Review of the Day: Glitter Everywhere! by Chris Barton, ill. Chaaya Prabhat
Glitter Everywhere! Where It Came From, Where It’s Found, and Where It’s Going
By Chris Barton
Illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat
On shelves June 27, 2023
Sometimes I am allowed the chance to attend the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, a place where international publishers of children’s books join together annually to show off their wares. There are often magnificent exhibits associated with the fair, and this year I had the pleasure of viewing firsthand a celebration of nonfiction children’s books from many parts of the globe, but (let’s be frank) mostly Europe. I saw inventive and creative takes on subjects done in a myriad number of ways, each book more tantalizing and interesting than the last. What did I not see? Some of the most rudimentary, necessary, and essential elements of a nonfiction book for children, almost certainly required in this day and age. In an era where fake news proliferates and facts are treated as permeable, American nonfiction for children has created a set of requirements that are rapidly becoming standardized. I’m talking about glossaries, backmatter, timelines, and (most important of all) a listing of sources. While global children’s nonfiction may look pretty, I’m very happy with what we’re churning out here stateside, and for good reason. When I see a book like Glitter Everywhere! by Chris Barton and Chaaya Prabhat, and I see the sheer levels of care and attention taken with not simply citing sources but establishing what can and cannot be confirmed as true, I feel a swell of joy and pride. I mean, this is a book about glitter, where it came from, the science behind it, and what’s it’s doing to the world today. But it’s also an example of the best kind of nonfiction we’re making for kids in this day and age. Children will come to this book for the sparkles. Grown-ups? Come to this book to find out how to make the best nonfiction for kids possible. Let this book be your guide.
Who loves glitter? Some people love it! Some people loathe it. But where does it come from? What’s its history, its science, and its future? Join Chris Barton and Chaaya Prabhat for a dive into glitter’s influence on the world. You’ll learn why it shines, why it sticks to us, and how it was used in the past. You’ll see how its current iteration was invented and the people who loved and embraced it from the start. Finally, you’ll see the damage it’s wrecking on the environment and the ways that we can embrace a stronger future, glitter or no glitter, for all.
I can’t think of glitter anymore without thinking of that Dmitri Martin one-off joke I heard years and years ago. It’s just a quick soundbite: “Glitter is the herpes of craft supplies.” You hear that and you instantly know what that means. Glitter, for all its charms, is the most beloved and most reviled substance on this earth. This immediately presents author Chris Barton with a problem. How the heck do you do an entire book something this divisive? Do you just plead ignorance and make everything about glitter seem wonderful? I can tell you right now that a good 90% of children’s book authors would have done exactly that. Rather than engage with the controversy, they would have swept the criticism under a proverbial rug. Barton? He sees it as a jumping off point. The very first page of this book reads, “Glitter is lots of things. Tiny. Clingy. Colorful. Loved. Not loved.” He’s addressed right from the start the complicated feelings it engenders. From there, he then branches off into a number of different directions. He looks at the science behind the glitter and the history. He makes it clear that for some communities, like drag performers dating back to the 1960s and Catholic LGBTQ+ churchgoers that get ashes mixed with purple glitter on Ash Wednesday, glitter has a larger place in this world. Yet he also is able to show precisely how it’s hurting our environment and how we need to find safer alternatives in the future. Heck, all this starts with a bookflap. Just the tiniest note appears in this book long before the story even starts. When you open the book you can read some descriptive copy on the book jacket, just under the cover. Then your eyes scan down and you see a small notation at the bottom behind an asterisk. It reads, “Spoiler alert! Traditional glitter can be bad for the planet. That’s why the jacket of this book uses a glitter lookalike.” I just want you to take a step back and appreciate that Barton is not only embracing this complexity, he respects our kids enough to give them a complicated book that shows all sides of an issues. For all that glitter sounds like a simple subject, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.
Years and years ago, Chris Barton created the world’s first biography, and I’m talking for kids or adults, of the guys who created Day-Glo colors. The Day-Glo Brothers was this awesome title done in a retro-James-Flora-esque style picture book. It was also an example of how a children’s book author can bend over backwards when it comes to doing their own original research. No information about these brothers had ever been collected, so it was up to Chris to conduct the interviews and go into the field finding the data he needed. It was the first book of his I ever read and I’ll never forgot the sheer levels of care and attention poured into such a seemingly silly subject. In a very real way, a full 14 years later, I feel that Chris has finally created a true partner or companion to Day-Glo Brothers. Like that book, Glitter Everywhere takes something visual that we all take for granted and delves deep down into its background, origins, and importance. The two books complement one another perfectly, even after all these years. After all, while Chris had to track down family members to interview for Day-Glo, for Glitter he had to do similar research. First off, he had to figure out who even invented glitter. The story, it seems, begins squarely in New Jersey, first with a man named Henry F. Ruschmann and later with two fellows named Leonard Getler and Morris Kirshen. And if you look at the Bibliography at the back of the book, you can see that Barton has been inspecting patents, New Jersey State Industrial Directories, local New Jersey newspaper articles and more to get these facts straight.
More than that, Barton does something I’ve rarely seen an author for children try before. Remember how I said that he respects his young readers enough to be honest with them? That extends to the information he chooses to include. So he might mention that Henry F. Ruschmann invented glitter (which he called originally called “slivers”) but he’ll also include a small sidenote that “There’s just not a lot that we know about the man” so that’s why he always refers to him by his full name in the text. Barton wants to let kids into the process of doing good research. Later, he mentions that while he would have liked to have included the fact that ancient Egyptians crushed beetles to create their own glitter (a “fact” that is repeated all over the internet) he couldn’t track down a reputable source. “No matter how true an unsubstantiated ‘fact’ might sound, including it in a piece of writing makes it hard for readers to trust the rest of what that writer says.” His entire Authors’ Note is a kind of paean to research and getting a story right (even when it would be more fun to fudge the facts).
I read a lot of nonfiction picture book for kids these days. Enough to know when certain tendencies and trends become prominent. This year (2023) I’ve seen a great many fantastic titles, and they all follow a new format. The topic will be introduced, then the history. Science will be worked in there, sometimes in the beginning, sometimes punctuated throughout. The author will do a quick reminder of why we love the topic, and then they’ll move into its problems. This being the early part of the 21st century, those problems are usually environmental. Now the trick to this is that you need to give kids hope at the end. This is usually accomplished by making them aware of what it is that they can do to make a difference in the future. A call to action, if you will. Finally, you get some kind of a note from the book’s creators, and then as much backmatter as you can cram in. Glitter Everywhere follows this formula so well that it might as well be a template for other books. I was particularly impressed by not just the mention of its role historically with drag queens, and its importance to the gay community. Later, Barton goes in a very different direction and shows its links to the child labor industry, and how something even as seemingly innocent as glitter can have dark underpinnings if you dig even a little bit down. Light and dark in a single text, together.
Template or no, you can be the best writer in the world, but if the art isn’t complementing your text then you may as well forget about anyone appreciating your book sufficiently. Artist Chaaya Prabhat has done many a picture book before, but this is her first nonfiction title, so I was curious to see how she handled the material. To my great relief, she’s a natural. The text and images are constantly broken up on the page, so that your eye always rests in the right place with every page turn. Look at how the words appear within the art. Design-wise, I enjoyed the use of different colored fonts to distinguish between additional sidebar facts and the actual text. Chaaya is also very good at honoring Chris’s wishes when it comes to his sources. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t know much about Henry F. Rischmann, and I have to assume that extends to what he even looked like. With that in mind, Chaaya’s images of him are usually from behind, with him wearing a hat and coat. It keeps him present but not so well-defined that you’d be fooled into thinking you knew what he resembled.
Chris Barton isn’t here to yuck anybody’s yum. You love glitter? That’s fine! His book won’t seriously depress you on that fact. But what it will do is give you context and a little understanding that glitter, as cool as it is, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are consequences that come with having it around. That’s why he ends on a hopeful note. “As we come up with better ways of glittering, our cleverness and creativity make us shine too. Our human ingenuity is as remarkable – and persistent! – as any glitter we can imagine.” Chris is making it clear that the kids reading this book have as much of a chance of figuring out how to make sustainable glitter as anyone else. It’s just a question of being inspired. And thanks to this amazing skills researching, explaining, and writing (to say nothing of getting paired with the perfect accompanying illustrator) there’s no one better to deliver that inspiration than Chris Barton. Shine one, Chris. Shine on.
On shelves June 27, 2023
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Watch Chris himself talk a bit about the book. He says he used 155 different sources to research this book!
Filed under: Best Books, Best Books of 2023, Reviews, Reviews 2023
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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