There’s a question I ask student audiences immediately after I read aloud my book What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. It’s a question whose answer is so easy that they think it must be a trick.
|Chris talking about Barbara Jordan's gifts, Forth Worth, TX|
I can point to the moment I got the idea to write a biography of Houston-born Jordan. It was the moment when I opened an email from fellow Texas author Kathi Appelt suggesting I do so.
Like many Texans, I had some idea of the basic outline of Jordan’s career. I knew what they meant when they responded to her name with, “Oh, I miss her” or “Oh, we need her” or “Oh, that voice.”
Only after I started my research did I realize what, in retrospect, seems obvious: Barbara Jordan’s voice was not always THE VOICE OF BARBARA JORDAN.
It was something that grew. Something that developed over time. Something that took shape because of efforts and choices she made, and because she heeded an inner voice that eventually took her from the halls of Congress to the front of a classroom.
|Chris as a second grader and the book he wrote that year|
Just as Jordan grew the natural gift of her speaking voice through practice, through education, and through putting it to public use, there are things that I’ve since learned are essential to my development as a writer.
|Chris with with Jordan's college debate |
coach, Dr. Thomas F. Freeman
|Chris with some of his critique partners: Jennifer Ziegler, |
Cynthia Levinson, Donna Janell Bowman, and Don Tate
Emphasizing all of this to my young audience sets up the question I most want those students to consider: What are their natural gifts, and what can they do to grow them?
Their individual talents may be as different from mine as mine is from the one that Jordan was blessed with. But the specifics of our gifts are not the point.
|Photo by Sam Bond|
Chris Barton is the author of bestseller Shark Vs. Train, Sibert Honor-winning The Day-Glo Brothers, and Whoosh!, included on 19 state reading lists. His newest books include Dazzle Ships, the Mighty Truck early-reader series, and What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?. He visits schools by the score and loves speaking to professional gatherings of librarians, educators, and fellow writers. Visit him at https://chrisbarton.info.