10 Dec

Another “Best of” for Dazzle Ships!

HuffPost has issued its list of the Best Picture Books of 2017 (Most Touching, Most Charming, Best Surprise, etc.), and the honor of Best History has gone to my collaboration with illustrator Victo Ngai, Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Millbrook Press).

It’s hard to imagine the staid military agreeing to such a plan, but this quirky slice of history is true: in World War I British and U.S. decorated warships in psychedelic patterns to confuse the enemy. A feast for the eyes, this book (much like the ships themselves) is substance cleverly disguised by wondrous art. Even readers who are typically averse to non-fiction will find themselves captivated by this delightfully bizarre moment in history.

Congratulations to the creators of the Honorable Mention books in the Best History category (Margarita Engle, Mike Curato, Monica Clark-Robinson, Frank Morrison, Vashti Harrison, Emma Otheguy, Beatriz Vidal, Debbie Levy, and Gilbert Ford) and to all of the other honored authors and illustrators whose titles are among the Best Picture Books. This gives me quite the to-read list for the next few weeks!

06 Dec

Signed books by authors galore in downtown Austin this Saturday!


If you’re in Central Texas this Saturday, come join Jennifer, me, and all these authorly folks —

Monte Akers, Michael Barnes, Olga Campos Benz, Patricia Bernstein, Daina Ramey Berry, John B. Boles, George Bristol, Chad S. Conine, Michael Corcoran, David Courtney, Mike Cox, Greg Garrett, Joe Holley, Joseph Huerta, Michael Hurd, Alison Macor, Donna Marie Miller, Carmen Oliver, William E. Reaves, Kathleen Shafer, Jeremi Suri, Don Tate, Deb Olin Unferth, Mark K. Updegrove, and Eddie Wilson

— for the 2017 Humanities Texas Holiday Book Fair.

Spread the word like you’ve got some holiday spirit, or just put these details into your own private scheduling apparatus:

Saturday, December 9th, 2017
10:00 am–1:00 pm
Byrne-Reed House
1410 Rio Grande Street • Austin, TX
Parking available in St. Martin’s Lutheran Church parking lot on the northwest corner of 15th Street and Rio Grande

The flyer says “Enjoy holiday treats,” which sure sounds to me like a command that one should obey.

29 Nov

Orbis Pictus and “Best of 2017” honors for Dazzle Ships

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks for all of us who had a hand in Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, and published earlier this year by Millbrook Press.

At the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English in St. Louis, Dazzle Ships was named one of five Honor Books for the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.

(The top prize went to Grand Canyon, created by author-illustrator Jason Chin. Jason and I were two seats away from each other when we heard the news. At the time, he and I were participating on a panel — briefly interrupted — with fellow authors Tonya Bolden and Gail Jarrow about the creation of back matter in nonfiction books. Back matter, it turns out, is a key consideration in the awarding of the Orbis Pictus.)

There been other good news for Dazzle Ships: It’s been included in a few year-end “Best of” lists. Among them:

The creation of such lists of honored and recommended new books is a serious undertaking, and the results can be a goldmine for families and educators. I appreciate the efforts that have gone into these, and I’m especially grateful for the inclusion of Dazzle Ships.

25 Oct

Come see Jennifer and me at the Texas Book Festival!


My favorite author in the whole wide world and I are both on the bill for the Texas Book Festival in Austin on November 4 and 5. We hope you’ll come see us, and we’re pleased to note that our sessions are not scheduled at the same time, so you don’t have to choose between Jennifer and me.

(You will, however, have to choose among many other fantastic options during any single time slot. Literary life is tough.)

Here’s when and where you can find us:

Relative Hijinks
Date: Saturday, November 4, 2017
Time: 3:00 – 4:00
Location: Next Chapter Tent
Book Signing: Childrens Book Sales & Signing Tent

Families. They love us, support us, save the day and sometimes embarrass the heck out of us. The books by Jennifer Ziegler, Revenge of the Happy Campers, Karina Yan Galser, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, and Victoria Jameison, Roller Girl and All’s Fair in Middle School, all get into their share of helpful hijinks. They also remind us of the importance of those connections forged with the family we inherit and the family we choose.

Moderator: Nikki Loftin

Authors:
Victoria Jamieson
Jennifer Ziegler
Karina Yan Glaser

Educator Focus: Teaching History Through Reading
Date: Sunday, November 5, 2017
Time: 11:00 – 11:45
Location: Capitol Extension Room 1.012
Visualization is one of the best ways to help understand history. Hear from our local authors, Don Tate, Chris Barton and Cynthia Levinson about how they distill memorable and age appropriate facts for students of all ages.

Moderator: Diane Collier

Authors:
Cynthia Levinson
Chris Barton
Don Tate

Read Me A Story With Chris Barton
Date: Sunday, November 5, 2017
Time: 1:00 – 1:30
Location: Childrens Read Me a Story Tent (10th & Congress)
Book Signing: Childrens Book Sales & Signing Tent

Bestselling Austin author Chris Barton reads us TWO new books! Dazzle Ships brings to life the little-known World War I story about why British and American ships were painted with bold colors and crazy patterns from bow to stern. Book or Bell? is a hilarious, high-energy picture book about a boy who will not stop reading and a school bell that keeps interrupting!

18 Oct

Bartography Express: “Mommas would tell him, ‘just don’t kill him!'”

Every now and then, I like to throw my newsletter subscribers a curve – or, in this case, a spiral.

The Q&A for the October edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here) is with my friend Michael Hurd, author of the new nonfiction book Thursday Night Lights: The Story of Black High School Football in Texas (University of Texas Press). Michael is a longtime sportswriter as well as the director of the Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture at Prairie View A&M University.

Thursday Night Lights is geared toward adults, but it’s accessible to high school- and middle school-aged lovers of football and history. It’s an eye-opener, and it definitely would have been a revelation to the adolescent version of me, who played University Interscholastic League football in Texas without ever giving a thought to the story or structure (overseen by the Prairie View Interscholastic League, or PVIL) of the sport as it was played at African American high schools in the decades before desegregation.

(I wonder if Michael’s book might inspire students in other states to research the history of pre-integration high school sports closer to home. Any educators out there want to take that idea and run with it?)

This month, one newsletter subscriber will win a signed copy of Thursday Night Lights. (If you’re not a subscriber yet, there’s still time.) In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Michael Hurd.

Chris: The influence on and involvement in students’ lives by their coaches was one of the most striking aspects of Thursday Night Lights. Was there a particular relationship between a coach and his player – or players – that was especially meaningful or moving to you?

Photo of Michael Hurd by Taylor Johnson

Michael: That’s a great observation. What immediately comes to mind is Houston Wheatley’s Frank Walker. In the book, his daughter, Frances, talks about how her dad was so committed to building the program and taking care of his players that it confused the family’s budget.

Out of his own pocket, Coach Walker would buy needed practice equipment, maybe provide a meal now and then, and for his graduating seniors going off to college, he’d purchase their bus tickets, clothing, and give them some pocket money.

But, I doubt he was the only coach in the PVIL who did those kinds of things for his players. There was a real symbiotic relationship between the players and coaches at the PVIL schools and those relationships extended well off the field as nurturing experiences. Many of the coaches were father figures for boys who may not have had a male parenting figure at home, and even some who did.

In regard to that, my favorite quote in the book is from Joe Washington, Sr. who coached in Bay City and Port Arthur. He talks about the trust that parents had in him, and black coaches in general, to discipline and essentially raise their sons. He said the mommas would tell him to take their son and do what they needed to do, “just don’t kill him!”

Chris: Your interview subjects were frank about the bittersweetness of integration as it affected black high school football programs and the people in those programs. How did what you learned from them square with your own recollections about integration and the waning days of segregation?

Michael: That was one of the things that I really enjoyed about researching and writing the book. A lot of my interviews turned into old home week discussions, reflecting on the Sixties and what that was like for black people as segregation slowly eased into integration.

One day there were all these places – theaters, restaurants, neighborhoods – that before, we couldn’t go here, we couldn’t go there, couldn’t do this or that, then the next day, no problem, more or less. So I talked about those kinds of things with a lot of my interview subjects, especially the Houston guys, and those conversations brought back a lot of memories for me.

An example: I had always gone to segregated schools, elementary and high school, and graduated in the spring of 1967. Then, in the fall of that year, black and white schools played against each other for the first time. So, when I went back for homecoming it had a totally different feel. We were playing at a different stadium and against a white team!

10 Oct

School Library Journal weighs in (twice!) on Book or Bell?

One favorable writeup from School Library Journal would be a welcome thing for a soon-to-be-published book such as Book or Bell?, my upcoming (as in “due one week from today”) collaboration with Ashley Spires. So you can imagine how happy I am to see two such notices in SLJ.

First, there’s SLJ’s official review:

Designed to appeal to any child dreaming of the perfect read and a bit of control over their surrounding environment, this offering features plenty of action with a satisfying ending. A suggested general purchase for all libraries.

And while I love seeing the review quote my phrasing “mega-giga-decibel monstrosity illegal in seventeen states,” I especially love the reviewer’s description of the pivotal moment in the story as being the one when a boy’s teacher “discovers the call to his heart — a personal interest that builds and then surpasses his favorite book about bicycles.”

Then there’s the magazine’s roundup, Smiles of Bibliophiles: Celebrating Books and Reading:

Ultimately, a “mega-giga-decibel monstrosity,” which is more deafening than “the Daytona 500, a squadron of Blue Angels, and an army of door-to-door jackhammer sellers,” has a vibration strong enough to “jitter” and “jutter” clothing off individuals and fling backpacks “willy-nilly,” but leaves Henry unscathed and still reading. … Told with uproarious humor and illustrated with energetic, detail packed illustrations featuring a multicultural cast, Chris Barton and Ashley Spires’s Book or Bell? (Bloomsbury, Oct. 2017; K-Gr 4) will entertain youngsters while celebrating the intoxicating contentment of connecting with that perfect book.

If Henry’s love of his bike book is anything compared to my appreciation of SLJ right about now, then no wonder he doesn’t want to stop reading.

04 Oct

Come see me (if you can) at Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion and I will be at Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop next Tuesday, October 10, and we should be at least as easy to spot at the three (count ’em!) cats in this sample of Victo Ngai’s art from the book:

From Dazzle Ships, published by Lerner Publishing/Millbrook Press

I look forward to seeing you there. Unless you’re camouflaged.

28 Sep

Big news for the illustrations (and illustrator) of Dazzle Ships

I’ve seen speculation here and there about Victo Ngai’s art for our book Dazzle Ships being in the running for a certain award, but there’s one prize that her illustrations have already won:

The Dilys Evans Founder’s Award, named after The Original Art founder, celebrates the most promising new talent in children’s book illustration. The jury has selected Victo Ngai’s Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Lerner Publishing Group/ Millbrook Press).

The award comes from the Society of Illustrators, whose Museum of Illustration in New York City will feature Victo’s art in for Dazzle Ships its annual Original Art exhibit from November 1 through December 23.

Congratulations, Victo!

21 Sep

Get up, get out, get writing

On the occasion of the upcoming publication of Book or Bell? (illustrated by Ashley Spires and published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books), I’ve got a new guest post over at Mackin Books in Bloom about the intersection of physical activity and creative work.

Go have a look, will you? Here’s some of what I have to say:

The ending of Book or Bell? is a bit of a nod to one of my favorite pieces of writing advice: get outside and get active. Many story ideas have come to me while I’m walking or jogging through my neighborhood. They come from things I observe with my eyes, things I overhear (a good argument for leaving the earbuds at home), interactions with people I encounter, and random thoughts that occur to me while I’m on the move. Educators, if you ever need to point to someone to illustrate the benefits of recess, I’m your guy.