Interview: Chris Barton, author

On Monday, I reviewed a new alphabet book, ATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE!: A GAMER’S ALPHABET, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Joey Spiotto. Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Chris!

Chris Barton head shot
Chris Barton

Chris was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about writing ATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE! Read on for the interview:

LT: I have a sort of love-hate relationship with video games. I enjoy playing them, but have to watch my tendency to get obsessive. I suspect my growth is permanently stunted from spending my teen years playing Caverns of Mars on my Atari when I should’ve sleeping. In college, I could spend whole weekends playing Civilization. Now, I struggle not to play too much solitaire, Candy Crush, or Ticket to Ride, and I have to monitor what my kids are playing and how much time they’re spending at it, as well. 

LT: Tell me about your own video gaming experience, past and present. What kinds of games do you like to play? How has your game-playing changed over time? 

CB: Honestly, there’s a lot more to say about my past experience than my present experience — and, even then, there’s not a huge amount. Gaming has never been as big a part of my life as it is in the lives of my kids.

CB: But I do have some vivid memories from when I was growing up: of my great-aunt and -uncle giving my brother and me Pong one Christmas, and of us hooking that up to the black-and-white TV in his room; of celebrating the 12th birthday of my friend Ty (to whom Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! is dedicated) by playing a lot of Ms. Pac-Man at Malibu Grand Prix and then going to see Tron in a theater; of finally moving up from Pong by buying Ty’s Intellivision console, on which I especially loved playing Pitfall!; and of the thrill of playing Spy Hunter at the Aladdin’s Castle arcade whenever I got to go the mall 80 miles from my hometown.

CB: I still really enjoy playing arcade games — that overall sensory experience is a surefire way to bring out the 13-year-old in me. Being big fans of the Beatles, Jenny and our kids and I love playing Beatles Rock Band together on our Wii. And I highly, highly recommend the game Gone Home, a first-person game in which you’re a college student returning from a year abroad only to discover that all sorts of things are not right at the house your family moved into during your time away. Recently I was struggling to remember the name of the YA novel I had read that got me all choked up at the very end, but then I realized it hadn’t been a novel at all. It had been Gone Home.

CB: I would undoubtedly spend more time playing games — and watching TV, and going to the movies — if it weren’t for all these books I’d like to write. I can’t do it all.

LT: Yes! That’s what keeps me off of them, too… most of the time.

LT: What was your favorite part of A!B!CC! to research and/or write?

CB: Oh, it was definitely the page at the end where I use all 26 gaming terms in a single sentence. Figuring out how to do that was not only a fun puzzle to solve, but also a good test of how well I knew my terminology. I suspect that page will also be my favorite part of the book to read aloud, though I’m going to need a bigger set of lungs if I’m ever to get through it in a single breath.

LT: That’s funny–I would’ve expected you to say that was the hardest! It was indeed impressive. What, then, was the hardest part of the book to research and/or write?

CB: “I is for Instance,” by far. The usual suspects in an alphabet book — Q, X, Z — weren’t all that challenging. But “I” had surprisingly few terms that seemed like great candidates, especially since I avoided brand names or names of specific games or characters. I was happy to include “Instance,” as I think it’s an important concept for understanding why your screen isn’t overrun by other avatars when you’re playing a massively multiplayer online game, but getting the definition just right — correct, yet easy to understand — took a lot of effort.

LT: Interesting! It certainly wouldn’t seem like “I” would be one of the tricky letters. I can see how instance would be a tricky one to explain, though, and you’re right about it being an important concept. Great choice!

LT: Were there any surprises along the way?

CB: Sure. I began the project with a desire to show some of the richness and depth and breadth of gaming culture and history. But I was still taken aback by the passion and thoughtfulness and sincerity of other writers, commentators, and gaming professionals who have dedicated themselves to this field far more extensively than I have. And I’ve been especially intrigued by the current parallels between the gaming and children’s literature worlds as both strive to make themselves more diverse and inclusive, to allow more participants and consumers from more backgrounds to take part in these fields and recognize themselves in the work that’s created.

LT: I’ve noticed those parallels, too, and it’s definitely a good thing.  

LT: One last question… I think every book teaches us something new, about the world, about ourselves, or about the craft of writing. What have you learned as a result of writing this book?

CB: I’ve got a new appreciation for what a great tool an alphabet book can be for organizing information about a topic, and for exploring a topic beyond what you’re already familiar with. It’s a format that forces you to dig deeply and employ some creative research skills and weigh why one concept might be more important to include than another. I’d recommend that other writers of all ages give it a try. I myself expect that I’ll return to this approach sooner or later.

LT: Great advice! And I look forward to seeing what you do with it next time. 

LT: Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Chris. I had a great time, and I wish you the best of luck with ATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE!

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Review: ATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE! by Chris Barton

Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! coverATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE!
written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Joey Spiotto
published by POW! Kids Books, October 2014
32 pages

From the publisher’s web page:

An ironic yet informative alphabet that defines the most important gaming terms that everyone needs to know, Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet is the ultimate crossover gift for our age, a book that can actually bring together video game-obsessed kids and their often perplexed parents.
If you can decipher the following sentence, you don’t need this book: “This open beta game is in third-person but first-person is unlockable if you know the cheat code or install your own mod, but either way, for the best attack on the boss on this level, try to grab that power-up!”
– See more at:

Okay, I know I’m showing my geeky gamer girl side, but I love, love, love this book, and I think today’s young (and not-so-young) readers will, too!

It’s an alphabet book, of course, which means the information is organized by letter. Within that constraint, Barton somehow manages to work in a whole bunch of key concepts necessary to understanding video games. Some are expected, such as “boss.” Others are more surprising, like “instance.” In either case, readers will love seeing the terms they’re more familiar with from the games they love playing, as well as the terms they’re less familiar with but may have run across in conversations with friends. I’ve played a fair amount of video games in my lifetime, and I was still very pleasantly surprised to learn a few new terms myself!

The artwork is bright and fun and helps illustrate the concepts well. The illustrator tips a nostalgic hat to older games that more grownup readers will appreciate, while at the same time referencing enough current faves to delight younger gamers.

Check this one out, and then come back on Wednesday for my interview with the author, Chris Barton!


Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

(Disclaimer: The review copy was won by the blogger as part of a promotional giveaway.)

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Author event: the Stratos Oktoberfest open house

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being the special guest at an incredible event, Stratos Product Development‘s annual company open house. The company is mentioned on page 138 of my book Be a Changemaker, because they were one of the original funders of Edward Jiang’s StudentRND venture, which I profiled in chapter 12.

Stratos Oktoberfest banner

As you can see, this year’s theme was Oktoberfest, and they went all out with decorations, food, beverages, and even a polka band!

polka band

It’s too bad I didn’t get a chance to dance, but I was having too much fun talking with Stratos employees and guests.

photo of author talking with attendee

I was warmly welcomed, and folks seemed pretty excited about Be a Changemaker, too.

attendees with Be a Changemaker

At one point, a storm picked up and we had to (quickly!) move everything inside, but that just made it easier to mingle.

mingling with attendees inside

And as attendees left for the evening, there were piles and piles of books for them to take home, all of which I signed and, if desired, personalized (yes, my hand was tired!).

stacks of Be a Changemaker books

What a wonderful evening! I left feeling thoroughly impressed with everyone I had talked to–and with the company itself for bringing them all together.

I’m ever so grateful to Stratos Product Development for including me. They’re the perfect example of a for-profit business that is committed to doing good in the world, and it was such an honor to participate.

Click here to check out all of the great photos from the event, and here to see what this totally awesome company is all about.

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Review: THE SCRAPS BOOK by Lois Ehlert

written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert
published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, March 2014
72 pages

There have been several picture-book autobiographies of children’s book authors and illustrators over the past few years. Sadly, most have left me feeling just a little underwhelmed. While I personally enjoyed them, I felt like they were aimed more at their long-time adult fans than at contemporary child readers. While I, as an adult, was able to appreciate the rich context and interesting personal histories, I wondered if children would be able to relate to the stories and find directly relevant meaning within the pages. So, although I myself am a fan of Lois Ehlert, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when I picked up THE SCRAPS BOOK. Boy was I in for a delightful surprise!

Despite the high page count, there is nothing in this book that feels the least bit self-indulgent. Every page seems lovingly designed to encourage and instruct young artists. (And aren’t we all artists when we’re young? Perhaps with this book, more of us will remain so.) Throughout, Ehlert generously shares her inspirations, her processes, her notes and journals, even her messes and mistakes, giving readers insights into her books as well as her life as an artist.THE SCRAPS BOOK excerpt

I think this is truly a book people of all ages can enjoy, and the world is definitely a better place for having THE SCRAPS BOOK in it.

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

(Disclaimer: Review copy was checked out from my local library.)

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2014 Washington Library Media Association (WLMA) Conference

I had a wonderful time presenting with Mary Cronk Farrell at the 2014 WLMA Conference last Saturday! The title of our talk was “Fostering 21st Century Learning with Today’s Nonfiction,” and we delivered it to a room overflowing with teacher/librarians (aren’t t/l’s the best!?) who were looking for new ideas and book recommendations.

Mary sharing BRAVE GIRL
Mary sharing BRAVE GIRL

Our presentation discussed how much of the nonfiction being published now is so much more than “just” its subject. There are innovative formats, emotionally-charged stories, cross-discipline explorations, etc. A just-the-facts approach simply won’t be published these days, as kids have easy access to information in a variety of formats AND are faced with so many options competing for their attention. This makes nonfiction a particularly compelling choice for students in and out of the classroom or library setting.

Mary presentingMary and I took turns sharing some of our favorite recent nonfiction titles–including Mary’s PURE GRIT and my BE A CHANGEMAKER and EMMANUEL’S DREAM– and how we felt they could be used in the library or classroom to achieve multiple learning goals simultaneously, including covering core curriculum subjects, social-emotional learning, problem solving and critical thinking, creativity and innovation, information and media literacy, and technology skills. We got the librarians talking to us and to each other, and we even had them try out some exercises they might use with their students. (Let me tell you, those librarians can write, too!)

Since several attendees asked for our slides, here is the deck we used in our talk, and, since we ran out of handouts due to the overwhelming attendance, here is the handout that we passed out with the list of books referenced.

Speaker goodie cup
Speaker goodie cup!
Thanks so much for having us, WLMA! Thanks so much for the book love and dedication you put into your work each and every day, teacher/librarians! And, thanks, Mary, for being such a great co-presenter and making everything easy!

My dog, Prim
My dog, Prim, catching up on some lap time
Of course, no matter how much fun I have speaking at conferences like this, it’s always good to be home again.
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Tales from my first book launch party

Two of the worst possible things that could happen to a book event in Seattle happened on the day of the Be a Changemaker launch party: one of our major bridges was closed for construction, and the sun was shining! Still, an amazing number of ultra-dedicated friends and intrepid fans braved the traffic nightmare and willingly (or perhaps begrudgingly) sacrificed one of the last sunny Sundays we are likely to have for months. And I am oh-so-grateful to each and every one of them for it!

Look at the pretty decorations!
I started with a brief thank you. I could have gone on for hours thanking everyone who played a part in this book, but I decided to spare those in attendance and kept the list as short as possible.

Here I am giving my presentation.
Then I gave a short reading from one of the In My Experience sidebars in the book. I started getting choked up and didn’t want to break down into ugly cry in front of all those people, so I cut it shorter than I had intended. Run away!

Josie Gillett for YUP
One of the inspiring teens presenting her organization.
My favorite part was when four local teens, whose organizations are among those featured in the book, presented a bit about what they do and where their groups are headed. They were all great speakers and held the audience in rapt attention.

signing closeup
I signed some books.
Then, it was time to sign books! I was so afraid I would spell someone’s name wrong, I even asked on the easy ones that I knew for sure I knew how to spell.

signing line zoomed out
I signed a lot of books!
By the end, though, my eyes were starting to cross. I hadn’t made any mistakes, so I let my guard down. One of the very last people in line is one of my dearest friends, whose name happens to be EXACTLY THE SAME AS MINE. Yes, you guessed it: I spelled it wrong. Fortunately, she has a good sense of humor, so we’ll probably be laughing about it for years to come.

Many heartfelt thanks to everyone who came and to Secret Garden Book Shop for hosting. I’m generally not much of a party person, and I really dislike being the center of attention. (Those giant posters of my face were a surprise from my hubby… eek!) But every moment of that launch event was a treat, and the experience is something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

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Be a Changemaker coverI’ve been surprised and honored to be included on a plethora of fantastic blogs as part of a blog tour to help launch Be a Changemaker into the world. There are guest posts written by me on a variety of topics related to the book, as well as interviews, reviews, quotes, and, yes–book giveaways! Be sure to check out all of the tour stops, and please give these lovely bloggers some love, won’t you?

Here’s what has already been posted:

Review, author interview, giveaway
Review, guest post, giveaway
Reviews, teaching tools, guest post, giveaway
Review, resources lists
Guest post
Review, giveaway


And here’s what is still to come:

Review, giveaway
Review, giveaway
Author interview, giveaway
Guest post, giveaway
Author interview, giveaway
Guest post, giveaway

Blue Slip Media logo


This incredible lineup has been assembled and managed by the lovely ladies at Blue Slip Media. Thank you, Sarah and Barbara!

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The Emu’s Debuts launch party for Be a Changemaker

Emu's Debuts bannerOne of the most rewarding experiences of being a debut author has been participating on the Emu’s Debuts group blog (for clients of Erin Murphy Literary Agency who are in between deal and publication). Last week, my fabulous friends and fellow Emus threw me THE BEST LAUNCH PARTY EVER to celebrate the upcoming release of BE A CHANGEMAKER! (They went a week early, since Lindsey Lane’s EVIDENCE OF THINGS UNSEEN is releasing at the same time. I’ll be helping them celebrate that launch next week!)

They were all so generous, authentic, and hard-working in bringing the daily posts to life (as they are with everything they do!), and I was thrilled anew every morning to see what they had put together. In case you missed them, please go check out their posts. They’re fun, informative, and inspiring!

Here’s the roundup:

On Monday, Lindsey Lane (with some backup support from Tara Dairman), posted Welcome to the World: BE A CHANGEMAKER by Laurie Ann Thompson!, which included stories of and interviews with five other Erin Murphy Literary Agency authors who are changing the world in their own meaningful ways:

Tuesday featured several videos compiled by Megan MorrisonBE A CHANGEMAKER: Words of Wisdom. The clips contain contributions from fellow Emu Debuts bloggers offering their own words of wisdom, sharing quotes that motivate and inspire them, and giving advice they wish they’d gotten at the beginning of their journey. Great stuff, and so personal! It’s a great way to get to know these wonderful people a little better.

For the Wednesday post, BE A CHANGEMAKER: Celebrating with Quotes!Jennifer Chambliss Bertman compiled and created a collection of gorgeous images featuring quotes that inspire and motivate the members of the Emu’s Debuts blog team. If you want to spice up your Facebook or Pinterest feeds (or your office walls!), there are some fantastic finds here. Plus, they included the explanations behind why the quotes are so meaningful for them, making them even more special.

For Thursday‘s post, Penny Parker Klostermann, gave readers a sneak preview of Be a Changemaker with excerpts of the first 25 pages as well as the event planning chapter. Her post, BE A CHANGEMAKER: A Tool for Change, gives a sense of how the book can be used as a tool by individuals, teams, and classrooms.

On FridayTamara Ellis Smith closed out the party with Music to Be A Changemaker By, an inspirational and motivating Spotify playlist of songs recommended by the Emu’s Debuts bloggers, along with the explanations of why they included them. Spanning genres and emotions, you’re sure to find something of interest here–I know I did!

I’m so grateful to the awesome authors at Emu’s Debuts! Thanks to them, the Be a Changemaker pre-launch week was better than I ever could have imagined. I’m looking forward to each and of every one of their debuts–coming soon!

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