Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Meet Picture Book Author, Rachelle Burk

Katie: I’d like to welcome children’s author, Rachelle Burk, to my blog today. Besides writing for children, Rachelle is a social worker specializing in crisis intervention. She is also a children’s entertainer, known to kids throughout New Jersey as “Tickles the Clown” and “Mother Goof Storyteller.” She has three children.

How did your writing career begin?

Rachelle: I enjoyed writing as a child, and through high school I wrote a lot of sappy, angsty adolescent poetry—plus a few decent stories in my creative writing classes. I also kept diaries. But after college I stopped writing, getting more into the arts, like photography, drawing, pottery and such. It wasn’t until I started making up stories for my kids that I decided to write them down, and my writing career began. My first sale was a poem to an online children’s magazine. Eventually I sold several stories to Highlights, and a few to other kids’ magazines such as Scholastic Scope and Pockets. Tree House in a Storm is my first book publication.

The children’s picture book, “Tree House in a Storm” is traditionally published. Rachelle, please share with us a brief synopsis.

Rachelle: Kenny climbed trees as soon as he could walk, and a few years later, with the help of his little sister Allison, builds a tree house where the two of them rule as king and queen. But their reign promises to be a short one. Located in New Orleans, Kenny and Allisons tree house stands directly in the path of Hurricane Betsy! This touching tale about the devastation from severe weather events is sure to warm your heart. Learn with Kenny and Allison that even the worst storm can end with a rainbow.

What else would you like us to know about “Tree House in a Storm?”

Rachelle: The hardcover picture book is published by Stemmer House Publishers. It’s geared to school age children ages 5-10.. Set in 1965, the story is about 2 siblings who build a tree house by themselves. To the, it’s a kingdom, but their reign is cut short when Hurricane Betsy blows through and their tree house becomes one of its victims. It’s a story of loss, hope, and resiliency, and has a surprising and happy ending.

What inspired you to write “Tree House in a Storm?”

Rachelle: Although it is fiction, the story was inspired by my memories of living through Hurricane Betsy in 1965, as a child growing up in New Orleans. My big brother was only 7 when he built a playhouse—more like a shack, but to him and me it was a palace. It had to be knocked down before the hurricane hit, and I never forgot his grief at losing it. I cried along with him.

Please share some of the themes your book touches upon.

Rachelle: This book is perfect for teaching about issues surrounding natural disaster, because it touches on themes of disaster preparedness, fear, loss, community and family support, and especially hope and resiliency.

How can parents and teachers use your book?

Rachelle: To aid in this lesson, you can download and print a free Teacher’s Guide from my website ( You can also print several fun, "extended activities" related to the book, including a crossword puzzle, word search, maze, find-the-differences, draw-your-own-treehouse, and coloring pages. The latter two activities are created from my illustrator’s original sketches.

A portion of the proceeds from “Tree House in a Storm” will benefit two diffferent disaster relief organizations. Tell us more about that.

Rachelle: When Hurricane Katrina hit my home town, I saw the book as an opportunity to help survivors of Katrina and other natural disasters. My publisher agreed to partner with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans, and the American Red Cross of Central New Jersey, to donate a portion of book sales to these relief organizations. I chose Habitat because of the work they are doing to rebuild New Orleans. I got involved with the Red Cross in a rather roundabout way: In response to Katrina, a group of professional clowns started a nonprofit organization called Red Nose Response. The intent was for clowns to use their talent for making kids smile, by entertaining in shelters after a natural disaster. Being a clown AND native of New Orleans, of course I joined. The hitch was that the Red Cross requires all shelter volunteers to go through their special training, so I joined the organization. I admire the work they do in responding to natural disasters. Coincidentally, my mother was a Red Cross volunteer nurse and worked in the shelter during Betsy and other hurricanes.

Tell us about your work(s) in progress.

Rachelle: I recently completed a children’s biography about an astonishing blind painter named Esref Armagan, which I’ve submitted to a few publishers. Also, wanting to give back in some way to the online writing community, I created a web page of writing resources. You can link to it from my website or go directly to There is even a growing section of links for children. Besides that, I’m busy providing critiques for other children’s writers, and next month I will teach a free workshop at my library about writing and publishing children’s literature.

You can visit to learn more about Rachelle and her writing. Click on the book cover to get to the teacher’s guide and activities. You can also find a “photo history” that includes pictures of her brother’s playhouse, her childhood home in 1965, and her house in 2005 after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.


New Orleans Ladder said...

Thank you for presenting this wonderful tale.
Betsy changed so much in New Orleans and (as I was there 8/29/05) shows one thing: Katrina was Not Betsy. There is a salient difference between "Natural Disaster" and "Man-made Disaster".

Could you please consider mentioning that New Orleans was flooded by Engineering Failures by the US Army Corps of Engineers and not Hurricane Katrina? This is well established Fact.

In teaching children about the Realities of Disasters, I have found it very very important to be as straight-up honest as possible and show them where Adults Institutions have Failed.
Catastrophic Disaster is Danger Time not Story Time.
My view comes from seeing them on an overpass above the flood waters in 95 degree heat with no boots on the ground, no plan for escape, no help in sight... and trying to imagine what their parents must be telling them. It happened that way and it was not because of Mother Nature.
It is equally important to not ignore this frailty in our efforts to Rebuild (as Russell Honore' coined the term) Culture of Preparedness.

This is very important in Disaster Preparedness, given that we cannot look to our usual Institutions either in times of Catastrophic Man Made Disaster.
Too many people do not realize that New Orleans was flooded during Katrina because of Human Failure decades before and those lessons NOT LEARNED from Hurricane Betsy.
May I recommend a wonderful New Orleans civic group involved in making sure this Story is Told correctly:

Thank you,
Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

Renee Hand said...

Great job, Katie, with the interview. I have read this book as well. Rachelle does a wonderful job bringing the story to life and giving hope to an otherwise catastrophic situation. All my best, Rachelle.

Renee Hand

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting story. I can appreciate the disaster preparedness aspect of it for sure. Not many publishers are tackling such topics in children's books these days, so it's good to see someone addressing the subject and a hurricane similar to Katrina.