Wednesday, February 19, 2020

I Read Canadian Day

Today is I Read Canadian Day. I know because I saw it on Twitter this morning, and a Facebook friend posted about it. So, as so often happens, I am way behind the curve on this. But over the years I have paid a little attention to what's going on, childlit-wise, in Grandpa and Grandma Gauthier's home country. So here are some links from the Original Content archive on Canadian authors.

Susan Juby Susan Juby and more Susan Juby 

Kenneth Opel                             

Ben Philippe

Cheryl Rainfield

Mordecai Richler

Tim Wynne-Jones 

I am not a big Anne of Green Gables fan, yet I have three posts on that book:
It appears that except for Ben Philippe's book, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, I've done little Canadian reading recently. What's that about?


Gordon Korman is Canadian! Or started out that way.  And more Gordon Korman.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: Some Alternatives To Writing Every Day

This past week someone on Twitter brought up the question of whether or not it is really necessary to write every day. His point was that not everyone has the time to do that.

Well, since he mentioned time...

How Writing Every Day Can Help 

Writing every day is extremely helpful if you are working on one particular project, because it helps you to stay in the world of your book. You can keep a little flow thing going.  It's even good in terms of time management, because you don't have to keep bringing yourself back up to speed with characters, setting, and whatever it is you're trying to do.

Writing every day can also help you avoid letting yourself--or those around you--develop a mindset that you only write when every other thing in your life has been done. It also helps you avoid accepting a lot of discretionary, volunteer tasks. You have to limit those because you write every day.

But Let's Get Real

A great many new writers, and even published writers who don't make a living writing:

  •  Have day jobs that put food on the table, a roof over their heads, keep them alive.
  • Are the main caregivers for children.
  • Have day jobs and care for children.
  • Are caring for family members in the extended family, often while holding down a day job. And dealing with children of one age or another
  • Have chronic health problems of their own and also working day jobs and/or caring for others
Writing every day just isn't a possibility for many people. Suggesting they should be doing that not only does them no good, but can seem exclusionary. "Writers need to write every day. You can't write every day. Therefore...draw your own conclusion."

Can Writers Do Something Every Day?

You probably read. Read something every day that pertains to your writing.
  • Read in your genre. Pay attention to what is being done by other writers. Pay attention to what you like and, more importantly, what you dislike.
  • Read articles on craft. Pick up a copy of Writers' Digest, The Horn Book, or other publications that relate to the type of writing you do. Read what you can, when you can.
  • If you write short form work, read publications that publish it. Learn who is publishing what.
  • If you're working on a project that requires research, or even just thinking about starting one, do some reading for that.  
Maintain an "idea journal" in which you only have to jot down an idea or a situation, if that's all you have time to do. If you can find some kind of journal software, even better. You can search those and find similar ideas you've entered so you can pull them together when you want to do something with them.

Try to maintain a writing area, even it it's not an office or even a desk. When you have opportunities to write, write in the same place-- a particular chair in the living room where you work with a laptop or a notebook will do. Set aside a shelf for your writing books and magazines, any books you've been using for research.

Check out your schedule for the upcoming week (or weekend), looking for time when you can write. It's not necessary to have an eight-hour shift for writing. Small units or segments of time will due very nicely. 

What About Writing Every Day To Create A Writing Habit?

How many people have really done that?

My more rabid followers know that I'm a fan of psychologist Kelly McGonigal, who wrote The Willpower Instinct. She isn't a big supporter of promoting habits for changing behavior. Habit works best, she says, for small tasks that don't require a lot of people in the first place. Which is why so many of us have no problem brushing our teeth. Writing demands a lot more of us than keeping our teeth clean, though.

In my own experience, whenever I've felt I had a traditional write-every-day habit going, something jumped the border between my personal and professional lives and writing went out the window for a while. Habit just hasn't been that helpful for me when life problems strike.

Pursuing That There Goal--An Alternative To Writing Every Day

Kelly McGonigal talks about what she calls "automatic goal pursuit." For writers this would mean that instead of focusing on a behavior--I must write every day, because real writers write every day--you focus on an ultimate goal, say a particular writing project you want to complete. You chip away at that, however you can, instead of worrying about whether or not you're writing every day.

Producing something is the goal, not the process we use to produce it. Though there are plenty of articles, books, and workshops out there claiming to provide the secret to the perfect writing process, the real secret is that the perfect writing process doesn't exist.

I Have Some Experience With This, People

For instance, this week I have a seven-year-old house guest* arriving today and staying into Friday. I lost part of yesterday to guest prep. But I hate to lose a whole week, so I'm trying to plan some small tasks that will support some of this year's work goals.

  • I got this blog post ready to post yesterday and scheduled a couple of tweet pitches on Tweetdeck for a Twitter pitch even on Thursday when I expect to be away from home most of the day. Submitting work is a goal.
  • I've loaded my iPad with some essay and short story reading that will expose me to some new markets or some craft writing. Writing short form work is a goal.
  • I'm slowly plugging away on a YA mystery this year, and I'm using a blueprinting system I learned at a workshop taught four years ago by Wendy Maas. I've printed out the blueprinting I've done so far so I can add to it at odd moments during the week.
Hmm. I'm definitely not trying to write every day. What I do appear to be doing, though, is pushing myself toward those goals.

Oh, my gosh, I love goals so.

*My house guest was struck down by a stomach bug last night, so we'll never know how well I would have done with the plan I'd made for his stay. However, I now have some found writing time. Instead of reinventing the wheel (something I always find time consuming), I'm going to stick with working toward goals, as I'd planned, maybe leaning a little more heavily on the blueprinting then I would have if he'd been here.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Observing Valentine's Day In Book World

It's February 14. That Means The Cybil Winners Are Announced.

Yes, indeed, every February 14th excitement reigns because the latest crop of Cybils Award winners are announced. There are fifteen winners. Check them out.

Bette Bono, an author in one of my Facebook groups, suggested that for Valentine's Day we send valentines to writers, by way of reviews, purchases, or contacts showing appreciation. So I'm following Cybils writers and illustrators on Twitter. Yeah, that's including Cybils winner Trevor Noah, who's very funny but already has more than 10,000 Twitter followers and hardly needs a little valentine from me.

Hey, but he just won a Cybil! He should have way more than 10,000 followers! Now he has more than 10,001.

Another Observance

Also, I just bought a Kindle edition of The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty, as part of my Valentine's Day observance. I first heard about this book yesterday, but passed on it because I have at least two food books to read this year. But there was the Bette thing about sending authors "valentines," and Twitty's book is about history, as well as food, and I'm trying to do more reading about that this year, too. So purchasing it was a multiplier. I love those.

Editing Note: I have edited this post twice today, as I think of more Valentine's Day activities. The day isn't over. I may edit again.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: The Ultralearning Wrap-up

I began my Time Management Tuesday arc on Ultralearning by Scott Young back in October. Of last year. I actually finished reading the book two months ago, continued to write up blog posts, and have been "working" on my ultralearning plan for about five weeks.

Ultralearning describes a method of quickly learning new skills and information, something writers often have to do while researching material. I think Ultralearning will be most useful for someone who has never done any kind of learning/research project. Quite honestly, in the time I've committed to studying this book and trying to apply it to my history learning, I could have probably done the research I wanted to do using my hit-or-miss methods from the past.  But researching this learning method could change how I learn other things in the future.

The Ultralearning Blog Posts

Here is an annotated round-up of the blog posts I've done about Ultralearning.

  • Write What You Know and Ultralearning. Why writers might want to do an ultralearning project.
  • Principle 1. Metalearning. Learning about how to study your subject. Learning "how knowledge is structured and acquired within this subject; in other words, learning how to learn it." Interesting section of the book.
  • Principle 2. Focus. This is essentially time management. We've done this.
  • Principle 3. Directness. Involves tying your research to the situation you want to use it in.While I wasn't a fan of this chapter when I read it, one of the things Scott discusses is immersive learning. This is definitely missing from my ultralearning history project, right now. I haven't done a good job with that with this project. I think immersion is an important aspect of writing, and I can see why it would be helpful when trying to learn something, especially if you want to do it fast.
  • Principle 4. Drills. I didn't see how I could use this with my history methodology project, but maybe something will come to me. And I can see how it would be helpful with other types of learning. Say, studying French, which I tinker with from time to time.
  • Principle 5. Retrieval. This section was about using testing to improve your retrieval of material. Forcing yourself to try to retrieve material helps you to remember it. I didn't know how I could do this with my project at the time I read the chapter and blogged about. However, now that I am actually studying and trying to get started on a little writing, the outlining and character development I'm working on might be perceived as a pretest. It's at that point that I find out what I need to know and can go looking for that knowledge.
  • Principle 6. Feedback. Different types of feedback on how you're doing with your learning project. I consider ways writers can get this. 
  • Principle 7. Retention. Obviously, this is about retaining what you've learned. I argue that this isn't terribly important for writers, researching for a particular writing project.
  • Principle 8. Intuition. I believe Young is talking here about getting to a point in your learning that your knowledge is broad enough that you don't have to think intently about it. But I can't be sure, because I found this chapter difficult.
    Principle 9. Experimentation. Getting to the point in your learning that you move past learning to something else. Doing something with your learning. This is another chapter I had to guess at.
  • Principle 10. Your First Ultralearning Project. Making a plan. 

At some point, I'll report on what this project ended up doing for me.

My response to this book reminds me about how I felt about Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. (Try as I will, I can't find an Original Content post on Quiet.) I was not taken with that book, felt there was an intoverts-good/extroverts-bad vibe to it, for instance. However, over time the issues raised in it have had a big impact on my world view and the character-development for one of my unsold middle grade novels. I've gifted a copy to a family member and recommended it to others. I wonder if Ultralearning, in the long run, could end up being the same kind of post-reading experience for me.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Black History Month: 50 Years Of The Coretta Scott King Award

My more rabid followers may recall that last month I took a year's worth of Horn Books with me on retreat, because I had fallen a year behind in my reading. As a result, I've only recently read The Horn Book's special issue from last year on the 50th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Award.

The Coretta Scott King Award is given each year "to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values." I think the focus on "appreciation of African American culture and universal human values" gives this award a much different spin than the Newbery Medal, which is "awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year." Because...what's that?

Which brings us to The Horn Book tribute issue. It covers a number of different aspects of the Coretta Scott King Award.

Rudine Sims Bishop's Let Our Rejoicing Rise: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards is an excellent overview on the subject and gets right to the point in its first sentence. "The Coretta Scott King Book Awards originated as a response to the failure of the children’s literature establishment to acknowledge the talents and contributions of African American writers and illustrators."  A publisher at the 1969 ALA conference overheard two librarians discussing that in the 47 years the Newbery Medal and the 31 years the Caldecott Medal had existed, neither had been awarded to an African American writer or illustrator. The publisher suggested the librarians establish an award that would do just that, so they did.

Editor Roger Sutton's interview with George and Bernette Ford, the winner of the first Coretta Scott King illustrator award and the first African American vice president of a children's publishing, respectively, has a "they-were-there-on-the-barricades" vibe that I always enjoy. George Ford says that pre-CSK, " Publishers did not even think Black people did any reading, so the notion of winning prizes was not on the radar."

In A Vision for the CSK: Past, Present, and Future, Kekla Magoon writes about the types of books that are recognized with the Coretta Scott King Award--a variety of books about young black life and not just stories with obvious racial themes. Nor do the judges limit the award to books that just support a traditional, "approved" narrative about civil-rights history.

"After the initial shock and ebullience of my first award call wore off, I was able to reflect on how remarkable it was for the Coretta Scott King Jury to so open-mindedly embrace a text that expands readers’ understanding of the civil rights era. And how important a statement it was for the jury to emphasize that my voice — as a debut author trying to expand young readers’ understanding of Black history — mattered to the powers-that-be of children’s literature."

Magoon also reminded me that two hits from my reading past are Coretta Scott King books. Mare's War by Tanita Davis is an Honor Book (2010) and Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson won the award the same year. 

This Horn Book issue is also peppered with marvelous brief personal essays by authors and illustrators who have been CSK winners.

Looking for a copy of this Coretta Scott King Award Horn Book tribute issue would be well worth your time.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: An Ultralearning Case Study, Principle 10, Your First Ultralearning Project

Quite honestly, I think my experience reading Ultralearning by Scott Young would have gone much, much better for me if I hadn't done the equivalent of an ultralearning project before. But I've done at least two. I just didn't do them in a very organized way. So some of what I was reading in Ultralearning wasn't that novel to me. Also, I already have bad habits in place.

But here's how I'm applying the steps in this chapter to my present project.

Our Case Study: Step 1. The metalearning research, researching how history is studied. By the end of December I'd collected a lot of material. I stopped doing this kind of research at that point so I could get started using it at the beginning of the year.

Our Case Study: Step 2. Schedule your time. How much time you'll give to the project and when you'll do it. My plan at the end of December was to use my metalearning research in January and February. By then I wanted my character defined in terms of what he does with history and the part what he does with his knowledge in the plot to be determined. I planned to give some of my work time to this every week.

I originally thought of limiting this step to January, but I have a week-long retreat and a number of family things coming up as well as other work I want/need to do. So I'm not going to torture myself with an unrealistic deadline.

Our Case Study: Step 3. Execute the plan. Here's how some things went last month:
  • One of Young's suggestions is to find a course syllabus for the subject you're studying. I had found and chosen a class syllabus for a 2013 UConn class called The Historian's Craft, which  was about the methods and tools of the historical profession. The course is described as being about "how history is written." I ordered a copy of one of the three course books, A Student's Guide to History by Jules R. Benjamin. I thought it was too pricie and ordered a used copy. And I waited until the beginning of January, the beginning of my study time, to place the order. So I lost two weeks of my study time waiting for that to arrive. Lesson learned.
  • While I was waiting, I listened to a great podcast, So You Wanna Be A Historian--Historical Thought, Methods, Historiography, and the Historians Toolbox  at The Ask Historians Podcast.  I went through a podcast thing about four years ago, but am not a fan now because I find content quality varies a lot and they require concentration. I can't get much out of listening to a podcast while I'm doing something else. But who has time to just sit and listen to one? This particular podcast was over an hour, but I listened to it while on retreat last month. I took copious notes. I took names of historians to look up. It was great. I still have more paths I can pursue as a result of listening to this podcast.
  • So, I get back home, my book has arrived, and I go to work with the syllabus. Here's what I found to be the case with working with a course syllabus when you don't have access to the class instruction that goes along with it: it's of limited use. Other readings were assigned for this class, some of which were only available through sites that could only be accessed by students or must have been handouts. The writing assignments were on the syllabus, but they didn't make any sense without having been in the classes. The book has been good, but I haven't gotten as much from The Historian's Craft syllabus as I'd hoped.
  • I am doing a better job of organizing my notes than I have with other projects, but I really do have to keep reminding myself not to just dump everything into one file. 
  • I've read some other material on my subject. And on and on.
  • I have had some thoughts regarding my character and my plot as a result of my reading and that was the whole point. But I need to do some immersion on this research and writing project. My efforts were spread over too many goals last month. Just doing this a few hours a week may not have been the best plan. I've got three and a half weeks left in my scheduled time.

Our Case Study: Step 4. Review Results  Still to come

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Am I Still Sticking To Goals?

One of my goals for this year is Goal 6. Stay On Top Of Upcoming Known Events. And an objective for that goal is to heck in with goals at the end of each month. The point being to make sure that I'm actually working on goals and not...doing something else. Particularly nonwork related things.

So, have I done anything I wanted to do? I checked last week.

Goal 1. Concentrate on submitting completed book-length projects as well as completed short-form work.  I made five submissions last month, all of them in the last two weeks. Three were book-length projects to agents, one was a short humor piece to an on-line publication, and one was to a regional anthology. That was quite good for me.

Goal 2. Work on short-form writing, essays and short stories.

  • Start some eating essays  I think I tinkered with something
  • Choose an essay or short story from the files or journal to do a little work on every week I have done a little bit
  • Plan to focus short-form reading on different genres each month I focused on flash fiction this month, with some work/thinking on whether or not picture book texts are flash fiction. More to come on that.
  • Spend the last week of every month completing something. Anything.
I did spend two days working on a totally new picture book project that I think I'm going to turn into an early chapter book. So I was doing something on the short-form side, it just wasn't one of my objectives for the year.
Goal 3. Work on the 365 story project The flash fiction reading (above) was a multi-tasker for this goal. I did do some organizing of files. But, no, no real progress on this.

Goal 4. Work on YA thriller that could become an adult thriller. I've been doing research on historical methodology for this one. No real work on the manuscript. But, you know, thinking.

Goal 5. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding. I've done quite a bit with this one, with support for other writers through the Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar, support of Multicultural Children's Day, covering Connecticut writer events. I hope to attend one day of the NESCBWI Conference in April.

I did lots of little things last month, but no work on big projects. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Are these little things I'm doing the ground work for something big later in the year? Or am I just messing around?

Perhaps I'll find out this month.

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Field Guide To The North American Teenager, A Multicultural Children's Book Day Read

Today is Multicultural Children's Book Day, and to support the program I'm writing about The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe. On Monday, Field Guide won the ALA's William C. Morris Award for best debut book. It is very rare for me to be right on top of events like this. I am feeling good.

I haven't read any of Field Guide's competition for the award, but it certainly seems like worthy winner. It does two things really well:

  1. It takes a traditional teen story and tweaks it on many levels.
  2. It is truly funny. 


Teen Story

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager is about Norris Kaplan, a Haitian Canadian teenager, who moves from Montreal, Quebec to Austin, Texas. It is a new kid story. It is a fish out-of-water story, or, in this case, out of snow. Will he make a life for himself there? Or will he head back north, as his mother promises he can  if he makes a sincere effort in the Lone Star State and just can't make a go of it?

Philippe's handling of traditional/cliched YA elements:

  • The blonde cheerleader is not stupid. Or a mean girl.
  • The arty girl, who is usually portrayed in these books as the outsider who is the emotional savior for the main character, is kind of a bitch. In my humble opinion.
  • The cheerleader who is kind of a mean girl is redeemed by her support for a friend. (Except for stealing her boyfriend. But other than that.)
  • There is your torn-between-two-lovers scenario that you often find in teen books, but here a boy is torn between two girls instead of the other way around.
  • Just what is a jock? Is it only the people who are on the football team? might be a jock if you play ice hockey and ski?
  • Norris gets along with his mother!
  • Norris is at least a decent student, if not even better!
  • Norris is singled out for being Canadian more often than he is for being Black.
  • There is the teen journal we see so often in YA books, but it isn't quoted much. Norris uses it, instead, to make comments about the people around him. Most of it we don't see. But when we do...
  • Norris is a child of divorce. Dad's not that attentive, distracted, as he is, by a second family. But Norris's main problem in life is that he has a mouth on him and a cynical eye. And that is, indeed, a problem. As author Ben Philippe says of his creation in a CBC article, "Norris says and does whatever he thinks."
  • Oh, and this book is written in the third person. The first-person narrator has a stranglehold on YA and even middle grade books. Kudos just for getting away from that.



The Field Guide to the North American Teenagers is a truly funny book. This is notable because many books (TV shows, movies, everything) are described as funny but just aren't. Timing is off or the humor is not organic to the situation or somehow we get the impression that this is supposed to be a joke but it's just not working. Perhaps humor writers need a way to try out material the way stand-up comics can try out material at small clubs where they can bomb in comfort and figure out what works and what doesn't.

Maybe Philippe does that with some of his other writing. Especially the stuff described as humor.

Not Heavy On Race

As I said above, in Field Guide Norris is identified more for being Canadian than he is for being Black. His original big, big issue with Austin is the heat. (This book killed what little desire I had to go there.)  According to Philippe, that was intentional. In Why Ben Philippe Wrote a YA Novel About Being a Black French Canadian Kid in Texas at CBC Book he says he believes there is an expectation, "especially in the American narrative," that YA books about Black characters will be about race. He wanted to write about a teenager "more concerned with being a hormonal kid than necessarily the sociopolitical ramifications of being black."

I'd also like to note that the book is called The Field Guide to the North American Teenager and not the "American teenager," suggesting it's pulling together Canada and the U.S. Which sort of makes #ReadYourWorld more world-like.

An Ethnic Quibble

This is a terrific book. But a question did arise for me. Forgive me if I'm being nitpicky.

In marketing and articles about The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, main character Norris is frequently described as a Black French Canadian teenager. That was what attracted me to it when I first heard about it last fall, what with me being Franco American and all. Plus, we have an expectation that French Canadians are White, because they are descended from a relatively small group of French people who settled in Canada in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and who were White. Thus the idea of a Black French Canadian creates incongruity, and I am one of those people who finds incongruity funny.

But I was reading the climax of the book, and I suddenly thought, Wait. Is this kid French Canadian? Both his parents are Haitian immigrants to Canada. He was raised in a French Canadian culture, but he has no genetic connection to French Canadians as a group. Wouldn't one of his parents need to be French Canadian in order for him to be considered French Canadian? Isn't he a Haitian Canadian or a bilingual Black Canadian?

Granted, Haitian Canadian and bilingual Black Canadian are nowhere near as incongruous, and thus funny, as Black French Canadian. But the Black French Canadian thing is no longer funny for me, because, as we've discussed here before, I think too much.

Philippe is quoted as describing himself as a Black French Canadian at the Canadian site I quoted above. Clearly those people had no issue with it. And Philippe also has knowledge of his background, while I'm two generations removed from the whole French Canadian thing.

Still, I'm e-mailing my cousin Micheline in Ottawa this weekend to get her take on this. Because, of course, anyone who has a French Canadian cousin has a connection to the source of all French Canadian knowledge. If nothing else, I'll be telling Micheline about a book she might want to read.

Enjoy the book whether Norris is French Canadian or not. And follow Multicultural Children's Book Day on Twitter at #ReadYourWorld

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Tales Of Two Vermonts

I don't know if the conventional media picture of Vermont truly reflects the impact on the state of the arrival of new people in the '60s and '70s. While that kind of thing probably happened in many remotish areas starting in the second part of the twentieth century, two books I read during my retreat week in Vermont definitely reflect the two worlds that now exist in that particular place.

Vermont 1. Ruby in the Sky

At an appearance in December, author Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo said that her book Ruby in the Sky is set in Vermont because her family spent vacations there when she was a child. I believe she named a central part of the state, but I can't swear to it. It wasn't an area I connect with the arty, bohemian but comfortable lifestyle I was seeing described in Vermont Life a few years ago. And you don't see arty, bohemian Vermont in her book.

Instead, you see a more hardscrabble life with a mother and daughter moving back to mom's hometown after they've struggled elsewhere. Several elsewheres. They're back in Vermont because young Ruby Moon Hayes' mom has a cousin there who has offered help. But the kind of help she can offer is a house heated with wood and outdoor winter clothes purchased at a store called Family Thrift. Ms. Hayes' options for work are a diner where female employees put up with crap from the owner because they have to have jobs and a small market. When Ruby's mother gets into legal trouble with her boss, she has to rely on a public defender. How small is this town? The mayor hangs at the diner.

This is similar to the Vermont world I knew growing up. I had family members who heated with wood for years. (They didn't have running water for a long time, either.) Isolation. Limited job opportunities. Wandering around outside in the woods after school by yourself. (Though we didn't have neighbors living in sheds, as Ruby does.) The mother moving from place to place in Ruby in the Sky, never settling, never able to make a go of it anywhere, needing to come home to family? Yeah, I've heard of that kind of thing, too.

This is a Vermont I don't recall seeing in children's books. It's a world view that's probably familiar to readers from other rural, less than affluent places, too.

You know what Ferruolo didn't include in her story? Grizzled old farmers saying "ayeah," which I did see in a children's book a few years ago. I really, really appreciated that. Yes, I grew up saying "ayeah," myself, but I got tired of reading and hearing the stereotype fast.

Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo has another book coming out...ah, next week, actually. A Galaxy of Stars.

Vermont 2. The Vanishing Stair

There are also no grizzled old farmers saying "ayeah" in The Vanishing StairMaureen Johnson's sequel to Truly Devious, which I liked when I read it last year. In this case, it's an easy cliche to avoid because Johnson is dealing with a different Vermont. Her characters are almost all nonVermonters, students who have come to a private Vermont school.  These are young people of the arty, bohemian variety I mentioned before: writers, YouTube stars, artists, and musicians. You have the teacher who dresses in "expensive geek chic." None of these people have to shop at  Family Thrift as Ruby's family does. This book also takes readers on a side trip into the academic Burlington to meet with a University of Vermont professor.

This is a real Vermont, too, one I'm familiar with but was less a part of. (Well, I did graduate from UVM. And if memory serves me, I lived on Pearl Street in Burlington, which Johnson mentions, my first year out of school. Burlington was very, very cool then.)  As different as the Truly Devious/Vanishing Stair world is from Ruby in the Sky's, it is still very rooted in reality. How rooted?  The Truly Devious books are set in a remote private school, established in the 1930s by a wealthy New York City resident. I don't know how many private schools were started in Vermont in that era, but I grew up not far from Lake Bomoseen where  some of the Algonquin Round Table hung in the summers in the era Johnson's school began. Decades later, my mother, who I doubt knew who Alexander Woollcott and Dorothy Parker were (I barely know who Woollcott was), spoke of the writers on Lake Bomoseen. People from New York City were coming to Vermont back then and leaving a mark. So even Maureen Johnson's historical setting is believable.

Oh, and in case any readers think the yurt that appears in Truly Devious and The Vanishing Stair is just a little too...I don't know...over the top? Wondering what one of those things is doing in Vermont? I was in one in Vermont just a couple of weeks ago! The place where we go for retreat has had one for several years. I find it very intimidating. I go inside to put on my snowshoes, but I'm always afraid someone is going to throw me out, because maybe snowshoes aren't supposed to be in there. I would never make it in The Vanishing Stair world.

The next book in the Truly Devious serial, The Hand on the Wall, was published last week.

They Are Both Real

So, seriously, I'm telling you, these two very different settings are both the real Vermont these days.


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

February Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

This month we have a Connecticut author making appearances to support a new book, as well as an author appearance in support of a bio of a Connecticut historical figure. That's Flo Griswold, I'm talking about. 

Sat., Feb. 1, Connie Bombaci, Storyteller's Cottage, Simsbury 1:00 PM   

Fri., Feb. 7, Jason Tharp, That Book Store, Wethersfield 4:30 PM

Sat., Feb. 8, Deb Adamson, Bank Square Books, Mystic 1:00 PM

Sat., Feb. 8 Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury 3:00 PM

Tues., Feb. 11, Janae Marks, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:30 PM

Wed., Feb. 12, Liz Braswell, Wesleyan R. J. Julia, Middletown 6:00 PM

Sat., Feb. 29, Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo, Tolland Public Library, Tolland 1:00 PM

*Sat., Feb. 29, Susan Hood, Lizzy Rockwell, and Abdul-Razak Zachariah, Picture Book Panel, Pequot Library, 12:00 to 2:00 PM Books available for purchase and signing. 

*Edited to add this event 7:00 PM 1/29/20