Quick Reviews: Three YA Novels


Among the books I read this summer were three interesting Young Adult novels. Here are some very quick reviews of each. The connecting thread is that all three feature female protagonists.

I just finished Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. It’s a murder mystery with two different levels. One from the past. One from the present. The main character — Stevie — is obsessed with the murder from the past, but then gets drawn into the mystery of the present, and her sharp mind and keen observational skills help her unlock part of the mystery. This had a “to be continued” at the end, a cliffhanger for some of the threads, but I found Stevie to be a highly engaging character and the two mysteries here get entangled at times in interesting ways.


In Truly Devious, the setting is an old school with lots of tunnels and hidden doors and such. An interesting building as setting is also a main concept in Winterhouse by Ben Gutterson. Here, the building is a hotel, with mysteries of its own, centered around the family that owns the hotel. Elizabeth is the main character, an orphan with a quirky personality and a curiosity that leads to odd situations, and entanglements with magic and ghosts of the past. It’s fast-paced story, with some echoes of Harry Potter and other YA novels, but Guterson does a nice job of using the house to make his tale its own story.


Finally, early in the summer, I read The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. There’s a palpable sadness to this story and yet, it is beautifully written, and we are in the head and heart of Suzy Swanson, whose grappling with the sudden death of a former friend. The novel explores the world of jellyfish through Suzy’s hyperfocus on the creatures, and her theory of the role they may have played in the death of her friend. Not everything is tidy in this story, and that’s OK. Suzy is worth caring about, as she navigates a confusing world.

Peace (and story),

My Park Story: National Park Service Podcast

Green background with My Park Story in large, white text and a beige ranger hat in top right corner.

If you follow the National Park Service on X or other social media sites, as I do for Write Out and beyond, you will often come away chuckling or with a smile. The posts are brilliant. The reason is that the Park Service social media team is creative in using images and information and humor to get its message across.

For the first episode of the new National Park Service podcast — My Park Story — the host interviews the main person behind the social media accounts of the National Park Service — Matt Turner. I found it interesting to learn more about Matt and his approaches to engaging the public through visuals and information.

My Park Story is the theme of the NPS this year (and will be an underlying theme for Write Out, in a way, in October).

Peace (and pics),

Picture Book Review: National Parks A To Z (Adventure from Acadia to Zion)


Gus D’Angelo has written and illustrate a picture book that is nearly perfect for this October’s Write Out project (learn more about Write Out, a partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service, with events starting this year on October 8th and running for two weeks.)

National Parks A To Z (Adventure From Acadia To Zion) is chock full short explorations of various National Parks, fun illustrations and, as you might guess from the title, alliterations galore.

There’s a fun tone to the book, too, as D’Angelo brings readers into the parks through the use of creatures that live in those areas. So, we meet avocets in Acadia, bison on the Badlands, honus in Hawaii, weasels in Wind Cave, and so one.

But interspersed with the basic ABC format are small poems with environmental themes and informational texts about the National Park system, and native tribes whose ancestral lands form the borders of many park sites.

The result is a fascinating series of informational snapshots, making this book a rich resource for any elementary-level classrooms, and the book could provide a way to introduce the National Parks (and Write Out) for some further research and artwork, as D’Angelo’s illustrations are fun and filled with interesting elements.

Peace (and parks),

PS — D’Angelo has a Mad Lib at his resource site as a PDF (along with some coloring sheets) and I converted his PDF Mad Lib into an online version, if you wanna play.

PPS — Today (Friday, August 25th) is the 107th birthday of the National Park Service.

Poetry: A Riff Off The River

Slumber Along

A friend – Willeena – has been sharing some lovely poems on X, tagging it with the #writeout hashtag (she and I and others are part of the team planning Write Out 2023 in October). Her poems are situated in nature, and she has been adding short videos, too, of where she is getting her inspiration. A poem she wrote yesterday inspired this poem of mine.

She wrote, as part of her poem:

Help them move
past the mirk and mire …

— Willeena Booker

I took that idea and wrote my way forward.

Summer rains stretch
fingers into the bottoms
of the riverbed,

a weathered troublemaker
stirring up what’s long been
settled in

With eyes closed, then,
we slumber along
through cloudy waters,
dreaming of currents
and clarity

Then stuck feet find
a footing, and a hand
reaches from the shore –

Once more, your presence
provides ballast
in an otherwise
unbalanced world

Peace (and poems),

Word Art Poem: Every Word Matters

Word Art Poem

I’m not sure this experiment worked but I was trying to write a small poem, with words that could potentially be used in any order, and no matter the order, the words would still become a small poem.

The reason for doing this is that I was curious about using a Word Art generator that lets you hover over words, which then animates the word above the image. I imagine someone making new poems from the words of the source poem.

Try it out: https://wordart.com/1juwyfcldkj6/word-poem

Here is the original poem:


Peace (and word experiments),

Book Review: The Book of Hope (A Survival Guide For Trying Times)

“What gives me hope is that everywhere I go, young people filled with energy want to show me what they’ve done and what they’re doing to make the world a better place. Once they understand the problems and when we empower them to take action, they almost always want to help. And their energy and enthusiasm and creativity are endless.” — Jane Goodall, in The Book Of Hope (p. 115)

Douglas Adams sits down with Jane Goodall for a series of conversations over a span of time that make up the heart of The Book Of Hope (A Survival Guide For Trying Times) and Adams digs deep in his queries to Goodall into the quandary of being hopeful in a world where so much seems to be going off the rails — particularly around climate change.

Given Goodall’s long-standing work around nature and preservation, and how often she has had to confront the worst of humanity in the larger world to protect animals, her optimistic view that people can come together to make change, that there is still time to make a difference on climate change if we act now and with urgency, that we can learn and take comfort from the resilience of the natural world — that she continues to be hopeful in the face of all of the difficulties in the things she loves so passionately — well, that might be a path forward for many of us.


This book-length conversation is full of her stories (and Adams, too) that illustrate her thinking, but it also contains her observations of the ways hope can transform the world. She’s also bluntly realistic, understanding the challenges and the headwinds that always rage against change. Yet she seems willing to engage and to talk with and to argue against and to support anyone with a focused passion and conviction.

There are four main strands of inquiry of what hope is as Adams interviews Goodall here over the course of more than a year — and then with the interruption of the Pandemic that forced them to pause for a bit of time:

  • Amazing Human Intellect
  • Resilience of Nature
  • Power of Young People
  • Indomitable Human Spirit

The most powerful message contained in this conversation, I think, is this: every single person can make a difference, even if its a small step forward, but only if you find the agency to act on your hope, and your impact on the world gets magnified when you work with others. Hope without action is just wishful thinking, she suggests, and not very productive.

Or, as Adams puts it in his end notes:

“Hope is a social gift, one that is nurtured and sustained by those around us. Each of us has a web of hope that supports, nurtures, and uplifts us throughout our lives.” — Douglas Adams, The Book Of Hope (p.238)

Peace (and Hope),

Blackout Poem: I Held The Book

Backout Poem: HP Lovecraft

This blackout poem was created as a morning assignment for the Daily Create. I don’t know much about HP Lovecraft (other than the name, and that his work was in the strange fantasy realm) but I found a collection of his poems (yep, strange stuff) and took a stanza into the Blackout Poem generator.

Peace (and the padding of unseen feet),

Generative AI Presentation 3: Ethics, Policies and Reaching All Students

I did one final summer workshop presentation about the rise of Generative AI and the impact on schools. This one, like my last presentation, was with a group of school librarians, who were doing a week-long professional development around reaching all students, including those with disabilities.

My themes for this presentation centered first on the ethical considerations of using AI like ChatGPT and Bard, and then moved into how to begin thinking of school/classroom/libraries policies for students, and then ended with some ways that new AI-themed tools could help educators support students with some disabilities. I then provided a wide range of resources for them to explore and consider. (By the way, Eric Curts has done an amazing job in this area of inquiry, gathering resources on this topic.)

This is the third workshop I have given this summer (first with teachers in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and then with another group of school librarians), and interest in all three has been very high by participants. We’re all wondering how AI is changing the educational landscape, and how we can adapt to meet the moment. Even for educators whose students are too young for ChatGPT or other tools, the interest is there to learn more.

I’ve tried to balance the concerns we all have with an open mind to the possibilities the AI might bring to the classroom. Threading that needle in these conversations can be tricky, but mostly, I have found, when educators learn more through discussion and explorations, the more open they are to considering the possibilities along with any pitfalls.

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project is starting to plan a gathering of educators in the fall to do more of this work around AI, and I am likely facilitating part of that discussion with a professor from Westfield State University, our new home for WMWP.

Peace (and purpose),