Marcia Strykowski

New Picture Books

As always, there are many beautiful new picture books being released (yay!). Therefore, I’m sure I’ve missed a bunch of deserving titles, but I did try to vary between styles and publishers to come up with the following sixteen favorites to review—all hot off the press.
First up: My Friend Maggie, written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison, is a delightful, gentle read about friendship,  peer pressure, bullying, and fitting in. This soon-to-be-classic features adorable animal characters in its lovely illustrations. Dial Books—August 2016.

pb-oct-4Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion, written and illustrated by Alex T. Smith. This humorous retelling of the popular fairy tale takes place in Africa and features a brave, clever little girl who knows how to put a big, hungry lion in his place. Great twist for the ending and bright colorful illustrations add lots to the fun!  Scholastic Press—July 2016.

pb-oct-5They All Saw a Cat, written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel.
Quietly told story has a peaceful feeling to it, as well as an important message of how we each see things a bit different. The amazing mixed-media illustrations are worth poring over again and again. Chronicle Books—August 2016.

pb-oct-16Kiss it Better, written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and illustrated by Sarah Massini is a great choice for your next bedtime story. The rhyme is spot on and the illustrations are delightful. How could you not love a book filled with cuddly teddy bears and kisses? Bloomsbury USA Childrens—October 2016.

pb-oct-6A Child of Books, written by Oliver Jeffers and illustrated by Sam Winston. Sparse on words, yet with multiple layers of text make for many classic tales within this new story of a dream-like girl who introduces a young boy to the world of the imagination where everyone is welcome. Candlewick Press—September 2016.

pb-oct-7The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles is written by Michelle Cuevas and illustrated by Erin E. Stead. I’ve long been fascinated by messages in bottles and this timeless story shows just how special they can be. The soft dreamy pictures are a perfect match for the lovely prose. Dial Books—August 2016. Both this and A Child of Books become more brilliant with each reading.

pb-oct-17Tek: The Modern Cave Boy, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell is about a little cave boy who is so connected to his gadgets, he’s missing out on all that’s going on in the world beyond his cave—a story many of us can relate to. The clever design imitates a tablet. I wasn’t sure how well it would wear with heavy library use, but it seems sturdy enough. Lots of funny lines and details between the thick board-book covers (inside pages are thin). Little, Brown & Co.—Oct. 2016

pb-oct-8Monday is Wash Day, written by Maryann Sundby and illustrated by Tessa Blackham. A gentle tale of bygone days is beautifully complimented with soft, layered paper-cut illustrations. I’ve noticed this small publisher has an excellent eye for art and this new release is no exception. Ripple Grove Press—September 2016.

pb-oct-9Penguin Problems, written by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith.  This unique book features a little penguin who is constantly complaining about his lot in life, his appearance, the behavior of others, and anything else that might not be exactly to his liking. A wise walrus sets him straight, but like many, the little penguin is rather stuck in his ways. Perfect prose and striking illustrations. Random House Books—September 2016

pb-oct-3Mary Had a Little Glam, written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Various characters from Mother Goose nursery rhymes make up this entertaining story. Good choice for fans of Fancy Nancy, Pinkalicious, and Olivia. Personable young Mary comes alive in gorgeous pictures filled with fun details. Sterling Children’s Books—August 2016.

pb-oct-19Lucy’s Lovey, written by Betsy Devany and illustrated by Christopher Denise. Many small children have a special blanket or doll they favor over all else. That’s how it is for Lucy. She takes her favorite doll everywhere with her until Smelly Belly goes off on her own. All ends well in this delightful story accompanied by gorgeous, sunlit illustrations. Henry Holt & Co.—September 2016.

pb-oct-15The Summer Nick Taught his Cats to Read, written by Curtis Manley and illustrated by Kate Berube. A surefire hit for those who love cats and books. Because Nick’s cats distract him while he’s reading, he decides to teach them how to read. The dour-faced ‘reluctant reader’ cat is especially well done. Simon & Schuster—July 2016.

pb-oct-11-noGrumpy Pants, written and illustrated by Claire Messer. A charming tale accompanied with bright, original illustrations created in a printmaking style. Nice choice for toddlers learning about feelings and how it’s okay to be grumpy once in a while. Albert Whitman & Co.—May 2016.

pb-oct-2There’s a Bear on My Chair, written and illustrated by Ross Collins. A little mouse finds a large bear taking up space in his home. He tries everything to get the bear to leave, but nothing works until the surprise ending. A fun read-aloud with plenty of rhymes! Nosy Crow—August 2016.

pb-oct-18Samson in the Snow, written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead. Another beautiful story about friendship. This one features a large, woolly mammoth and a tiny red bird. Lovely soft artwork brings magic to this quiet story. Roaring Brook Press—September 2016

pb-oct-20Dear Dragon, written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo. Great pairing of awesome rhyme and well-done illustrations makes this a fun choice for children learning not only about pen pals, but about how much they may have in common with others even if they look very different from each other. Viking—September 2016.

I’ve read each of these books more than once and in several of them a deeper story is revealed during the second or third reading. In others a previously missed illustration detail shines through. At first I was choosing too many animal stories, but with a little shuffling, now it’s the other way around. Nine of the above sixteen books have people as main characters. As mentioned, I tried to pick from a variety of publishing houses and from only those books released in the last few months.

But what have I missed? Any great new books I might not know about? Do you have a preference for animal characters or people characters?

Other posts from 2016 about picture books include thesePicture Book Boot Camp, New Library Books, More New Books.

Monhegan Island (part 3)

As mentioned in my last post (Monhegan Island part 2), around midday the sun burst through the clouds and kept right on shining until our departure. This final part of the triple-post will be mainly pictures to show how Monhegan Island looks at the end of September on a crisp clear day.monhegan-lighthouse-less-copymonhegan-view-topmon-panoramamonhegan-water-view-2monhegan-water-viewmonhegan-view-copymon-red-bushmonhegan-marigolds-copymonhegan-open-copyThere are 17 miles of trails to hike on the island. Here’s one we popped into.monhegan-trail-2At the end of the day it was a welcome sight to see a more modern, larger boat arrive in the harbor—the lovely Elizabeth Ann would get us back without mishap in less than an hour (thanks to a calmer sea).monhegan-elizabeth-anne-copymarshall-point-6-copy-copyWould I do this adventurous voyage again? Oh yeah, in a heartbeat! Check out part 1 and part 2 to learn a lot more about this picturesque island.

Monhegan Island (part 2)

monhegan-welcomeOK, it’s time. Off we go down the plank! It’s bright and early—7 AM— on a Wednesday morning and we’re off on the Laura B. I took half a motion-sickness tablet and I’ve got my sea-bands firmly in place. The water is somewhat smooth at first as we sail past the Marshall Point Lighthouse. But there’s no beating around the bush, the sea suddenly kicks up and we’re in for the ride of our lives. Since it’s the tail end of the season, we number less than a dozen passengers.

laura-bThe 12 mile trip over should have been about one hour and 15 minutes, but an extra half hour was added on due to dodging waves. We rocked and rolled. The waves completely lifted the boat at times while thoroughly splashing us. Have you seen the movie “The Perfect Storm”? That was us. High winds and a raging sea had come out of nowhere. As we neared the island, sometimes we had to back off again and again. It was just too rough (I think life jackets were under our seats…). At times I wanted to shout at the captain: just fly through the worst of it, get me off of this thing! And no, sorry, I didn’t take any pictures. No seal, porpoise, or puffin sightings either. Let’s just say I was busy focusing on my nausea.

While we were hanging on for dear life, a crew member ran back and forth. He grabbed package after package from the front of the boat and tossed them to more sheltered areas in the back. Islanders receiving goods from Amazon that day have him to thank for their dry purchases.monhegan-roadWhen we finally arrive in the harbor, the crisp air quickly revives us. Monhegan is on our left and the stark island of Manana is just across the way. Manana is famous for being where Ray Phillips, the professed hermit, lived by himself for over 40 years until his death in 1975. monhegan-catIn reality he was very friendly whenever he crossed over to Monhegan to collect his mail or pick out a new stack of books from the library. He was well-educated, had sheep, and a goose named Donald, and kept up with the news by radio. I didn’t come across any geese, but I did notice the scowl on this island cat’s face.

There is lots of activity going on at the pier. Although there are no paved roads or cars on Monhegan, there are plenty of trucks for hauling goods and general construction. From the wharf, it’s up the hill towards the village. Other than that one cat, Monhegan is a friendly island and throughout the day we bump into the same people several times, either islanders or fellow passengers.monhegan-sunflower-copy

First, as promised, I’ll show you the c. 1928 library and the 1847 schoolhouse. (See previous post to learn their fascinating history).monhegan-library-2-copymonhegan-library-4-copymonhegan-childrens-room-copy

monhegan-library-3-copymonhegan-school-house-copymonhegan-flowers-2-copyMost of these pictures are self-explanatory—various views and flowers while wandering the island from one end to the other.monhegan-yellow-flowers-copymonhegan-flowers-copyA non-denominational religious service takes place every Sunday morning in the village church.monhegan-chapelAnd we can’t leave out the all important post office where many of the locals meet daily.monhegan-post-officemonhegan-artist-copyDespite it being just about off-season, I spotted several artists at work, like the one above.  And below, a good ol’ fashioned pumpkin patch. All the vegetables and flowers seemed to have done well, unlike many places in New England still recovering from the drought.monhegan-gardenAfter poking into a few galleries and shops, we made our way up to the 1824 lighthouse where the view is amazing (next post!).monhegan-lupine-gallery-copymonhegan-lighthouse-boatThere is a museum attached to the lighthouse containing all sorts of history and art. We were invited to a function being held that evening for all islanders, but regrettably it was after our scheduled trip back. The event was to take place before sunset outside on the grounds surrounding the lighthouse. As you might notice it was a gray day until the sun burst through around noon (which sent us back up the path to see everything again). Please check in next time to see splendid views in bright sunlit colors, as well as the boat we traveled back on.monhegan-yard-copymonhegan-sculpture

Monhegan Island (part 1)

monhegan-harbor-1909-postcardDespite my love for the sea and my small connection to Monhegan (shown above in a 1909 postcard), I tend to get seasick. Perhaps that is why, until a week or so ago, I had never taken the 12-mile journey across the Atlantic to this beautiful island. Monhegan is a rocky little island (barely a square mile) where the year-round population usually varies between 50 and 75 residents. laura-b-3Ever since I was very small I’ve known of the Laura B. Built in 1943, this 65-foot heavy-duty wooden boat spent her early years in the South Pacific where she worked as a patrol boat, carrying troops and supplies during World War II. There were two 50-caliber machine guns on deck. The Laura B. arrived in Maine in 1946 and was initially used to transport lobsters all the way to Boston and New York City. 293930-r1-17-17_018-copyFor the past 60 years this hardy boat has been the Port Clyde mail boat carrying passengers and cargo back and forth from the island. Because my grandparents lived in Port Clyde, we visited often. And one of the highlights of our vacation was strolling down the winding road and then out onto the pier to wait for the mail boat to come in. We’d watch adventurous travelers and various packages unload and wonder of their stories, maybe even catch a peek at Andy Wyeth coming back from a visit.monhegan-painters-1940sThe first artists to discover Monhegan were circa 1850 and by 1890 the art colony was firmly in place. The above photograph is from the 1940s. Talented painters were drawn to Monhegan for its gorgeous cliffs rising high above sea level, enchanting coves, deep dark forests, and meadows sprinkled with wildflowers, as well as the constant melody of humongous waves crashing against all sides of the island. Below was painted by George Bellows in 1911.monhegan-george-bellows-the-gulls-1911And here’s one from 1916-1919 by the fabulous Edward Hopper.monhegan-edward-hopper-blackhead-public-domain-1916-1919helena-tibbettsMy great grandmother (Helena Tibbetts, shown at left in later years) taught in the little schoolhouse which has been on the island since 1847. I don’t have many details of her time there, but I do know she was also a fine painter and mother of four.
Enrollment goes up and down in this one-room wooden schoolhouse and currently there are only a handful of students, but back in the 1840s there were often 40 students gathering for class. After 8th grade, today’s students continue their education on the mainland. monhegan-schoolhouse-3monhegan-schoolhouse-2To see how the schoolhouse looks today, please stay tuned for my next blog post.

monhegan-bookplateThere is a sad story of how the little memorial library came to be. It was first formed after a tragic event in 1926 when two children were swept up into the sea by a giant wave while picnicking—Jackie, who was celebrating her eleventh birthday, and fifteen-year-old Edward who valiantly tried to save her. They are honored in this early bookplate. Pictures of the library inside and out will also be in my next blog post.
Meanwhile, here’s another painting by George Bellows from 1913.monhegan_island_by_george_wesley_bellows_1913The night before our trip out to the island, we stayed in a lovely ocean-view room on the top floor of the historic 1820’s Ocean House Hotel in beautiful Port Clyde where the Laura B. waits patiently by the pier for the next day’s excursions.
laura-b-sunsetThe water looks smooth as glass with barely a ripple in sight. What could possibly go wrong? Will I make it across to Monhegan after all these years?pc-sunset-2-copyI ended up with way too many pictures for one blog post, hence the three parts. See you next time and thanks so much for coming along on my adventures!

Little Free Libraries

little-library-public-domainHave you run into any Little Free Libraries in your travels? I love these little boxes of delight scattered across the country and I hope to unveil one of my own someday. In 2009, Todd Bol built a tiny one-room schoolhouse for his mother, a teacher and avid reader. He attached it to the top of a post in his front yard in Wisconsin. Then he filled the little building with books and added a sign saying: Free Books. His little schoolhouse received a very positive response with requests for more. Inspired by this and those who came before them in support of free libraries and ‘take a book, leave a book’ collections, Todd and colleague Rick Brooks soon saw the full potential of this worthy enterprise. From this humble beginning there are now over 40,000 Little Free Libraries across the globe. little-free-lib-1Note the boogie boards used in this little library I came across last week by the ocean. And here’s another pretty one I discovered on Martha’s Vineyard.little-free-lib2-copylfb3-sideIf you do an online search, you’ll come up with some amazingly creative Little Free Libraries—from gorgeous cottages and castles to giant robots and even Snoopy’s doghouse. What a great method to share millions of books with curbside convenience.little-free-lib-2There are many ways to go about starting up your own Little Free Library with helpful pages on their website, as well as kits and finished models to purchase. Here is their mission statement: “To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.”little-free-lib-4There’s no need to put a lot of money into it, though. Building your own from wood scraps or using a recycled newspaper dispenser (many newspapers are discontinuing print and getting rid of their old vending boxes) are both economical ways to go. You can still register your library with the organization no matter what your finished product looks like. Once registered, you’ll be added to a map showing all the locations of Little Free Libraries—a fun way to discover if there might be one near where you live. While figuring out this post, I thought it might be fun to design a library inspired by all the sunflowers I blogged about last week. Here’s my attempt: lfl-design

Sunflowers and Sweets

dsc01039-copyI had my annual check-up yesterday and discovered my vitamin d was a tad low, so what better way to spend the afternoon than in a huge field of sunflowers!dsc01049aSunflowers have been around since ancient times, possibly even before corn was cultivated, and they’ve travelled back and forth around the world. Knowledge of their first appearance is from approximately 3000 BC in present-day Arizona and New Mexico by American Indians.
A year or so ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed butter made from sunflower seeds. I’m sure it would make a great alternative to peanut butter for anyone with allergies.
sunbutter-recipe The sunny cheerful flowers have served many purposes over the years, including medicinal, ceremonial, and food, such as grinding up the seeds into flour for cakes, or using the oil for bread. Or simply cracking the seeds open for a quick, healthy snack.

In about 1500, sunflowers were taken to Europe by Spanish explorers, mainly for ornamental use, but they were also developed as medicine. During the 18th century, the sunflower became a very popular cultivated plant and its oil was commercially manufactured to great demand.
Below is Vincent Van Gogh painting his famous sunflowers in 1888, while in turn he is being painted by Paul Gauguin.paul_gauguinI came across several artists in the sunflower field yesterday.dsc01047aBy the early 19th century, Russian farmers were growing more than 2 million acres of sunflowers for two main uses–oil production, and human consumption. The Russian sunflower seed made its way into the United States by late 19th century, where the first commercial use was poultry feed.
With the help of humans over the years, the flowers don’t look the same as they once did and their seeds are much larger now. Here’s an easy way to brighten a party table, using little individual snack cakes for the rays. Worked out well for my daughter’s birthday party one year.sunflower-cake-recipe

The sunflower is the national flower of the Ukraine and the official flower for the state of Kansas. I can’t take credit for this final shot, but wow, what a beauty!sunflower-pd-smallerHave a sunny day!

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