Marcia Strykowski

Happy New Year and a Giveaway!

new-year-snowAs a New Year’s resolution, I’m determined to get a little more writing done. With that intention, I’ll be blogging less frequently this month. I still intend to moderate comments (your chance to win a prize) and I look forward to hearing from you. As for 2017, I’ve already thought up many fun ideas for upcoming posts. I can’t wait to share them with you.

But for now, below are five of my most popular blog posts from the past year. Also, you might like to check out some of the other menu tabs, such as Spotlights or Recipes & Crafts.

Five Popular Posts from 2016

New Picture Books, click here! What’s your favorite?
pb-oct-groupJane Yolen’s Picture Book Boot Camp, click here!
jane & marcia ovalLittle Free Libraries, click here! Any near you?
lfb3-sideVintage Paper Dolls, click here! Paper dolls old & new.
dolls with hair

Raymond’s Fire Engine, click here! (Although there weren’t quite as many comments on this post as on the other four, the day Raymond’s Fire Engine ran still shows more views than any other day in the history of this blog.)truck-on-blueAnd now for my contest giveaway! Two people who leave comments on this post will win a free book (signed plus swag). Either Call Me Amy or Amy’s Choice, your choice. All names will be put into a hat and then my daughter will pull out two and present me with the winners (to be announced at the end of January).amy-doubleI’m looking forward to hearing from you and in return, sending wishes for much joy, peace, and good health. Thanks for continuing to be a part of this blog!


john-snow_wallpaperIt’s the first day of winter and a light layer of snow still covers the ground from New England’s last storm. Seems to me like the perfect day to think about poets and painters who have been moved by falling snow to put pen to paper. Here is a small collection of their thoughts with a special nod to Whittier.

john_greenleaf_whittier-public-domainJohn Greenleaf Whittier (December 17, 1807 – September 7, 1892) was an American Quaker poet and advocate of the abolition of slavery in the United States. Frequently listed as one of the Fireside Poets, he was influenced by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Whittier is especially remembered for his anti-slavery writings and wonderful poems such as The Barefoot Boy, and in particular for his book Snow-Bound.


Every so often there’s a Snowbound celebration at Whittier’s childhood home in Haverhill, MA.john-whittier_birthplace_-_plaque

img_7090-2In 2010 I attended one of these special events. When deciding to blog about it this week I felt sad because all of my pictures seem to have disappeared when my computer crashed a few years back, but then my daughter mentioned she might have some. Yay, she did and thanks to her I can share them here!

While the narrative poem is read aloud, local performers reenact what it was like to be stuck inside during the three day blizzard. Whittier wrote about this storm from a true memory of his childhood. Today’s actors sit in front of the exact hearth in the very same room where Whittier played and dreamed during that long ago time and we in turn got to witness the scene firsthand. img_0033img_0036One of the highlights was a ride around the property in a horse drawn wagon.img_0044img_0045Below is a beautiful painting of how the Haverhill homestead looked during the late 1800s.

Whittier's Birthplace, by Thomas Hill 1829-1908

           Whittier’s Birthplace, by Thomas Hill 1829-1908

He later moved to Amesbury, MA. That home is also open to the public.

John Greenleaf Whittier Home in Amesbury, Massachusetts

 John Greenleaf Whittier Home in Amesbury, Massachusetts

john_greenleaf_whittier_1940_issue-2c-pdBelow is the opening of Snow-Bound (the complete poem is very long, but you can find it online with a quick google search). Click on the stamp if you’d like to see it larger.

Snow-Bound by John Greenleaf Whittier

The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told.
The wind blew east; we heard the roar
Of Ocean on his wintry shore,
And felt the strong pulse throbbing there
Beat with low rhythm our inland air.

Snowbound c. 1900 by John Henry Twachtman

            Snowbound c. 1900 by John Henry Twachtman

Below is another section of Snow-Bound by Whittier.

So all night long the storm roared on:
The morning broke without a sun;
In tiny spherule traced with lines
Of Nature’s geometric signs,
In starry flake, and pellicle,
All day the hoary meteor fell;
And, when the second morning shone,
We looked upon a world unknown,
On nothing we could call our own.
Around the glistening wonder bent
The blue walls of the firmament,
No cloud above, no earth below,—
A universe of sky and snow!john-snow-boundThree more writers on the topic of snow.
john-snow_at_the_lake-pb-pjohn-snow_covered_hillside_with_small_evergreensjohn-winter_landscape_boston_public_library-john-francis-murphy-1853-1921Whether you have snow or not, may your holiday season be filled with kindness, a genuine sense of well-being, and lots of fun!

You might enjoy this humorous post from two years ago when we had more than our share of snow in New England. Click here!

Sisterhood Blogging Award

Barbara from over at the always fascinating March of Time Books (visit her here) nominated me for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award. Thanks so much, Barbara!sisterhood3Below are my answers to her questions.

  1. What is your earliest memory? My earliest clear memories are from about the age of 5 because I was off on a new adventure—kindergarten! I also remember playing next door on our neighbor’s porch and seeing a peacock with my friend.geo-kindergarten

  2. Where is your favourite place in the world and why? There’s nothing like home sweet home, but aside from that, I am most content by the ocean. I also felt a strong connection to Kensington Gardens—full bloom in April. geokensington-fountain-flowers-copy

  3. Do you have a favourite piece of clothing or footwear? What is it? Most of the time I’m a jeans and sneakers (or boots) kind of girl, but I also like long, flowy skirts with my boots.

  4. If you write a blog what inspired you to start it? If you don’t—why not? My publisher encouraged me to start a blog as a way to promote my books. Being camera-shy and tongue-tied, at first I wanted no part of it, but now it’s an important routine in my life and I’m proud to be part of the blogging community.

  5. geor-chocgingerFavourite snack potato crisps, peanuts, sunflower seeds or something else? One of my current favorite treats is chunks of ginger covered in dark chocolate. I also can eat more than my share of spicy potato chips.

  6. Have you ever acted or sung on stage? I was a daffodil in a school play once–hardly acting but just thought I would mention it! Any other talents you care to mention? The first event that comes to mind is when my girlfriend and I joined in on a can can dance performance. I think it ran three or four nights and we even had to turn a cartwheel! Previously, I took ballet and tap for a couple of years.

  7. george_ii_by_thomas_hudsonHave you or anyone in your family traced your ancestry? If so is there anyone famous or infamous in your line? Yes, several of my relatives have researched our ancestry. Supposedly I am related to King George II through one of his illegitimate offspring. Also, to the poet James Russell Lowell, as well as to Peregrine White (first baby born after the Mayflower landed in Cape Cod, MA).

  8. Have you ever experienced déjà vu? Yes, every so often I get a strong ‘been there, done that’ feeling.

  9. Do you sing in the shower or in the car or both? Maybe once in a while in the car, but only if the radio’s on. Since I’m always listening to audiobooks lately, it’s a rare occurrence.

  10. Have you enjoyed participating in this tag? Be kind, I’m only asking! Yes, of course, Barbara! I found your questions interesting to think about. Thanks again for choosing me for this fun award!

Here are my nominees: (Totally optional! I’m taking a few of you off the top of my head in no particular order, as well as trying not to repeat from previous tags.)
Cindy from simply.cindy
Rhonda from The Thankful Heart
Anne from Mehrling Muse
Ali at Spilling Ink
Anabel at The Glasgow Gallivanter
Deb at Deb Watley 

Here are the rules: Thank the blogger for the award given. Answer the ten questions set by me. Nominate other blogging friends for the award. Write ten questions for those bloggers to answer. Display the award on your blog or in a post.

And here are my questions (I’m copying a few from others…)

  1. Please share an early memory.

  2. Did you have a favorite toy, book, or pastime?

  3. Have you ever performed on stage?

  4. Name a favorite song or band.

  5. Do you have a ‘famous person’ sighting to share?

  6. What’s the best prize you’ve ever won?

  7. How many places have you lived?

  8. Do you have a story of kindness to share?

  9. You’ve won a million dollars: spend it in 24 hours, but not on yourself. What do you do?

  10. How would you make the world a better place?

It would be great fun if some of my readers answered a few (or as many as you like) of the questions in the comments below.

Ever Had a Pen Pal?

1880_steamshipWe were talking a bit about immigration after dinner on Thanksgiving when my son shared a chart with us. (He always provides a little family history on this special day). Turns out many of our ancestors travelled thousands of miles to come live in the USA. thanksgiving-20161124_mg_8260From our small group of nine, we had connections to Canada (with a nod to France, Scotland & Ireland), China, Denmark, England, Peru, Poland, and the Shetland Islands. Thinking about these faraway places led me to thoughts about my interest in pen pals.
As a kid I was already a letter writer, exchanging notes with my grandmother and participating in chain letters, but I think it was 5th grade when our class was introduced to pen palling. After carefully mailing my letter off in a super-thin airmail envelope, I was thrilled to receive a letter from London, England (who wouldn’t be? Especially since all I knew about London was the Beatles!). Christine included two tiny black & white pictures of herself (photo booth style). I thought she was quite fashionable with her short mod haircut and I could just imagine her British accent. We only exchanged a letter or two and then she never wrote back, but no matter, my enthusiasm for pen palling had begun!penpal-13
About 25 to 30 years ago, I got quite involved in the hobby. I used to flip through Women’s Circle magazines to find kindred spirits. I also used an international pen pal finder once. The writer below was a woman I met here in the states. She lived nearby for a year or two and our children were in the same play group, so we corresponded for a while after she returned to Japan.penpal-12I still keep in touch with three wonderful writers from those long ago times: Maryse from France, Michele from Canada, and Monika originally from Germany, but now living in Australia. marcia-michele-circleSeems I am lucky with the letter M.
Recently, I had the good fortune to meet Michele, one of my first pen pals and as pleasant in person as she is in letters. We exchanged small gifts and chatted for about an hour. It would have been wonderful to spend more time together, but she was right at the start of a jam-packed tour of historic places in the area. As it was we were both pretty sleepy in this picture. After so many years of writing, it was fun to hear each other’s voices. Another time, years ago, my French pen pal sent me a cassette tape of her choral group singing. She pointed out her soprano voice above the others and it was thrilling to hear her singing the French words. I was introduced to a beautiful version of a song I still cherish: “Mammy Blue”.  penpal-11If any of this seems corny to the younger generation, you must remember that all this fancy letter writing was long before the internet. (Although I do still force a real letter now and again). Long before you could have video chats with a click of a button. Perhaps my writing friends and I were ahead of our time, reaching out across the world to discover how much we shared with others, be it hobbies, book genres, or even favorite colors or foods. We came to realize those commonalities were much more frequent than any differences. penpal-8I gained a lot from all the many friends I met through words. I remember a Danish pen pal who I’ve since lost touch with. She collected little silver spoons engraved with locations from around the world. I enjoyed choosing one from New England for her collection. I’ve exchanged many fun items with pals, from bookmarks and photographs to candy and tea bags!

penpal-14What a thrill it was to find a fancy-stamped letter in my mailbox. Much more fun to find than a publisher’s rejection letter! Come to think of it, you might remember there is a character in my Amy books who has a pen pal hobby. Miss Cogshell is very fond of writing letters and sending them out to faraway places. Even Amy gets into the act by the end of book two. 

My children tried out penpalling when they were small. My son had a pen pal who lived in California and my daughter wrote to a girl in Arizona. I think they later found their pals on Facebook.

Okay, time to share some books featuring pen pals.

penpal-3First up: Same Sun Here, by Silas House & Neela Vaswani for ages 9 & up. Description from Goodreads: In this extraordinary novel in two voices, an Indian immigrant girl in New York City and a Kentucky coal miner’s son find strength and perspective by sharing their true selves across the miles.
Meena and River have a lot in common: fathers forced to work away from home to make ends meet, grandmothers who mean the world to them, and faithful dogs. But Meena is an Indian immigrant girl living in New York City’s Chinatown, while River is a Kentucky coal miner’s son. As Meena’s family studies for citizenship exams and River’s town faces devastating mountaintop removal, this unlikely pair become pen pals, sharing thoughts and, as their camaraderie deepens, discovering common ground in their disparate experiences. With honesty and humor, Meena and River bridge the miles between them, creating a friendship that inspires bravery and defeats cultural misconceptions. Narrated in two voices, each voice distinctly articulated by a separate gifted author, this chronicle of two lives powerfully conveys the great value of being and having a friend and the joys of opening our lives to others who live beneath the same sun.
My next selection is I Will Always Write Back for ages 10 & up. Description from Goodreads: The true story of an all-American girl and a boy from an impoverished city in Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever. It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin’s class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. All the other kids picked countries like France or Germany, but when Caitlin saw Zimbabwe written on the board, it sounded like the most exotic place she had ever heard of–so she chose it. Martin was lucky to even receive a pen pal letter. There were only ten letters, and forty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one. That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives. In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends –and better people–through letters. Their story will inspire readers to look beyond their own lives and wonder about the world at large and their place in it.
Tpenpal-2his third book is for teens and up. Description from Goodreads: Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds that Amy’s funeral has just ended. Luckily, the townspeople are happy to look after their bewildered tourist—even if they don’t understand her peculiar need for books. Marooned in a farm town that’s almost beyond repair, Sara starts a bookstore in honor of her friend’s memory. All she wants is to share the books she loves with the citizens of Broken Wheel and to convince them that reading is one of the great joys of life. But she makes some unconventional choices that could force a lot of secrets into the open and change things for everyone in town. Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this is a warm, witty book about friendship, stories, and love.
A few more favorites you might be familiar with.penpal-6What about you? Have you corresponded with someone of interest? Or maybe for a long time? Got a book to recommend? Please share any memories you may have in the comments, and as always, thanks for reading!

Allergy-Free Pumpkin Bread

recipe-8I decided to bake something for our monthly library staff meeting. But the trick was finding a recipe that everyone could eat despite the many allergies we’ve got on board. Pumpkin bread seemed a perfect solution and all who tried it gave it a thumbs up.recipe-1This easy treat starts with a basic gluten-free yellow cake mix. I used Hodgson Mill, but there are many to choose from, such as King Arthur or Betty Crocker.  I’m a one bowl kind of gal, so I usually mix all dry ingredients together first.recipe-3recipe-2You can use a variety of spices or just 2 teaspoons of already mixed pumpkin pie spice. Next toss the vanilla into the oil and add that to the mixture. Now you’re ready to dump a can of pumpkin in and stir it up. recipe-4pumpkinOf course you could always cook a fresh pumpkin and scoop out two cups worth of flesh to use instead of canned. And if you prefer your batter to be a little moister, feel free to add ¼ cup of rice milk. If your diet allows, toss in an egg for even lighter results. Adding vanilla, milk, or egg, are all completely optional. Believe me, this cake tastes yummy whether you add them or not.
Last, but never least, stir in lots of chocolate chunks.recipe-5 Grease the bottom only of a 9” by 1 ½” pan (a dab of creamy coconut oil works great). Spread batter into the prepared pan and bake it in a 350°F oven for 40 minutes. recipe-6recipe-7If you can stick a toothpick into the center and have it come out dry, your bread is done. Using a knife, push cake away from pan edges after cooling 5 to 10 minutes. Tip the cake upside down onto a rack to cool completely before serving.pumpkin-breadFor more recipes, click on Recipes & Crafts from the page menu. Hope you have many warm treats coming your way over the holidays!

P.S. After reading some comments, I realized I should add in a note about cooking gluten-free. If your friend or relative has Celiac disease, make sure there is no contamination in your kitchen before you begin baking. Gluten can be in so many ingredients where you might not expect it to be. Look for products that sport the certified gluten-free symbol. If you’re not sure, check the company’s website or give them a call. It would also be wise to use a pan that hasn’t already held regular gluten-filled cakes. Mixers, toasters, wooden spoons, and other types of equipment have an uncanny ability to hold onto invisible gluten. Your friend will thank you if you let them know the procedures you went through to make sure your offering is truly gluten-free.

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 dazzling 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.

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