Marcia Strykowski

How to Use Goodreads

           I’ve never reblogged before, but since this post on the fabulous Writers’ Rumpus Blog was written by me, I thought I’d give it a try.


Goodreads is the best method I’ve found to keep track of my reading. This site can also help you discover new books to read. There’ll always be a few naysayers for any online program, and yes, sometimes a few bad apples spoil the fun, but overall I feel Goodreads (ages 13 & up) is the most user-friendly way to log books whether you’re an avid reader or an author yourself (or both!). I only check in every other week or so, therefore I’m not an expert by any means, but here are a few basic steps for those of you who are ready to join the crowd. First, it’s very easy to sign up for Goodreads, just type in your name (or a nickname if you’d like to remain private), add in your email (this will also be kept private), and lastly, make up a password.
To start your book…

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The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss

My last post was about a visit to Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts. Well, during that same trip, we also visited The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in nearby Springfield. Since The Cat in the Hat is celebrating its 60th year in print, it seemed a good time to check it out. 

Theodor Seuss Geisel (March 2, 1904 – September 24, 1991)Rather than go into a lot of detail, I’ll mostly let these colorful pictures show you some of the highlights of my visit.I love this elevator–perfect! It was interesting to see the casting process for one of the outdoor sculptures.Unlike some museums, just about everything on display was  actually used by Ted and then donated by his family.I think my favorite part was seeing this setup of his drawing studio.
I also enjoyed studying this family tree mural.

“You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book.”—Dr. Seuss

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss is a brand new museum adjacent to the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Not only is there a lot to see at this museum, but with one ticket (Adults $25, Seniors & Students: $16.50, Youth 3-17: $13, Residents & kids under 3: Free) you get into all five museums in the impressive Springfield museum complex. The sculpture garden is a pleasant park and always free.

Time to go back outside and into the garden.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”—Dr. Seuss

A Visit with Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886).
A few months back I was able to visit Amherst, Mass., where Emily lived and wrote most of her amazing poetry. Only a handful of her poems were published during her lifetime, but she left behind hundreds for future generations to enjoy. Her first collection was published in 1890 after being heavily edited by friends (hmmm….). BUT, many years later, in 1955, a complete and mostly unedited collection was published by scholar Thomas H. Johnson.

Here’s a view of her home from just beyond her side yard. Her brother’s house was right next door and is also usually open to the public (when it’s not being renovated). Many of the Dickinson heirlooms are displayed within this other property. Let’s walk up closer to Emily’s house.

We can stroll around back and then go inside.

We had a lovely tour. I should write about these visits right after I experience them, when my mind is fresh. I’m pretty sure indoor pictures were not allowed (or else I’d have a bunch). I remember it feeling quite special to stand alone in her bedroom where she wrote the majority of her work. And to look out the window through which she sent baskets of gingerbread down to visiting children was a treat, as well.
Another feature that stands out in my memory was that our tour guide was wonderful. Although soft-spoken and humble, you could tell he was a poet. One of the final rooms was set up like a little classroom and he walked us through a lesson on Emily’s poems. There were big interactive charts showing how many versions she went through to find the perfect words for each line. Often it was the last word that had several variations.

Our tour guide also showed us a picture they believe might be of Emily since the other woman in the c.1859 daguerreotype is thought to be one of her close acquaintances (recently widowed Kate Scott Turner). After always only seeing the one picture I have at the top of this post from when she was sixteen in 1847, I was excited to learn of it. And then I found a public domain copy online, too. Emily would be on the left. It was discovered in Amherst five years ago and much measuring of facial features and hunting for dress scraps has been done to attempt authentication. Emily is 12 years older here than in the earlier picture and I suppose I can see some resemblance. Upon further hunting, I came across yet another picture online (also unconfirmed). I feel this one also looks like her, although more at some times than at others (this can get baffling!). I can’t find too much information on this picture (which has her name written on the back) so I’m pretty sure ‘they’ have already decided against it being of Emily.Because so many of Emily’s poems were printed after her death and/or edited long after that, it was tricky to find public domain poems to include in this post. But the following one is available and rather nice.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea,
Yet never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Here are a few more photographs of her beautiful estate where she lived for 41 years.

There’s something about a light showing through a curtained window. It always seems to draw me in, lets me imagine the poet hunched over her latest creation. Perhaps she is working on this one.There were beautiful gardens (and a scarecrow!) around the back of her home.

So, what do YOU think. Do you feel the second (or maybe even the third) picture is a good likeness of Emily? I would have included two more portraits: a drawing and a painting, but they are from childhood and I’m not sure how accurate either artist was in portraying her. 🙂

My New Book News!

I’m very excited to announce I’ll have a new middle-grade novel (ages 9-14) coming out within a year or two (release date still to be determined). Roller Boy is about Mateo Garcia, a young city boy who wants desperately to be good at something —something that will take him from that skinny little kid with the big hair to someone who matters. Stacked against him are an inhibiting disease (celiac), a dwindling lifelong friendship (no way can Jason find out Mateo is whirling around in girly skates—anybody halfway to cool would be hanging at a skate park, on boards or blades), and the strong reservations of his mother who feels he should be spending his time studying, not skating. Despite these conflicts, Mateo keeps his sense of humor and channels his innermost strength into an incredible ride on roller skates that just might take him all the way to regionals.

After his baseball dreams fall through, 13-year-old MATEO finds his true purpose at the roller-skating rink while dodging bullies, avoiding gluten, and falling for Roller City’s star skater.

For those of you who aren’t up on publishing techniques or want to know about a rather new publisher, this is how it sometimes works. The company who published my first two books for the same audience is scaling back (hey, all busy publishers deserve some rest), so just to mention, even though they did a great job with my other books, they have never read any of Roller Boy. After I finished writing and rewriting and polishing my manuscript (with the help of critique groups and workshops–thanks all!) I scoured through publisher profiles, studied their past books, and if they seemed a good match, I carefully followed their submission guidelines. Using this method, I sent sample chapters to several new publishers. Fitzroy Books (part of Regal House) quickly responded (which means in a week or two, which is very fast in the publishing world) and asked to see the full manuscript. I had just almost sold it to another company, so after that initial disappointment it was a great relief to have someone else interested in the same book so soon. Within two months they told me of their desire to issue a contract. We emailed back and forth over the next week or so as I very cautiously looked over the contract, comparing it to others and making sure all was good. It was! Regal House is completely traditional (no hidden fees) and offers generous royalties all the while continuously updating and improving their goals in publishing quality books. I like their covers and the editorial/marketing team looks promising, too. For you writers out there, they are closed to submissions right now (due to an overwhelming amount of them) but they will open again on October 1st.

My announcement bio and picture is already up on the Regal House website. You can check it out here. Thanks for listening to my story. Writing and submitting a manuscript often takes years and it can feel akin to winning the lottery when an offer finally does arrive. 🙂

More 2017 Picture Books

After a couple of posts in summery locations, it’s time to get back to books. Scanning my list of new library purchases I realize I’ll have to save at least half for another post, not only because I haven’t had a chance to read many of them, but because they are checked out. At my library we used to have high shelving throughout the children’s area. But then, once upon a time, we realized that not only could young readers not reach the high shelves but those tall bookcases gave the library a darker, more cluttered look. So our trusty handyman proceeded to remove the top layer of shelving. Wow, what a difference. From the main circulation desk we can see straight through to the far colorful walls of the children’s areas. And we get to place all our new book purchases upright on the new shelf tops. Their bright shiny covers are hard to resist, hence the lack of picture books for me to check out—they’re all in the hands of happy readers! The following are new titles with quick reviews on each of them.

May I Have a Word? written by Caron Levis and illustrated by Andy Rash is a very clever book from title to concept. I mean who among us is not familiar with refrigerator magnets? The story begins with an argument between the letters C and K about which one of them should be the star, leading to a fun way to learn the difference between these two letter sounds. Although the type size of the actual story seemed a little small (maybe to keep it from getting mixed up in all the magnetic letters?), this book still has enough humor and cheerful color to keep kids interested.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Adam Rex is strange, bizarre, crazy, and a LOT of fun. Follow the stories of these three warriors to find out how they went from being on their own to teaming up to be a popular playground game.

Monkey Brother, written and illustrated by Adam Auerbach is a cute book. The story has a good message as well as fun illustrations and a surprise at the end.

Everyone Loves Cupcake is written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Eric Wight. What a sweetheart—everyone knows someone like Cupcake, someone who tries so hard to be perfect and then sometimes goes overboard until those same friends she wants so desperately to gain begin drifting away. This book came out in 2016, but is new to me.

Pandora, written and illustrated by Victoria Turnbull, is about a sweet-faced fox who always makes the best of things. She is patient and kind and a good friend, as well as a lover of nature. A small bird enters her dark, dreary realm and rewards her with a tiny twig of life that rebuilds the world around them. Beautiful soft illustrations of colored pencil and watercolor add much to this important tale.

Home in the Rain, written and illustrated by Bob Graham, is one of those books that takes a small episode and makes it into a special memory. Journeying home through a major rainstorm brings inspiration of the grandest kind. Rather than getting all stressed out about the stormy weather, this super mom and daughter, Francie, stay calm and centered. They even have a picnic and decide on a new name for the upcoming birth of Francie’s baby sister!

The Sheep Who Hatched an Egg, written and illustrated by Gemma Merino, is a fun tale about Lola who learns she can feel proud and happy even when she isn’t perfect or beautiful because kindness and friendship is much more important than having the best hairdo. The animal characters have well-done expressive faces.

I Wrote You a Note is written and illustrated by Lizi Boyd and provides an interesting glimpse at the many places a written note might wander to before arriving at its destination. I love the soft, lively, earth-tone illustrations.

Jabari Jumps, written and illustrated by Gaia Cornwall, is such a sweet tale and one that everyone can relate to. Jabari is ready to dive into the pool, but can he do it? With the help of his caring dad and cheering baby sister, Jabari’s road to success is told with warmth and humor.

LIFE,  written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel, is an absolutely beautiful book. Wenzel’s unique layered illustrations can be appreciated over and over again. They are a perfect partner for Rylant’s lyrical prose about the whole essence of what it means to live. I would quickly gift this stunning book to anyone of any age who is feeling overwhelmed.

If I Weren’t with You, written by Rosie J. Pova and illustrated by Philip Martineau, is a reassuring story, perfect for bedtime or story time. It’s hard for young ones to picture their parents as anyone BUT their parents which leads Willie to question his mother’s love as they stroll through the forest. Her reaffirming answers bring comfort, while cute illustrations add to the story.

Deep in the Woods is written and illustrated by Christopher Corr. From the gorgeous colorful endpapers to the bright and dazzling illustrations, this is a beautifully designed book. A gentle tale about a variety of animals who despite being very unlike each other, discover they can not only live together but can overcome a disaster by once again working together in order to not leave anyone out (especially a large bear who caused the house to fall down when he couldn’t fit inside.) Colors are like a brand new box of pastels of many shades.

She Persisted, written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, offers wonderful encouragement for young girls with big dreams. I love reading inspirational biographies and found this to be a jackpot with thirteen nuggets in one. The brief stories of these amazing women flow nicely together and show how each woman persisted with her ideas despite running into roadblocks or being told her goal was impossible.

The Secret of Black Rock, written and illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton, was another fun find. As soon as I saw the cover for this book, I knew I had to get a copy—seals, puffins, and a girl in a boat could only mean great adventures lie ahead. Very enjoyable tale and illustrations!

The Children’s Garden: Growing Food in the City, written by Carole Lexa Schaefer and illustrated by Pierr Morgan, is thoroughly enjoyable. The busy happy children in this lyrical story will inspire everyone to want a garden, whether it be a single flower pot or something larger. The cheerful sun-filled illustrations have a beautiful earthy quality, vivid yet at the same time soft and airy. I especially like seeing all the children doing their own work from planting and tending to harvesting. Love the seed packets on the endpapers, too! This delightful book is based on a real community garden in Seattle, WA.

Little Ree (a child version of the author), written by Ree Drummond and illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, is told in first-person monologue style. It can be interesting to see how celebrities are allowed to break traditional rules when dabbling in picture book writing. The colorful pictures fill in some of the spaces in this slice of life episode. For example, I enjoyed how with nary a word, the illustrator adds a whole scene of Ree receiving cowgirl clothes from her grandparents. The many cousins who come to visit Ree are fun to match up from page to page, as well.

So now you know, if you enter the children’s area of your local library and see worn copies of old books on display, it might only be because those were the last books taken out and then the library pages tossed them back on top again. Newer picture book purchases could be sitting tidily on the bottom shelf (in alphabetical order by author) never to see the light of day. Despite what some library patrons might think, all fortunate libraries DO buy new books, you might just have to hunt for them OR better yet, ask your friendly librarian to find you a copy!

For more reviews of 2017 picture books, please click here to see my post from several months ago.

As always, happy reading!

Welcome to my Porch

We all have our favorite activities and places and one of mine is spending time on my back porch. Porches seem to be an extension to a home where the dreariness of day-to-day tasks can be left behind. Our porch was built on ten or so years ago, first only screened, and then later the windows were added into the same slots for a maximum outdoorsy feel in all kinds of weather. I designed it to be a round porch which is tricky to get into one picture so I merged two (hence the warped beam which in real life is straight).I liked how the ceiling looked with wood between the beams except as they are wont to do these days, it was stamped with bold lot numbers. We put up with this look for a few years but my longing for a sky ceiling became stronger. Trouble is I didn’t want to lose the beams, didn’t want to do it the easy way. There weren’t many options for covering the rough wood in between each beam, but eventually we decided on ceiling panels. They were easy enough for me to paint the pieces after we measured and sawed them. But the real chore was for my husband who put them all into place. Many hot hours were spent on a ladder with a cramped neck, as he painstakingly screwed each panel into its homemade system.One of the last additions was a grass green rug which brings an added coziness to the porch.“Nowadays, people are so jeezled up. If they took some chamomile tea and spent more time rocking on the porch in the evening listening to the liquid song of the hermit thrush, they might enjoy life more.” Tasha TudorNow we’ll go out the back door and visit the little patio garden.Here’s a recent picture of my sister and I helping our mom celebrate her June birthday. It was a chilly day and just right for enjoying the porch.

Back Yard
by Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967)

Shine on, O moon of summer.
Shine to the leaves of grass, catalpa and oak,
All silver under your rain to-night. 

An Italian boy is sending songs to you to-night from an accordion.
A Polish boy is out with his best girl; they marry next month;
to-night they are throwing you kisses.

An old man next door is dreaming over a sheen that sits in a
cherry tree in his back yard. 

The clocks say I must go—I stay here sitting on the back porch drinking
white thoughts you rain down. 

   Shine on, O moon,
Shake out more and more silver changes.

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