17 Oct

More stars for Barbara

My newest book, What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan — illustrated by Ekua Holmes and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster — has received a couple of shiny new reviews that I’m excited to share.

In a starred review, School Library Journal called the book “a timely yet subtle call-to-action … supremely accessible … an extraordinary book,” adding that “Everything succeeds in this collaborative effort to accurately reflect the power of Jordan’s voice and the impact she made on those she worked with and for” and concluding that the book is “An essential purchase for nonfiction collections.”

Shelf Awareness also awarded a star in its review:

Chris Barton’s (Dazzle Ships) strong, engaging text is well-matched by the stunning hues and bold textures of Ekua Holmes’s (Out of Wonder) mixed-media illustrations. Differing type sizes and colors, along with a generous trim size and strategic use of blank space, make the text easily readable and each illustration stand out.

Those professional reviews mean a lot, but so do the responses to the book from schools I’ve visited in Indiana, Virginia, Maryland, and Texas, including one I received yesterday.

Upon seeing me, one student asked, “You wrote What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? — that’s my favorite book!”

That’s the first time I’ve heard that about this new book, and there’s no better feeling.

25 Sep

Today’s the day for my Barbara Jordan book

Today — 1,889 days after my friend Kathi Appelt first suggested I write this book — brings the publication of What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.

Illustrated by Ekua Holmes and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, our book tells the story of how my fellow native Texan developed the natural gift of her speaking voice into a tool for instructing, imploring, and inspiring colleagues, students, and fellow citizens to make our political system work better for all of us.

Over at the Nerdy Book Club, I’ve got a guest post today called 22 More Barbara Jordan Books, Please. I hope you’ll go take a look. Here’s some of what you’ll see:

[F]or What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?, I’ve got an additional hope: that readers of all ages will be inspired to make more books about Barbara Jordan. That’s a pretty lofty dream, but hear me out: Barbara Jordan’s life and career are fascinating to me. And I frankly find it incredible that — more than 22 years after her death — this picture book created by Ekua Holmes and me is the only literary nonfiction title about her to be published for young readers.

I’m also delighted to see others already celebrating the publication of this book, none with more enthusiasm than leaping librarian Stacey Rattner and her elementary students in Castleton, New York.

They’re already thinking about how they’re going to use their voices. How are you going to use yours?

19 Sep

Why must I wait for What Do You Do…?

We’re six days away from the September 25 publication of What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster). And I know that, given that this book has been in the works for more than five years, a few more days should barely register as a blip.

But I’m so excited about this book, and for this book, and for all the readers who will be getting reacquainted with Barbara Jordan, or getting better acquainted, or learning about her for the first time, that the wait for next Tuesday just seems to go on and on.

Last week helped. I visited half a dozen elementary schools in San Antonio and read What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? to student audiences at each of them. Would it make me a little self-conscious to tell you that reading my text aloud — in the context of Ekua Holmes’ artwork, and of the video clips of Barbara Jordan included in my presentation, and of the historical moment we find ourselves in — gave me goosebumps?

Yes, it would. But y’all…

It gave me goosebumps.

So, that’s been my reaction to this book. Here’s what some other folks have been saying about What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?:

Publishers Weekly called the book “a timely, lyrical celebration of Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.”

The book’s editor, Andrea Welch, said:

This book is a story of tenacity — Barbara ran and lost twice before being elected to the Texas Senate. It’s a story of helping those with less power — she fought for better pay for farmers and for the voting rights of Mexican Americans. A story of finding common ground—Barbara was known for befriending colleagues on both sides of the political aisle so that they could find a way to work together. Barbara Jordan passed away in 1996, but the things she fought for and the way she fought for them are more relevant than ever.

Educator Alyson Beecher said:

Ekua Holmes’ artwork is absolutely stunning. The more I see of her work the more I am blown away. Holmes captures the spirit and emotions of Barbara Jordan’s life and work on each page.

In his review, teacher Gary Anderson concluded:

Is Barbara Jordan still relevant? Oh, yes. Thanks to Chris Barton, Ekua Holmes, and this book, she will now speak to a new generation

At A Year of Reading, Franki Sibberson added:

This is an incredible biography for several reasons. The writing makes the story very engaging for readers who don’t know. Barbara Jordan. The focus on her work and the power her voice had works well and the illustrations are unbelievable.

Michele Knott included What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? on her “2019 Mock Sibert list… so far!

And librarian Barbara Moon made my day when she wrote:

This exceptional picture book is a treat for the mind, heart, and eyes. What a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman. Well done, Mr. Barton and Ms. Holmes.

Finally, I’d also like to point out that the beauty created by Ekua Holmes this year isn’t limited to our book. In fact, it’s not limited to books at all.

12 Sep

My Q&A with Lone Star Literary Life


This week the Lone Star Literary Life newsletter features an interview with me, discussing What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? and lots more.

Among the questions that Michelle Newby Lancaster asked me:

You’ve said that in these unsettling times you often ask yourself, “What would Barbara Jordan do?” What do you think she would do today as the country faces extraordinary times again?

Check out my answer, and the whole Q&A.

06 Sep

Bringing back Grandpa Patten: the story of my favorite illustration in What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? (Featured post and giveaway for September 2018)

Welcome to the featured post for the September edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here)!

Instead of a two-question Q&A with another author, this month I’m focusing on What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, written by me, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, and coming September 25 from Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster.

Kirkus has given a starred review to this book, which it calls “a moving portrait of a true patriot who found ways to use her gift to work for change.”

I’m giving away five (!!!!!) signed copies of What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and would like to be one of the winners, just let me know via email before midnight on September 30, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

Now, let’s talk about Barbara Jordan’s grandfather.

The average time it takes one of my picture books to go from initial idea to publication is around five years, and sure enough it was five years ago this Saturday that I finished the first draft of what I was already calling What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?

Many parts of the text in the finished book — for instance, “The president, Barbara said, must go. The president went.” — were there from the very beginning. Some parts of the final text came later, as recently as the past few months.

And then there’s Grandpa Patten. Originally, he was right there in the opening paragraphs of the manuscript. On September 8, 2013, it began like this:

Growing up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, Barbara Jordan didn’t look like other kids — not even her own sisters.
She didn’t act like other kids, either. Her father insisted on that. Grandpa Patten did, too, in his way.
And she sure didn’t sound like other kids. Not with that voice of hers.

Grandpa Patten, Barbara’s maternal grandfather, was special to Barbara. She would go visit him each weekend. In fact, the first chapter in her 1979 autobiography was titled “Grandpa Patten.”

Here’s part of what she said about him in Barbara Jordan: A Self-Portrait, co-authored by Shelby Hearon:

When I knew him best, those years of my going there every Sunday, he was in the junk business. He had a very large wagon and two mules, which he kept in the heart of the old Fourth Ward, which is now downtown Houston. … Grandpa didn’t want me to be like the other kids. That came through loud and clear. He would say this very directly. There were kids who lived just behind my grandfather’s house in Fourth Ward that he did not want me to associate with because he said: “You don’t have to be like those others.” In relation to other kids he would say: “You just trot your own horse and don’t get into the same rut as everyone else.”

Over the years, the opening lines in What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? changed in a few key respects, one of which was that Grandpa Patten went away. To streamline the text and get to that first mention of Barbara’s voice more quickly, by the end of 2013 I had delayed the introduction of her father and cut the reference to her grandfather entirely.

In 2015 Beach Lane Books bought the manuscript and brought on Ekua Holmes to illustrate the book. In her own research for this project, Ekua came across the story of Grandpa Patten and asked if I might be open to including in the text a mention of Barbara’s relationship with him. She even had a specific spot in mind.

Ekua’s insight was a great one. The ideal place for Grandpa Patten was right where she had suggested:

Barbara was proud of herself, and proud of her voice.
It was laying a path for her.
But where would that path lead?
On Sunday evenings, Barbara would talk things over with Grandpa Patten.
Would she become a preacher like her father, and like her mother could have been?
Or a teacher, like those who encouraged her at Phillis Wheatley High?
Or perhaps she’d become a lawyer.

Not only was bringing back Grandpa Patten — the person in Barbara Jordan’s childhood to whom she was the closest — the absolute right thing to do for the text, but it also set the stage for Ekua to create what has become my absolute favorite illustration in this entire book:

Thank you, Grandpa Patten, for all that you did to shape Barbara Jordan. And thank you, Ekua Holmes, for all that you did — cover to cover — to shape What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?

04 Sep

When boxes of bookmarks arrive, it must be school-visit season again

Lo and behold, look what showed up on Friday:

Just in time for the start of this year’s school visits, it was our first shipment of our newest two-sided, hers-and-his bookmarks, and I think they’re beautiful.

Jennifer and I will leave these bookmarks for the audiences at each campus where we give presentations, though some lucky students will receive bookmarks from before the publication of Jennifer’s Revenge of the Teacher’s Pets (this past June) and my own What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? (coming three weeks from today).

But those aren’t leftovers — they’re vintage!

26 Aug

Dazzle Ships: The Video

About a year ago, I mentioned that my book Dazzle Ships (Millbrook Press) had received a starred review from School Library Journal.

Well, I’m delighted to let you know that Dazzle Ships has now received a second star from SLJ — this time for the 25-minute DVD produced by Dreamscape.

From the review:

Victo Ngai’s illustrations are closely scanned and sometimes simply animated as Johnny Heller narrates the text set to taut, compelling music and appropriate sound effects. … This extraordinary, fascinating look into a little-known historical event has multiple curriculum connections, from history to art. It would be a valuable addition to any collection and inspire viewers to do further research.

For a visual sampling of the magic Dreamscape has worked, here’s the trailer for the DVD:

You can order the DVD — or watch it for free on Hoopla — by visiting the Dreamscape site.

15 Aug

Dazzle Ships wins a Writers’ League of Texas Book Award

Good things happen when you take a nap.

Take this past Monday, for instance. As usual, I was up at 5 a.m. to start my workday, and by early afternoon I was no longer functioning at full strength.

So, I lay down on the couch with my dog, let my brain recharge for half an hour (give or take), and awoke to learn that I’d won the 2017 Writers’ League of Texas Book Award in the Picture Book category.

I’ve been a finalist a few times over the years, but this honor for Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (illustrated by Victo Ngai and published by Millbrook Press/Lerner Books) is the first time I’ve won the top prize from the WLT.

You can see all the winners, finalists, and other honorees here.

Many thanks to the Writers’ League and the judges — in all categories — for the work that goes into these awards. I can assure you that they’re meaningful to writers, but the reader in me appreciates them as well, as the list of titles seems like a pretty good bunch to put on my to-read list with the public library.

And if my library — or yours — doesn’t already have all of these titles in its collection, I believe a new-purchase request in order…

08 Aug

All the college kidlit conferences (as of August 2018)

Or, more formally, “A Comprehensive List of U.S. College- and University-Sponsored or -Hosted Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conferences, Festivals, and Symposia.” (All of them that I could find, anyway).

Several years ago, I was looking for such a list, wondered why I couldn’t find one, and decided to just go ahead and make one myself.

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, written by me, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, and coming September 25 from Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster

Since then, I’ve periodically updated and reposted it, and I plan to continue doing so. If I’ve missed any, or included some that no longer exist, won’t you please let me know in the comments section?

Arizona
University of Arizona Tucson Festival of Books

California
University of Redlands Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Literature Festival

Colorado
Metropolitan State University of Denver and University of Colorado at Denver Colorado Teen Literature Conference

Connecticut
University of Connecticut Connecticut Children’s Book Fair

Florida
Stetson University M. Jean Greenlaw Children’s Literature Conference

Georgia
Kennesaw State University Conference on Literature for Children and Young Adults
The University of Georgia Conference on Children’s Literature

Hawaii
Chaminade University of Honolulu Conference on Literature and Hawai’i’s Children

Indiana
Anderson University Elizabeth York Children’s Literature Collection & Festival
Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis and Indiana University East 2019 Children’s Literature Association Conference (ChLA 2019)

Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio
Northern Kentucky University, Thomas More College, University of Cincinnati, and Xavier University Ohio Kentucky Indiana Children’s Literature Conference

Kansas
Kansas State University Conference of Children’s Literature in English, Education, and Library Science

Kentucky
Asbury University Children’s Literature Conference

Maryland
Frostburg State University Spring Festival of Children’s Literature
Salisbury University Children’s and Young Adult Literature Festival

Massachusetts
Framingham State University Swiacki Children’s Literature Festival
Simmons College Children’s Literature Summer Institute and The Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium

Minnesota
University of Minnesota Kerlan Award Ceremony and Chase Lecture
University of St. Thomas Hubbs Children’s Literature Conference

Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival

Missouri
Missouri State University Children’s Literature Festival of the Ozarks
Truman State University Children’s Literature Festival
University of Central Missouri Children’s Literature Festival

Nebraska
Concordia University Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival

Nevada
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Gayle A. Zeiter Young Adult and Children’s Literature Conference

New Jersey
Montclair State University New Jersey Council of Teachers of English Spring Conference
Rutgers University One-on-One Plus Conference

New York
Nazareth College Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival
The State University of New York at Potsdam Journey Into Literacy (Thanks to Rebecca Donnelly for bringing this one to my attention.)
Stony Brook University – Southampton Southampton Children’s Literature Conference

Ohio
Bowling Green State University Literacy in the Park
Kent State University Virginia Hamilton Conference
The University of Findlay Mazza Museum Summer Conference and Weekend Conference
Youngstown State University English Festival

Pennsylvania
Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference
University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg Children’s Literature Conference

Tennessee
Middle Tennessee State University Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival

Texas
The University of Texas at San Antonio National Latino Children’s Literature Conference, co-sponsored by The University of Alabama School of Library and Information Studies

Utah
Brigham Young University Symposium on Books for Young Readers
Utah Valley University Forum on Engaged Reading

Virginia
The College of William and Mary Joy of Literacy and Literature Conference
Hollins University Francelia Butler Conference
Longwood University Summer Literacy Institute and Virginia Children’s Book Festival
Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference

Washington
Western Washington University Children’s Literature Conference

Wisconsin
Northland College Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conference
University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh Children’s Literature Conference

01 Aug

“Why are these two criminals so well known?” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for August 2018)

Welcome to the Q&A for the August edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here)!

My conversation this month is with Dallas-based author Karen Blumenthal, whose YA nonfiction title Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend will be published on August 14 by Viking Books for Young Readers.

In Bonnie and Clyde, Karen — whose previous subjects have ranged from Steve Jobs to the Tommy gun to Title IX — cuts through mythology and pop-culture perceptions to get at the truth of what the notorious Texas outlaws did and why they did it.

Booklist gave a starred review to this “exquisitely researched biography,” also calling it an “extraordinarily successful resource about a painful time in history and a complicated, infamous pair.”

If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and you to win Bonnie and Clyde, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on August 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Karen Blumenthal.

Chris: At the Texas Library Association conference this past April, as you were signing copies of Bonnie and Clyde, an attendee nearby pulled me aside and wondered aloud if your book glorified violence. Knowing you — even though I hadn’t yet read the book — I knew that you would have had other reasons for telling this story for young readers. So, what did motivate you?

Karen: That’s a great question! I actually came to this story with a similar idea — but from the opposite angle: Why are these two criminals so well known and, well, iconic? Why do they have that level of fame despite their unforgivable actions? And what would that tell us about celebrity today?

The modern comparison that stuck in my head are the Kardashians. Honestly, why are they famous?

Young people are familiar with the names Bonnie and Clyde. They are all over music lyrics and other cultural references, even though young people have likely not seen [the 1967 movie starring starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty] and know little about them. So telling their story seemed like a provocative way to show how a modern legend — even a questionable one — is made.

And then, as I got into the story, there were other themes about what contributed to who they became: intense poverty, police abuse (at a time when police forces were very different than today), and prison.

And, to answer the observer’s concern, the book does not glorify violence. In fact, the School Library Journal review says: “This historical true-crime story is recommended for providing nuanced perspective without glorifying the misdeeds that shaped its subjects’ lives and deaths.”

Chris: In addition to creating your books, you’ve also been an involved advocate for public libraries, and earlier this year you and Grace Lin cofounded the #kidlitwomen* online campaign to address women’s and gender issues in the children’s literature community. What are the common threads running through those three passions of yours?

Karen: Tough one! I guess I got involved in each because I care deeply about them and was foolish enough to believe I could bring something to the table.

I started writing nonfiction for young people after struggling to find strong narratives for a daughter who loved layered true stories. I felt like my decades as a journalist gave me the research and story-telling skills to make complex subjects accessible to younger readers. Honestly, I love everything about it!

Because I do a lot of research and I care about my community, libraries are incredibly important to me. In the years after the financial crisis, the Dallas city manager cut and cut and cut the library’s budget. And then one day, she proposed cutting the hours to 20 a week.

I think my head exploded. I did some research and discovered that the Dallas Public Library had become the worst funded urban library in the U.S.

I took this research to the Friends of the Dallas Public Library and ended up on the board and then as chair. An amazing team of library advocates worked for several years to help the City Council understand why libraries matter. Today, the budget has been restored and all branches are open at least six days a week for the first time ever.

We have a great director in Jo Giudice — in fact, this Bonnie and Clyde book is dedicated to her and the awesome library staff!

#kidlitwomen* came out of a conversation that Grace Lin and I started at a gathering in January and turned into an active Facebook group, with dozens of provocative essays in March. It’s still a work in progress, but hopefully, we have spurred some conversation and thinking about women’s and gender issues that will help make our community more fair and equitable.