Rachelle Burk is a writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry for children. Her publications include both books and magazine pieces, and she is a regular contributing writer for Scholastic Science World classroom magazine. For nearly 20 years she has also been a popular children’s entertainer, performing as Tickles the Clown and Mother Goof Storyteller. In a parallel life, she works as a psychiatric social worker and rescue squad volunteer. Rachelle lives in central New Jersey with her husband and daughters.
EXTRA CREDIT INTERVIEW WITH RACHELLE BURK:
Let’s give a warm welcome to Rachelle Burk, today’s star of Extra Credit! Rachelle is the author of several books, including Don’t Turn the Page!, Tree House in a Storm, and The Tooth Fairy Trap. Rachelle presents several different programs including an assembly program, a parent/family program, creative writing workshops, programs for preschool and kindergarten, essay writing workshops, and storytelling. Her newest books, picture book Sleep Soundly at Beaver's Inn and chapter book Miss Crump's Funny Bone have recently come out.
Do you have a solid outline before writing, or do you usually get ideas as you go along?
I often intend on creating an outline, but I’m far too disorganized. I’m an obsessive list-maker, however, so I do make lists of ideas to include in the book, from plot details to character traits.
Has someone you’ve known ever appeared as a character in a book?
I do often think about interesting people I know in order to create varied, fun, realistic characters, though my characters usually end up as a composite, not a single individual of someone I know.
For instance, the most interesting and lovable character in my novel The Walking Fish is modeled after my ex-husband, a very smart, yet very quirky man. (He was honored, and found the character funny.)
The teacher in my upcoming chapter book Miss Crump’s Funny Bone, about three third graders who make a bet on who can get “Grumpy Crumpy” to laugh, is a lot like my own third grade teacher.
Finally, in The Tooth Fairy Trap, the child who leaves notes for the fairy is modeled after my now-grown daughters, who were also the inspiration for the book. (Some of their childhood letters to the tooth fairy are included as photos in the back of the book.)
What do you do when you get writer’s block?
We all suffer writer’s block from time to time. One way I deal with it is to take out an old, unpublished story and take a stab at it again. I also stay inspired through my critique and editing service. Helping other aspiring children’s writers get their plot lines untangled and their characters blooming keeps that part of my brain stimulated, and soon I’m unstuck myself (this sounds like a plug, but it’s not intended to be – it’s just the truth!).
If you could live in a book’s world, which book would you choose?
I can’t think of a book’s world I’d actually want to live in. The most exciting of the fantasy worlds are usually too violent for me to want to pack my bags and move there. The books set far back in time (and I ADORE historical fiction) would leave me sleeping without air conditioning in the summer, and without medication for my headaches – either one a deal breaker.
Okay, maybe I’m being too literal. Let’s say, instead, that I could visit any place for a two-week vacation. Though I hate being so follow-the-crowd predictable, I think I’d head to Hogwarts. Among other things, I’d really love to see those moving paintings in action, and maybe get hold of an invisibility cloak to take back home as a useful souvenir.
What is your favorite book-to-movie adaptation?
I think I’ve enjoyed The Secret Life of Bees the most. It’s one of my favorite books, and the movie was extremely well done, well cast, and it remained true to the original manuscript.
If you could have lunch with one other author (dead or alive!) who would it be?
Lucky me, I have had lunch with some of my favorite children’s authors—among others, my good friend Kim Norman, and my critique partners Linda Bozzo, Lyn Sirota, and Karen Ostrove. I also had lunch with Eileen Spinelli at a writers conference. But in terms of really “big name” authors, I’d love the chance to meet historical novelist Geraldine Brooks (Year of Wonders, People of the Book, and March), who wows me with her lyrical writing and historical accuracy.
Wild Card Question! What did the tooth fairy leave you when you were little?
Initially, I got a dime under my pillow for each lost tooth. Keep in mind, this was way back in the mid 1960s when my allowance was a generous 25 cents a week, but I was rather peeved when my little sister got a quarter for her tooth. You can bet the fairy heard about it in a note the next time I lost a tooth. It resulted in a fair and equitable 15 cent raise.
Thanks for spending extra time with us, Rachelle! Readers, make sure to check out the children’s books Sleep Soundly at Beaver's Inn and Miss Crump's Funny Bone. :)
SIX MINUTES WITH RACHELLE BURK:
Author Rachelle Burk joins LitPick for Six Minutes with an Author! Rachelle is a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for children, and a regular contributing writer for Scholastic Science World classroom magazine. She is the author of several books including Don’t Turn the Page!, Tree House in a Storm, and The Tooth Fairy Trap. Rachelle presents several different programs including an assembly program, a parent/family program, creative writing workshops, programs for preschool and kindergarten, essay writing workshops, and storytelling.
How did you get started writing?
When my children were small, they liked me to make up stories for them. Some of those stories, I believed, were pretty good. I wrote them down. Then I wondered if I might be able to get some of them published. Serious about this idea, I found and joined a writers group, and it was through this group that I discovered how badly my stories stank. But hey, I had passion and potential and stuck with it. Over the next few years I learned and grew as a writer. My stories got better and better, and eventually I found success as an author.
Who influenced you?
My writing life has been influenced by so many people. In high school I had a creative writing teacher who encouraged and believed in me. We have remained in touch, and nearly 4 decades later she still cheers me on. I have also been inspired by children who enthusiastically show me their work. And I am greatly influenced by many children’s authors, those whose unusually clever or funny books make me think, I wish I’d thought of that!
Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?
In both reading and writing, my interests are broad. I read fiction and nonfiction, drama and humor, memoirs and science—nearly anything, as long as it’s good writing and has strong characters. I enjoy books that will make me laugh, think, or act. For instance, I hated history when I was a student. It was so dry. But now I love historical fiction since I learn about history painlessly, through captivating stories that take me away to long ago times and faraway places.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?
Read, read, read! That’s the number one thing you can do to become a great writer. Join writer’s groups, and be open-minded with feedback from others. Learn all you can about the writing process. I host an award-winning website that has hundreds of links in dozens of categories that is designed to help writers achieve their dreams: www.ResourcesForChildrensWriters.com (There is even a special category for children who love to write!)
Where is your favorite place to write?
At my kitchen table. In my office. In the car. At the library. On the couch. On a plane. In a waiting room…I write anywhere and everywhere! In fact, it’s the subject of a short video for students before I visit their school. It’s brief and funny, so feel free to take a peek at my GREETINGS VIDEO.
What else would you like to tell us?
Please enjoy my other books: Tree House in a Storm (picture book), The Tooth Fairy Trap (chapter book), and my upcoming middle grade science-adventure novel, The Walking Fish.
I love to share the joy of reading and writing through my fun and dynamic School Author Visit programs, and invite you to visit my website at www.Rachelleburk.com
Thank you, Rachelle for spending six minutes with LitPick! The students who experience your programs and workshops are very fortunate!
My resources site for writers is: www.ResourcesForChildrensWriters.com (listed 4 years in a row in Writer's Digest Magazine "Best Websites for Writers")
Q&A with “Don’t Turn the Page!”
Author Rachelle Burk
“Don’t Turn the Page” is such a cute and cozy bedtime book. It also has an unexpected twist. How did you come up with this story?
As a storyteller, I love when the children yell for more because they don’t want story time to end. My own kids also begged for more when I read bedtime stories, but I suspect that their love of books was only part of the reason: it was also a way to delay lights-out. Memories of those nights planted the seed for “Don’t Turn the Page.”
Truth be told, I envisioned Sami and her mother as human. Imagine my surprise and delight when I saw Julie’s first sketches, depicting the main characters as a hedgehog family! I think Julie just finds them to be adorable animals, and they’re relatively rare in picture books. I fell instantly in love with them. The characterization allowed for the creation of the special twists and surprises that the illustrator has woven into the story: Sami cuddles her stuffed bear and Little Bear cuddles his stuffed hedgehog. And both Sami and Little Bear appear to be reading the same story – our book “Don’t Turn the Page” – Identical down to the bar code on the back cover!
What do you think makes a good bedtime story?
The best bedtime story is one that a child – and parent – will look forward to reading over and over. It’s one that every reader will relate to in some way, and will make the child feel secure and peaceful. The pictures should be captivating, with unexpected details that bring the story to life.
What was it like collaborating with illustrator Julie Downing on this book?
When I was informed of who would be illustrating my book, I was elated! I couldn’t have wished for a more talented artist. I wrote to tell her how I admired her work, and then waited with excited anticipation to see what kind of magic she would produce. When I had my first peek at her masterpiece, it was even better than I had imagined. She had created a entirely new layer to the story with her unique visual twists. Honestly, Julie is a genius.
You’ve been a children’s entertainer for nearly 20 years. What exactly do you do?
I have the best job in the world, entertaining children as Tickles the Clown with comedy magic and face painting. I perform at private parties, camps, schools, and other venues. My interactive storytelling program as “Mother Goof” is also popular at preschools and libraries. Years of experience as a children’s entertainer has helped me develop School Author Visit programs that are not only highly educational, but loaded with humor to hold the attention of both students and teachers.
Believe it or not, my first career is social work, and I continue to work part time in a hospital-based crisis intervention unit. Trust me, I'm never bored!