If you have a young reader at home, you might know the name Emily Barth Isler. And if you are a longtime Marylander or a news fan, you probably at least recognize her maiden name: Her father is veteran WMAR newscaster Andy Barth, and her grandfather was late Washington Post columnist Alan Barth.

After years in New York City and now Los Angeles, the Columbia native, journalist and author of middle-grade fiction is returning home to Maryland to promote her work, and to revisit her very deep roots in writing — and in the state.

“You know they say you can’t go home again, but in the best and most important ways, I’m getting the opportunity to do so,” said Isler, who will appear May 9 at Columbia’s new indie bookstore Queen Takes Book, and May 11 at the community’s Books In Bloom festival. “It’s so much more special to be with the people who raised me and shaped me.”

Isler’s first novel, the award-winning 2021 book “AfterMath,” touched on grief and the importance of connection. “The Color of Sound,” released just last month, explores the mysteries of music, identity and a magical link between the past and future.

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Isler’s link to journalism and storytelling is more than genetic. She recalls seeing the look on the faces of locals who recognized her father from television. “It felt very normal. I knew it was very special,” said Isler, who used to go with her father to the WMAR newsroom, where he worked for 35 years. Those visits directly affected her future. “One aspect of my immense privilege was that I saw writing as a viable career. Some people’s parents said that everyone had more stable or traditional jobs, and writing was artsy and scary and not dependable. My dad was a wonderful example to me.”

Before exploring writing herself, Isler’s artiness extended to acting: She performed locally at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, and on ABC’s “One Life To Live.” The Wilde Lake High School graduate also studied at Wesleyan University and did public relations for the Baltimore Orioles, as well as wrote freelance beauty pieces for Allure. She and her family relocated to the West Coast in 2019, intending to return to Maryland for frequent visits before COVID made that temporarily impossible.

“The pandemic threw a pivot into everything,” she said, affecting her ability to do all of the promotion she’d envisioned for “AfterMath” — something that I, as an author whose book tour and live appearances for my March 2020 debut went poof, understand. It sucks. But Isler was able to attend the 2023 Books in Bloom festival, and is proud to return this year for “The Color of Sound.”

Her appearance at Queen Takes Book is an opportunity to participate in a discussion of the crucial issue at the heart of “AfterMath” — school violence and gun control, which was also an important cause for her late grandfather. It’s also a reunion with one of the book’s inspirations: She’ll be in conversation with members of Moms Demand Action and Del. Eric D. Ebersole, her former teacher and one of two educators who laid the basis for “AfterMath’s” supportive teacher character.

“It feels very full-circle, to be with this teacher who was the [book’s] main character’s saving grace, who has moved onto another career, and common-sense gun legislation is a huge part of that,” Isler said. “It’s exciting for our new phases to have intersected in a meaningful way.”

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When Isler began writing “AfterMath” in 2015, she was hopeful “that we would have made more progress than we have on this issue,” she said. “Thankfully my kids so far have not been directly affected by gun violence, but they will meet more and more people that have. Our country has this problem, and we have not yet found a good solution.”

Being a parent in this world can feel utterly helpless, but Isler believes that writing about the terrifying, threatening realities like this can help. “I didn’t feel I had an option. I had to find a way to start a meaningful conversation,” she said. “There is a whole generation of kids and parents living with this fear. I hope it becomes a historical example instead of a current one.”

Her new book, “The Color Of Sound,” is a bit less heavy: It follows a musical prodigy named Rosie with synesthesia, which causes her to see music visually in color. Isler herself has a different form of the condition, which she didn’t realize until she was in her 30s. “I had never seen or read anyone talking about it. I said, ‘When you think of words and letters, do they all have colors and personalities?’”

Most people don’t experience life the way that Isler or Rosie do, but the author thought it was important to address the importance and acknowledgement of the fact that “whether you’re neurodiverse or not, the way we see the world is different than the way someone we’re close to might,” she said. “I was fascinated by the idea of giving kids a perspective. We can all be in the room together, all have the same experience, but it’s different in how we are experiencing it.”

As a parent whose kid is still finding his love for fiction — he prefers books about sharks and hurricanes — I’m thankful for writers like Isler who have a heart for creating a safe literary space in which children can find their niche, however they experience the world. And Isler is happy to return to that corner of the world that shaped her.

“In the best ways,” she said, “Maryland still feels like home.”

Leslie Gray Streeter is a columnist excited about telling Baltimore stories — about us and the things that we care about, that touch us, that tickle us and that make us tick, from parenting to pop culture to the perfect crab cake. She is especially psyched about discussions that we don't usually have. Open mind and a sense of humor required.

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