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A Chat About GLOOM TOWN by Author Ronald L. Smith & An Engaging Challenge For Readers!

Hi Everyone! How are you all doing? Social distancing and self-confinement is not something any of us expected to be doing, right now. Such an abrupt change to our lives can make us feel withdrawn and lonely. But there are ways to combat that feeling of isolation. One way is through reading and writing. Just as exciting is doing that with others through the internet. If you scroll to the bottom of this post, you’ll find a little creative exercise I created for you to do. Those who participate will have a chance to win a prize!

But don’t scroll yet! Take a peek at my next creepy book spotlight and what the author has to say about his writing journey. It’s seriously an amazing, creepy middle grade read.

GLOOM TOWN

by Ronald L. Smith

A delightfully creepy novel from a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award winner imbued with magic and seafaring mythology. Lemony Snicket and Jessica Townsend meet Greenglass House, with a hint of Edward Gorey thrown in.

When twelve-year-old Rory applies for a job at a spooky old mansion in his gloomy seaside town, he finds the owner, Lord Foxglove, odd and unpleasant. But he and his mom need the money, so he takes the job anyway. Rory soon finds out that his new boss is not just strange, he’s not even human—and he’s trying to steal the townspeople’s shadows. Together, Rory and his friend Isabella set out to uncover exactly what Foxglove and his otherworldly accomplices are planning and devise a strategy to defeat them. But can two kids defeat a group of ancient evil beings who are determined to take over the world?

Another delightfully creepy tale from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award–winning author Ronald L. Smith.

 

Hello Ronald! It’s such a pleasure to have you visit us. Let’s begin with an area most readers are curious about: What is it about writing stories that makes it all worth it for you?

Selfishly, it’s a dream come true to do this for a living.  I feel very lucky to have such a cool job. But what’s really rewarding is knowing that kids will read my books and (hopefully) like them.

Did any book(s) from your childhood influence or encourage you to . . .

    1. Want to read more?

                    Absolutely.

    1. Become a writer?

                    Yes. One of my favorite books as a kid was The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Elanor Cameron. I also loved Ray  Bradbury, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. All of these books fired my imagination and set me on a path of becoming a writer. 

How do you think authors, librarians, teachers, and parents can encourage a love of reading in middle schoolers?

I think they’re all doing a fantastic job. There has to be a story for every kid. The librarians and teachers are on the front lines in suggesting books that will appeal to every one of them, no matter their background. Also, it’s not just books. Comics, graphic novels and poetry also help kids become better readers of novels. So don’t discourage any kind of reading at all!

So very true!

Describe for us the town in which you set Gloom Town and why this story had to be told there?

Hmm. Well, I write organically, and just kind of discovered Gloom Town as I was writing it. I wanted a locale that felt out of time. Kind of like 19th century England but with odd details in the mix as well. The seaside setting was a surprise to me, but once that came to me I really began to love it. Ships, mariners, the docks—it all came together to create a setting I really loved.

I love how the town revealed itself to you as you were writing the story.

What was your favorite part of the story to write?

I like the creepy stuff, so it has to be Lord Foxglove and his minions!

🧡

What makes your main character Rory different from other characters you’ve written?

He has a lot on his shoulders and will do whatever it takes to keep his family safe. He is bright and confident, brave and curious. His home life is different from that of my other characters. His mom is a singer, and her friends are artists and performers, so he has grown up in a creative, avant-garde community.

Why will middle schoolers relate to Rory and/or your other characters in Gloom Town?

Hopefully, they’ll see a bit of themselves in these characters and experience every bit of joy, fear and happiness that they do!

What do you hope readers will take-away with them after reading this story?

Be brave. Fight for your family. Don’t take a job at a spooky mansion.

*laughing*

Food advice: What’s your favorite writing snack?

I don’t really have one. I take a break at noon for lunch. I usually have some tea in the afternoon. But if I had to answer I’d say anything salty and crunchy!

Writing advice: What do you do when the writing just isn’t flowing?

Cry.

Walk away for a while. Read someone else’s novel. Take a walk and clear my head.

One favorite idea-generating method you use is . . .?

Sometimes when I get stuck I imagine that the book is a film. What would happen next if this were a movie, I ask myself. Sometimes it works, Sometimes it doesn’t.

Sounds like a pretty effective method.

Care to share a favorite middle grade book of yours?

His Dark Materials from Philip Pullman and The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience with us. All the best to you, from your Mixed-Up Files family!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Ronald L. Smith is the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award-winning author of Hoodoo, The Mesmerist, The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away, Gloom Town, and Black Panther: The Young Prince. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM

 

GIVEAWAY CHALLENGE!

Dear Readers, thank you for joining in to learn more about Ron’s mysterious story of GLOOM TOWN! Are you ready for your home-schooling exercise? Create your own fictional town – Name & a brief Description – in the comment section below along with your Twitter handle for a chance to win a copy of GLOOM TOWN! I can’t wait to see what you come up with! Giveaway runs from today until April 1st, (US only). Winner will be announced via Twitter.

STEM Tuesday– Astronauts and Space Travel — Writing Tips & Resources

Behind the Scenes

Astronauts are awesome, don’t get me wrong. They’re like the quarterback of aeronautics and space exploration. They’re the face of the mission just as the quarterback is the face of the football team. But I’m a lineman. Linemen do the work in the trenches that keeps the quarterback on track for success. Space travel requires an army of men and women working in the trenches in order to make a mission successful and bring their astronauts home safe and sound. 

Curiosity Science Laboratory Mission Operations Team

I was full of wonder as only a newly-minted five-year-old birthday boy can be when I saw the Eagle land on the moon in July of 1969. That sense of wonder never left me but years later I got to thinking deeper about this life-changing event. Sure we all watched Neil Armstrong take one small step but what about the thousands of people working behind the scenes to make it possible? From the spacesuit to the landing pads to the camera to the experiments to the engineers who made a flagpole that would stick in the lunar surface, those thousands of people made those short, historic minutes possible.

Curiosity EDL Team NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab

Your STEM Tuesday mission this month?

Drill down into a system. Study it. Look at the purpose, the plan, the participants, and the place. It can be a human-engineered system, like NASA’s Mars Curiosity Lander Mission, the International Space Station, a zoo, a factory, a sports team, a library, a school, or it can be a natural system like a pond, anthill, beehive, or wolf pack. Any system will do. 

Curiosity Women of Mars Scientists

As I was preparing this piece, we experienced a historical event with the COVID-19 coronavirus global pandemic designation by the World Health Organization. That, coupled with the infections ravaging Italy, kicked in a new, and hopefully short, shift in life for most of us. Social distancing, flattening the curve, epidemiology, supply chain economics, and shelter-in-place have all become new words in most of our vocabularies. 

The global systems in place to search for these emerging infectious diseases and react might be a good system to start. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and your state and local health departments are all good systems to study during the time of learning in place. It might also help kids, parents, teachers, and their families better understand the health systems in place and how these systems work for our safety.

STEM Tuesday enthusiasts, jump in on a system that fills you with wonder and then look behind the scenes. Drill down, dig deep, observe the inner workings with a fine-toothed comb. Keep a notebook or journal to document your journey. Use text, pictures, drawings, or whatever it takes to figure out what’s happening under the hood of your system. Feel free to share your discoveries in the comments below or by adding a link there.

Stay SAFE!

Stay informed!

Stay engaged with the life around you.

Stay STEM!

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101,  are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.

 


The O.O.L.F Files

This month’s Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) takes a look at systems. Everything from NASA to pandemics to insect colony organization. Click a link or two or three, or heck, click them all! Enjoy!

Go by Public Broadcasting System 

This is one of my favorite music videos and a top 50 Mike Hays song. It does a nice job of showing the behind the scenes of Apollo 11 moon landing riding along with a really awesome tune.

 

Novel Coronavirus 2019: Scientist Roundtable at the Science in SF blog 

I had the privilege of being part of a blog roundtable recently with some really sharp people to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are looking for some answers to your questions or just want to know more, check it out. 

More COVID-19 Questions? Here’s a great list of resources with information you can trust.

 

Inside the Ant Colony, a TEDed lesson

 

How Do Honeybees Get Their Jobs? | National Geographic

Unwrapped 

This is still one of my favorite Food Network shows. It made the foodie and the scientist sides of me very happy.

And finally, since we are talking about food…

Top 10 Most Amazing Automatic Food Processing Machines

Bon appetit! 

 


 

The Case for Audio Books and Virtual Teaching

Welcome to Virtual Teaching!

by Robyn Gioia, MEd

The COVID-19 virus is ravaging S. Korea. We were in school one day and told to stay home the next. Classes would be taught virtually until further notice. Students didn’t have their text books, reading books, or school supplies.

My team and I decided to assign our 240 fifth-grade students audio books for reading. Fortunately, we are living in the age of digital text and audio. There are many resources and books available online. And there is YouTube, with its sea of readers bringing books to life.

Why Audio Books?

Remote learning is enhanced through the use of audio books. Audio books build listening and comprehension skills while teaching fluency. Students develop their imaginations. It helps many students make sense of the story because they can hear the emotion in the reader’s voice. I’m always delighted to hear them recall the smallest detail from previous chapters.

Virtual Activities That Work Well With Audio Books

  1. Summaries. I have my students look through the eyes of the protagonist when they write their summaries. This helps them to zero in on main events, and tap into the characters feelings and actions. It also reinforces their knowledge of the first-person point of view.
  2. Assign comprehension questions. This can also be tiered to the different levels of readers.
  3. Have students use graphic organizers to organize events and characters.
  4. Write a diary entry of specific events.
  5. Research interesting topics in the story. When we listened to The Cay students were intrigued by the German U-Boats and how they hunted like wolf packs.
  6. Make collectible trading cards. Students researched the tropical animals surrounding the island in The Cay. The collectible cards display an illustration of the topic on one side and lists eight detailed facts on the backside.
  7. Meet with small groups in an Internet Chat to discuss the story. Let students come with their own questions to ask. I generally ask them to bring one factual question and one higher level thinking question. I have also been successful with students discussing books on Google Docs.
  8. Make Slideshows with small groups collaborating in Google Docs.
  9. Give students the opportunity to design quizzes.

While nothing can really replace face-to-face learning, virtual teaching offers unlimited opportunities in a whole different field.