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Coronavirus is a wish your heart makes

I have a confession to make.

I went on a series of job interviews, back in December and January. I told the interviewers that what I wanted most was a shorter commute and to be able to spend more time with my family. Now, my entire family is working and learning from home and my commute is a stroll down the hall in my bedroom slippers.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a superhero. I thought it would be cool to walk around town with a mask on. Now, people look at me funny if I’m not wearing a mask. And by washing my hands, staying six feet away from other people, and not leaving the house, I’m helping to save lives. Like Batman, without the gadgets.

I’ve often imagined what it would be like to be an astronaut. Stuck inside a confined space for weeks or months, only venturing outside the vessel for emergencies. Now I know a lot better what that’s like, down to the sensation of not always knowing which way is up.

I’ve often wondered how it would feel to make a YouTube video that looked as polished and professional as a late-night talk show. Now, with talk show hosts broadcasting from their attics, that goal is within reach.

When I was a kid, I used to watch a local PBS show called Zoom. I wanted to be on Zoom back then, and now I can honestly say that I’m on a Zoom broadcast five days a week.

It hasn’t been an entirely pleasant pandemic, but it has made a good half-dozen of my wishes come true. Off the top of my head, two entire magic lamps’ worth of ironic wishes!

I don’t mean to minimize the pandemic. Families around the world are dealing with tragic deaths, prolonged illness, lost jobs, failing businesses, and an uncertain future. It’s all too easy to fall into despair. Which is why, more than ever, we need to stay positive and keep our spirits up. More than ever, we need to look for any silver lining we can find.

Has the pandemic given you more time to read? More time to write? Some interesting experiences? A good excuse to pick up new skills? Game nights with your children? Time to try out some new recipes? Did you spend $19.99 to watch Scooby Doo and Blue Falcon team up against Dick Dastardly and Captain Caveman in a pay-per-view brawl on your own television? On a Saturday morning? With a big bowl of sugary breakfast cereal? Because I can totally recommend that.

And also, more than ever, we need stories. Whether you’re writing stories, reading stories, or placing stories in front of a reader in your life, know that you are doing your part to guide the world back into the light.

What is your wish come true? Leave your silver lining in the comments, and thanks again for all you do.

My Quarantine Thoughts:

From last month, which already seems like a decade ago.

My Quarantine Project, Mythology in Verse:

A poem each week. Well, at least one.

From Mythology in Verse.

My Latest Quarantine Meme:

Because, among their other duties, Artemis and Apollo were gods of plague.

Cover Reveal: How to Get Away with Myrtle

We’re excited to do a cover reveal today for How to Get Away with Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce. You’ll have to scroll down to see the cover and find out about the FREE giveaways.

But first, let’s hear from Elizabeth about how she came up with the idea for the book.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember—even before I knew it was a job. The inspiration for the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries series came from a slip of the tongue one groggy morning as my husband and I staggered our way through breakfast, discussing the local news. I started to say something about “premeditated murder,” but it came out “Premeditated Myrtle” instead. We looked at each other for a moment, and I declared, “That is a middle-grade mystery!” Before I was even finished with Book 1, I knew I wanted to write more. As a lifelong fan of classics like The Lady Vanishes, a mystery set on a train seemed like the natural follow-up—and of course, How to Get Away with Myrtle was the only possible title. But England is not large enough to set an entire novel-length mystery just on the train, so Myrtle and company ended up in the next logical destination for a Victorian holiday: the seaside! Research for those two settings provided the seeds for the plot, and I will admit that my editor’s loathing of Aunt Helena in Book 1 made her a necessary component of Book 2. Sending Myrtle on her ill-fated holiday was just as much fun as I’d hoped, and I can’t wait for readers to go along on the journey with her!

Isn’t that a fun title? And here’s more about the book:

How to Get Away with Myrtle

Before the train has left the station, England’s most accomplished new detective already is on a suspect’s trail, and readers will be delighted to travel along.

Myrtle Hardcastle has no desire to go on a relaxing travel excursion with her aunt Helena when there are More Important things to be done at home, like keeping close tabs on criminals and murder trials. Unfortunately, she has no say in the matter. So off Myrtle goes—with her governess, Miss Judson, and cat, Peony, in tow—on a fabulous private railway coach headed for the English seaside.

Myrtle is thrilled to make the acquaintance of Mrs. Bloom, a professional insurance investigator aboard to protect the priceless Northern Lights tiara. But before the train reaches its destination, both the tiara and Mrs. Bloom vanish. When Myrtle arrives, she and Peony discover a dead body in the baggage car. Someone has been murdered—with Aunt Helena’s sewing shears.

The trip is derailed, the local police are inept, and Scotland Yard is in no rush to arrive. What’s a smart, bored Young Lady of Quality stranded in a washed-up carnival town to do but follow the evidence to find out which of her fellow travelers is a thief and a murderer?

Elizabeth C. Bunce grew up on a steady diet of Sherlock Holmes, Trixie Belden, and Quincy, M.E., and always played the lead prosecutor in mock trial. She has never had a governess, and no one has ever accused her of being irrepressible, but a teacher did once call her “argumentative”—which was entirely untrue, and she can prove it. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and their cats. Premeditated Myrtle is her first book for middle-grade readers.

And now. . . TA-DA! *drumroll* Here’s the cover you’ve been waiting for!

Doesn’t this cover make you excited to read the book?

Elizabeth’s publisher is giving away two gift packs of both Myrtle galleys per pack: Premeditated Myrtle & How to Get Away with Myrtle. To enter, all you need to do is comment below, and we’ll pick two random commenters to receive the gift packs. Winners will be chosen June 1, 2020.

Praise for Premeditated Myrtle: 

“A joyful thing to behold. Set in Victorian England, this mystery gleefully overturns sexist norms and celebrates independent women of intellect, with Myrtle Hardcastle leading the charge.”
Booklist, starred review

“Bunce crafts a truly captivating murder mystery, throwing in a delicious mix of twists, red herrings, and relatives excluded from the family fortune. Myrtle is an entertaining protagonist, not afraid to get her hands dirty, sneak into mansions after dark to find a clue, or call out sexism of men toward her scientific interests or the racism toward her governess. The book will make readers yearn for more of Myrtle’s (mis)adventures.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“A saucy, likable heroine shines in a mystery marked by clever, unexpected twists.”
Kirkus Reviews

“[A] clever and lively Victorian English village murder mystery . . . Bunce does an excellent job of making Myrtle the lead actor but gives her a strong set of (mostly female) supporters.”
The Horn Book

“In the tradition of heroines like Flavia de Luce and Harriet the Spy, Myrtle is a fine example of the Victorian scientific female—smart, inquisitive and fearless. Written with a terrific mixture of humor and suspense, Premeditated Myrtle is a perfect read for any budding detective.”
Rhys Bowen, New York Times bestselling author of the Her Royal Spyness series

The Most Important Thing About Children’s Books: For Readers and Writers During COVID-19

Last night, my son asked for something extraordinary. He requested I read him a goodnight story. From my shelves, I pulled out a picture book, The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco. At first glance, this might not seem that unusual.

Except my son is a ninth grade, a newly minted 15-year-old, and I couldn’t more proud. He wasn’t afraid to ask for what he needed– the comforting ritual of a bedtime story read aloud by a parent. He wasn’t embarrassed. His ears didn’t pinken. This wouldn’t have happened pre-COVID. Well, it would have but like six or seven years ago.

This was not an isolated incident.

My oldest son, who graduated from college last year and is a software engineer for a celebrated car company, is back home and after reading some non-fiction, picked up The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman. My son had first read this very book and the rest of His Dark Materials series when he was ten. He said he relished re-reading it even more because “there was so much that I didn’t understand” the first-time round.

My middle son, a 20-year-old, and college sophomore has been asking for back rubs after sitting in his chair digesting his third Zoom class for the day. He also has been introducing us to some of his favorite board games.

In fact, all three of my sons have asked that we play family games at least once a week. Our favorite is definitely Exploding Kittens, which is silly, involves a little strategy and a lot of luck.

I’m not trying to glorify sheltering-in-place. It’s been, at times, incredibly stressful and full of grief. Two of my students have lost their grandparents. Three of my students have been hospitalized. Childhood friends are struggling to recover from COVID-19. My youngest son may have had COVID-19 for a month in March, but at the time we couldn’t get him tested. But I don’t need to tell you of all this woe. We’ve all experienced heartbreak in one form or another, collective grief and loss in many forms.

So I’m really trying not to be a Pollyanna.

But I do feel like COVID-19 has helped me put priorities and values into sharper focus.

Health. Wow. That’s important.

Friends. Community. Books. All Vital.

And it’s clearer than ever before that children’s books are not just for one particular life period. And reading aloud shouldn’t have to stop when you’ve graduated from the HarperCollins I Can Read Level 4. Nope. The pleasure of children’s books are for every season of life. The idea, for example, that you read middle grade just when you’re 8-12 is merely a state of mind.

And as creators of children’s books, it’s especially imperative to embrace this perspective.

Next month, starting on June 15, I’ll be teaching Middle Grade Mastery, a four-week interactive, remote course for the The Children’s Book Academy with Rosie Ahmed (Penguin Random House/Dial Books) and Mira Reisberg (Clearfork/Spork). It’s a class I’ve taught for several years now, and one that I love. We focus on craft and mentor texts. But this year, I plan to remember what I’ve learned from this sheltering in-place. I want to emphasis more reading aloud at any age. And to remember that no one is ever too old for children’s books; they open hearts and minds, pose and answers questions, as well as (perhaps most importantly right now) mend and delight the spirit.

Hillary Homzie is the author of the Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, 2018), Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She’s also a contributor to the new Kate the Chemist middle grade series (Philomel Books/Penguin Random House 2020). During the year, Hillary teaches at Sonoma State University and in the summer she teaches in the graduate program in childrens’ literature, writing and illustration at Hollins University. She also is an instructor for the Children’s Book Academy. She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page as well as on Twitter.