Diana Renn

Mysteries that Matter


Massachusetts Book Awards Celebration!

It was such a joy to attend the Massachusetts Book Awards ceremony at the Statehouse last week, where Trouble at Turtle Pond was honored as a 2023 “Must Read” in the middle grade / young adult category! This means the book was long listed for the award, and copies will live in the Statehouse library! My YA novel Blue Voyage was similarly honored back in 2016, so this is my second visit there for this event . . . but it felt extra special because of the strong ties this particular story has to Massachusetts. Even though my setting, a small town called Marsh Hollow, is fictitious, it’s very closely modeled after Concord, Acton, Belmont, Lowell, and other towns in my area. It’s inspired by the very real work that turtle helpers do to ensure the longevity of the endangered Blanding’s turtles and other types of turtles. These incredible turtle helpers can be found in Zoo New England’s HATCH program, which inspired the book, and in schools and neighborhoods throughout Massachusetts. I’m so grateful to the Massachusetts Book Awards committee for honoring this book and raising the visibility of threatened turtles and those who help them.

We got to hear wonderful speeches by the award winners and honorees. We also heard from some of our state Representatives who are passionate about protecting our freedom to read, and who are proposing legislation right now that would prevent book bans in public libraries. It was truly an honor just to be in the room. I felt very proud of Massachusetts and our strong book community!

Trouble at Turtle Pond a Mass Book Awards “Must Read”!

The Backyard Rangers are busy! More happy news for Trouble at Turtle Pond . . . it’s been long listed for the Massachusetts Book Awards and named a Mass Book Awards 2023 “Must-Read” title in the children’s and YA fiction category! Winners will be announced in September. I’m deeply honored for my eco-mystery to be recognized on this list, and in such amazing company. I’m also very grateful to the judges at Massachusetts Center for the Book, for seeing this book and helping to make it – and the endangered freshwater turtles I wrote about – more visible!

Not only that, Trouble at Turtle Pond was a category finalist (middle reader fiction) for the Eric Hoffer Award and Children’s Book Council Librarian Favorites winner for grades 6-8!

Trouble at Turtle Pond named a Green Earth Honor Book!

The Nature Generation has announced the 2023 Green Earth Book Awards today – Earth Day – and I am so thrilled to announce that TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND was named an Honor Book!

I’m also so very happy for my friend Elaine Dimopoulos, whose incredilbe middle grade novel in verse TURN THE TIDE was the winner in the Children’s Fiction category! TURN THE TIDE is about a grassroots, kid-led movement to ban plastic bags in one Florida town, and was inspired by the real-life Indonesian climate activists Melati Wijsen and Isabel Wijsen, the cofounders of Bye, Bye, Plastic Bags.

The covers of this year’s winners and honors titles are below, and you can click here for the full list, including the 2023 Recommend Reads. Congratulations to everyone who was recognized! This whole list of environmentally-themed reads for children and young adults represents only a portion of the growing body of work that addresses climate and conservation issues. Together, these books offer so many paths to understanding and working for our planet; they offer young readers relatable characters grappling with real-life issues, actionable plans, accessible science, creative conservation, and – most importantly – inspiration and hope.

The Nature Generation is running a special Earth Day fundraiser for climate action. A $30 donation will contribute to the goal of donating 100 copies of CLIMATE ACTION, a GEBA award-winning title, into classrooms nationwide. You can read more about this initiative and make a donation here!


New Book Deal!

I am delighted to announce that I have signed the contract for a follow-up to Trouble at Turtle Pond! Miles and his friends the Backyard Rangers – as well as some NEW friends – will move on to another adventure in Marsh Hollow . . . this one involving owls!

Here’s this week’s announcement in Publisher’s Marketplace!

Publisher's Marketplace deal announcement for The Owl Prowl Mystery - screenshot with brief summary

The announcement says Spring 2025, but actually it’s just been moved up . . . it’s coming out in late summer 2024!!

As some of you may have deduced from my website, which has owls hidden everywhere, I am a big owl fan. (I like small owls too – and those are in the book as well!) Miles and his friends will be encountering three types of owls that we have in Massachusetts, and learning about others. The research for this book has been incredibly fun: I’ve taken owl classes with the Massachusetts Audubon Society and elsewhere (one of them involved actually handling an owl!), gone on owl prowls, spent countless hours gazing into and listening in the woods near my house, dissected owl pellets (ew! but fun!) and even joined an owl bander and her team to track migrating saw-whet owls. I’ve learned so much about owls and their habitats! I’ve also enjoyed writing about Miles and his friends at school – this is actually the first novel I’ve set during the school year. So that setting is bringing them fresh opportunities, as well as fresh challenges, especially when they learn about some rival wildlife rangers on the other side of the woods.

I’ll be sharing more updates about THE OWL PROWL MYSTERY very soon, from the full summary to the book cover and more, so watch this space! Or better yet, please sign up for my mostly monthly newsletter, which will have behind the scenes tales of the publication process, in addition to my usual hopefully not-boring content: recent reads, conservation tips for creatives, writing and productivity hacks, and pictures of my dog! (Who is training to become a therapy dog who will read with kids in libraries  – I sometimes have progress updates about that in the newsletter too! And if you liked the dog in Trouble at Turtle Pond, you’ll be seeing more a lot more of Chance the Dog in book 2!)

More soon!

Short listed for the 2023 Green Earth Book Award!

Trouble at Turtle Pond has moved to the short list for The Nature Generation’s 2023 Green Earth Book Award! Ahhh! I’m very proud to see this title here among five incredible eco-themed novels for kids.

The tiny Blanding’s turtle hatchlings that started as a classroom and community science project with my son, and then turned into a book idea, and then turned into a book, have come a long, long way. I am grateful for all the people – and turtles – who have contributed to this book along its journey so far!

Book cover collage courtesy of The Nature Generation. For the complete short list, please visit their website!

Collage of book covers from 2023 Green Earth Book Award short list

Trouble at Turtle Pond long listed for 2023 Green Earth Book Award!

Exciting news! I am thrilled to announce that TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND has made the long list for the Nature Generation’s 2023 Green Earth Book Award in the category of Children’s Fiction!!

I’m familiar with many of the titles on this year’s list, across categories, and feel so honored to be among them. A few of the authors on here are friends. Some are authors I do not know personally, but they are people whose work I deeply admire. Some are new to me, and their titles are immediately going on to my TBR list!

I often refer friends, colleagues and clients to the Green Earth Book Awards website. The long list — as well as the short list and the winners — offer so much inspiration for how we can represent nature and environmental issues in a hopeful way for young readers. The Nature Generation also does a wonderful job selecting titles from both large and smaller publishers, which is great to see.

Please visit the Nature Generation’s website to see the full long list for 2023 and lists of past long listers, honor books, and winners, and to learn more about what this great organization does to promote environmental literacy, including providing resources to teachers and STEM seed grants.

[Book cover collage below is from The Nature Generation website]

World Read Aloud Day 2023

I had such a wonderful time celebrating World Read Aloud Day with students and educators this week. What a delight to meet so many energetic students and their teachers. I was struck by how many young people are genuinely excited about reading, and prepared thoughtful, fascinating questions for these events. I was also moved by how many of these students care deeply about animals and the environment. I had as many questions about turtles and how to help them as I did about books and writing.

I met a class of fifth graders who are headstarting turtle hatchlings in their classrooms, in the same Zoo New England conservation program that inspired the writing of Trouble at Turtle Pond. (I had to chuckle at this picture of tiny me next to the ginormous turtle slides — a complete reversal of real-life scale!) That was an especially fun visit since these students knew a lot about Blanding’s turtles (the stars of my book) and are having some of the same experiences as the characters in Trouble at Turtle Pond – minus the poachers and the peril!

After the visits, I had to marvel at technology and how far we have come. It’s incredible be able to zoom into another state, to talk to multiple classrooms across a school district on Google Meet, while still feeling a personal connection to every individual student who comes up to their camera to ask a question or offer a comment.

I’m also in awe of the logistics of hosting WRAD at schools. I am grateful to the teachers and librarians who put these events together. Whether they’re organizing one classroom or fifteen, it takes time and effort to reach out to authors, pace out the visits, get kids into classrooms and into listening mode, facilitate Q&A sessions.

World Read Aloud Day doesn’t just have to be on February 2! It occurred to me that I tend to inhale books these days, making my way through a large reading list and across devices. I listen to audiobooks at faster speeds, and note my percentage progress on my kindle. But reading aloud forces me to slow down, to savor, to experience the words and ideas differently. So I plan to make time to read some passages aloud this year, especially when I’m reading poetry and essays, and carry some of the spirit of World Read Aloud Day into my regular reading life.


Weekend Reads

I’m beginning to chip away at my towering TBR pile of amazing new books that launched in the first half of 2022. Dayna Lorentz’s WAYWARD CREATURES came out in January, and while I’d started reading as soon as the book arrived – I’d been eagerly anticipating her new book after I read OF A FEATHER last year — I soon got busy with my own launch preparations and a deadline. I reluctantly had to put my reading on hold.
I had some rare stretches of uninterrupted time last week, and again WAYWARD CREATURES called out to me. I devoured it in two days. You guys. THIS BOOK. Wow. It’s about a twelve-year-old boy named Gabe who tries to impress some friends and get attention, so he sets off some stolen fireworks in a woods near his house. This sparks a forest fire! The fire impacts many people and animals, and chars acres of land. One of the impacted creatures is a coyote named Rill, whose voice we get in alternating chapters; he is badly burned and trapped in a crevice, but Gabe discovers him, brings him food, and then advocates for his release after he is captured by wildlife officials. Gabe also makes amends for his actions through his participation in a restorative justice program. The connections between Gabe and the coyote are brilliantly rendered. Both receive negative attention and judgment, especially the coyote who snapped at a small child. Both are angry. Both have disconnected from their “packs” for various reasons. But as their paths cross, and they begin to heal, we learn to view both of them with greater compassion.
As someone who grew up on the west coast, with an awareness of fires, this story stoked a lot of fears that I have. I learned new things about how destructive forest fires are, but also felt some hope about how land can heal (even soil, beneath what is burned) and eventually may regenerate – especially if humans like Gabe and his community service mentor can nudge things along. Without funding and human effort, though, the process is slow indeed. I also learned a lot about coyotes, creatures I certainly have judged negatively; I hear them at night and fear them when I walk in the woods, but I think I will view them differently now.
As the parent of a boy not much older than Gabe in the story, I also felt the family dynamics and the interior life of a seventh grader were spot-on. It’s great to find stories that deal with the inner lives of boys, and even show boys having some meaningful discussions to overcome conflicts and repair damaged friendships. The language felt real, with moments of genuine insight punctuated by awkward humor and fierce ambitions, as Gabe’s friends eventually join him in working toward a common goal.
A must read for animal lovers and budding conservationists, as well as anyone interested in restorative justice (which should be all of us) – highly recommend!

Celebrating Tokyo Heist’s Ten-Year Anniversary!

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been ten years since my debut novel, TOKYO HEIST, entered the world! It seemed important to mark the moment somehow, as ten years in a writing career is an important milestone.
The road from TOKYO HEIST (a YA mystery about missing Van Gogh prints in Japan and a manga enthusiast’s quest to find them while on a business trip with her dad) to TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND (a mystery about wildlife poaching and endangered Blanding’s turtles) seems incredible to me.  I know at my launch ten years ago, if someone told me I’d eventually write a mystery about turtles, and that I’d be consulting with ornithologists and wildlife rehabbers to write the next book, I would not have believed it. And yet mystery has remained my steady path, even as my topics and age market shifted over time. I feel fortunate to have been able to publish two more YA mystery novels with Viking / Penguin Random House, followed by a collaboratively written adult mystery/thriller with Realm (formerly Serial Box) and Adaptive Books, and now my middle grade eco-mystery with Fitzroy Books / Regal House.
While two of my YA mysteries did go out of print (though are available as eBooks), TOKYO HEIST has held on in paperback. It pretty consistently hovers in the top 100 teen art fiction novels list on Amazon when I happen to check up on it, occasionally getting into the top 50 or even top 25 there. I think because it has different pathways into it – travel / Japan enthusiasts, art enthusiasts, comics and manga enthusiasts — it continues to find new readers.
It’s so fun to hear from some of those new readers who discover this novel these many years later. One recently reached out to me on Twitter to let me know she’d read it after a workshop I gave on mystery writing, and shared the following thoughts: “As an art historian, I can be picky about how art is treated in fiction, but you nailed it. I loved the details around print-making and conservation. Effortless, fluid, well-researched.” Whew! Researching that novel – in Seattle, Boston, and Japan, and shadowing an art conservator to understand their profession – was one of the most fun, fulfilling parts of my journey in writing that book, something I remain proud of to this day. Researching and writing TOKYO HEIST gave me the confidence to write other books about topics outside my wheelhouse (artifact smuggling, international bike racing, wildlife conservation) and to create collaborative partnerships with people in many different professions.
By far the most rewarding part of my writing career so far has been the opportunity to connect with young readers and the people who guide them, their teachers. Seeing my books used in classrooms, and getting to enter those classrooms (even virtually) or see student work (research projects, art, creative writing) is such a gift. It makes me realize how books have a life of their own once we launch them, and while we must give up control in so many ways (how they are marketed, received, reviewed, interpreted), we can feel that special spark when we know our book has connected with a certain reader or made an impact in some way.
I looked back on my blog post – on this very blog! – from June 2012, about my launch day and my launch party at Newtonville Books. I had not read it for a decade. These opening words jumped out: “. . .[M]y brother-in-law sent me a video of a NASA rocket launch. I watched the lift-off, mesmerized, a lump in my throat. It was the perfect video for that morning. I felt like I really was sending my book out into the world — with the aid of a highly trained crew — and now all I could do was squint at it in the distance and hope for the best.” Seeing those words again, and the friendly faces celebrating this first book – including some faces of family members who are no longer with us, my brother-in-law who sent me that launch video, and my father-in-law — was an emotional experience. My debut launch post is an important reminder to me of how many people it takes to write, publish, and sell a book, and the readers who help to sustain its journey, often in a flight pattern we simply cannot predict.
My favorite TOKYO HEIST launch photo, included here, is the one of the day my books arrived. My cat sniffed atthe box and walked away. My son, then five, practiced a handstand on a nearby chair; you can see his feet in the air. I clearly was so excited about my books that I permitted the chair gymnastics. The picture is an important reminder to me, against the more “glamorous” launch party pictures, that books get written amidst the swirl and chaos of real life. I  do sometimes look at this “feet in the air” book picture to remind myself – when I’m in the middle of a messy draft, in a messy house, with lots going on around me — that books got written before, and I can do it again.
Do you have a milestone to mark in your writing life? Is it the one month, six month, or one year anniversary of embarking on a new project? Five years since you put a stake in the ground and decided to call yourself a writer? Seven years since your first writer’s conference? Think back in time on this very day – where were you in your writing journey? Where are you now? Where would you like to be in one year? In ten?

Weekend Reads

         Welcome back to my (Mostly) Weekly Reads feature!
          I took last week off in light of the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have the bandwidth or, frankly, the will to write a bookish blog post last week. I became, like so many people, consumed by news media, especially by the portraits of those who were lost, yet again, to gun violence. I couldn’t find words to articulate my deep dismay, and still struggle to.
          But I will share a couple of things I have done in the past week before we dive in to the weekly read, in the hopes that others may feel motivated to do a couple of things too:
         I joined Moms Demand Action and donated to Everytown. Moms Demand Action has an app you can put on your phone, and they make it very easy to do some actionable steps, like contacting senators or signing petitions.
                I donated copies of TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND to 600 BOOKS OF HOPE: COMPASSION THROUGH STORY. This initiative seeks to collect at least 600 new children’s books with hopeful messages to ensure that every child at Robb Elementary School would receive one new book, “one tangible thing they can take with them that might shine a ray of promise in their unbearable darkness,” according to organizer e.E. Carlton-Trujillo. The goal is also to collect 1,300 more books to gift to the town’s other schools, from K-12. You can read more about the initiative here, and if you are a children’s book author, illustrator, editor, or publisher, please consider signing up to donate new books!
            And finally, as I work on my new mystery novel (which also took about a weeklong hiatus while I processed the news), I revisited an essay I wrote for the Huffington Post back in 2014: Unarmed and Dangerous: On Writing a Thriller With No Guns.” Sadly, this essay often gets dug up and circulated on the Internet after school shootings. But if you’re writing a book for young readers and contemplating whether or how much to include guns, this might be worth reading and thinking about. It describes my attempt to avoid guns in my second YA novel, which was harder than it sounds.
         And so, on to this week’s Weekly Read, which is, fittingly in many ways, a survival narrative. I’m almost done listening to Megan Freeman’s marvelous middle grade novel in verse, ALONE. The premise immediately grabbed me, as I can well remember the feeling of being a child or even a young adult, and finding that a morning seems particularly quiet, the streets emptier, even the birds subdued, and wondering: Where is everyone? Did they evacuate and forget to tell me??
        That’s pretty much what happens in ALONE! Maddie, age 12, is scheming to have a secret sleepover with friends, capitalizing on the shuttling she does back and forth between divorced parents and the occasional times when logistics slip through the cracks. But plans change, she sleeps at her grandmother’s empty house on her own, and wakes up to find herself completely alone; her town has been evacuated and abandoned overnight, for no clear reason. Is the thread environmental? Invisible? Potentially under attack from an enemy? The messaging about “relocation” and transport, with the tone of vague threats, was eerily relatable. Maddie must learn to survive on her own in a town that seems to have every creature comfort, but in fact has no infrastructure — no cell phones, no electricity — and the isolation she feels is one of the hardest challenges to overcome. Fortunately a dog named George and a library full of books provide companionship.
       This book is Home Alone on steroids. Maddie’s plight is a scary prospect to contemplate, but also a powerful reminder of how resourceful we can be, and how impactful the written word can be, as Maddie turns to all kinds of reading material for insight, instruction, and inspiration.
     I’d love to know what you’re reading, and how words sustain you through difficult times; feel free to drop a note in the comments!


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