23 Nov

Bartography Express for November 2014, featuring K.A. Holt’s Rhyme Schemer

This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of Rhyme Schemer (Chronicle), the new middle-grade novel in verse by Kari Anne Holt.

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.

20141120 Bartography Express

30 Oct

Some things I learned from writing Shark Vs. Train and Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!

Attack Boss Cheat Code - May 2014


I’ve got a new guest-post at Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations blog on the roles my kids played (and they roles they didn’t) in the creation of my picture books Shark Vs. Train and Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet.

Here’s a smidge of what I say:

Every book is an opportunity to navigate that territory in the middle, between what we adults want and love and think we know and what those kids want and love and think they know.

Through my experiences with Shark Vs. Train and Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!, I’ve come to appreciate just how much room there is to maneuver through that middle ground.

To read the rest, please visit Cynsations

28 Sep

Games & Books & Q&A: P.J. Hoover

TutI knew as soon as I saw how P.J. Hoover was promoting her latest book that she would be a great addition to the Games & Books & Q&A series of interviews with gaming professionals about books and with children’s and YA authors about video games. She discusses her neato approach below (yes, I just said “neato”), but first let me get you caught up on P.J.’s career so far.

Central Texas is fertile ground both for technology companies and for books for young readers, and P.J. has been part of both of those worlds. She made the switch from electrical engineer to author, debuting with the Forgotten Worlds trilogy. Last year saw the publication of her dystopian YA novel, Solstice (Tor Teen), and this year she’s followed up with her middle-grade adventure novel Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Starscape).

On a personal note, having gotten an early glimpse at the manuscript for this book six years ago, let me just say how satisfying it is to see Tut arrive on bookstore shelves — and how glad I am that P.J. took the time to talk with me about gaming.

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

PJH: You mean besides how quickly I could go through a roll of quarters? The thing I remember most about those early games was what a fantastic job they did transporting me to another place, even with their limited graphics. Maybe it was the way the arcade machine blocked out the sides, but when I played Jungle Hunt at the skating rink, I was there, swinging on the vines, swimming underwater. I also remember how much better some kids were than me. I’m pretty sure their parents gave them more quarters than mine gave me. :-)

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

PJH: Games I played the absolute most were the ones I had at home (because there was no roll of quarters required). On the Commodore 64, I had Jumpman, M.U.L.E., Q*bert, and Wolfenstein. Q*bert I adored because I was actually better than anyone I knew at it. I loved how, if I executed certain patterns, I would evade all the obstacles. And Wolfenstein I loved because it had a whole story behind the game. I was trapped in a castle full of bad guys and I had to escape! Also, I was good at it, too. I escaped the castle almost every time. Achtung!

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

SONY DSCPJH: With two kids at home (ages 10 and 13), one of our favorite things to do together is to play games. Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U is a great family time activity (actually the whole Wii mentality is very family based). One of my kids still plays Wizard101 with me (imagine World of Warcraft meets Harry Potter). I’m proud to admit that I am a Level 71 Fire Wizard in the game (which translates to many hours played). I’m also trying to improve my Portal 2 skills on the Xbox (the cake is a lie). So to say video games play a role in my life today is an understatement. I encourage parents to take time out of their lives and play games with their kids. They’re actually a ton of fun.

I see how much time kids want to be on the computer, and given my love of gaming, I’ve developed some fun gaming tie-ins for Tut. There’s a Minecraft server developed for the book where kids can explore both ancient Egypt and modern-day Washington, D.C, unlocking hidden clues as they go. There’s also an old-school 10-level video game, written using Scratch (a fun programming platform created by MIT). The game requires basic evasion, puzzle solving, and decoding. (Cheats are available on my website.)

I had to delete Candy Crush from my phone because I was playing far too much. :-)


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.

02 Jun

This is your parental brain on Minecraft

Who knows why author Melissa Wiley‘s children chose Minecraft as the vehicle through which to educate her about a major scientist? What matters is that they did, and that the whole thing is adorable:

One day I accidentally fed [Minecraft dogs] Darwin and Newton too many pork chops at the same time, and you know what that means: a puppy. I couldn’t wait for this new pooch to grow up, so I could see what name the girls would give it.

When I came home this afternoon, half dead after a skeleton ambush, the pup was waiting beside the front door, all grown up and sporting a new blue collar. Her name was Annie, the hover-text informed me. I was a little surprised that the girls hadn’t continued the scientist theme.

Shows what I know.

The parental affection is just as obvious, though expressed just a little bit differently, in James Parker’s recent essay in The Atlantic, “The Game That Conquered the World“:

Can it be true that in Minecraft, to apply a line of Philip Larkin’s, how we live measures our own nature? An octopus’s garden, a whirling hall of knives … Choose, minecrafter. Build. It’s all you. My son, to my astonishment, is building an international airport. Me, I’ve killed a couple of cows. I made a start on a crafting table, and then gave up. And now I sit in obscurity, in my roofless house of dirt.

And in case you’re wondering, the “M” in my upcoming book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet does not stand for Minecraft. But the game adored by Parker and Wiley’s offspring is in there somewhere. My own 10-year-old wouldn’t have it any other way.