Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New review and interview for Tree House in a Storm by Rachelle Burk

I had the pleasure of reviewing and interviewing Tree House in a Storm by Rachelle Burk. I hope everyone enjoys it!


This is a wonderful story about two children who build a tree house and play in it. But this is no ordinary tree house, it is a place where the imagination flows and dreams come true. Then one day, a hurricane hits and takes out the tree house. With hope, the children plant a new tree and what evolves years later is a new tree and an opportunity for the now grown children to build another tree house to share with their children. This story was warm and yet heart wrenching. The story is based off of experiences the author had in hurricanes Betsy and Katrina. Rachelle did a fantastic job creating a story that can appeal to many people in different ways and can touch their hearts. It is a wonderful tale filled with hope, resiliency and courage. When people pull together it is amazing what can be done. I think children can learn a lot from this story. When a catastrophe happens it is easy to fall apart, but with the help of neighbors, family and friends, it is easier to put the pieces of life back together again and move on to a better future. And though we can never forget the past, because it is so much a part of us and who we are, it does make us stronger. With hope there is nothing that can’t be created or rebuilt, and love strengthens the bonds of friendship and family, pulling us together in a show of unity.


Joining us today is Rachelle Burk, author of Tree House in a Storm. It is a children’s picture book. We’re going to talk to Rachelle about her debut book.

Welcome, Rachelle. It’s great to have you with us.
Thank you, Renee!

Please tell our readers a bit about yourself.

First and foremost I’m a mom! My youngest is already driving (yikes!) By trade, I’m a social worker specializing in crisis intervention. I am also a children’s entertainer, known to kids throughout New Jersey as “Tickles the Clown” and “Mother Goof Storyteller.” And of course, I write for children.

Has writing always been a passion for you? How did your writing career begin?

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.
Tell us about Tree House in a Storm. 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 age group is this story for?

It’s geared to school age children ages 5-10.

What inspired you to write it?

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.

People can learn so much from your book. Please tell us about some of the themes that you touch upon.

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.

For homeschooling parents, such as myself, we are always looking for the best curricula, workbooks, supplements and subjects to best teach our children. How can a parent use your book to teach their child?

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.

Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more? My website is http://www.rachelleburk.com/. Click on the picture of the book cover to get to the teacher’s guide and activities. You will also find a “photo history” that includes pictures of my brother’s playhouse, my childhood home in 1965, and my house in 2005 after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

In what forms is your book available? Is it available in e-book, hard cover or traditional paperback, or all?

It is published in hard cover by Stemmer House Publishers.

Where can readers purchase your books and how much do they cost?

The list price is $16.95, but both Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com sell it at a discount. I also sell discounted autographed copies through my website.

I have read that a portion of the proceeds for Tree House in a Storm will benefit two different disaster relief organizations. What prompted you to do that?

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.

If someone wished to donate to the above organizations, how can they do that?

My website has links to their websites. From there, you can donate directly to the organizations. Buying my book through their sites also gives them a donation from the book sale.

The illustrations in your book are wonderful. Did you have any input into how you wanted the drawings to be done?

Although the illustrator, Rex Schneider, was chosen solely by my publisher, Rex and I communicated quite a bit during the process. I acquired photos of Hurricane Betsy from the Corps of Engineers archives, which I sent to him. The photos helped him draw accurate pictures of the time and place. His style really captures the feel of the 1960s, like the “Dick and Jane” series of my youth. Also, quite by accident, we realized we had a mutual love of frogs, and as a little inside joke he hid frogs in nearly all the illustrations. I think kids will have fun finding them!

What's next for you? Is there anything else that you are involved in?

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 http://www.resourcesforchildrenswriters.blogspot.com/. 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.

Is there anything else that you would like to add or share?

So many others have helped me on this long road to publication. I’m very grateful to my critique groups, as well as to countless members of online writing communities.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to our readers today. Good luck in all of your future endeavors. Please check out this story by Rachelle Burk.

It’s my pleasure, Renee. Thank you for the opportunity to share with your readers.


  1. Terrific book review and interview. I enjoyed getting to know Ms. Burk through your questions. Well done!

    Children’s Author
    Write What Inspires You Blog
    The Golden Pathway Story book Blog
    Donna M. McDine’s Website

  2. Thank you so much Donna! I also wanted to thank Rachelle for sharing with us her beautiful story. Hopefully it will also touch the hearts of others.
    Renee Hand