Thursday, April 29, 2021

Environmental Book Club

I recently read Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots by Abby McDonald. While I was a lot more interested in the serious pair of hiking boots than I was in the boys, it is an example of the kind of environmental book I'm interested in finding in YA and childlit. 

American Green Teen Jenna heads off to Canada for the summer. This is a classic story start, one in which there is a disturbance to the main character's world. Why, I've used it myself. More than once. While off to our neighbor in the north, Jenna finds herself dealing with a lot of very traditional YA issues: summer boyfriends, growing away from a long-term friend, dealing with unpleasant people, mom and dad in meltdown. Arguably there is enough here for a couple of books.

But then there is her environmentalism.

An Environmental Theme

I have trouble finding environmental themes in books. What many consider themes, I consider subjects. Environmentalism is a subject, not a theme, for instance. Single words usually are just subjects, in my opinion. So 'environmentalism is necessary' is closer to a theme, though as far as writing is concerned, it doesn't have a lot of built-in narrative drive.

Last month I attended a writing workshop in which we were told to ask ourselves "what is the central dramatic question of your story?' And that, friends, gets a lot closer to theme, as far as I'm concerned. What dramatic or life question is your story trying to answer?

In Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots, I think the theme/question McDonald is trying to answer is "how do we live an environmentally responsible life?"

How DO We Live An Environmentally Responsible Life?

Jenna is very hot for environmentalism when her story starts. But everything in life has consequences of one sort or another and just as not living environmentally has consequences, so does living environmentally. Those consequences are not all clean air and water. There are sometimes impacts on people's livelihoods, and Jenna has to confront them here. 

The book also includes a character who evolves into a cliched, strident environmentalist, probably meant as a cautionary tale. But her path is another possibility to consider when toying with how to live a life that is as environmentally sound as possible.

I can't say that all the elements of this book come together smoothly here. Loading Jenna up with so many YA issues distracts from her coming to terms with what kind of person/environmentalist she's going to try to be. But I very much appreciate that she's coming to terms with that at all.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

A History Of Horse And Human

Last night I attended a virtual launch for the middle grade book Horse Power: How Horses Changed the World by Jennifer Thermes, which was sponsored by R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut. This was very much a history talk, perhaps the first author presentation I've attended, virtual or in person, that dealt with that subject. I loved it. The engineer playing a game on a computer next to the one I was watching Jennifer on liked what he heard. I must find more of these types of author talks to attend.

Jennifer Thermes is an illustrator as well as a writer, and she has a very unique style that might be described as both retro and contemporary. (That's my artistically ignorant opinion.) She is a map illustrator who works maps into some of her historical work, which is visually riveting. You may have heard of her earlier book Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island.

Jennifer didn't do a reading last night. Instead, she went through Horse Power and gave a quick rundown on the  history she covers in it. Early on she said  the book was about human history as well as horse history, because horses became that much a part of human life. 

At her website, Jennifer says that she is "fascinated by the big picture of history and how it connects to our lives today." The past's impact on the present is a big factor in my own interest in history. Everything has a past that somehow made it possible for humans to get where we are today. Horse Power describes a case in point.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

April Childlit Book Releases

Over the last few days, I found even more books releasing this month, but just had to give up and go with what I had. Overwhelm, folks. Books are turning up for May and June all over the place. This clearly must be high season for book publishing.

April 1  The Thingity-Jig, Kathleen Doherty, Kristyna Litten illustrations, Peachtree






April 6 No Way, They Were Gay? Hidden Lives and Secret Loves, Lee Wind, Zest/Lerner






April 6 When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie, Erin Soderburg Downing, Pixel+Ink






April 6 Unicorn Famous, Dana Simpson, Andrews McMeel






April 6 View From Pagoda Hill, Michaela MacColl, Calkins Creek/Penguin Random House 






April 6 Go the Distance, Jen Calonita, Disney-Hyperion






April 6 Murder on the Baltimore Express, Suzanne Jurmain, Yellow Jacket/Simon & Schuster






April 6 Zoey Rosenthal Is Not Lawful Good, Nancy Werlin, Candlewick






 April 6 The Outdoor Scientists: Observing the Natural World, Temple Grandin, Philomel/Penguin Random House






April 6 The Great Cookie War, Caroline Stellings, Second Story Press 






April 6 Remedy, Eireann Corrigan, Scholastic 






April 13 Amira's Picture Day, Reem Faruqi, Fahmida Azim illustrations, Holiday House 






April 13 Leonard: My Life as a Cat, Carlie Sorosiak, Walker Books/Penguin Random House






April 13 Yang Warriors, Kao Kalia Yang, Billy Thao illustrations, University of Minnesota Press  






 April 13, Sweet Pea Summer, Hazel Mitchell, Candlewick 







April 15 The Color Collector, Nicholas Solis, Renia Metallinoy illustrations, Sleeping Bear Press






April 15 Camp Average: Away Games, Craig Battle, Owl Kids






April 20  Even the Smallest Will Grow, Lita Judge, Simon & Schuster






April 20 Bracelets for Bina's Brothers, Rajani LaRocca, Chaaya Prabhat illustrations, Charlesbridge 






April 27 Summertime Sleepers, Melissa Stewart, Sarah Brannen illustrations, Charlesbridge





April 27 Rescue at Wild Lake, Terry Lynn Johnson, HMH







April 27 River Magic, Ellen Booraem, Penguin Random House






April 27 Outdoor School: Rock, Fossil, and Shell Hunting, Jen Swanson, John D. Dawson illustrations, Macmillan





April 27 Horse Power: How Horses Changed the World, Jennifer Thermes, Abrams

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Environmental Book Club

Am I actually doing an Environmental Book Club post on Earth Day? Well, it's a Thursday, the day I do EBC posts, when I do do them, and it's April 22, so, yes, yes, I am.

Because it actually is Earth Day I don't want to just write about another book or post another list of books. I want to do something different to mark the day. So, after making efforts to seek out environmental children's literature over the last few years, I'm going to pull together a few impressions.

  • Impression 1. Environmental children's literature tends to be nonfiction. Nonfiction, of course, is created to transfer information not to, say, transform it into a world within which readers can live a story line, which is what fiction does. There is nothing wrong with nonfiction, by the way.
  • Impression 2. In environmental children's literature, the environment is something that's not part of our general day-to-day life. It's outside children's general experience. They need to learn a lot of facts about. Thus all the nonfiction.
  • Impression 3. When children's environmental literature is fiction, it often involves evil big companies vs. small good guys.  Now, some people may say, "Gail, that is reality." I'm open to that. However, in literature it is a cliche. You don't have to read/see many story lines like this before you become numb to them. Also, kids are well aware that in reality they can't fight big companies. Adults think children are our future and will save us, but kids know they need to get things like driver's licenses and degrees and be able to vote before that will happen.
  • Impression 4. In environmental children's literature, the environment is something that's not part of our general day-to-day life. The only way we can do anything to support it is to fight the large companies that are out to destroy it, which is why we see that in books.
  • Impression 5. There's a lot less environmental nonfiction for YAs. Environmental fiction for them tends to be climate fiction. It may turn up in thrillers or could be the barely addressed backstory for a dystopian world.
  • Impression 6. In environmental fiction for YAs, the environment is something that's not part of our general day-to-day life. Because it's not part of our general day-to-day life, something terrible is going to happen. Now, some people may say, "Gail, that is reality." I'm open to that. However, in literature it is a cliche. You don't have to read/see many story lines like this before you become numb to them. You don't have to be out of your teen years before you begin to wonder if climate fiction isn't just entertainment, because there's so much of it.
  • Impression 7. In children's environmental fiction at all age levels, environmentalism is rarely presented as a lifestyle that is here and part of readers' lives.


Things I Would Like To See In Children's Environmental Literature


More environmental fiction for all levels.

Fiction in which the plot is unrelated to environmentalism but environmentalism is the setting and backdrop of the story.

Setting/Backdrop Examples: 
  • Family having to find charging stations for electric cars or having to remember to charge.
  • Neighborhood wildlife getting into the trash and recycling that have been out at the curb and mixing them.
  • Parents having jobs such as owning companies that install solar panels or working at water treatment plants. 
  • Teen summer jobs at nature camps or with landscapers who specialize in native plantings.

These additions would need to support setting or character or some other element of the story, because everything in a piece of fiction must support the story. But, otherwise, they would be treated as unremarkable. 

I'm talking no child characters working to save endangered species and no teenagers dealing with the repercussions of adults trashing the environment in the past. I'm talking characters just living sustainable lives. 

Why Isn't That Happening In Books, Gail?

I can only speculate, something I rather enjoy doing here at Original Content.

  • Environmentalism became politicized at some point, and the conflicts that caused slowed the environmental movement on the personal level.
  • The United States experienced economic recessions in the early 1980s and 1990s and a big one in 2008. Environmentalism may not be perceived as an immediate problem the way losing a job is, and interest in the personal and government changes required to create a sustainable lifestyle may have decreased during those times. 
  • Because of politicizing and economic insecurity, environmentalism never become an unremarkable norm in our culture, though we've been talking about it for decades.
  • Literature reflects the culture that produces it, thus we don't see an environmentally sustainable lifestyle as a book norm.

In the meantime, children's fiction continues to present environmentalism as something that has bad guys and good guys, not everyday guys kids actually see in their lives.

Feel free to offer book suggestions that contradict my impression of what is going on with environmental children's books in the comments. They could become the subject of future Environmental Book Club posts.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Weekend Writer: Writing Prose Poetry, Are You?

Well, it looks as if I'm doing a poetry arc for the Weekend Writer this month, what with it being National Poetry Month and all. Since I have a small interest in prose poetry, that's what this installment is about.


Tell Us Gail, What Is A Prose Poem?

These are my own probably not very reliable thoughts on the subject--You know how creative (or narrative) nonfiction is nonfiction that uses elements of fiction to communicate fact? Okay, well, prose poetry is prose that uses poetic elements--say, imagery, metaphor, repetition--to communicate the kinds of emotion or intensity we usually associate with poetry. A hybrid, so to speak.

But if you're smart, you won't take it from me. Check out:

I am very new to reading prose poetry. To date, my favorite is How to Make Boxed Shells: 8 Easy Steps by Brenda Nicholas at Unbroken.

And Now For Something That's Not About Prose Poetry

School Library Journal has a list of 2021's children's books of poetry and about poetry. Presumably these are just the books published so far this year.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Environmental Book Club

Earlier this month, Publishers Weekly ran a column on Environmental Kids Books for 2021. In her introduction, compiler Cady Zeng writes "These varied, informative books for young readers provide introductions to the Earth’s environment, its history, and its inhabitants, while offering guidance on how to live sustainably for a better and enduring future." "Informative books" that offer "guidance on how to live sustainably for a better and enduring future" sound like nonfiction, and that is what we see on this list.

There's nothing wrong with this being a list of nonfiction. I'm just wondering what's being published in the area of environmental fiction for children. I've done a quick Internet search and can't find anything. Environmental books for children seem to focus on teaching them something. There doesn't seem to be many books out there with fictional worlds built around characters living an environmental lifestyle as a sort of setting or background, as a norm instead of something someone must learn to do because of a looming crisis. Or many books with fictional worlds about living within nature as a given.

Also, I don't see any YA on this list. Nor have I been able to find a list anywhere of environmental books specifically for that age group.  Eco-fiction Books Coming in 2021 at includes a couple of titles described as YA. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

#Authorlifemonth Day 10 My Comp Titles

 As I said last week, I am doing #authorlifemonth or, as some call it, #authorlifemonth2021 on Twitter. Yesterday's prompt was "My Comp Titles." Since I'm using Saving the Planet & Stuff for any book references for this challenge, my comp titles will relate to it. 

Comp titles, in case anyone is wondering, are titles of books yours can be compared to, especially known, relatively successful books you can compare yours to. Initially, you are trying to show prospective agents and editors that there is an interest in your subject matter out in the buying public. Then you're trying to show buyers that if they liked Book A, they will certainly like yours, as well.

Comp titles are a struggle for me. I have a hard time coming up with any, and I've grown to suspect that that's because my interests, which is what I write about, of course, may not be generally shared. 

For Saving the Planet & Stuff, the comp title situation is particularly interesting. I was working with a editor and publisher at the time, and they didn't require comp titles from me, because we were just interested in the next Gail Gauthier book. Yes, once upon a time there was an interest in the next Gail Gauthier book. You'll have to trust me on that.

Additionally, Saving the Planet & Stuff deals with environmentalism. The plot, the setting, and even the secondary characters are all part of that subset of the American culture that cares about environmental living. I find environmental children's books predicatable and even boring. The middle grade books are very pedantic. Kids are fighting evil corporations. They're saving an endangered species. YA books, when you find them at all, are frequently clifi. Humans have done something to cause climate disaster. If you've read one of those, haven't you read them all?

But I Do Have A Couple Of Comp Titles For STPS! 


Over the years, I have come up with a couple of books I think could be compared to Saving the Planet & Stuff.

  • Right now, I'm reading Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots by Abby McDonald in which a teenage environmentalist goes out into the Canadian "wild" for the summer where she finds that she's not welcome. (Aside--I can't find much information about Abby McDonald, though she appears to be one of the staff writers for the TV series Bridgerton. I know you want to know that, since I want to know it.)
  • Kissing Frogs by Alisha Sevigny in which a teenage borderline mean girl
    is thrown in for the summer with the school science crowd who are dealing with one of those endangered species I mentioned above.   

These two books, along with Saving the Planet & Stuff, are fish-out-of-water stories. In STP&S and Kissing Frogs, the fish are being thrown in with environmentalists, which they most definitely are not. In Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots, the fish is the environmentalist who is thrown in with people who are not only non-environmentalists, they're a bit hostile to the idea. These books are examples of environmentalism providing the background or character development for the story. 

They are also all examples of mainstream stories integrating environmentalism instead of stories that are excuses for environmental lectures. I don't think environmentalism will be a serious part of our culture until we start seeing this kind of thing happening in books a lot more.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Weekend Writer: Something For You Poets

I am not a major fan of reading poetry, and I've never been interested in writing it. That changed--a little bit--when I took a flash workshop last summer that included prose poetry. Turns out I do have a little interest in that.

As a result, I hoped to do a little something about National Poetry Month, which we are about a third of the way through right now. I hope to submit my prose poem somewhere--anywhere--by April 30th, for one thing.

For another, I have some material to offer you from The Cincinnati Review on how to tell if a poem is ready to submit. Given what I said in my second paragraph, you can see why this article caught my eye. 

As long as I'm doing a poetry post, here's a link to 10 Wonderful Children's Poets You Should Know at Literary Hub

Here's another list, with a number of additional names, this one from What Do We Do All Day?

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Environmental Book Club

Another Earth Day month, another attempt to fire up the Environmental Book Club for a few weeks. 

Today I am directing your attention to Dragonfly.Eco, a site that describes itself as "an exploration of eco-fiction." Dragonfly appears to be quite extensive, so much so that it includes a Tour Guide. It also has an 800+ entry database that can be searched in multiple ways, including Children's  and YA/Teen. And Humor

That database includes an entry for Saving the Planet & Stuff. That's just a fact, not shameless self-promotion. Adding the book's two covers, as I just did, is shameless self-promotion.

FASCINATING UPDATE: I noticed this morning on the Dragonfly.Eco  Tour Guide page that Dragonfly.Eco is a new domain for an older site called That sort of floated past the reasoning portion of my brain. I had also noticed that Dragonfly.Eco and I follow each other on Twitter, with Dragonfly.Eco using @Eco-Fiction as its Twitter handle. Again that knowledge didn't actually lodge anywhere. But, hey, in addition to working on this post, I was working on a Twitter challenge, a book chapter, and some research. 

So, this afternoon, instead of continuing to work, which I obviously should have been doing, I went walking. And I'm off in the woods, on this narrow trail, headed for a waterfall, when eco-fiction pops up into my mind.  Eco-fiction! Back when Google+ was a thing and not a memory, I was a member of an eco-fiction community there. It was connected to a website with a database of books and the woman who moderated everything accepted Saving the Planet & Stuff for said database.

My point being, oh, my gosh! I know these people!

This is a classic example of a breakout experience, by the way. Content entered my mind--the information about Dragonfly having originally been eco-fiction and my Twitter connection with it. I left the work world behind to do something totally unrelated that didn't require mental heavy lifting on my part. While my body and mind were relaxed, the tie-in between Dragonfly and my memory of eco-fiction broke out.

I'm including a picture of the waterfall we saw today just because. I mean totally unconnected to anything.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: When To Take Advantage Of New Opportunities

I'm a big believer in staying on goal, particularly writing goals. Flitting from one random new task to another rarely results in completed projects. Dropping everything to create some new work for a publication we've just heard about that has requirements that don't quite fit what we have on hand or to develop a new workshop so we can respond to a conference's request for proposals rarely, in my experience, brings results.

But we've probably all heard that we should be open to, and take advantage of, new opportunities. And we've also heard stories about writers who did commit three days to conferences where they did meet  agents who did sell their first books and they did become wildly successful. My impression is that the number of writers that happens for is very low compared to the number of writers spending time at conferences instead of writing, hoping that the conference will be an opportunity for them.

How do we balance staying on writing goals with recognizing a new opportunity that really might benefit us and taking advantage of it? I'm going to suggest that we should recognize and take advantage of opportunities that support our goals.

Some Examples From The Life o' Gail

  • A year or two ago, I was offered the opportunity to expand the Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar to all of New England. This would have brought me some more name recognition from the members of the organization that would sponsor the new calendar, and I think I would have received free access to a regional conference. It doesn't take much to stroke my ego, so I was interested. But a little research on my part indicated that this would have been an extremely time consuming task, and I'd be doing it every month. The time it would take from my own writing (goals) wouldn't have been worth it. I passed on this opportunity.
  • Last summer I heard about a virtual six-week flash fiction writing workshop. I jumped on it. As it turns out, last year one of my goals was "work on short-form writing, essays and short stories." An objective for another goal was "be open to attending events for writers of adult literature." So this workshop supported two goals. As it turned out, I came away from it with a short piece that was published by a humor publication and more work I'll be able to submit elsewhere. I wasn't thinking in terms of taking that course because it supported my goals, but the reality that it did may have been a factor in coming away from it with usable material. 

The Inspiration For This Subject

This past Saturday, April 3, Michelle Cusolito posted on Facebook about #authorlifemonth, a social media challenge that authors can take part in on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook (maybe other ways) to promote themselves and/or or a book. There are daily prompts/topics, this year's being:

Now, if you look at those topics, you'll see that some of them can relate to a specific book "intro an MC," for instance, "meme your book," "swag/stationery," etc. As it turned out, just two days before, I had pinned a tweet to my Twitter profile:

April is #EarthDay month. Time for an eco-comedy in an ebook edition. #environmentalism #YA #adult https:/
That pin was about all I was planning to do for new Saving the Planet & Stuff ebook promotion. But then the #authorlifemonth  opportunity came up. I could continue to tweet about STPS, off and on, without being hard sell. In addition, I already have promotional material for this book. This was an opportunity that wouldn't require a lot of work from me.
And, finally, I have a "community building/general marketing/branding" goal this year. What is happening here is that #authorlifemonth has become a new objective to support that goal.

Our Takeaway

Be open to new opportunities that support your goals and could even become objectives to help you meet them.


Friday, April 02, 2021

Book Shopping For Easter

I was almost into the third week of March when I realized that Easter is the first weekend of April this year. I still haven't gotten over the shock. Fortunately, I can't have guests, so I don't have to deal with a holiday meal, though I am overwhelmed with cupcakes I've been making to take to a member of our pod.

The thing I really needed to hustle for was ordering Easter presents for the littlies. Easter presents chez Gauthier are books. I had titles in mind for a couple of the kids, though I forgot them. Then I remembered them. Then that left just two more books to find. 

In the end, River Bend Bookshop ordered two of the books and mailed them to the appropriate family members and already had the other two there in the store for me to pick up. 

Gauthier Easter Gift Books

From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves by Vivian Kirkfield with illustrations by Gilbert Ford. The 8-year-old I got this for may be on the young side of the age-range for this book. However, it looks as if the pages offer a variety of reading options for him to pick and choose from. Additionally, he's being home schooled this year, and I'm hopeful this will fit into history or social studies for him.



The Bear Went Over The Mountain by Jane Cabrera  I liked the repetition in this classic story as well as what was, for me, a surprise at the end. I found out about this book while watching a virtual library story hour with the three-year-old in our pod and bought it for his three-year-old cousin. I mention this, because it's an example of a library generating a book sale.

Hike by Pete Oswald. I got this book for a three-year-old who walks/hikes with us. I stumbled upon the ebook edition through my library, so this is another example of a library generating a book sale. It's a wordless book with a strong visual story line. 

Up Cat Down Cat by Steve Light  I needed a board book for a one-year-old and just searched on-line until I found this one about opposites with art work I loved. Well, it turns out I've met Steve Light. We walked out to the parking lot together after his appearance at a Connecticut Children's Book Fair a couple of years ago. (I can think of a few other authors I met in parking lots or hallways before or after appearances. Hmm.) At that time, I was so taken with his book Builders & Breakers that I bought a couple of copies for gifts. One of them was for the older brother of the little girl for whom I bought Up Cat Down Cat. You can't make this stuff up! Well, you can, but I didn't.

You never know how gifts will go over, especially books. But at this moment, I'm very happy with my Easter selections.