Monday, October 30, 2017

Todd Burleson Teacher, Librarian, & Technology Specialist Extraordinaire

By Janie Reinart

Give three cheers for our own Todd Burleson, a passionate educator and librarian/technology specialist. Todd was recently named as the 2016 School Library Journal's School Librarian of the Year!  He started the Grog Blog and is now adding author to his list of accomplishments.

Be excited people! There is a raffle (Rafflecopter will pick the winner) to win one copy of Todd's book,
The Green Screen Makerspace Project Book launching November 24,2017.  There is info toward the bottom of the interview about how to get the book for 20% off and free shipping!

Without further ado, here is the interview.

1. Who is your agent? 

I actually don’t have one!  I did for about a year and a half and it wasn’t the right fit, so I decided to explore other options. 

I was lucky enough to have become friends with Colleen and Aaron Graves.  They wrote the highly successful, Big Book of Makerspace Projects, also through McGraw Hill/Tab.   

When their publisher asked them to write a book about using a green screen in maker spaces, they said that they weren’t experts, but knew someone who was-me!  So, they asked me if I would want to write it.  The rest, as they say, is history!

2. How did you get the idea for your book?

As I mentioned above, the push came from my friends Colleen and Aaron Graves.  Once they set the idea into motion, I had to come up with a full book proposal for my editor.  That was a process in and of itself.  

I had to sum the book up in one concise paragraph.  Next, I had to create a table of contents. The meat of the project is the 24 step-by-step projects. I didn’t have to include all the steps, but I did have to share an overview of each of them.   

Once that was accepted, the book was a go. I received several deadlines to help the process stay on track. My editor, Michael McCabe, proofed each stage, gave feedback and guidance and encouraged and affirmed me along the way.

3. What is your favorite part of the book?  

Like choosing your favorite child, that is hard, but I would say I enjoyed writing the section about the history of visual effects in film the most.   

I am a huge history nerd and being able to immerse myself in some of the earliest historical films and study how filmmakers made ‘magic’ happen in their creations was mesmerizing.   

My favorite of these early filmmakers is Georges Méliès. He was a genius!  Some of the work he did ‘inside the camera’ still baffles viewers of his films today. 

The best example of this genius is his The Four Troublesome Heads (FrenchUn homme de têtes). In this film, he creates the illusion that he removes his own head several times and all sorts of craziness ensue. 

He had an incredible understanding of how the actual medium of film could be used and stretched to make the magic happen in his movies. 

I also enjoyed reaching out to colleagues around the world who were using green screen.  Many of their project ideas are in or inspired the projects in the book.

4. How long did it take to write?  

The book took about a year to write from start to finish.  Once the book was written, the post-production took about six months.  I had prepared myself for enormous amounts of work in post-production, but my editors made it a fun process.

5. What is your writing routine? 

I’ve discovered that I CANNOT write from home.  I am incredibly distracted and it is easier for me to go shine my shoes, iron my shirts or do dishes; anything other than the hard work of writing.   

My favorite table at our local public library and my trusty sketchbook and water bottle!

SO, I essentially claimed a table in my local library. I went there each weekend for about 3-4 hours on both Saturday and Sunday.   

While I was there, I cued up my playlist of ‘tunes.’  My tunes aren’t what you might think of as typical music.  In fact, I use something called ‘Binaural Beats’ to help me focus and drown out all other thoughts and distractions.  It might sound weird, but it truly works for me.  I’ve since learned about a smartphone app called Insight Timer

This free app is categorized as a meditation app, but there are thousands of tracks of all different lengths and arrangements.   

Some are purely binaural beats while others include guided meditations or simply musical selections for focus and meditation. 

I’ve since discovered that there are different frequencies related to different types of activity from sleep to study. I highly encourage other writers to give it a try.  

Another part of my ‘process’ is that each spring I take a writing retreat. I've stayed at a variety of hermitages, which offer me complete and utter isolation and peace.   

Typically I find locations that are surrounded or close to large forests or bodies of water as I find time in nature to be incredibly rejuvenating.   

After about a week I start to go stir crazy and need to ‘talk!’  One last thing I’ve done that has helped me a better writer and a lot more ‘present’ in my life was to remove the social media apps from my phone and desktop computer.

The hermitage I wrote at last spring break.

If I REALLY want or need to post something I still have my accounts, but not having them in my face all the time has eased that sense of ‘anxiety’ that the “FOMO” or Fear of Missing Out generates in me.

I also found that I much preferred writing in Google Docs than using Word.  Of course, the industry standard is Word, but while I was drafting for myself, I stuck to Google Docs because it autosaved and was available to me on every device I own.  I know there are purists out there that LOVE Word.  I am NOT one of them.

6. What is your favorite writing craft book? 

To be honest, it depends on what type of book I’m writing.  While I haven’t had any of my picture books published yet when I’m writing them, I immerse myself in the books I ‘see’ like my book to gauge where it will fit into the market.  

That being said, I spend the vast majority of my writing life pouring over authors like Barb Rosenstock, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, and Jane Yolen.  I am bewildered by the way they make every single word count and how the illustrators seem to squeeze the visual details that are implicit in the words.  

When it comes to writing non-fiction book projects like mine, I look to those who have successfully done it and I don’t have to look much further than my friends Colleen and Aaron Graves.  Their highly successful book helped me see how to effectively organize and then explain projects.  I wanted the projects to be accessible to teachers and students of all experience levels.

Huge thanks to my writing idol, Barb Rosenstock!

Barb's newest book about one of my all-time favorite artists!

7. What inspires you to write?  

The biggest inspiration for me is the desire to share and express my creativity.  With my green screen book, I wanted to demystify the process of using green screen.   
It truly is as simple as downloading an app, hanging a green Dollar Store tablecloth, yelling action and then doing minimal editing.   

Once the hurdle of the technology is bridged, the students will begin pushing the materials and technology to do exactly what they want; much like Georges Mélie´s did back in 1898!  

When it comes to some of my picture book projects, I am eager to share the lives of little-known individuals or tell stories in interesting ways.  I hope I can bring their stories to new generations so that their stories will live on for generations to come.

8. What are you working on now? 

I am currently working on re-writing a manuscript from another perspective about Orville Wright.  I’ve uncovered some new artifacts and interviews that have given me a fresh perspective to enter the ‘event’ I’m writing about.  

My hope is now that I’ve ‘delivered’ on one substantial project, I can land a book deal for some of my other work.  

I will be in The United Arab Emirates the first week of November.  I’ll be there presenting as part of the American Library Association Conference which takes place during the world’s largest children’s book festival.  Who knows?  I hope to meet some niche publishers and get my books out into the world!  Wish me luck!

9. Words of advice for writers.  

I have two things I recommend.  First, if you want to be a writer, read, reread and reread people who are doing it well.  I’ve found that literally copying their words by hand helps me connect and think in a unique way.  Sometimes I’ll do this several times to ‘see’ how they pace their story.   

After doing this, I try to imagine how I might illustrate the book in a different medium or from another perspective.  While I’m not an illustrator, even rough sketching the different page spreads helps me explore the complexity of the words and the ‘voice’ of the author.   

The second thing I recommend is that writers write, write, write and write. Seems elementary, but you won’t grow without practice. It’s also beneficial to put a draft away and let it simmer.  I have multiple projects going at the same time.  While I work on one, others are ‘cooking.’  I’ve actually found that the longer I keep them ‘away,’ the more capable I am to be re-explore it.   

I try to change the perspective of my stories in subsequent drafts to use alternative approaches to getting the story across.  When I’ve done this several times, I look at the work in totality and explore what really ‘sings’ and what strikes me as strong.  

I’ll go through and mark up the physical print out of the drafts and then file it away for another chunk of time allowing the drafts to ‘cure.’  

I work with several freelance editors who I pay to give me their gut reaction and thoughts about how I might tweak the piece. Then, I share with people whom I value and trust and let their thoughts permeate a bit.   

To me, it’s very important to keep in mind that the essence of the story should be fairly simple.  How you craft and tell it is the hard part. The next step is the loneliest: submitting to publishers. 

I think you just have to have a thick skin and believe in the project or story.  Another reason to have multiple projects in motion is so that you can distract yourself from the lonesome act of waiting for feedback. 

Every once in a great while, you get a morsel of advice. These are like garnets found in a mountain stream.  Use those to encourage you through the long, solitary process. 

Want to win a FREE Copy of Todd's new book?  You have several ways to enter to do so.  The drawing will take place on November 6th and Todd will send an autographed copy to you as soon as it is published!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Can't wait? I don't blame you!  You can take advantage of this special offer to get 20% off the purchase price and FREE shipping.  Just use the info below!

Thank you, Todd, for a fascinating interview. Best wishes on your book launch. Pre-order here or use the info above for the special offer!

Todd Burleson
Todd Burleson is a Teacher-Maker-Librarian at the Hubbard Woods School in Winnetka, IL. The community helped develop, as part of their school library, a makerspace they call The IDEA Lab.  Todd's passion is the awakening of curiosity in learners of all ages and maintaining a balance of books and bytes.   @todd_burleson

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Parade of Horribles

By Janie Reinart

Embed from Getty Images
The spooktacular Susanna Leonard Hill has done it again.

It's time for the 7th Annual Halloweensie Contest.  

1.Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (children here defined as 12 and under). The title is not included in the 100 words. You can go under, but not over the word count!

2.You must use the words candy corn, monster, and shadow. Candy corn will be counted as 1 word.

3.Your story can be scary, funny, or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words.

4.You may use the words in any form – e.g. monsters, monstrous, shadowy, shadowed,    

5. NO ILLUSTRATION NOTES PLEASE! You may submit more than one entry.

6.Post your story on your blog between right now this very second and Tuesday October

31st by 11:59 PM EDT and add your post-specific link to this list. 

Thank you, Susanna for always inviting us to have some fun and for the treats for the winners! Here is my 94 word story for the contest. Thank you for stopping by. Happy Halloween.

Embed from Getty Images

Parade of Horribles
by Janie Reinart
In wicked woods
creeping along,
a band of bones 
rattles and groans
to the beat 
of a howl,
The moon so ripe 
this night,
as banshees' shadows 
in singles 
and pairs
monstrous eyes 
a trail 
of candy-corn
guides ghouls
to gingerbread.
Hungry hobgoblins 
to haunt 
the castle 
Past the welcome sign,
the mint bark bridge,
a gumdrop throne,
toffee towers,
chocolate tapestries,
Witchy queen 
Licking her mouth 
she cackles and shouts,
Trick, my Treats! There’s no way out!”

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Podcasts for Children's Book Creators ~ by Patricia Toht

In Stephen King's book, ON WRITING, he gives this piece of advice -- 

I agree with this whole-heartedly! But I also find it really helpful to listen to authors and illustrators talk about their work. Something about the interview format allows remarkable insights and wonderful bits of inspiration to pop up among information and advice. And it's just cool to put voices to names!

Lucky for kidlit creators, there are many terrific podcasts about writing for children. 

Perhaps my favorite is ALL THE WONDERS, co-founded by Matthew Winner and Blake Hamilton. The 400th episode will air on November 3. What an accomplishment! Matthew has a way of bringing out memorable moments in his interviews. These recently included Dan Santat explaining his dedication of AFTER THE FALL, Debbie Ridpath Ohi talking about lightning striking, and Marcie Colleen giving a mini-lesson on writing chapter books. Matthew recently selected his Top Ten Picture Book Episodes, which will be accompanying me on my drive to work for the next week or so.

THE YARN is a School Library Journal audio blog by Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian and Colby Sharp, an elementary school teacher. The episodes run the gamut of children's book creators. Next up in my queue is a recording of a panel of picture book creators from the ALA conference in Chicago this past summer.

THE PORCHLIGHT is a relative newcomer to the scene. It is produced by the Writing Barn, a writers' retreat in Austin, Texas, that hosts workshops and other events. Take a video tour of their space and you'll wish you can move in forever. As of this posting, sixteen episodes cover interviews from a variety of writers and illustrators. One of my fellow debut picture book creators, Jason Gallagher, entertains with the story behind WHOBERT WHOVER in Episode 13.

This past summer, when I knew I would be spending quite a bit of time on the road, I asked the members of KidLit411 for their suggestions of great podcasts. Of course, fellow authors and illustrators came to the rescue with some brilliant suggestions!

Marcie Flinchum Atkins suggested BOOK CLUB FOR KIDS, and it has totally won my heart. Kids take the lead with author interviews, and celebrity guests chime in with readings. They have an impressive list of episodes. Delightful! Dan Gemeinhart (really tall man and wonderful writer) is featured on Episode 33.

Mike Sundy suggested STORIES UNBOUND, a podcast series by Shawna JC Tenney at the Oakley Academy of Visual Storytelling. Many of the episodes feature industry professionals like editors, art directors, agents, book promoters and more. Mike himself is featured in Episode 16, where he talks about indie vs. traditional publishing.

Michelle Cusolito pulled me in by my Anglophile heartstrings with her suggestion of DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE RADIO, with over 40 episodes that discuss a wide variety of children's books. I love keeping in touch with what is going on in kids' books in the UK, and the website lists the books being discussed so I can hunt them down through my local library (hello, interlibrary loan!). I loved Episode 38, "Books to help in troubling times," with its encouragement of empathy.

Fellow kidlit friends had so many suggestions! Here is a list of other podcasts they suggested:

CANDLEWICK PRESS PRESENTS, a month of podcasts from the publisher. For YA, CAST OF WONDERS.
For illustrators, THE ART OF SHOW
For inspiration, 88 CUPS OF TEA


For adult ears only, KIDLIT DRINK NIGHT and RACHEL AND SAM READ A STORY. (Hysterical!)

Thank you to everyone who made suggestions. In addition to those listed above, the following folks helped with this list: Katey Howes, Penny Parker Klostermann, Hagit Oron, Sara Gentry, Gaia Cornwall, Rachel Menard, Jennifer Stoner, and Emma Bland Smith. (Please forgive me if I missed your name. Give yourself a shout out in the comments below!)

Happy Listening!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Smithsonian Learning Lab ~ by Christy Mihaly

Did you know you can gain access to more than one million images, recordings, and texts from the collections of the world's largest museum, education, and research complex? Whether you're a writer, an educator, a curious mind, or just looking for some fascinating procrastination . . . check out  the Smithsonian Learning Lab

You don't have to live near Washington, D.C. to browse the extensive collections of the Smithsonian Institution. This national resource is open to anyone with an internet connection. A visit to the Smithsonian's web pages enables you to see material from 19 museums and galleries, 9 major research centers, and the National Zoo -- woo! 

But if you want to really play with these national collections, sign up for the Learning Lab. Joining Learning Lab is a two-step process but it doesn't take long, and the reward is that you'll be able not only to delve into the Smithsonian's vaults, but also to organize your own online collections of images and resources. The Learning Lab, according to the Smithsonian, is a toolkit that facilitates users' finding, customizing, and sharing digital museum resources. 

As a demo project, I input "Halloween" in the search box on the Learning Lab site. Such a search will generally retrieve images of various artifacts, articles, and videos relevant to the queried topic. My search identified not only a myriad of resources, but also two Learning Lab collections related to Halloween that had already been created. The first, by a Smithsonian employee, curated 46 "spooky delights and dark treasures" from the vaults including vintage Halloween greeting cards, postage stamps, and spooky artwork. The other collection, created by a member, focused on "Frankenstein." Specifically, it included a series of images of Frankenstein's "creature" over time, showing how our conception of the monster has evolved. Cool!

Then I created my own collection. Making your own a collection could be useful in keeping track of research for a book or other research project. It can also be tons of fun. My Halloween collection included photographs from the 1940s of children's Halloween parties. I was intrigued by the kids' costumes (think witches, gypsies, and vagabonds -- no superheroes). I also perused an array of Halloween-themed articles from Smithsonian Magazine, covering topics from tips on science-themed costume ideas to a description of President Gerald Ford's 1975 "Halloween Massacre." (The latter, for those too young to remember, involved little blood but much reshuffling of White House personnel.)

The Learning Lab, launched in the summer of 2016, seeks both to help educators utilize the Smithsonian's resources in their lesson plans, and to facilitate online collaboration. About 100 teachers helped develop the toolkit. Members sign up to post and share collections, quizzes, and assignments. From the home page, a member has three options: Discover (to search the archives); Create (to put together customized collections, lesson plans, and notes); and Share (to post collections, invite students to participate in quizzes, etc.) Check it out!

Special thanks to super-educator, Susan Koch, for pointing me in the direction of the Smithsonian Learning Lab. I invite GROG readers to sign on at the Learning Lab and share in the comments what you discover there. Enjoy!