an ever-broader range of academic capacities and behavioral challenges. And too many students will be doomed from a very early age to remedial education and dim prospects of life success. Until we ensure that basic, preventable medical problems do not keep large numbers of students out of class and lack of food does not prevent them from focusing, effective teaching will become further out of reach. So long as we put school nurses, social workers and counselors on the “expendable” list when budgets are tight, teachers will shoulder more non-teaching burdens, and instruction will be impeded. In the absence of systemic, consistent after-school and summer enrichment, a growing number of students will lose much of what they gain during the day and over the school year, wasting taxpayer dollars and future talent.
Not only have we not addressed these realities, we have exacerbated them.
I can’t think of anything scarier than our inability to recognize the facts for what they are, or the consequences of not fixing the situation.
What question did I ask Jenny today?
Jenny’s question for the day:
If you were to change your first name, what would you change it to?
My good buddy Bubba (not his real name) has called me that for years, so I’m already used to answering to it. And I used to have an olive green bowling shirt for the team from High’s Nursery in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, that I found in a New York City vintage shop with that name already embroidered on it.
Given those precedents, how could I pick anything else?
The text is done for Pioneers & Pirouettes: The Story of the First American Nutcracker, my 2015 title being published by Millbrook, and now it’s time for the illustrator to do her thing.
But first, how about if I tell you who the illustrator is?
Cathy Gendron will be providing the images for this true story of how small-town Utah brothers Willam, Harold, and Lew Christensen got into dancing and passed through vaudeville on the way to turning an old Russian ballet into an American holiday tradition.
I’m excited as can be about the talent that Cathy brings to this project. I’d say that I can’t wait to see how she brings the Christensens alive on the page, but the fact is that I do have to wait. And you do, too.
So, in the meantime, here are some of my favorite pieces from Cathy’s portfolio:
Izzy Makes Waffles
Waiting for a Kiss
River Walk, San Antonio
Spreading the Love of Food
Welcome aboard, Cathy!
Today, Jenny decided I should answer this one:
What would other people be surprised to find that you enjoy?
And what question did I have for Jenny … TODAY?
Jenny‘s daily question for me is:
What is the best thing you accidentally disposed of?
My older son’s first lost tooth. It’s been the better part of a decade now, but as I recall, he lost the tooth while I was at work, and his mom put the souvenir into a container on the kitchen counter so that I could admire it when I got home.
Well, when I arrived home, nobody else was around. I saw an opportunity to tidy up the kitchen, in the course of which the container went into the dishwasher after its contents went down the drain and into the garbage disposal.
Oddly enough, I think the Tooth Fairy left more money than the going rate that night, even though there was nothing for her to haul off.
And what did I ask Jenny?
(All of them that I could find, anyway.)
In 2011, 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?
Children’s Literature Association
Diverging Diversities: Plurality in Children’s & Young Adult Literature Then and Now at University of South Carolina
University of Alabama National Celebration of Latino Children’s Literature
University of Arizona Tucson Festival of Books
Antioch University Los Angeles Children’s Literature Conference
University of Redlands Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Literature Festival
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
Northern Illinois University Children’s Literature Conference
Northern Kentucky University, Thomas More College, University of Cincinnati, and Xavier University Ohio Kentucky Indiana Children’s Literature Conference
University of Kentucky McConnell Conference
Simmons College Children’s Literature Summer Institute
Frostburg State University Spring Festival of Children’s Literature
Salisbury University Read Green Festival
University of St. Thomas Hubbs Children’s Literature Conference
University of Central Missouri Children’s Literature Festival
The University of Southern Mississippi Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival
Concordia University Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival
Keene State College Children’s Literature Festival
Rutgers University One-on-One Plus Conference
Stony Brook University – Southampton Southampton Children’s Literature Conference
Appalachian State University Children’s Literature Symposium
Kent State University Virginia Hamilton Conference
Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference
Sam Houston State University Jan Paris Bookfest: Children’s & YA Conference
Texas A&M University – Commerce Bill Martin Jr Memorial Symposium
Brigham Young University Symposium on Books for Young Readers
The College of William and Mary Joy of Children’s Literature Conference
Longwood University Summer Literacy Institute
Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference
Western Washington University Children’s Literature Conference
Today, Jenny picked for me the following Loaded Question:
What was your favorite meal when you were growing up?
Macaroni, cheese and hot dogs. We’re talking homemade cheese sauce, and a package of hot dots cut up, boiled, browned in a skillet, and baked in with the macaroni and cheese.
I’m kind of surprised I don’t make that more often than I do. But then, I feel the same about French toast, which I used to get every Thursday morning.
Who knows what meals our own kids will remember fondly, but not make all that often for their own families?
Today, Jenny asks:
Is there anything you do that would make someone describe you as lazy?
Funny that she should ask me that on a rare, rainy day when my main ambition is to lie about reading (Grasshopper Jungle). And working on taxes. And training the dog. And completing a costume for an upcoming victory — I mean, contest. And…
So, lazy and I don’t get along nearly as well as I sometimes wish we did.
But I am pretty lazy when it comes to shopping. I’m not a browser or much of a hunter or a good waiter-for-bargains. My wants and needs are pretty simple — most things, I don’t mind getting secondhand — but when one arises I’ll figure out what it is I’m looking for and buy it for the best price I can get that day or weekend rather than search or wait for an opportunity to get it or an acceptable substitute for less in the not-so-distant future. I’d usually rather save the time than the money.
All of which is to say that I’ve just paid retail for the last piece of my costume. I’m done, and now I’m in it to win it. Check back around Memorial Day to see how that went.
Meanwhile, what did I ask Jenny today?
The question Jenny selected for me today is:
Who is your favorite Muppet?
Any Muppet can be my favorite if it gives me a chance to introduce someone to one of my all-time-most-beloved conversational subjects, the Chaos Muppet/Order Muppet theory of human relationships.
When discussing how that theory fits Jenny and me, I explain that I’m Rowlf –
– an Order Muppet, but a moderate one.
My favorite Muppet, though, is the one that Jenny claims as her spirit Muppet, the lovably chaotic Grover:
Jenny and I are back in the Interview Across a Breakfast Table business, with a little help from this here board game:
Each day between now and the start of the Texas Library Association conference — a date both arbitrary and not that far off — we’re each going to answer a question selected by the other, choosing from one of four on a randomly picked game card.
Did I explain that right? I think I explained that right. Let’s get going, and you can decide for yourself whether I explained that right.
Here’s the question Jenny picked for me for today:
If you had a tattoo, where would it be and what would it be?
Man, I thought this would be an easy one! “A Woody Woodpecker tattoo on my chest or shoulder,” I was going to say, reasoning that a few folks out there would know exactly what I was referring to: the matching tattoos sported by H.I. McDunnough and the Lost Biker of the Apocalypse in one of my favorite movies, Raising Arizona.
Then I went looking for a video clip, only to discover that the tattoo is not of Woody Woodpecker after all. It is, in fact, the logo for muffler maker Thrush. Or maybe it’s the logo for Clay Smith Cams. Or both. There’s a lot more backstory and debate about that tattoo than I would have expected.
But whatever it’s called, that’s what I would get. And I would agree with the name used by anyone who recognized it, though I would suspect that anyone who didn’t call it a Woody Woodpecker tattoo had too much time on his hands.
And just what question did Jenny get?
Inspired by Greg Leitich Smith’s annual list of books from our Austin writing community, I thought I’d start compiling the picture book biographies scheduled for publication in 2015 (including a pair of mine).
I know there are lots more picture book biographies on their way from publishers recognized by SCBWI, so if you’re interested in helping keep this list reasonably complete and up to date, please let me know in the comments which ones ought to be added.
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans), written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Don Tate
Emmanuel’s Dream (Schwartz & Wade), written by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls
Pioneers & Pirouettes: The Story of the First American Nutcracker
(Millbrook), written by Chris Barton
Slave Poet of Chapel Hill (tentative title; Peachtree), written and illustrated by Don Tate
Step Right Up: The Story of Beautiful Jim Key (Lee & Low), written by Donna Bowman Bratton and illustrated by Daniel Minter
Earlier this month, I wrote a guest post about author newsletters at Cynthia Leitch Smith’s Cynsations blog — the mechanics of how I do mine, the benefits to me as an author, and what I think the subscribers of Bartography Express get out of it.
Here’s a look at the latest edition of Bartography Express. It’s a static image, so the links won’t work, but you can subscribe through the big yellow box on my home page or this direct link.
(And if it helps seal the deal, here’s a preview of the books I’ll be giving away to Bartography Express subscribers over the next few months.)
On Facebook recently, a high school friend now teaching school in Japan passed along some questions from his second-graders:
Do you get to pick your illustrators?
Do you ever meet them in person?
Is a book written before the illustrator ever gets picked?
Here’s how I answered:
My experiences have differed from book to book. Sometimes, I’m just flat-out told who the illustrator will be, sometimes I’m asked what I think of a candidate (or two) that the publisher has in mind, and sometimes I’m asked for suggestions. Generally, the text is “finished” before the illustrator gets to work, though there’s always room for adjusting the text if that will make for a better marriage with the art. Shark Vs. Train, though, involved LOTS of collaboration between illustrator Tom Lichtenheld and me. Some illustrators, I’ve known for years before they start working on my books, and some I still haven’t met in person even years after the book is published. Tell your second graders that they’re asking great questions!
Their questions are also timely ones, as each of the illustrators that I’m currently — or about to be — working with has arrived at our collaboration by way of a unique path. Some were suggested by the publisher, some were suggested to the publisher by me, some were settled on by the publisher before I ever knew who they were considering, and one I passed my manuscript along to before any editors or even agents knew we were up to anything.
A couple of them had sat my kitchen table before the topic of pairing up ever arose. A couple are brand-new to illustrating picture books. A couple are experienced picture book illustrators who so far are strangers to me.
In each case, I try to strike a balance between a) making myself as available to them as they want me to be, and b) staying the heck out of their way. Making oneself available may come a lot more easily than lying low, but I believe both are important for authors of picture books who want illustrators to happily do great work that puts their own stamp on a project and makes a book into something more than the author alone ever could have envisioned. We have to trust them.
I wish I could share with you the latest happymaking visual evidence suggesting that my approach seems to be working. You’ll have to trust me.
Author Marc Tyler Nobleman (Boys of Steel, Bill the Boy Wonder) asked a bunch of children’s and YA authors if they’d be willing to video themselves reading bad reviews of their own books. (“It’s simply a self-deprecating nod to a universal author experience that is already public anyway,” he reasoned, reasonably.) Several authors, including Jenny and me, said yes.
Then, lots more said, “Wait — me, too!”
Marc compiled the authors’ contributions into six videos, offering the disclaimer, “We lurve kids, of course, but this is for teens and adults only.” Here’s the one with me and Jenny:
Authors and illustrators of state-award-winning books, I’d like to hear from you.
At the Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio this April, I’ll be part of a panel entitled “Going for the Gold: Using Award-Winning Books to Make Readers Winners.”
The ringleader for this panel discussion is Jane H. Claes of the University of Houston – Clear Lake. Fellow panelists Janet Hilbun (University of North Texas) and Roger Leslie (North Shore Senior High School) and I will “explore book awards chosen by children and young adult readers, tell why they are important, and show how they can help build popular collections.”
I’m included because I’ve been fortunate enough to have The Day-Glo Brothers and Shark Vs. Train both recognized by the young readers in many states.
I saw for myself in schools in Norman, Oklahoma, last month the effect of having a book included on the master list for the state’s Sequoyah Book Award. It’s easy for authors to mistakenly think that the window for connecting a book with its audience is very short, but even though The Day-Glo Brothers was published nearly five years ago — when some of the kids I spoke to in Norman weren’t even toddling — I’ve never seen groups of students more interested in the book.
I credit their teachers and librarians for making that preparation a priority, but I believe such preparation wouldn’t have happened at all without the Sequoyah. From my own perspective, I can see how students’ giving more consideration to the books on a list can make for a richer reading and learning experience, regardless of whether the author ever shows up in person. And that makes for a more enjoyable experience for me as an author, as well as more sales of my books.
But I’m just one author, and that’s just one anecdote. Other authors who have been on state lists, what difference has your books’ inclusion made for you and for the readers you’ve encountered during visits to those states? I’d love to add your perspective to my part of the conversation in San Antonio this April so that we send librarians home more enthusiastic than ever about the Bluebonnet and Lone Star and other state award lists.
And now you know how to say Shark Vs. Train — or, rather, Train Against Shark — in Portuguese.
I’d received word a while back that a Brazilian translation of SVT was in the works, but it was still a surprise when copies arrived yesterday, especially when I saw the cover of my book peeking out from a mailing envelope that I knew full well was too small to contain it.
It turns out that the trim size of the Brazilian edition is considerably smaller than that of the US edition. This difference will add another point for audiences and me to discuss when I display this book alongside the Korean version of Shark Vs. Train and The Day-Glo Brothers during my school visits.
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Or might. Sort of.
It’s not final, and the dimensions have changed from an 8″ x 8″ square to a 7″ x 9″ horizontal rectangle, but here’s an idea of what the cover of my upcoming book with Joey Spiotto will look like: