Marcia Strykowski

Holiday Reading and a Recipe!

AmyChoice_Front - smallerHappy Anniversary to Amy’s Choice! It’s been just over a year now since Amy’s Choice was released. It’s fitting that the sequel to Call Me Amy was published in November since the final chapter takes place on Thanksgiving day. And what better location to spend a cozy holiday than in a little fishing village on the coast of Maine. The first snowflakes are falling as guests arrive with pumpkin pie, cornbread, and a bag of still-warm roasted chestnuts.

Here’s an excerpt from Amy’s Choice:

Thanksgiving day dawned bright and chilly. Smells of turkey and turnip wafted through the house all morning. Mom was in her element, bustling about the kitchen in her holiday apron. I made little name cards shaped like turkeys to put at each place setting. And then I stuffed dates with walnuts and rolled them in white powdered sugar. In a special long dish that had belonged to my grandmother, I put celery sticks with black olives nestled in the hollows. I was excited, though nervous, too. Would everything go all right? Would everyone get along okay?

Later in the story, Amy teaches her guests how to make turkey apples for table decorations. For further instructions, please click on the Recipes & Crafts tab in the menu.
turkiesturkey apples

2968429Not only did my own children, along with nieces and nephews, enjoy making turkey apples each Thanksgiving, but we also had holiday stories to pull out and revisit every year. Without a doubt, one of our favorites was the humorous Thanksgiving at the Tappletons’.

For years I made the usual sweet potato casserole—orange and covered in marshmallows. But ever since switching to yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes, I’ve lost all interest in the orange variety.  I also try to stick with healthier recipes that work for guests on special diets. Marshmallows not only don’t work for vegetarians, but they’re loaded with corn syrup, so who needs them? Instead, try this delicious easy dish.
potato recipe

Last year’s Thanksgiving post included the origins of the song: “Over the River and Through the Wood.” You can revisit that blog post here.

Does your family have any Thanksgiving traditions?
To those of you in the states, have a wonderful, peaceful Thanksgiving. And to all of my readers, near and far, please know I am grateful for all of you. Without readers, there would be no reason to blog and I’ve got to admit it’s become a fun habit. Thanks!

November Author Spotlight

PierrMorgan-headshotFor today’s author spotlight we have a talented painter (who also happens to write). Pierr Morgan has illustrated a host of beautiful books for children. Scroll down for a tree-house view from her studio on Bainbridge Island, as well as a sneak peek of her current work-in-progress!

Please share a little about your books.

TheSquiggle-PierrMorganI’ve illustrated 22 picture books, half of them with children’s author, Carole Lexa Schaefer. Our collaboration began serendipitously with The Squiggle years after my efforts to sell it as a wordless book. It’s a concept book about the imagination which is strongly featured in many of our books together: Someone Says; Kids Like Us; Dragon Dancing; Sometimes Moon; Who’s There?. ABCers-Schaefer-PierrMorganTwo of our other books, Cool Time Song (a conservation concept), and ABcers (kids as doers through the alphabet), have traveled to children around the world as part of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Other collaborations have been with children’s author Christine Widman for her Cornfield Hide-And-Seek, a family romp on a sizzling hot day, and author Nancy Luenn’s The Miser On The Mountain: A Nisqually Legend of Mount Rainier.

TheNineDaysWonder-Hollinshead-PierrMorganHow has where you’ve lived or traveled influenced your work?
Before the internet, I did library research for time, place, and costume, but eventually it didn’t satisfy me. I wanted to experience the landscape colors and history firsthand with camera and sketchbook. So I wrote off my travel to Italian hilltowns for The Bells of Santa Lucia by Gus Cazzola, and my trip to England to retrace Will Kemp’s SupperForCrow-PierrMorgandance from London to Norwich in 1600, for The Nine Days Wonder by Marilyn Hollinshead. When Carole read me her text for Sometimes Moon (about a little girl’s concept of the phases of the moon), in my mind I saw a colorful dory boat off the coast of Greece. I “knew” everything I Adventures Beyond the Solar System-Williams-PierrMorganneeded to illustrate the story was there. So we traveled to the island of Keffalonia and sure enough, all the scenery and characters – including the exact same dory boat I’d imagined out on the bay – were there. Supper for Crow (a trickster Raven story) was told to me by Isabelle Ides, a Makah elder, while living next door to her in Neah Bay, WA. I wrote the story down in my journal but didn’t really know what it meant till fifteen years later, when I came across it again and realized I had needed a bit more life experience…knowing a Raven or two!

DrawingTable-PierrMorgan2015Could you briefly tell us your illustrating process?
I read the story text aloud over and over until I see pictures in my mind. I jot notes and doodles to remember them, then fold 8 pieces of paper in half for a 32-page dummy, then cut the text apart with scissors and tape it to the pages (with Scotch brand “Removeable” = blue plaid box), to get the rhythm of the page-turn.

DragonDancing-Schaefer-PierrMorganNext I make rough sketches willy-nilly throughout and tape those down. Rarely do I see all the pictures at once or in final order. I never draw or write directly on the dummy pages because there will be changes as I consult with the art director and/or editor, and/or author to refine the overall vision. Last comes final art (though I do make one or two finished color pieces – first as samples for them to see – in the style I intend to go with the dummy).

10845861Every story has its own personality or tone. I like to illuminate it through the medium and technique that I use. My book art ranges from Alkyds (oils that dry overnight) in Adventures Beyond the Solar System by Geoffrey T. Williams, to a Gouache (“goo-wash – an opaque watercolor) and Ink Resist technique used in many titles like The Turnip, or The Nine Days Wonder, to Marker and Gouache line on toned paper in The Squiggle and Dragon Dancing, to Marker and Colored Pencils in ABCers.

2991680What advice would you give to new illustrators hoping to become published?
Think backwards – research where you’d like to see your work some day (I made a “Top 5” list), and keep current on what they’re looking for and how they like you to submit art. Consider children’s magazines, too. Then start at the beginning. Keep a sketchbook. Draw everything, especially humans in movement. Dummy up a favorite picture book, words and all, to see what it looks like in that format. 378669Follow your interests. Learn what you need to hone your skills and discover and develop a style that brings you utter delight to create. If you have the urge to apologize for a piece before anyone says a word about it, or it’s really amazing work but you never want to have to create it again, get it out of TheTurnip-PierrMorganyour portfolio!! If you’re also a writer, have several projects (not just one) to send with their dummies. Make some promotional post cards to send to art directors – who are open to receiving them – every quarter to link your name with strong visual images.

favorite authors = Arnold Lobel; Cynthia Rylant; Kristin Cashore; Laini Taylor; Leila Sales; Jeannette Walls

favorite movie = When Harry Met Sally

favorite vacation =

favorite hobby = sewing HAND-Stands

favorite color = salmon pink!


Dummy in progress for a picture book that will be released in spring 2017.

Thanks for sharing your beautiful work and creative process, Pierr! Keep in touch with Pierr at her website:  And also take a look at this inspiring site:

Picture Story Books

francesOnce upon a time, when I first started out writing for children, it was picture books I wanted to create. I wrote numerous manuscripts, polished them, and sent them out to publishers. But for many of us authors, 32-page picture books can be an even harder sale than novels.
Picture books may look easy to write, but not only does every single word have to be perfect, nowadays these word-counts are getting shorter and shorter.
farmer pQuite a few publishers limit their picture book submissions to less than 500 words. 500 words!
And with so many wonderful picture books already on the market (often they don’t become dated as quickly as children’s novels) the competition is steep.
I’m not a wordy writer (my novels are usually under 40,000 words), and my picture book manuscripts used to come out to around 1200 words.
stregaIn the same way I feel there should be a Tween age group in between Middle Grade—or Juvenile, for you librarians :) —and Young Adult, I also feel we should bring back picture story books.
Yes, kids may be ready to move on to early chapter books at a young age, but nothing beats cuddling up on the couch while a special adult reads a picture story book that lasts longer than a few minutes. cooneyWouldn’t you rather read one or two in-depth stories to your kids than ten quickies with funny punch-lines over and over?
There are plenty of families out there still reading to their school-aged children and I would think we’d want to inspire this activity rather than risk pushing children through reading levels too fast. polarSure, kids have shorter attention spans due to fast-paced media and parents may have less time to read to their kids, when attached to their own electronic devices, but do we really want to encourage this further?
bobo 2Many 3rd and 4th grade teachers love to read picture books to their students (and the kids love them, too!). Teachers often have to resort to books with older publication dates since so many of the newer books are aimed at the preschool set.

chrysanthemumWith picture story books, you’ll find the language more sophisticated and the sentence structures more complex than in early chapter books which are for kids to read themselves. It’s good for new readers to have books with simple language while they’re learning, but why not keep them interested in picture books at the same time?

yolenOf course there’s definitely a need for concept books and very short picture books, too, and there are some amazingly popular ones being released every day—Mo Willems comes to mind.
Hopefully these simple, yet never slight books will be read over and over, with readers slowing down enough to take in the beautiful artwork flashing past.

I’m learning to get with the current picture book trends, to chop my word counts, but still…I love my copies of the classics shown throughout this post (and I’m thrilled to have most of them signed!).

lionWhat about you? Do you have a favorite picture book that might be a little longer than today’s standards? Or maybe you prefer shorter? As for me, I like both and I’m hoping there will soon be room in the market for longer picture books again.
Word Counts for the books shown in this post are below.

A Baby Sister for Frances—1358 words. Published in 1964.
Farmer Palmer’s Wagon Ride—1809 words. Published in 1974.
Strega Nona—1245 words. Published in 1975.
Miss Rumphius—1243 words. Published in 1982.
The Polar Express—1054 words. Published in 1985.
Oma and Bobo—1091 words. Published in 1987.
Chrysanthemum—1141 words. Published in 1991.
The Girl in the Golden Bower—2829 words. Published in 1994.
Library Lion—1378 words. Published in 2006.

Moon Music

Since we’ve got our last supermoon of the year going on, it got me to thinking about how many great songs include the moon in their lyrics. A supermoon is a new or full moon which occurs with the moon at or near its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit (which makes it look extra big). Today’s particular supermoon is also known as the Hunter’s Moon, because it’s the first full moon after the Harvest Moon we had back in September.
Full MoonHere are a few of my favorite songs about moons. Click on the album covers to watch original live versions of each song. (Except for the first sheet music picture which leads to a remarkable recording from 1909).

“Shine On, Harvest Moon” [1908]–click to listen!
harvest moon double“Moon River” written by Henry Mancini and made famous by Audrey Hepburn [1961] and South African singer Danny Williams, also in 1961. Later, American singer Andy Williams recorded a popular version of the song that you can hear here.
moon river andy“Fly Me to the Moon” made famous by Frank Sinatra [1964]
harvest moon 11“Moondance” by Van Morrison [1970]
harvest moon 7“Moon Shadow” by Cat Stevens [1971]
harvest moon 10“Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest [1973]
harvest moon 9“Harvest Moon” by Neil Young [1992] <3 this video!
harvest moon 8I also like “Shoot the Moon” by Norah Jones, but I couldn’t find a good live recording. What about you? Got a favorite moon song?

Be sure to look up in the sky tonight to find your own full moon!

Fall in New England

Here in New England we’re having a glorious autumn filled with crisp vivid colors. Since a picture’s worth a thousand words, I’ll let these photographs write the post.DSC00383 copyfall 10 copy

fall 4fall 11fall 3fall 6 copyfall 9fall 5fall 7

fall pond


October Author Spotlight

carolyncomanThis month it is my pleasure to have Carolyn Coman join us. Her books have received many awards including a Newbery Honor and Michael L. Printz Honor, as well as being National Book Award finalists. She has been on the faculty of the Vermont College and Hamline University MFA writing programs.

0-545-21066-6Please share a little about your books.
I don’t have a huge body of work but it’s fairly diverse: I’ve written books for adults, young adults and children; fiction and non-fiction, serious and funny; I collaborated with artist Rob Shepperson on The Memory Bank, a graphic storybook, and with photographer Judy Dater on a book of interviews, Body & Soul; carolyn writiI also wrote a professional book, Writing Stories for classroom teachers on teaching writing. Just recently I’ve completed an adult novel based on the life and writings of Etty Hillesum, a Dutch woman whose journal and letters from 1941-1943 have profoundly influenced my life. Different material has called to me at different times in my life, and different approaches, too, and since I end up following what grabs my attention, I’ve taken a pretty crooked and interesting (at least to me) path!

carolyn jamieHow has where you’ve lived or traveled influenced your work?
The North Country of NH, where I lived for 5 years, became the setting for my novel, What Jamie Saw. (I also loved the real name of the real town, Stark, NH) I used a big chunk of my advance for Many Stones to travel to South Africa to research and learn more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. carolyn beeBee & Jacky, another YA novel, is set in Indiana, where I lived for several years when I was a teenager. The Memory Bank unfolds in a Bank that stores memories and a Vault that stores dreams (written way before Inside Out hit the screen), so imagination provided all the travel routes for that one. It always interests me, the places that make an impression, an emotional impression that asserts itself when it’s time to place a story. It’s not necessarily a matter of how much time you’ve spent in a place, or how long ago; some places are just the right ones to write about; they stick around inside your head or heart in a certain way.

carolyn bigCould you briefly tell us your writing process?
Long and slow. A fair amount of suffering and deep doubt all along the way (except with Memory Bank, which was great fun). I write slowly, revise compulsively, far prefer revision to drafting. No matter what, each book takes years.

carolyn sneaWhat advice would you give to new authors hoping to become published?
Learn your craft. Revise, revise, revise, and don’t send out your work for consideration before it’s ready. Spend more time writing than you do exploring how to get published or marketing yourself.  Read a ton. Find and cultivate good teachers and readers of your work. Persevere.

caroly manyfavorite authors = Etty Hillesum; Rilke; Colm Toibin; MT Anderson; Martine Leavitt
favorite movie = kid movie: BIG   Adult movie: The Master
favorite vacation = a silent retreat
favorite hobby = knitting complicated mittens
favorite color = the color of any flowercarolyn tell

Thank you very much for sharing your words of wisdom, Carolyn! Find out more about her here. To contact Carolyn directly, send a message to
or leave it in the comments.



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