Saturday, August 29, 2020

You Can Binge Read The "Truly Devious" Trilogy Now

I was definitely a fan of the first two books in the Truly Devious trilogy by Maureen Johnson, Truly Devious and The Vanishing Stair. I liked the two mysteries, one set it in the 1930s, the other in the present. I liked the Vermont and school setting.

The finale, The Hand on the Wall, is well reviewed, but not my favorite of the books. The reasons:

  • Romance. I liked the mystery. I wanted mystery, and I wanted everything in the book to serve the mystery. I know there is a feeling among some YA people that YA books must have a romance. But with a lot of mysteries, both YA and adult, I find romance a tack-on. It distracts from what is, to me, the real story. In The Hand on the Wall there is one plot point that the romance supports. Maybe there are more points in the first two books that I don't remember. The romance wasn't a great element for me.
  • Politics. These books include a political element that involves a cliched bad-guy politician. In the second and third books, the politician does support a plot point. But we have to put up with a lot of him for him to do that. 
  • Serial, not series. The Truly Devious trilogy is definitely a serial, not a series. I had read and, remember, liked the first two books and still found it difficult to recall material that needed to be recalled to make the last book really work for me.

But that third problem can be by-passed now, because all three books have been published. Read them one after another. Maybe my romance and political issues would be resolved with a binge read, too.

Friday, August 28, 2020

More August Childlit Books

Part Two of this month's collection of August childlit book releases. Check out Part One.

So many books. So many, many books.


Aug. 1 Four Unofficial Guides to Minecraft, Linda Zajac, Lerner  




Aug. 11 Girl vs Squirrel, Hayley Barrett, Renee Andriani illustrator, Margaret Ferguson/Penguin Random House

Aug. 18 We're Going on a Goon Hunt, Michael Rex, G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Random House




Thursday, August 27, 2020

Finalists For 2020 Connecticut Book Awards

The Connecticut Center for the Book has announced the finalists for this year's Connecticut Book Awards. Among the nominees in the young readers' categories are some names that will be familiar to Original Content readers.


The TornadoJake Burt, Macmillan, Feiwel and Friends
New Kid – Jerry Craft, HarperCollins Children’s Books  OC 2014
Ruby in the Sky – Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo, Farrar. Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers OC 2020
Searching for Lottie – Susan L. Ross, Holiday House


Superlative Birds – Leslie Bulion, Peachtree Publishers, Inc. OC 2020
What You Eat – Valorie Fisher, Scholastic
I See Sea Food, Sea Creatures that Look Like Food – Jenna Grodzicki, Lerner Publishing Group OC 2019
Titan and the Wild Boars – Susan Hood, HarperCollins OC 2017 & 2018

Picture Books

Winter Cats – Janet Lawler, Author, Albert Whitman & Company OC 2016 & 2018
Esther’s Gragger: A Toyshop Tale of Purim – Martha Seif Simpson, Author, Wisdom Tales Press  A Facebook friend who has made multiple appearances on OC's Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar over the years.
The Night Is Yours – Abdul-Razak Zachariah, Dial Books for Young Readers

2020 Spirit of Connecticut

Venture Smith’s Colonial Connecticut – Elizabeth Normen, CT Explored



Monday, August 24, 2020

Still Another On-line Opportunity During The Covid Era

Late yesterday afternoon/early evening, I took part in a virtual literary salon organized by author Patricia Ann McNair in Chicago. Patty (Yes! I can call her Patty!) held the salon for students in two on-line workshops she led this summer through the Connecticut Literary Festival. I took her flash forms workshop, which was wonderful and which I will gush about here sometime in the future. 

Two other writers from Connecticut took part in yesterday's event, but there were also two from Michigan and one from Seattle. Another person may have been from the Chicago area. Never would I have been part of a group this widely dispersed under normal circumstances. For that matter, a salon would have had to be very nearby for me to consider leaving the house for one at all. Because you all know how I am.

Once again, for all the true chaos this flipping pandemic has caused, it continues to create some types of opportunities, opportunities that I hope will continue when we come out of the other side of this thing. 

This salon fell at 5 o'clock in my time zone, so I provided myself with a little charcuterie plate and white wine to create a serious literary experience in my cellar office. Turns out, though, no one else was eating at this thing.

Of course, that didn't stop me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

A Model For Some Distance Learning

Teachers are facing a lot of anxiety over the coming school year. Having to go back into classrooms during a pandemic is the cause of stress for one group. Dealing with distance learning and the technology involved in order to do it is the cause for another.

So when I stumbled upon an on-line lesson by writer Lynda Mullaly Hunt for teachers with classes reading her book, Shouting at the Rain, I thought, This is something that should be shared. Not only could some middle grade teachers use this in their actual classrooms, but other teachers might get some ideas for distance lessons.

Lynda has done some pretty sophisticated technical things here. But she began with a variation on a Jeopardy game, something teachers have been doing for years. Then she applied technology to it to give it more educational content and keep viewers' attention. 

What this says to me is, come up with content first. Then see what technology you can find and master (or get someone else to master for you) to make it work for distance learning. 

One of the benefits of learning a new technology is that once you've learned it, you've learned it. It's available to you, and you can use it again.

Friday, August 14, 2020

National Book Festival Going Virtual!

The Library of Congress National Book Festival will be virtual this year. You know how I love virtual events. In the twenty years of its existence, I have never been to the National Book Festival. I have no plans to go any time soon, either. But I might hit a few events this year on September 25 through 27 , virtually. 

Children's Authors Taking Part

  • Sophie Blackall
  • Dan Brown
  • Veronica Chambers
  • Chelsea Clinton
  • Jerry Craft
  • Jessica Curry
  • Parker Curry
  • Angela Dominguez
  • K.A. Holt
  • Deborah Hopkinson
  • Kwame Mbalia
  • Megan McDonald
  • Connie Schofield-Morrison
  • Frank Morrison 
  • Peter H. Reynolds
  • Barb Rosenstock
  • Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Jon Scieszka
  • Nic Stone
  • Don Tate
  • Steven Weinberg
  • Mo Willems
  • Kelly Yang

 YA Authors Taking Part

  • Becky Albertalli
  • M.T. Anderson
  •  Tonya Bolden
  •  Mike Curato
  •  Jo Rioux
  •  Lucinda Robb
  •  Rebecca Boggs Roberts
  •  Aisha Saeed
  •  Nic Stone
  • Sabaa Tahir 
  • Gene Luen Yang

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Childlit Books Publishing In August

At the beginning of this month, I thought, Gee, looks as if August isn't going to be a big month for children's publishing. And then a couple of weeks passed, and I saw I'd collected a lot of titles. So I'm doing two posts again this month.

These are books publishing during a pandemic. Authors and illustrators are limited in what they can do for promotion. Feel free to pass on the word about anything that interests you. And, remember, these are just titles I've stumbled upon on social media. Many more books are publishing in August.

Aug. 1 Kingston the Great Dane, Debbi Michiko Florence, Melanie Demmer illustrator, Picture Window Books/Capstone 


 Aug. 4 Albert Einstein: A Curious Mind, Sarah Albee, Gustavo Mazali illustrator, HarperCollins


Aug. 4 Second Dad Summer, Benjamin Klas, One Elm Books/Red Chair Press


Aug. 11 Catching Thoughts, Bonnie Clark, Summer Macon illustrator, Beaming Books



Aug. 11 The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, Crown/Penguin Random House


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: Slowing Down With Concentrated Blocks Of Time

So a few weeks ago, I started an arc on slowing down work by using suggestions from Anne Marie O'Connor's Why You Should Be Single-Tasking, Not Multitasking & How To Make The Switch. 

I've already covered using to-do lists. In this final post I'll be writing about what O'Connor calls concentrated blocks of time. This is something I've called set-aside time.

Concentrated Blocks Of Time Can Be More Than An Hour Without Internet

O'Connor talks about shutting off unnecessary technology in order to concentrate. I'm talking about actually planning to use big chunks of time for a specific writing project or writing-related task.

Keep in mind you don't actually have to complete an entire project in one of these blocks. You decide what you're going to do with it. Will your block be for generating new work, just getting something started? Completing a draft? Working on scenes? Revising? The idea is to plan what you're going to do for a specific block of time and then concentrate on just that instead of running from task to task. 

I've had good luck with setting aside blocks of time this year, using May Days and Alderson's time frame to get major work done on a blueprint/outline and using June to turn out some writing for that some project. Mid-July and the first half of August have been dedicated to flash writing as part of a six-week workshop I've been involved with on that subject. I'm going to stick with that and submitting flash for the rest of the month.

I want to plan the rest of the year so that I'm dedicating blocks of time--weeks or months--to working on a specific writing or research or submission project. 

Blocks Of Time Slow You Down And Make You More Productive 

Sometimes you have to juggle multiple projects--editing one thing while submitting another or marketing still something else. But finding blocks of time you can dedicate to just one thing slows you down, because you're not racing to work on multiple tasks. And that can increase productivity, because you can see some work getting done.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

An Old Publication I'd Forgotten About

 I was out in the yard this afternoon, clearing storm damage (we had a tropical storm here four days ago), when I recalled a personal essay I'd had published years ago. Hmm, I thought. I wonder if I can find that on-line.

I could! I love you Internet!

The Woodpile as a Status Symbol was published in the Connecticut section of The New York Times back before I knew squat about writing. This was also back in the day when The New York Times had state sections. They were, if I recall correctly, very feature oriented.

This essay is very dated for two reasons:

  1. I don't like the tone used regarding women. They seem to be treated as cliched assistants to the male woodsmen and not woods people in their own right who for years spent days in forests lugging wood every autumn and keeping wood stoves running all winter, winter after winter after winter. All I can say is I was young, was hunting for my material (I seem to have already found my voice), and, I suspect, was being imitative with my writing. Today if I were going to write about wood piles, I'd add a little historical research or something. I might go all creative nonfictionish or flash memoir. I wouldn't be so glib.
  2. I don't have any facts to base this opinion on, but my impression is that burning wood is nowhere near as popular now as it was back when I wrote this essay. I can remember driving up my road after work back then and seeing smoke coming out of one chimney after another. Not so today. However, I have seen circular woodpiles very recently, and we even had one a few years ago. So the people who are still burning wood are still into their woodpiles.

The Woodpile as a Status Symbol is a good example of life experience inspiring writing. I have spent a lot of time cutting, stacking, and burning wood. 

This was my first publication, and I remember being very happy about it. Now I go years--many years--without thinking about it. And when I thought about it today, it was with a dissatisfied, critical eye. 

Hmm. There might be another essay in there.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Gail Benefits Again From The Pandemic With "Pacey Packer Unicorn Tracker" Book Launch

This morning I attended the book launch for J. C. Phillipps' Pacey Packer Unicorn Tracker. Needless to say, it was a virtual book launch. You can view the event video at Julie's J.C. Phillipps Facebook page.

The book launch included the background on how this graphic novel was written. At the end, Julie recommended some other books, a nice touch I saw another author do at an appearance a year or so ago. We were able to get a close-up of Julie's fantastic pale purple eye shadow and lipstick, as well as her cat. There were, understandably, no stickers or cookies, though she hopes to give some out at next year's book launch for the second book in the Pacey Packer series.

I don't eat gluten, so I don't care about cookies. I don't need stickers, either. In fact, pretty much everything I want from a book launch was in this one. And I didn't have to leave home to attend it. To be honest, I had just got out of the shower when I remembered the launch was happening. I hooked up, then went back to the bathroom with my iPad, so I could comb my hair without missing anything.

You Know How I Love The Virtual World

The last year or two before the pandemic, I was making an effort to attend more author appearances, as part of community building, supporting other authors, getting out of the house and meeting people, and reporting on Connecticut childlit happenings here at OC. I have to admit, in large part this was happening because the River Bend Bookshop opened about twenty minutes from me, and the booksellers there host authors. For all my good intentions, unless Pacey Packer's in-person book launch took place there, I probably wouldn't have been part of it.

This morning's virtual book launch was a great opportunity for people like me who are too lazy to travel far.

Why Not Add Virtual Launches To The Mix?

I've written here before about how much I'm liking the on-line opportunities that have been popping up since we've been isolating because of the pandemic. I'm taking part in a six-part flash fiction workshop that is just fantastic. We hear a lot of talk about a post-pandemic return to normal. Couldn't we be considering a new normal that includes many of the virtual events we've been trying out this year?

Virtual book launches, in particular, seem like an easy and very positive addition to book marketing plans. Yes, go back to a store- or library-based launch where sales can be made and signings can be done. But why not include the virtual book launch to at least get the word out to a larger circle of people? For many writers, store-based launches don't draw that many people. Adding a virtual launch has the potential of touching many more potential readers and potential readers well outside the author's home base.

Don't take virtual launches away!

Monday, August 03, 2020

A Reminder About Misinformation In The Time Of Covid

I just saw some shared material on Facebook that claimed it was practical information from an anonymous ICU nurse. It reminded me of a post I did back in March on saving time by not reading misinformation.

"But for many writers, the bulk of our Facebook friends are just that...Facebook friends. They are people we have connected with in order to create a professional network. They are not people we have ever met in person or are geographically near so we ever will. Spending hour after hour picking up and absorbing their fear may not be the healthiest thing we can be doing now, and it certainly isn't the most time and energy efficient.

"On top of that, according to Peter Adams of the News Literacy Project in an interview on NPR last Saturday, some of those stories our Facebook friends and Twitter followers are sharing are what he calls "misinformation." He even talks about a "misinformation ecosystem." "This pandemic has brought out a really clear picture of the kinds of things that tend to circulate in the misinformation ecosystem, generally...," he says. He goes on to add:

"A lot of what we're seeing is actually, you know, what you would call a kind of cheap fake or a low-tech fake, just copied and pasted claims online going viral across platforms...we're seeing just a lot of text-based claims with - this person is in a position of authority, you know? My sister-in-law works with a man who's married to someone at the CDC who says, right? So this sort of second and thirdhand totally anonymous information just gets copied and pasted over and over and over again across these platforms."

Red Flags Suggesting You Might Be Reading Misinformation

  • No one is identified as the source. Note that Adams is talking about "second and thirdhand totally anonymous information." Claiming that someone is an ICU nurse or a vaccine researcher or anything else, is not identifying a source. Think about how much you see on your social media platforms that is related to the pandemic that is passed as Gospel without actually naming a Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John as the speaker. (Metaphor.) You may have seen it other times, too, say, after a school shooting. This kind of behavior may be generated by any event that causes fear and/or outrage.
  • You see it in multiple places. This comes from me. If I see material from an unidentified source more than once, I suspect it's "circulating in the misinformation ecosystem," as Adams puts it. For instance, I've already seen the item I mentioned in my first paragraph a second time today. The second time it began "From a nurse."  Have you seen that piece from a couple of weeks ago that is supposedly from a teacher whose doctor advised making a will before going back to school this fall? I've seen that twice, too. 
  • It's bad news. Again, this comes from me. I've noticed that I rarely see unattributed good news passed around. It's always the kind of news that will generate fear or anger.
  • It's long. I've found that these barely credited materials seem to go on forever.

Why Is This Happening?

I don't think any of this has anything to do with an organized attempt to bring down people in power or attack political enemies, though it is true that people do seem to like to do that. How well spreading misinformation for political means has worked, historically, would be a good research project for someone.

I think what's moving misinformation right now is fear and gullibility. Trying to control our own gullibility and ignoring these articles could help manage our own fear.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

What I Didn't Know About 20th Century Russian History Filled A Book

My faithful followers may have been wondering if I am ever going to read another book, or at least write about one here. Put your minds at rest. I recently finished Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson. This is a historical work, not historical fiction. I am going to be upfront here and say:
  • I think it should have been called Dmitri Shostakovich and An Introduction to Communist Russia, since the actual siege doesn't come until well into the book.
  • Also, I found this a little long, probably because there was such a long wait for the siege I'd been promised in the title.
  • And then there's the issue that I am an old fart who will never give up wanting footnotes sprinkled through a historical text that I'm reading so that I can be assured that there is documentation for this point or that point, and I don't have to go hunting through the end notes to see if it exists. Yeah, I'm never going to see that again.
I'm also going to be upfront and tell you that Symphony for the City of the Dead was on the longlist for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2015. (The winner that year was Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman.)


  • Anderson uses Shostakovich as an entry point to discuss the period he lived in. That's not unusual. In fact, most works on historical figures need to include information on the world that formed them.
  • I am truly embarrassed that I knew so little about the Siege of Leningrad before reading this book. I was aware that the Soviet Union suffered huge losses during World War II, but I didn't know anything specifically about Leningrad. I had heard and read plenty about London during the Blitz. Why has Leningrad's suffering and survival not been more prominent? My high school history courses often didn't get all the way to World War II. I wasn't that interested in twentieth century history when I was in college. So this could be on me. And, yet, as I said, I know about the Blitz.
  • Am I the only person who thinks M.T. Anderson and Dmitri Shostakovich look alike? Come on.
  • I spent a lot of time bitching about Joseph Stalin while I was reading this.
  • Yes, I've been listening to a little Shostakovich recently.
Symphony for the City of the Dead is one of three nonfiction books I can think of off the top of my head that I didn't totally embrace while reading but that shifted, or at least enhanced, my world view.