Marcia Strykowski

A New Year

I’m fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to post something, ANYTHING, on this blog. It’s been quite a few months now and I miss keeping in touch with you all. What can I say, my mind has been elsewhere. Like many of you, I’m sure, it’s been a couple of years of ups and downs. Thank goodness for light moments sprinkled here and there, bringing hope during dark times. I don’t think any of us could ever have imagined the pandemic lasting this long, and with still no end in sight.

As for writing, several of my peers have sadly given up hope of ever fulfilling their dreams. Other fortuitous friends are newly excited about writing because working from home has brought them more time to be creative. And still others are reaching their goals, launching debut books, but virtually, alone in their room making merry when they should be out shaking hands and greeting fans.

I’m still keeping my mind quite full of book interests, whether it be carefully-spaced in-person gatherings during warmer weather, virtual events, or just studying all the internet has to offer on my own. Writers and illustrators who create for children have always been generous in sharing their experience and knowledge and now they are doing so more than ever. If only we all had enough time to participate in the vast array of current offerings. There are workshops, book launches, webinars, and so many other good ideas. If you subscribe to the Writers Rumpus blog you’ll hear about these opportunities and more.

I’m extremely thankful to know and be a part of Writers Rumpus—a fabulous group of writers—and I was thrilled to take part in a post a while back where several middle grade authors picked either an old favorite book or a more recent one. I chose one hot-off-the-press! You can check out the post here.

Also, I’ve recently participated in this rather new venture where authors promote one of their books while also promoting five books written by others, all of the same theme. Here’s a description from their website: Shepherd is like wandering around your favorite bookstore but reimagined for the online world. And here’s my Roller Boy page.  

While you’re on the Shepherd site, you might as well scroll through the other pages. A great many books of all kinds are already in place for browsing!

Otherwise, not too much happening book-wise; publishing is a hard nut to crack these days and time is limited, but I do have my fingers crossed and many projects in the works, so please stay tuned. To those still reading, I wish you a wonderful year filled with good surprises. Be gentle on yourself and on each other. Then again, I can’t think of a single reader with an interest in children’s books who wouldn’t be kind to others!

I’ll end with a poem written by Laura Kelly Fanucci of Minnesota. I don’t know her, but her poem caught my eye when it went viral a couple of years ago. Yep, that’s how long we’ve been dealing with all this, but like Laura says, maybe we’ll come out stronger in the end.

“When this is over, may we never again take for granted

A handshake with a stranger

Full shelves at the store

Conversations with neighbors

A crowded theater

Friday night out

The taste of communion

A routine checkup

The school rush each morning

Coffee with a friend

The stadium roaring

Each deep breath

A boring Tuesday

Life itself.

When this ends

may we find

that we have become

more like the people

we wanted to be

we were called to be

we hoped to be

and may we stay

that way — better

for each other because of the worst.”

Spring Fling Contest Entry

Rules include finding or making a GIF and then writing a short children’s story to go with it—maximum word count = 150. The crocus picture is from and the caterpillar is Anardi’s at I combined them (my first homemade gif attempt!) by using

My entry for the Spring Fling KidLit Contest:

by Marcia Strykowski

A crinkly-skinned critter crawls across the crocus patch.

“Who are you?” chirps a cranky cricket named Frank.

The newcomer smiles. “I’m Sloan.”

Frank admires the creature’s smile but he doesn’t trust her.

“Did you say Slug?” Frank fills with fear.

“No, my name is…” Sloan’s words disappear when Frank shouts.

“Slugs are slimy!” Frank scurries away.

Feeling sad and misunderstood, Sloan snoozes beneath a leaf.

Shaded from sunlight, Sloan swings and spins.

Day turns to night and night turns to day, again and again.

Frank frets from far away. Safe, but lonely.

One day, Frank sees a beautiful butterfly flutter past.

“Who are you?” he calls. 

The butterfly smiles.

“Well, I’ll be,” chirps Frank. “I know that smile!”

Sloan soars beyond the sky.

Frank follows with his eyes, then sighs.

“How I wish I’d given her a chance.”

Sloan swoops back into view. “It’s never too late to be friends!”

Creative Walking on Writers’ Rumpus

I’ve got a new post up on the wonderful Writers’ Rumpus blog!

You can check it out here: Creative Walking  Hope you like it.

Gardening During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like many others, my life has changed during the COVID-19 virus. One thing I’ve found a wee bit of time for is gardening. All thanks to a friendly woman who gave me a box of 80 seed pods on my way out of Stop & Shop. It was my first time going to this particular food store and I was leery of whether it was safe to do so during the height of the pandemic. It can take longer when you don’t know your way around a new store, especially when following floor arrows and peeking out from behind a mask. After grabbing a few necessities, I was anxious to get out of the store and on my way. I paused in the lobby entrance in search of an antiseptic wipes station. There didn’t seem to be any, but as I glanced over to the other side of the exit door, a big box of seeds was thrust into my hands. I carefully put them in my trunk, washed up, and then grinned. The adventure had been successful after all. I gave bunches of seed pods away to friends and family, but still had many more for myself, so it was time to start planting. I planted turnips, carrots, cherry tomatoes, kale, basil, thyme, and parsley. I’ve since moved a few tomatoes and cucumbers outside. My broccoli and eggplant never came up. Not exactly book news, but here’s a little photo display featuring my cucumber plant in particular.
The brown disc is actually soil. You add water and it immediately expands into enough soil to fill the little pot!
The start of my cucumber! Later I transferred it to a sunny yellow pot.
Above is a closeup of my basil and parsley.
All together, three cucumber plants came up, but two are now outside.
To end with a book, this one seems to be doing quite well. It explores the ups and downs of gardening.

That’s all for now. Hope everyone is doing okay and keeping safe.

Early September Update:
Although many of my sprouts didn’t do too well outside in the heat, I did get some nice basil.
Also decided to check my cucumber plant a few days ago.I figured there might be some miniature pickle-sized cukes under the leaves. But what should appear but four giant cucumbers. What a surprise!


National Library Week & Writing News

First off—Happy National Library Week—April 19-25, 2020

Libraries have so much to offer, even from the comfort of your own home. Have you checked your local library’s online offerings? From story-times to downloadable books, movies, magazines, audiobooks, and music, there’s something for everyone.

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve had trouble concentrating on my work during these unsettling times, but fortunately my previous pieces are still making their way through the world. It’s always a nice surprise to receive author copies (and a check!) for long ago work that’s been reprinted, such as this article and illustration for “Fun for Kidz.”

I was even more thrilled to have an article in the current March/April issue of the American Association of School Librarians journal: “Knowledge Quest.” These author/illustrator columns are in collaboration with the Children’s Book Council and it was a real honor to be chosen for this opportunity. Thanks to the Fitzroy Books team who, because of their membership in the CBC, suggested I send in a sample of writing to the journal for consideration.

For a sneak peek at what I’m currently working on, here’s a virtual background I made, with hopes I could use it during a writing group meeting where we’d be discussing my work-in-progress—a historical fiction novel. Unfortunately, the background didn’t work out for our Zoom meeting, but now I get to share it here instead, so all is well. You’ll just have to imagine my head sitting next to the goat’s head. 🙂 A picture of our meeting is in my last post. Two other members were more successful with using virtual backgrounds.

In other news, I recently came in fourth place (1st, 2nd, 3rd, plus an Honorable Mention) in an Institute of Children’s Literature contest—a wonderful surprise—as well as extra inspiration that my latest project is headed in the right direction.

Other than these bright spots, for which I’m grateful, I’m still slugging away on my current picture book and middle grade manuscripts. Hope you, too, are finding times when your brain is quiet enough to create.

Thanks for catching up with me and leaving comments on my last post. I’ve missed being as visible in the blogging community, but even though I’m not always actively posting, I’m still keeping tabs on you all. Best wishes for continued good health.



Staying Home

Hi there!

It’s been way too long that I’ve let my little blog go unattended and I figured it was time to check in. I also plan to click on all my favorite blogs and make sure everyone is safe. I’m curious to find out how you’ve been keeping sane and what you’ve been doing to pass the time.

Life is certainly different these days. For most of us, our main concern is how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy. Even though, in some ways, there might be more time, if you’re like me, I find myself with much less ability to focus. Instead of working, I’m scrolling through COVID-19 updates, hoping against hope that this pandemic will soon be over.

Meanwhile, I’m also making a few masks, helping my mom donate a large collection of fabric to the cause, and trying not to focus entirely on the news.

A bright spot during my weeks is virtually chatting with friends and colleagues. Here, for example, is my critique group. We did quite well, considering we are such a large group. Everyone was polite and observant of speaking one at a time, and as always, the feedback from this talented group is amazing!During this strange time, I also enjoy walking, as I’m sure many of you are doing, either alone, or six feet apart from friends.

From Pexels on Pixabay

From ZoeGammon on Pixabay

I guess all we can do is keep our distance and help those who need us. Keep walking toward those brighter days ahead and many many thanks to all those working on the frontlines!

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

I truly hope all my blog readers are safe and healthy. Hang in there, we’ll get through this.

Next up, some writing news!

New Candlewick Press Books

I haven’t blogged about new children’s books in a while and when I received these first two in the mail to review I knew it was time for a special post. For reasons stated below, this post will be dedicated to Candlewick Press. Here’s a bit of history from their website:

In 1992, Candlewick Press opened its doors as an independent children’s publisher, and we remain an independent publisher today. As part of Walker Books Group, Candlewick Press enjoys a unique ownership structure which includes more than 75 of the employees in our US office, staff in our UK and AUS offices, plus more than 150 authors and illustrators.

Candlewick Press arrived on the scene with some of the highest-quality picture books anywhere. And in the years since then, our offerings have grown to encompass all ages, from board books to e-books, high-end novelty to cutting-edge fiction. What hasn’t changed is our goal of excellence, our model of independence, and our commitment to the authors and illustrators who create our books and the readers who love them.
Two decades and more than 2,000 awards and accolades later, we are as committed as ever to independent thinking and primed for a future that looks brighter than ever.

First up we have two super duper board books from Nosy Crow, an imprint of Candlewick Press.

100 First Words illustrated by Edward Underwood is a huge 9 ½” by 11 ½” fourteen-page book loaded with flaps to lift. Under each flap is an unexpected surprise along with a new word. For example, a hidden owl peeks through a window behind a pair of curtains. This brightly illustrated book is perfect for infants up through toddlers and is a step up from smaller books of a similar theme. SPOILER ALERT! A group of pedestrians (and a dog) smiling up at the bus passing by is hidden under the bus flap in the below picture.

Alphabet Street written by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius is also a large board book—8” x 12”—and when this fold-out book is fully opened it spreads to an amazing eight feet wide! Each page features a new shop with two big flaps for little fingers to open, revealing more delightful illustrations and words underneath. This fun book would make a clever backdrop for imaginative play with small dolls and/or cars. A pretty ribbon keeps the book shut for travel or storage.

In my usual big stack of new picture books that arrived at my library I noticed a pattern. Not only did there happen to be four books about a grandfather and his grandchild, but three with that particular theme were by Candlewick. With each monthly order, this publisher continuously stands out. What else could I do but decide this would be a Candlewick post. So here’s to beautiful books and grandfathers everywhere!

Our Favorite Day was written and illustrated by Joowon Oh. A debut author/illustrator, Joowon has created the sweetest book ever! The simple story of the strong bond between grandparent and child is gorgeously illustrated with a combination of cut paper, water color, and gouache. The expressions of love between the characters plus their surprise activity makes for a beautiful well thought out story you’ll want to read over and over again. 

Looking for Yesterday was written and illustrated by Alison Jay. A young boy tries a variety of impossible methods to repeat the day he experienced the day before. Lovely story of a grandfather who teaches his grandson about the importance of enjoying each new day while still maintaining fond memories of past adventures. Illustrations were created using alkyd oil paints. 

Grandpa’s Top Threes was written by Wendy Meddour and illustrated by Daniel Egnéus. Main character Henry misses the closeness he shared with his grandfather, but then helps him through the grieving process in a way only children can do. Illustrations were done in watercolor and assembled digitally. Also, the style of the type caught my eye in this book; the font is called Mountains of Christmas. 🙂

That’s a wrap. Wrap yourself up cozy and enjoy these delightful books!


Strawbery Banke Fall Festival

Strawbery Banke is a 10 acre outdoor living history museum located at 14 Hancock Street in Portsmouth, NH. This restored colonial village is  worth checking out. The historic houses are staffed and open for touring May 1 through October 31, from 10 am to 5 pm. They are also open for special events throughout the year. From their website:

Strawbery Banke is unique among outdoor history museums in presenting a complete neighborhood’s evolution over 300+ years, with most of the 37 historic buildings on their original foundations. These structures link visitors to the people who lived on the Portsmouth waterfront from 1695 to 1954. Costumed role players and traditional craftspeople recreate the lives, concerns and challenges of families in the community, basing their interpretations on diaries, letters, historical records, archaeology and collected artifacts.

Strawbery Banke’s Annual Fall Festival showcases dozens of traditional New England handmade crafts, heritage breed and farm animal demonstrations, and the museum’s heirloom gardens and seed-saving program. The Fall Festival also now incorporates the Children’s Book Festival. The book festival has been happening for five years and this year included celebrating the 40th Anniversary of The Ox-Cart Man. This gorgeous picture book, written by Donald Hall (September 20, 1928 – June 23, 2018) and illustrated by Barbara Cooney (August 6, 1917 – March 10, 2000), has always been a favorite of mine and was awarded the 1980 Caldecott Award. It was a highlight of my career to meet both Donald and Barbara years ago. Barbara was at a Boston Book Builders event in 1991 (where she signed Miss Rumphius for me!). I remember the moderator called her Hattie, mistaking her for the main character in Hattie and the Wild Waves when the book was actually based on her mother’s life. Years later I ran into former U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall at the Andover Bookstore. One of his comments has always stayed with me. He said that even for a short poem it took him many many revisions. He often spent hours putting a comma in and then taking it out again, over and over.

I had a great time at this year’s Children’s Book Festival, visiting with new and old author friends as well as talking with those who stopped by to buy books.

Children’s Book Authors left to right: Kim Chaffee, Kirsti Call, Marcia Strykowski, Carol Gordon Ekster, Christy Mihaly, and Terry Farish.

You never know who might pass through the festival.

Below is the view out the window from where I was selling books. I’d seen sheep herding before, but duck herding!?

Maybe I’ll see you next year at this fun fall event!


School Library Journal Day of Dialog

I’ve been remiss in keeping up this blog over the past few months, but rather than make excuses, suffice it to say, I’ve been busy and it’s great to be back. There have been several awesome events lately that I’d like to share with you. First up, SLJ Day of Dialog was held at the Cambridge Public Library in Cambridge, MA on October 4, 2019. Here are the details from the SLJ website: Join School Library Journal for our second-annual Day of Dialog Cambridge, the most anticipated librarian-only gathering of the year! Attendance is absolutely free!
Be informed, inspired, and entertained by the industry’s leading authors, illustrators, editors, and publishers. Spend the day discussing the latest trends, and get the inside scoop on the hottest books in the world of children’s and young adult literature.
You’ll enjoy a full day of panels and speaker presentations by celebrated authors. And thanks to our many publisher sponsors, attendees will receive free advanced reading copies and an opportunity to have complimentary books signed by their authors.
Network with colleagues from around the country in an intimate, library-centric setting; get a first look at exciting titles due out next season; and walk away with free books and stimulating ideas for your libraries and classrooms.
How could I not join in on this fun event? Thanks so much to SLJ, all the sponsoring publishers, and Dr. Maria McCauley, Cambridge Public Library director for hosting this wonderful conference. Kiera Parrott did a great job introducing each group, as well. The morning opened with the thoughtful words of Erin Entrada Kelly, author of the gorgeous Lalani of the Distant Sea novel for middle grade readers.
Second on the agenda was the Picture Books panel with Kyle Lukoff, author of Call Me Max, Julia Denos and E. B. Goodale, author and illustrator of Here and Now, Vita Morrow, High-Five to the Hero, and Cornelius Van Wright, author/illustrator of The Little Red Crane. Leslie Hynes, a school librarian from Kingsley Montessori School in Boston, did a nice job moderating.
Next was the first Book Buzz with representatives from American Psychological Association/Magination Press, Candlewick Press, Charlesbridge Publishing, Greystone Kids, Minedition, Boyds Mills & Kane, Owl Kids Books, and Houghton Mifflin Company.

After those three excellent presentations, we broke for a delicious lunch, collected books and autographs, and caught up with old and new friends. The afternoon keynote was Deborah Heiligman who shared the fantastic research methods she used for Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of “The Children’s Ship.”

The Nonfiction Panel was moderated by Margaret Bush, Professor Emerita, Simmons College, Boston. This energetic group was such fun to listen to. Marge Pellegrino, Kim Chaffee, Melissa Stewart, and Carole Boston Weatherford all have delightfully compelling books you really should check out!

The third panel of the day was all about Tweens & Teens. Panelists included Craig Battle, author of Camp Average, Ryan LaSala, author of Reverie,  Maulik Pancholy, author of The Best at It, Karen Rayne, author of Trans+, and Christina Soontornvat, author of A Wish in the Dark. Ashleigh Williams, a SLJ middle grade editor, did a great job moderating this fascinating discussion.

The second Book Buzz had representatives from HarperCollins, Page Street, Quarto, Reycraft, Sourcebooks, and Starbright Books. A lot of fun new books were shared.

The mesmerizing closing keynote was presented by multi-talented Nikki Grimes, author of Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir. Her many books and poetry are amazing–check them out!


All in all a very worthwhile day!

KidLitCon, ProvBookFest, and NESCBWI19!

It’s been a wonderful spring for conferences and literary festivals. Below are a few pictures of events I was able to participate in.

First up, I was thrilled to attend KidLitCon which in previous years has been held all over the country, but this year was nearby in Providence, RI. What a wonderful group of librarians, teachers, authors, and illustrators.


Below, an awesome panel filled with creativity and talent. Left to right: Janet Costa Bates, Nancy Tupper Ling, Oge Mora (find her in the latest Caldecott winners!) and Isabel Roxas. This disscussion was moderated by Kirsten Cappy.
Next, moderator Katy Kramp, Paula Chase, Barbara Dee, Ann Braden, Varian Johnson (also our inspiring keynote speaker), and Jo Knowles. These amazing authors discussed their award-winning middle-grade fiction, all of which included tough and complex topics.
Librarians and booksellers discussed how they get the right books into the hands of kids. Shown here: moderator Karen Yingling, Melissa Fox (an independent bookseller who came all the way from Kansas) and Sam Musher an enthusiastic school librarian.
Whoever said kid lit conferences weren’t fun? They are a barrel of laughs! Members of my Writers’ Rumpus critique group enjoy lunch: Kirsti, Laura, and Catherine (with Josh Funk in the background).
I enjoyed participating in this roundtable about social media.
The below panel featured Chris Tebbetts who illustrates James Patterson’s Middle School series (along with many other projects) and Christopher Denise, another illustrator of many gorgeous works including the Redwall series and Firefly Hollow. Nicely moderated by Anamaria Anderson.And here is Debbi Michiko Florence and Kara LaReau, as part of a larger panel, discussing their chapter book series and what it takes to write these important in-between books.

A couple of weeks later, I returned to Rhode Island for the first annual Providence Book Festival. Events featuring adult fiction, nonfiction, and poetry were scheduled at the same time, but I pretty much stayed in the kids’ room and even then wasn’t able to catch all the panels. Padma Venkatraman opened up the children’s events. Here she is in the middle of her lovely, moving presentation.I was on a panel, too! We discussed Fiction That Empowers Girls/Topics No Longer Taboo in Middle Grade books.

And here’s a picture taken later when we were looking a bit jollier. Left to right: me, Barbara Dee, Laura Shovan (sitting, moderator), Monica Tesler, Jen Calonita, and MarcyKate Connolly. Look up their awesome books!
This next one was a fun picture book panel with Anika Denise, Jannie Ho, and Emilie Boon.
A big highlight for me was watching P. W. Alley draw. Here he puts the finishing touches on Paddington Bear for a young fan.Sorry for such blurry pictures, but this next one shows David Neilsen, Nancy Castaldo, and Susan Tan who took turns reading their work.

And here’s Dianna Sanchez, Kara LaReau, and Pat Cummings discussing their middle grade books. Loved this discussion between Julie Dao and Antoine Revoy about their creative process and what inspires them.
I spy Roller Boy!
Last but definitely not least, the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators annual spring conference was held once again in Springfield, MA. Great time with great people! As you can see, my critique group (check out Writers’ Rumpus) was well represented. We also met up with a lot of new friends and old friends. Inspiring speakers and workshops, as always.
Cathy Ogren and Adaela McLaughlin getting ready for the evening’s events!
Josh Roberts volunteered at the busy registration desk, but paused a minute to pose with Kim Chaffee.
I started off the conference at a dinner for Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple’s Picture Book Boot Camp attendees. A great group bursting with good news.
Friday night dinner with ten members from Writers’ Rumpus.
In the middle, beyond the crowd, you’ll find a tiny Jane Yolen giving the opening comments of her inspiring words of welcome. And, hey, look what book got stuck on the screen!
Finishing up breakfast on Saturday morning just before our keynote speaker.
Lynda Mullaly Hunt presented a profound and moving keynote speech: “The things we are ashamed of make for very good writing.” And “What will be your legacy? Will you spend your one precious life devouring Netflix?…The story that drives you can change lives.”Saturday dinner, always delicious!

That’s a wrap, hope your spring is going well, too!

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