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Children’s Author Chris Barton on Modern First Library

Guest Article by: 
Chris Barton
Article Type: 

In early 2014, I read an article about a bookseller’s baby gift registry. I thought, “of course you should give those new parents picture books.” As a picture book author, I can assure you this was a terrific idea.

The only problem was that the newest book mentioned in the article was published during the Nixon administration. No potential shopper reading that article would come away with a sense that, right now, we’re in a marvelous era for new picture books. A more likely outcome would be, “I’ll just take GOODNIGHT MOON, please.”

It gave me an idea: if only there was some way to leverage the public’s interest in tried-and-true picture books in the purchase of both classics and contemporary titles.

I wasn’t interested in simply shifting sales from old to new – booksellers and kids and authors alike would benefit a lot more if those parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and godparents and family friends bought two picture books instead of just one.

That was as far as my idea went. It was just a thought exercise, and one that I mentioned to no one but my wife – until a couple of weekends later. That’s when a pair of ground shifting essays by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers about the lack of diversity in children’s literature ran in The New York Times. The best-known response to those essays was the creation of the We Need Diverse Books advocacy organization.

I wanted to do something, too – not only as an author, but also as a dad, and as a reader, and as a member of various communities, large and small. This was no time for mere thought exercises, which is all my recent idea would have been unless I tweaked it a bit and shared it with someone in the bookselling business who could put it into action – or gently explain its flaws.

So I emailed Meghan Goel, the children’s-book specialist at Austin’s beloved BookPeople. I asked her, “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?” I also wanted to know if such a program might give the publishing industry a bottom-line incentive to provide real support for such books and their creators. So my email to Meghan continued, “Could such an effort be widespread and long-lasting enough that it could reward publishers for doing a better job of making good on their good intentions?”

I’ve never worked in a bookstore. My last retail job involved sacking groceries. There’s tons I don’t know about how booksellers operate. For all I knew, my idea might have been either entirely unoriginal or totally unworkable or both. But I felt a connection to BookPeople. The store had been extremely supportive of local authors and writing organizations and educators and literacy professionals. And that sense of connection with BookPeople gave me confidence that at the very least, Meghan would hear me out. She might not go for my idea, but my experiences with the store gave me reason to believe that my input would be welcomed and appreciated. If nothing else, nobody would ever have to hear me talk about an idea I coulda woulda shoulda shared with BookPeople.

Meghan’s reply? “I love this idea.” Right away, she came up with the name “Modern First Library.” And we went from there.

As I write this three years later, BookPeople’s Modern First Library continues to thrive. Every time I’m in the store, I stop by the display just to admire it.

You can bet I’ll be doing the same at Interabang Books. Knowing that from the very day the store opened, Interabang has had its own Modern First Library – well, that makes me glad all over again that I acted on my quite possibly naive idea, that I shared it, that I didn’t dismiss the notion or keep it to myself.

Discover the great contemporary books included in Interabang’s Modern First Library, and you’ll be glad, too. And I hope you won’t keep it to yourself, either.


Chris Barton is the author of picture books including bestseller SHARK VS. TRAIN, Sibert Honor-winning THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS, and Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List books THE AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH and WHOOSH!: LONNIE JONSON’S SUPER-SOAKING STREAM OF INVENTIONS. He visits schools by the score and also loves speaking to professional gatherings of librarians, educators and his fellow writers. Chris and his wife, novelist Jennifer Ziegler (REVENGE OF THE FLOWER GIRLS, HOW NOT TO BE POPULAR), live in Austin, Texas, with their family. For more information about Chris, please visit www.chrisbarton.info.