Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Meet GROGer Todd Burleson! ~ by Patricia Toht

Todd Burleson is the GROG's fearless leader, tech trouble-shooter, and all-around great guy. Just look at that smiling face!

To know Todd is to love him, so I'm delighted to introduce him to you. 

What drew you to writing for children, Todd?

Five years ago when I started working as a library media specialist, my relationship with words changed forever. Now, I read hundreds of picture books aloud to students each year. I feel and hear the rhythm of words and see the interplay that they have with illustrations. In short, I started ‘seeing’ the world through books.  Pretty quickly I realized, as Orson Scott Card said: “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” I’m doing pretty well if I get one new idea a day, but that doesn’t stop me from looking! 

Todd hosts Jon Muth at Hubbard Woods Elementary School
Another visitor, Arun Ghandi

How do you come up with ideas to write about?

Curiosity inspires me to write; I’m never bored. I am always exploring new media, books and ideas. I have a long commute, but I look at that commuting time as idea gathering time. I find that NPR and Podcasts spark tiny ideas that frequently lead to some of my best writing projects. I keep a pad of paper in my car at all times and post it notes are omnipresent! I also love to experience new things and travel. There are amazing stories everywhere.
Todd is quite the adventurous man!
How long have you been writing?

I was an early reader, but writing didn’t come easily for me as a kid. In fact, I don’t remember a single writing project I did in school. What I do remember, felt formulaic and forced. ‘Writing’ then for me, took the form of lists and outlines. Eventually, those lists evolved and spilled into journal entries, which gave me a way to ‘think.’ Soon, poetry and song lyrics crept into my journals.  Next came sketches, photographs and ticket stubs. Mix in lots of new experiences and places and you have pretty fertile ground for ideas!

What authors have mentored you?

Whether they realize it or not, I’ve learned from the best!  I make studying my favorite authors a big part of my writing ‘workout.’  I’m constantly typing out the text of my favorite authors to feel and see their rhythm and phrasing.  I’m one of 16 authors here on the
Ann Bausum's latest book,
Stubby the War Dog
GROG and have learned so, so much from reading and working alongside them.
  I am thrilled to have been selected by SCBWI WI to be mentored by award winning author Ann Bausum.  I’ll be working with her this year on a non-fiction picture book project and soaking up every ounce of knowledge I can!

(Not only are you working with mentor Ann Bausum this year, Todd, you've also recently been awarded a Highlights scholarship for nonfiction and you're working with agent, Jodell Sadler. I think 2015 is going to be a very good year for you!)

What is your current WIP?

Right now, I’ve got two that have bubbled to the top. One is a story about the first magician in America, and the other is about the last ice merchant on Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador.  Both of these topics intrigued me enough to research them and when I did I found that there were stories there that I thought needed to be told.
Todd busy at research.
If you could invite any author or illustrator to dinner, who would it be?

This was a tough question. Lately I’ve been enamored with Snowflake Bentley written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian. It won the Caldeott in 1999. I like that Jacqueline is such a diverse writer; I have to imagine she’s a fascinating person. I would love to have both of them over for dinner. 

Do you have a favorite picture book?

That should be hard, but I actually really do have one:  Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. Of course this Caldecott winner’s images are phenomenal, but it’s the way the words and images work together that make it my favorite. Just the first line shouts to me that it is going to be amazing: “It was late one winter night, long past my bedtime, when Pa and I went owling.” I have never been owling, but I sure feel like I would know what to do after reading this book. 

What are your hobbies?

Making stuff. I like to explore with different media: photography, painting, sketching, wood, etc. Someday I hope to have a barn that is my ‘creation space.’ I want to be able to sling paint on giant canvases, weld huge chunks of steel and turn all sorts of things on a lathe! Basically I want to have a place where I can make a HUGE mess! I recently restored a 1947 Tourette Teardrop Trailer and took it on an epic road trip with my son. I love fly-fishing and visiting national parks around the country.

Todd and his daughter Grace after completing a high ropes course!

What’s one thing about yourself that very few people know?

I’m color blind in one eye; but I can’t remember which eye it is!

Where can readers find about more about you?

Visit my personal blog, ToddBurlesonWrites.
Read about my work as children's librarian, A Zen Librarian, here.
Follow my restoration and travels in my 1947 Teardrop Trailer.
And, of course, follow along on the GROG!

Thanks for giving a peek into your life, Todd, and best wishes for your writing this year!


  1. Great interview! Interesting and fun getting to know Todd better!

    1. Angie,
      Thank you! Writing my responses was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I'm glad you enjoyed reading the interview. Thanks to Patty for the great questions!


    2. I believe we've only scratched the surface of getting to know you, Todd Burleson, man of mystery and wonder!

    3. You are too funny Patty!


  2. Nice to know you more, Todd. Great photos!

  3. Congrats on your recent achievements and great success to you this year, Todd! :0)

    1. Many thanks! Here's to a terrific year for all of us writers!

  4. wow, Todd, you are well on your way to publication! Your school kids are fortunate to have such a dedicated librarian, and your son is blessed to have such an adventurous dad. Best wishes!

    1. Jane,
      Thank you! It's a great thing when what you love and what you do meet. I'm an incredibly lucky person to spend my days surrounded by books, kids and technology!

  5. Learning more about our GROG Blog leader affirms that Todd is a man of positive character and a creative individual who shares his love of literacy with students at Hubbard Woods Elementary School.

    Snowflake Bentley and Owl Moon are two of my favorite picture books, too.

    All the best on your journey of writing. I look forward to hearing about your mentorship with Ann Bausum and the writing opportunity with Highlights.

    Thank you Patty for sharing Todd's story.


    1. Suzy,
      This was a lot of fun. Answering those questions took a long, long time. Patty asked some great ones and really got me to think. I'm so grateful to be a part of this GROG and to be able to spend my days with kids. They keep me young and happy.

    2. It was a pleasure, Suzy. I had the easy part -- ask some questions. Todd did the heavy lifting here. :)

  6. Who IS that famous author Arun Ghandi & Jon Muth are each standing next to?

    Todd I thought I knew about you from your emails, posts here at GB & reading ToddBurlesonWrites. But I've learned so much more.

    I love the Orson Scott Card quote & intend to use it at my next presentation.

    Good luck with all your many assignment/projects in this twinkletoes 2015 year.

    1. Patty,
      Thank you for bringing our maestro to us in this fashion!

  7. I enjoyed getting to know all about you, Todd. My favorite PB is also Owl Moon! You remind me of my son with all the things you like to do. My son has a forge, wood and metal lathe, he welds and does woodworking and has about every tool there is to have. He's always amazing me with the things he makes. Good luck with your writing!