Category Archives: Children’s Book Critique Group Blog

Seven Picture Books About Longing and Belonging

Today we have a guest blogpost from my friend of 40 years, Ann Dalton. She was a children’s librarian for Seattle Public library for 30 years, filling many roles, including working in the Children’s Center during the planning, building and the first 10 years in Seattle’s stunning new downtown library. As she writes, her work included “Lots & lots of story times, lots & lots of picture books, lots & lots of hugs, some tears—not usually mine.”  Thank you, Ann, for sharing some of your latest favorite picture books. –LMK

I split my time between Seattle & Canmore, Alberta—20 minutes from Banff National Park in the Bow Valley & majestic Canadian Rockies. Whatever you’d call the opposite of snowbirds, that’s what Steve & I are. He lives to ice climb in the winter, & this is THE place on earth to be for that. We hike on frozen lakes, trudge up mountains, ride gondolas down mountains, XC ski (me-not so well, but the surroundings can’t be beat), entertain climbers who visit from near & far, practice my high school French..

Canmore has an amazing community center called Elevation Place. It’s hopping most hours of the day & evening & offers something for just about everyone in this small town, especially when temperatures plummet! It contains an Olympic-size swimming pool, climbing gym, art gallery, meeting rooms, fitness & wellness classes &, my favorite—the library.

I volunteer every Thursday afternoon shelving children’s materials. It’s a highlight of my week & where I do my best musing about what it means to belong to a community. Coincidentally, the books I’m sharing here have everything to do with belonging—or with longing or longing to be this or that. It’s the work of a lifetime, I know. These books were new to me & strike me as gems for exploring endless possibilities for belonging with young children.

De la Pena, Matt.  Patchwork.  Illus. by Corinna Luyken.  2022

Newberry winner Matt de la Pena is a revelation to me! This is the first book of his I’ve read, & it’s stunning in its bold & subtle messaging about expectation & possibility. A gender reveal can miss the mark for a boy, a dancer in pink may have her STEM skills underestimated, the class clown who can’t sit still may possess the empathy of a master teacher. Each of us is a patchwork of all we see & hear. We are not just one note, one color. Luyken’s illustrations beautifully amplify de la Pena’s text.

Eggers, Dave.  Tomorrow Most Likely.  Illus. by Lane Smith.  2019

I didn’t know Dave Eggers was writing picture books these days, but I did know he has a way with words. And a way with young people…& young people & words. Here the fun is in imagining what’s most likely to be seen, heard, & encountered tomorrow. From the mundane to the ridiculous in rhyme & Lane Smith’s illustrations, tomorrow never looked so silly–& appealing. We’ll all be there!

Howes, Katey.  Be a Maker.  Illus. by Elizabet Vukovic.  2019

A fun counterpoint to Eggers’s book about tomorrow, this one’s all about today. When you wake, what will you make, it asks? The possibilities are endless. In rhyming couplets & illustrations jam-packed with inspiration, we follow a young merry maker as she joins forces with a kindred spirit to contribute to a community playground. The entreaty to “Make a difference, shine a light. Make your town a team tonight.” is the stirring message here.

Maclear, Kyo.  Story Boat.  Illus. by Rashin Kheiriyeh.  2020

When is a cup or a blanket or an X drawn on cold, hard ground a home?  It’s when children & families are on a desperate march to find safety somewhere away from where they’ve been–yesterday, last week, last year. I can’t imagine a more beautiful–or heartbreaking–picture book about child refugees than this.  Hope is elusive, but a sense of belonging can be found in the familiar–a cup of something warm, a dream shared under a well-worn blanket, a song sung under the moon & stars. The illustrator dedicates her artwork to “all innocent Syrian children who have experienced horrible war & injustice at a young age.”

Singh, Rina.  Grandmother School.  Illus. by Ellen Rooney.  2020

This lively picture book by Indian-Canadian author, Singh, tells the true story of the Aajibaichi Shala, or Grandmother School, begun in 2016 in the Indian village of Phangane. A young girl shares her granny, Aaji’s, excitement for learning from morning till night—escorting her to the one-room bamboo hut where grannies in pink saris gather to learn to read & write, till the evening when they swap school stories & homework help. Aaji relishes her time learning & the new independence it affords her in the community. Her dear granddaughter celebrates each success with her.

Yang, James.  A Boy Named Isamu:  A Story of Isamu Noguchi.  2021

I thought the name was familiar. Noguchi’s sculpture, Black Sun, has been at home in Seattle’s Volunteer Park outside what’s now known as the Asian Art Museum since 1969. This spare story about the sculptor is as delicate as our hometown piece is dramatic. It imagines young Isamu preferring the company of nature to people, solitude to crowds. He’s drawn to the forest but also the nearby beach where he walks alone, carefully considering everything about the stones there. To Isamu (& the author-illustrator who admires him) to be alone in nature is not the same as feeling lonely. It’s a different & powerful kind of belonging.

Yang, Kao Kalia.  A Map Into the World.  Illus. by Seo Kim.  2019

This is a lovely collaboration between Hmong American writer, Yang & illustrator, Kim. As the seasons change, so does a young girl’s world. A meditation on all sorts of longing & belonging. There’s a new house; baby brothers she’s too small to tend & they’re too small to be fun; elderly neighbors—one of whom passes away during the snowy winter. It’s with the passage of time, a keen eye & a bucket of sidewalk chalk that she makes a friend of the lonely widower & eases the longing they’ve both felt.

Have Heart

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day is often considered a holiday for couples.

Okay. That is fine, but it should also be a holiday to spread love around more generally.

Share your heart with your brothers-sisters-cousins-children-stepchildren-nieces-nephews-Mama-Papa- old friends – new friends and neighbors. Share it with the friendly person at the grocery store, with the bus driver who waited an extra second, with the vendor in the rain at the farmer’s market.

Share your heart with whoever or whatever makes you happy.

Let your heart take a walk.

Share your heart even when it is a misguided or bad idea.

The heart is a muscle and gets stronger with use.

Share your heart with strangers who need it. All Hands and Hearts is a volunteer powered organization where you can donate to a Turkish earthquake relief fund HERE.

Share your heart with flowers and at all hours.

Share your heart with yourself.

Have Heart!

yours truly,

Julie Paschkis

P.S. All of the pictures on this post are heart images I’ve made over the years -papercuts and ink and gouache paintings.

And as usual there are free coloring pages that you can download by clicking HERE. The theme of the new pages is….

Wonderful Oaxaca

I’ve been in Oaxaca, Mexico, for the last month, enjoying the blue skies, the temperate weather, the delicious food, and the unseasonal (for anyone used to gray winters in the Pacific Northwest) bursts of color. When I’m writing poetry for adults, I get a bit cerebral; writing for children, I allow a little more room for the senses. But Oaxaca reminds me that writing almost always broadens and deepens its effect when it evokes one or more of the five senses. Here are photos from my trip – not over yet! – that involve sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. In Oaxaca, I wake up and tell myself each morning to use my eyes, my nose, my fingers, my ears, my tongue!

A Guayacan tree...

A Most Exclusive Workshop

“I began to understand art as a kind of black box the reader enters. He enters in one state of mind and exits in another.” George Saunders

To study under George Saunders, a writer could get into the creative writing program at Syracruse University and perhaps get into one of Saunders’ writing workshops–some having as few as five students. You could read his book based on his workshop on Russian short stories A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. You won’t find him on social media where he believes it’s “100% toxic for people to be firing off the top of their brains.” But you can sign up for his class, Story Club, on Substack. Parts of it are free, but if you want access to everything, you can pay $50.

Why would you do that?

Because there are few writers as good as Saunders at analyzing and understanding how reading and writing work. The author of numerous short stories and the novel Lincoln in the Bardo his honors range from the PEN/Malamud Award to finalist in the National Book Award to the Booker Prize and stops in-betweenHe’s won both a MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowship. But not all award-winning authors can or will explain what they’re doing or what they see other authors doing.

Not only is Saunders an insightful, thoughtful analyst of what makes a story work, he has wonderfully generous attitude toward teaching and students. It reminds me of that rule in improv theater that you never say “no” to whatever is tossed your way. You say “yes, and…”  so the sketch keeps going and maybe turns into something magical. In that same way, Saunders bends the story analysis and reaction on Story Club toward mutual appreciation and discovery.

I also like that his focus as a writer and as a teacher seems to be about how a story becomes that black box of transformation. Isn’t emotional charge and transformation what any reader and writer hopes for? That’s what Saunders looks for in his own writing and that’s what he hopes to teach his students.

If you’re a reader who likes to talk about stories or a writer, I highly recommending checking out Story Club at:

Here’s a little more about Saunders himself:


Here at the beginning of a new year, I thought it might be fun to revisit my beginnings as a writer and share what I learned from those first attempts. It’s a story in three chapters.

Chapter one – The Music of Language, age 5

I am lying under the piano listening to my oldest sister practice when I find a silver letter opener on the rug. I am filled with an irresistible urge to scratch my name into the shellacked finish of the piano, but I know I will get in trouble if my mom finds it, so I carve ‘KATE,’ my two-year old sister’s name, instead.

LESSON LEARNED: Writing can be risky when your mom finds out.

Chapter two – A Dramatic Arc, age 10

I pass a note down our row to Denny Minners, the cutest boy in the fifth grade. The note says: “I like you. Do you like me? Check one: yes or no.”

Mrs. Hague confiscates my note as it makes its way back up the row. She reads it to the class. I bury my head in my sweatered arms, breathing wet wool. Denny’s answer makes it worse. He has checked “no.”

LESSON LEARNED: It’s dangerous to put your heart on paper.

Chapter three – Writing Lab, ages 15-18

Every Wednesday after dinner my dad and I go over the weekly column I write for his newspaper. My column is called Campus Letter and it’s full of news from my high school, like the Junior Statesmen of America’s straw poll (Hubert Humphrey beat Nixon 2 to 1), or the theme for the Christmas Ball (Tinsel Time).

My dad and I sit at the kitchen counter next to the just-washed dishes. He holds his black copy pencil ready. I offer up my small sheaf of freshly-typed pages.

And the lessons begin: crafting a lead sentence, writing tight, choosing the right word, checking facts – lessons usually offered with humor and affection, but sometimes freighted with his impatience which makes me cry. Dad drives home the idea that how you tell a story is as important as what the story is about. For three years we work together Wednesday nights in the kitchen. I come to know myself as a writer and as his daughter. I come to know the satisfaction of expressing myself through writing.

LESSON LEARNED: Writing is hard, but an exacting teacher who believes in you makes all the difference.

Eventually I figured out I came to the wrong conclusions in the first two chapters. I realized it’s okay to write stuff that your mom doesn’t approve of, and that stories are, truly, better if you put your heart on the page. But Dad’s weekly lessons stayed true and developed my ability to write my observations and life experiences into story.

•      •      •      •      •

I’m a believer in Maya Angelou’s advice, “When you learn, teach.” School visits give me a chance to teach kids to write their life experiences into stories.

Like the time I visited Vernonia, in the coast range of Oregon. This town of 2,200 residents had been ravaged by a catastrophic flood. Businesses and schools and hundreds of homes had flooded, requiring National Guard troops to rescue more than 200 people as the Nehalem River crested above flood levels. Teachers at the elementary school hoped I might encourage students to write about their flood experiences, to help them deal with the trauma.

I workshopped with kids in the primary grades. I talked about writing as a way to think things through. I demonstrated how I use drawing to center and generate a story before writing the text. Then I led a brainstorming session, urging kids to float back in their memories, to find a story that evokes big emotion – fear, laughter, love, anger, awe; to find a story that raised its hand to be told that day.

Surprisingly, many of the stories that offered themselves were not flood-related. Other stories loomed bigger for some kids, so, of course, that’s what they wrote about. There was a story about catching a big fish, another titled “The First Time I Jumped on my Horse Named Emily,” and another “My Mom’s Wedding.”

My favorite was “How We Built a New Rec Room” written by a second grade boy who was one of seven kids – “My dad decided he didn’t really need all of the garage,” the story began. The boy wrote how each kid helped with a part of the project. He had helped his dad with the mudding. It ended with an illustration of the whole family sitting on the sofa in the new rec room.

I was proud of these young writers who were willing to go with the memories that bubbled up and shape them into stories.

At the end of that long day of making stories with the kids at Vernonia Elementary, I was walking down the hall when a voice chirped ‘Mrs. Kaskasnosky.” I turned to see this little kid running toward me, his lunchbox in one hand, his coat hooked by the hood onto his head and flying out behind. He reached for my hand and looked up into my face. “I love you,” he said.

That’s what happens when you bring the stories that matter to the page. Happy new year and new beginnings to you all!

Polar Bear Plunge

Today’s post is a plunge into Polar Bear pictures and facts.

Illustration by Margaret Chodos-Irvine from Hello Arctic!

Although polar bears are usually solitary, a group of polar bears is called a Celebration.

Papercut by Julie Paschkis

I plan to celebrate the new year by taking a quick plunge into Lake Washington – aka a Polar Bear Plunge.

A polar bear can swim for days at a time. It uses its big front paws as paddles and the back paws as a rudder.

Vintage poster painted by Nino Nanni

Polar bears are the largest land carnivores on earth.

Papercut by Julie Paschkis

They can smell prey from great distances.

Stencil by Julie Paschkis

They spend half of their life searching for food.

Illustration from the D’Aulaire’s Book of Animals

The D’Aulaire’s Book of Animals is an accordion book showing animals of the north and south. The front of the accordion is in color and shows the animals facing forward. The back is in black and white and shows the same animals from behind.

Polar bears have black skin. Their fur is hollow and it is not white – it is translucent. But it looks white because it reflects light.

Illustration by Kay Nielsen from East of the Sun, West of the Moon

The study of polar bears was instrumental in Darwin’s development of evolutionary theory. You can read about it here in the Public Domain Review.

Are you still hungry for more about polar bears? If so, please click this link to see lovely, lonely photos of bears in Siberia, taken by Dmitry Kokh.

Happy New Year to everyone as we plunge into 2023!

Please share in the comment section how you plan to mark the new year, or any random bear thoughts. Thank you.

Julie Paschkis

A Plate of Christmas Cookies, Kind Of…

My sweet neighbor sent over a plate of Christmas cookies the other day, via her 8-year old son, Henry (who is maybe a foot taller than the last time I talked with him in September as school opened) and her 5-year old daughter, Thea (ditto.) The kids, of course, are even more of a treat than the cookies.

I’m going to offer up my own little plate of “cookies” on Books Around the Table today – links to delicious articles I’ve read in the past month that I want to share. Think of them as gingerbread men, peppermint bark, Mexican wedding cookies, shortbread, chocolate chips, little reindeer and Santas and mittens – sugar cookies with red and green frosting and white piping. Enjoy!

Have you seen the New York Times announcement of “Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2022”? I like a lot of them this year — they seem kid-oriented, lots of fun. I went immediately to my library to check them out – and a couple of them are so popular right now that I’m on a waiting list to get them. That’s a good sign, isn’t it? My favorites of the books I found on the shelf and brought home were Yellow Dog Blues, written by Alice Faye Duncan and illustrated by Chris Raschka, and Telling Stories Wrong by Gianni Rodari, illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna. The latter will make kids hoot with laughter. I’d love to be at a read-aloud of that with kids in stitches. Here’s the link:

from Telling Stories Wrong
Cover of Yellow Dog Blues

“An Awe Walk Might Do Wonders for Your Well-Being” – nothing better than fresh air to get you out of the doldrums, clear your head, remind you there’s a lovely world out there, make you feel creative. Here’s the link:

Do you know the work of the South Korean author-illustrator Baek Heena? She won the 2020 Astrid Lingdgren Award but her prize ceremony was postponed due to the pandemic. The citation about her work says, “With exquisite feeling for materials, looks and gestures, Baek Heena’s filmic picture books stage stories about solitude and solidarity. In her evocative miniature worlds, cloud bread and sorbet moons, animals, bath fairies and people converge. Her work is a doorway to the marvelous: sensuous, dizzying, and sharp.” If your local library doesn’t have any of her books, urge them to purchase a few. Here’s the link to the announcement about her prize:

And here is the general Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award page, with the 2021 and 2022 winners – Jean-Claude Mourlevat and Eva Lindstrom:

Baek Heena with some of the figures she uses to illustrate her picture books.

“A Fast-Growing Network of Conservative Groups Is Fueling a Surge in Book Bans” – disturbing news. Here’s the link:

Tsundoku: That’s the Japanese word for a stack(s) of books you’ve purchased but haven’t read. It comes from the words  tsunde-oku (letting things pile up) and dukosho (reading books). I have a few stacks, to say the least. And here is a wonderful article from Big Think about how important these stacks are when it comes to reminding us that we don’t know everything!

Here is what Maria Popova at Brain Pickings has to say about Umberto Eco’s definition of the “anti-library”: (actually, it’s a review of the book Black Swan by Nassim Taleb, about Eco’s idea.)

If you want to read about more “untranslatable words” like “tsundoku,” take a look at Lost in Translation: An Iluustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders.

That’s it for my little plate of holiday “cookies.” Hope you’ve found them delicious, too. Wishing you all the joys of the season!

Sniffing Around for a Story

While I am waiting for inspiration to strike and the next project to catch my attention, I find it helps to clean my studio. There, deep in a file drawer, I dug up these six illustrations: a sort of To Do List that aims to get your creative tail wagging.

It is often said that advice you give others is advice you need to hear. This is offered in that spirit.

I know BTC (Butt To Chair) is necessary, but regular hours at your desk are not the only hours that count.

Consider the impressionist painter Claude Monet. One day he was sitting in a green chair under a blossoming apple tree in his garden at Giverny. A neighbor came by and said, “Monsieur Monet, I see you are resting.”

“No, no,” answered Monet, “I am working.”

The next day when the neighbor walked by, Monet had set up his easel and was painting away. The neighbor said, “Monsieur Monet, I see you are working.”

“You are wrong, my friend,” said Monet. “Now I am resting.”

I envy Monet this overlap of work and rest. But I expect it was easier to achieve 120 years ago when the only interruption was an occasional neighbor walking by. These days, distractions are innumerable. So here’s my advice to myself: park it AND unplug. Whether you sit on a green chair in a beautiful garden or a worn chair in a Seattle studio, turn off the phone and email and texts etc. and give the work the time it deserves. BTC. There is no substitute. BTC means you show up daily, stay on task, and follow where your mind leads.

I love that there is a word for this in German: sitzfleisch, and also in Yiddish: yechas.

Does anyone keep a writer’s notebook anymore? I have a shelf full of past years’ notebooks, but these days I capture ideas in the NOTES section of my phone. Though I no longer keep a daily journal, I am still dedicated to recording story bits as they appear. Experiences, observations, memories; if it rings your story bell, write it down. Which reminds me of writer Brenda Guiberson’s advice to pay attention to the little hairs on the back of your neck. When they stand up, you have story material. Tell Siri to put it in NOTES.

Julie Larios once taught a class in the art of the flaneur. It was great practice in tuning in. She encouraged us to collect anything that engenders a writing response: photos, memories, questions, confusions, reactions to reading, stories held in objects, candy wrappers, newspaper clippings, feelings, fast-written lists. It’s all fodder, the puzzle pieces that may assemble as a story.

Humans are story people, readers as well as writers. Think back to the books you loved and figure out why they mattered to you. Then weave those qualities into your own work. For instance, my favorite childhood book was Betty McDonald’s Nancy and Plum about two orphaned sisters. I like to think some of the push and pull of sisterhood as well as the abiding sisterly love that is in Nancy and Plum shows up in my Zelda and Ivy series. It can be helpful to look back at old photographs and home movies to help remember the child you were.

I think it was Peter Sagal on NPR who said he chose his activities for their anecdotal value, planning ahead so he’d have interesting stuff to talk about. Why not? Research and adventures feed the story mill. Plus they can be entertaining and intriguing and often humorous. Full of story potential.

Give up on conformity. Don’t limit your imagination with the fear of acceptability. Receive with gratitude anything your imagination serves up: be it beautiful, ugly, absurd, outrageous or excessive. You can always revise later.

Lots of mistakes. Think of the Wright brothers and all their failed experimenting. Let yourself fail so that you can fly. You’ve probably heard the story retold in Art and Fear about the ceramics teacher who divided his students into two groups at the beginning of the semester. Students in the ‘quality’ group each needed to produce one perfect pot to get an ‘A’. Those in the ‘quantity’ group were graded by the weight of all the pieces they created, (i.e. 50 pounds = an ‘A’). Turned out (hah!) the students who made the most pieces also created the most successful ones, meaning they produced more schlock as well as more brilliant work.

WE SAID GOOD-BYE to our sweet Izabella on September 14. For sixteen and a half years she shared our lives, including hanging out with me while I worked. My students once gave me a pad of post-its printed: “Laura Kvasnosky…writing to the tune of dog snores,” which was often true. She helped create books in many ways: providing support and comfort and inspiration, and posing as a wolf for illustrations in Little Wolf’s First Howling. We are so grateful for all the time we had with her.

Rest in peace, sweet pup.

Albert the Fix-it Man

My father, Albert Ernest Paschkis, died at the end of September at the age of 94.

He was born in Berlin in 1928. His family left Germany in 1933 to escape the rising power of Hitler. They lived in Italy, Switzerland and Holland before coming to the USA in 1938. He spoke 5 languages when he was 10 years old!

He arrived in New York City and saw CARS everywhere. For the rest of his life he loved cars.

And motorcycles.

And bicycles.

He became a mechanical engineer. He had a long work life where he invented test and measurement devices and solved all kinds of problems. He built things and fixed things at work.

And he built things and fixed things at home – including the house we grew up in. He was often making things in his basement workshop, or fixing the cars. Everyone around knew they could turn to him for help.

In 2008 my sister Janet wrote a book about him called Albert the Fix-It Man.

In the book Albert is part of a community. He is never too busy or too tired to help anyone.

In the late 1980’s my father designed a studio/addition to my house. He came out and built it together with my husband, friends and with me. I sat in that studio and illustrated this book. I am sitting in it now writing this blog!

There were similarities and differences between real Albert and the character Albert. In the book Albert is short, bearded and almost roly-poly.

In real life he was tall and thin.

In the book he ended every day with a bowl of corn flakes.

That was true. He always saved the last sip of milk for the cat.

In the book he lives alone. In real life he was married to Marcia Iliff Paschkis for 72 years. They were a team. They had four children, a niece and nephew, and a large and loving extended family.

In real life Albert invented things as well as fixed them- including an elliptical bicycle gear, a long lasting lightbulb, and a tide clock that shows the tide and time on the clock face.

In the book he builds community through fixing things. Truly true. In his life he also built community by building and living in interracial housing, by counseling draft resisters during the Vietnam war, and by leading workshops in nonviolent problem solving at Graterford Prison.

The character Albert gets a cold and all of the many people that he has helped get together to help him. They bring him delicious food and he recovers.

In real life many of the people who knew him and loved him gathered together to remember him last week. There was a Quaker memorial service at Foulkeways where he lived, and where my mother still lives. Following the memorial there was a gathering at Gwynedd Friends Meeting where he had been a member for over 60 years. The family made delicious food – homemade soup, bread and cheese, gugelhopf and lebkuchen. Family and friends connected, drawn together by our love for him.

A few days after the memorial I returned to Gwynedd Friends Meeting. The room where we had gathered after the memorial had reverted to its usual function: a preschool. (I attended preschool there in 1961.) Gwynedd Friends School is a wonderful thriving place now. I read Albert the Fix-it Man to the current crop of bright eyed preschoolers.

I hope that I can live up to the ideals of generosity, kindness and inventiveness that my father quietly exemplified. And I hope that telling his story to kids will carry his spirit forward.

written by Julie Paschkis, November 2022

Contemplation vs. Stimulation

All writers know what a tug-of-war the writing life is – you’re never quite sure whether to prioritize stimulation or contemplation. With the former, you experience the world; with the latter, you make sense of it. During the down time it gets real: cook meals, clean dishes.

I’ve been both off-the-grid (on an island near Martha’s Vineyard) and deep into the grid (NYC) for the last two weeks. The  island has rowboats, it has sheep in the meadow, it has dirt paths leading to beaches with bleached-white whale bones. It has no commercial enterprises. None. Meanwhile, on nearby Martha’s Vineyard, several dozen Venezuelan immigrants were being declared victims of a crime (perpetrated by Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis), so I guess “off-the-grid” is only true up to a point. But in general, the vibe on this particular island is non-vibe. Days spent in contemplation.

New York City, indisputably on-grid, has a 3-story (!!!) M&M souvenir shop, outside of which the question bubbles up: How many M&M souvenirs does any one person need? Key chains, magnets, t-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, wind-up dancing M&M’s, M&M flashlights, M&M phone covers, M&M sheets and pillow cases, M&M pajamas, M&M stadium blankets, M&M onesies. At this level, NYC is a 180-degree turn from the world of the island — it’s ALL commercial enterprise, 24/7.

On the other hand, NYC also has Broadway (both On- and Off- I saw Tom Stoddard’s new play Leopoldstadt and the musical Book of Mormon) and a public library guarded by Patience and Fortitude, two lions sculpted from pink Tennessee marble.  In the streets of the city, you hear many languages spoken by people from many countries. Though the island I was on near Martha’s Vineyard is calm and green, the chaos and energy and diversity of NYC appeal to me just as much. City days aren’t days of contemplation but days of stimulation. Is there anything quite like the thrill of a curtain rising in a majestic Broadway theater?

As I write this, I’m just north of Boston in Lynn, Massachusetts. It’s a smallish blue-collar town. Lots of ponds around, lots of autumn trees currently flaming yellow, flaming orange, and flaming red. Lobster roll restaurants, with “lobster” pronounced “lahbstuh.” The big booming Atlantic Ocean rolling in nearby. Also nearby is Salem, famous for its witch hunts (the real hunts, not the political ones.) Both Lynn and Salem are getting ready for Halloween, putting skeletons on their porches, hanging spider webs rather than hanging “witches,” buying pumpkins to carve. There are no sheep in the meadow, no pink marble lions, no dancing M&M’s. But there are cardinals at the bird feeder and someone paddle-boarding across the pond. This is life at the normal level, the day-to-day level, the cook-and-clean level. And though Lynn is neither off-grid idyllic nor on-grid frenetic, that is, not the stuff of a writerly life, it’s where my daughter and her family live, so it’s perfect for now. I’ve contemplated, I’ve been stimulated. Time now to be with people I love.

Here are half-a-dozen links I think you, as readers and writers, will like:

  1. A video game based on Emily Dickinson’s poetry. What???
  2. “Voices thought lost to history…” An imaginative Irish storytelling site:
  3. Bestselling authors describe how they organize their bookshelves.
  4. Ever find anything tucked into the pages of a library book?
  5. Are you in a reading slump? Here’s a solution:
  6. Have you ever bought a book based on the blurbs endorsing it? If yes, this might explain why: