Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Book with No Words

David Wiesner's newest book, Flotsam, is simply amazing.

I would say that I loved reading it, but I didn't actually read it. There are no words. Only pictures that tell a story.

And for some reason, the story is really powerful, even though it is rather nonsensical. The premise is that a boy finds a camera washed up on the beach and develops the pictures. He then returns the camera to the sea so that the adventures might continue.

The artwork is simply amazing. With no words you might be tempted to complete the book quickly.


Relish the details that Wiesner includes in each page. Just as the boy discovers hidden images in one of the photographs, so can you see all sorts of fantastic imagery if you take the time.

For a book with no words, telling a story of nonsense and fantasy, and concluding with a rather simple premise, I still found myself strangely choked up when I completed the book.

I don't know why.

If you get the book, be sure to come back and post your thoughts of it here.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Magic Snow?

From November through January I am scheduled to present an educational school assembly program called Arctic Express over 75 times. We already have 22 shows on the books for winter of 2007.

Part of the reason the program is so popular is that in addition to being a reading program, it also addresses and teaches about the many diverse ways that people around the world celebrate holidays during the winter months. From Thanksgiving, Diwali, Ramadan, and Hanukkah to New Years and of course, Christmas.

It is based on the story of a boy who had dreams and goals as a child that seemed impossible, but through determination and a constant belief in himself he was finally able to achieve his goals. The show ends with a very powerful emotional send-off that leaves everyone (students AND teachers) inspired to live each day to the fullest.

But here’s the really strange part…

I debuted this program in the winter of 2004. I performed it all over Texas, from Houston all the way to the Rio Grande Valley at the southern tip of Texas. The story in the presentation is about a boy who wants to create snow in the parts of Texas where it is too hot to snow.

And then, on December 25, 2004 something happened that had never happened before:

It snowed on Christmas morning in southern Texas. Not just in isolated places either. It snowed from Dallas/Fort Worth all the way down to the Rio Grande Valley.

For those of you who live in colder states this might not seem so amazing, but in southern Texas, particularly down in Falfurrias, Victoria, and McAllen (just a few miles from Mexico) the very idea of snow is magic. And to have it happen on Christmas day is simply unbelievable.

I know what causes snow. I know that my program had nothing to do with the snow.

But if you’ve seen the Arctic Express program, you know that I sure like to believe that it did play a part.

--Julian Franklin

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Greatest Invention Ever

I remember a few years ago, when I was in Toastmasters International, one of the first times I was ever asked a question during the "Table Topics" portion of our meeting, the question was "What do you think is the greatest invention of all time".

If you are not familiar with Toastmasters or Table Topics, I will tell you that the idea is to catch a person off-guard and see how quickly they can think on their feet and speak eloquently and intelligently about a topic they may know very little about.

I was nervous when he called my name, but as soon as he finished the question I breathed a sigh of relief. I couldn't imagine an easier question to answer.

Clearly, the printing press has been the greatest invention of all time. Without it, we would still be in the dark ages. Only through the knowledge that was able to be preserved and widely distributed through the use of the printing press, was mankind able to progress past the limits that oral tradition imposes.

Even today, the spread of information that happens at the speed of light (including this blog), happens only because of the logical and gradual progression that began with the widespread information distribution made possible by the printing press.

To this day, the thoughts and ideas of the greatest minds in the world are preserved forever on paper and ink for generations to come to learn from and enjoy.

The original printing press was a very small snow ball that with each generation has grown larger and faster. Today we reap the benefits of a very simple invention created a little over 500 years ago.

I thank you Johannes Gutenberg.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Betty Glover Library Workout Tape

A short video that will have anyone who has ever worked in a library rolling on the floor.

Better Glover Library Workout Tape

Passion (even about Math)

If you teach what you are passionate about, your passion is transferred to your students or audience. This is why a teacher who doesn't enjoy reading should not teach reading, English, literature, or even writing. The best teachers lead by example and with passion.

As an example, I had a Statistics professor at Sam Houston State University who literally inspired me with his passion. I could not imagine a course with more potential to bore a person to tears than a Statistics class. But this man was so passionate about it that you couldn't help but love the course.

It was his passion for statistics that led me to love probability and to actually learn to love mathematics. As a child I despised math. But now, in large part because of this amazing teacher, I not only understand it better, but actually enjoy it to the point that I have several books on mathematics that I have purchased and read for pleasure.

Can you actually read for pleasure a book on math? You bet! Here are a few children's books that make math concepts fun:

• Almost anything by Greg Tang (Grapes of Math, Math Appeal, Math Fables, etc.)
• The Sir Cumference series by Cindy Neuschwanderander
Cool Math by Christy Maganzini (a VERY cool book!)

My favorite series is the Math Start series, divided by difficulty levels. The stories are realistic, compelling, and meaningful to children including things like setting up a lemonade stand, running races, and riding on elevators. Suddenly abstract concepts like number lines, division, and fractions become something that children can easily grasp and make sense of.

If you are interested in fun math reading geared for an older child or adult, you might want to try these:

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott (a fable that opens the mind to pondering multiple dimensions, but makes that mental exercise much less exhausting).
Why do Buses Come in Threes? by Rob Eastaway (Mathematically explains many of the everyday questions we have like "Why does the grocery line I'm in always move the slowest?" And yes, there is a mathematical answer. You aren't just imagining it--your line IS the slowest!)
Mathenauts edited by Rudy Rucker. This collection of short stories by the likes of Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, and Frederik Pohl provide fictional stories that bring to life in a very fun and stimulating way, some of the puzzles of math. And you don't have to be a mathematician or do any number crunching to enjoy these fun stories.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Elephant Butt

While I'm on this topic of correct use of words I was reminded of a vacation my wife and I took. We were watching the evening news and the newscaster announced a wildfire raging in Elephant Butte, NM.

Having owned property in New Mexico, I will tell you that residents of New Mexico have a hard enough time convincing geographically illiterate people that New Mexico is a state and part of the United States and not at all part of the country of Mexico, but that's another story.

On this broadcast, the so-called professional newscaster announces the fire is in "Elephant Butt" and then begins to giggle. This would be bad enough, but she doesn't even realize that what makes it so funny is that she is the butt of her own joke (or is she the butte of her own joke?)

She wasn't content to let well enough alone, she decided to explore this a bit more.

"Is that really the name of a city? Elephant Butt?" and then she began laughing again.

Why wouldn't someone on the staff alert her that it was pronounced "byute" and not "butt"? Did they have it out for this girl or was the entire staff all so stupid that no one knew how to pronounce "Butte"?

Of course, I still laugh when I think about it. I'm sure she thought she was funny at the time, but little did she know people would be laughing at her ignorance for years and years to come. Probably not the mark she wanted to leave when she got into television.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Google, Band-aids, and Xeroxes

My last post was about vocabulary, grammar and proper use of certain words. It might have seemed like I'm way too uptight. I used to think the same thing about anyone who thought grammar was important.

But as a writer I learned that when words are used carelessly, not only can messages get lost, but fortunes can be made and lost. This was reconfirmed this week when Google made an announcement that they were trying to protect their trademarked name from falling into open use.

It seems that if too many people begin using your trademarked names and you do nothing to stop them, the names fall into public domain. Xerox and Kleenex have been fighting for years to get people to stop calling all photocopies "Xeroxes" and all tissue "Kleenex".

Seems silly doesn't it? Until you realized that band-aid used to be a brand name for adhesive bandages, but now no one calls them adhesive bandages and everyone calls them "band-aids" even if they are Curel branded products. Aspirin found the same fate decades ago and you'd be hard pressed to even find someone who remembers when Aspirin was a brand name.

Mattel has guidelines about the use of the term "Barbie" (always singular, NEVER plural as in "Want to play Barbies?"). Companies take out full page ads in Writer's Digest magazine reminding writers not to use their brand name as a generic product category, but people still do. Now Merriam-Webster makes things even more confusing by validating the use of "google" as a verb meaning "to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web". Needless to say, Google is rather concerned about where this might lead.

It's good to have your brand name so closely linked to a product category that people assume you ARE the product category. But you have to draw the line somewhere or you can become as generic as band-aids and aspririn (both with lower case letters you might note, the same way Webster listed the verb "google" in their new dictionary).

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Concrete Doesn't Dry

I always hated grammar as a child, but as I began to write more and more throughout my life I began to realize the power of words. Much of that power is lost if you don't understand what words mean when you use them.

On the surface, it just broadcasts to the world a lack of understanding or education. Like when people consistently use "alot" or "allot" when they mean "a lot".

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a nit picky person trying to rid the world of dangling participles. I just get a kick out of grammar. If you don't yet, you should check out "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" by Lynn Truss.

This is at the front of my mind because I am developing an educational school assembly program about the writing process.

Then, on the local news last night I heard a commentator announce something about concrete on a construction project drying. But concrete doesn't dry, it cures. In fact, if you pour concrete in very arid places, you have to cover it with plastic and/or spritz it down with water periodically as it cures because if it does dry before it cures then the concrete is less stable.

So should she have used "cured" rather than "dried"?

It might have confused a large part of the audience and everyone knew what she meant when she said "dried". But a great part of how we learn things is by seeing, hearing, and experiencing them in context. This is why the school programs I produce are so effective. They aren't a list of vocabulary words to be defined and copied and recited. My programs are a living example of the vocabulary words, defined and presented in context, then used appropriately.

Shouldn't we strive to speak and write as examples to the greatest extent possible?

By the way, I'm not talking about stuffy writing. I think that you have to write to your audience. This is why the concrete thing bothered me so much. Not because she said "dried" rather than "cured" but because I think it was a good choice in this situation. I think saying "cured" might have confused some of her listeners and no one was confused when she said "dried".

So as I develop this program on the writing process I find myself supporting the decision to perpetuate a misunderstanding just because it is already a misunderstanding. I'm not sure how I feel about this.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Performing at My Elementary Alma Mater

Today I got to do an educational, motivational assembly program at Oak Ridge Elementary in Conroe ISD in Texas. I've done thousands of elementary school assembly programs over the years but this is the first one at the school where it all started for me.

I still remember the very first time I stepped onto that campus, thirty-some-odd years ago. The school was brand new at the time and I was brand new to the whole "school experience". I showed up petrified, like most kindergartners. My father walked me in and introduced me to someone he said was his friend, but I got the distinct impression that it was just another scared kid who was just as happy to have someone to cling to on that first day as I was.

I remember my teacher, Miss Norman, who no longer works there (surprise, surprise!). I wonder if she knows how in love I was with her. Not in the way a high school senior might fall in love with his 24-year-old teacher, but like a child loves a parent. I don't really know if she was a good teacher or not as I didn't know as much about pedagogy then as I do now, but I know that in my mind, there were simply none better than her.

I still feel that way about her and am sure, in my heart, that she was everything I remember.

The school has changed to be almost completely unrecognizable. When I went there, "open concept" was the new thing. They have since found that this just created loud, somewhat disruptive learning environments and so all the rooms have had walls built. What was once the front office is no longer. Now the front office is where the art room used to be. I think.

It's hard to tell. So much has changed there within the walls.

The only thing that really looks the same is the play ground. I mean, all the equipment has since been replace with newer, safer, more colorful stuff, but the shape of the playground, the way the trees lay, the shape of the outside of the building (which hasn't changed) and the road and fence line. All that remains the same.

So, I'm spending the rest of the evening remembering long forgotten times. Like the day the first graders made tie-dyed t-shirts. And our field trip to some place that made HUGE tires (and that is ALL I remember from that field trip, but I still think it is worthwhile). The games we used to play in the playground. Being "in love" with Kelly Portera and Shea Gustavsen (the former in Kindergarten and the latter in 2nd or 3rd grade).

It was cool to go back for a day.

I even got my old year book out and am excited about our upcoming 20 year reunion. I guess I'll blog on that as well.

--Julian Franklin (a.k.a. Jay Pugh)

Friday, September 15, 2006

You Should Move to Las Vegas

Every now and then someone will tell me I should move to Las Vegas.


"Because you're so good!"

If I had any modesty I'd brush it aside for the purpose of this post, but I don't. Lack of modesty has always been a shortcoming of mine. I've always felt that if I had just a little bit of modesty, I'd be perfect. But, alas.

So they think I'm good (by the way, I am NOT a very good magician as any competent magician who has ever seen one of my shows will quickly testify). But some fans think I may be a contender in Las Vegas and I graciously accept the compliment for what it is (a compliment) and dismiss it for what it is NOT (good business advice).

Even if I were the type of performer that Las Vegas wants and needs, why would I want to move there to compete against all the other performers? You may say Vegas is where the gigs are, but that simply isn't true. The magicians outnumber the gigs a hundred to one in Sin City, where as back here in Texas I can't even do all the shows I get calls for.

So what I miss out on is the glory. I don't have adoring fans throwing themselves at me. Or rather, my adoring fans consist of eight-year-old boys who want me to tell them how the handkerchief trick works and second-graders who want my autograph.

I prefer it this way. They are a better fan club anyway.

I was thinking of this after finishing up a Family Fun Night at Travis Elementary in Mineral Wells, Texas and while loading up my stuff a group of kids came up asking for an autograph. That's all the glory I need.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Where I was on 9/11/01

I was a school teacher that year.

My wife and I had recently (about a week before) learned that she was pregnant with our first child.

I was in the classroom and a fellow teacher came in to tell us the news. She wasn't sure (no one was at this point) if it was an accident or terrorist attack.

I turned on the television set we had in our room and we were able to tune in just as the second plane hit the other tower. At that point there was no question we were under attack.

I taught high school in a self-contained classroom. I worked with children with Severe Emotional Disturbance and I made the decision to keep the news on for the day. I still don't know if it was the right thing to do, but I felt like we spent enough time studying History that had happened decades or centuries before, and this was History in the making. I wanted them to know they were experiencing something they would remember for the rest of their lives.

"Why are you watching this stuff?" the students asked.

"This is history. One day, people will ask you where you were when you heard abou this. One day your children will study this in their history books."

"Psshaw!" They scofffed. "That's what you said about the Monica Lewinski thing!"

Yeah. Go figure.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

How Much Would You Pay for US Gasoline?

I just read that we recently discovered an HUGE oil field in the US Gulf of Mexico. The oil contained therein are supposed to boost our available reserves by 50%. That's pretty amazing if you think about it.

But we still import a lot of oil from the Middle East because we use so much and because we can get it there pretty cheap.

Now, this isn't a political blog and I'm not going to turn it into one, but I was curious how much, if any, a person would be willing to pay as a premium to know that their gasoline was refined only from US oil. It would be more expensive, but the cheapest price isn't always the only factor when determing purchases. Most often other factors like reliability, quality, and cost of ownership come into play at least as much or more than price. This is why people pay much more for a BMW than they do for a VW.

But lately people have been willing to buy everything from salad dressing and ice cream all the way to electricity based on how those products were created and what the profits were spent on.

So I asked myself if I would pay a 20% premium on fuel costs if it came only from US reserves or from close allies.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Teachable Moments

I am a big believer in the value and importance of "teachable moments". These are the little opportunities that arise dozens of times each day to teach the children in our lives more about the world around them. This is a tale of caution, however.

Children are human sponges, and sometimes we jump on those teachable moments without thinking about potential consequences.

So one day my daughter's skirt is slipping down. She is oblivious to the "plumber's crack" that she's showing the world and so my wife, Andrea says "Pull up your skirt. You're mooning us."

"What does 'mooning' mean?" Madeleline asks.

"A 'moon' is when your bottom is showing." I explained.

That was the end of the conversation. It was never brought up again by anyone.

Two days later, we went out to the video rental store to get a movie. We were coming out of the store at around dusk and I could see the moon in the sky. I asked my daughter, "Do you see the moon, Madeleine? Where's the moon?"

I don't suppose I have to finish the story for you other than to say, while we are proud of our four-year-old's ability to recall and apply information in new and creative ways, and while we are very proud of her well developed sense of humor, we were not really that impressed with her response to my question in the parking lot of Blockbuster Video.

--Julian Franklin

Thursday, August 31, 2006

How my Customers Help Create my Programs

I was in Killeen last week presenting COLOR YOUR WOLRD, a school assembly program on reading and diversity. It's a great program, and a wonderful way to start the year off right. The kids learn about respect and standing up for what's right.

During lunch I was talking to the librarian there about the show that I'm writing for this coming summer. The theme is "Sail Away with a Book" and my show is called "Set Sail". It is a program about the writing process, but I told her I wasn't too sure what areas I wanted to cover.

So she pulled out a collection of ideas including a program they use called "6+1". She even had a bibliography of potential books that tied into these concepts, complete with summaries of each book.

You have to LOVE librarians! They are such resources of information.

I finished the programs that day and remembered that the highlight of the whole Color Your World Show (the program I was presenting at her school) is a song and a book that was suggested to me by another librarian years earlier.

It's great when you can get your customers to do the hardest part of your job for you.

Thank you, to librarians everywhere, but particularly to those of you who have hired me and helped me improve the lives of students.

Monday, August 28, 2006

I Skewed the Test Results!

I was doing a school assembly program last week performing the GO WILD program on science and reading. After the program the counselor came up to me and said "You just skewed my testing for the start of the year! I ask some logical thinking questions and your program gave everyone a leg up on the diagnostic!"

Now, as a former special ed. teacher, I can assure you that I do not set out to sabotage any diagnostic instrument. However, I must admit that I felt a certain amount of pride at having ruined her question bank.

I mean, ultimately, my real goal is to skew test results. I want the kids at the schools where I present to have an almost unfair advantage when it comes to testing, logical thinking skills, and the ability to think through problems and find workable solutions. Every teacher should have those same goals.

So to the schools in north central Texas, I apologize for making you find new diagnostic testing instruments, but I am glad that we were able to bump the whole school up a few notches during the first week back at school! What a great way to start off the year!

--Julian Franklin

P.S. If you are interested in having similar programs at YOUR school, visit or drop me a line. I'd love to help you out, too.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Black Bear in Tennessee

It’s been over a week since I last posted and I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I just got back from one of the coolest professional conferences I’ve ever attended. It is a four-day event for children’s performers called KIDabra. I’ve lectured there for the last few years and have been attending for even longer. It’s a great convention.

This year I took my family including my beautiful daughter, Madeleine. You can imagine the attention she got at a convention of children’s performers. She left after seeing a couple of hundred magic tricks, speaking with no fewer than 27 puppets, receiving about 22 napkin roses, and about 391 balloon animals.

She loved every minute of it.

In addition to all the great stuff at the convention we also went to Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, and went hiking in the Smoky Mountains. The Dixie Stampede was a lot of fun and very interesting. I’ll be writing a blog article on the money machine that Dolly Parton has created there which I’ll post on my Business Building Blog:

But now I’ll tell you that one of the highlights of my trip was seeing a black bear in the wild.

We were hiking in the Smoky Mountains with my wife in the lead when she turned and yelled “There’s a bear!” She then very instinctively grabbed our daughter, turned her to be facing toward a tree and then wrapped herself around our daughter to protect her. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do, but my wife sure did it fast like she knew what she was doing.

Meanwhile I grabbed the camera and started running toward the bear to get a good picture. This, by the way is NOT the right thing to do.

Fortunately my wife has enough sense for both of us and she yelled out to me “We’re not in a zoo!”

Oh, yeah. Bears maul people. They are strong and this one was lean. He looked hungry. He crossed the trail and went up the hill. I watched him from what I hoped was a safe distance, about 30 yards.

He didn’t seem the least bit interested in me (thank goodness). He just slowly sauntered up the hill, stopping once to glance back at me before continuing up the hill.

Every time I tell this story my daughter starts crying and saying “I didn’t get to see the bear ‘cause Mommy made me look at the tree and wouldn’t let me turn around!”
The real bummer is that I never got a good photo.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

McDonald's Food

McDonald's food is not healthy.

McDonald's food is not particularly tasty.

But it is fast and convenient. As a professional performer I often find myself eating meals at fast food establishments out of necessity. I have to eat. I have to get where I am going quickly. And so I eat at fast food places because they are built on the premise of selling speed and convenience.

So why do places like McDonald's allow systems and employees who CONSISTENTLY forget to put syrup in with the pancakes? Why do they regularly fail to put spoons in with yogurt? Why do they refuse to put ketchup in the bag with the french fries unless YOU remember to ask them to?

I'm more than a little bit ticked off this morning after eating cold, crappy pancakes that contain NO nutritional value but pack in an entire day's worth of fat calories and they would have at least tasted good if I could have eaten them with syrup when they were hot. Instead, I was 3 miles down the road from the morons at the drive thru window in Meridian, Mississippi before I noticed that they didn't think syrup was something people might want to eat with an order of pancakes.

So I had to decide what to do: Turn around and go back and ask for my syrup (an extra 10 minutes and at gas prices another $2.50 added to the cost of my breakfast) or keep going and hope there is another McDonald's at the next exit. Either way this is neither fast, nor convenient. This is torture.

And as luck would have it, there wasn't another McDonald's for many, many miles. So I would up eating my pancakes cold.

The sad thing is, this isn't limited to the McDonald's in Meridian, Mississippi. This happens at the McDonald's right by my house. It happens at McDonald's all over the country and it happens to me at least 40% of the time. It also happens at other fast food places. McDonald's has perfected ruining breakfast, but they don't have a monopoly on it. I've learned to sit and double check every single thing in the bag before I drive off and if I ever fail to do so (like today) then I pay for it.

Part of the price of a fast food meal is realizing that YOU have to do the work of the drive through person. You pay less than a sit down restaurant because YOU are doing the important work of a manager. You have to make sure that the employee is doing their job.

Otherwise, you don't get what you are paying for. You are paying for speed and convenience. If you aren't getting it, you might as well order a real breakfast from a sit down restaurant.

--Julian Franklin

P.S. We ate at Subway for lunch. Not as fast, but when you watch them make it, there are NO mistakes and the food is healthier, too.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Movie Review: Hoodwinked

Hoodwinked is an animated motion picture that is an example of everything children's entertainment should strive to become. The movie is based on the Red Riding Hood story re-told as a modern tale. But it is SOOooo much more.

For starters, there are many layers of humor that strike adults as well as children. This is nothing new in children's entertainment, but it is done particularly well in this movie.

What I really like about Hoodwinked, however, is the very inventive and creative way that the story is told from several different perspectives as a "mystery" seems to unfold in the telling. As each character's story is told you aren't sure if you are getting closer to the truth or farther away.

And then, just when things couldn't get any weirder or funnier, the story comes to a conclusion that makes sense of everything in a very satisfying way. I won't say anything else because I want to preserve the "whodunit" for those who haven't seen the movie yet.

I will tell you that you will enjoy this movie, even if you have no children. It is funny and engaging in a way that few movies are anymore. If you are a children's performer (as I am) then you owe it to yourself to rend this movie and study it. Notice how the humor is kept clean and yet riotously funny? Notice how the reference to pop culture are tossed out without much fan fare, to be enjoyed by those who get it, but not to become stumbling blocks for those who didn't? You don't want your audience to spend time wondering about the joke they didn't get.

Particularly, pay attention to the creative way that an old, worn-out tale (Little Red Riding Hood) has been given new life through a little bit of creativity and imagination.

--Julian Franklin

Friday, August 11, 2006


My very first job as a teacher, I worked for a principal who had given me a paddling 12 years before. I kept hoping that he didn't remember me, but I can't imagine that he could have forgotten. I had received corporal punishment from him on more than one occasion.

When I was a student, I was not the best kid in class. I wasn't BAD, but I was definitely not the teacher's pet.

The reason I bring this up is because of a fun e-mail I got recently from the director of Library Services in a Texas School district. He saw my school assembly program and wanted to share it with all the schools in his district. He passed on the word of my program to some of the school officials and they all wanted more information.

So he e-mailed me asking me to send him some promotional materials to share with everyone. He included this fun line and the right to attribute it to him…

"This guy is such a showman that I'm sure he was a thorn in the side of many teachers"
--Steve Neal

Okay Steve. So you're more right than you probably knew.

However, I'm making up for it now. I spend my life educating children all over the country and inspiring them to read more, learn more, and become more. I motivate them to explore the learning process through self-directed learning, reading books on any subject they love and care about.

It might not make up for the underground newspaper I published my junior year ("The Harlequin", I got three issues out before being shut down by "the man"), nor does it reverse the fact that I organized a walk-out of our Political Science class. I had no good reason for the walk-out, other than we had been discussing them in class and it seemed like a fun thing to try. When the teacher left to get some coffee, I saw the opportunity and I grabbed it.

These things are done-and-over long ago. But I'm still paying retribution and making good on my debt to educators everywhere. And I intend to continue to do so.

--Julian Franklin

Monday, August 07, 2006

Summer of 2005 at the Library Changed My Life

My last few posts have been about how the summer library club reading program in Texas has changed my life and how it continues to do so each new year that I'm involved with the program. This post is about the summer of 2005, when the theme established by The Texas State Library was "Go Wild: Read!"

By the time 2005 rolled around I had learned a bit about costuming. Summer Library Programs in Texas are held in the summer…in Texas. It gets HOT!! No longer was I wearing trench coats, no matter how cool they looked in promo photos. So for the 2005 theme I dressed like a safari explorer.

Because I take my summer reading shows into the public schools and perform school assembly programs that promote reading, I also put an educational message into my programs. "Go Wild!" is about recycling and the scientific process. With the state mandated TAKS now testing Science, this has been a VERY popular program!

So, several times a day, dozens of times a week, and hundreds of times over the course of a school year, I teach about the importance of recycling.

Now, I've been a recycler for as long as I can remember. I paid for most of my gasoline in college by recycling all the aluminum beer cans consumed by the guys in my dorm.

But when you lecture about something day in and day out, any inconsistencies in your own life begin to haunt you. Even when I knew no one was looking, I just couldn't bring myself to throw out the tiny glass jelly jar. Empty soda cans consumed on the road were usually tossed in a trash can when I stopped for gas. Now I trucked them all home to recycle.

It seems little, but the fact is, that every year I perform, I learn more as I teach and I always grow as a human being as well as a performer and educator.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Summer of 2004 at the Library Changed My Life

I'm on a roll here. I've been writing about all the ways that the Summer Reading Club in Texas, created by The Texas State Library, and hosted by libraries all over Texas, has changed my life and continues to change my life in simple, but profound ways each year.

This post is about what happened in 2004 when the summer reading theme in Texas was "Color Your World". I created a show with the same name, in which I dress like a crazy artist and my dragon puppet (named Meihoo) magically steals color from the world. Only through an understanding we get from books found in the library are we able to convince Meihoo of the error of his ways.

I wanted to create a show about bullying and diversity, but as a former special education teacher I wanted to address diversity in a way that hadn't been explored in as much depth as many other forms of diversity. I wanted to address the diverse abilities and unique capabilities of different children.

So yes, we talk about different clothes, different foods that people eat, different languages, different cultures, but we also focus on how similar we all are.

We talk about how people love to read and I bring out a book in Braille and show the kids how children read who are unable to see printed words. I hold a book from the Moses series by Issac Millman. These books are about a deaf child who visits various places and each book teaches some sign language.

We cover children in wheel chairs and those who use walkers, too. In the end I sing a song, and this is where the real growth for me came. I am not a singer. I have never (prior to 2004) had voice lessons, sung in a choir, or in any other way made any real attempt to sing. But here I was, singing a very powerful song that almost all the children can relate to.

Was it scary? Yeah. Was it a risk for me to include this in my show? A HUGE risk! Was it worth it? When I see fifth graders watching the show and leave with red eyes and wet cheeks, and I see them look at each other in a different way, then yeah, there's no doubt it was worth it.

Color Your World

Monday, July 31, 2006

Summer of 2003 at the Library Changed My Life

Lately I've been posting about how Summer Reading Club in Texas has impacted my life. In 2003 the theme was "Mission Possible: Spy a Book". I wrote a show called "TOP SECRET" a show about reading and World Geography.

It was a lot of fun to write, especially creating all the "spy" marketing and promotional materials. The show itself was very fun to put together and, like ALL the shows I create, I learn a lot not just in the writing of the show, but also in the performing.

In my programs, kids ask questions or make comments and, quite frankly, I don't always know the answers. So I have to go study and research more before I present again. It pushes me to learn new things. I like that.

2003 was also the year that I really began reading a lot of children's literature. I've rediscovered the joy of reading fiction again. I am a voracious reader, usually consuming 50+ full-sized non-fiction print books each year and another 40-50 audio books each year. Almost all my reading is non-fiction and I really enjoy it.

But there is something nostalgic about sitting down and reading (usually in a single evening, and often times in just an hour or less) a fiction novel written for a middle school student. If you doubt this for even a moment I highly recommend you visit your local library and check out any book by Gary Paulsen. As a sailor I particularly liked "The Frog", but I also enjoyed all the other books of his I've read.

I also now read about 100 or so books written for elementary age children, which can be read in about 5-20 minutes each, so that's no real accomplishment, but there are some that have brought a tear to my eye including "Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man" by David A. Adler. The pictures are simple, but when combined with the story, you can't help but get a little choked up at the end.

In fact, you can read the blog post I wrote about Lou Gehrig earlier this summer.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Summer of 2002 at the Library Changed my Life

In 2002 I presented my very first performance at a public library. Prior to that time I was a teacher in public schools here in Texas and did some magic shows at birthday parties and such on the weekends. My first show was "The Wild West Reading Show" and in it I taught the audience about the value of reading while also covering some basic points in Texas History.

The result was that both I and my wife would stop working as school teachers and devote our full time to our performance business within just a few months.

From the 75 or so library programs that I delivered my first summer in the business I began getting phone calls from school librarians, principals, PTA/PTO leaders, and other school officials who wanted to bring me into the public schools to motivate, educate, and inspire their students.

From there it was like an atomic chain reaction.

I got approval from my principal to take a few days off and do these three schools who wanted me to work for them. But at the end of each of those days, there were two, three, sometimes FIVE messages from other schools who had heard about me from the officials at the school where I was that day and they wanted to book me for THEIR school.

I went back to my principal and talked to him about it and asked if it was okay for me to use a few more of my sick days to help these other schools.

"They are your sick days. You use them however you want." He told me.

So I always arranged my own substitute in advance and went and did these additional shows. But each of them led to several others and before long my sick days were gone (I had 40 at the beginning of the year saved up from previous years), and I was still getting calls to the tune of one or two a week wanting to book me.

My business has continued to explode every year since then and I still end up booking shows 12 - 24 months in advance, almost all of it as a direct result of the word of mouth of my loyal customers and clients.

That's how the summer reading club of 2002 "Read Across Texas" changed my life.

Over the next few days I'll post about how the other years' have also altered my life. In the meantime, if you want to check out the shows that I wrote for each one of these year's programs, visit my Library School Assembly Programs page.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Summer Reading Club Makes Me a Better Person

Every year I write a new show for public libraries in Texas. I tie it into the theme for the summer reading club for that year and write it so that it promotes the summer reading club as a summer activity as well as promoting the very act of reading for pleasure. It is critical to teach children early on the joy of reading. If children associate reading only with laborious school work, they will NEVER learn to read for pleasure.

And I am very big on inspiring children to read for pleasure. Children who read for pleasure score higher on standardized tests, they have fewer discipline problems, and are more successful academically. Not to mention that all the great knowledge of our time and times past is held in books, most of which are absolutely FREE at the local library.

Excuse me, while I step down off this soap box before I hurt myself.

The purpose of this post was to make note of the fact that every year I present my new show it affects me in a minor, but significant way. And, no, "minor" and "significant" are NOT mutually exclusive as I'll demonstrate with examples from my life.

…Starting with a post in two days. Come back and visit then. Find out how each of the following summer reading programs at Texas Libraries have literally changed my life in powerful, but (usually) very unobtrusive ways:

2002 Read Across Texas
2003 Mission Possible: Spy a Book
2004 Color Your World - Read

2005 Go Wild! - Read
2006 Reading: The Sport of Champions

Friday, July 21, 2006

Booking Two Years in Advance

I'm already getting bookings for 2008 and we aren't even through July of 2006 yet. My 2007 is filling up really fast and it isn't that uncommon for clients to reserve a date on my calendar two years out.

Of course, this gets everyone into a frenzy!

My clients start worrying they need to book two years out. My competitors think I have some sort of ninja mind control. And those who don't know me and happen upon my site think that I've misprinted the dates on my calendar.

None of these is true.

Unless you have a very specific date in mind, you usually do not have to book two years out (though it does lock you in against any price increases). For most of my clients nine to twelve months advanced booking is all that is required, so don't worry.

However, even that can be deceptive. Three weeks ago I booked three additional events for THIS summer. Three dates in a very full schedule.

One was a program that had to cancel due to the floods that occurred last month here in Houston, TX (you probably saw some of that on the news). Another was a charity event that I do each year performing for children with special needs while their parents enjoy an evening of respite (that one is tonight!). Since I spent 8 years as a teacher in a Special Ed. Classroom I felt a calling when they asked and I've been back every year since.

The last was a library that had an unknown conflict with another community event and had only 2 people show up for the summer reading program. I performed a special show for those two kids but rescheduled to come back into town to do my real program when we had a full audience. We found a hole in my schedule and I did the show for free.

So, my schedule fills. Be sure not to dally around. But don't feel that you have to book 2008 just yet, unless you have a particular need. Bridge City wanted to be sure to get me for their kick off since 2008 is the 50th anniversary of the Texas Reading Club, summer reading program. They also missed out on the 2007 date they wanted because Wednesday mornings go fast. If you want to make sure I am at YOUR library for a specific date, then go ahead and reserve. Otherwise, relax, enjoy the summer, and just figure out when you want me in '07!

--Julian Franklin

P.S. Some of you might be wondering why I would do a show for free. Is he an idiot? Is he just so incredibly benevolent that he won't accept the money? No. On both accounts.

I collected my fee once, but I am not going to take library funds to perform a show for two kids. This is actually a very SELFISH decision. I know that if I can promote the reading club in a way that increases attendance, boosts participation, and bumps up circulation, then I end up getting to come back. This means I need to do whatever it takes to make YOUR library program a success. From free full-color, full-sized posters, to sending out mailings to MY list at MY expense telling them to come see me at YOUR event, to refusing payment for a show that only has two kids in the audience. If YOU are not a success, then I am not a success.

P.P.S. When I returned to that library we had over sixty kids in attendance, which was one of her largest showings in this small community. It was worth driving out there twice.

P.P.P.S. My schedule is posted on line at

Sunday, July 16, 2006

What's up with Cell Phones in the Gym?

This post has nothing at all to do with my life as a professional school show performer, but I had to get this off my chest.

Why would anyone spend their time in the gym sitting on a weight bench talking on their cell phone? Can you not find a better place to carry on a conversation than a crowded weight room? Maybe you don't really want to work out anyway and the phone is a convenient distraction? I can't imagine anyone being so subservient that they can not arrange to have even 30-60 minutes (at 5 AM no less!) to finish a work out uninterrupted.

I also work as a consultant to other performing artists, and I write regular columns in two different industry trade journals where I have advocated staying accessible to your customers, clients, and prospects. I even write a free e-newsletter every other week where I discuss (among other things) how to available to your people. Cell phones are one great way to do this. I even wrote an article that's posted on my web site about this very thing and in it I stress that being connected does NOT mean being available 24/7.

You have to have family time, bathroom time, and occasionally time at the gym and these need to be done WITHOUT cell phone conversations.

There, I feel much better now.

--Julian Franklin

Sunday, July 09, 2006

You asked for it!

I had three people e-mail me asking why I didn't include a picture of me dancing with my daughter. So, if you really want to see what I look like dancing ballet, I decided to go pull out a photo from just over ten years ago.

Yes, this really is me. A head full of hair, thin face, and athletic build. A lot can happen in ten years!

People ask if my ballet experience as the lead danseur with The Woodlands Civic Ballet has any relevance to my current role as a school show presenter and motivational children's performer.

On the surface, no. I mean, I don't dance in my library reading programs. I don't even script much movement into my educational assembly programs, even my Sport of Champions program which is about mental and physical training as well as some fun math concepts.

But it is relevant. I was never schooled in dance as a child and didn't get into ballet until I was out of college. But I went in with a hungry quest for knowledge and within just a few years was the lead danseur and stayed the lead until I left a few years later.

An example of how we can do almost anything we decide to do as long as we are willing to pay the price necessary to get there.

--Julian Franklin

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Father Daughter Dance Recital

We just got back from a fun family vacation in the Texas Hill Country. I always enjoy spending time there and we were lucky enough to encounter a very rare cool front that brought the day time temperatures down to 78 degrees F.

So, things have been so busy with summer library programs and getting ready for the trip that I didn't get a chance to write about our recent Father-Daughter dance recital.

Madeleine is such an amazing girl. She loves ballet and is really quite good at it. She just turned four less than two months ago but her teacher wants to put her in the class with 5-7 year olds.

I always said I would never be one of those parents who thought that their kid was the smartest, fastest, most beautiful gift the earth had ever recieved. My wife and I made a pact on it, in fact.

And then, as fate would have it, our dauther actually IS the smartest, fastest, most beautiful gift the earth has ever recieved.

You may wonder where I am in the picture. This is from her solo. You aren't missing anything good.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Writing in a Closet

It is difficult to find uninterrupted time to write. I write a lot and it is really important to me to be able to crank out material when I am facing a deadline (real or self-imposed). A single, 2 minute interruption can steal 10-20 minutes of quality writing time as it takes a while to regain your thoughts.

My wife doesn't seem to have this problem as bad as I do. She seems to be able to mentally shift gears and carry on two conversations at the same time, but I just can't do it. She says it's a female thing. That their brains are wired differently than a man's brain. Maybe so, but she doesn't write as much as I do.

So, in order for me to be able to really finish a writing project in a timely manner, I have to be able to write where the phone, e-mail, and family aren't able to interrupt. If you are a writer, I cannot stress how important it is not to allow interruptions. Writers argue about the best time of day to write, about the benefits of pen and paper vs. computer keyboard, and about grammar and spelling, but the one thing all prolific writers seem to agree on is the need for uninterrupted time in order to produce.

So, I created a "secret" chamber in my library. In another post I wrote about and showed a picture of how we converted a bed room into a library with floor to ceiling book shelves on every wall. The closet in this room was used to store boxes of other books, which I moved to the guest room. The library closet was cleaned out (sort of) and a makeshift desk was made. In here I can take my lap top, set up, and know that I am insulated from distraction.

I don't use it very often, but when I do, it is amazing how much I can get done.

I sometimes feel a little bit "Harry Potter-ish" locked away in the closet, but it works for getting stuff written.

--Julian Franklin

P.S. The book leaning against the dictionary and Thesaurus on the desk in the photo is a copy of my newest book "Kid Control: Behavior Management for Children's Entertainers". You can check out a little bit about the book at

Saturday, June 24, 2006

My Personal Library

If you've ever seen one of my library reading programs, you know that I push reading as one of the ways to change your life. I don't just talk the talk, I am a very avid reader, consuming 60-90 printed books each year, several hundred hours of audio books, and subscriptions to almost 20 magazines.

I'm also pretty fickle about what gets to stay in my library. There are books that I start but never finish because they are too boring or overly simplistic. There are books that I read and enjoy, but know that I will never read again, nor will I ever recommend them to anyone else. These books don't make it into my library. When I'm finished with these books, I pass them on, usually to my local library as a donation.

But about 60-70% of the books I buy each year get to stick around in my personal collection. It actually spans several rooms. I keep 2-3 books in my car at all times. I try to arrive at all my assembly programs at least an hour early and this usually results in time that can be spent reading. If I'm ever found waiting (to get my oil changed for example) I know I have a choice of reading materials.

If the weather is foul and I can't ride my bike the 5 miles to the gym in the morning then I will drive. This way I get to read while I ride a stationary bike at the gym. I will admit to having been so engrossed in a book that I drove to the gym just to ride the stationary bike so that I could read and ride at the same time. I do not apologize.

I'm also usually reading 2-3 different books that I keep by my bedside. I read for 30-60 minutes before going to sleep each night, although I have gone to bed too tired to read on more than one occasion.

As you might imagine, I have a pretty large personal library. We've dedicated an entire room in our home as a library. It didn't come with built-in bookshelves, so we had them installed. We also have bookshelves in almost every room of our house. The guest room (hardly usable from all the stuff being stored there) has more books than most people probably own, but our library is really my little nirvana.

We have floor to ceiling bookshelves on almost every wall in the room. The closet is set up as my writing area (I'll post on that later) and we still didn't have enough room for everything so we bought a shelving unit that sticks out into the middle of the room from one wall.

--Julian Franklin

P.S. In the top right corner of the picture you can see a single shelf filled with stacks of copies of a single book. That book is one of mine, "Kid Control: Behavior Management for Children's Entertainers". You can read about it at

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

REAL Magic Part 4: Space Travel

Landing on the moon...

Okay, imagine planning a 500 mile trip on a map and calculating the entire trip down to the meter, every turn, every stop, every lane change, every change in direction, every acceleration and deceleration, and then climbing into your car and allowing a computer with the sophistication of about 1% of your Game Cube or Xbox to do all the driving based on your pre-programed instructions.

To make matters worse, imagine that you cannot use the brakes. Also imagine that your destination is moving at all times and you have to aim at an area where you estimate your destination will be when you arrive at that same spot.

To make it more interesting, imagine that your tires have no friction on the road and the gravitational pull of nearby objects can pull you off course. Even the gravity of your destination will pull you off course, and you have to calculate for all of this and program it into your travel plans in advance.

That's basically what NASA did when they sent men to the moon. Only they also had to deal with breaking free of the Earth's gravity, dealing with radioactive particles, tiny asteroids, and bring not only all their own food, water, and fuel, but also their own oxygen and heat. Then they had to develop a way to communicate across vast distances.

In today's world of technology and regular space launching, we take it for granted, but when we made that first journey, it was nothing short of real magic.

This is the last of four articles on my thoughts on "Real Magic", but you can expect that I will occasionally add another one. Just like I do for my "Kids Say Funny Things". If you are just tuning into my Blog, then the first three articles in this series follow. You can expect to either get some insight into what a magician considers to be "real magic" or you will leave realizing how easily amused and impressed I can be.

--Julian Franklin
Educational Entertainment Specialist

P.S. In my last post I wrote about base 2 exponents and base 10 exponents. After re-reading my post I was reminded of a funny (to certain types of people) joke:

"There are only 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand binary numbering systems and those who don't."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

REAL Magic Part 3: Mathematics

I am constantly enamored by the amazing power of mathematics. The measure of things can be far more amazing than the magic tricks I use to entertain and educate in elementary school assembly programs and library reading programs.

I once read an article that suggested that there were more combinations for a shuffled deck of cards than there are atoms in The Milky Way galaxy. And if you shuffle cards face up to face down, there are more combinations than there are atoms in the known universe.

That seems impossible, and my quest to find the truth (by first determining the number of combinations of a shuffled deck of cards and then trying to estimate the number of atoms in our planet, solar system, and ultimately the known universe) lead me to the creation of a program for middle school and high school students called Math-A-Magic. You can read about the program at (don't forget the hyphens around the "A").

The power in math that really seems magical is the concept of exponents. Normally scientists and mathematicians use "base 10" exponents, but there are others. You can amaze yourself with simple base-2 exponents. When you double something you are dealing with base-2. Here's an example of the power of base-2.

Fold a piece of paper in half. Fold it in half again. Do it a third time, then a fourth and a fifth. You won't be able to fold that piece of paper in half eight times. It becomes too thick. But what if you could?

Q: What if you could double the thickness of a sheet of paper, say 50 times. How thick would it be?

A: It would stretch from the surface of the Earth, to the surface of the Sun. Don't believe me? Do the math. Measure a stack of 100 sheets of paper and divide by 100 to get the thickness of a single sheet. Get a calculator and enter 1X2. Then X2. Then X2. Keep doing this until you've entered "X 2" 50 times. This is how many thicknesses your imaginary stack would be. Multiply it times your measurement for a thickness of paper and then convert that into miles or kilometers.

Pretty cool, huh?

--Julian Franklin

P.S. The average distance from the surface of the Earth to the surface of the Sun is about 93,000,000 miles (about 150,000,000 kilometers)

Monday, June 12, 2006

REAL Magic Part 2: GPS

This is sort of a culmination of two other topics that I consider to be "magical": space exploration and mathematics. I'll go into each of those individually, but for now, let's focus on this amazing technology that, when explained, seems more fanciful than just saying it's magic.

When I'm doing school assembly programs that promote reading or teach science, I often use magic tricks to illustrate a point or to capture audience attention. Every now and then a child will call out what they imagine to be a plausible solution. My favorites are when they attribute me with powers far beyond anything magical. If I make something vanish, they won't even suggest it is up my sleeve (which it isn't anyway) but instead might yell out "All you did was push a button and the table made it turn invisible!"

As ridiculous as it seems, the real workings of GPS (Global Positioning System) seem equally impossible and ludicrous. The truth is there are satellites circling the globe and constantly sending time signals out. These signals are received by handheld units on the surface of the Earth and based on how long it took the signal to travel through space, the unit can calculate (down to less than a meter) where you are on the surface of the Earth.

That's pretty tightly calibrated time keeping equipment. I mean, how long does it take a signal to travel a meter or two? Imagine a clock that can measure it and then triangulate your position.

That's amazing. Almost like…magic.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

REAL Magic Part 1: Thermos

This is the first of at least four articles that I want to share on the real magic in the world.

Even though, for almost four years I've written a regular monthly column for The Linking Ring (which is a trade journal for professional magicians and members of The International Brotherhood of Magicians), there are some things that I find even more magical than floating ladies, vanishing cars, or birds that magically appear from paper streamers and then turn into live rabbits. I do educational school assembly programs during the school year and summer reading programs during the summer. I use a lot of magic in my shows, but here I'm tipping "the real work".

I'm going to share with you what I think REAL magic looks like:

Quite possibly the most amazing thing I've ever really experienced is a Thermos (tm). Most of you are probably thinking, "He needs to get out more".

For a point of reference, I should mention that for two years I lived on a 27 foot sailboat. Click the link if you want to read more about the boat, but be cautioned, there is a picture of me without a shirt on. You've been warned.

I mention this because when you are at sea, it can be very rough. Even mundane things become difficult. Cooking on a stove top falls somewhere between a very risky juggling performance, and a Kevorkian act of desperate hunger. So, when you find the time to heat things up, it is nice to heat everything up all at once. So my boat was filled with Themoses. I used them for EVERYTHING.

You can heat water and 12 hours later it will still scald you. 24 hours later it is still too warm to drink fast. Coffee in a Thermos made 24 hours before has to be sipped. That is pretty amazing, to me.

We would boil water and then pour it on ingredients in a wide-mouth Thermos. It would keep at about the boiling point for a few hours afterwards, cooking the ingredients with no additional fuel. Conservation at it's best.

You can boil water, pour it in a Thermos, put it in your freezer, and take it out 12 hours later freezing your fingers on the outside of the Thermos and then burn your tongue on the still hot water inside. That is amazing.

That is magic!

--Julian Franklin

P.S. Okay, it's not really magic. It's really just science. There is a vacuum between the inner shell and the outer shell of the Thermos bottle. There is nothing in a vacuum (that's the definition of "vacuum" as opposed to "a thing that sucks dirt out of your carpet" which is what my mom always told me). So, there are no atoms to transfer the heat from inside the Thermos to the outside.

Still, pretty cool, huh?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Booking 12 Months in Advance

Before the summer season even starts, I begin getting phone calls and e-mails from librarians trying to get a specific date on my 2007 schedule. By the end of the summer, my schedule for next summer will be mostly filled. I will have at least a few dates booked in 2008 by the time the summer ends. I normally have at least one or two that book 24 months out. And every day of the summer I usually book another show or two for next year.

So it wasn't too strange when I got an e-mail the other day from a librarian who needed a program for mid-June on a Wednesday. I checked my calendar for 2007 and realized that the dates and times she needed were already gone. So I asked how flexible she was on the time and dates she was requesting, because those dates in 2007 were gone, but there were other times available, otherwise she would need to consider 2008.

WOW! I had no idea she was asking about THIS YEAR! I told her I would love to help her, but unless you are either very lucky, or very flexible, you better have your date on the books before the previous summer ends. If you aren't on 10-12 months in advance it is hard to find a Tues., Wed., or Thur. time slot open.

Mondays and Fridays are not too bad. And evening programs are usually easy to accomodate. But Wednesday mornings at the beginning of the summer--Fahgedabodit! (as they say on "The Soprano's")

My regular clients have learned that they don't even need to know what the theme is. They know I'm going to tie it in, they know the program will promote reading, they know it will be fun, funny, and magical, and they know that they will get rave reviews from their patrons for bringing me in again. So they confidently book me and let me worry about the rest.

If you are curious about the show I'll be doing next year, stay tuned to this blog and I'll write about it in a few days.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Reading: The Sport of Champions

I should have told you in my last post about the premise of my motivational reading program for this summer. Since the theme in Texas is "Reading: The Sport of Champions" I wrote a library reading program that talks about sports, but also emphasizes reading. After all, reading is exercise for your brain!

The premise of my show is Aesop's telling of the "The Tortoise and the Hare". In my production I get to interview both of the racers after the tragic event and also discuss their upcoming re-match. The interviews are hilarious with lots of jokes and puns just for adults (nothing "blue" in my shows, EVER, just references that usually fly over the heads of those younger than 14 or so).

I also mention famous athletes like Lou Gehrig, "The Iron Horse" of baseball who beat team mate Babe Ruth for MVP two years NOT because Lou was the fastest, or the best hitter, or the best catcher, or the best fielder, or the best runner. Lou wasn't the best at ANYTHING! Oh, he was good. I'm not saying the man wasn't good. Lou was a GREAT ball player, but he wasn't the best.

He just tried harder, and longer, and more consistently than anyone else in history either before or since.

Lou Gehrig had perfect attendance every year he was in school. He also had perfect attendance at every baseball game. He never missed a game. Not when he was sick, not with a sprained ankle, not with broken bones in his hand. He showed up every single day.

Like the tortoise.

What a great pair of role models: The Tortoise and Lou Gehrig.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

First Show of This Summer

I just finished my first performance of "Reading: Sport of Champions". It went well. Everyone in attendance seemed to like it and I had several people tell me that I am their favorite performer each year. Of course that is nice and I like to hear it. But...

I'm never really happy with my first ten performances. I can rehearse at the house, walk through the script, and even do dress rehearsals, but nothing really shakes a show out like doing it in front of a live audience. A REAL audience (no offense to my patient wife and daughter who lovingly watch my practice and rehearse far too many times).

I think the most frustrating part for me is that I know how good it is going to be by the end of the summer, but I simply don't know how to get there. I know that things will be revealed as I perform. Jokes will come to me, suddenly it will hit me that some prop should be placed on the other side of the stage from where I've been putting it. A new costume idea will hit me. All these things and more will no doubt come up, but I have to perform patiently and wait for them to be revealed.

Don't get me wrong, the show is good as it is. It is funny, it promotes reading, and it has some very strong tie ins with the theme. It will get even better, though. I am looking forward to watching it develop.

In some ways, it's like a child. You know they are going to grow, develop and change. But no matter how much you try to speed up or slow down the process, it will happen at it's own time.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

School is Out! Now things get BUSY...

May is always such a busy month for me. First of all, I stay pretty busy doing end-of-the-year reward parties and lots of programs to remind kids to read over the summer.

Then, like last night and the night before, I do events for High Schools. They host these all-night events with games, contests, music, food (oh-my-gosh the food...) and entertainment. So I get hired to come in and do a straight magic show. I don't get to do that much anymore since most of my stuff is all about motivating children, promoting reading, and educating kids about Texas History, Math, Science, Geography, and other such things.

As if this weren't enough, I am also supposed to be rehearsing a new show that I write from scratch each year and be ready to perform it in a few days. This is the show for my summer reading club. The theme this year is "Reading: Sport of Champions". I have been behind in this. I just got my posters in yesterday and I have to start performing the show on Tuesday. That gives me 3 days to rehearse.

I have to GO!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Kids Say Funny Things

I perform a school assembly program about Texas History. Like all my shows it is a library show, a reading show. It promotes reading among children through the use of puppets, magic, stories, and engaging dialog.

Anyway, during one part of the show I ask the kids about the state tree, state bird, and the state mammals. Texas has three state mammals. FYI: The Longhorn, the Armadillo, and the Mexican Freetail Bat.

Anyway, I'm at this school and I ask the kids about the state mammals. One kid raises his hand, I call on him and he says "Longhorn". I congratulate him and tell him he is correct. The Large State Mammal of Texas is the Longhorn.

I then see another hand go up.

"Do you know the medium sized state mammal?" I ask.

"Aggie!" the kid yells with supreme confidence.

You gotta love kids!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Who Performs for a Professional Performer?

My daughter turned four today. She wanted a magician and quite frankly, Dad wasn't going to cut the muster. I have no problem admitting that there is really nothing that is too good for my daughter and we probably go overboard when it comes to her. Birthdays are really a good excuse for us to spend frivolously without guilt.

The best part is, that you can get top notch entertainment without paying a fortune. Don't get me wrong, it isn't cheap, by any means, but when a kid's party comes around once a year, I don't mind investing a few hundred dollars to create a memory that will last for the rest of her life.

So I called my good friend Trixie. Trixie Bond does about 400 birthday parties every year. She does more birthday parties in a month than most people will host in the course of their entire life. Trixie KNOWS how to put on a birthday party show that captivates kids, has adults choking back tears of sentiment, and has everyone rolling on the ground with laughter.

Yes, she's actually a competitor of mine. But she's such an amazing performer I have to sing her praises. When she puts smiles of excitement like this on my daughter's face I can't imagine a better investment of an afternoon. No wonder Trixie has been featured on the cover of magazines, and been invited to perform at the White House for two years in a row. If Trixie is good enough for the President of the United States, then she's probably good enough for my daughter.

If you live anywhere in The Greater Houston Area, give her a call at (281) 242-3020.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Wrapping Up Another Workshop

This year I tried something new.

For several years I've written a monthly column in one of the trade journals for professional performers (The Linking Ring) and I've gotten a lot of requests from performers who knew how to perform, but didn't really understand how I was able to create a viable business out of what I love doing.

So I put together a four-day workshop. For four days these people come into my home. They see first hand how my business is run. The get to learn all the ins and outs of every aspect of what I do. And this last group has pushed me hard.

I start as early in the morning as they want to start and we go until they are too tired to continue. They arrive here before sunup and I have coffee going. We eat breakfast here while I start answering any questions they have from the night before. We keep going all day, stopping to eat, but continuing to talk, practice, and work throughout the meal. Then they leave, sometimes as late as 11 pm, only to start again the next morning at 7 am or earlier!

It has been an amazing experience.

Everyone who has come so far has already asked when I'm doing it again. They all want to do it again next year. I've already been thinking about ways that we can improve it, getting more information in, more networking opportunities, and such. But we'll see.

It's not cheap to attend. But everyone who has come said they got enough the first day to make it worth more than the entire fee ($1,997.00)

I don't know if I'll do it again. It's pretty hard on me. But it is a real charge to get the phone calls and e-mails from graduates who go home and in just a few weeks double or triple their business. I love knowing that I am able to help people do what they love and successfully improve the lives of children at the same time.

I have to get to bed now. These lunatics are coming back over here in just a few hours....

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Petey the Opossum's New Clothes

Well, here he is. This is Petey the Oppossum. He's got on his All-Star baseball jersey, his cool matching baseball cap, a new pair of shoes, and his reading glasses.

I LOVE the glasses. They add so much character. I am very excited about working them into the show as well. I'm not sure how yet, but it will be interesting to see how it develops.

He also has a new get up for his participation in "Go Wild". Go Wild is the show I do on Science and the Scientific Process. He's got a vest like mine and a pith helmet. It looks good.

Lastly, he had to have a Hawaiian style shirt with a pair of sunglasses so he can try out for next year's presentation: "Set Sail".

We'll see how he does. Of course, I'll keep you posted.

By the way. If you haven't visited Petey's Web Site, you might want to do that. He shares a site with my other puppets and some live animals. The URL is

Monday, May 01, 2006

Mall Shopping for My "Sport of Champions" Puppets

I visit the mall once per year. In late November or Early December we'll go to the mall as a family and get pictures with Santa. Other than that, I won't step foot on Mall property. I don't like fighting crowds. I don't like extravagant prices, and I don't like most of the stuff they sell in malls.

But I went today. There is a store called "Build-a-Bear". The concept is that you buy an empty rag shell of a doll and then you stuff it yourself, toss in a tiny cloth heart, wash it off in an "air shower" and then buy clothes for the thing. It's a pretty cool concept. You get a birth certificate and everything.

Anyway, last Christmas I walked past the store and went inside. I saw all these amazing outfits and accessories in sizes that would fit my puppets. I fell in love. I thought "I'll visit the mall for this stuff".

And so I did.

It is amazing, too. Stuff is pretty cheap. You can get a pair of sunglasses for your doll or puppet for $4.00. A complete outfit is just $10. I went a little crazy. I brought my daughter (of course) and she helped me shop. We spent just over $70 on stuff, but you can't hardly buy a pair of jeans in the mall for $70 and I got a LOT of cool clothes for my actors.

The show I just finished creating is called "Reading: Sport of Champions". Ultimately it will become an educational assembly program on mathematics, that of course stresses the importance of reading.

In the meantime I had to get the guys decked out in new costumes. Of course, I found a bunch of stuff that I could add to some of my other programs as well. I'll try and shoot some pictures of the puppets with their new duds. I got reading glasses, baseball caps, a karate gi, plus a lot more stuff.

I love this store!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

My Rat is Having a Birthday!

My rat is having a birthday.

Well, he's really just a puppet. So I don't know how much you can really celebrate a birthday, or even how or why anyone would.

Okay, here's the real story. I do a lot of puppet and ventriloquism in my presentations. The kids really love the puppets. They write them fan mail. I'm not kidding.

So I decided to get a business card for one of my puppets. Then he had to have his own web site. Rather than let it get out of control as I added more puppets, I simply put them all on the same web page. When I did I included basic "facts" about each of them, including their birthdates. I tried to be creative with this.

For example, the rabbit's birthdate is February 29. Just think about that for a while.

The Dragon's birthdate is April 1, because dragons...well, they don't exist, so all the "data" is sort of a joke.

Anyway, you get the idea. Livingston, the rat puppet, is really the star of the show, so we share the same birthday.

Check out the web site so you can see all the puppets, and find out some facts about them. (that's my magic bunny rabbit's name)

Friday, April 28, 2006

My Daughter is in Love and She's Only FOUR!

My daughter is in love. She's not quite four yet.

Of course, she's not in love in the romantic way. She's in love like three and four year olds get. Awe struck. Like me when I got to see Rita Pearlman from "Cheers" yesterday at a book signing. I'm thinking "There she is. In the same room I am. She seems so normal."

She was probably NOT thinking the same thing about me.

So here's my daughter. And she's sitting right next to none other than herself, THE big, bad wolf. That's right, the same one from all the childhood fairy tales. Only, this one is nice. I know. My daughter talked about her all night last night...

"Daddy, pretend you're the nice wolf-girl and I'm in the woods and I'm lost."

Only, she doesn't say "wolf", she says "wuf". Or maybe it's "woof". Either way, I won't hear the end of the "Nice Wuf-Girl" for some time.

In case you were wondering. My daughter came with me to a trade show I was working and got to meet some of the other vendors. The Wolf-Girl is actually Christina from Storybook Theatre of Texas. They do school assembly programs like I do. I also got to hang out with author/singer/songwriter/musician Lucas Miller, the singing Zoologist (Lucas presents VERY funny and educational music in a really cool way), Trixie Bond (world famous magician who has performed at hundreds of amazing venues, including The Magic Castle and even the White House for the past two years), and Joe McDermott (a hilarious singer/songwriter from Austin who can get a group of kids singing the silliest songs you've ever heard). Don't buy his CD though unless you want to be caught singing his hypnotic tunes all day with words like "Don't drop a brick on your foot, it will hurt. It will make you hop around in the dirt."

And to think, we all get paid to do this stuff!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Kids Say Funny Things

If you spend enough time around kids you get to hear some really funny things. As a school show presenter who does library author visits, motivational assembly programs, and reading reward programs in schools and libraries all over the country, I see my fair share of kids.

Just by way of record, my schedule is posted on-line and you can see that I stay pretty busy. That's a topic for another post, because right now I want to tell you something funny my own daughter said.

First of all, you have to understand that my wife and I are fairly active, kind of "outdoors-y" people. We like to camp, my wife wears almost no make-up and when I'm not performing we tend to wear very comfortable clothes. My daughter on the other hand is feminine through-and-through. She ONLY wears dresses and skirts and has refused to cut her hair since the day she was born! She's almost four now and her hair is down to her tail bone.

Anyway, one day I was crawling around on my hands and knees and she was riding on my back like a horse when I got going too fast (as dad's tend to do) and she fell off. Well, mom yells, but this girl is as tough as nails. I tell my wife "Don't worry, she's tough as nails" then I tell Madeleine "Go tell momma you're tough as nails".

So Madeleine walks over to her mother, and calmly extends her pretty, pink-painted finger tips, wiggles them and says "Don't worrry momma, I'm tough as nails!"

THAT is my daughter!

Monday, April 24, 2006

This is Why I do What I Do

This is why I do what I do.

My bachelor's degree is in Business. My masters coursework is in Education. And all my life I've been a performer.

I've written more than a dozen books, all non-fiction, most on the business end of show business. I write a monthly column in two different trade journals for performing artists, as well as writing my own monthly e-newsletter on business topics for service providers (you can sign up for free at

But I wanted this forum to be something different. I wanted this forum to be about me as a person. I wanted to share a little bit about the guy you see on stage, when he is NOT on stage. I promise to go slowly; I don't want to reveal all my warts at once. And I'll try to focus on the side of my life that is really interesting and beautiful, the reasons why I push for success in my business as hard as I do. I'll share a little bit with you about what motivates and inspires me.

I'll start with this: It's a picture of the playhouse we just finished putting together for my soon-to-be-four-year-old daughter, Madeleine. She's CRAZY about the play house, as you might imagine if you know children. She's an amazing girl.