Bartography Express, June 2020
Hey there,
I'm torn about what to talk about first this month, but I believe I'll start with author Karen Blumenthal, a friend of mine who died two weeks ago at age 61. I wrote about Karen shortly after she passed , but I realize now that I have more to say.
Aesthetically, this photo of Karen and me — taken at the 2013 Texas Library Association conference — isn't all that great, but I love how happy we both look in each other's company. It's the only picture I have of us.

Karen wrote nonfiction for teens and tweens, and this past weekend, I finished reading her newly published Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights . I believe it's her best book, and it brings to mind an aspect of her work that I didn't mention in my previous appreciation.

In addition to researching, reporting, and writing marvelous books, in recent years Karen teamed up with author-illustrator Grace Lin to found Kidlitwomen* , a campaign that examined inequality in children's literature — inequality not only across gender lines, but intersectional inequality as well.

As part of the Kidlitwomen* initiative, Karen edited this downloadable "How to Diversify Your KidLit-Related Lists" flowchart that I had previously created. Janie Bynum designed it, and I'm so proud of the work the three of us did together.

There's a connection between those projects of Karen's and her final book. Throughout Jane Against the World , she made a point of mentioning the additional reproductive hardships faced in the United States by women who aren't white. Doing so was a deliberate act of awareness — of looking well beyond one's own experiences — that made a powerful book even better. It's an effort that other white people would do well to emulate .

***

My most recent author-y outing was a visit to Austin bookseller BookPeople to sign copies of All of a Sudden and Forever and Fire Truck vs. Dragon , way back on March 13.

Now here we are in June, and I'm pleased as can be that I'll be returning to the store this Thursday to socially distance myself just outside its doors so that I can sign copies of these books:
Online shoppers can purchase these titles of mine and either pick them up curbside or have them shipped, and I've been told that orders received today, tomorrow, or Wednesday will be in my stack to sign on Thursday. BookPeople and I would truly appreciate your support.

Some of the books in that stack will be for students who attended — watched? — my recent virtual visits to elementary schools here in the Austin area. In addition to those events, in the past few weeks I have spoken to students in Washington, DC; Baltimore; and Providence, RI.

These appearances have been such learning opportunities. Before COVID-19, I had done the occasional Skype visit, and those were primarily Q&A sessions with students whose librarians had already, in person, made them familiar with one or more of my books.

And the 350 or so in-person school visits that I had done during the past three and a half years had resulted in a process — from the initial inquiry to the post-visit survey that I sent out — that was pretty smooth and predictable for my hosts and me.
The virtual author visits that I have done this spring — and which I am continuing to offer for next school year — have called for more flexibility, consultation, and on-the-fly problem-solving by my hosts and me. And the overall experience reminds me of an answer I give when students ask me what I love about writing books.

I don't love writing books because it's easy, I tell them. I love writing books because it's a fun challenge. And it turns out that virtual visits are fun challenges, too.

One upside of these visits is that students' engagement with my books and with me may be broken up into multiple sessions or videos that are spaced days or even weeks apart.

That means that these children may have more time to think about and submit questions for me to answer. They may have an opportunity to more deeply consider what they most want to learn from an author.

At the same time, my ability to receive and consider their questions is not limited by where in the audience they're sitting or by the length of my microphone cord, so they may experience a degree of interaction that they wouldn't in person.

Plus, instead of just being told after my visit about a student (or two or three) who lost a tooth during my presentation, now I get webcam views of kids working those loose teeth back and forth while I talk. And if that's not getting close to an audience, I don't know what is.

If you're affiliated with a school or district and would be interested in having me connect with its students about Barbara Jordan, Shark vs. Train , research, revision, or any other topic, please mention me to your librarian, library services director, English language arts or social studies teacher or district coordinator, instructional coach, or principal , or just let me know who to reach out to, and I'll gladly do that myself.

***

Often in this newsletter, I'll brag on My Favorite Author in the Whole Wide World. But this month I'd like to instead direct you to a fine piece of writing by Jennifer's dad, My Favorite Father-in-Law in the Whole Wide World, Jim Ford of Victoria, Texas.

Jim's guest column in the Victoria Advocate , " Young Americans might prefer to live in a more truly democratic country ," is well worth your while. (And maybe worth your own parents', as well...)

***
Now it's time for my monthly Q&A and new-book giveaway. My guests are Kelly Carey and Qing Zhuang, author and illustrator of How Long Is Forever? (You can insert your own lockdown joke here.)

This picture book, a debut for both creators, centers on a warmly philosophical conversation between a boy and his grandfather while they wait for a blueberry pie to finish baking.

If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and you want to be the winner of How Long Is Forever? , just say so in a reply to this email before midnight on June 30 , and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Kelly and Qing .