Dedicating ourselves to “This One’s Dedicated to…” by Chris Barton and Jennifer Ziegler
Eight months or so into COVID-19 lockdown, we finally gave in.
After long putting off or downright dismissing an idea that the two of us had for a multimedia sideline (i.e. an unpaid and distracting tangent) to our work as authors, we recognized that conditions had become perfect for giving that idea a try. Namely:
- We missed hanging out with bookmaking friends.
- Our lives had become a bit lacking in terms of novelty.
- Our video-editing skills—thanks to the demand for pre-recorded school presentations—had gone from nonexistent to pretty darn serviceable.
- We still craved answers to a pair of questions that we had long before the pandemic: How do other authors decide whom to dedicate their books to, and what are the stories behind those dedications?
We knew that the impulse had at last gotten the better of us. And as 2021 made its debut, so did our video series, “This One’s Dedicated to…”
These classroom-friendly YouTube conversations, which run between five and ten minutes, are focused solely on the line or two that appear right before the text begins in most trade books for young readers: “For someone,” “To somebody,” “In memory of who are they talking about?”
Between us, we have written nearly 30 picture books, middle grade novels, and YA titles. That means we ourselves have written more than two dozen book dedications, not even counting the books we dedicated to each other (Jennifer’s Revenge of the Flower Girls and Chris’ The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch).
We certainly knew why we had dedicated particular books to particular people, and we knew that our reasons for doing so offered insights into who we are as authors and as individuals. But we also knew that hardly anyone ever asked us about those dedications. And we suspected that we weren’t alone among authors in wishing that somebody would.
We were right.
- Don Tate, William Still and His Freedom Stories
- K.A. Holt, BenBee and the Teacher Griefer
- Emma Otheguy, A Sled for Gabo
- Gordon Korman, Unplugged
- Mike Jung, The Boys in the Back Row
- Dashka Slater, The Book of Fatal Errors
- Kyle Lukoff, Call Me Max
- Karina Yan Glaser, The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found
- Miranda Paul, Speak Up
- Traci Sorell, Classified
- Stephen Shaskan, Pizza and Taco: Best Party Ever!
- Cynthia Leitich Smith, Jingle Dancer
—have exceeded our expectations.
In these initial episodes of “This One’s Dedicated to…,” we’ve savored stories about dedications to bold students, memorable teachers, supportive parents, departed loved ones, cherished editors, and people who inspired those books. We’ve laughed harder, felt more deeply, and experienced greater surprises than we’d hoped or imagined. How we have longed for all of that during this year of social distancing.
And as hard as it can be to edit down those chats and leave out some of the wonderfully digressive parts, it’s been a pleasure to share the heart of each talk with the young readers, librarians, and literacy specialists who we hope will appreciate these videos long after we all move into our fully vaccinated futures.
Among our wishes for “This One’s Dedicated to…” is that it will prompt audience members to take a closer look at the authors’ (and illustrators’) dedications in the new books they read and in the old favorites they revisit. We’d love to hear that readers of all ages have been prompted to wonder about, speculate upon, and perhaps even ask the creator of a book about the connections between the work and who it’s dedicated to.
Our schedule for who we’ll be talking to in future episodes of “This One’s Dedicated to…” stretches well into this fall. Maybe those chats will still be taking place via Zoom, but maybe not. Whenever it happens, we can’t wait to begin recording these conversations face to face, because while our circumstances (and, heaven help us, our degree of day-to-day boredom) will change, we expect that our curiosity about how authors will answer our questions will only grow.
One example: After hearing K.A. Holt read her recent dedication (“For Christine Burroughs: an enigma, a force of nature, and the reason why I will always recognize prepositions as something a squirrel can do to a tree”), Jennifer asked simply, “Why did you dedicate the book to Ms. Burroughs?”
K.A. replied, “She really celebrated teaching in a way that was fun and engaging and divergent, and BenBee and the Teacher Griefer is all about learning divergently and teaching divergently. … She was probably the best teacher I had.”
Through the book’s dedication, K.A. says, she and Ms. Burroughs have since been reunited. “I think I have a new pen pal!”
Dedications are easy to overlook. If every book has them, how special can they be, right? It turns out, you don’t know until you ask. We’re so glad we started asking, and we hope our joy comes through to you, and to all who are watching and listening.
Jennifer Ziegler is the author of the middle grade Brewster Triplets series (Revenge of the Flower Girls, Revenge of the Angels, Revenge of the Happy Campers, and Revenge of the Teacher’s Pets) as well as YA novels including How Not to Be Popular. Her next middle grade novel, Worser, will be published by Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House Books for Young Readers. Jennifer also teaches in the MFA program for Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Please visit her at jenniferziegler.net.
Chris Barton writes picture books, both fiction (Shark vs. Train, Fire Truck vs. Dragon, and Mighty Truck) and nonfiction (Whoosh!, What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?, and All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing). His next nonfiction title, How to Make a Book (About My Dog), will be published this fall by Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing. Chris has advocated for greater diversity in children’s literature by co-founding the Modern First Library program with BookPeople. Please visit him at chrisbarton.info.
Jennifer and Chris are married and live in Austin with their family, including their dog, Ernie.