Monday, August 05, 2019

I'm Really Getting Into this 3-D Printing Stuff!!

For those who don't know, we own an old, historic home built around 1853. We're only the 4th family to own this home and the previous owners were antique dealers who left a lot of stuff for us including a garage attic full of dust-covered treasures.

One of the things we found up there was what we thought was a caddy for fireplace tools. I cleaned it up a bit, brushing off lots of rust and realized it was actually a twin ashtray holder. The two large circles held glass ash trays. The medium sized hole held some sort of insert that held loose cigarettes, and the smallest hole held a cigarette lighter.

Annie and I wanted to use it but since neither of us smoke we knew we had to re-purpose it to hold cold drinks. Unfortunately the two larger holes are just a little bit TOO big to hold any glass or cup we own. So I figured this is the perfect job for 3-D printing!

I got out my calipers to measure the openings of the holes in the caddy, and to also measure my glasses and coffee mugs. These calipers are the first pair I've ever owned and I bought them just a few months ago when I first got into designing things for 3-D printing for the robot. I now use them all the time! What a great measuring tool!

Anyway, I measured the openings I would need to hold my glasses, estimated how deep I would want the insert to set into the caddy, and then 3-D printed one to make sure it worked. It fit great, and so I printed the other one. The image at the left of the insert is technically upside down from how it is inserted, but it prints better this way so that's how I designed it. I also created a smooth, round shape on the part of the insert that fits into the caddy, but I created the inside hole of the insert (where the glass will rest) to be more polygonal. My goal was to provide less surface area contact between the drinking glass and the printed insert so that there would be less likelihood of the glass getting wedged into the insert and sticking.

I'm still contemplating a different 3-D printed insert for coffee mugs with handles and I'm trying to figure out what I can do with the other two holes. I can easily imagine a cup-type insert for the medium sized hole, probably very similar to what originally went there to hold loose cigarettes. But I wouldn't know what I would put in it. Ice cubes? The hole is almost exactly the size of a 12 oz. soda can, which means if I made a "cup" style insert, a drink coozie would slip over it perfectly and help insulate it.

I'm trying to think in three dimensions though. I could have a cup insert hang down, but I could also have something stick UP and it's just wedged into the hole; like a snack bowl with a "peg" on the bottom that perfectly matches the smallest hole.

That's one of the great things about 3-D printing. You can create one-off things with absolute precision at a cost so ridiculously low that you can keep tweaking and creating variations for as long as your brain can invent and design them!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Downloads for some of my 3-D printing files

One of the things that's been very encouraging with this new show is how many kids are genuinely interested in the robot and the idea of possibly building their own robot. After the show is over, kids from older teens all the way to very young pre-readers want to hang out and talk about how the robot works, and how I built him.

Of course, RD-3D is not as complicated as most real robots since he's really more of a robot "actor," pretending to hear and respond while actually just delivering his "lines" on cue.

But he was still an ambitious project and something that any builder would have fun with and be proud of. So, I'm including links to the files on Tinkercad that I used to create RD-3D.

It's important to note that I started with a frame work from a toy made by 4M Kidz Labs, as I mentioned in a previous post. I used a soup can because they are about the same size as a soda can (what the toy was designed for), but the soup can is sturdier and I knew it would be a better casing.

However I needed more room inside than a single can would provide, so I designed the can connector. Here's the link to that if you want to go in and download it, tweak it to something else if you want to try to improve it, or just print it as it is.

I also incorporated some forks and redesigned them to be even better than before. Here's the link to the file for the improved forks:

Monday, July 22, 2019

Improving the Battery Life of RD-3D

A week or two ago I blogged about how Making involves a lot of trial and error. Lots of problems come up, work out a solutions, maybe it works, maybe not, back to the drawing board, keep researching, keep trying, keep feeling forward progress and keep hitting new road blocks.

One of the things that was frustrating was that my robot's 9 v. battery would die after only 4 shows or so. I would turn the robot off after each show, and even disconnected the battery each time. If a switch is left on, then I can understand how a battery would die rather quickly, even if the motors and LEDs are not going, the Arduino is still "thinking" and waiting for new code or new inputs to affect the current code. By completely disconnecting the battery I was ensuring that there was nothing that could drain the battery other than his actual performances, and they were much too short to drain a battery after 4 shows.

CLUE #1: His LEDs are still bright even when he can't move. Not surprising since lighting an LED uses nearly no electricity at all while powering a motor uses LOTS of electricity.

CLUE #2: When he was supposed to move you could hear the motor struggling, just unable to actually make the robot move (this is an important clue because it indicated that the battery still had enough power to affect the motor, just not quite enough, it seemed).

CLUE #3: When he would get to the part of his skit where he was supposed to "shake" he always had enough power to do that (this is the most important clue and what finally made me realize the source of the problem).

So him shaking is actually the motor going full blast forward for 1/10th of a second, then going backwards full blast for 1/10th of a second, over and over 17 times (for the record, I recently changed it to 25 times because it gets a good laugh and I thought he might have quite to quickly since 17 shakes is barely 3 seconds).

When I programmed RD-3D to walk I have him move at a slow pace because if he moves too quickly it is easier for him to fall over. So he would move at about 35% of maximum power.

MY THEORY (don't read this part yet if you want to try to figure out what YOU think the problem might have been, because I can tell you that my theory has been tested and demonstrated to be the source of the problem).

I felt like since the robot motor would drive him at FULL power, but not at 35% power then it might be that the battery was getting weak after 4 shows, but not dead. I decided to rewrite the code to have RD-3D move at a higher speed than 35%. Also, I felt like the laws of inertia might be at work a bit, too. I felt if I could jostle RD-3D into moving (like the start of one of his twitches) then the momentum might make him able to move with a lower powered speed.

In other words, I had him start at 100% for 1/4th of a second, then drop to 85% for 1/4th of a second, then drop to 70% for 1/4th of a second, then drop to 55% for 1/4th of a second, then drop to 40% for the last 1.8 seconds. The initial "blast off" is full power, but it is so short in duration that he doesn't actually jerk and you really can't even notice that he's moving faster for the first part of his trip.

So I rewrote the code, uploaded it to his little Arduino brain, and tested it out. I've been testing it for the past week or two using one of my "dead" batteries and that battery has now powered my little "astromech droid" through no fewer than 19 shows! That's 19 AFTER I thought the battery was too dead to work for the show.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Updates on RD-3D now that he's done a few shows

The one thing I've learned as I've really gotten into the Maker Movement is that rarely does anything work right the first time. You have to keep researching, learning, testing, and trying new things.

For example: the rubber bands that I use for tires on his tiny wheels. I had the hardest time gluing the rubber bands to the wheels. I tried all different kinds of glue, even rubber cement which is nearly perfect for gluing rubber. Nothing would work. But it turns out rubber bands are coated with a special powder that keeps them from sticking to anything, even glue and rubber cement. A quick rinse under the sink and presto, the rubber band tires can now be glued to the wheel!

Another problem I had was with the front forks. I designed them in TinkerCad using measurements of the button wheel I made with my calipers. I added a little "shelf" perpendicular to the forks that fit under the lower lip of the can to keep the forks steady.

Unfortunately I measured the width of the button in the CENTER and failed to account for the outer lip of the button which is a little bit fatter. No big deal. The button-wheel I measured was actually 2 buttons glued together, so I could still use a button, I just had to use a single button rather than the double I had wanted.

But then another problem arose. RD-3D started turning while he was moving. It was as if he were steering off-course. It seems that the little "shelf" I made didn't to as good a job as stabilizing the forks as I had wanted. So, I decided to go back and redesign the forks, making them wider (to hold a double-button wheel) AND to also improve the shelf so that it would stabilize with the can better. So I greatly increased the size of the shelf and also contoured it to the curve of the can which makes it nearly impossible for it to pivot around the screw like it had been doing. So far, so good.

But there is one more issue I've been dealing with. The 9 v. batteries I've been using seem to go dead after just 4 shows. There is NO REASON for them to die that quickly. I mean, they aren't DEAD-dead, just low enough that RD-3D can't move. His lights still turn on and blink quite brightly, and he has enough power to do his "shaking" thing (which turned out to be one of the funnier jokes in the show).

When he's supposed to move across the table, I can hear his motor struggling, but he doesn't actually move. I think I know what the problem is, and I'll report back on it whether I'm right or wrong.

Friday, May 10, 2019

RD-3D is Finally DONE!!

It is such a relief to have him all completed and know that he works like I want him to. Everything he does is programmable. That is, I can adjust how long the lights are on and off, how fast and how far he moves forward and backward. But it's all programmed BEFORE the show; sort of like how I memorize lines, RD-3D will have "memorized" things he will do.

For example, I'll ask him questions and the green light will represent "yes" and the red light will be "no." But he won't actually hear the questions, just wait a set amount of time and then turn on the green light for a second. Also, the shaking back and forth he does near the end of the video I think I'm going to use as a joke in the show. I'll say something like "Okay, we have an agreement. Let's shake on it," and he will begin to shake.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

My Robot has New Wheels and a Name!

New Wheels and a Name

So the robot toy I bought has lopsided wheels. That's by design. When he rolls forward, it makes him wobble side-to-side and it looks a little like he's walking. It's cute. I like it actually.

But when I stacked 2 cans on top of each other using the 3D printed Tin Can Connector I designed, it caused the top can to topple after about 6" of travel, or less than two seconds. So I made this wheel design that I hoped would fix the problem. I emailed the file to the library and went to pick up two wheels (mine are green) a few hours later. At first I thought I would only need one, and the other would be a back up. I thought a LITTLE bit of swagger would still be something sort of funny. But it was still too much for 2 stacked soup cans.

Fortunately, I had two wheels and so I simply attached the other wheel also! So easy, right?

1) Identify problem
2) Solve problem
3) All problems are GONE!!

Actually it's more like this....

1) Identify problem
2) Solve problem
3) Identify NEW problem and then go back to #2
4) Repeat steps 2 & 3 basically forever.

You see, now that I have these two new wheels, for some reason they don't get as much traction as the original wheels. Not sure why, but I found a solution to that problem also.

We happened to have a bag of size 64 rubber bands. They are the fat, wide (1/4") rubber bands. I cut them and used rubber cement to attach them around the wheel.

That didn't work because the rubber cement wouldn't RUBBER bands!! What?!

Then I realized that rubber bands are coated in a powder that keeps them from sticking to each other. I cut some new rubber bands (the first batch were covered with drying rubber cement) and washed them. Now the pieces stuck quite nicely. My wheels have TIRES!

I also broke part of one of my wheels and had to fix it with a gob of Gorilla Glue. I should not have tried so hard to CRAM the axle into the hub, but rather, should have drilled the hub out slightly to receive the axle easier.

Oh, and I now have a name for my robot. RD-3D.

That's because he's two cans of Chef Boy "RD" ravioli and lots of 3D printing.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Foundations of a Robot Puppet

While in my local Lakeshore Learning teacher supply store I spotted this little toy on a discount shelf and snapped it up. I "knew" I wouldn't use it (i.e. "thought" I wouldn't use it), but figured it might provide some inspiration for my own robot project.

Little did I know that it would become the basis of my show this summer!

First of all, this is a toy, and certainly NOT a robot. From an electronic standpoint it is a simple circuit with a switch, battery, and a motor; turn on the switch and it completes the circuit causing the motor to run until you turn it off.

But I liked two thing about it that I wanted to use: 1) The frame that holds the can, and 2) the gear exchange that uses the motor to drive the wheels.

But I wanted to wire it to an Arduino so that I could control various aspects of the motor. I wanted to be able to go forward AND backward. I wanted to be able to control the SPEED of the motor, and I wanted to be able to time certain things to happen (move forward for 2 seconds then stop for 5 seconds, then go backwards at half speed for 2 seconds, etc.).

Anyway, I have been playing with it. I am unsure of what I'll be able to do, but I was happy to notice that 10 oz. cans (most soup cans, Rotel tomatoes, etc) are about the same size as soda cans and will fit within the frame of this robot.

The downside is that I knew that one can would not be big enough to hold my Arduino and all the wires I might need for the LEDs, moving arms, etc. So I carefully measured the inner diameter of a 10 oz. can, got on Tinkercad and fabricated this "Tin Can Connector."

I'm not going to lie to you. This was very simple to create...and I still felt like a freaking ROCK STAR when I finished! And even MORE like a rock star when I picked it up from my local library (thank you Friendswood Public Library for being so amazing!!).

I'm even more inspired now than ever before about this summer's show. We live in an amazing time where we can sit at a computer, imagine something, design it, email that file to our local library, and for pennies per gram, pick up a perfect rendition of our imagination come to fruition.

I'm not mechanically inclined and never have been. So, when I tell you I'm nervous about finishing this project, it is true. But this first step was so surprisingly easy, that my confidence has been renewed. For a long time I kept thinking I should just BUY a robot that does what I need and be done with it. But I just couldn't bring myself to do a show about MAKING things while refusing to even TRY. So, if this doesn't end up in the show this summer, know that it wasn't for lack of TRYING!!

Friday, February 15, 2019

More on writing this summer's Robot-ish show

So the basic story for this summer (at least I THINK this is what's going to happen, but things change as the show unfolds), is that there is an alien that crash lands and we have to help him return to his home planet. There are several tasks, each exemplifying one aspect of maker space educational concepts.

 So there's an artistic component, a coding component, and a component based on physical construction. Not that any of the children will (or even should) recognize the educational work behind the scenes. They should just realize that they are totally capable of rebuilding the spaceship and getting their new friend (alien puppet) back home in time for dinner.
Fortunately we live near League City, so there's lots of NASA geeks that live here and sell some pretty cool looking gadgets at their garage sales. A lot of this stuff I have no idea what it does, but for a dollar or two I'll pick it up in the hopes that I can at least use it as a cosmetic embellishment on some of the stuff I'll be doing.

I know I said that writing a show is the hardest work I do, and it is. But it's also pretty fun!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Writing the new show: Take Me to Your Readers

Without a doubt, the hardest work I do is writing a new show. Marketing and scheduling and travelling and bookkeeping and graphic design are all parts of my job that are boring, difficult, or just not fun, but WRITING a show is, by FAR, the most difficult work.

The goal is that I come in and every joke is funny. The goal is that there's never a dull moment. The kids are laughing hysterically, the adults are laughing at how much the kids are laughing, and no one realizes how much they are actually learning. Until it's all over, and they think back about the jokes and the puppets and the magic and it dawns on them that it was all a "mini-play," a theatrical experience that conveys a story, and stories are one of the easiest ways to learn things.

But the best stories are the hardest ones to write.

For me it's even more difficult because I have these other goals I add in about using puppets, using magic tricks, comedy for kids, comedy for adults, which books I want to talk about, and this year I'm incorporating some Maker-space concepts so I'm having to really learn some new skills as I literally have to build a robot for this show.

Keep tuned for updates. Right now I have to practice writing code for the Arduino that will be the "brain" for this robotic character in my show. Still working on a name for him...or her? Hmm, so much to think about.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

When Everybody Plays, We All Win

Does it reveal my biases that I already have a favorite commercial from this year's Superbowl and it's still more than 30 hours before kickoff?

Look, every now and then several factors overlap to give you something better than the sum of their parts. Beans: mmm, pretty good. Rice: not too bad. Rice & Beans: DELICIOUS!! So it is with a particular Superbowl commercial this year.

Without belaboring it, here are some of my passions & devotions that come together in this inspirational work of art. Yeah, I said that about a commercial.

I was a special education classroom teacher for almost ten years. For the past 15 years I have quietly volunteered my time as an entertainer for children at a monthly event that allows the parents an evening of respite while trained, compassionate volunteers take care of their children; children with physical, mental, and/or emotional challenges that most families never have to struggle with. So I am and have always been an advocate for children with these sorts of challenges.

I'm a gamer. I don't watch much TV at all, but I spend WAY TOO much screen time in Tamriel forging weaponsand armor that use as I rid the land of bandits and dragons. And when I'm not there, I'm in post-apocalyptic Boston or Washington DCeradicating the wastelands of raiders and super mutants. D&DOnline, pen-and-paper Pathfinder, sometimes I wonder if I spend more time in fantasy realms than in the real world!

And my degree is in Business with a heavy focus on Marketing. So I've always loved effective advertising. People love to complain about advertising, but that's because they are complaining about INEFFECTIVE advertising: when you are bombarded with stuff you don't want, need, or care about. Effective advertising is the opposite. We LOVE to hear about things we want, need, and care about. Clearly, the ad below is NOT relevant to most consumers. But I DARE you to watch and say you don't care.

Lastly, I happen to actually know one of the families in that story. I've known Owen since he was a little kid. I drink beer and watch football with his Dad. I've followed Owen through countless surgeries and emotional, fearful times. It's super exciting to see him as he becomes, sort of the face of Microsoft's new Adaptive Controller.

Anyway, here's the ad...

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

I also Present for Adult

Texas Author Julian Franklin speaking in Washington DC

This past weekend I was invited to lecture on two different topics at an international convention of children's entertainers. The event is called Kapital Kidvention and it brought in almost 400 face painters, body painters, magicians, clowns, balloon artists, jugglers, and puppeteers from all over the United States, Canada, Europe, and even Iceland! It's a particularly interesting convention for me because I was also invited to lecture at this event a decade ago the very first time the convention opened. Even though I don't speak publicly for entertainers any more, I felt a nostalgic sense of obligation to go back and see what it had become.

My head is still swimming with ideas I picked up. Whenever I wasn't speaking, I was sitting near the front row taking notes from the other speakers. It was an amazing collection of talent and I was both honored and humbled to get to be a part of the evening gala show with such world-famous performers as Silly Billy from New York City, Christopher T. Magician from greater Los Angeles area, and Duane Laflin and his wife Mary who have been headlining theater shows in Branson, Missouri for almost twenty years.

They were all amazing performances...but I was the only one with a puppet who can do magic tricks.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Magic Island Slated to Re-Open

The iconic “Magic Island” restaurant and live theater venue which first opened in the 1980s has been shuttered since 2008. However, all my magic buddies in Houston, and around the world really, are excited to hear that plans are underway (though slightly behind schedule now) to reopen the 10,000 square foot entertainment venue.

It would be difficult to count the number of times I've been to Magic Island. I used to go at least once every other week, usually every week. New acts were brought in twice a month and I made sure to go see every act that came through. Sometimes acts could only stay for a 1-week run and I'd go more often. Sometimes acts were so good that it was worth seeing them more than once.

I remember the food being good, but not great. However, the entertainment was well worth it all. Not only do you get the stage show that features world-class acts that you might otherwise never get to see outside of Las Vegas (where the tickets would cost 3X what dinner at Magic Island will run you).

On top of that, you get to see some amazing close-up magic. We magicians categorize the type of magic we do and “close-up” means exactly what it sounds like. It's magic that happens not on a stage, or in a large box, but rather, right in front of your eyes, and some times LITERALLY in your own hands. Cards, coins, tiny colored balls just larger than a marble, scraps of paper, and pieces of rope or string are transformed into the makings of miracles.

Keep your eyes and ears open for more information about the imminent re-opening date and then make plans to visit. You won't be disappointed.

Here's a link to a news article about Magic Island Houston Reopening.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Resolution Traditions in Our Family

I'm not overly fond of the usual “New Years Resolutions” process. The whole thing has become sort of a caricature of itself. The idea has spawned far more jokes than it has success stories, in part because it is based on poorly constructed ideas about goal setting that are implemented in poorly constructed ways by people who are not always particularly motivated to actually pursue or accomplish the goals/resolutions.

But, aside from the faults of making a half-hearted promise on January 1st to stick to a year-long commitment, I am still a big believer in goal-setting, and I think that New Year's is a great time to sit down and get serious about it; so much so that in our house, it has become something of a family tradition.

Usually it doesn't happen EXACTLY on January 1st, but it almost always happens within the first week of the new year. We discuss basic goals, and help each other refine them a bit, all in preparation of the “ritual” we have. You see, by that time the Christmas tree has gotten to the point that it's time for us to get rid of it. But rather than have the waste management company throw it into the landfill, we chop it up and burn it in a little camp fire in our back yard.

This “Burning of the Yule Log,” as we call it, is when we sit around and tell each other about our finalized goals for the new year. We can share as many or as few as we want, but everyone at the campfire (friends, neighbors, and distant cousins included) is strongly encouraged to share at least one, so that we develop some accountability. Usually there are financial goals, fitness goals, organizational goals, relationship goals, travel goals, and all sorts of goals that are more difficult to categorize.

One of mine, for example is to be more consistent with creating social media content including blog entries like this one, videos for my YouTube channel, and actually spending LESS time on my personal Facebook page and MORE time on my professional FB page.

Side note: The last book I wrote was finished the year before I got on FB. I don't think it's coincidence that I haven't finished a book since I started posting on FB! I've told my wife many times: If I'm ever going to write another book, I'm going to either have to get more disciplined about FB or shut it down.

Friday, December 28, 2018

More Kind Words about My Winter Festivals Show

I know, I know. I started blogging in 2006 (12 years ago!). But then stopped for almost 2 full years. Now, suddenly, I'm back at it, and I'm posting like every other day. But when you are self-employed life is like a roller coaster when it comes to time and money. Some months I'm so busy I can't think, and other months I don't have enough work to buy a cup of coffee.

So, I've decided to use my free time to get back into writing more. More blogging, I'm also going to do more video, since that seems to be a popular medium. And this blog post will be using both. Here's a short clip of a teacher who saw the very last Texas school assembly show I did this year. It was a show I do called "Arctic Express" and it's about all the holidays people celebrate during the winter time.

For more videos, testimonials, funny clips of my shows, etc. be sure to visit my YouTube channel.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Kind Words about "Arctic Express" (my show about winter festivals)

Because of the way the holidays fell this year, the last day of school assembly shows for me was just 2 days before Christmas Eve. So our family was feeling a little rushed to get everything settled, bought, wrapped, etc. before our scheduled trips to see all the family.

Now, here I am, AFTER Christmas and things have settled down a little bit, so I had time to edit and post a few videos of some things clients this year had to say about my show, The Arctic Express. The show is a multicultural exploration of all the winter holidays people celebrate around the world.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Kids Say the Funniest Things!

Texas author Julian Franklin performing as a train engineer.
One of the educational school assemblies I do is a show about all the winter festivals the people celebrate around the world: Diwali, Thanksgiving, Ramadan (not always in the winter but I include it), Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, New Year and, of course, Christmas.

At one point in the show I talk about Chris VanAllsburg's book, The Polar Express. I say, "The boy knows he can have any gift he wants. But all he a bell."

A girl on the second row yelps out "I know Isabel!"

I've been doing this show for 14 seasons now and I have to admit, this one caught me off guard. It took me until that moment in the NEXT show before I even realized what she was talking about. I totally heard it as it came out of my mouth, and now I can't NOT hear it. But I've been doing this show for so long, it is hard for me to change the script in my head.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

What's all the rage about video?

Okay, listen: I'm NOT a Luddite! I'm no technophile, but I'm not a technophobe either. I'm rarely "cutting edge" or "new introducer," but I'm usually in front of the 50% curve...usually.

Or not.

Anyway, the point is that I haven't written a blog entry is almost TWO YEARS! Do you know what 2 years is? It's 14 dog years! My dog could almost be driving a car by now! My head hurts.

So people always call the office phone (next blog entry about how we're about to cut the land line once and for all) to ask questions about which of my fifteen educational school assembly shows would be best for their Texas author visit. While I love talking to my clients, I'm usually out performing assembly programs and can't answer the phone. Even when my wife is at home answering the phone and booking summer library shows or school author visits she doesn't always have the time to engage in a lengthy discussion about every single show I do.

We have a teenage daughter living at home! And your school districts are requiring ever more paperwork from us, so, please, cut us some slack, okay? I'm sorry. Did I say that out loud?

Anyway, I finally joined the 21st century and actually recorded and uploaded some YouTube videos describing my various shows. I'll be blogging (I hope) more frequently and will include links to descriptions of all the shows I do. So you can hear it straight from this horse's mouth (most folks accuse me of talking out of my...never mind, but it IS related to a horse).

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Cross Selling in the Library

A couple of years ago in our family we instituted a rule where we were not allowed to see a movie based on a book unless we had read the book. The idea was spawned several years ago when I first started doing a presentation on author craft and style and how to elaborate. In the show I use a lot of award winning books as examples of great writing and I noticed something interesting.

Virtually all the children were familiar with both the movie and the book version of Chris VanAllsburg's "The Polar Express," as well as both the book and movie versions of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. But almost no one knew that Shreck is a book by Caldecott winning author William Steig. Similarly not many children were familiar with the fact that Jumanji, Zathura, Bridge to Terabithia, and a host of other very popular movie titles began as great books.

So in my show "Set Sail" I talk about how to become a great writer by reading the works of other great writers. We discuss using interesting words, dialog, implying so that readers can make inferences, the use of similes and metaphors, and the use of adjectives and adverbs to bring writing to life.

But, by design, all the books I chose are award winning books and many (but not all) of them have been made into movies. My goal was not only to improve the writing of children, but also to inspire them to find out about the books that gave rise to some of their favorite movies.

The books always reveal a bit more of the story than a movie ever can. My hope is that I can turn on a few borderline readers and inspire them to grab a book in which they already know how the story ends and read it from cover to cover anyway.

So the next time someone checks out the video of "Bridge to Terabithia," be sure to mention that it is also available as a Newbery winning chapter book.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Wearing Pajamas to Work

Performer wearing pajamas
One of the best things about doing my Chris VanAllsburg tribute show is that I get to wear pajamas to work.

This picture shows how comfortable I get to dress, how much fun I have doing my version of "work," and it might hint at how much fun the students are having while we learn about author craft and style through the works of a great American artist.

Unfortunately, it also captures how much I enjoyed eating over the holidays and has inspired me to double down on my upcoming New Year's Resolutions.