In an age when the facts may be ‘alternative’ and the political divide in the Lone Star State turns into an epic rift, there is at least one thing that almost has all Texans can agree on: Willie Nelson is a state treasure. Hell, Abbott’s most famous son a national hassd international ambassador for culture and music.
And at the age of 88, he’s showing no signs of slowing down, staying true to his philosophy of being “on the road again” with tour dates while simply posting. The Willie Nelson family. According to Wikipedia, this is his 72nd studio album since 1962 and features his sister Bobbie and children Paula, Amy, Lukas and Micah.
Besides having written thousands of songs, there is another side to literary Willie: he has been both the subject and the author of numerous books, including biographies, autobiographies and pontifications.
But it’s never been the subject of a children’s book until now with Chris Barton’s recent publication. Sister, brother, family: Willie Nelson and Bobbie Nelson, an American childhood in music (32 pages, $ 18.99, Doubleday Books). He co-wrote the book with the Nelson, and it is illustrated by Kyung Eun Han.
As the title suggests, it is also the story of the family and musical collaborations between Willie and his “sister Bobbie”, who at 90 is still sitting on her piano bench next to her younger brother, because she has almost full time both live and in the studio since 1973.
This book is not Barton’s first writing about Willie Nelson. That was in 1989, when he was 17 at Sulfur Springs High School and editor of the school newspaper. Cat tale. One of the perks of the position was being assigned to interview musicians playing at the nearby Hopkins County Regional Civic Center. And so, the teenager ended up on the Willie Nelson & Family bus with a then 55-year-old Nelson just before a show. Not bad.
“It was a small town, so it was not difficult to access [artists]. There weren’t a lot of competing media, so it was just me and a reporter from the local newspaper, ”Barton recalls.
He was first exposed to the music of Willie Nelson through his father, who passed away when Barton was only eight years old. “He did not have a large collection of records, but he had Phases and stages, Red-headed alien and the Waylon and Willie albums, ”Barton says. “He played them a lot, and my attraction to music was a way to stay connected to my dad.”
Sister, Brother, Family begins with the education of the Nelson during the Depression in Abbott, Texas, where they were raised by their loving grandparents “Mama” and “Daddy” Nelson.
They both encouraged Willie and Bobbie’s interest in music, which the children were exposed to via neighbors, church and their own home by singing to tunes like “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “The Great Speckled Bird “.
Eventually they bought Bobbie an old upright piano from the general store and Willie a guitar from a Sears catalog. And when Daddy Nelson died when Willie was six and Bobbie eight, it was the music that helped them overcome that loss.
The siblings started playing in church and school, then as a teenager they joined a band and started performing in dance halls, which initially was not suitable for the very religious Mama.
But when Willie brought home $ 8 earned in one night, the equivalent of what he earned in a the week working in the fields, even she changed her mind. The book begins and ends with Willie and Bobbie returning to this period of their lives. Barton says he got the idea to write a children’s book about Willie Nelson in 2009, and even started a first draft.
“He is such a distinctive and highly regarded person in this country, but also a tremendous music maker. And then or since, there hadn’t been a lot of writing for children about country musicians, ”he says. “There have been books on jazz musicians and more now on rock musicians, but not really country, despite its commercial success.”
He has pitched for the project over the years, without success. But then came the adult memoir from last year Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band written by the Nelson with David Ritz. The idea was put forward in the overall plan of the project that there should also be a children’s version. Barton has been handpicked to suit a picture book audience, focusing on their childhood.
The Round Rock-based author has certainly had a varied career in terms of subjects. His books, produced with different illustrators, range from action-packed fantasy (Shark versus train with Tom Lichtenheld, Fire Truck vs. Dragon with Shanda McCloskey) to introduce young readers to quirky real-life inventors. His debut in 2009 The Day-Glo brothers with Tony Persiani and later Phew! with Don Tate concerned the creators of the Day-Glo paint and the Super Soaker water guns, respectively.
More recently, however, it has gained attention and received praise and accolades for non-fiction books addressing difficult or profound topics for young readers like the Oklahoma City bombing (All of a sudden and forever, with Nicole Xu) and Civil Rights (the next Moving forward on activist Alton Yates, with Steffi Walthall).
And, of interest to Houston, there is her biography of Fifth Ward groundbreaking congresswoman Barbara Jordan, whose stentorious tones inspired the book’s title. What do you do with a voice like that? It was illustrated by Ekua Holmes and selected as Texas Great Read 2019 by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Barton is married to Young Adult (YA) author Jennifer Ziegler, who has written novels including a popular series starring The Brewster Triplets. The pair also host the ongoing YouTube video author interview series. “This one is dedicated to …”
Over the past decade, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of children’s and teenage books written about real, distinguished people and their life stories. But with a new twist, as Barton explains. “The difference now is that the topic has become much broader,” he says.
“When I was a kid, I used to devour these C’schildhood of famous Americans books that contained a lot of fiction and that invented dialogue and whitewashing. Mainly on the Founding Fathers, a few Founding Mothers, and a handful of well-known Native Americans and African Americans. They were the ones that an older generation saw as the people you should know. “
Now, he says, there are much more diverse subjects, including those that are not necessarily “famous”. He points to his The Day-Glo brothers for example. “They weren’t your Abraham Lincoln or Ben Franklin or Thomas Edison subjects.”
Barton says he hasn’t heard directly from the Nelson or anyone on their side since the book was published earlier this month, although he and Ziegler were able to see them briefly behind the scenes on a show. of 2019 at the Smart Financial Center in Sugar Land. Willie Nelson discussed the book during a recent appearance on the Today Show.
Currently, Barton is also focused on promoting another new version with illustrator Sarah Horne, How to make a book (on my dog).
“It’s a non-fiction picture book about how non-fiction picture books are made,” Barton laughs. “It’s very meta. Now, I can say that I did a book about a very famous Texas redhead, and another about a lesser-known red-haired dog!
For more information on Chris Barton and his books, visit ChrisBarton.info.