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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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Do you need a book recommendation for Australia Day (January 26)? Editor and publisher Anita Silvey offers John Flanagan’s epic adventure Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan.
Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac How about for Squirrel Appreciation Day (January 21)? Anita suggests Mélanie Watt’s picture book Scaredy Squirrel.
And for what would have been the 101st birthday of painter Jackson Pollock (January 28)? Try Action Jackson, the biography by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker.
So says Anita. And nobody knows or loves children’s literature more than she does.
That fact is evident on every page of her recently released Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac. The almanac offers an essay on a beloved book for young readers for every day of the year (including my own Shark Vs. Train for May 2), along with a satisfying dose of historical and literary trivia.
Though you can also access the essays through Anita’s website, the print edition is so simply and thoughtfully organized — it indexes books by type (biography, fantasy, mystery/thriller, etc.) as well as by age (from babies and toddlers all the way up through high school) — that nothing could make it any easier to find the right book for the right child.
I gave my younger son an early birthday present the other day — a Lego set that I figured he’d get going on and have completed by the day he actually turns 9. But it’s not going happen, because he’s got way more discipline at building with Legos than I do with researching.
Legos sets come divided into plastic pouches numbered 1 through whatever, and my son announced that rather than get caught in mid-build when he had to go do something else, he would stop with pouch #1 for that first day. I doubted he would stick to that limit; I fully expected to hear, “Okay, maybe just one pouch more” a few times before the day was done. But he proved me wrong. He finished the first pouch and called it a day, spending the next long while playing with what he’d built so far instead of proceeding to the next phase of the instructions.
Contrast that with the research I’m doing now — not for a book, but for my own family tree. Once I get going (which is frequently), I have a hard time stopping. There are lots of resources out there, and I’ve made lots of progress, but every bit of progress — every new name or date or place — leads to more research that I could do, more progress that I could make. And every dead end I hit just shifts my attention to a new way of searching for the piece of information I’m trying to find.
For example, if I can’t find what I’m looking for on a great-grandparent’s parents, I can just switch to looking for that great-grandparent’s siblings, and that can lead to what I was looking for in the first place. Or not, in which cases there’s always something else I can try, even if it’s just hopping over to another line of my family where I haven’t hit a wall.
Now, that sort of doggedness can come in handy. It allowed me to find details about a great-great-great-grandmother who previously I knew of only as a name. But I get the sense that it also means that I’m missing out on some of the joy in savoring what I’ve already discovered. Now that I’ve found that great-great-great-grandmother, do I hurry on to her parents and siblings, or do I pause to appreciate the efforts — mine and others’ — that have made this discovery possible? Do I take a little time to ponder what her 39 years on this planet might have been like?
I ought to, it seems. If nothing else, I’ve learned from my son that the next pouch will still be there waiting even if I don’t hurry to it right away.
Capped off a satisfying year of writing by sending a picture book biography revision off to my editor this morning. Thank you to everyone who has read, edited, critiqued, inspired, encouraged, or otherwise contributed to my work this year. You make this author business a whole lot of fun.
Says my friend Conrad, author of Adios, Nirvana, “I lost track, long ago, of the number of times I have solved my writing problems while I’m out walking.”
I’m not hurting for projects — I’m mid-draft on a novel, and revisions on a couple of picture books are looming, and I’m figuring out how to put my post-election political energy to use, and here comes Christmas — but I’ve taken on a new one all the same.
Actually, my 8-year-old son and I are doing this one together: expanding on the family tree information I gathered when I was just a few years older than him, working on my Genealogy merit badge back in the mid-1980s. The technology and available data are light years ahead of what were available back then, so rather than dealing with the issue of frustratingly slow progress, he and I are both faced with the challenge of pacing ourselves and walking away from the computer when we just want to run one more query on familysearch.org.
He doesn’t know it, but in addition to increasing what we know about our ancestors, he’s also getting a taste of what it’s like to research a nonfiction book when the fresh discoveries are flowing. While he’s collecting facts about great- and great-great- and great-great-great-grandparents and -aunts and uncles, he’s also learning a little more about Dad.
I’ve got news! And it’s good news, too, especially for those of you looking forward to seeing another playful picture book from me in the vein of Shark Vs. Train.
As I shared earlier today with subscribers of my Bartography Express newsletter, Disney-Hyperion will be publishing my not-yet-titled picture book in which a hapless hawk’s attempts to catch a not-so-helpless bunny are thwarted again and again. We don’t yet know who the illustrator will be, but I’m beyond excited that I’ll be working with editor Kevin Lewis.
I went on a bit more about this in Bartography Express, where I also featured a quick Q&A (and book giveaway) with Deborah Underwood, author of the new Christmas Quiet Book. There are a few other goodies in there, too, and you’re welcome to read the newsletter through the links here. But to get it in your inbox (and be in the running for book giveaways and occasional other freebies), you’ll want to sign up here.
No matter what happens today, there will plenty of work that needs doing during the next four years. Might as well start thinking about what you’re going to do — to help fix, solve, make better — and how you’re going to go about it.
As shown by this librarian’s creative use of Shark Vs. Train as a tool for teaching about elections (be sure to click through so you can see the downloadable materials she kindly shared with the world):
I went back and forth a lot as to whether I should put something in the Story Action Pod about the election. I’ve heard of other libraries doing Vote-for-Characters, such as Best Bear in a book or something; I’m sure that works for them, but I just couldn’t get excited about it.
So I decided to create a Story Action Pod based on a book that kids could use to make an informed opinion in one sitting: Shark vs Train by Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld.
If you don’t have this book in your collection, you should probably get it immediately. We have 2 copies that are ALWAYS OUT, except for today, so I could check it out, because it’s a Shark vs. Train miracle.
As always, I set up the book with directions for voting and the ballot (located below for easy download). Then, my coworker created some awesome “I Voted Today” stickers. Suddenly, this idea had a trifecta of Kid Friendly Things:
But also, sadly, as shown by what happens when you don’t read (or at least don’t take to heart) one of my favorite picture books ever, Daniel Pinkwater’s The Big Orange Splot. As summed up by Tanya at books4yourkids.com:
Mr Plumbean buys some paint and fixes up his roof (and whole house) in the middle of the night because that is when it is cooler. The neighbors awake to quite a surprise. Mr Plumbean’s paint job only inspires him to get more creative in the cool of the night, adding a clocktower, baobab and palm trees, a hammock and an alligator. Then Mr Plumbean settles into his new oasis to enjoy a pitcher of lemonade.
The neighborhood is in an orderly uproar and they ask Mr Plumbean’s next door neighbor to go and talk to him. The two share a pitcher of lemonade under the palm trees in the cool of the evening. The next morning the man has transformed his house saying, “My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams.” The uproar continues, as does the change in perspective as various neighbors try to reason with Mr Plumbean.
By the end of the book the whole street is transformed and ends with these words:
Whenever a stranger came to the street of Mr Plumbean and his neighbors, the stranger would say, “This is not a neat street.” Then all the people would say, “our street is us and we are it. Our street is where we like to be, and it looks like all our dreams.
Contrast that with this article from yesterday’s Austin American-Statesman:
Nicholas Aarsvold, 9, does what little boys do: Play in the woods, throw rocks in the creek and build stuff.
However, his latest creation, a small “fort” nestled between two nandina shrubs in front of his Northwest Hills townhome, is causing a stir with some neighbors who believe it’s unsightly.
Nicholas’s fort violates the architectural rules set by the Summerwood Homeowners Association, said Stan Scheiber, the managing agent for the community of 136 townhomes near Steck Avenue, west of MoPac Boulevard. On Thursday, the association’s board of directors voted to send Ramona Aarsvold, the boy’s mother, a letter giving her 10 days to take the structure down.
“That would be the wrong thing to do,” Aarsvold told the Statesman earlier in the week. “I don’t want to punish Nicholas’ creativity or squelch his spirit.”
Aarsvold said she’s unsure what to do now.
Might I suggest a neighborhood readaloud?
If you’ll be at the Texas Book Festival on Saturday, October 27, I hope you’ll start your day with the 10 a.m panel I’ll be moderating, “Together, They Could.”
The panelists will include authors Cynthia Levinson, author of We’ve Got a Job, and Winifred Conkling, author of Sylvia & Aki.
But it won’t be just us three authors. We’ll be joined by James Stewart, one of the teen participants in the 1963 Birmingham children’s march that reignited the civil rights movement — and one of the four marchers whose stories Cynthia focuses on in her book.
And we’ll also be joined by Medal of Freedom recipient Sylvia Mendez, whose family’s leasing of the farm of an interned Japanese-American family during World War II led to a groundbreaking precursor to the Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation case.
This will be a fantastic opportunity to find out what writing about history in general — and civil rights in particular — looks like from the perspectives of both author and participant. There’s lots that I want to ask. I’d love to hear what you’d want to know.
This past weekend, I sent out the latest edition of my Bartography Express newsletter, which included a brief but enlightening interrogation of Gary Golio, author of the new picture book biography Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey. Here’s a bit of that:
CB: What made you want to write Spirit Seeker?
GG: More than anything, it was…
You can read the whole thing here. In addition to finding out about Gary’s book, that amazing coincidence, and the panel I’ll be moderating at the Texas Book Festival this month, you can click the “Join” link in the bottom right corner to sign up to receive Bartography Express in your inbox — and automatically get in the running for giveaways such as Spirit Seeker.
What’s next month’s giveaway, you ask? Why, it’s…
Want to hear me read a little bit of The Day-Glo Brothers and Shark Vs. Train and talk about the origin of each book?
Or hear similar treatments for the new books by Rebecca Stead, Adam Gidwitz, Gary Schmidt, and others?
Get yourself (or your kids, or your students) over to TeachingBooks.net. There’s lots of good stuff there.
So, 14 months ago, this happened (as reported by Library Journal):
The new state biennial budget (FY 2012-13) in Texas, signed Tuesday by Governor Rick Perry, will reduce state funding for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission by 64 percent and will cut state funding for the agency’s library programs by 88 percent.
According to figures provided by the state library, the overall state library budget will shrink from $19.8 million each year of the two-year budget to $7.2 million. Funding for the state agency’s library programs will go from $12.8 million to $1.6 million. The Library Development and Library Resource Sharing divisions will be merged into a single division,
Jerilynn Williams, the president of the Texas Library Association and the director at Montogomery County Library, said the situation was dire.
“Everybody is just shaking their heads because this is more drastic than any measures we’ve seen in the past, and I’ve been around Texas libraries for more than 40 years. This is the worst Texas has ever seen,” she said.
“We are still reeling because programs that have been in place for decades, as well as the direct aid to libraries program will be no more when this budget goes into effect,” she said.
All funding for the Loan Star Libraries program has been eliminated. This program provides direct aid grants to public libraries throughout the state. The program received $13.4 million for FY10-11.
Because of Congressional action, the agency will receive $10.6 million in federal Library Services and Technology Act funding for FY12, $900,000 less than in FY11. “We expect further reduction in federal funds in subsequent years because we will not meet our federal maintenance of effort requirements,” Rudd wrote in her memo.
LSTA is the sole funding source for the state’s regional library systems and interlibrary loan (ILL). The regional systems will receive $2.5 million in FY12, down from $4.2 million, but “the future beyond FY12 is uncertain,” Rudd wrote.
In a statement on his website, Perry said the budget will help the state’s economy.
“… We followed the directions laid out by voters last November, and balanced our budget by prioritizing and reducing spending without raising taxes. I’m proud of Texas lawmakers’ hard work to accomplish this goal, which positions Texas for continued job growth and ongoing prosperity for Texas families in the years to come.”
Last Wednesday morning, less than an hour after submitting three Interlibrary Loan requests for research materials for a manuscript due next month, I received the following email:
APL Interlibrary Loan Service Change Oct 1, 2012
Wednesday, September 19, 2012 8:22 AM
From: “AustinPublicLibrary-Interlibrary Loan”
To: “Chris Barton”
Dear Interlibrary Loan customers,
I am sharing with you the Austin Public Library’s (APL) plans for continuing interlibrary loan services. Beginning Monday, October 1, the Austin Public Library will be offering only one active InterLibrary Loan (ILL) transaction, including requests and check-outs, to customers.
The State grant funding for the Austin Public Library’s Interlibrary Loan service was drastically reduced in 2011. As a result, APL limited ILL services to books only and 5 items per library card. Since that time APL has been providing ILL service with no staff and no budget. We can no longer maintain this service at the current level.
Beginning October 1, 2012 the Austin Public Library will limit ILL requests to 1 active request per customer (reduction from the current 5). Requests are still limited to books only and there is no renewal. The Library hopes this reduces the cost and workload enough to make it sustainable. Offering only one active loan per customer means that a researcher can still request a critical resource that is not available in any other way.
Austin Public Library
One item, in hand or requested, at a time. I just don’t see myself getting those materials before my book is due. I do, however, appreciate the staff at the Austin Public Library for doing what they can to keep Interlibrary Loan going even in this skeletal form.
Coincidentally, lately I’ve been reading Christopher Hayes’ fascinating new book, Twilight of the Elites. In it, Hayes explains the role played by “social distance” — the degree to which, say, well-off politicians are cut off from and ignorant of the lives and needs of their constituents — in all sorts of national debacles where the poor have suffered from the actions of the powerful. This happens because those in power often can’t even conceive of the effect of their decisions on the members of our society that they never see. Think WMD. Think Katrina. Think the housing bubble.
My situation pales just a little compared to those examples. Still, I’m guessing that state and national legislators don’t do a lot of their own research at their local library, so this does help bring Hayes’ point home.
…that I didn’t keep my nose clean.
Each year around this time, I get invited to a dinner for past and present University of Texas scholarship recipients, and each year I do my best to attend. The familiar mix of ambition, hope, insecurity, self-assuredness, and/or curiosity amid the 18- to 21-year-olds is always endearing, and there’s the perpetual hope that I’ll get to yammer some about myself — and that said yammering is somehow useful to at least one of these kids as they plot their paths into adulthood.
Sometimes, I hear directly from these students actually asking me to yammer away. They know enough to know that they could benefit from some outside wisdom, and they’re uninformed enough to believe that I might have some to offer. “I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving me some insight into what you do, the challenges of it, and whether you enjoy it or not,” went the most recent request.
Here’s what I told that soon-to-be graduate:
I write books for young readers, and I love it. I get to research fascinating things and find a way to convey that fascination to the most open-minded of audiences. I also get to make up ridiculous stuff and make that same audience laugh. I’ve loved doing both of those things since I was a boy, and I wouldn’t want to do one without the other. I’ve found a path that does not force me to choose.
I do not make a living at it — yet — but the work is as challenging as it is satisfying.
The challenges include figuring out how best to tell each story, and connecting those stories to the right editors and publishers, and getting my stories noticed in the marketplace among all the other volumes published each year, and learning how best to connect with my audiences when I get to meet them in person.
The satisfaction comes from knowing that I have found my community — other authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, booksellers, editors, parents, readers, all of whom inspire and appreciate what I do — and knowing that I’ve found a profession that I can’t imagine ever wanting to retire from.
Maybe he’ll be able to extrapolate something from that that will do him some good. Maybe someone you know would be able to do the same. But I know for sure that it does me some good every now and then to reflect on where I’ve gotten to and why I like being here.
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.
Several years ago, I thought about attempting a nonfiction book for young readers about election fraud in the United States. As convincingly catalogued by Tracy Campbell in Deliver the Vote, his book on this topic for adults, this country has an all-too-rich history of corruption and distortion of the will of the people at election time.
The tale of Box 13, which got Lyndon B. Johnson elected senator in 1948, is my personal favorite. But it’s the accumulation of stories — rather than any one in particular — that I wanted our young people to grasp. I wanted them to understand that, as in so many areas of our democracy, we have vast room for improvement.
(Campbell’s book touches relatively lightly on what is the biggest mechanism for distortion in presidential elections: the Electoral College. For more on that, I highly recommend Sanford Levinson’s Our Undemocratic Constitution.)
Ultimately, I set the project aside because, as the debacle of the 2000 election receded into memory, I figured the market for a book on such a dour topic would be iffy at best. But, boy, do I wish now that I had stuck with that project, because I cannot imagine a more timely subject for young readers to learn more about this fall as we await the impact of several recently passed voter ID laws.
You can read about these laws here, here, and here, among other places.
Purportedly, these Republican-backed laws requiring photo ID at the polls will prevent election fraud committed by individuals showing up and voting in someone else’s name. In reality, there’s pretty much zero evidence of this type of fraud actually occurring — but plenty of evidence that poor, urban, nonwhite, and/or elderly people are less likely than GOP voters to have photo ID, and thus more likely to be prevented from voting.
“How can they not have a photo ID? Why, these days you need a photo ID for everything from blah blah blah” — just spare me, OK?
People in this country have not fought and died for the right to buy beer or cash a check, but they have absolutely fought and died for the right to vote. How dare anyone dishonor those sacrifices by implementing unnecessary restrictions on voting without going out of their way to guarantee that there have been sufficient time and preparation to prevent any American from being disenfranchised? The only reason to rush is if you’re trying to ensure a particular outcome of the November 2012 elections, by any means necessary.
If you read only one piece about how these voter ID laws fit into the history of efforts to thwart democracy in this country, I recommend this interview with Congressman John Lewis, who personally knows what the fight for voting rights has entailed:
The forces that fought against the goals and aims of the Civil Rights Movement in the ’50s and ’60s are very similar to the forces standing against voting rights today. Fifty years ago, they were primarily Southern segregated and racist groups who used brute force, arrests and violence to discourage people from participating. Today those forces are not just relegated to the American South, but they are operating throughout our country.
The documented incidences of voter fraud are very rare, yet throughout the country, forces have mobilized in over 30 states to stop it. These efforts are very partisan. They are not using overt violence and harassment, but subtle, more sophisticated devices to discourage and prevent people from participating in the electoral process.
To make it hard, to make it difficult almost impossible for people to cast a vote is not in keeping with the democratic process. Someone once said, “Man is not made for the law; law is made for man”. Customs, traditions, laws should be flexible, within good reason, if that is what it takes to make our democracy work. We should be creative, and we should accommodate the needs of every community to open up the democratic process. We should make it easy and accessible for every citizen to participate.
The book I would have written would have made clear to young readers that, for all of our country’s stated ideals and admirable traits, we have a historical tendency to fraudulently influence and alter the outcomes of our elections.
The book I would write today would make clear that these voter ID laws don’t address that tendency — they exemplify it.
Despite my poorest efforts –
Teenage superspy Jimmy Stone rolled his eyes, which was not the wisest course of action, as by the time he retrieved them from the other side of the craps table, the monomaniacal villain that had been within his sights had fled the casino and already made it halfway out of Monte Carlo.
In retrospect, “Nights in White Satin” had been a poor choice for prom theme, as it stains easily, and — even when unsullied — is slippery and thus difficult to fold and put away at the end of the dance.
– I did not win the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton contest. (For the uninitiated: “Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.)
Ah, well. Worse luck next year, right?
“I’m not going to go to college,” announced the fourth-grader.
I’m not sure who introduced the subject of college at my Famous Author lunch with a small group of impressionable elementary school students earlier this year, but I had a feeling that as the special guest, I was the one expected to encourage this boy to think otherwise. Instead, I asked questions.
It turned out that under his dad’s guidance, this 10-year-old had already started doing computer programming, so he already had a head start on his chosen profession, no need for college, thanks.
“Oh,” I said. “Programming video games?”
“No,” he said. “Business applications.”
He sounds to me like a kid who knows what he’s doing. I hope nobody gets in his way.
Out of nowhere recently, the term “hero” began to strike me as being terribly dated.
Hero. Hero. Hero? Hero.
Say it enough, and it begins to feel like it hails from another tongue as much as it does from another time.
Does the current generation of children have heroes? If they do, are they heroes of the sort that we would have recognized a generation or two ago? Are there universally recognized heroes, manufactured and upheld by the mass media? Or has our attention fragmented, our willingness to believe in heroes offset (rightfully so) by wariness, our emphasis shifted to celebrity?
Is “role model” a more apt word for the figures we’d like our children to look up to and take an interest in? How about “inspiration”? Or just “interesting person”?
I’ve been asking lots of questions about this lately — not just here, but in conversations with my children and with friends and with just-met acquaintances. It’s on my mind as a parent, and as someone working on various books about people I hope my young readers will find interesting but stop short of worshiping.
I may well be asking more questions here. I’d love to know what you think of the ones I’ve posed so far, and what your own questions are — as parents, readers, writers, librarians, and citizens.
Who are children’s heroes today, if anybody? Who would you like them to be? Who are yours?
That's me in the middle, age 4, at the Dallas Zoo.
When my friend Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of the brand-new (and well-timed!) picture book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman
, put out a call for authors with photos of their younger selves in superhero gear, I had just the thing.
Who else answered the call? See for yourself at Marc’s blog, Noblemania…
Last summer, when my best friend from high school (and one of the youngest members of our class) turned 40, I made what I thought would be the last in a series of 40th birthday gifts that began when my brother hit that milestone a few years ago.
It turned out that I wasn’t done after all, as another friend’s birthday celebration last month gave me cause to extend the series by one. But on the chance that I’m truly done now, I want to spread the word about how I went about making these gifts because — regardless of how much they were enjoyed by the recipients — I had a heck of a good time putting them together, and I thought some Bartography readers might get just as big a kick out making some themselves.
I’ve long loved compiling music CD for my friends and family, especially mixes with some sort of theme. I find the process to be a lot like writing and editing, in that there are lots of considerations of tone and pacing and length, plenty of opportunities for humor and history and poignancy, and — of course — painful decisions about what to keep and what to cut.
About 4 1/2 years ago I stumbled into the knowledge that a carefully assembled mix of songs representing each year since a person’s birth — given the average length of songs in my library — came out to exactly the right length to span two CDs commemorating that person’s 40th birthday. That’s 41 songs, actually, when you include one from the year the recipient was born and one from the current year.
I had a lot of 40th birthdays coming up among people I cared about, and I loved the idea of crafting for each of them a unique two-CD set of songs I thought they in particular would enjoy. What I didn’t much care for was the prospect of combing through 10,000 or so songs each time a pal or a cousin had the big 4-0 coming up.
So — and this took exactly zero twisting of my own arm — I spent a lot of time listening to the songs in my collection from 1968-2008 and picking 10 from each year that I wanted to be on my master list, the list from which I’d select the tracks for each person’s mix. For the sake of variety and out of my love of a good challenge, I limited the master list to one song per act. And 10 songs was a hard and fast rule — I could add something new to the list for a particular year, but something else had to go. I could pick from 410 songs, and not one song more, and when another calendar year rolled around, it was time to come up with 10 more songs for the master list. January birthdays were kind of a pain, but having to come up with 10 great songs by as-yet-unrepresented artists for each new year sure kept my ears open.
There were loopholes, sure — in addition to a Beatles track, for instance, there were solo recordings by John and George and one by Paul in his collaboration under the name The Fireman. (Sorry, Ringo.) Jack White was in with the White Stripes but also singing a duet with Loretta Lynn, and Aimee Mann was in there both solo and with ‘Til Tuesday. A Nina Simone song remixed years after her death got included posthumously. A mashup of Madonna and the Sex Pistols and another of the Beatles and the Wu-Tang Clan made it in there not for the years of any of the original recordings but for the years when the DJs in question worked their magic.
And to my mind, there was indeed magic — threads and conversations and references I hadn’t planned on made themselves known as I put the mixes together or played them back to myself. There were Dusty Springfield and Patti Smith covers of Van Morrison, and Maria McKee and Allison Moorer covers of Dusty Springfield and Patti Smith. One mix might have a song by Charley Pride, one where he’s name-checked by songwriter Steve Goodman (“You Never Even Called Me by My Name”), Goodman’s own recording of a song made famous by Arlo Guthrie, and covers by Sharon Jones and Wilco of songs written by Arlo&rsquo
Making mix CDs isn’t the only way outside my writing that I get my creative kicks. I also enjoy making the occasional piece of visual art, but I don’t think to do it nearly often enough. So, I’d like to thank author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds (The Dot, among other books) for giving me the prompt I needed by inviting me to contribute a piece of art for International Dot Day.
Every year on September 15, innovative educators around the world celebrate International Dot Day by making time to encourage their students’ creativity. After the last International Dot Day, we were overwhelmed by wonderful stories about the “outside-the-box” activities educators invented for their students. September 15th will be here before you know it — this year, we encourage even more kids and grown-up kids to “make their mark” in new and exciting ways!
You can see what I made here. As for how I made it: I found magazine pictures that made me think of heat and light (the sun setting over the University of Texas tower, a grilled-cheese sandwich in a skillet, a farmer inspecting his crops during a drought, a kid coming down a water slide, etc.), cut them into strips, then wove those strips together and overlaid them with a sheet of paper with a circle ripped out of the center. I had no idea what I was going to make when I started, but I had a lot of fun, found the whole thing both challenging and relaxing, and I could not have enjoyed the process more.
I’d even go so far as to say that making art is more fun than cleaning out my stash of “author stuff,” but that has its benefits, too — such as coming across random items that I thought would be fun to give away to teachers and school librarians getting ready to return to school.
What sort of stuff? Well, there are these:
These are three dozen signed Shark Vs. Train bookplates. Book fairs have been known to sell a copy or two of Shark Vs. Train — being able to affix the author’s signature inside the book might make that purchase all the more special.
And then there are these:
When I sign copies of The Day-Glo Brothers, I like to use daylight-fluorescent paint pens — orange and green, specifically. The thing is, they come in three-packs that include a yellow pen, and brilliant as those yellow ones are, I just don’t think that signatures made with them would be quite as dazzling as those made with orange or green. So, I’ve accumulated 10 of them, and I’m going to give the whole bunch of them away.
These giveaways will be to teachers and school librarians who are signed up for my Bartography Express newsletter through the “Win a Book!” section on my home page. As that wording on my site suggests, I give away books, too, and next week’s giveaway of these extra goodies will be in addition to the regular giveaway open to all Bartography Express subscribers.
And if that’s not enticement enough, in September and October, I’ll also be giving away copies of Marc Tyler Nob
“Quidditch creates a sense of community that I think is hard to find in other areas of life.”
– International Quidditch Association COO Alicia Radford (quoted on Flapship)
For a guy who’s yet to make it past the fifth Harry Potter book, I’ve had a lot more Quidditch in my life this year than I ever would have expected.
First, there was the Lone Star Cup, an intercollegiate Quidditch tournament — 10 Texas teams and two from Louisiana — that my boys and I took their grandparents to when the latter visited Austin in April. It was easily the most fun I’d ever had watching other people play a sport. (And make no mistake: It’s a real sport, and a bruising one at that. Here, a bloody nose; there, an ice pack on a thigh.) A big part of what made it so fun was knowing the ingenuity that went into turning a fictional sport for wizards into a real one for Muggles.
Just last week, I got to see that ingenuity up close when I served as assistant Quidditch coach at a Hogwarts-themed summer camp. My job largely consisted of playing keep-away with the yellow rubber balls serving as the Snitches, with varying degrees of success. (This one kid was basically the Josh Hamilton of Snitch-catching.) I must have looked like I was having fun, though, because by the end of the last day, roughly half the players not only wanted to try to catch the Snitch but were angling for my job as Snitch-tosser.
During the months between those the tournament and the camp, I often thought of how much fun it would have been to have had Quidditch as a recreational option when I was in college. More to the point, I often thought of how much fun it would have been to spend time with other Quidditch players in college. By the nature of the game, you know those kids are literary-minded, physically fit, and able to laugh at themselves.
More than anything, though, it was the players’ camaraderie that stood out. They were clearly glad to be there, and happy to be with each other. I’ve enjoyed that feeling myself, generally with other writers. There’s nothing like finding one’s tribe, and I’m delighted to know that this particular type of tribe now exists.
Maybe it’s right for someone you know. Maybe it’s right for you.
As for me, I’m already looking forward to next year’s Lone Star Cup and next year’s Hogwarts camp. In the meantime, I think I’ll finally get started on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
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To help find some new reading material for a nine-year-old girl who’s a big fan of Lincoln Peirce’s books (and of Chris Van Dusen, too), I asked several of my friends to fill in the blank above. Here are the suggestions I received:
Ellie McDoodle books by Ruth McNally Barshaw
Dork Diaries books by by Rachel Renee Russell
Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg
Origami Yoda books by Tom Angleberger
Popularity Papers books by Amy Ignatow
Smile and Drama by Raina Telgemaier
Around the World by Matt Phelan
Calvin & Hobbes books by Bill Watterson
Cul de Sac books by Richard Thompson
Vordak books by Vordak T. Incomprehensible
Sophie books by Lara Bergen
Diary of a Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney
EllRay Jakes books by Sally Warne and illustrated by Jamie Harper
Ook and Gluk books by Dav Pilkey
Babymouse books by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
Franny K. Stein books by Jim Benton
What would you add?
(Since I initially posted this, answers to that last question have included Emmanuel Guibert’s Sardine books and Joann Sfar’s Little Vampire books.)