Marcia Strykowski

E. B. White

Elwyn Brooks White was born on July 11, 1899, in Mount Vernon, New York. In a 1980 article from the New York Times he discusses his name: “I never liked Elwyn. My mother just hung it on me because she’d run out of names. I was her sixth child.” Later, at Cornell University, he was called Andy and the name stuck with him for life. Andy had several newspaper jobs before starting at the New Yorker magazine in 1927. He worked there as a writer and contributing editor throughout the rest of his career. This is also where he met his wife Katharine. Their son Joel was born in 1930. White wrote plenty for adults including his contribution to The Elements of Style which is familiar to just about anyone who has ever studied writing. As for his classic children’s books, the first was Stuart Little in 1945. This story about an adventurous mouse became very popular. Next came Charlotte’s Web in 1952. I would guess everyone is familiar with this beautiful classic. If you’d like a real treat, I highly recommend listening to the audio book read by the author. I’ve heard it took him many tries to get through the emotional parts of the story without bursting into tears while recording.  The success of Charlotte’s Web was followed by The Trumpet of the Swan in 1970. Awards included the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal in 1970, the National Medal for Literature in 1971, and a Pulitzer Prize special citation in 1978. White died at his home in North Brooklin, Maine on October 1, 1985.
I recently had the pleasure of attending a program about E. B. White. This event was the closing ceremony of the annual Newburyport Literary Festival. After an interesting discussion, a question and answer session followed. Panelists were Melissa Sweet and Martha White. Melissa is the amazingly talented illustrator/author of one of
my most favorite new books of the past year. Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White is one of those books you want to put on your shelf to return to again and again—so much to see on each page. Martha White is not only an author herself, but she is also E. B. White’s   granddaughter. The talk was moderated by journalist Leslie Hendrickson. The second picture shows Martha speaking in front of the large slide show that accompanied their talks.I would  someday love to be one of the lucky few who get to visit and tour E. B. White’s homestead in Maine, but until that day I’ve put together some of his wise words to wrap up this post.

Furry Friends & Prairie Life

I’ve been a bit too busy to blog lately, but I figured since a picture’s worth a thousand words, I’d put up a few of my recent photographs. I am so fortunate to work at a public library. Every day is a new adventure depending on which patrons (regulars or newbies) come through the door. Once in a while it’s pure magic when I can witness a new friendship happening right before my eyes, such as what took place the other day when two senior men got into a lengthy passionate discussion about the miniature war tanks we have on display, each visitor with their own history to share. The thing about libraries is we want to help, we want to make your life better by what you take away from each experience, whether it’s a new author you love, or an exciting program. And you can’t beat the price—it’s all free!
As part of our Spring Read this year everyone read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. And then after also reading The Wilder Life, we skyped with Wendy McClure (she not only wrote this interesting book, but she is also the Editorial Manager at Albert Whitman & Company in Illinois).To wrap up the spring events, this past weekend we hosted a very successful Pioneer Day. Due to showery weather it was held indoors. Here are a few highlights.Children made cabins out of pretzels and peanut butter.And they churned butter! The kids enjoyed shaking their own personal jars filled with heavy cream. After it turned to butter, they spread it on snacks and gave it a taste.There was a wonderful spinning demonstration happening on the main floor. (One of the personable spinners was so disappointed she’d misplaced her authentic pioneer costume). Although they both have fancy spinning wheels and looms at home, these small wooden wheels were perfect for sharing with others. The children learned all about shearing wool, spinning it into yarn, and the beautiful garments that can be made from a wide variety of soft colors.While all this was going on, upstairs we had an awesome performance by a local violinist. She played “Oh, Susanna”, “Pop Goes the Weasel”, and other timely tunes. And then the kids got to try their own hand at fiddlin’ (just like Pa in the Little House books). She taught them how to carefully pick up their instruments and then find notes on the strings. There were several sessions and everyone got a turn.Much fun ensued when the little goat triplets arrived. Only three months old and they were the stars of the day.Speaking of animals, the director of my library is a volunteer at a local farm where they’ve rescued many of their residents from bad situations. On this beautiful farm they are nurtured and loved in their new forever home.Roger the donkey watches over everybody and is very territorial (although when he’s busy, the farm cat sneaks into the little barn buildings to check things out). As peaceful as the barnyard appears, they all seem to be waiting for something. Did you hear it? Maybe the swish of a pail or the creak of a wagon wheel?All ears perk up, YES!It’s time for second breakfast! Everybody run!Let’s take turns, plenty for all!

Libraries: So Much More Than Books

OK, so I missed National Library Week (April 9th-April 15th) but luckily it’s still April which means I didn’t miss National Poetry Month! AND I’m also not too late for Poem in Your Pocket Day which will be held on April 27. This event began in NYC in 2002 and later all 50 states were added, branching into Canada, as well. People celebrate by choosing a poem and carrying it in their pocket all day long, ready to share with others. If you’d like to participate on Twitter, use the hashtag #pocketpoem. An easy one I like to share is Ode to a Goldfish by Gyles Brandreth which is shown in its entirety in this picture.

Have you heard of Book Spine Poetry? It’s been around a while and is trickier than it looks. I had several ideas but each time I pulled books off the shelves the spines weren’t quite right, at any rate here is my poetic attempt.If you had trouble reading the spines, here’s what they say:
When the Music’s Over–
Pretending to Dance
By the Light of the Moon.
Alone in the Universe.

Here’s another spine poem spotted at the Buffalo Public Library:

My pal Janet gave in to modeling for a couple of bookface portraits. These are my first efforts, but if you search online, you’ll find many impressive results from this fun pastime. I chose two biographies, the first about Elizabeth Taylor and the second about Carrie Fisher.As my title mentions, and you probably already know, libraries aren’t only about books anymore. They have become community centers where you can indulge in fascinating programs and fun get-togethers for people of all ages. You can get newly released movies as well as access to many electronic options such as downloadable eBooks. Many libraries offer other items to check out, too, such as American Girl dolls, telescopes, board games, tools, even fishing rods! The below photographs show a few of our cake pan offerings. The dinosaur from my son’s long ago toddler birthday party started off our collection with many generous donations to follow.Libraries are also a place where you’ll find art on the walls, interesting collections in cases, and rotating photography and painting exhibits. The Buffalo, NY Public Library has several major display areas. I was very impressed with their Mark Twain Room and other exhibits. Here’s a simpler one that greets Buffalo visitors right inside the door. (Similar to the Blind Date with a Book display I created for Valentine’s Day several years ago).The Seattle, WA Public Library also has very impressive displays. Here’s one I enjoyed.With thanks to thejenchesney on Tumblr, I had to include this last display even though I’m not sure which library deserves credit for setting it up. From a little detective work, I think it might be the Cheshire, CT public library. Beautiful dresses are often featured on Young Adult book covers and I thought this display to be a great eye-catching way to show them off.So what about you? What’s happening at your library?

In case you missed these library posts: Here’s one comparing some of my favorite libraries.  And another where I talk about how libraries choose books for their collection. Yippee for libraries includes a little promotion for the nonfiction area.

Personalized Picture Books

Back when I was first dipping into the field and studying ways to improve my own attempts at writing for children, I was a big fan of attending author events (and I still am). If they are signing copies of their books, all the better. Seems a shame to keep my collection of signed books closed on the shelf all these years, so I thought you might enjoy seeing some of them. Here are a few of my special souvenirs from various conferences and author talks. 
I’ll start with the amazing Barbara Cooney who I was fortunate to hear at a book event in Boston. I love all her books, especially Miss RumphiusIsland Boy and Hattie and the Wild Waves, which was based on the life of her mother. I remember the man who introduced Barbara to the audience called her Hattie at the end when he was thanking her (obviously missing that she had said the story was about her mom, not herself). But of course she was too gracious to correct him. She also illustrated the Caldecott winning Ox-cart Man written by wordsmith Donald Hall. I heard Donald talk about his poetic process at the Andover Book Store and how very many times he’ll change a word or write a line over and over again.Next up is another one of my favorite books: Library Lion. I got this book signed by the remarkable Kevin Hawkes at a New England Library Conference in Connecticut. A few years later I attended a program at Lesley College where Michelle was one of the speakers and I’ve kicked myself ever since for not having her sign my same copy of Library Lion.I’ll bet this third book will be easy to recognize for just about all of my readers. I found Norman Bridwell happily signing away at a children’s fair. When I did an online search for this book, it was interesting to discover the drawing of Clifford has changed slightly in newer editions. If you have a copy, compare the two, especially around the eyes, to my book above. Even the house in the background later loses its chimney.

I dragged a few family members into Cambridge, MA one year near the holidays to meet up with Marc Brown who is famous for his many books and television shows about Arthur, an adorable aardvark. Don’t you love the way illustrators often put in a little extra effort to their signatures?

And here’s one of my favorite Tomie dePaola books: Strega Nona. I was volunteering at a long ago SCBWI conference in New Hampshire and Tomie was handing out a bunch of these special bookplates. Those of us on the committee were sure to pick up a few.

Next up is another Caldecott winning book from Barbara and Ed Emberley. My friends over at Writers’ Rumpus recently posted a wonderful two part interview about the talented Emberley family. Check it out here.And last but not least my most recent Jane Yolen signature on her fabulous Owl Moon which is yet another Caldecott winner as shown by its shiny gold seal. If you missed out on my blissful weekend in the land of Owl Moon, you can read all about it here.I don’t remember ever having to wait in lines for any of the above signatures, maybe a couple of short ones, but the one line I do remember was at the Barnes & Noble in Framingham, MA. It whirled up and down the store, out the door and around to the back of the building and through the parking lot. We all cheered when a dark car arrived and the awaited author was whisked in through the back door. By the time we reached the front of the line it was worth it to exchange a few words while J. K. Rowling signed our books.
As I sign off, I’m wondering which books I’ve left out. Teacher friends seem to get quite a collection when authors visit their classrooms and somewhat recently I was honored to receive some of these from my dad’s good friend Carol Minteer, a retired school teacher.

What about you? Do you have a signed book or maybe a special memory of meeting an author?

The Cottages of Martha’s Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard is an island off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. It’s a smooth 30-40 minute ferry ride to get across from nearby locations. The island has become quite touristy in season and with good reason as it’s very scenic. But we’ll save the gorgeous rock cliffs and beaches for another day. What I was most excited to see when I visited last summer were the celebrated cottages, sometimes called ‘gingerbread cottages.’ After I got home I was curious to learn more about the history of these unique dwellings, each one competing with the next to be the quaintest. The Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, which used to be known as Wesleyan Grove, was developed by a group of New England Methodists connected to the religious camp-meeting movement of the early 19th century. In the beginning, meetings were held at various places each year. They usually lasted around a week. The Vineyard’s first camp meeting was in 1827 and participants slept in crude tents.
These first meetings took place all day and night with plenty of praying and preaching. Attendance grew rapidly during those early years. Wesleyan Grove was one of the largest and best-known camp meeting sites in the country. In 1835, they had nine tents and by 1868 there were 570 tents sheltering 12,000 people. Often there were dozens of organized prayer meetings going on at once.
Although they were still religious, between 1855 and 1865 the meetings began to change and weren’t solely connected to any one faith. Visitors from all over began to take just as much pleasure in the other benefits of this amazing location by the sea. Family tents were built and people stayed for longer periods of time. Eventually, small wooden buildings were built in place of the tents. They kept the same size doors and were side by side like the tents they replaced.
Between 1859 and 1864 a new American building type: the Martha’s Vineyard cottage, became known for its  originality in appearance and structure. As mentioned, the architecture of these cottages was inspired by tents and kept to that same basic design. (We got to go inside the little museum where you can see traces of their unique beginnings.) Porches and various trims and frills began showing up in the 1880s. Some of the cottages were moved to other parts of the island, others were combined to make bigger cottages, and still others were torn down, but today there are still about 318 cottages.

A picture’s worth a thousand words, so here are some of the cottages as they stand today!The above pink house was built circa 1865 and I’ve been told there is lots of pink inside, too. You might think the last picture is a repeat, but if you look closely at the windows and nonmatching filigree, you’ll see it’s the other side of the cottage. Several artists have lived there over the years.

For new readers who may have missed earlier posts, here are two that also have connections to New England history: Cog Railroad in New Hampshire and Monhegan Island in Maine. Or, if you’re just into cute little houses, be sure to take a look at Little Free Libraries.

2017 Middle Grade Fiction

After recently sharing some of my library’s new picture books and enjoying all your comments, I realized I should do a second post featuring middle grade books. I’m only starting to dip into the fun task of reading these new books, so to avoid playing favorites I won’t attempt to review them at this time. Below are what we’ve added to our library collection so far this year. More on the way!The middle grade selections shown here are limited to those with a 2017 copyright date. In case any readers aren’t sure what middle grade means, these books are usually for readers between the ages of 8 and 12. We call this category juvenile at the library. Funny story: when I told a friend that my published books were middle grade, she said “Oh, you shouldn’t say that. I’m sure they’re good.” She has a PhD, but no children in her life, so being unfamiliar with the term, she assumed it meant the same thing as grades of gasoline or fertilizer. 🙂 Anyway, I’m extremely impressed with how well children’s books are holding their own while today’s technology continues to shout at kids from all directions. Each of these authors is to be congratulated on standing out in this highly competitive field. Can you believe that some traditional publishing companies receive up to 1000 manuscript submissions a month? And that maybe 3 out of every 10,000 actually get accepted for publication?!Today’s editors and publishers also get a gold star for insisting on top quality writing encased in beautiful covers. A shout out to all the artists of these striking illustrations.We’re right in the middle of a big blizzard here in New England, perfect weather to snuggle up with a good book. I hope some of these titles catch your interest. Until next time, Happy Reading!

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