04 May

“If you’ve never drawn a steamroller, I recommend it.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for May 2018)

Mighty Truck: On the Farm
Welcome to the Q&A for the May edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).

This month I’m talking with illustrator and author Troy Cummings and giving away three signed books: his new picture book Can I Be Your Dog? (Random House) and our even-newer easy readers Mighty Truck: On the Farm and Mighty Truck: The Traffic Tie-Up (HarperCollins).

Our I Can Read books come on the heels — make that wheels — of our two picture books about Mighty Truck, his ordinary-pickup-truck alter ego Clarence, and various vehicular acquaintances.

In Can I Be Your Dog?, the canine main character embarks on a letter-writing campaign to come up with a human companion. Kirkus says in its review, “A large format and bold, exuberant illustrations are well-matched with Arfy’s enthusiastic personality and can-do attitude. The letter format makes this a fine choice for early-elementary students learning to compose letters.”

If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and you want to be the one lucky, lucky, lucky winner of signed copies of On the Farm, The Traffic Tie-Up, and Can I Be Your Dog?, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on May 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Troy Cummings.

Chris: There were some pretty big differences for me between the process of writing our Mighty Truck easy readers and my previous experiences writing picture books, but I’m curious about your perspective as an artist. How did illustrating for the I Can Read format compare to your prior work on picture books and your Notebook of DOOM series?

Troy: It’s been really fun to learn how to illustrate for these different types of books, and the types of reader each book serves.

Troy Cummings

In a picture book, the audience ranges from a baby on a lap, to pre-K kid studying the pictures, to a grade-schooler who can read, to the parent/teacher/librarian/stevedore reading out loud. It’s a wide audience, and I feel like we have lots of room to play in the illustrations.

I can put in some little background details that might be a surprise for the second or third reading, or visual jokes/surprises that happen across the page turn. And I think picture books work best when the illustrations aren’t just showing us what the words are saying, but instead are complementing — or even contrasting — what’s happening in the text.

As for the Notebook of DOOM series, which is a heavily-illustrated early chapter book series, my readers are a more focused group: students who know how to read, and are ready to transition into full chapter books. The DOOM books are structured like a middle grade book — many chapters, multiple characters, with a mystery in each book and an arc that connects the books together.

But they’re also heavily illustrated, with a lower word count and an easier vocabulary (both in terms of what the words mean, and how to “decode” the words for students learning to read). In these books, my illustrations can behave similarly to those in a picture book, but they also need to be a little more direct, in terms of supporting vocabulary or keeping the story clear for readers who come back to chapter 9 a couple days later.

But still, the DOOM books work as read-alouds for parents/teachers/librarians. They kind of straddle that line.

Finally, the I Can Read books have a very specific audience: students who are learning to read — right now! So to that end, I think my job is to support what’s going on in any given moment of the story. The illustrations need to be clear, and simple, and explicit, and show exactly what’s happening in the sentence on that very page. We can still put in some jokes and surprises, but they should never overcomplicate things, or make the reader have to pause and puzzle out what’s going on.

Chris: Mighty Truck and Mighty Truck: Muddymania! have centered on Clarence and his best pal, Bruno, but one of the things I’ve enjoyed about making these easy readers is that they’ve given us a chance to focus on the side characters. Stella is prominent in The Traffic Tie-Up, and Hattie and Mr. Dent get their turns in the upcoming third and fourth I Can Read books.

As the illustrator, do you have a favorite Mighty Truck supporting character, or one that you’re especially hoping to see more of?

Mighty Truck: The Traffic Tie-UpTroy: The supporting characters have all been a blast to dream up. I think my favorite may be Hattie, though, because steamrollers are super-fun to draw. (If you’ve never drawn a steamroller, I recommend it. Very therapeutic.)

I also really enjoyed drawing Zip and Beep, Hattie’s young bulldozer cousins. [Chris adds: These little ones were Troy’s idea, and they’ll be the title characters in our third I Can Read book, coming this December.] They’re loosely based on certain fast-running, sand-digging, early-reading family members of my own!

The character I want to see more of would have to be Throttle, the cat belonging to Mr. Dent, the surf wagon. Throttle has some funny surfing scenes with Mighty Truck in the fourth I Can Read book.

If you’ve never drawn a cat surfing with a monster truck, I recommend it! Less therapeutic, but really fun.

28 Oct

October 2016 Bartography Express: “They are amazed at what he accomplished.”

To get Bartography Express in your inbox each month — and to have a shot at the November giveaway of Space Dictionary for Kids: The Everything Guide for Kids Who Love Space, written by Amy Anderson and Brian Anderson — you can sign up on my home page.

20161021-bartography-express

21 Aug

In which I am interviewed by fourth graders from Graham Elementary

When I visited with the fourth graders at Graham Elementary here in Austin this past April, they followed up with many questions — and artwork. Such as this recreation of one of Don Tate’s illustrations in The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch:

cb-20160817-John Roy Lynch at desk cropped

That drawing of John Roy Lynch is just an example of the great stuff they sent. I believe I’m overdue in answering their questions. So…

Do you enjoy making children’s books?

Yes, I do. I think it’s the perfect job for me.

Do you like animals?

Not all of them, but I like a lot more animals than I dislike.

What inspired you to become an author?

My toddler son wanted me to tell him over and over the story of how I installed a smoke alarm in our house. I wrote that story down, and it was awful, but it got me going.

How long have you been writing?

Almost as long as I’ve been reading. The first story of mine that I know of is one that I wrote in second grade, “The Ozzie Bros. Meet the Monsters.”

Will you make chapter books?

I sure hope so. I’ve written a nonfiction book called Can I See Your I.D.? that had ten chapters, and I wrote a short story for a YA collection, and I hope that I will have more longer-than-a-picture-book fiction published.

How many books have you written?

88 Instruments, which was published just yesterday, is my tenth published book. I’ve written many more that have not been published.

Where do you get your ideas from?

All over. Things I see, things I read about, ideas that pop into my head while I’m running, suggestions from friends and editors — these are just some examples.

How old were you when you started to do books?

I was 29 when I realized I wanted to write books for kids, and almost 38 when my first book was published.

What inspired you to write the book “The Ozzie Bros. Meet the Monsters”?

Star Wars, the Muppets, and Abbott and Costello movies where they meet famous Hollywood monsters.

Do you have any books about your dog?

Not yet, but there are dogs in some of my manuscripts that sure remind me of Ernie.

Do you talk in a different language?

I’ve started relearning the Spanish that I began forgetting after my sophomore year in high school. Duolingo says I’m now 4% fluent.

Have you ever visited different countries?

I went to Mexico and Canada when I was growing up, and this past spring I traveled to Singapore to visit the Singapore American School. That trip included some time wandering around an airport in Qatar.

Have you been on tour?

Yes — to schools in Utah last December to celebrate my nonfiction book The Nutcracker Comes to America, and to cities in Texas and Oklahoma this past spring, in support of my book Mighty Truck.

Have you ever experienced difficult, frustrating times?

I sure have. I’ve been lucky to have family and friends to lean on during those times.

How many awards have you won?

I don’t know how many, but I can tell you the biggest: My first book, The Day-Glo Brothers, won a Sibert Honor from the American Library Association.

And that’s it! Thank you for the great questions, fourth graders — now FIFTH graders! — at Graham Elementary.

21 Feb

Mail call

Recently I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty nifty cards and letters and artwork from students — some at schools I’ve visited, some who have connected with my books without ever meeting me. I look at all of it, and I appreciate all of it, and I thought you might like to see some of it.

Mail call!

A photo posted by Chris Barton (@bartographyatx) on

I've already seen the first fan art for MIGHTY TRUCK, even though the book doesn't come out until the end of March.

A photo posted by Chris Barton (@bartographyatx) on

More MIGHTY TRUCK fan art!

A photo posted by Chris Barton (@bartographyatx) on

"…it was the best day of my life…"

A photo posted by Chris Barton (@bartographyatx) on

31 Dec

Recognition, celebration, validation

Here’s to the end of 2015, everybody. I hope you’ve had a satisfying year, and that no matter how well things have gone, it’s wrapping up for you on a positive note.

If you’re reading this, you’re one of the reasons I feel so fortunate to be doing what I do. Thank you for taking an interest in me and my books.

And if you’re someone who has taken the time to publicly recognize or celebrate or validate the work done by authors of books for kids, thank you especially for that. It makes a difference to us, and I know I’m not the only one who appreciates your efforts.

To close out the year here at Bartography, I want to recognize, celebrate, and validate those efforts by sharing with my readers a few of the kind gestures that folks have made toward my work recently.

If you follow these links, I hope you’ll look around a bit and see what other books have caught their eyes. Maybe you’ll discover your first favorite read of 2016…

Authors Chris Barton and Jennifer Ziegler. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Authors Chris Barton and Jennifer Ziegler. Photo by Sam Bond Photography.

Kate Hannigan interviewed me and also interviewed Jennifer for the Author Of… blog:

Attack Boss Cheat Code - May 2014

Michele Knott at Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook generously spotlighted all of my picture books and then named Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet to her list of My Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books from 2015

Mighty Truck

Public Libraries Online featured An Interview with Troy Cummings, illustrator of my text for our upcoming Mighty Truck series

bookcover-johnroylynch

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch was…

Nutcracker_frontcover

‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America was…

15 Nov

Four new books from me in 2016

Now that the cover of my next book with Don Tate has been revealed, I can show it off here, too. But why stop with just that one?

Through a combination of flukes, good fortune, and starting my work at 5 a.m. far more often than not, I’ve got four new picture books coming out in 2016. They are:

That's Not Bunny!

That’s Not Bunny! (illustrated by Colin Jack; Disney-Hyperion; February 2016)

Mighty Truck

Mighty Truck (illustrated by Troy Cummings; HarperCollins; April 2016)

Whoosh!

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (illustrated by Don Tate; Charlesbridge; May 2016)

88 Instruments

88 Instruments (illustrated by Louis Thomas; Knopf; August 2016)

I’ve been lucky throughout my career to get paired with terrific illustrators, and I’m delighted that you’ll get to see so much evidence of that throughout 2016.

Now, back to work on 2017…

23 Sep

Writing what I’d love to learn

A post I wrote for the Nerdy Book Club has gone online, and I think you’ll like it. It’s titled “Write What You Know? Try Writing What You’d Love to Learn,” and it expands on a theme I discuss a lot in my school visits.

Here’s a taste:

As I write, I also discover more holes in what I know. My progress so far, however, gives me confidence that I’ll be able to fill those gaps, too. Students can fill those gaps as well. What I do, they can do — or learn to do. And I believe they can love it just as much.

If that doesn’t interest you, how about if you just come check out the 80-year-old footage of a pirouetting gas station attendant?