I’m back after an amazing adventure! Attending Picture Book Boot Camp this past week was a high point in my decades-long interest in creating books for children. Picture Book Boot Camp translates to spending four fun, inspiration-filled days at Phoenix Farm in western Massachusetts with a prolific group of authors, led by literary legend Jane Yolen and her talented daughter Heidi Stemple.I felt extremely fortunate, not only to get accepted into camp, but I got to sleep right there at Jane’s fabulous homestead. The beautiful room I stayed in is called Solatia after one of her books and is located on the second floor of the spacious farmhouse. Like the rest of the rooms, it is filled with books and other fascinating décor.Let’s go downstairs where boot campers are already hard at work.This was the fourth boot camp Jane and Heidi have generously offered. Click here for information about upcoming programs. It may seem quite pricey at first, but when you break it down, it is well worth all that you get, along with a heavy dose of inspiration. I easily rationalized it by skipping other conferences for a while. At PBBC4, there were ten campers in total, all with traditionally published children’s books (one of the application requirements). Half of the campers spent their nights at the lovely Old Mill Inn, a pleasant stroll down the road.In case you’ve had your head in the sand, Jane Yolen, award-winning author of over 350 books, is often described as today’s Hans Christian Andersen. For those more visually inclined, boot camp might be equal to moving in with Meryl Streep for acting lessons and home cooked meals.
Since Friday was also April Fools Day, during morning teatime I offered my campmates a pan of homemade brownies and tricked several of them into reaching for a treat.
Each day at Phoenix Farm began with an original poem and ended with a bedtime story. On Friday night, Jane read her 1988 Caldecott-winning book Owl Moon the way only she can read it, in her true, melodious voice. She wrote the book about her family’s own owling adventures, with daughter Heidi–still a child at the time–as the main character. And then, us boot campers were invited to go out owling with Heidi. Therefore, not only were we led by an expert owl caller, but the actual girl from Owl Moon! To top it off, a little screech owl responded to our call.
Saturday was another fun day that started off with a trip to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.Our visit included a special behind-the-scenes tour where we saw where the matting and framing are done. We also got to go inside the vault where all art is stored in archival boxes. Because they fade over time, much of the collection, especially the older pieces, needs to rest for ten years between displays. We felt privileged to see original work from some of our all-time favorite books, such as Caldecott winner Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (at which the whole group gasped at its beauty). Also, Louis Darling, Jr.’s illustrations from a 1955 Ramona book by Beverly Cleary who celebrates her 100th birthday next week (in case you’re reading this–Happy Birthday, Beverly!). There was a full-color book dummy for There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly a Caldecott honor book from Simms Taback, and to go back much further, there were beautiful pieces created in 1928 by Johnny Gruelle for his Raggedy Ann and Andy books.
Back at the house, along with manuscript critiques, lectures, and discussions, we also learned about the current market and publishing industry from two special guests. Mary Lee Donovan (below in blue), Editorial Director of Candlewick Press shared her great knowledge. It is now evident to me why Candlewick books are of such high quality, always standing out on the shelf.On the fourth day, Dr. Susannah Richards, PhD brought her vast wisdom to the group. She’s a wonderful resource and is on top of all the latest book releases. Here she is with a few new picture books.Have I mentioned the delicious food? All meals were expertly prepared by master chef, Heidi Stemple (below) along with her KP assistant, Laura. Every mealtime brought opportunity for more conversation and plenty of laughs. Thanks to Heidi for this picture of us digging in, while gathered around the dinner table. As mentioned, there were ten of us and it was awesome to hang out with authors of so many of my favorite books. One example: Wouldn’t it be thrilling to have Ramona or Scout walk into the room? Well, that’s how I felt when Libby arrived. I had read most of my fellow campers’ books beforehand. One of them was Blow Out the Moon, a lovely story of the author (Libby) writing about when she spent a year as a young girl at a British boarding school. You can click on this sampling of the group’s work:I can’t even begin to share all that I learned, but for those who would like to read Jane’s wise words, be sure to check out her book on writing: TAKE JOY. I’ll be forever grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I even got up my courage and poked my head over Jane’s shoulder at the very desk where she wrote Owl Moon and many, many other wonderful books.Sunday morning we were greeted with a light dusting of snow covering Phoenix Farm. I ran up to the aerie and took this picture out the window by Jane’s writing desk. As I made my way back downstairs a beautiful melody reached me. One of my fellow boot campers (Aimee) was playing the grand piano in the music room. Beautiful ending to a perfect workshop.
Call Me Amy chosen for 2014 Best Books of the Year!
Keeping the Blogisphere a Beautiful Place
Spirit Animal Blogging Award
Call Me Amy Book Trailer
Great Reviews for CALL ME AMY
“Well-drawn, sympathetic characters and the developing spark between Amy and Craig combine to create a pleasant, satisfying read.” –KIRKUS
“Strykowski lovingly captures seaside Maine and the travails of adolescence in her quiet, sweet-natured debut novel.”—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“Strykowski ably depicts Amy’s insecurity and self-doubt, Craig’s bravura and pain, and Miss Cogshell’s wisdom with a deft, convincing touch. In essence, Amy comes of age as she fights to find her voice in the outside world and shed some of her debilitating insecurity. Readers will cheer her on, and her splendid team, too.” –BOOKLIST
"The protagonist grows throughout the story, from a shy loner to having two friends and speaking her mind in front of her adversaries at school as well as to the whole town. …Amy is a reliable narrator and easily relatable.” –SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
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“To do a good deed, we can find friendship in the most curious of locations. “Call Me Amy” is a novel from Marcia Strykowski following the struggles of Amy Henderson, who finds an injured seal and seeks to nurse it, with the help of a scorned aging woman and an unusual youth. Set in the early 70s and exploring the essence of loneliness, “Call Me Amy” is a powerful read that should prove so very hard to put down, highly recommended.”—MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
“This is a wonderful YA tale for the simple fact that it shows one and all that the power and courage to stand up and be heard in this life comes from within. And that no matter who you are, you have that toughness inside your soul. Craig has a lovely heart that hides behind that sarcasm he aims at the world, and he will remind every small town girl about that quiet boy she fell in love with long ago. ‘Old Coot’ brings the fun and humor along with her, and Pup is the sweetest creature in the world. Having all the ingredients of first love, faith, loss and strength makes ‘Amy’ unforgettable.” —FEATHERED QUILL
“For Amy, 1973 has been a lonely year, her only friend moved away and she feels awkward around her classmates. Until one day Amy discovers that Craig, another classmate, has rescued an injured seal pup. Amy agrees to help him and together they hide the pup at Miss Cogshell’s house, the odd old lady most kids call “Old Coot.” Amy learns that people aren’t always what they seem to be, and she forms a friendship with Craig and Miss Cogshell. A great story about friendship and doing what you think is right.” —KIDSBOOKSHELF
“For those ages 8 to 12, Call Me Amy by Marcia Strykowski will resonate with familiar themes of growing up. The year is 1973 and for Amy Henderson, it has been a lonely one with too many awkward moments to count. When she finds an injured seal pup, she rescues him to rehabilitate him. In the process she forms an unlikely alliance with Craig, a boy around her age, and an older woman in town. With their help she discovers that people aren’t always what they seem despite what others may think of them. This is a story filled with many elements that will appeal to younger readers and I highly recommend it.”—BOOKVIEWS.COM
"A wounded seal pup propels 13-year-old Amy Henderson into an unlikely alliance with an unusual older woman and a mysterious boy in a small Maine fishing village. Readers will cheer for Amy as she protects Pup, gains confidence, faces challenges, and comes up with an idea that could change not only the future of her village, but also, her own life. With a skillful hand, Strykowski introduces us to a small town with memorable characters and the girl who could bring them all together." ---Anne Broyles, award-winning author of PRISCILLA AND THE HOLLYHOCKS
"In a small town in Maine in the 1970's, Amy is standing on the brink of becoming a young adult. The events that will force her to discover who she is, what she is made of and how she wants others to perceive her are sweetly told through awkward teenage moments, the triumphs and sadnesses of that age and ultimately, Amy's discovery of her own beliefs, strength and courage." ---Kathleen Benner Duble, acclaimed author of THE SACRIFICE
“Call Me Amy is exactly the type of book I love. The characters are relatable and likeable; they are individuals that the reader enjoys getting to know while watching them change and develop. The setting of the small Maine coastal town is idyllic, and the reader is quickly and completely immersed in this community. Although the novel takes place in the 1970s, it feels timeless. Young readers will readily associate with Amy’s struggles and triumphs with her relationships with family and friends, and mature readers will be gently nudged back to this period in their life. These universal qualities make this novel a perfect choice for many types of readers. As a Youth Services Librarian, I would enthusiastically recommend Call Me Amy to our young patrons as well as to a more adult audience. Because it can be enjoyed on so many levels, this novel would be an ideal source of discussion for an adult/child book group.” ---Patty Falconer, Youth Services Librarian
"I just finished CALL ME AMY and I think it is wonderful with beautiful descriptions. I love the characters and their story. It is like having seen a good play or movie and later, while you are doing other things, it comes back to you and you think about the characters again." ---Peggy Arnold, retired teacher and avid reader.
For 13-year-old Amy Henderson, 1973 has been a lonely and uneventful year in her small Maine fishing village. With the help of a wounded seal pup, she gets to know Craig, who slinks around in an oversized army jacket. A new law against handling wild marine mammals brings suspense to the story. Where can they keep Pup until he heals? Their only hope is to trust Miss Cogshell, an elderly woman keeping to herself amidst jeers from the local kids, who catches them sneaking Pup into her woodshed in the middle of the night. Throughout the book, small challenges prepare Amy for her greatest one of all. A challenge that leads her to discover that everyone, herself included, has a voice worth hearing.