Marcia Strykowski

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!

ALA Awards & More

While participating in ReFoReMo which showcases a lot of great picture book titles throughout the month of March, I got to thinking about the latest ALA (American Library Association) awards which were announced on Jan. 28, 2019.  Luckily, just about all of the winners are available at my library, so I’d like to belatedly share a brief look at some of them for those of you who might have missed these special titles. Congratulations to all the talented authors, illustrators, and editors behind the following books for children.

The John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to Merci Suárez Changes Gears. This beautiful book for ages 9 to 12 was written by Meg Medina and published by Candlewick Press. The story is about a 6th grade girl’s coming-of-age and includes her relationship with her grandfather who has Alzheimer’s disease. Humor, heart, a believable main character, and a well-done plot!

Two Newbery Honor Books were announced, as well: The Night Diary, written by Veera Hiranandani and published by Dial Books for Young Readers; and The Book of Boy, written by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, illustrated by Ian Schoenherr and published by Greenwillow Books.

The Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children went to Hello Lighthouse and was illustrated and written by Sophie Blackall. The book was published by Little, Brown and Company. This is such a gorgeous book. I’ve researched lighthouse history before and this has it all, telling the sweet story of a lighthouse keeper and his family during the time just before lighthouses became automated. A beautifully illustrated peek at coastal history with informative back matter on the endpapers.

Four Caldecott Honor Books were named: Alma and How She Got Her Name, illustrated and written by Juana Martinez-Neal and published by Candlewick Press; A Big Mooncake for Little Star, illustrated and written by Grace Lin and published by Little, Brown and Company; The Rough Patch, illustrated and written by Brian Lies and published by Greenwillow Books; and Thank You, Omu! illustrated and written by Oge Mora and published by Little, Brown and Company. (shown further down)

The Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award recognizing an African-American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults went to A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919, written by Claire Hartfield. The book is published by Clarion Books. This important book with photographs throughout includes a wealth of interesting detailed history leading up to the race riots.

Three King Author Honor Books were selected: Finding Langston, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and published by Holiday House; The Parker Inheritance, written by Varian Johnson and published by Arthur A. Levine Books; and The Season of Styx Malone, written by Kekla Magoon and published by Wendy Lamb Books.
Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award went to The Stuff of Stars, illustrated by Ekua Holmes. The book is written by Marion Dane Bauer and published by Candlewick Press. Gorgeous illustrations of hand marbled paper assembled digitally into collages along with poetic text describe how the universe was formed and how we are all a part of that magic.

Three King Illustrator Honor Books were selected: Hidden Figures, illustrated by Laura Freeman, written by Margot Lee Shetterly and published by HarperCollins Children’s Books; Let the Children March, illustrated by Frank Morrison, written by Monica Clark-Robinson and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company; and Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, written by Alice Faye Duncan and published by Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights.

The Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award went to Monday’s Not Coming, written by Tiffany D. Jackson. The book is published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. I have not read this book yet, but according to the almost 1,200 reviews it has already received on Goodreads, it sounds amazing, albeit difficult to read for the strong emotions it produces.

And the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award went to Thank You, Omu!, illustrated and written by Oge Mora and published by Little, Brown Young Readers. A wonderful addition to the growing collection of books incorporating kindness and community. I absolutely loved the folktale-style plot and colorful illustrations.

Speaking of ALA, the below video was featured at their big annual midwinter conference courtesy of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Check out my own little book Roller Boy at 23:56! Here’s their blurb: From the 2019 ALA Midwinter Meetings and Exhibits that took place January 25-29, 2019 in Seattle WA, videos from SCBWI members showcasing and talking about their new books. This video was shown at the SCBWI booth to thousands of librarians who attended the conference.

Also, the below clever wiki video spotlighting 11 Great Works of Middle Grade Realistic Fiction was a wonderful surprise, check out Roller Boy at #4 (1:59).

Several conferences and book festivals coming up, but hope to chat with you real soon!

Rolling into the New Year

new year 2019 a

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Yes? How are you doing with that? Many people start off with the best intentions, but then find it too difficult to carry through on everything. Yvonne Ventresca shares some great tips for achieving your goals here.

OR, maybe it’s time to join a writing group. Marianne Knowles shares why that’s a great idea on the Writers’ Rumpus blog. Speaking of Writers’ Rumpus, check out the previous post, as well, where Laura Fineberg Cooper picks out some of her favorite posts from 2018.

My last book event of 2018 was hosted by The Room to Write at Barnes & Noble. What a great group of writers and illustrators, and organizer Colleen Getty (shown below, front & center), did a wonderful job of putting it all together.
Here are a few more pictures from the event.

Click on above picture to enlarge.For more Roller Boy events, please click here. And here is my updated ABOUT page.

As always, thanks for reading. It’s a real treat to hear what you’re up to and to know you, whether in person or across the miles via internet. Friendship makes the world go ’round!

To each and every one of you, may all your 2019 dreams come true!

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