25 Sep

Bartography Express for September 2014, featuring Laurie Ann Thompson’s Be a Changemaker

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This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of Be a Changemaker (Beyond Words), the new YA how-to guide from debut author Laurie Ann Thompson.

If you’re not already receiving Bartography Express, click the image below for a look. If you like what you see, click “Join” in the bottom right corner, and you’ll be in the running for the giveaway at the end of this week.

20140925 Bartography Express

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22 Sep

Games & Books & Q&A: Glenn “Commander” Banton of Operation Supply Drop

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OperationSupplyDropGlenn “Commander” Banton, the board chairman and executive director of Operation Supply Drop (OSD), is the next interviewee from the field of gaming in my Games & Books & Q&A series.

OSD is a 501(c)(3) charity that provides video-game-filled care packages to American and allied soldiers, both those deployed to combat zones and those recovering in military hospitals. The organization plans to increase on-base activities stateside, contribute further to peacekeeping and humanitarian missions worldwide, and help soldiers leaving the military to transition into entry-level game-developer jobs.

For reasons that you’ll read for yourself below, my exchange with Glenn brought to mind the much-needed focus and attention that “reluctant readers” receive from librarians today, as exemplified by this session at last year’s American Library Association conference. If you could use some “strategies for turning reluctant readers into ‘eager readers,'” I highly recommend it.

CB: What do you remember about the first video game you ever played?

G”C”B: This is a great question! While I’m not 100% sure what the actual first game was, it almost certainly was on one of those Tiger handheld systems. Maybe the Bo Jackson Football/Baseball combo, Paperboy, or electronic football. We didn’t have a console-type system, so I remember saving up the $20-30 for these individual games. Also, around the same time frame I recall the long days and nights on Super Mario Bros. as well as the day we beat the game… and the utter disappointment in that it just starts the game over. I still know the house I was in when that happened and have even shown my kids. I’m not sure they’re impressed.

CB: What did you like to read when you were a kid? What did you love about it?

SuperfudgeG”C”B: When I was a kid, I had a love/hate relationship with reading — meaning I loved to hate it — which is quite odd given how much I now read as an adult. I remember very clearly reading (and enjoying) books like Henry and the Paper Route by Beverly Clearly or Superfudge or How to Eat Fried Worms as well as what I’m sure a lot of kids’ favorite library checkout was around the same time, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but that was very small window during 4th/5th grade.

In order to encourage more reading late in elementary school into middle school, my parents even offered to pay me 10 cents per chapter, and for some reason this didn’t work, either. As I got older, entering high school and then college, I can’t honestly remember reading much other than the Cliff’s Notes versions of books unless they were nonfiction. I believe this had a lot to do with the number of books being assigned in school and not having the time time to actually explore what I would have liked to read. I’d rather read books on computer programming or historical books, but those weren’t a part of the curriculum.

As I mention, though, I read a lot these days, probably 2-5 books each month. And even with both of my kids, they’re the types that telling them they cannot read would be a punishment.

CB: What book that you read while growing up had the most influence on who you became as an adult?

G”C”B: There are actually two, with one being more of a series of books. The first and most influential is the Bible. There is no other book on the planet from which a kid, or adult for that matter, can draw such wisdom. I still read the Bible every day. The second would be the Cub Scout, then Boy Scout handbooks. I was a scout for 7+ years, and nearly everything we did was also taught or narrated from one of these books. I’ve had the pleasure of recently starting up scouting again with my son, so it’s great to share these same lessons with him.


I expect to continue this series through the October publication of my book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet. (I suspect that this book will appeal to a few of those reluctant readers we just discussed.) If there’s anyone in the gamer or kidlit camp that you’d love to see me feature in upcoming posts in this series, please drop me a line or tweet at me or just leave a message in the comments.

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18 Sep

The story behind Modern First Library

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Modern First Library

I’m guest-blogging over at Cynsations today with a behind-the-scenes account of how the Modern First Library program came about. Here’s a taste of what I’ve got to say:

A widespread urge to Do Something About This led to lots of conversations among authors, editors, librarians, and other champions of children’s literature. It led to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. And it led me to email Meghan Goel, the children’s-book buyer at my beloved local indie BookPeople, to discuss a new spin on the notion I’d had on that recent walk.

Wait — email Meghan in what capacity? As an author? Yes, but also as a BookPeople customer, and as a dad, and as a member of the community. Of various communities, in fact, large and small. What’s important is not whether I felt especially qualified to lend my voice but rather that I had an idea that I thought might be worth trying, and I decided not to keep it to myself. Sharing an idea was the least I could do.

Thank you, Cynthia Leitich Smith, for inviting me to share that story. And thanks to Meghan and the BookPeople staff for the fact that we have this story to share in the first place.

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17 Sep

One Death, Nine Stories, the audiobook

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One Death Nine Stories audio

It never occurred to me to add “Have short story performed by Dion Graham of The Wire” to my bucket list, but I think maybe I’ll do so now, just so I can cross it off.

Graham and Christina Traister both deliver vivid, meaningful readings of the stories in One Death, Nine Stories, one of which is my contribution, “Two-a-Days.” What a neat experience it was to hear my work read — performed — in that way the first time. And the second. And…

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16 Sep

Here’s to Be a Changemaker!

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My friend Laurie Ann Thompson‘s debut, Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters, comes out today. I’m so enthusiastic about this book that I’ll be giving away a copy and featuring an interview with Laurie in this month’s edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).

I was happy to join other author friends of Laurie’s in showing support for her book in a series of posts last week on the EMU’s Debuts blog. Several of us recounted our own experiences in trying to make the world a little bit better. Have a look, read the rest of the series, and think about who you know that might love a book like this.

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15 Sep

Games & Books & Q&A: Sam Johnson of KingsIsle

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Wizard101The next interviewee from the field of gaming in my Games & Books & Q&A series is Sam Johnson.

Sam aspired to be a game designer as early as high school, and he began his career as a writer for Shadowbane. Now, as Lead Creative Designer for KingsIsle Entertainment, Sam creates and writes the storylines for the company’s massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, which include Wizard101 and Pirate101.

CB: What do you remember about the first video game you ever played?

SJ: There’s a few ways I could answer this, given the nature of video games today. I’m one of the old guys, who actually remembers the birth of the medium – I’ve seen a lot of stuff come and go. So I’ll cheat and give you 3 answers, one for each of the major platforms:

Coin-Operated stand up: The first video game I ever played, ever, was a coin op — it was a black and white game called Tank: Think of the main tank game on the old Atari 2600 Combat cartridge, but not in color. No narrative, graphics beyond primitive, sound crude as well. For all its crudeness, I remember how fun it was, in a visceral way — the competitive nature of it (I think you had to play against another player — no AI tanks on screen) instantly amped everything up. It didn’t matter that my collection of little squares barely looked like a tank, or that the shots from my cannon barely traveled faster than my tank did. As soon as a match started, my heart was racing and my adrenaline was through the ceiling. I remember trying to dodge the little obstacles without getting stuck on them.

Console Game: The first game I played in the comfort of my own home was Pong. Yup, straight up Pong. It was on a console the size of an Atari 2600, but there was no cartridge — the game (and like one or two variants) was hard-wired into the thing. I remember how responsive the controls were: if you spun that wheel too fast, you’d miss the little square ball and lose — it was my first experience of having to get zen and concentrate in a video game — the heart-racing that was so fun in Tank was counter-productive.

Computer Game: The first computer game I had was Ultima III: Exodus on my good old Apple 2. What I remember about that one was how big and rich the world seemed — new mysteries would open up all the time: dungeons I missed, or hidden cities that were illustrated on the cloth map but that I couldn’t find for the life of me when I stomped around that tiled landscape. I also remember thinking it was silly that they pluralized “Orcus” as “Orcuss” — I played DnD, so I knew “Orcus” was unique.

CB: What did you like to read when you were a kid? What did you love about it?

SJ: I’d have to say comic books more than anything. They actually taught me a lot of vocabulary, and the old Marvel ones were fraught with little literary nods: “Ours is but to do and die,” “The Light That Failed,” that kind of thing. I also read a ton of classics comics — to this day I haven’t managed to finish The Odyssey and I haven’t read a word of The Count of Monte Cristo, but I know those stories because of what I read. I also dearly loved science fiction, as much of it as I could get my hands on. I loved learning words, and seeing how you could make such awesome phrases and sentences out of them. I ended up a writer, go figure.

CB: What book that you read while growing up had the most influence on who you became as an adult?

Lizard MusicSJ: Boy, that’s a tough one. It all depends on what you mean by “when growing up.” So again, I’ll give you two answers:

Elementary School: Lizard Music, by Daniel Pinkwater. I really identified with the main character — he was a nerd like me, an outsider, with his distinct loves (Walter Cronkite, pizza) and the things he worried about: getting the glue right on his model airplane, or the pockets of superhot cheese that might be lurking under the surface of that piece of pizza. That book taught me it was okay to be me. Also, the mystery and the adventure he got into helped me really cherish my imagination, and hang on to the idea that I could find really wondrous or special things buried under ordinary life if I looked at it through the right eyes.

High School: The Stand, by Steven King. I felt like I knew those characters, like I’d lived with them my whole life. They turned into my role models. I learned about love in that book, and devotion, and faith, and endurance. Stu Redman taught me to do whatever it takes, and how to endure hardships without despairing. Looking at Stu, I saw the grown up I wanted to be. Harold Lauder showed me the dark side of the nerd I was growing up into, who I might end up if I let jealousy and ego consume me — he taught me what kind of man I did not want to be. I’ve had some really hard times in my life, and the example of all those characters helped me come through them intact. And I have to say, at the darkest moment in my life (I was still growing up at 23), Glen Bateman’s realization and sacrifice literally saved my life.


I expect to continue this series through the October publication of my book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet. If there’s anyone in the gamer or kidlit camp that you’d love to see me feature in upcoming posts in this series, please drop me a line or tweet at me or just leave a message in the comments.

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07 Sep

Games & Books & Q&A: Kelly Milner Halls

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Ghostly EvidenceYou know that saying about great minds thinking alike? Good. Then I don’t have to repeat it here. But I will point out that among author Kelly Millner Halls‘ next projects is a video game book — a history of them, called Game On — and let you draw your own conclusions.

While we wait for Kelly’s gaming book, we can enjoy her latest one, Ghostly Evidence: Exploring the Paranormal (Millbrook Press). Booklist says of Ghostly Evidence, “This engaging selection takes a nonsensational, rational look at aspects of the paranormal: ghosts, haunted locales, ghost hunters, and supernatural hoaxes. Incorporating personal accounts from both believers and skeptics, the author presents balanced coverage, exposing obvious frauds and deceptions alongside occurrences that defy rational explanation.”

We can also pass the time by talking with Kelly about her own gaming experiences in this latest entry in my Games & Books & Q&A series.

CB: What do you remember about the first video game you ever played?

KMH: As a teenager, I watched my mom save all her quarters so we could go to the pizza parlor to play Pong as a table top game and Pac-Man in a traditional arcade cabinet. We spent hours burning through those quarters — even more when a real arcade opened in our town. I was hooked. Video games would never be absent from my life again. But what really sealed the deal was getting one of the first NES in 1983 as a new mother. When my first daughter couldn’t sleep, Mario kept us company and stole my heart. It was ON!

CB: What games did you play the most when you were a kid? What did you love about them?

KMH: Because I’m old (*smile*), I cut my teeth on pinball, then the very first video games like Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Donkey Kong — the Golden Age of classic consoles. But my mom bought the first Atari system for herself, so I explored all of those games early on at home. I followed the same pattern with my kids, visiting arcades to play Centipede, Frogger (thank you, David Lubar), Primal Rage, Ms. Pac-Man and the lot. My daughters have literally never known life without video games.

I loved competing with myself — trying to beat my personal best every time I played. Carving your electronic initials as a high scoring player was nice, but beating your own score was better. And video games spirit you out of your own world and into an alternative universe. While you play, you don’t have to think about anything but the game. And that can be cleansing, in healthy doses. Besides, it’s FUN. I also played tennis everyday, and I found that if I was frustrated with a parent, a class or a teacher, I got the same opportunity to safely vent my feelings on the court AND in the games. Also healthy.

CB: What role do games play in your life today?

VideoGameConsoleKellyKMH: Today, my daughters play video games — my oldest, Kerry, plays casually; my youngest, Vanessa, plays with absolute devotion. We own just about every console and hand held systems, plus MANY, many games because Vanessa has worked for GameStop for years. We play for fun, for research, or for family connection. Some contemporary games are story driven — expansive games like HALO or Red Dead Redemption, Final Fantasy or Assassin’s Creed. Even Chrono Trigger is story driven. To me, those game experiences are very much like good fictional books. Some are driven by gore, like classic horror movies, games like Left 4 Dead or Dead Rising. Others are just good solid fun like Mario Kart, Castle Crashers, Pokemon, and Rayman. No matter what game we play, we play as a family, so it’s a bonding experience. And that’s what I love most about video games — they really can serve to strengthen a family.


I expect to continue this series through the October publication of my book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet. If there’s anyone in the gamer or kidlit camp that you’d love to see me feature in upcoming posts in this series, please drop me a line or tweet at me or just leave a message in the comments.

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06 Sep

A comprehensive list of U.S. college- and university-sponsored or -hosted children’s and young adult literature conferences, festivals, and symposia

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(All of them that I could find, anyway.)

In 2011, I was looking for such a list, wondered why I couldn’t find one, and decided to just go ahead and make one myself. Since then, I’ve periodically updated and reposted it, and I plan to continue doing so. If I’ve missed any, or included some that no longer exist, won’t you please let me know?

University of Arizona Tucson Festival of Books

University of Redlands Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Literature Festival

University of Connecticut Connecticut Children’s Book Fair

Kennesaw State University Conference on Literature for Children and Young Adults
The University of Georgia Children’s Literature Conference

Northern Illinois University Children’s Literature Conference

Northern Kentucky University, Thomas More College, University of Cincinnati, and Xavier University Ohio Kentucky Indiana Children’s Literature Conference

University of Kentucky McConnell Conference

Frostburg State University Spring Festival of Children’s Literature
Salisbury University Read Green Festival

Framingham State University Children’s Literature Festival

St. Cloud State University Children’s Literature Workshop
University of Minnesota Kerlan Award Ceremony
University of St. Thomas Hubbs Children’s Literature Conference

University of Central Missouri Children’s Literature Festival

The University of Southern Mississippi Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival

Concordia University Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival

New Hampshire
Keene State College Children’s Literature Festival

New Jersey
Montclair State University New Jersey Council of Teachers of English Spring Conference
Rutgers University One-on-One Plus Conference

New York
Stony Brook University – Southampton Southampton Children’s Literature Conference

Bowling Green State University Literacy in the Park
Kent State University Virginia Hamilton Conference
The University of Findlay Mazza Museum Summer Conference and Weekend Conference
Youngstown State University English Festival

Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference

Sam Houston State University Jan Paris Bookfest: Children’s & YA Conference
Texas A&M University – Commerce Bill Martin Jr Memorial Symposium

Brigham Young University Symposium on Books for Young Readers
Utah Valley University Forum on Engaged Reading

The College of William and Mary Joy of Children’s Literature Conference
Longwood University Summer Literacy Institute and Virginia Children’s Book Festival
Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference

Western Washington University Children’s Literature Conference

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23 Aug

Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! contest: What is Z for?

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Attack Boss Cheat Code - May 2014Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet — written by me, with illustrations by Joey Spiotto — will be published this fall. It’s pretty obvious what letters A, B, and C are for, but what about the rest of the alphabet?

Our publisher, POW!, will be giving away one advance copy of the book for every letter between D and Z. How do you win one of those copies? Just guess correctly what one of those letters stands for.

But you better do it quickly, because we’ve gotten to Z and so we’re wrapping things up today. In Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet, what gaming term is represented by Z? As a clue, here’s a bit of Joey’s art for the final letter:

Z is for ... ?

Z is for … ?

You can share your guess in the comments of this post, or via email, or by tweeting at me. Then POW! and I will draw one correct guess at random and get in touch with the random-correct-guesser for mailing info.

But remember: Get those guesses submitted in the next couple of days. Good luck, and thanks for playing!

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22 Aug

The Gamer’s Alphabet letters no one has guessed yet

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The giveaway for Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet ends this weekend, but there are still a few letters up for grabs. Maybe you can be the first one to correctly guess the terms that Joey Spiotto and I used for…

The letter G. Here’s the clue:

G is for ...

G is for … ?

Guesses have included:
game controller
game over
game hog

The letter H. Here’s the clue:

H is for ...

H is for … ?

Guesses have included:
hit points
human shield

The letter I. Here’s the clue:

I is for...

I is for… ?

Guesses have included:
insert coin

The letter K. Here’s the clue:

K is for ... ?

K is for … ?

Guesses have included:

The letter W. Here’s the clue:

W is for ... ?

W is for … ?

Guesses have included:
World of Warcraft?
warp zone

Whew! That’s a lot of wrong guesses!

And finally…

The letter X. Here’s the clue:

X is for ... ?

X is for … ?

Guesses have included:
x(s) as in times something, like a 75x combo or multiplier on your score
planet X

If you can’t wait until the on-sale date of October 28 to get a look at the whole book, get those guesses in now!

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