Marcia Strykowski

Holiday Magic


For those of you who enjoyed my Massachusetts-based Thanksgiving post: here, the above winter scene was painted by F. Gleason, who was also from the Boston area. And now for another historic gem from the Bay State–the world famous tune of Jingle Bells (The One Horse Open Sleigh) was written by James Pierpont of Medford, MA in 1850. Click Jingle Bells for a delightful version sung by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in the early 1940s.

jingle bells medford 2

There are so many events and activities to choose from during the holidays. One year we attended a dinner theater performance where Charles Dickens’s great great grandson performed A Christmas Carol. He is shown below, after the show, signing our programs. Here is his events schedule.

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Our Children’s Librarian made this attractive display from old books we had in storage.

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snowflake1These three-dimensional snowflakes are fun to create. You can choose to make giant ones to hang from the ceiling, or tiny shiny flakes to decorate packages. Here are the easy instructions: Paper Snowflakes.

gingerbread cookiesClick the tab at top for more Recipes & Crafts.

Enjoy the season!

Nydia the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii

NydiaAs I bumped into Nydia the Blind Flower Girl at yet another museum last weekend, I realized I’d seen her several times before. I remembered taking a picture with her once, so I enlisted my daughter to take another one. A docent wandering by, caught us in the act (photos are allowed :) ) and I said, “You must see people posing with Nydia like this all the time.” “No, not really,” she replied. She proceeded to tell us about the beautiful marble sculpture created by Randolph Rogers in 1855.

Randolph Rogers (1825-1892) was born in Waterloo, NY and grew up in Ann Arbor, MI. A neoclassical sculptor, he spent most of his professional life in Florence and Rome. Rogers began his career carving statues of children and portrait busts of tourists. He didn’t enjoy working with marble, so the marble statues were created in his studio by Italian artisans under his supervision, from an original produced by him in plaster. His first large-scale work was Ruth Gleaning (1853), based on a figure in the Old Testament. It proved extremely popular, and up to 20 marble replicas were produced by his studio.

His next large-scale work was Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii (1854–55), based on a character in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s best-selling 1834 novel, The Last Days of Pompeii. It proved even more popular, and his studio produced more than 100 marble replicas in two different sizes. This beautiful sculpture shows Nydia as she escapes from the erupting Mount Vesuvius and searches for her lost companions, including the man she loves. 

I looked through my pictures to see if I could find the other photograph I’d remembered and lo and behold I came up with a total of three goofy poses. Usually life-size, you may notice the statue on the left is done in the smaller scale. These photos of us together are from Washington, D.C., Boston, MA, and Manchester, NH, respectively. Am I the only one who feels a strong need to share a secret with Nydia?

nydia the blind flower girl

Thanksgiving Thoughts & Traditions

Although there are many discrepancies about what went on, who attended, and what they ate, most people agree the first Thanksgiving was held in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. I find it interesting that this famous Currier & Ives Lithograph along with the popular tune of “Over the River and Through the Wood,” both created in the mid 1800s, also had roots in Massachusetts.

c&i american homestead winter

Over the River and Through the Wood

By Lydia Maria Child

Over the river and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house we go;
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river and through the wood,
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes,
And bites the nose,
As over the ground we go.

Over the river and through the wood,
Trot fast, my dapple gray!
Spring over the ground,
Like a hunting hound,
For this is Thanksgiving-Day.

Over the river and through the wood,
And straight through the barnyard gate!
We seem to go
Extremely slow,
It is so hard to wait!

Over the river and through the wood;
Now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun!
Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

Lydia_Maria_ChildLydia Maria Francis Child, born in Medford, Massachusetts (February 11, 1802 – October 20, 1880), was an American abolitionist, women’s rights activist, opponent of American expansionism, Indian rights activist, novelist, and journalist. Here she is in 1870 reading a book.

Currier and Ives was a successful American printmaking firm headed by Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888) born in Roxbury, Massachusetts and James Merritt Ives (1824–1895) of New York. Currier & Ives produced at least 7,500 lithographs during its seven decades. Artists created two to three new images every week on lithographic stones. The images were printed in black and white and then colored by hand in assembly-line fashion, with each worker applying one color.  Currier & Ives sold more than a million prints, through peddlers, pushcart vendors and bookstores, through the mail and through an international office in London.

In Amy’s Choice, Amy teaches her friends how to make turkey apples to start off their traditional Thanksgiving celebration. Shown below are a few turkeys the kids in my family made to decorate our Thanksgiving table one year. Any holiday traditions going on in your house?

turkey apples

cornucopiaHave a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Art Around Town

As you may have noticed from earlier posts, art has always been a big part of my life, so it’s no surprise that a painter plays an important role in Amy’s Choice (sequel to Call Me Amy is now available!). Haverhill shoe - small

Art is everywhere and sometimes where you least expect it. Over the last few years, amazing shoes have popped up all over my city to celebrate its shoe industry history. Some of the newer shoes also serve as benches, like this one which stands in front of the elementary school my children attended.???????????????????????????????

???????????????????????????????I love this scholarly lion!

???????????????????????????????Downtown there are gorgeous murals and twice I’ve run into displays of giant dog sculptures on the common.

giant dogs newburyport

Giant Dogs in Bradford - smallDo you have interesting outdoor art where you live?

Release Day Signing

A huge thank you to everyone who came out yesterday during heavy downpours to get a copy of Amy’s Choice. Even all of you who didn’t make the pictures, I remember and appreciate your support. If it weren’t for readers like you, there’d be no books. :)

Best of luck to those who entered yesterday’s blog contest to win a Visa card or books. I’ll take entries through Nov. 9th and then draw winners that day. To enter contest, please click here.

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Happy Release Day!

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Today, Amy’s Choice is officially out in the world and I’ll be signing hot-off-the-press copies at Barnes & Noble in Salem, NH from 2–4. Seems fitting, since today is also National Author’s Day.

Be sure to scroll down to win prizes, but first, check out these great blogs that are helping me celebrate:

Lots of good questions on Laurie J. Edward‘s blog along with pictures of my workspace and hobbies.

Seven interesting thoughts on Stacy McAnulty‘s blog.

Leandra Wallace‘s unique questions almost stumped me. And she’s got a giveaway happening now.

And one more interview on a new blog for authors: The Write Stuff.balloons 2

Other recent postings: 

A letter to my teenage self is included on the popular Dear Teen Me site.

Jorie Loves a Story did in-depth reviews of both of the Amy books!

Even Little Miss Trainwreck enjoyed reading Call Me Amy and Amy’s Choice.

Check out Roxy’s wonderful review here!

Thank you ALL for joining in the celebration! But wait…what’s a party without prizes? Here they are:

1st prize = $25 VISA card

2nd prize = signed hardcover copy of Amy’s Choice plus 70’s swag

3rd prize = signed paperback copy of Amy’s Choice plus bookmark

Everyone who comments on this post will get one entry. Those who also ‘follow’ this blog will be entered twice. Prize winners will be drawn on Nov. 9th. Good luck!

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Frost in Fall

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October by Robert Frost (from A Boy’s Will, 1915)

O hushed October morning mild,

Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;

Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,

Should waste them all.

The crows above the forest call;

Tomorrow they may form and go.

O hushed October morning mild,

Begin the hours of this day slow.

Make the day seem to us less brief.

Hearts not averse to being beguiled,

Beguile us in the way you know.

Release one leaf at break of day;

At noon release another leaf;

One from our trees, one far away.

Retard the sun with gentle mist;

Enchant the land with amethyst.

Slow, slow!

For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,

Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,

Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—

For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

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Robert Frost’s home in Franconia, NH

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Two of my favorite songs to listen to in October are Moondance by Van Morrison and Harvest Moon by Neil Young–click on the song titles to watch & enjoy!



Rhode Island College campus

Rhode Island College campus

It was a beautiful day at Rhode Island College for the 8th annual ENCORE event. Due to overwhelming attendance and interest in the NESCBWI yearly spring conferences, a special one day workshop is added on a few months later. Five of the most popular workshops from the big conference are presented. The function room and parking were both comfortable and convenient, and breakfast awaited us upon arrival. Emcee Sally Riley did a great job introducing everyone. I’d guess about 100 participants gathered for the following fascinating workshops:

First, writer and editor J. L. Bell discussed the physics of a fast-paced story in Building Narrative Momentum. We learned about stronger openings, adding conflict and tension, and attaching emotional weight. Who knew that p = mv?

Second was picture book pro Janet Lawler who taught us how to get those word counts down and let illustrators help tell our stories. After hearing Janet’s talk, I’m inspired to chop!

Sally Riley & Mark Peter Hughes get ready for Act 3

Sally Riley & Mark Peter Hughes get ready for Act 3

Then we broke for a hot buffet lunch. I eat gluten-free, so I didn’t partake, but it looked delicious. Throughout the breaks there were plenty of books to buy and have autographed.

After lunch, award-winning novelist Mark Peter Hughes started us off with an energetic discussion about creating and maintaining suspense for more effective stories.

Mark Peter Hughes

Mark Peter Hughes

Next up was Kendra Levin, Penguin senior editor. She had us step outside our comfort zones. Literally. We got up, switched tables, and wrote genres and point-of-views we weren’t used to trying. (Surprisingly fun!) This was the one workshop I’d actually been to before at the bigger conference, but Kendra changed it up enough to make it seem new.

Last, but not least, popular author Anna Staniszewski took us through 7 common storytelling missteps and offered tips and tools for how to avoid them.

Anna Staniszewski speaks to a full house.

Anna Staniszewski speaks to a full house.

ENCORE presenters: Janet Lawler, Mark Peter Hughes, Kendra Levin, J. L. Bell, Anna Staniszewski

Presenters: Janet Lawler, Mark Peter Hughes, Kendra Levin, J. L. Bell, Anna Staniszewski

 All in all, a very productive day, thanks to the conference committee. Oh, and guess who got a door prize? I won a copy of Deborah Freedman’s The Story of Fish & Snail!

Miss Cogshell’s Recipe Box

Miss Cogshell has an important roll in Call Me Amy. When we first meet her, she’s an enormous, terrifying woman who the kids call Old Coot. Some say she’s a witch and her weathered gray house by the sea, with the creepy widow’s walk on top, certainly doesn’t look inviting. If Amy hadn’t found her courage to stop by Miss Cogshell’s house, so many events would never have come into play that summer. Or, should we go back even further? If Sally, the nosiest postmistress in Maine, hadn’t told Amy to stop in at Miss Cogshell’s…. But, enough about Sally (until she returns in Amy’s Choice). Let’s go back to Miss Cogshell who makes the BEST ginger cookies in the world. And guess what, Amy found her recipe, so here it is:


Watch for Amy’s Choice, the sequel to Call Me Amy, where you can revisit Port Wells and meet some fun new characters with their own tasty treats and traditions—available for preorder now!

For more recipes and crafts, click the tab at the top of this page.

The Woodshed

‘They’ say “write what you know.” So, it’s not surprising that a woodshed appears in the Amy books. Some woodsheds are quite simple with just an overhang to keep firewood and kindling dry, but others are more like little cottages. My favorite woodshed was built in 1900. Located in a small fishing village on the coast of Maine, the woodshed is shown in these pictures behind the main house. I don’t know what’s inside now, but there used to be an antique wood-burning stove and a work bench covered with fascinating tools and wood shavings. One of the features I liked best about this particular woodshed was a built-in ladder that brought only the bravest explorers up through a squishy entry to an almost-secret top floor.

Years ago when the woodshed was first built right along with the main house (c. 1900).


Future author in her blue snowsuit in front of the woodshed.

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Marcia standing between her grampie and her big sister.

To this day, the woodshed still stands proudly behind the main house.

Find out how a woodshed features in the sequel to Call Me Amy. Amy’s Choice will be available November 1st!

Novel Revision Retreat

First, another interview about the Amy books to share. Click here for Marcia Meara’s popular Bookin’ It blog.

This past weekend I returned to Rolling Ridge for my second Novel Revision Retreat. My first time was four years ago when I was still polishing Call Me Amy. Darcy Pattison is the wise instructor at the helm of these nation-wide workshops. This particular retreat (along with two other workshops) was organized by author Anne Broyles.



Rolling Ridge, a 40 room Georgian estate on Lake Cochichewick is located in Massachusetts. There are 38 acres of woods, water views, and rolling hills.

There were only ten of us this time, but along with Massachusetts commuters, participants came from Arkansas, Kansas, Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia.

rolling ridge group

The dining room is filled with local art and water views. Delicious meals accommodated many special requests from gluten-free to vegan.

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There was quite a bit of work beforehand to prepare for the retreat. For example, each person read all the full novel drafts of everyone else in their group. Here’s my group:DSC09618 - Copy

After lunch I took a walk around the grounds and was excited to come across a lone red wheelbarrow (we had just discussed William Carlos Williams’ poem about plums earlier that same morning).DSC09610 - Copy


It wasn’t long before I spotted several kayakers paddling smoothly across the lake.


All in all a very successful retreat and I recommend these workshops for anyone who wants to work hard at making their novels shine.

Writing Groups

There’s nothing like a great writing group for honest feedback and to hang out with like-minded people who actually get what it’s like to write, revise, and then begin again, over and over.  I’ve been fortunate to be a part of several wonderful groups.

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The Wingate Writers

For our first couple of years, Wingate Writers met in a tiny theater on art-laden Wingate Street just behind the city’s main drag.  We’d spend hours searching for perfect words to make the visions in our minds clear for future readers. KevinRomano - CopyOne dark and stormy night, the power went out. With the aid of flashlights rescued from cars, we carried on with our critiques between thunder claps. Another time we held an event at a local café. Six or seven Wingate members read their short stories aloud to an enthusiastic audience. Often there were more than a dozen writers at our biweekly Monday night meetings. Many success stories and award-winning books sprang from this dedicated group.

My current writers' group at a SCBWI conference years ago . Many books later, we're still meeting and sharing our stories.

My current writers’ group at a SCBWI conference years ago . Many books later, we’re still meeting and sharing our stories.

Fellow children's' writers and illustrators getting together for the holidays.

Fellow children’s writers and illustrators getting together for the holidays.

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2010 Novel Revision Retreat at Rolling Ridge

I included the above retreat picture from four years ago because I’ll be attending again in a few weeks—very excited!

Whether you’re new to writing or an old pro, don’t give up on finding fellow writers in your area (or online). For example, you might take a course in writing and then form a critique group with other class participants. Be brave, be tough-skinned, and get all you can out of those valuable second opinions. Most of all, keep writing!

For some great writing tips, please click here. And for even more about writing, here.

Cootie Catchers

First I’d like to share a new interview that ran the other day. Dani Duck: Artist Obscure asks some fun questions in her interviews with “some of the best children’s authors and illustrators of our time.” Interview with Marcia.

Second, let’s make cootie catchers! In Amy’s Choice, Amy learns how to make these origami-style fortune tellers from her new best friend Cat. Amidst laughter and popcorn, they use the cootie catchers to help Amy make some important choices.

Step 1: Using a square sheet of paper, bring two diagonal corners exactly together. Crease. Unfold and repeat with the remaining two corners. Crease again.

cootie catcher 1

Step 2: Fold each outside point precisely into the center.

Step 3: Without unfolding, flip the square over. Once again, fold all four outside points into the center.

cootie catcher 2

Step 4: Fold it in half. Unfold and then fold it in half the other way.

Now you get to make up the words for your cootie catcher. Following the example, you can add colors to four squares and numbers to the eight triangles. For the remaining eight spots, I used simple answers, but you might want to write fortunes instead, such as: ‘Tomorrow will be your lucky day! or “Mail is on the way!

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After you’ve filled it in, refold the catcher. Stick your thumbs and first two fingers into the four bottom pockets and then squeeze them up into the points to open and close. The first player chooses one of the outside colors. If it’s red, for example, open the catcher three times, once for each letter. (Up and down, side to side, up and down.) Next, they get to pick a number. For five, open and close five times. Then have them choose a last number and either ask a question or wait for a fortune—open, close, open, close as many times as required. If they ask, will it rain tomorrow and under the final flap it says: no way, then you’re both all set to play outside with your new cootie catchers!

Book Picks

I thought you might enjoy these new children’s books I’ve recently come across. They range from picture book through young adult.

lassieTHERE WAS A WEE LASSIE WHO SWALLOWED A MIDGIE by Rebecca Colby  *  In this hilarious twist on the much-loved rhyme, the wee lassie swallows a succession of Scotland’s favourite creatures to catch that pesky midge — including a puffin, a Scottie dog, a seal, and even Nessie! After all that, she can’t still be hungry. Can she? Kate McLelland’s funny, engaging illustrations bring to life this uniquely Scottish version of a classic rhyme.

dorothyJaneMISS DOROTHY-JANE WAS EVER SO VAIN by Julie Fulton  *  This is the third book in the charming Ever So Series. Miss Dorothy-Jane thinks her good looks and stylish clothes make her popular. However, when on her way to Hamilton Shady’s Best Lady Competition, Dorothy-Jane must put aside her vanity to save the day. Fun, rhyming picture book set in the fictional town of Hamilton Shady. Wonderful illustrations by Jona Jung.

papacrowSONG FOR PAPA CROW by Marit Menzin  *  Little Crow loves to sing, and Papa Crow loves his song. But when Little Crow shares his crow songs with the other birds at the big old tree, they laugh and scatter. If only he could sing, but Little Crow should be careful what he wishes for… Paired with colorful collage illustrations, this inspirational story is complemented by fun facts about North American birds and their sounds.

bigRiverBIG RIVER’S DAUGHTER by Bobbi Miller  *  When River Fillian’s powerful father, a pirate on a Mississippi keeler, disappears after a horrific earthquake in 1811, she must challenge the infamous rivals who hope to claim his territory and find her own place in the new order. This clever tale of a feisty heroine includes historical notes.

gettysburgAnd a sneak peek at Bobbi’s newest book–GIRLS OF GETTYSBURG available August 1st! * Picketts Charge, one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, is the powerful climax of this gripping, deeply affecting Civil War novel, told from the perspectives of three girls: a frivolous Union loyalist, a free Black, and a southern girl disguised as a boy fighting in the Confederate Army.

mintyMINTY by Christina Banach   * Fourteen-year old twins Minty and Jess are inseparable. Nothing can tear them apart. Until a family trip to the coast puts their bond in jeopardy. As Minty tries to rescue her dog from drowning she ends up fighting for her life. Will Minty survive? If she doesn’t, how will Jess cope without her? Only the stormy sea has the answer. Mystical and memorable!

pandemicPANDEMIC by Yvonne Ventresca * Even under the most normal circumstances, high school can be a painful and confusing time. Unfortunately, Lilianna’s circumstances are anything but normal and her situation isn’t about to get any better. When people begin coming down with a quick-spreading illness that doctors are unable to treat, Lil’s worst fears are realized. This is a real page turner!

Most of these are brand new books, so you may want to request them at your local bookstore or library.

New England Author Fair

I was thrilled to participate in the 4th New England Author Fair again this year in Center Harbor, NH. It was a beautiful ride up through mountain country and I got to listen to another great audio book (Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool). The weather was perfect for sitting outside with twenty fellow authors on the stately porch of Bayswater Book Co. Despite the gorgeous weather, plenty of shoppers stopped by.


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Book Giveaway (3 copies!)

You can win a copy of AMY’S CHOICE, months before it is available for purchase, by entering the Goodreads Giveaway contest (click picture below).

Goodreads Giveaway

Goodreads is a free website for book lovers. Imagine it as a large library that you can wander through and see everyone’s bookshelves, their reviews, and their ratings. You can also post your own reviews and catalog what you have read, are currently reading, and plan to read in the future. Don’t stop there – join a discussion group, start a book club, contact an author, and even post your own writing. Signing up is simple — you just enter your name, email, and a password.

To learn more about AMY’S CHOICE, please stop by Yvonne Ventresca’s entertaining BLOG. Fun facts about the AMY’S CHOICE cover are on Yvonne’s Friday Five feature today!

AMY’S CHOICE is a companion book to the critically acclaimed CALL ME AMY, published by Luminis Books. Bullies, boy trouble, and a talented painter who lives on the island keep Amy and her new BFF busy, but will Amy end up in court and will Craig ever return from Boston? Find out in this coming-of-age novel set in a tiny fishing village on the coast of Maine, during 1973.

Here are a few review blurbs for the first book, CALL ME AMY:

“Readers will cheer her on, and her splendid team, too.” —BOOKLIST

“Amy is a reliable narrator and easily relatable.” —SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

“Strykowski lovingly captures seaside Maine.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“Well-drawn, sympathetic characters…create a pleasant, satisfying read.” —KIRKUS

“Highly recommended.” —MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW

Good luck with the contest!

Rodgers Memorial Library Celebration

I had a wonderful time participating in the 5th Anniversary Celebration of the Rodgers Memorial Library’s new building.

rodgers memorial library 2a

cupcakes-with-shiny-decorationsThe day was filled with music, crafts, clowns, face painting, book talk and–because of the annual cupcake contest–tons of cupcakes!???????????????????????????????

RML group double


Porch Musings

porch musings

My porch looked particularly inviting yesterday. Only trouble was it was time for me to leave for my library job. So…I snapped a picture instead. Do you have a favorite place to write, or read, or sit, or dream? My question makes me think of this poem, sung by Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring. What a perfect response–anyone else?

                                        I Sit And Think

I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun and wind upon my hair.
I sit beside the fire and think of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring there is a different green.
I sit beside the fire and think of people long ago,
and people who will see a world that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet and voices at the door.

© J. R. R. Tolkien

Fancy Nancy Tea Party

Miss Patty is the children’s librarian at the public library where I work. On the day before Mother’s Day, she hosted a Fancy Nancy-style tea party. Here she is serving lemonade:???????????????????????????????

So many pretty dresses!fn tea 2

There’s always time to sneak in some reading:fn tea 1

Everyone enjoyed sipping lemonade, and nibbling on pretty sandwiches and cookies.???????????????????????????????

Sharing secrets and saying cheers! to a toast:fn tea 4

Then came crafts: high-heel cupcakes, tiaras, and more! ???????????????????????????????

Maybe it’s time to check out your own local library. If it’s anything like ours, there will be lots of fun programs for all ages.

YAY for Fancy Nancy and Miss Patty! fn tea 3


NESCBWI Spring Conference

I thoroughly enjoyed the 28th annual New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. The conference was held at the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel in Springfield, MA on the banks of the Connecticut River.

There is an abundance of knowledge at these conferences, being that there are about 2,300 members in the New England chapter. Each year the spring conference sells out quickly to more than 600 participants.

On Saturday, the keynote speaker was Peter H. Reynolds–award-winning author & illustrator of The North Star, The Dot and Ish.  “How to Extract a Fable,” was a moving, thoughtful address on  making the world a more creative place. nescbwi Peter Reynolds

There were many workshops on craft, along with expert panels. The picture below shows John Bell moderating a panel of agents (Sara Crowe, Mandy Hubbard, Emily Mitchell, and Kathleen Rushall) on “Publishing In and Out of New York.”

nescbwi agent panel

Throughout the weekend, in the ballroom, two giant screens featured new titles. Look who’s on the screen below: :)

nescbwi amy screen

Previously, I volunteered for about a decade when the conference was held in New Hampshire. After being away for several years, it was so much fun to attend again this year.

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