12 Oct

Happy anniversary, JRL and SVT!

This is a slide I show in my presentations to schools about The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (often right after students have speculated that I might have spent anywhere from two days all the way up to a year and a half working on that book):


Yes, I got the idea to write about John Roy Lynch (while watching a Reconstruction documentary) the same month I got the idea for Shark Vs. Train (while jogging). And that month was exactly ten years ago, in October 2006.

You can bet that I’m pointing that out — and the fact that one book took eight and a half years to get from idea to bookstores and libraries while the “fast” one took me merely three and a half — to schools that I visit this month.

Last week, though, I was able to go one better and let the kids at one school know that of all the elementary schools in the world, theirs is the closest — just a quarter-mile or so away — to the jogging route where Shark and Train first came to me.

I’m happy as can be to have made Shark and Train’s acquaintance, and that of John Roy Lynch, and of all the readers I’ve gotten to know thanks to the three of them.

06 Oct


“Justice. Peace. Black people saw reason to believe that these were now available to them.” — from The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

I’m used to the subject of justice coming up when I visit elementary schools — it’s a central theme of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, which I discuss with third grade and up (sometimes second grade, too). And when I sign copies of that book, the inscription I use is “Strive for justice and peace!”

But it was a new — and marvelous — experience this week when I was asked to personalize a book like this:

To Ms. X’s…


It was the first time I’ve ever been asked to address a group of kids in such a way. Won’t it be great if it’s nowhere near the last?

30 Sep

September 2016 Bartography Express: “If children learn to love and respect the elephant through this book, I will be overjoyed”

To get Bartography Express in your inbox each month — and to have a shot at the October giveaway of Tiny Stitches, written by Gwendolyn Hooks and illustrated by Colin Bootman — you can sign up on my home page.


27 Sep

Whoosh!-ing into Scholastic Reading Club


I got the news from Charlesbridge last week that my second book with Don Tate, Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, is going to be available as a paperback through Scholastic Reading Club (which used to be known as Scholastic Book Clubs). That means a lot more kids and families are going to be able to have their own copy, and that’s exciting to me.

I haven’t yet seen any of the Scholastic flyers with Whoosh!, and I don’t know which grade level(s) will include the book, so keep an eye out for me, won’t you please?

20 Sep

Modern First Library: Connecting shoppers with diverse books for two years and counting

Modern First Library

In spring of 2014, I had an idea for something a bookstore might try out — an idea for selling more copies of diverse books by leveraging shoppers’ impulses to buy well-known books as baby gifts.

So I emailed a friend at Austin’s BookPeople and asked, “Would there be an effective way to encourage these adults to buy the classic titles they have in mind and a new picture book that reflects the modern, diverse world that the recipients inhabit?”

Long story short, the result was BookPeople’s Modern First Library program, which launched that summer. The Modern First Library display was positioned front-and-center in the picture book department. You couldn’t miss it.

I would have been happy for this experiment of ours to last only through the December holidays. A bookstore is a business, after all. It has to make money. And if something they try out — Modern First Library, for instance — doesn’t end up selling many books, they have to try something else.

But two years later, BookPeople’s Modern First Library continues to thrive and grow. I’m so glad I expressed that one idea — that I acted on it, and didn’t dismiss the notion or keep it to myself.

This past June, BookPeople’s Meghan Goel and I discussed the program with a roomful of four dozen booksellers from across the country. Maybe one of them — maybe several of them — will create their own Modern First Library displays.

In the meantime, BookPeople is celebrating the second anniversary of Modern First Library with a series of guest blog posts by some folks worthy of your attention. More essays are on the way, but for now, I hope you’ll enjoy — and be inspired by, and share — the first few:

Our Modern First Library Turns Two by Meghan Goel

Ellen Oh on the Modern First Library: The Word Library

Phoebe Yeh on the Modern First Library: I Need a Diverse Book

Angie Manfredi on the Modern First Library: “Everett Anderson was my first.”

Modern First Library: Starting the Conversation with AISD Educators

Modern First Library: Divya Srinivasan on Mama (Amma)

Modern First Library: Duncan Tonatiuh on Fairy Tales for a Modern Library

I’ve also contributed a few thoughts — complete with flowchart and with tongue somewhat in cheek:

So, you’ve heard about Modern First Library, but you’re not sure that new picture books reflecting the diverse society experienced by today’s kids are for you. Let me help you decide.

Thanks to all who have supported Modern First Library in any way. Here’s to the program’s first two years, and to the connections made — and connections still to come — between all sorts of kids and Modern First Library’s marvelous variety of marvelous books.

13 Sep

A Horn Book review, a custom-made pie, and other good stuff for 88 Instruments


There’s been an accumulation of splendiffery in the four weeks since 88 Instruments was published, and I can’t stand to keep it to myself.

For starters, there’s this 88 Instruments Educators’ Guide and Activities download from Random House.

On her new blog A Book and A Pie, Lindsay Leslie has paired her review of 88 Instruments with her selection of the ideal pie to go with the book. This is not a theoretical pie, but an actual pie. Or rather, a pie that was actual prior to being presumably happily devoured. Thanks, Lindsay!

88 Instruments has also received a review (though no pie) from The Horn Book:

The galloping rhymed text, featuring toe-tapping dictionary rejects (‘thrummiest’), is a song unto itself. … The loose-handed, even jittery illustrations foreground [the protagonist’s] attempts to play many of the instruments; meanwhile, his parents are a mute chorus of comical anxiety.

And from Franki Sibberson at A Year of Reading:

This book is perfect for talking about growth mindset in a fun way–the last few pages of the book that include the decision of instrument and the plan for learning are simple yet powerful for conversations around learning and growth mindset.

Some of my favorite tweets about the book have included:

I also appreciated the mentions from Beth Shaum (A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust), Alicia Salazar (There’s a Story in All of Us), Catherine Coyne (Youth Services Book Review), Michele Knott (Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook), Jana Eschner (Jana The Teacher), and Mrs. ReaderPants.

Finally, many thanks to my hometown indie, BookPeople, for already featuring 88 Instruments as a storytime readaloud. I wish I’d been there — it takes a while to learn how to present in public a book you wrote in private, and I could probably pick up some pointers!

88 Instruments

07 Sep

The newest good news for Whoosh!


Whoosh! will be among the 230 titles included in the 2016 ABC Best Books for Young Readers catalog put out this fall by the American Booksellers Association. The complete list spans from board books all the way up to YA fiction and nonfiction, and you can view the titles here.

Celebrate Picture Books featured Whoosh! for National Relaxation Day:

The subject of today’s book invented a great way to take advantage of a day off—and also demonstrates that sometimes work and relaxation go hand-in-hand! … Chris Barton’s biography of Lonnie Johnson is a fascinating look at a man who succeeds in turning “No” into “Yes” by the power of his intelligence, ideas, and determination.

Kiss the Book called Whoosh! “essential.”

Children’s Atheneum said Whoosh! “is exactly what I want a picture book biography to be. Informative, engaging, fascinating, and new”

Anastasia Suen featured the book for STEM Friday.

Holly Mueller included Whoosh! in her list of ten Picture Books That Support the Growth Mindset.

The growth mindset model is very important for gifted learners (and of course, every learner). They can make mistakes, continue to grow, and continue to be commended for hard work, not talent/intelligence alone. These books show how mistakes can be made into opportunities, hard work and persistence pay off, and circumstances and talent don’t control destinies.

Finally, Junior Library Guild invited Whoosh! illustrator Don Tate and me to chat about the book during this year’s Texas Library Association conference. Here’s a bit of that conversation:

01 Sep

“We succeed anyway,” and lots more from Lonnie Johnson


If you know a reader who has enjoyed Whoosh! — or if you yourself have enjoyed it — I urge you to check out this recent BBC interview with Lonnie Johnson.

In it, Lonnie goes into greater detail about many aspects of the story Don Tate and I tell in Whoosh!. He also offers up anecdotes that he shared with us but which we didn’t include.

One of my favorites of the latter:

I put together a working engine out of parts from a scrapyard, and we stuck that engine on one of our go-karts. It had thin wagon wheels instead of tyres, and the hood was just a crate. You controlled the steering with a piece of string. It was not perfect. We had to push the car to get it going, but after that it could sustain itself. And we had a lot of fun with it — though we were stopped by the police, because the vehicle was not exactly street-legal.

I also appreciated this, which I know will resonate with lots of Whoosh! readers:

I also take [Super Soakers] into schools to give talks. Kids need exposure to ideas, and they need to be given an opportunity to experience success. Once you get that feeling, it grows and feeds itself — but some kids have got to overcome their environments and attitudes that have been imposed on them. In spite of the things that have been perpetrated on my race — holding us in bondage under slavery, then making it illegal to educate us and then subjecting us to long-term discrimination and criticism — we succeed anyway, to a very large extent. We just need to realise what we’re capable of.