06 Sep

On Dazzle Ships and creative problem solving

Victo Ngai’s endpaper design for Dazzle Ships

Over at my publisher’s blog, I’ve written about how I came to write my new book, Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, and why I think this niche of World War I history is worth reading about today.

Here’s a bit of what I say in that post.

As with other unconventional subjects that I developed a deep interest in (e.g. how daylight fluorescent colors were created, John Roy Lynch’s ten-year rise from slavery to the U.S. Congress, how The Nutcracker became a holiday tradition, the invention of the Super Soaker water gun), after getting my first taste of dazzle ships, I had a couple of reactions:

1. I’d better hurry up and make a nonfiction picture book about this before somebody else does.

2. How did I not know about this already?

I hope you’ll read the rest, and that you’ll like what I have to say so much that you’ll get yourself a copy of Dazzle Ships from my beloved local independent bookseller, BookPeople.

If you’re in Austin, I’ll be there at BookPeople tomorrow night — Thursday, September 7 — to read from and talk about the book.

And if getting to BookPeople tomorrow night isn’t an option, they’ll have freshly signed copies you can buy from wherever you are.

01 Sep

Dazzle Ships sails today!

Today is the official publication day for Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, and published by Millbrook Press.

I’ve posted a lot about the book recently, and you can see those collections of Dazzle Ships interviews, reviews, and articles here.

There’s still more about the book that I haven’t yet mentioned here, so how about if I correct that?

For starters, here’s this peek at the printing process for Dazzle Ships.

Then there’s my editor’s post about the element of surprise in Dazzle Ships and other picture books.

And for your listening pleasure, how about three minutes and 43 seconds of me telling (via TeachingBooks.net) the story of how this book came about?

Shelf Awareness reviewed our book about naval camouflage and saw (GET IT?) a lot to like:

Paired with Barton’s welcoming language and accessible story, Victo Ngai’s illustrations sparkle. Using mixed analogue and digital media, she re-creates historical map templates and incorporates her own dazzle, creating overlapping and interconnecting patterns with strong lines and bright colors. Ngai’s illustrations are inviting, drawing the reader in and slowing the pace of the narrative, each double-page spread an abundance of color and texture and shape, demanding time and reflection.

Finally, for any of you who landed on this page expecting something related to Dazzle Ships, the 1983 album by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), I don’t want you to go away disappointed. The album included a track called “Dazzle Ships (Parts II, III & VII),” which left four parts unaccounted for. Well…

“First shown at the Dazzle Weekend at the Museum of Liverpool, November 2014,” explains the band. “We were initially asked to create something visual to accompany Dazzle Ships (Parts I, IV, V & VI) just in case of inclement weather and for those who may struggle to access the ship’s engine room.”

For more context, see OMD to ‘dazzle’ at Museum of Liverpool:

Our interest in Dazzle Ships began in 1983 when artist and sleeve designer Peter Saville showed us a Vorticist painting by Edward Wadsworth entitled ‘Dazzle Ship in dry dock at Liverpool’ and asked if we could write some appropriate music as he wished to create an album sleeve inspired by the fractured imagery. We duly obliged with a record that not only contained a title track Dazzle Ships, but also reflected the dark and fearfully disjointed mentality of early eighties geo-politics.

Here’s hoping that the Dazzle Ships created by Victo and me will be just as appreciated 34 years later as OMD’s “Dazzle Ships” recordings have been.

24 Aug

Speaking of Victo Ngai’s art in Dazzle Ships


(as I was just the other day)

…today there are two generous posts showing off her illustrations for our book.

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion will be published next Friday, September 1, by Millbrook Press, which is an imprint of Lerner Publishing. The Lerner blog is featuring 5 Questions for Dazzle Ships illustrator Victo Ngai, a post that includes two full spreads from the book in addition to the one you see here. And you’ll get to hear from Victo herself:

[W]hen I showed an advance copy of the finished book to my friends, most of them thought I’d made up the wild patterns on the ships! I had to show them the historical photos at the end of the book to set them straight.

And at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Julie Danielson treats us to The Art of Victo Ngai — specifically, another three spreads from Dazzle Ships.

Many thanks to Jules, Lerner, and especially Victo.

Oh, and a reminder: I’ll be sharing Dazzle Ships with Central Texans at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 7, at BookPeople in downtown Austin. If you think you might be there, please let me know, and if you know someone who should be there, please spread the word!

22 Aug

Victo Ngai’s art in Dazzle Ships: “breathtaking,” “fascinating,” “incredible,” “stunning”


But don’t take my word for it. Let’s see what readers of advance copies of Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Millbrook Press) have had to say about Victo’s illustrations in her first picture book.

Unadulterated:

[D]on’t let me out of here without performing some kind of obeisance to Victo Ngai — this is her first picture book but her editorial, product, cover, and advertising work demonstrates a breathtaking breadth of skill. I’m thinking of getting a new tattoo.

Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook:

The illustrations by Victo Ngai are fascinating. I really like the choice of media and although done digitally, it almost looks like it was done in colored pencil. I felt like this spotlighted the artistry of the camouflage.

Miss Magee’s Reads:

Ngai’s incredible illustrations are dazzling in and of themselves.

Jen Robinson’s Book Page:

Visually, Dazzle Ships is stunning, particularly Victo Ngai’s rendering of the dazzle ships themselves. [She] uses a mix of digital and analog media that works particularly well in conveying backgrounds, like the waves of the ocean, and golden skies. A page spread illustrating the concept of camouflage is sure to both entertain and educate young readers, while a futuristic image at the end is inspiring.

Folks in Central Texas can get an up-close look at Victo’s art at BookPeople on Thursday, September 7, at 6:30 p.m. I’ll be reading, discussing, and signing Dazzle Ships — and showing off its magnificent illustrations — and would love to see you there.

20 Aug

Don Tate and me, together again!

Well, in yesterday’s Austin American-Statesman, anyway.

Don and I don’t have a third book together, but we do both have new books, and our home city’s daily newspaper featured them both, along with several other new titles.

And Don and I both have events coming up in Austin.

Next Sunday, August 27, Don will be launching Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became The Strongest Man On Earth at 3 p.m. at the University of Texas’ Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports.

Then, at BookPeople at 6:30 p.m. on September 7, I’ll be reading from and signing Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion.

We’re both hoping for a strong showing, and we’ll each do our best to dazzle our audience. (Sorry.)

18 Aug

Starred reviews and other good news for Dazzle Ships

I’ve already mentioned the coverage in Kirkus this review, and this interview — of Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, published by Millbrook Press, and available on September 1.

Now I’m happy as can be to point you toward what some of the other major review publications have had to say about the book.

Booklist calls the book “an inspiring story of creativity and adds:

Ngai’s swirling, art nouveau–style illustrations replicate some of the bold shapes and designs on the so-called “dazzle ships,” and the soft colors and stylized figures nicely soften the wartime theme and focus attention to the ships. Barton adds plenty of historical context, illuminating other naval defense schemes of the period, as well as the role of women in creating dazzle patterns.

Dazzle Ships received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which said in part:

“Sometimes desperate times call for dazzling measures,” writes Barton in conclusion, underscoring the importance of creative problem solving. Reflective author and artist notes, a timeline with b&w photographs, and a reading list wrap up a conversational, compelling, and visually arresting story that coincides with the 100th anniversary of its subject.

And our book earned a second starred review, from School Library Journal:

The well-written, intriguing text is complemented by Ngai’s vibrant and surreal illustrations that skillfully recreate the glittering water and the striking camouflaged vessels. … With the commemoration of the centenary of World War I, this book is a fascinating selection that will captivate readers, especially war story enthusiasts.

I hope you’re intrigued enough to get the word out — and show up in person, if you can — for my September 7 reading, discussion, and signing of Dazzle Ships at Austin’s BookPeople.

17 Aug

My first extended conversation about Dazzle Ships*

*with someone not a) directly involved in its creation, or b) married to me

Julie Danielson recently interviewed me for Kirkus Reviews about my upcoming picture book Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Millbrook Press), illustrated by Victo Ngai. Here’s a taste:

Jules: So, what was it like for you to see Victo’s illustrations for the first time?

Chris: My reaction to the first cover sketch my editor shared was (and I have the email to prove it): “Oooooh!!!” And I was at least somewhat prepared for what Victo’s art in this book might look like, because I had seen samples of her work before she was selected as the illustrator. I knew it was going to be a visually fantastic book.

But even then, when I saw the first color art for Dazzle Ships — it was the two-page spread for “Britain, the United States, and their allies turned things around…” — my response was, “[H]oly moly, is that artwork astounding! I’m looking forward more than ever to seeing the rest.”

I had fun chatting with Julie, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.

If you like the sound of this book, here are a couple of dates to keep in mind:

September 1: Publication day! Buy Dazzle Ships from your most beloved independent bookseller.

September 7: If you’re in Austin, come hear me read and discuss Dazzle Ships that evening at my most beloved independent bookseller.

16 Jun

Good news from Kirkus — and from Kirkus!

Yesterday I went looking for the just-published Kirkus review of my next book, Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, and to my surprise I also found a review of Book or Bell?, my other upcoming 2017 title.

To my delight, too, as both reviews have favorable things to say. Whew!

From the review of Book or Bell?:

[T]he text and artwork become silly to the point of laughter, as Henry’s refusal to leave his book causes a messy chain reaction… One elected official after another each demands louder bells, which cause increasingly more mayhem. … Finally, Ms. Sabio, who was rudely interrupted by the mayor when she tried to explain why Henry stayed put, saves the day with a simple solution. A zany, rollicking story with hilarious illustrations.

I’m glad to see that the reviewer loves Ashley Spires‘ art in Book or Bell? as much as I do, and the same goes for Victo Ngai‘s illustrations in Dazzle Ships.

From the Kirkus review of Dazzle Ships:

Ngai uses analog and digital media to great effect, from the dazzling cover (which will attract many readers all by itself) to the range of designs employed, applying an appropriate period aesthetic throughout. [I]t’s a fascinating volume about a little-known side of the war. An eye-catching title sure to dazzle.

Dazzle Ships will be published by Lerner Publishing/Millbrook Press September 1, and Book or Bell? is due out from Bloomsbury on October 17.

17 May

I’m visiting schools in the Mid-Atlantic states in 2018!

My largest school audience ever. I’m pretty good with smaller groups, too.

Details are still coming together, but I’m going to be making my first-ever author visits to schools in the Mid-Atlantic states in spring 2018. If you’re in Delaware, Maryland, eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, northeastern Virginia, and thereabouts and would be interested in booking me, I’d love to hear from you.

My Author Visits page has more information about my presentations. I can expand or condense my “Write What You’d Love to Learn” presentation to suit a wide range of audience ages and sizes, and I’ll be tailoring it for each of my upcoming books (Dazzle Ships, Book or Bell?, and What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?, my 2018 picture book biography of Barbara Jordan).

I’ve also got lots more photos of me in action at my school visits. Those all represent great memories for me, and I do my best to make that true for the schools I visit, too. How about if we make some more of those memories together?

19 Apr

Bibliography for Dazzle Ships

The back matter for Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion includes a two-page timeline with archival photographs, my author’s note, Victo Ngai’s illustrator’s note, and suggestions for further reading.

With all this material that Millbrook Press did include in those final pages, there wasn’t room for a bibliography of the sources I found most helpful in writing the text for the book.

So, I’m presenting them here, and the book includes the URL for the Dazzle Ships page on my website, which in turn links to this post.

Anderson, Ross. Abbott Handerson Thayer. Syracuse, New York: Everson Museum, 1982.

Ball, Philip. Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen. New York: Random House, 2014.

Behrens, Roy R. Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books, 2009.

Behrens, Roy R. Camoupedia (blog). Available at http://camoupedia.blogspot.com. Accessed March 21, 2017.

Behrens, Roy R. False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books, 2002.

Black, Jonathan. “‘A few broad stripes’: Perception, deception and the ‘Dazzle Ship’ phenomenon of the First World War,” in Contested Objects: Material Memories of the Great War, edited by Nicholas J. Saunders and Paul Cornish. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Blechman, Hardy. Disruptive Pattern Material: An Encyclopedia of Camouflage. Richmond Hill, Ontario: Firefly Books, 2004.

Edwards, Paul, editor. Blast: Vorticism 1914-1918. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2000.

“First World War dazzle ships.” Merseyside Maritime Museum. Available at http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/archive/displays/dazzle-ships/index.aspx. Accessed March 21, 2017.

Forbes, Peter. Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2009.

Friedman, Norman. Naval Weapons of World War One. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Seaforth Publishing, 2011.

Goodwin, Paul. “Dazzle Ships.” Mystic Seaport. Available at http://educators.mysticseaport.org/artifacts/dazzle_ships/. Accessed March 21, 2017.

Gordon, Jan. “The Art of Dazzle Painting,” Land & Water, December 12, 1918.

Hartcup, Guy. Camouflage: A History of Concealment and Deception in War. New York: Scribner’s, 1980.

Hurd, Archibald. The Merchant Navy, Vol. III. London: John Murray, 1929.

Hurst, Hugh. “Dazzle Painting in War-Time.” The International Studio, Volume 68, 1919.

Kaempffert, Waldemar. “Fighting the U-Boat with Paint,” Popular Science Monthly, April 1919.

Massie, Robert K. Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea. New York: Random House, 2003.

McRobbie, Linda Rodriguez. “When the British Wanted to Camouflage Their Warships, They Made Them Dazzle.” Smithsonian.com, April 7, 2016. Available at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/when-british-wanted-camouflage-their-warships-they-made-them-dazzle-180958657/. Accessed March 21, 2017.

Murphy, Hugh, and Martin Bellamy. “The Dazzling Zoologist: John Graham Kerr and the Early Development of Ship Camouflage.” The Northern Mariner, Volume 19, April 2009.

Naval Investigation: Hearings Before the Subcommittee of the Committee on Naval Affairs, United States Senate, Sixty-Sixth Congress, Second Session. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1921.

Overy, Paul. “Vorticism,” in Concepts of Modern Art: From Fauvism to Postmodernism, edited by Nikos Stangos. London: Thames and Hudson, 1994.

“Patterns in Practice: The Art of Conflict” (interview with James Taylor of the Imperial War Museum). Patternity, October 3, 2014. Available at http://explore.patternity.org/news/patterns-in-practice-the-art-of-war/. Accessed March 21, 2017.

Rankin, Nicholas. A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Raven, Alan. “The Development of Naval Camouflage.” USN Camouflage 1941-1945. Available at http://www.shipcamouflage.com/development_of_naval_camouflage.htm. Accessed March 21, 2017.

“Razzle Dazzle.” 99% Invisible, October 5, 2012. Available at http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/episode-65-razzle-dazzle/. Accessed March 21, 2017.

Rose, Kenneth. King George V. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

Wilkinson, Norman. A Brush with Life. London: Seeley Service & Co Ltd., 1969

Wilkinson, Norman. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 12th ed., vol XXX, “Camouflage: Naval Camouflage.” London: The Encyclopaedia Britannica Company, Ltd., 1922

Williams, David L. Naval Camouflage 1914-1945: A Complete Visual Reference. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2001.

Wilson, David A. H. “Avian Anti-Submarine Warfare Proposals in Britain, 1915-18: The Admiralty and Thomas Mills,” International Journal of Naval History, April 2006.