Blog Tour: Growing Up Gorilla by Clare Hodgson Meeker

Growing Up Gorilla cover

Today I’m thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for Clare Hodgson Meeker’s new book, Growing Up Gorilla!

Growing Up Gorilla cover

GROWING UP GORILLA
by Clare Hodgson Meeker
Millbrook Press/September 3, 2019
Grades 3-6, 48 pages

Here’s what the publisher says about Growing Up Gorilla:

This heartwarming true story chronicles what happened after a mother gorilla gave birth for the first time and then walked away from her newborn baby at Seattle’s Woodland Park. The dedicated staff worked tirelessly to find innovative ways for mother and baby to build a relationship. The efforts were ultimately successful, as baby Yola bonded with her mother and the rest of the family group.

And here are my thoughts about Growing Up Gorilla:

This beautifully photo-illustrated nonfiction is both meticulously researched and lovingly told. Meeker does a fantastic job of bringing this true story to life in a very kid-friendly way, bringing us into the world of both the gorillas and their keepers in a way that keeps readers thoroughly absorbed at all times. There is something for everyone here, with plenty of drama and suspense as well as heart-tugging emotion and (spoiler alert!) a happy ending.
The book also contains a table of contents and extensive backmatter, including an author’s note, further reading/websites/videos, glossary, index, maps, primary source quotations/images, sidebars, and more.

AND, here’s my interview with the author of Growing Up Gorilla, Clare Hodgson Meeker!

LAT: Can you describe your writing process? Did Growing Up Gorilla require any particular changes to how your typical process?

CHM: Normally I don’t start writing a book until I’ve worked out the arc of the story from beginning to end and done enough research and interviewing to feel ready to tell the story with excitement and confidence. Preparing a proposal helps me organize my thoughts – outlining the story with chapter summaries helps me think in scenes and how I’m going to thread in the factual information I think is relevant. Once I have that, I can begin writing my first scene of the book and continue chronologically through the story. The only change in my writing process with Growing Up Gorilla was having to write a full draft before interviewing the gorilla keepers who were directly involved with helping Yola and her mother Nadiri bond. I was able to interview them once I had a publisher on board, which satisfied the Zoo’s requirements. However, the zoo staff did give me some access to the Keeper’s Daily Record book, which included their notes of what happened during the first few months after Yola’s birth, to help me write the first draft.

LAT: What do you find most challenging about writing for kids? About Growing Up Gorilla in particular?

CHM: I’ve taught writing in the schools to children for many years. When we talk about plot and what makes a story interesting, kids agree that there needs to be a problem that has to be solved and a main character they can relate to who wants something and/or has to solve the story problem. In writing a book about a baby gorilla whose mother initially refused to care for her after her birth, my challenge was to get children to relate to these characters and care about their problems. Children’s books should be action-oriented and avoid too much description or flashback. I had to choose carefully the places where I slowed down the action to describe a scene in more detail – like the night Nadiri went into labor where I wanted to show the close relationship between Nadiri and the infant care specialist who had hand-raised her at birth after Nadiri’s mother rejected her. I don’t believe in writing down to a certain grade level or limiting word choice to a grade-appropriate list. I think about presenting the story in the most natural way I can as though I am telling it to the reader sitting next to me.

LAT: What authors and or books do you most admire, and why? Did you have any specific mentor texts that you looked at for Growing Up Gorilla?

CHM: Katherine Applegate’s middle-grade novel The One and Only Ivan and her picture book Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla are fantastic examples of a gorilla character and story that children can relate to and empathize with, in both a fictional version and in a more condensed nonfiction format.
CHM: I am also a big fan of Sy Montgomery, who has written many of the Scientists in the Field series books published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her voice is so distinctive as she takes you on an adventure shadowing biologists and naturalists who are studying animals in the wild around the world and weaving in fascinating facts about them.

LAT: Outside of the writing itself, what kinds of things do you do that you feel help your writing career?

CHM: I am a life-long learner. I love taking classes in different writing genres, from poetry and picture books to essay and novel writing. Hugo House in Seattle is a wonderful place to take classes, get inspired, and meet others in the writing and reading community. I also enjoy writing conferences where I can get tips on writing and the business of writing listening to editors and talking with fellow children’s book authors.

LAT: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in writing nonfiction for kids?

CHM: Children’s nonfiction is a very popular genre today, especially STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math). My advice is to choose a topic that you are excited about and willing to immerse yourself in, so that you can feel confident writing a story that kids and publishers will love. Think of creative ways to present your book idea, like Laurie Ann Thompson did in her Two Truths and a Lie series. It also helps to include themes that reflect the current elementary science or humanities curriculum standards so a publisher can market your book to schools and libraries.

LAT: Wow, thanks so much for that shout out, Clare! And thanks so much for including me in the blog tour for Growing Up Gorilla and for taking the time to do this interview for us.

Please check out the rest of the Growing Up Gorilla blog tour stops on the schedule below!

blog tour schedule

Interview with Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley

#ProtectOurWorld challenge poster

Last week I posted a review of ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE here. Today I’m honored to follow up on that post with an interview with both of the book’s creators, author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley, as part of their blog tour. Enjoy, and be sure to check out the rest of the stop in the blog tour, too!  (See below for a complete list.)
LAT: How did you first become interested in doing a book about zoo scientists in general, and about these three in particular?
Patricia headshotPatricia: When my niece was in fifth grade, she told me about a persuasive essay her teacher assigned. The topic was zoos—are they good or bad? Only the teacher didn’t provide a balanced look—most of the literature she shared with the kids was anti-zoo. As the mother of a zookeeper, I knew my niece—and kids like her—needed the other side of the story. That experience planted the seeds for Zoo Scientists to the Rescue.
Patricia: During my initial research, I learned that zoos tackle conservation using three basic approaches: visitor education; captive breeding and reintroduction programs; and in situ study, or studying wildlife in their native habitats. I searched for several months, conducting brief phone interviews with people at various zoos to find the best match. Not all zoos are large enough to have research departments, and the largest zoos often charge an hourly fee to interview their scientists. Some even charge hefty licensing fees to write about their “intellectual property.” But finally, the pieces slid into place only slightly denting my bank account. I found three charismatic species (orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinos) and three scientists willing to speak to me who address the three main ways zoos promote conservation. And this was all before I’d written a word!
Annie headshotAnnie: I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Lincoln Park Zoo connected me with nature on a very deep level. It is open 365 days a year and it is free, so for a Mom with four kids that was important. All summer long we would go to the zoo in the morning and North Avenue Beach in the afternoon. We would get to know the animals. In 5th grade I learned that all of our Great Apes needed protecting. I signed up for a special Behind the Scenes program for students. This program had us working with the scientists, keepers, and access to so many wildlife leaders. Zoos had a great impact on my life and the way I choose to live my life. When Patti approached me to work with her on Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, I was all in. It is vital for kids/teens to connect with nature and conservation and I believe Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will inspire many families to protect our world.
LAT: I so agree. As a zoo lover myself, it was really heartening to read such a thorough, well-researched (and gorgeous!) look at the good work that zoos are doing. Besides me, what kind of reader do you think ZOO SCIENTISTS will appeal to?
Patricia: I write for the kid who asks questions about animals and our world; the kid who wants to protect wildlife; the future scientist; the future writer with a passion for the environment; or the voracious reader. But way at the back of my mind, I write the kinds of books I would have liked to read as a kid.
Annie: Similar to Plastic Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, this book is targeted to 3-8 grade students. I have had pre-sale copies and shared it with many… and young and old truly love this book. Every time I read it, I am even more inspired into action. It will appeal to nature lovers, zoo enthusiasts, scientific minds, and anyone who wants to learn more about our world. More important, I think anyone who reads Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will want to help our world!
LAT: I think it’s hard to read this book (or Plastic Ahoy!) and not come away with an enhanced passion for science, the environment, and doing what we can to help. What was your favorite part of making ZOO SCIENTISTS?
Patricia: I love to get to know the scientists. They always inspire and amaze me, and I hope they will inspire young readers to follow in their footsteps. I keep in touch with the scientists I interview to find out where science takes them and how their research grows and develops.
Annie: Getting kissed by Maku, a black rhino!
Annie: My favorite part of making this book was traveling together with Patricia and being able to be a part of all of the interviews so that I knew the kinds of images (both photo and video) that would be important to tell the story. My favorite trip was of course traveling to Chicago and to document black rhinos and Dr. Rachel Santymire at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Currently I live in Seattle, so to be able to create a book featuring a scientist from a zoo that helped shape who I am, and one where I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours of my youth was very exciting. We got a tour of the back area of the rhino exhibit and then worked with Maku’s keeper in the exhibit so that I could get some great photos. It’s the shoot we did that the cover of the book came from. During the shoot, the keeper would work with him and feed him snacks. She let me give him one and the next thing I knew Maku kissed my hand.
LAT: That is so cool! It sounds like it really was a treat for both of you to work on this project. What was the hardest part of the making ZOO SCIENTISTS, and how did you deal with that?
Patricia: For me, the hardest part was lining up the three zoos. After the zoos, the animals, and the scientists fell into the place, the rest of the book was a breeze in comparison!
Annie: Time is the hardest part of making any book. Shooting with Jeff Baughman at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was very challenging photographically on many levels. We were given permission to shoot at the breeding facility, but there were many points to consider. Their main goal is to breed black-footed ferrets to reintroduce into the wild. BFFs are nocturnal, solitary animals that do not do well with stress. They also need dim lighting. So not knowing any of this in advance, I had to work very efficiently in low light to capture these charismatic animals.
LAT: I can certainly understand the difficulty of the research and logistics to line up the three zoos and their projects, Patricia, and I’m so glad it worked out. But I can’t even imagine how you came up with such great photos in that kind of environment, Annie. Hats off to both of you! During your research, did anything surprise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for making ZOO SCIENTISTS?
Patricia: I didn’t come across any surprises that made me change course, but I’m always surprised by the coolness of the science and how scientists solve problems. The story of black-footed ferrets being saved from the brink of extinction, not once but twice, is truly astonishing!
Annie: We feature Meredith Bastian from Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. We were able to interview her while Patricia and I were in Washington, D.C., accepting a Green Earth Book Award for Plastic Ahoy! We had a very limited time with the scientist and only were granted permission the day before we arrived. In our allotted one hour, we interviewed her, but had no time to photograph her with the orangutans nor did we have access on a level that we were given at the other zoos with the animals. It was also a very cloudy/rainy day so the orangutans were not very cooperative! Because I knew we needed to get orangutan images for the book from other zoos, I started hanging out at my local zoo in Seattle, the Woodland Park Zoo, to capture images. In addition, I was traveling to Australia and made a point to go to the Melbourne Zoo. Their orangutan exhibit is phenomenal and really helps educate people on how farming palm oil can be so destructive to our environment.
LAT: I was astonished by the story of the BFFs, too. And, as a Seattleite myself, I love visiting the orangutans at the Woodland Park Zoo. How neat to know that they are pictured in ZOO SCIENTISTS! I’m always curious about other writers’ and illustrators’ (including photographers’!) research processes. Can you tell us about yours? Did you plot the basic outline first, then fill in the blanks with research? Or did you immerse yourself in the research first, then feel your way into the structure? I see you did a lot of email and phone interviews—did you have to go back and forth to complete the stories? Were there any fun facts that got cut that you were sad to see go?
Patricia: When I write for Millbrook Press, I have to submit a formal proposal which provides a basic overview of the idea, describes the chapters, and gives the acquisition committee an idea of where this book would fit in the market. In order to complete the proposal, I conduct short informational interviews with the scientists by phone. During these interviews, I try to find out the broad strokes of their story and whether they are willing to commit the necessary time to lengthy in-person interviews, clarification questions, and vetting the final manuscript. Once I have a scientist’s buy-in, I can craft the proposal and hopefully give my editor some idea what my narrative thread might be.
Patricia: When the acquisitions committee gave me the go-ahead on Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, Annie and I made three trips to the three different zoos to interview the scientists and photograph/film them at work. We braved a spring blizzard, backed away from a charging rhino, and laughed when a chattering black-footed ferret told us exactly what he thought of our intrusion on his space!
Patricia: And as for cutting fun facts, never! I re-word and re-imagine before I cut anything fun. The writing was all about the fun. Why wouldn’t I share that with readers at every opportunity?
Annie: Patricia and I traveled together for all of the interviews. She shared with me many of the papers the scientists had written and we dug deep into who they were. Being able to document with photos and videos always takes research because the more you know about your subject, the more knowledge you can bring to your creative approach. Once the first draft was written, I knew I had to document many other animals. At this time, I became a zoo stalker with my camera. I spent weeks at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle getting to know the animals so that I could look for special moments. A photographer also has to wait for light for the subjects. Early morning and later afternoons in the fall gives you a golden light.
LAT: Oh, I love getting that insight into the process. What was your larger goal, i.e. what were you trying to give readers of ZOO SCIENTISTS as a takeaway?
Patricia: A Senegalese forestry engineer by the name of Baba Dioum presented a paper at a 1968 meeting of the IUCN. In his paper he said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” When I write books like Zoo Scientists to the Rescue or Sea Otter Heroes or Plastic, Ahoy!, I want readers to come away with a newfound respect for our connection to the natural world. Our habits matter because they create ripples across the globe. So, whether we conserve energy to reduce climate change, learn to appreciate the role an apex predator plays in its ecosystem, reduce the amount of single-use plastic in our lives, or buy products that use sustainably-sourced palm oil, we choose to create positive ripples that help preserve the breathtaking abundance of biodiversity on our planet.
Annie: When photographing/filming I always want to document and help viewers see what a writer/script needs to tell a story. Zoo Scientists to the Rescue captures what people are doing to help save endangered species and their environments. I’m hoping that all of our readers feel inspired into action to help protect our world.
LAT: Well said, and I do think you succeeded. In addition to teaching something to our readers, I believe every book teaches us something new–about the world, about
ourselves, or about the craft of creating. What have you learned as a result of making ZOO SCIENTISTS?

Patricia: Every time I write a book about an aspect of the environment, I’m reminded that scientists find new connections all the time between humans and the plants and animals that share our planet. I guess that’s job security for me, but it’s also a wake-up call for young readers. Without a clean ocean will there be enough food to eat or oxygen to breathe? Without predators like black-footed ferrets or sea otters, how will their respective ecosystems thrive? And without large animals like orangutans and black rhinos, will the smaller animals also disappear? Despite what our current administration seems to think, humans are not “entitled” to use and abuse the world’s natural resources without giving back. We have to conserve for the future.
Annie: Zoos are really important places in our world for conservation, education, inspiration and so much more. If the habitat of the orangutan disappears because of our need for palm oil, the orangutans disappear. If black rhinos are killed to extinction because of poachers, then the human population has failed to protect the animals in need of our protection. There is so much destruction happening all around needing to be documented, shared, and reversed. I’ve learned we all need to raise our voices together and do everything possible to protect our world.
Annie: Climate change is real and our ocean is the great regulator of our planet. The weather affects all the regions of the world. People always look at our planet from a people point of view… and I have always looked out for the animals. We told the stories of these three animals and their environment through the lens of people helping them… while other people are trying to destroy the very same animals.
Annie: This is the second title Patricia and I co-created with editor Carol Hinz and entire Lerner Publishing design/marketing crew. It reinforced how much I truly appreciate the team effort to take a book from your imagination into one you can hold in your hands and share with others. It was Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” With this book, we are hoping to inspire people into action to protect our world!
LAT: Thank you for sharing those important lessons with us. What are you both working on next?
Patricia: Annie and I have are mulling over a few possibilities for our next book, but you can bet we’ll come up with something. In the meantime, I have two books coming out in 2018: a picture book called Neema’s Reason to Smile (illustrated by the talented Mehrdokht Amini) which tells the story of a Kenyan girl who yearns to be more, and another middle-grade nonfiction science book called Eavesdropping on Elephants which follows scientists who study forest elephants simply by listening to them. I’m extremely excited about both of these titles because they held kids become global citizens in very different ways.
Annie: Although Zoo Scientists to the Rescue officially launches in October, we still have so much to do! We just finished our trailer and are hoping schools and organizations will welcome us to come inspire and speak. We are planning a 30-Day Challenge for everyone to do one thing every day that will help #ProtectOurWorld
Annie: My Uncle Al always said, “Annie, have your fingers in 12 different project ideas…” As I’m writing this, I am on my way to film whales in Tonga. Three days ago, I was in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Bellingham, WA, documenting the environmental disaster of the Cooke Salmon Farm net catastrophe which released 300,000 farmed Atlantic Salmon into the Puget Sound/Salish Sea. In June I was in the Arctic Circle. And I’m also laying the groundwork on a larger project I’d like to work on with Patricia.
LAT: These projects all sound so exciting! I’m looking forward to hearing more about them all when the time comes. Is there anything you wish I would’ve asked you but didn’t? 
Patricia and Annie: You were very thorough, Laurie, and asked us great questions! Thank you so much for participating in the blog tour. We are very grateful to you for wanting to write about us and share our story with your readers. Perhaps we can close with a statement:

We truly hope our story and reading the book Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will inspire others to act. The orangutans, black rhinos, and black-footed ferrets would not be with us today if it were not for people giving them a voice. Yet, they are endangered because of people. We all need to raise our voices together, take an action every day, and share with your friends, family, and colleagues what you are doing and why. We need to work together to #ProtectOurWorld.

LAT: I think that’s a great way to close. Thank you so much, Patricia and Annie, for answering my questions and for your dedication to bringing great books like ZOO SCIENTISTS into the world. I am sure YOUR actions will have many ripple effects around the world. 
Catch up and follow along with the rest of the blog tour here:

To download posters with information about the 30-day #ProtectOurWorld journal challenge, click here.

#ProtectOurWorld challenge poster #ProtectOurWorld challenge journal

Thanks for visiting!
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Author interview with Sarah Albee

A few weeks ago, I reviewed POISON: DEADLY DEEDS, PERILOUS PROFESSIONS, AND MURDEROUS MEDICINES, by Sarah Albee. Today, I’m excited to host Sarah for an interview with the author! Read on to learn more about how she wrote this particular book and much, much more…


LAT: Welcome, Sarah, and thanks for agreeing to answer my questions!
LAT: You know how much I love your new book, POISON. The whole time I was reading it, though, I kept wondering… how did you first become interested in writing about poisons?
Sarah Albee author photoSA: I’ve been fascinated with poison ever since I was a young kid, from the first fairy tales that were read to me, to stories that I read myself as I got older. Snow White, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare—I wanted to know if those poisonings from literature were possible in real life, and if they were, I wanted to know what was going on at the molecular level of a person who’d been poisoned. The idea of writing a book about poison occurred to me a few years ago, as I was researching my book, Why’d They Wear That? Associating poison with fashion may sound odd, but my interest was piqued as I learned more about how arsenic became wildly popular in the 19 th century—it was everywhere—at every apothecary shop, in arsenical green fabric, in paint pigments, even in edible arsenic complexion wafers (!). The history of poison just seemed like a perfect way to link so many things that intrigue me—mysteries, detective stories, human passion, alchemy, art, politics, social history, and the history of medicine.
LAT: And that linking of so many different topics is one of the biggest reasons I enjoyed reading it so much! Besides geeky nonfiction authors, what kind of readers do you think this book will appeal to?
SA: I hope it will have what publishers call “crossover appeal,” which for me would be kids who think they prefer to read only fiction. I personally love knowing the “back story,” no matter what genre I’m reading. I find that I still ask myself: “Could that actually happen in real life?” I hope the book will appeal to science-oriented readers, history lovers, and to kids who love mysteries!
LAT: I think it will. Your passion for the subject comes through on every page. What was your favorite part of the book to research and/or write?
SA: At the risk of sounding hokey, every part of the research was fascinating. Poisons in the ancient world, poisons in the Renaissance, poisons in the 19th century and the rise of forensics—I mean, there was literally never a dull moment. I loved visiting a poison plant garden and seeing in person all the poisonous plants I’d been reading and writing about. I loved talking to museum curators and getting special, private access to amazing collections of bones and body organs and
artifacts.
LAT: Sounds like fun! What was the hardest part of the research and/or writing for you, and how did you deal with that?
SA: The hardest part was figuring out how to narrow down my topic. Early drafts of the book were, well, in need of a firm editorial hand. Luckily I have wonderful beta readers and a fantastic editor, and with varying degrees of gentleness and candor, they informed me that I needed to cut, cut, cut. Thank god for editors.
LAT: Hear, hear! I can relate to that one. Did anything during the research phase surprise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for the book?
SA: Yessirree. See above re having to narrow down my topic. In an earlier draft, I’d included a pretty extensive history of anesthesia. It is SO COOL. Preparing a patient for surgery in ancient times ranged from having the patient inhale fumes from a soporific sponge soaked in mandrake and opium, to bonking him over the head with a mallet. Which unfortunately led to many patients never waking up. The discovery of ether and chloroform totally transformed the way surgeons performed operations. But my editor and I finally decided we needed to cut most of that out, which pained me as much as bodily cuts without anesthesia. (Ha ha, not really!) Although many types of poisons were used as both analgesics and anesthetics, I had to acknowledge that they didn’t quite fit in a book about nefarious poisons. (Side note: I now have the most profound respect for anesthesiologists.)
LAT: Perhaps it’ll come in handy for another book, somewhere down the line. I can image you collected a TON of interesting information along the way. How do you manage all of your research for a book like this? What’s your system? (Tell me, please, because mine feels woefully amateurish!)
SA: Ha! I wish I could tell you that I’m super systematic about my research, but every time I begin a new project it’s a big, blobby mess. For this book, I began by reading widely—biographies about the Borgias, Roman emperors, Catherine de Medici, Empress Wu. I read early medical journals, up-to-the-minute scholarly articles, and primary sources like travelogues and diaries. I took an online course in chemistry, and another in forensics. I interviewed tons of people, and became a pest to my science-teacher friends (“explain to me again what an alkaloid is?”). The one godsend was I knew what my structure would be—the book would be chronological, from ancient times to the present, so I was able to lump my topics and my poisoners/victims into their respective historical eras.
POISON cover
LAT: Wow, that’s an impressive research list! Did you do all the photo research for the book too? Can you tell us a bit about that process?
SA: The first time I did my own image research, many books ago, I was overwhelmed, and totally clueless about how to go about it. Image research is a steep learning curve, but now, many books later, I absolutely love that phase of the process. I did a couple of guest posts on Melissa Stewart’s blog about image research for students here, and for professional writers here, if people would like a bit more detail.
LAT: You’ve helped me come up to speed in that area as well, and I’m eternally grateful for your generous advice!
LAT: 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?
SA: I try not to get too political in my books or on social media, but the more research I have done about the horrors of poisons and environmental toxins people used to be exposed to, the more horrified I have grown by the current trend in our country to roll back hard-fought regulations for clean air and clean water, and to defang agencies such as the FDA and the EPA. When you know the history of the way things used to be, you shudder at what could happen once again.
LAT: I had the same thoughts when I was reading your book. I’m glad that myself, and all the other readers out there, will have this broadened perspective going forward.
LAT: What other writers do you look up to and why?
SA: I have so many kidlit writers that I look up to and love, both fiction and nonfiction—but this answer would be way too long if I tried to list all of them. So I’ll stick to just a few writers of adult books I admire. Mary Roach is a favorite of mine. I love her sense of humor and her offbeat science topics—I like to think that our missions are aligned. I love P.G. Wodehouse. I love historians who can write, and write well. It’s like a breath of fresh air when you find a scholarly, well-researched book that’s also beautifully written for a reader’s enjoyment, with grace and style and wit.
LAT: What are you working on now?
SA: I’m working on several projects right now and I wish there were more hours in the day because I’m so excited about all of them! I have a book about the human/dog relationship coming out next March with National Geographic, called Dog Days of History. And I’m working on a book that’s a collection of quirky biographies, as well as a series of biographies for much younger readers, and a new American history series for upper elementary kids, which will probably be called “What Were They Thinking?
LAT: Gosh, you’re busy! Is there anything you wish I would’ve asked you but didn’t?
SA: You’ve done a darn good job covering the bases, Laurie. But hmmm. Kids often ask me what my favorite part of my job is. And I joke about how great it is to be able to work at my bed-desk, but honestly, one of the best parts of this job is when I visit schools, and meet the kids I work for. Let’s face it: for a nonfiction writer, fiction can be stiff competition, not to mention the myriad screen-time options vying for kids’ attention. So my goal is to write fascinating, entertaining, and accurate books that kids choose to read. I want them to see how amazing history can be.
LAT: Well said. I feel exactly the same way. I’m so glad you could visit, Sarah, and thank you for answering all of my questions!


You can find out more about Sarah Albee at her website, and be sure to check out POISON: DEADLY DEEDS, PERILOUS PROFESSIONS, AND MURDEROUS MEDICINES!

Interview: Luke Reynolds on SURVIVING MIDDLE SCHOOL

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed SURVIVING MIDDLE SCHOOL by Luke Reynolds. As you may recall, I LOVED it! Today, Luke was nice enough to let me interview him so I could get a few of my questions answered (and let you get to know him a bit better, as well!). If you haven’t read my review yet, please go take a quick peek now so you’ll know a bit about what we’re talking about in the interview below.
Luke Reynolds headshot
LAT: Welcome, Luke! Thanks for agreeing to answer my questions!
LR: LAURIE!!!
LR: You are so kind and thoughtful and what a wonderful surprise! I really appreciate it! Indeed, I would be honored and thrilled to have an interview on your blog. THANK YOU!!!!! And thank you so much for sharing the book: you rock!!!
(Ed. note: See what kind of guy he is? I ask him to do work so I have content to put on my blog, during the month of September when he’s busy settling in with a new class of students as well as running the parenting gauntlet himself, and he thanks me for it, in the sweetest way possible. Plus, he loves exclamation points as much as I do!!! OK, back to the interview…)
LAT: You say you didn’t know this stuff in middle school, so… just how old were you when you finally figured it all out? (As I said in my review, I didn’t get it until I was in my 30s. This book could’ve saved me an awful lot of time and trouble!)
LR: I think it was yesterday that I figured it all out! 🙂 Truthfully, I haven’t figured out all that much, but what I wanted to do in the book is to remind myself and my students about what really matters in life. One of the things I say to my 7th grade students almost every day is that I AM STILL GROWING AND LEARNING, and I always promise them that anything I challenge them to do, I try to do too. So, much of the book is from what my own 7th grade students have shown and taught me in their own vulnerability and joy and pain and hope and humor.
LAT: I love that! I AM STILL GROWING AND LEARNING should be tattooed onto all of our foreheads, I think. Maybe we’d finally achieve world peace, or at least get a little closer than where we are now.
LAT: Through my school visits, I am lucky enough to meet with kids from preschool to high school. I love them all, but middle schoolers are my favorite kids to work with. Yes, there is so much vulnerability and joy and pain and hope and humor all jumbled together in them, and they’re trying so hard to make sense of it all. I’ve heard teachers say middle schoolers are the hardest to teach, but I suspect they may be the most rewarding, too.
Surviving Middle School cover
LAT: After reading SURVIVING MIDDLE SCHOOL, I want to make your book required reading for every kid everywhere who is about to start middle school (so they don’t make all the dumb mistakes I did). Then I felt bad, because I have conflicting feelings about required reading at any age. I imagine that you probably have similarly mixed feelings. As an author, it probably sounds pretty good to you! But… as a language arts teacher, how do you feel about required reading of that type?
LR: You are so kind! I am a big believer in letting kids choose which books they want to read. Even for SURVIVING MIDDLE SCHOOL, I would try to do what I do with other books and students–I’d show them the book and let them read the first few pages, and if it doesn’t resonate with them, I’d want them to find something else. Anytime we force students to read only certain kinds of books, I think we turn them off to reading in general. Not to say that we shouldn’t challenge our students to read a variety of books–but we should always encourage kids to find books that are absolutely IRRESISTIBLE to them–books they love so much they’d want to smother them with ketchup and eat them if they could. I tried my best to make SURVIVING a smothered-in-ketchup kind of book, but if a kid doesn’t think so, I would say to not read it and find something else! 🙂
LAT: OK, then I hope every kid who is about to start middle school anywhere wants to smother SURVIVING MIDDLE SCHOOL with ketchup and eat it!
LAT: Speaking of eating… I have a gluten sensitivity, so I can’t eat garlic bread anymore. I sorely miss its buttery goodness, which, frankly, made your book a little hard to swallow at times (I had to give all of mine to the space gnomes!). What can you recommend as a gluten-free alternative to garlic bread that I can avoid giving to the space gnomes?
LR: Great question! Our family is attempting to go mostly gluten-free, and while at first I was terrified of missing out my foodish soul-mate, I found out about some truly sublime gluten-free breads. Rudi’s is a company that makes AMAZING gluten-free garlic bread. So even the space gnomes can’t steal the garlic bread from those of us who need to or want to live gluten-free! (Here’s the link to Rudi’s Products: http://www.rudisbakery.com/)
LAT: Awesome! Thanks for the recommendation!!
LAT: Finally, if you had to condense your whole book into one short paragraph, what would you want middle schoolers to know most of all?
LR: One thing: YOU MATTER. Your presence here on this earth and in your school and in your family MATTERS. You belong, even when you feel like you don’t. You have a beautiful purpose, even when you feel like you don’t. Just because you might feel weird or strange or like somebody is constantly sticking pretzel sticks up your metaphorical nose, IT WILL GET BETTER. I promise.
LAT: Beautiful, Luke. I hope they hear your message.
LAT: Thank you again for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us today and for doing what you can to make the world a better place, one middle schooler at a time.
LR: Thanks so much Laurie, and huge hugs and much peace your way!
What a great guy, huh? For more great writing from Luke Reynolds, be sure to check out his other books, as well as his blog.

Radio Interview: T Love’s Energy Awareness

head shot of T Love
T Love, host of Energy Awareness

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to get to participate in another fantastic radio interview to talk about Be a Changemaker, and it was a blast! I really felt like the host and I just “clicked” and were on the same wavelength. I wish we weren’t on opposite coasts, because I think we’d have a great time hanging out together.
Please check it out here. Enjoy! 🙂

Radio Interview: Sister Jenna's America Meditating

I had the great good fortune to be on another radio show a couple of weeks ago, this time with Sister Jenna on America Meditating.
I come on at about 15:28, talking about my writing journey, Be a Changemaker, and Emmanuel’s Dream.
I hope you enjoy listening!

Check Out Self Help Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with America Meditating on BlogTalkRadio

 

Thank you to Sister Jenna and her assistant, Antonia, for the interview and also for their wonderful, positive energy throughout. It was a pleasure to participate!

 

Interview with author Janet Lee Carey

Despite some recent posts about fiction picture book New Shoes and its author, Susan Lynn Meyers, I typically try to stick to posts about nonfiction books and authors on this blog. I’m breaking that self-imposed rule yet again, however, because I’m thrilled to host my friend and agent-sister, the amazing author Janet Lee Carey, on her blog tour for her upcoming fantasy novel, In the Time of Dragon Moon!
rsz_1in_the_time_of_dragon_moon_high_res_cover

About the Book:
Beware the dark moon time when love and murder intertwine
            All Uma wants is to become a healer like her father and be accepted by her tribe. But when the mad queen abducts her and takes her north, Uma’s told she must use her healing skills to cure the infertile queen by Dragon Moon, or be burned at the stake. Uma soon learns the queen isn’t the only danger she’s up against. A hidden killer out for royal blood slays the royal heir. The murder is made to look like an accident, but Uma, and the king’s nephew Jackrun, sense the darker truth. Together, they must use their combined powers to outwit a secret plot to overthrow the Pendragon throne. But are they strong enough to overcome a murderer aided by prophecy and cloaked in magic?

From the first time I heard about this book, I’ve been intrigued, and Janet has kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions. Welcome, Janet!

Portrait Janet Lee Carey
photo credit Heidi Pettit

LT: Where did you first get the idea for this particular book, and how did it end up growing and changing as you brought it to life?

JLC: The passion to tell the story of an indigenous healer formed when I flew to Hawaii for a “Maui Immersion” with indigenous healers Lei’ohu and Maydeen. I was profoundly changed by these women’s healing practices as I learned of ancient traditions and the power of the earth’s healing. I knew I wanted to create a story around a female healer, thus Uma was born.

JLC: Jackrun’s story took shape at the same time. I knew they would meet and become embroiled in dangerous castle intrigue involving prophecy, magic, and murder. The novel went through many transformations. I wrote the first draft in both Jackrun’s and Uma’s viewpoint. Later, taking advice from my editor Kathy Dawson, I changed it to a single viewpoint to reveal more of Uma’s personal journey and increase plot tension.

LT: Oh, I love hearing the origins of the female healer story! And it’s so interesting to hear about the viewpoint change.

LT: On a related note, here’s a question from my oldest child (whom you know happens to be one of your biggest fans!): “Why dragons?”

Dragon banner by Jessica cropped final
(Artwork by Jessica L’Esperance)

JLC: Oh, I love this question. I didn’t start out wishing to write about dragons, only to write fantasy novels like the ones I’d grown to love only with my own spin. The first dragon, Lord Faul, emerged from a winter of reading too many fairytales with perfect princesses and evil dragons. I wanted to mix things up a bit, so I created a princess with a dragon’s claw, in Wilde Island book one, Dragon’s Keep, and a powerful fractious dragon with his own particular history or rather, ‘hisssstory’. From there the dragon characters continued to enter the books with their own majestic, intelligent, wild, imperious, stubborn, delightful, personalities. Vazan flew into In the Time of Dragon Moon with her own pithy opinions on the English Queen who holds Uma’s tribe captive on the southernmost tip of Wilde Island;

“This queen will leave the king’s soldiers in Devil’s Boot. We’ll lose all our freedom to these English vermin!”

LT: Ha! I love that the dragons are entering of their own accord. But speaking of English queens… It seems like a bunch of research went into this book. Can you tell us about that? Was it different from previous books? Were there any surprises or stumbling blocks? Do you think you’ll reuse any of that research in future stories?

JLC: All the research I’d done on medieval life for the first two books helped this book enormously. That said, In The Time of Dragon Moon offered a brand new set of challenges. This time tribal medicine had to play a vital role. I created the Adan’s medicinal approach from many sources starting with books about medieval medicine, and expanding to books and articles on tribal medicine, preferably written by indigenous healers themselves. I was also privileged to listen to firsthand accounts of traditional healing practices. All these influences quickened my imagination and helped me create the Adan’s close relationship with plants, and his healing philosophy. The research also compelled me to help save the rainforests, where plants vital to healing are even now being destroyed. Help out here.

JLC: Finally, you asked if there were many surprises and stumbling blocks. Yes! The good news is every stumbling block is a creative opportunity. Much as I hate stumbling blocks, I’ve grown to love the surprising results.

LT: Janet, you’re one of the most creative people I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something given how many authors and artists I know! Can you give us a tiny peek into how your creative process works?

JLC: Wow. Thanks for that, Laurie. We’ve talked a lot about creative process in my novel writing courses and the rule is always ‘Do what works for you,’ so knowing my process may not be the same as yours or anyone else’s, I’ll share a bit about what’s worked for me over the years. I start each day as tabula rasa as possible, beginning with yoga, meditation, and prayer then moving into short spiritual readings from a few books, and journaling – morning pages right out of Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way. All of this readies me for creative flow.

JLC: When the kids were school age I broke the morning up, doing the yoga and meditation before getting them off to school, and the rest of the things after. Mediation clears my mind and readies me for journaling which is “active listening” on paper. The journal pages usually drift toward what’s happening in the book so I move to the office and begin writing. The process sounds time consuming but it works for me. Also, aside from my lovely critique group the Diviners, I belong to an artist’s group with fellow authors, painters, musicians and sculptors called Artemis.

Artemis photo
Left to right, author Janet Lee Carey, visual artist Heidi Pettit, artist/sculptor Jill Sahlstrom, author Katherine Grace Bond, not pictured; sculptor Lisa Sheets, author Dawn Knight, author/musician Margaret Kellermann.

JLC: When Artemis gets together, we take turns sharing about our creative process. I learn as much from the visual artists and sculptors as I do from fellow authors. These sessions sizzle with creativity. Photo below of our yearly River Rock Ceremony. We throw stones in the river with our wishes, plans and dreams. Hours of kerplunking fun!
Artemis river photo
LT: Ah, wishes, plans, and dreams… the perfect segue to my next question: Whenever I’m not writing, I feel like I should be; but whenever I am writing, I feeling like I’m neglecting other important things in my life. What tricks have you learned for balancing your writing with the demands of keeping up with the industry, promoting existing work, taking care of your home and family, personal recreation and self-care, etc.?

JLC: I once made the mistake of confiding this very thing to a soccer mom and she looked at me like I was off my rocker! Here’s the thing. I think writers feel compelled deep down to write. When we neglect it for a while, we get the niggling feeling that something is wrong. When we neglect it for too long, we feel depressed or angry. Once we give in to the urge and actually sit down and write, we feel a great deal better. But then as we write, the laundry piles up and the dust bunnies gather fomenting war under the beds, and our children want a really decent dinner and we feel guilty for having taken so much time away to write, so we go back to our daily duties (the ones other people understand). Then we begin to neglect our writing and start getting that niggling feeling that something’s wrong all over again. There is No solution Laurie T. and I’m not even going to go into taking necessary time to stay in shape or keep up with the industry and launch your books once they’ve been written. The only thing you can do is to be kind to yourself and your family and to accept that things will rarely feel in balance. Bottom line your children will survive and you will get some writing done before you die.

LT: “Bottom line your children will survive and you will get some writing done before you die.” Words to live by. Thank you, Janet!
LT: One more question for you: 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?

JLC: So well said, Laurie! Craft wise I challenged myself to leap and loop. To leap into new scenes and briefly loop back and catch the reader up to anything important that happened between scenes that affected the character emotionally. I’m still trying to perfect this fabulous technique. As to what I learned from the book, I think Uma’s personal strength as she’s trying to heal Queen Adela’s madness taught me something vital about love, acceptance and the kind of deep healing that women often do which is overlooked or taken for granted. As Uma’s medicines fail, she simply bathes the queen, combs her hair, and sings to her. Uma simply stays by the woman’s side, for as Uma says, “Joy and sorrow are songs women have long known.”

LT: Breathtakingly beautiful, Janet.  Thank you so much for answering all of my questions! 
Are you hooked yet? Here’s some more information about Janet and the book…

Book trailer:

Reviews:

  • In the Time of Dragon Moon is a story of courage and romance that readers will not soon forget.” ~VOYA
  • “The author’s world-building is detailed and fascinating . . . This is a must-purchase for libraries owning the earlier installments and a great choice for where teen fantasy is popular.—School Library Journal

 

About the Author:
Janet Lee Carey grew up in the bay area under towering redwoods that whispered secrets in the wind. When she was a child she dreamed of becoming a mermaid (this never happened).She also dreamed of becoming a published writer (this did happen after many years of rejection). She is now an award-winning author of nine novels for children and teens. Her Wilde Island Chronicles are ALA Best Books for Young Adults. She won the 2005 Mark Twain Award and was finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Janet links each new book with a charitable organization empowering youth to read and reach out. She tours the U.S. and abroad presenting at schools, book festivals and conferences for writers, teachers, and librarians. Janet and her family live near Seattle by a lake where rising morning mist forms into the shape of dragons. She writes daily with her imperious cat, Uke, seated on her lap. Uke is jealous of the keyboard. If Janet truly understood her place in the world, she would reserve her fingers for the sole purpose of scratching behind Uke’s ear, but humans are very hard to train. Visit her website here.

Thanks again to Janet Lee Carey for appearing!

In which I make my podcast debut on The Artist Rolls!

As I’ve mentioned before, I love listening to podcasts. One of my favorites is The Artist Rolls.
The Artist Rolls logo
On The Artist Rolls, Sean and Jamie ask their creative guests to fill out a form loosely inspired by character sheets from role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. They use these character sheets to help explore and discuss how each guest divides their time across the many different roles creative people must take on, what mediums they use to do their work, what their personal work style is, and how they view their own skill set. They incorporate dice to randomize the conversation, graphs to help visualize it, and humor and heart to bring it to life. It’s a fun way to learn about other people’s creative processes and challenges.

Sean and Jamie, the hosts of The Artist Rolls
Sean and Jamie, the talented hosts of The Artist Rolls

I was introduced to The Artist Rolls by my good friend (and amazing collage artist!) Liz Ruest. Since then, I’ve enjoyed listening to and learning from many of their chats with other creative types, so it was a thrill to be able to participate in one myself, made even more exciting by the fact that it was my podcast debut! I revealed much of my nerdy nature and consistently rolled well below average, but other than that I don’t think I embarrassed myself too badly. Check it out for yourself by clicking below:

The Artist Rolls, Episode 26 – Laurie Thompson Reminds Us to “Do Unto Others”

Interview w/Matthew Winner of the Let's Get Busy podcast!

Every now and then I stumble on something so wonderful that I want to add it my own list of “My Favorite Things” and share it with the world: the Let’s Get Busy podcast from Matthew Winner is one of those things. Whether you’re an author, illustrator, teacher, librarian, agent, editor, bookseller–if you have anything to do with children’s literature at all–this show is too good to miss. Think you don’t have time for podcasts? I listen while I’m in the car. Or while I walk the dog. Or while I clean the house. And, believe me, all of those tasks are way more enjoyable when you have Matthew and his guests with you!
Matthew recently recorded his 100th episode of the podcast, and he put together a massive blog and podcast tour to celebrate. Here’s where he’s been so far:

And I’m thrilled that today is my turn to host! Matthew was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so we can all get to know him better.
LT: Hi Matthew, and welcome! I’ve already gushed to you about how much I love your podcast, but I’m curious to learn more. How and when did you first become interested in doing a podcast like Let’s Get Busy? How did you get started?
MT: I listen to a lot of podcasts. I mean, a whole lot of podcasts. All the time. When I’m driving to work. When I’m washing the dishes. When I’m shelving books. When I’m mowing the lawn. It’s the primary media I consume. The idea for doing a podcast of my own and, specifically, a kidlit podcast just sort of popped into my head one day, took up camp, and then wouldn’t leave. But it took a conversation with Travis Jonker (of 100 Scope Notes) to nudge me into actually starting it. He and I were talking one evening during an ALA conference in Chicago about how much we love the insights but also those memorable vignettes that inevitably stick in your brain whenever you’re in the company of authors or illustrators (or anyone who has something to say, for that matter). Travis asked me what my next big project would be and I told him that all I could think about was this idea of capturing these sorts of conversations through a loosely formatted podcast. Then he basically asked me when I was starting, and that was all it took.
LT: Sometimes we just need the tiniest nudge, don’t we? (Thanks, Travis!) You sure have been busy since then. I can’t believe you started less than a year and half ago, and you’re already up to 100 episodes!
LT: How much time do you spend on the podcast overall, and what’s the breakdown of how that time is spent (lining up guests, recording and editing, promoting, etc.)?
MW: Eeep. Let me try to make this as interesting as possible.
MW: I shoot for 30-minute recordings so that I’m able to post twice a week (or 8 episodes per month). A lot of this is based on bandwidth limitations and the cost of maintaining a subscription on Libsyn, a podcast host site. I usually talk with each guest for about an hour total and we spend the unaired time locking into a comfortable candor (or going on tangents and then saying, “Shoot! I should be recording this!”). Editing and prepping the accompanying blog post takes anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes. And coordinating schedules and review materials and recording logistics over email can take upwards of 30 minutes per scheduled guest, but that might be over a series of weeks.
MW: So, let’s see. That’s 25 minus the circumference of Y, carry the 3 and substitute 7 for X… about 2-3 hours per guest from first contact to published and promoted episode.
LT: That’s a big commitment (but less than I thought–you’re fast!). What then is the hardest part of doing the podcast, and how do you deal with that?
MW: The hardest part for me is asking new people to come on. It seems like everyone and their mother has a podcast nowadays, but I’m often the first podcast my guests have ever appeared on or, in some cases, listened to. And also, many of them have no idea who I am. That gets in my brain and makes me think all sorts of wonky things and then I start to psych myself out over sending that first contact email. I’ve coped with it by asking each of my guests, following our own conversations, to recommend a friend or colleague whom they think my be a good fit for the podcast or this interview format. It’s worked pretty well for me and my guest list now reads like one great big family photo album with all sorts of zigzagging connections between each of the faces.
LT: That is really neat to envision. So much of what we do is built on personal relationships, isn’t it? I don’t think you have anything to worry about, though. First, kidlit people are the best people in the world, don’t you think? And second, I’m sure most authors and illustrators are thrilled by the opportunity to chat with you: you’re interested in our work, and you give us a chance to talk about it. Just remember: we’re nice, and you’re doing us a favor. There’s no need to psych yourself out! 🙂
LT: What has surprised you most about the podcast?
MW: Everything surprises me about the podcast. Sometimes the thing that surprises me most is knowing that anyone’s actually listening. I learn something new with each new person who comes on and by rule of thumb I allow myself space to wonder, to be excited, to nerd out over process, and to ask whatever comes to mind. That approach has served me well and has led to a good deal of surprises when our conversations take unexpected turns. It’s how I learned that Laurie Keller (Arnie the Doughnut) plays banjo, that Nick Bruel (Bad Kitty) used to work at Books of Wonder, a landmark children’s bookstore in New York, and that Steve Light (Have You Seen My Dragon?) works with PreSchool students!
LT: I love that every episode feels like a casual conversation between friends, rather than an interview, per se. In fact, it’s my favorite thing about listening to them! What is your favorite thing about doing them?
MW: So, I have a blog called The Busy Librarian. I started it as a sort of advocacy blog for all of us teacher librarians who are all just so busy all the time. On October 10th, 2010, I published my first post. Here is the text in its entirety:

This is a blog for busy librarians.
For those of us who feel, well, overwhelmed.
It’s a place of comfort and, hopefully, a source of inspiration.
Here you will find the opportunity to interact globally and to impact locally.
We’ll synergize moments, ideas, and activities that will enable us to become more effective librarians, more efficient in our libraries, and more energetic with our students, without feeling like things are careening out of control.
So, let’s get busy!

It made perfect sense to me to name the podcast as an extension of the blog itself. Hence, Let’s Get Busy. My very good pal Sherry Gick, teacher librarian at Rossville Consolidated Schools in Rossville, IN, and author of the Library Fanatic blog, and Nikki Ohs Barnes, fellow Nerdy Book Club member and co-founder of the Virtual Book Club, met me at ALA where, just one night previous, Travis and I had talked about podcasting. Super excited to share, I told Sherry and Nikki that I was going to start a podcast and that I decided to call it Let’s Get Busy after my blog. They both immediately broke into what they decided would have to be the podcast sound effect… a sort of BOW-CHIKKA-WOAH-WOW that I have not to this day been able to get out of my head whenever I’m about to start an interview. Carrying those sorts of memories around everywhere I go is definitely my favorite thing. And with 100 episode behind me, I’m definitely carrying around a lot of stories!
LT: I’m sure you are!
LT: How do you feel your other activities (teaching, presenting, writing, blogging, Twitter, parenting, etc.) make the podcast better? And, vice versa, how does the podcast contribute to those other facets of your life?
MW: Oh my word! Everything and I mean EVERYTHING goes into the pot when it comes to making these recordings. Books from my picture book guests are typically already bedtime staples with our 4-year-old son. Teaching and being a teacher librarian is the best and comes up over and over again on our chats because I like to share the way that the guests’ book is reaching kids and supporting readers in ways that I get to experience firsthand. Twitter is my professional learning community, but it’s also where I get to nerd out with friends over great kidlit and meet very cool people creating very cool books in the process, many of whom I’ll invite on the podcast because their work sticks with me.
MW: Doing the podcast brings me pure joy and is or has become a part of my identity. And I’ve gotten to meet a ton of really cool people in the process. I’m thankful that our son is growing up in a house surrounded with beautiful picture books, both on our bookshelves, and in frames hanging up throughout our house.
LT: Oh, I love that. Why have I never thought of framing picture books?  (Hmmm… just in time for Christmas, too!)
LT: I’ve always said that I will know I’ve made it when I receive one letter from one child saying that something I wrote made a positive difference in his or her life. How do you define success? Do you feel like you’ve achieved it? If not, what’s left on your to-do list?
MW: I listen to my guests and I listen to my listeners. The podcast succeeds when the guests feel like they’ve found a home in our conversation and when the listeners feel like they’re in the room with us. I also try to take in the kind things people are saying about Let’s Get Busy or about me personally. Seymour Simon once told me that he thinks of me “like a son” and that he’s proud of me. I achieved all I ever wanted when I published the very first episode of Let’s Get Busy. And I’m thankful that so many people feel moved to tell me how the podcast is connecting with them. Success to me is knowing that one person cares about the thing you’re making, or saying, or creating. And I’m one person that cares a great deal about what I myself am making, saying, and creating. So with every episode I get to share, I’ve already achieved success before a single download occurs.
LT: What a wonderful attitude, Matthew! I care a great deal about what you’re making, saying, a creating, too. Thanks so much for sharing it with us ! 


As you can see from above, Matthew calls himself “the busy librarian” for good reason. Here are some of the places you can find more from him:

And be sure to follow the rest of the Let’s Get Busy podcast/blog tour, here:

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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