Marvelous tales and adventures: the Children’s Special Collection at the Portland Public Library’s Portland Room

Many years ago, fresh out of graduate school for library science, I landed my first professional job as a grant cataloger of 19th century American children’s literature at the esteemed American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Although I found the books that I catalogued to be fairly depressing (which echoed my life at the time) with their pious and moralistic themes, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for classic children’s literature and illustration, which I have always loved. One of my happiest memories as a child was reading “The Adventures of Uncle Lubin” (first published in 1902) with my grandmother, as well as reading books on my own such as A Little Princess (by Frances Hodgson Burnett), Hans Brinker, or, The Silver Skates (by Mary Mapes Dodge), and all the Wizard of Oz books (by L. Frank Baum). My imagination was also stirred through the illustrations of books, such as those by Beatrix Potter, Arthur Rackham, and Kate Greenaway. In fact, when in graduate school I was assigned to create an exhibit (on paper) on any subject of my choice, I chose to create an exhibit based on the clothing in Kate Greenaway’s books (with my premise that the clothing of the time was influenced by Kate Greenaway).

So, imagine my delight when I finally perused the marvelous books in the Portland Room’s Children’s Special Collection. (I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that it took me over 25 years to finally sit down and look at these amazing books). On my lunch hour one day this winter I wandered over to the Portland Room, where Special Collections Librarian Abraham Schechter allowed me to immerse myself into the magical books behind the glass sliding doors. I spent a very happy hour oohing and aahing over the book bindings and illustrations throughout many of these books, including endpapers.

My first question, though, was “Where did these books come from?” Abraham said that they were in the previous home of the Portland Public Library in the Baxter Building. Investigating the bookplates and inscriptions explained some of the provenance beyond that.

The most well-known children’s book authors, from both sides of the Atlantic, can be found in this collection, including Louisa May Alcott (Little Women), J. M. Barrie (Peter Pan), L. Frank Baum (Wizard of Oz), Frances Hodgson Burnett (Secret Garden), Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), Kenneth Grahame (Wind in the Willows), Rudyard Kipling (Jungle Book), and Robert Louis Stevenson (Kidnapped). Lesser known to today’s modern audiences, but very popular in their time, are G. A. Henty (known for adventure fiction and historical fiction), Harriett Lothrop (Five Little Peppers series), and Oliver Optic (pseudonym for William Taylor Adams). Closer to home are Maine authors Jacob Abbott (best known for the Rollo books), Sophie May (pseudonym for Rebecca Sophia Clarke, and best known for the Little Prudy series), Kate Douglas Wiggin (Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm), and Josephine Perry, the wife of Admiral Robert Peary, who wrote “Snow baby” with her daughter Marie Ahnighito Peary.

And, oh, the illustrations! I found books illustrated by Howard Pyle, N. C. Wyeth, W. Heath Robinson, Randolph Caldecott, Arthur Rackham, Beatrix Potter, and Kate Greenaway. Even William Blake, the English poet and painter, is represented.

There are also wonderful fairy tales, such as those by Andrew Lang, Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, and Charles Perrault. There are books in several languages, including French, German, Spanish, and Italian.

Alas, I could only begin to skim the surface in surveying these 600+ books. I hope I can return soon, to really delight in these beautiful books in a more leisurely way. (Here are more of my photographs of this marvelous collection)

Eggceptional! Eggs from the “nests” (homes) of Long Islanders

Our newest exhibit showcases favorite eggs of islanders, including Nancy Berges, Ann Caliandro, Judy Churchard, Annie Donovan, Bette Jane Fitzgerald, Nancy Jordan, Nancy Noble, Katharine Stewart, and Patty Temple. We are also delighted to showcase the Pysanky eggs made during the recent workshop.

The egg, an ancient symbol of new life, has been associated with many cultures celebrating spring. Pagans saw eggs as a symbol of regeneration in springtime. Early Christians borrowed this idea and applied it to the rebirth of Christ. The egg itself became a symbol of the Resurrection.

Open during library hours

Long Island Community Library

Ode to Beatrix Potter

On my bucket list is a visit Beatrix Potter‘s home in the Lake District in England. I have long been a fan of her books and artwork, as well as of her life story, as an author, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist. Although I have not yet made it to Hill Top, her home in Near Sawrey, and other places that are associated with her, I did have the pleasure of visiting an exhibition about her artwork and love of nature at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This exhibition, Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature, was one of the reasons for visiting England last October. In the midst of a wonderful week visiting my friends, Jane and Michael in West Sussex, we took the train to London, and found our way to the Victoria and Albert Museum via an underground tunnel. Entering the exhibition was entering Beatrix’s world. We saw familiar friends such as Benjamin Bunny, Jemima Puddleduck, Peter Rabbit, and even the waistcoats that Beatrix used for inspiration in her book, The Tailor of Gloucester. At the end of the exhibit one could sit and enjoy scenes from the Lake District, to make you almost feel like you were there. So, until I can visit the actual setting, this was a wonderful way to get a small taste of Beatrix Potter’s landscape, via her artwork.

Entrance to exhibit
Benjamin Bunny
Beatrix Potter artwork – a black bunny and Mrs. Tiggle-Winkle
Jemima Puddleduck and Peter Rabbit
Waistcoats which inspired the Tailor of Gloucester’s waistcoat
These cute little mice appeared throughout the exhibit
A young fan

LICL Book Group

Exciting news! After several years of not having a book group at the Long Island Community Library, a new group is up and running! Started by “the two Lindas,” Linda Greene and Linda McCann, we meet the 2nd Monday of each month at 1 p.m. Our initial meeting last November brought together a group of enthusiastic islanders, full of ideas and suggestions about books to read and how to proceed. We started with The wind in my hair : my fight for freedom in modern Iran, by Masih Alinejad with Kambiz Foroohar (her husband). Following that we read Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships, by Nina Totenburg of NPR, about her friendships, including with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Following two books by journalists, we are turning to fiction, with Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Our next choice for March is by a Maine author: The Midcoast, by Adam White.

This is a great way to get to know your fellow islanders on a deeper level, sharing our love for good books. All are welcome!

Notable books read in 2022

According to Goodreads, last year I read 49 books! The shortest book at 112 pages was Discover Galway, by Paul Walsh, which I read when I thought we may be going to Galway, Ireland (didn’t happen last year, but would still love to go).  The longest book was by the same author as the longest book I read the previous year: Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon – her second book in her Scottish Highlander series, “Outlander,” at even longer than her first one, at 947 pages (way too long, so we’ll see if I’m inspired to read her third book this year).  The most popular book was “The silent patient” by Alex Michaelides, which was read by at least 2,604,312 people on Goodreads. The least popular (read) book was Discovery Galway again (sorry Paul Walsh), which was on only 5 shelves of Goodreads readers.

Amongst those 50 or so books that I read in 2022, here are some that I would recommend reading:

Sailing true north: ten admirals and the voyage of character, by Admiral James Stavridis. Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan (which I attended for one year) sponsors a lecture series, called “The January Series.” I was able to catch some of the lectures online, including one by Admiral James Stavridis. I was so enchanted by his charisma that I sought out (i.e., purchased) several of his books for Michael. We enjoyed his writing and learned a lot about various admirals throughout history. Now we are reading his “Sailor’s bookshelf: fifty books to know the sea.” Some of the books we’ve read before, but he’s introducing us to more that are now on our “to read” list of “boat books.”

The Violin conspiracy: a novel, by Brendan Slocumb. Two years ago, in the midst of the pandemic, I picked up the violin (a lifelong dream), and have really enjoyed playing it (albeit still pretty badly). So, when I saw this title, I knew I had to read it. After the initial chapters, I checked the author bio, as it seemed like whoever wrote this had to be a musician. That was my favorite part of the book, the descriptions of Ray playing the violin. You could feel his passion. I also liked Ray’s story, of falling in love with the violin, and his challenges along the way (especially standing up to racism). This first novel is based somewhat on the experiences of the author (without the “conspiracy,” which while interesting, was not as compelling as the other parts).

My Story, by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. “My sister went to Abu Dhabi, and all she bought me was…” this amazing book by the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. Michael and I read a chapter each evening and agreed that this should be required reading for world leaders, or anyone interested in the politics of the Middle East. How refreshing to read about someplace in the Middle East that is not fraught with war and corruption. The chapters are deliciously short, well written, and interesting. The author spends a bit of time talking about his mother and his horses, but his wife gets only one brief mention (later I found out why – he’s not so great on the women in his life, aside from his mother). Overall, we were very impressed with this man, and his poetic soul and leadership.

Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times, by Katherine May. Okay, I admit it, I was a sucker for the beautiful cover, as well as the great title. While not all of this book grabbed me, there was so much that I felt like I would carry forward. I do at times feel like I am wintering – not only on the calendar, but with other factors in my life, including the pandemic. And I do admit to loving winter, although it can be challenging. I liked the approach of writing the book in monthly segments, and I also liked that the author is British and her home is in a seaside village. Katherine May intertwines her personal stories with experiences of other places and people and creatures. Her admission that this book turned out differently than she intended is quite true to life – despite our best intentions, life happens.

The bookshop of second chances: a novel, by Jackie Fraser. This is my kind of book – great setting, lovely characters, good story (even though predictable ending, which is just fine with me). I loved Thea and her wonderful honesty and introspection, as well as Edward and his curmudgeness (not a word, I know). And who can resist, in general, books where people escape their lives and start over in a small idyllic village somewhere – in this case in Scotland. And working in a bookstore! What could be better, indeed.

Wanderlost: Falling from grace and finding mercy in all the wrong places, by Natalie Toon Patton. I went on a spending spree at my favorite publisher, Paraclete Books, and this is one of the titles that intrigued me – I thought my friend Elizabeth may like it, as she is a spiritual soul who loves to travel. Of course, I had to read it first – and loved it! What an inspiring story, and so beautifully written (and very funny!). There is much here to chew on, and reread. Like the author, I’m also intrigued by the intersection of travel and spirituality. I loved how Natalie’s  perceptions changed with her exposure to different cultures and faiths and people. I think that happens to some of us, whose faith evolves throughout life, and what we are drawn to (such as Celtic Christianity for me). Church and religion can disappoint us (reading “Jesus and John Wayne” the previous year was a real eye opener), and we peel away the layers we try to find what remains true.

Finding Dora Maar: An artist, an address book, a life, by Brigitte Benkemoun. I read about this book, in which the author finds an address book that she eventually realizes belonged to artist Dora Marr (1907-1997), in one of the magazines lying around our staff kitchen. It looked so interesting that I suggested it for my book group. I am so glad I read it – it’s right up my alley in so many ways. As an archivist I am always trying to puzzle items out – so I loved that aspect of the book. I also find that whole era of these 20th century French artists and writers fascinating. I had heard of some of the people in the book, but it was fun to learn about them all on a deeper level, and Dora’s relationship with them.

The Lost Apothecary: a novel, by Sarah Penner. This impressive and well written first novel, about a female apothecary in London who secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them, is a fun and fast read, with three different voices telling the story, in two different time periods. Yes, this seems to be a common way to tell historical fiction these days, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. For the most part this does work, and I found myself interested in the two stories, and caring about the women. The contemporary story of a marriage is also compelling, about how one can lose themselves in expectations and doing the “right” thing.

The Cottage Fairy Companion: A Cottagecore guide to slow living, connecting to nature, and becoming enchanted again, by Paola Merrill. A friend introduced me to the Cottage Fairy videos on YouTube, and I found myself falling into Paola’s beautiful world in a rural valley in Washington State. When I was on vacation in Rockland, Maine, I found a copy in a local bookstore, and purchased it. It’s the kind of book where you can read a few pages at a time, and just savor the good writing and beautiful photographs. Paola Merrill is an old soul, and is so thoughtful and sensitive about how she approaches life. I love how she grows as a person throughout her videos, and in her book. She also has a puckish sense of humor, and is a unique and honest individual. Having watched her videos for the past year or so I can hear her voice when I read her book. I like how the book is laid out in seasons, too, with various recipes to try.

This Year It Will Be Different, and other stories: a Christmas treasury, by Maeve Binchy. By the time Christmas rolls around I’m in the mood for light reading, especially Christmas stories. This book came into my hands at the perfect time, as I had been reading a lot of more serious books. The short stories were so readable, and while I liked some of them better than others, overall they were very enjoyable. They had a bit of depth to them, and not always the happy endings that one would imagine.

Dylan Thomas and Wales

This month, in the midst of celebrating a Celtic Christmas, Evergreen United Methodist Church, on our fair island, was honored to host Abraham Schechter, the Special Collections Librarian at the Portland Public Library, and his wife Angelika, who shared with us about Christmas in Wales, as seen through the eyes of Dylan Thomas, the famed Welsh poet. After reading to us, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” Abraham showed us photographs of Swansea and Thomas’ home, where Abraham was fortunate enough to be the writer-in-residence at Dylan Thomas’ home. (At another point, Abraham spent some time at The Kilns, the home of C.S. Lewis in England, so he is indeed a man blessed to live amongst the homes of these two amazing literary men). One can also visit Dylan Thomas’s boathouse, including enjoying tea on the Taf Estuary.

For more about Abraham’s time at Dylan Thomas’ home, you can read his blogspot, La Vie Graphite: writing in wales – Blogger

Ode to Jane Austen

Last month I had the wonderful experience of visiting Jane Austen’s home in Chawton, England, in Hampshire. Her house is on the main street in the little village of Chawton, and it was a lovely autumn day for wandering throughout her home, with costumes from recent Jane Austen films interspersed throughout the rooms. One room had an exhibit about “Jane Austen in love.” I especially loved seeing the colorful wallpaper, with shades of yellow and green, throughout the house. Outside of the house was a peaceful garden, as well as a wonderful gift shop, full of books, tea, fudge, ornaments, and even Jane Austen ducks!

We ate lunch across the street at “Cassandra’s Cup,” named after Jane’s sister Cassandra, which had teacups hanging from the ceiling, and a delicious variety of paninis.

From there we strolled up the street to Chawton House, which was owned by Jane’s brother Edward.

“Lucky Edward” was adopted into the Knight family, relatives of Jane’s family. Jane and her mother and sister often visited Edward at Chawton House, and they attended the little church nearby, St. Nicholas Church. Jane’s mother and sister are buried in the church yard there.

Chawton House houses the research library of The Centre for the Study of Early Women’s Writing, 1600–1830, using the building’s connection with Jane Austen. While we were at the house, there was a wonderful exhibit about women travel writers.

While I can’t claim to have read all of Jane Austen’s books, it was wonderful to delve into her life, and learn a lot more about this amazing woman writer, who is one of the best known and loved authors of all times.

Maine Collection at the Long Island Community Library

Most public libraries in Maine have a Maine collection – books about Maine, and books by Maine authors. My guess is few of them have as nice of a reading nook as our island library has – two comfy chairs and reading lamps in a cozy little alcove, where one can leisurely explore all sorts of books about our beloved state. The Long Island Community Library has a wonderful selection of Maine books, including fiction, non-fiction, biographies, and children’s books.

Our books range from obscure authors to more famous authors, such as classic authors (Sarah Orne Jewett, Elisabeth Ogilvie, Kenneth Roberts, Booth Tarkington, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Peter Tristram Coffin, Louise Dickinson Rich, Gladys Hasty Carroll, Mary Ellen Chase, Ruth Moore, May Sarton, Ben Ames-Williams, Henry Beston, E. B. White) and contemporary authors (Stephen King, Paul Doiron, Cathie Pelletier, Carolyn Chute, Tess Gerritson, Charlotte MacLeod, Richard Russo, Elizabeth Strout, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Monica Wood). We also have Long Island authors, such as Alix Kates Shulman, Peter Kilgore, and Dorothy Herbert.

Our children’s books authors and illustrators include Margaret Wise Brown, Ashley Bryan, Barbara Cooney, Robert McCloskey, and many other classic authors and contemporary.

Non-fiction subjects include maritime/nautical/sailing, environmental, flora and fauna/gardening, cookbooks, art, crafts (knitting, rug hooking, etc.), poetry, and history.

We also have a nice collection of more ephemeral materials related to local history, including Long Island.

So, next time you are at our island library, take a minute to peruse the shelves in our nook, and perhaps sit in a rocking chair to enjoy a bit of Maine.

If once you have slept on an island…

Some of you may be familiar with the beginning of a poem by Rachel Field, “If once you have slept on an island, You’ll never be quite the same.” I recently read a book about this Maine woman writer, that allowed me learn more about Rachel Field’s life, including her life on her beloved Sutton Island. The Field House: A Writer’s Life Lost and Found on an Island in Maine by Robin Clifford Wood, dispelled my false notion of Rachel Field being a sweet little old lady in a rocking chair knitting. Obviously I knew nothing about her, but that must be my impression of some of these Maine women writers, especially those who wrote children’s books. The real Rachel Field (1894-1942) was a sophisticated cultured woman who actually spent more time in New York City and California than at her Maine island home. And sadly, although she was sweet, she didn’t live long enough to be old (and she didn’t appear to be little). Now when I see one of her books, or hear the familiar phrase, “If once you have slept on an island…” I will have a different picture in my head of Rachel Field.

Aside from the Maine woman writer aspect, which I always enjoy learning about, I liked this book for the dual story – the thread between Rachel and the author, with the island home of Rachel Field tying them together. What a treasure for Robin to live in the home of this author, to really absorb her history, and to be enchanted enough to feel the call to write her biography. Truly a labor of love. I liked reading Robin’s letters to Rachel – you can feel the emotion. And I enjoyed reading about Robin’s research and visiting sites related to Rachel.

Rachel Field is best known for the Newbery Award–winning Hitty, Her First Hundred Years. I finally read this book several years ago, and liked it so much that it made my top 10 books read in 2018. Several of her books were made into movies. She was quite prolific, writing novels, non-fiction, poetry, and drama.

For those of us who are not only lucky enough to be able to sleep on an island, but to live on an island, Rachel Field is worth a second look.

Cat tales: Feline fancies from the homes of the Nancys

Curated by Nancy Berges and Nancy Noble 

with assistance from their feline friends, Henry and Josie

Our new exhibit at the Long Island Community Center is all about cats!

We have cats made of glass, wood, ceramic; stuffed cats, rocks; cat cards and books; paintings of cats. We have cats made by local artists (Butch Kilgore, Ginny Stowell), and cats made by Maine artists (Nancy Maiello, Andersen Design). And cats from as far away as Mexico and Canada!

We have useful cats (in the form of a mug, paperclips, piggy (Kitty) bank, teapot, doorstop, snack tray, salt and pepper shakers, socks, bag, wine glass, towel, fly swatter, and jewelry (pins, earrings, bracelet, pendants, and a ring holder). But some of our cats are purely decorative! We have a cat footprint (in memory of Sheba Berges), and cats that belonged to “Catman Mike” (Michael Kilgore). We even have St. Gertrude of Nivelles, the Patron Saint of Cats.

A small library on an island on the coast of Maine