22 Oct

Bartography Express for October 2014, featuring Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet

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How many copies of my new book, Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet, am I giving away this month to subscribers of my monthly newsletter?


How many opportunities do readers have between now and November 1 to help me celebrate my new book?


And how many illustrators of Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! participate in this issue’s Q&A?


(OK, so, that one was easy, since there’s only one Joey Spiotto.)

That’s an extremely high-level summary of what you’ll find in this month’s Bartography Express. If you’re not already receiving Bartography Express, click the image below for a look. If you like what you see, click “Join” in the bottom right corner, and you’ll be in the running for this month’s giveaway.

20141020 Bartography Express

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16 Oct

Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! review in Gifted Homeschoolers Forum

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GHF resource-review-11-240x300

I’m so delighted this morning to see Pamela Price’s review of Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet added to the list of resources offered by the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (GHF).

Here’s GHF’s description of what they have to offer:

With all the resources available to homeschool families, finding the ones that best fit our gifted and 2e kids can be daunting. Who better to help than families who have tried, tested, and reviewed the actual resources with their own kids? GHF has put together a list of reviews from real gifted and 2e families, so that you can find the resources that work for you.

And here’s a bit of what Pamela (author of How to Work and Homeschool) had to say about the book:

Living on the fringe of the gaming world until I became a parent of a very sandbox game-oriented kid, I knew just enough game lingo to pass as “not totally clueless.” Thanks to Chris, I feel more versed on the basic terms, and I really wish that we’d have had a book like this when our kiddo was younger as he was just starting out with the vocabulary. The vibrant illustrations reflect a few decades of games so there are visuals evoking everything from Mario Brothers to Minecraft–making it a charming gift for game fans of all ages.

Thanks, Pamela!

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15 Oct

Make art, celebrate video games, win a book!

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Joey Spiotto contest

Joey Spiotto, the illustrator of Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet, has got a kid-friendly, art-loving, videogame-celebrating book giveaway going on.

He’s taking contest entries via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

I understand that I’m disqualified, but you may know someone eligible — maybe even a classroom or library full of eligible someones…

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14 Oct

Why, yes — it has been a while…

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It’s been three and a half years to the day since the publication of my previous book, Can I See Your I.D.?, and today also brings the release of my new book, Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet.

It was not my intention to go so long between books, and according to my publishing schedule I’ll be making up for lost time in the next year and a half. That said, you probably didn’t even notice the gap — heaven knows there’s lots else in the world more worthy of your attention.

But I noticed, and I appreciate the patience of my wife and family, my agent and editors and friends.

And I especially appreciate all you readers out there who let me know in the meantime how much joy you were getting out of Shark Vs. Train and The Day-Glo Brothers. I’m so glad to finally offer proof that there’s more where that came from.

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14 Oct

And in between our sets, we can swap hair-care tips

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2014 TBF schedule

After the Texas Book Festival in Austin on October 25-26, I’ll be able to add “Opened for Ziggy Marley” to my resume.

Remember, parents: You’ll want to arrive early at the Children’s Tent to see Ziggy. Probably, like, 30 minutes early…

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13 Oct

How to Succeed in (the Kidlit) Business Without Really Crying

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I was back at Cynsations as a guest blogger last week, sharing my thoughts on a new book that’s now become my go-to gift for graduates — but which is also quite relevant to those of us in the business of making books for young readers:

[W]hen I heard comedian and TV writer Carol Leifer (“Seinfeld,” “Modern Family”) on a podcast several weeks ago talking about the attitudes toward professionalism and creativity that have come in handy during her four-decades-and-counting career, those reflections sounded to me like they could have come from an experienced, successful children’s/YA author.

And when Leifer mentioned her new book, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons From a Life in Comedy, I suspected it was one I should read.

I’ve now read it twice. Let me tell you: Its applicability to the kid lit career that I and so many of my friends have chosen far exceeds my expectations. Plus, it’s really funny. You should read it.

Seriously — whatever your professional or creative path, this entire book is worth your time. But in case your not-yet-finished reading pile resembles mine, I’d like to share some of the especially resonant parts of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying…

You can read those selections over at Cynsations.

Thank you, Carol Leifer, for writing such a helpful, enjoyable book, and thanks a bunch to Cynthia Leitich Smith for giving me the space to share some of my favorite lessons from Leifer’s book.

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07 Oct

Boing Boing, Polygon, The Escapist, and N3rdabl3 on Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!

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Attack Boss Cheat Code - May 2014

Boy, has there been a lot of coverage of Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet these past few days. It’s all been great to see, and you can see for yourself at Boing Boing

My 11-year-old daughter, an ardent gamer, was familiar with more of the words in Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! (e.g., griefer, instance, mod, sandbox, unlockable) than I was, but we both appreciated Joey Spiotto’s cute and colorful illustrations that accompanied the terms.

and Polygon

Here’s a new book, gorgeously illustrated, that takes a lighthearted look at the lexicon of game culture. Ostensibly aimed at kids

The Escapist

Hoping to give parents, children and curious would-be gamers alike a new tool to learn about gaming and its wider culture, author Chris Barton wrote Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!: A Gamer’s Alphabet. Due to release later this month, it combines common gaming terms and lingo with colorful illustrations by artist Joey Spiotto to create an introductory book that people of all stripes can learn from and enjoy.

and N3rdabl3:

It’s an adorable take on ABC’s and will likely be a must-have inclusion to the library of any gamer’s new-spawn.

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06 Oct

Games & Books & Q&A: Rachel Simone Weil

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partytimehexcellentI’m really pleased to be joined in this installment of my Games & Books & Q&A series by a video game historian, and by the creator of NES games and glitch art under the alias Party Time! Hexcellent!, and by the curator of computer museum FEMICOM, and by an organizer of Juegos Rancheros, a monthly indie games event here in Austin, Texas.

Bringing all of those folks together would have been a lot of work on my part, except for one thing: they’re all the same person, Rachel Simone Weil. Rachel took time out from her latest batch of projects to answer a few questions via email about games and books she’s loved, and I really appreciate it.

CB: What do you remember about the first video game you ever played?

RSW: It’s perhaps not strictly a video game, but the first electronic game I recall playing is a handheld LCD baseball game by Konami called Bottom of the Ninth. The graphics were on par with those you might see in a calculator or alarm clock — not terribly sophisticated — but I found the game to be quite fun and to have a good replay value. I never really outgrew the game, either; it continued to be fun for me as I got older.

If you’ve ever played an old LCD handheld game, you know that the motion of images on screen is not fluid. In Bottom of the Ninth, after a pitch was thrown, the ball would rapidly pop in and out of predetermined places to suggest movement. Each time the ball populated a new position on screen, the game would produce a little beep. Audio cues became incredibly important in knowing when to take a swing. The sound of those successive baseball beeps is still firmly implanted in my mind.

CB: What did you like to read when you were a kid? What did you love about it?

First Dictionary of Cultural LiteracyRSW: This is a hard question to answer because I consumed books so rapidly as a child. I enjoyed some traditional children’s literature (Madeleine L’Engle, Judy Blume), as well as poetry, classics, teen magazines, religious texts, guides to rocks and minerals, knock-knock joke anthologies, books about fortunetelling and witchcraft, comics… just about everything!

As odd as it sounds, the books I remember reading the most were encyclopedias and dictionaries. I had a copy of E. D. Hirsch’s A First Dictionary of Cultural Literacy that I read to the point of it completely falling apart. I even read through a thesaurus cover to cover once! I had a general love of words and language that carried over into adulthood a bit; before beginning my research and artistic practice in video games, I worked for a number of years as a book editor.

CB: What book that you read while growing up had the most influence on who you became as an adult?

sophiesworldRSW: Around the age of 12, I read an English translation of Sofies verden (Sophie’s World), a Norwegian novel about the history of philosophy. There were two things about Sophie’s World that left an impression on me. The first of these was the way in which the novel blended fiction and nonfiction, entertainment and learning (“edutainment,” if you must). It appealed to my weird, thesaurus-reading sensibilities but had little dashes of mystery novel and Alice in Wonderland thrown in, too.

Secondly, Sophie’s World was my first introduction to philosophy as a subject matter, and I found it so interesting that a conceptual problem could be considered through different frameworks or ways of thinking. In the book, Sophie’s teacher, Alberto Knox, makes it a point to note different philosophical approaches throughout history: “Socrates would have thought X was the solution, but Kant would have argued that it was in fact Y,” for example. This was radically different than the kind of thinking I encountered in school: one right answer, one knowable fact at a time.

Through my current work with video-game development and FEMICOM Museum, I am interested in the destabilization of knowledge and history and facts, and I suspect that Sophie’s World has played some role in seeding that interest.


I expect to continue this series through the publication later this month of my book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet. (I suspect that this book will appeal to a few of those reluctant readers we just discussed.) If there’s anyone in the gamer or kidlit camp that you’d love to see me feature in upcoming posts in this series, please drop me a line or tweet at me or just leave a message in the comments.

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05 Oct

My appearance on the Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum

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This is a bit belated, but I appeared this past Friday night on an episode of Mysteries at the Museum on the Travel Channel. Here’s a taste:

Why me, and why this program? One of the subjects I profiled in Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities was serial impostor Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr.

In my book, I focused on this Massachusetts-born high school dropout’s exploits as surgeon “Dr. Joseph Cyr” in the Canadian navy during the Korean War. But when Mysteries at the Museum needed someone to speak — on camera at the Texas Prison Museum — about Demara’s stint working for the Texas prison system under the name “Ben Jones,” they went for some guy in a purple shirt calling himself “Chris Barton.”

I’ll post a link to the full episode when it becomes available online.

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28 Sep

Games & Books & Q&A: P.J. Hoover

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TutI knew as soon as I saw how P.J. Hoover was promoting her latest book that she would be a great addition to the Games & Books & Q&A series of interviews with gaming professionals about books and with children’s and YA authors about video games. She discusses her neato approach below (yes, I just said “neato”), but first let me get you caught up on P.J.’s career so far.

Central Texas is fertile ground both for technology companies and for books for young readers, and P.J. has been part of both of those worlds. She made the switch from electrical engineer to author, debuting with the Forgotten Worlds trilogy. Last year saw the publication of her dystopian YA novel, Solstice (Tor Teen), and this year she’s followed up with her middle-grade adventure novel Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Starscape).

On a personal note, having gotten an early glimpse at the manuscript for this book six years ago, let me just say how satisfying it is to see Tut arrive on bookstore shelves — and how glad I am that P.J. took the time to talk with me about gaming.

CB: What do you remember about the first video game you ever played?

PJH: You mean besides how quickly I could go through a roll of quarters? The thing I remember most about those early games was what a fantastic job they did transporting me to another place, even with their limited graphics. Maybe it was the way the arcade machine blocked out the sides, but when I played Jungle Hunt at the skating rink, I was there, swinging on the vines, swimming underwater. I also remember how much better some kids were than me. I’m pretty sure their parents gave them more quarters than mine gave me. :-)

CB: What games did you play the most when you were a kid? What did you love about them?

PJH: Games I played the absolute most were the ones I had at home (because there was no roll of quarters required). On the Commodore 64, I had Jumpman, M.U.L.E., Q*bert, and Wolfenstein. Q*bert I adored because I was actually better than anyone I knew at it. I loved how, if I executed certain patterns, I would evade all the obstacles. And Wolfenstein I loved because it had a whole story behind the game. I was trapped in a castle full of bad guys and I had to escape! Also, I was good at it, too. I escaped the castle almost every time. Achtung!

CB: What role do games play in your life today?

SONY DSCPJH: With two kids at home (ages 10 and 13), one of our favorite things to do together is to play games. Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U is a great family time activity (actually the whole Wii mentality is very family based). One of my kids still plays Wizard101 with me (imagine World of Warcraft meets Harry Potter). I’m proud to admit that I am a Level 71 Fire Wizard in the game (which translates to many hours played). I’m also trying to improve my Portal 2 skills on the Xbox (the cake is a lie). So to say video games play a role in my life today is an understatement. I encourage parents to take time out of their lives and play games with their kids. They’re actually a ton of fun.

I see how much time kids want to be on the computer, and given my love of gaming, I’ve developed some fun gaming tie-ins for Tut. There’s a Minecraft server developed for the book where kids can explore both ancient Egypt and modern-day Washington, D.C, unlocking hidden clues as they go. There’s also an old-school 10-level video game, written using Scratch (a fun programming platform created by MIT). The game requires basic evasion, puzzle solving, and decoding. (Cheats are available on my website.)

I had to delete Candy Crush from my phone because I was playing far too much. :-)


I expect to continue this series through the October publication of my book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet. If there’s anyone in the gamer or kidlit camp that you’d love to see me feature in upcoming posts in this series, please drop me a line or tweet at me or just leave a message in the comments.

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