05 Jul

The lineup for the inaugural Mississippi Book Festival…

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Mississippi Book Festival logo

…is taking shape. And I’m pleased to say that I’m among the authors who will be participating in Jackson on August 22.

Where better for me to share The Amazing of Age of John Roy Lynch with the public than in the city where he began his political rise?

In 1868 the US government

“In 1868 the U.S. government appointed a young Yankee general as governor of Mississippi. The whites who had been in charge were swept out of office. By river and by railroad, John Roy traveled to Jackson to hand Governor Ames a list of names to fill those positions in Natchez. After John Roy spoke grandly of each man’s merits, the governor added another name to the list: John Roy Lynch, Justice of the Peace.”

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25 Jun

Bartography Express for June 2015, featuring Jacqueline Kelly’s The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

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This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate (Henry Holt and Co.) by Jacqueline Kelly.

If you’re not already receiving Bartography Express, click the image below for a look. If you like what you see, click “Join” in the bottom right corner, and you’ll be in the running for the giveaway at the end of this week.

20150622 Bartography Express

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22 Jun

The latest (great!) reviews for The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

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I’m excited to the see the word get out — and the favorable reviews come in — for my book with Don Tate, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). Here’s a sampling of the latest batch:

From Kendal Rautzhan’s nationally syndicated column:

“This inspirational story of John Roy Lynch, going from a teenage slave to a U.S. Congressman in just 10 years, should not be missed.”

From librarian Tasha Saecker’s Waking Brain Cells blog:

“An important book focused on an important figure in a dynamic time in American history, this picture book biography will inform new audiences about the potential for both progress and defeat during [Reconstruction].”

From the Mississippi Library Commission’s MLC Reference Blog:

“Growing up in Mississippi, we remember learning about John Roy Lynch in history class. We wish this book had been around then, because it is truly amazing.”

From WCMU’s Children’s Bookshelf:

“[A] powerful story … Chris Barton’s descriptions of the time period in which John Roy Lynch lived and the challenges and heartache that he experienced may have a profound impact on young people.”

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14 Jun

Coming from me & Ashley Spires in 2017: Book or Bell

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This past Thursday’s PW Children’s Bookshelf included the news that I’ve got another new picture book on the way: Book or Bell, to be illustrated by Ashley Spires and scheduled to be published by Bloomsbury in spring 2017.

I bet whoever assembled that issue of the PW newsletter got a little chuckle out of how my author photo and Ashley’s illustrator photo fit together:

Barton Spires

It looks like I was mooning on one side of a wall and Ashley on the other, each of us thinking, “If only there were someone nearby that I could collaborate with on a picture book.”

That origin story for this project would have been a lot simpler than how things actually came about, which involves a YA nonfiction project that fell apart after the contract was signed and an entirely unrelated (or so I thought) picture book manuscript with a first draft that I saved on leap day in 2008.

It’s bonkers, really, but also sweet — sort of like the tale we tell in Book or Bell, about a schoolboy’s disruptive refusal to put down a captivating book, the outlandish means that the authorities resort to as they try to restore order, and the teacher who understands what’s really going on.

I can’t wait for you to be able to pick this book up. Maybe you’ll even refuse to put it down.

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09 Jun

Good news & good company for The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

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This past week has brought a couple of happy developments for my new book with Don Tate, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers).

First, the book has received a Silver Honor from the Parents’ Choice Awards. Thank you, Parents’ Choice!

And another big thank you goes to Colby Sharp and Jon Samuelson for including The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (along with Bob Shea’s Ballet Cat and Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl) in the latest episode of the Booklandia podcast.

I love the surprise in Jon’s voice when he realizes that the story of Lynch’s 10-year rise from slavery to the U.S. House of Representatives during Reconstruction is nonfiction rather than historical fiction. I also appreciate the thorough notes on this episode — very helpful, guys.

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04 Jun

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center on The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

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[F]our reasons why most of us need to read this book” sounds pretty terrific to me. Thanks, APAC!

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29 May

Giveaway: a copy of John Roy Lynch signed by Don and me

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Angie Manfredi, one of the most passionate librarians I know, is giving away a copy of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch that’s been signed by both illustrator Don Tate and me.

Here’s a bit of what Angie has to say about the book:

Everything about The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is special. It’s a book that asks children to think big thoughts and ask hard questions about eras of history that are too often glossed over and about the era we live in now. It’s ambitious, interesting, original and very beautiful. It’s meant to be shared and discussed with kids and I recommend it as a first purchase for public libraries looking to enrich their children’s non-fiction collection and especially for elementary school librarians and classroom teachers working with 3rd-6th grades. It’s a great supplement for history lessons and will hopefully make young learners even more curious about our country’s history, all the parts of it — the amazing and hard ones.

To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is go to this blog post at Fat Girl Reading and leave a comment.

But you’ll probably want to do more than that, like stick around a while and read what Angie has to say about this book and other things, because did I mention that she’s one of the most passionate librarians I know?

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26 May

6 tips from 6 years of school visits

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With terrific visits last week to Carrollton and Midland, Texas, I’ve wrapped up my sixth year of school presentations. I’ve learned a lot of things along the way, and for the benefit of other visiting authors, here are half a dozen of them — one for each year I’ve been at it.

1. Find out what the school wants you to talk about.
If you’ve got multiple books, don’t assume that your host wants you to focus on your newest one. Your host might not know much about it, and in fact may have led their students to expect something else. I’ve found that schools can be pretty flexible in accommodating authors, but that flexibility ought to go both ways. If it’s practical for you to tailor your presentation to the school’s preferences, do it. But at the very least, be aware of what those preferences are.

2. Get to the room before the kids do.
Getting there first allows you to deal with any kinks in the technical setup (laptop, projector, etc.) without a crowd observing your troubleshooting skills in action. It gives you a chance to request any particular configurations of the audience (I like having an aisle down the middle so that I can get closer to students not sitting on the front row). And one of my favorite parts of any visit is standing by the door as the kids enter the room, greeting them, and watching them realize (maybe 33% of the time) that I’m “the arthur.”

3. Learn the school’s hand signal or magic phrase for getting a crowd to hush.
Pretty much every school has something they use, be it a gesture or a call-and-response chant. Learning this — and good-naturedly letting kids know that you know what it is and how to use it — is an essential tool for restoring your audience’s focus on you and what you have to say.

4. Even if they treat you like a big deal, you don’t have to act like one.
Your visit may be a highlight of the school’s year. It may be the first author visit they’ve ever had, or the first they’ve been able to afford in a long, long time. As such, they may treat you like a rock star — going so far as to use the phrase “rock star. But that doesn’t mean you need to act like one. For one thing, deflating and demystifying yourself will help make what you do seem more accessible and more attainable to the kids you’re presenting to — and we all want that, right? For another, if you’re gracious, humble, helpful, flexible, and generally easygoing, word-of-mouth to that effect will spread among librarians, and more schools will want you to come visit.

5. They may not treat you like a big deal.
But that’s not why you’re there, so no problem. Be a pro, and speak up for your needs — and for things that will make the experience better for your audience — but keep your focus on connecting with those kids and giving them a good, meaningful show that at least some of them will remember for a long time.

6. Q&A just may not happen.
I love the question-and-answer portion at the end of my presentations. I get a lot of insight into which aspects of my books — and of my presentations — made the biggest impressions on my audience. But sometimes the conditions just aren’t right — say, if your presentation is the last thing scheduled for the day and kids have already moved on mentally to their departure. Or if the audience you’re speaking to just isn’t clear on the difference between a question and a statement (e.g. “I like sharks.”). When that happens, don’t get frustrated — just accept it. You can generally go out on a high note by asking if any of the adults in the room have a question.

Other authors, I’d love to hear what you’ve learned. And the same goes for those of you who have hosted authors during school visits — let me know in the comments any advice you’ve got to share. The next school-visit season is just three months away…

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20 May

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

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

If you’re not already receiving Bartography Express, click the image below for a look. If you like what you see, click “Join” in the bottom right corner, and you’ll be in the running for the giveaway at the end of this week.

20150519 Bartography Express

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15 May

A first look at Jennifer Ziegler’s next book

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Those of you who loved my wife Jennifer’s 2014 novel Revenge of the Flower Girls might just be interested in what’s coming this August:

Revenge of the Angels

And if you’re sensing a theme running through the books Jennifer and I have coming out later this year, you’re right:

Nutcracker_frontcover

Between her Revenge of the Angels — in which the Brewster triplets find themselves woefully miscast in their church’s Christmas pageant — and my ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America arriving in September, we’ll start celebrating the holidays around here when it’s still 102 degrees.

But if you’re inclined to put off getting into the spirit of the season until you reach a more reasonable page on the calendar, that’s quite all right. We’ll be celebrating both books — and encouraging donations to the Giving Tree program — at Austin’s BookPeople on Saturday, December 5 (only 204 shopping days away).

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