Jo’s Journey 2020 (and start of my usual summer blog hiatus)

My advice for aspiring writers is go to New York. And if you can’t go to New York, go to the place that represents New York to you, where the standards for writing are high, there are other people who share your dreams, and where you can talk, talk, talk about your interests. Writing books begins in talking about it, like most human projects, and in being close to those who have already done what you propose to do. Walter Kirn

You cannot sum up New York City in one paragraph, let alone one word. Each borough has its own flavor. The combination of cultures that walk its streets: white, black, Asian, Arab and Latino, testifies to the city which was built by immigrants, where no one can lay claim, but to which everyone belongs. My gratitude snowballs when I think of the privilege to have had a season of my nomadic life in this electric city where dreams are made. I am not yet the published author I hoped to become when I landed at JFK for the first time, but I am on the way there and my writing chutzpah and community have only flourished in this publishing city. After 7+ years in and around New York City, I must bid my au-revoir, for a revoir there will definitely be, as I have far too many friends here not to return, especially as COVID19 prevented all the farewell parties I would have had.

Some Random Pics of 2013-2020 in New York City and on the East Coast

Obviously, I could write a book about my experiences, and yes, yes, I know I have been promising that travelogue for many years. It will happen. Meanwhile, I moved eleven times during these years, so let me walk you through just a handful of New York firsts.

I began my New York sojourn in Park Slope, just a couple of minutes-walk from Prospect Park and Brooklyn Central Library. The first Sunday morning, I was treated to breakfast in bed. Not grits or pancakes, but a genuine New York bagel, thickly smeared with cream cheese, topped with melt-in-your-mouth lox, and a scattering of capers and lemon juice. But wait, it gets better, I had reading matter too, to browse my matinée away. You guessed it, my introduction to the New Yorker, where one article could take several cups of coffee, and was like reading an erudite novella. Sorry if I am kvetching too much, but this was also my initiation into some insanely useful Yiddish expressions. 

I then spent a few months in a couple of Bed Stuy locations, including my first time living in a Brownstone. This mid 19th century town house with its friendly stoop, offered large brick fireplaces, an old claw-footed bath tub and, in this case, a grand piano from my landlord who’d been pianist in some of the best gay bars New York has to offer.

Speaking of gay dives, truly perhaps only San Francisco could offer a better introduction to the gay scene than NYC. I am still moved when I visit Stonewall, and I have cheered myself hoarse at every pride march since I arrived. I felt singularly sorrowful when COVID meant the cancelation of 2020 NYC pride, on its 50thanniversary. This is a very accepting city in which to be queer and has been very healing for me.

Carroll Gardens proved to be my favorite Brooklyn neighborhood, possibly because of its French/Italian vibe. But also, most certainly, because I lived within walking distance of some of the coolest writer/illustrator friends I know and what became the first frequentation of many cool Indie Book Stores. Sadly Book Court, where I went to my first book signing, with author-illustrator, Lauren Castillo, closed in 2016 after 35 wonderful years in the community. Those friends have also left, and are all scattered to different parts of the US now, but boy we had some cool meetups in Bar Tabac, where I could indulge my culinary desires for a Stella Artois beer and steaming bowl of moules & frites. 

I NEVER saw raccoons in Central Park, despite living in its vicinity for 2.5 years, both on the Upper West Side and in Harlem to the north, and being told they could be seen scavenging most evenings in trash cans. However, NYC did provide me with other critter experiences not to be missed. Now, you are talking to someone here who has dealt with flying cockroaches the size of small bats, in Malawi. But you’ve not experienced New York until you are rinsing conditioner off your hair in the shower and up through the drain just millimeters from your chalk white feet, a devilish black bug the size of a lime crawls out and scuttles towards you. Maybe the water masked my screams, but never has a shampoo bottle been wielded with such bloodthirsty murderous intention. The only other time I jumped out of a shower so quickly was in an outdoor one in Zambia, where you quickly learned frogs in the shower meant snakes nearby. My architect buddy Anne later entertained me with grim urban stories of American roaches, aka water bugs, entering Manhattan buildings via vents, sump pumps, and other access points to take a trip up a pipe to enter an apartment. 

I would be remiss not to give a shout-out to Sydney the rat atop the trash can in the gardens of the natural history museum who never failed to greet me with a twitch of his tail if I passed after sundown. There are tales of seal-spotting off Long Island and bird-watching in Central Park, but the most enduring fauna-experience of my Manhattan years was in the apartment I stayed in for just one week, in which I encountered a bug that would give me nightmares and phantom itching for more than a year. I only brought one medium sized bag and a small backpack when I moved to the States, and I got rid of that and almost all its contents when I left the bed-bug infested room just before Christmas in 2013. Actually, it turned out to be great preparation for COVID19 as many folk wouldn’t hug me or let me near their apartments for many weeks out of understandable fear of the spread.

I’ve biked, and walked, and bussed, and subwayed the streets, parks and bridges of NYC. I have kayaked and sailed on the Hudson and in Long Island Sound. I highly recommend doing a walking tour, whether with a ranger in Central Park, or if you are really lucky, with Leonard Marcus, who does Childrens Books Walking tours in various locations (think Eloise at the Plaza and scoops about the world famous publishers on 5thAvenue). If you think only cities as ancient as Rome have treasures around every piaza, you would be wrong. There are nuggets of history all over this city, from Seneca Village, a 19th-century settlement of mostly free black landowners in the borough of Manhattan within present-day Central Park. … to the haunting 9/11 memorial. Not to forget the 24-hour urban heart-pumping humanity at its most dynamic. The throb of New York, I have experienced nowhere else. I was sad to move out to the nearby suburb of Mamaroneck, but being in cycling distance of work, still by the water, and just 45 mins ride into Grand Central made it worth it.

In Mamaroneck, I immersed myself in the French community who have been settling here since the opening of the French American School 40 years ago. It’s been weird and cool to wander into Trader Joe’s and hear French being spoken, or find books in French at the wonderful Larchmont Indie bookstore, Andersons. Also, this has been a great location for many hiking trips with my gal pals into Harriman park and Bear Mountain, as well as longer trips up to the Catskills, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Adirondack peaks and even the Blue Ridge.

Since buying my old Subaru 5 years ago, I have explored every state from Maine to Georgia in the east. I’ve tasted my first: SouthPortland lobster bake, clam chowder at the Boston wharf, oysters in the famed Grand Central Oyster bar, some exquisite wine from Cape May vineyards in NJ, homecooked deep-fried chicken and ale out by a Tennessee firepit, grilled pink snapper on a Florida Keys’ beach, po’boys in New Orleans café, shrimp n grits on the banks of Moon River Savannah, and so much more.

I have loved my years out east, but I am itching for new adventures. It’s a strange time to be taking a road trip, but on July 1st, my trusty Subaru, Matilda, will be pointing her hood westward toward the setting sun—destination, San Francisco, where I am thrilled to be joining a new writing community in the Bay Area and taking up the role of IB librarian and the French American International School of San Francisco. So many new friendships and places to explore lie ahead. What a journey. I shall be photo-journaling my trip, as always, on FB and IG if you want to come along. My playlist is ready (as is my stock of Purell and wipes), but feel free to leave your audiobook recommendations for me. 

Lastly, I would appreciate your good thoughts for safe travels and a smooth visa transfer. Merci.

Posted in Musings | Tagged , , | 28 Comments

That Dog – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: That Dog

Author & Illustrator Emma Lazell

 Publisher: Pavilion, UK, 2020

Ages: 4-8

Themes: humor, dognappers, dogs, crime, clues, criminals


There’s a team of dognappers on the loose! They’ve stolen lots of pooches, but this time they’re up against a very clever dog.

The cunning Penelope Dognapper is very keen to get her hands on the latest rare breed, the lesser-spotted woofer. Her big mistake is sending Patrick, her accomplice, to do the job. He has great difficulty identifying the right dog–that dog–and in a house that also contains a snake, a tortoise, and a characterful cat, you can imagine the chaos that ensues as he tries to steal the dog.

And that dog is a very smart woofer. He’s a bit of a detective in his spare time, and he might just have worked out who’s behind the dastardly crimes. Will he avoid getting caught himself and rescue his fellow creatures?


Why I like this book:

This is a hilarious dog-napping caper, with decidedly snide and mildly subversive British humor, which I love. UK picture books truly are different to American ones, and I love this focus on two nasty dog-nappers, Penny, the boss, and Pat, the inept sidekick. Cool clues are scattered across the pages for kids to spot. But they will perceive the “evil” looks of the criminals from page one, for sure.

The pages overflow with funny critters: oodles of dogs and plenty of other dog-substitutes, but the hero is, of course, that dog, who outsmarts the crime-duo with excellence. Kids will find the canine-crime story a hoot.


Great discussion on all the clues can ensue.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Posted in Perfect Picture Book Friday | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Pride Month Book Reviews/PPBF – Mayor Pete

Title: Mayor Pete, the Story of Pete Buttigieg (Who did it first?)

Author: Rob Saunders

Illustrator: Levi Hastings

 Publisher: Henry holt and co., 07/21/2020

Ages: 4-8

48 pages

Nonfiction: biography

Themes: political biography, Pete Buttigieg, political office, office of president, electoral campaigns, millennials, lgbtqia+, mayors, Indiana democrats


When Pete Buttigieg announced he was running for president, he became the first openly gay candidate to run for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination and the first millennial ever to pursue the office. But before the nation knew him as “Mayor Pete,” he was a boy growing up in a Rust Belt town, a kid who dreamed of being an astronaut, and a high schooler who wondered about a life of public service. Without a doubt, no one could have imagined who Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg, the boy who lived in a two-story house on College Street, would become.

Through victories and defeats, and the changes that the seasons bring, the young boy from South Bend grew into a man devoted to helping others. Mayor Pete: The Story of Pete Buttigieg celebrates the life of an American who dared to be the first and who imagined a better world for everyone.


He was born while a record-setting snowstorm blanketed South Bend, Indiana. Joseph and Jennifer Anne proudly welcomed Peter Paul Montogomery Buttigieg—or Pete—home.

Only time would tell who the boy in the two story house on College Street would become.

Why I like this book:

I certainly think the first openly gay American running for the office of the Democratic Presidential candidate for the 2020 elections deserves a picture book biography, and Sanders has written a simple compelling introduction of his life for young readers to be released next month. The author earths Mayor Pete very clearly in his home town of South bend Indiana even though he goes off to study at Harvard, MA, and later as part of the Naval reservists does a tour in Afghanistan. Clearly South Bend is home, and a city and state loved by Buttigieg.

This is a biography which focuses on salient events in mayor Pete’s life, that we have all come to know over the past year, but presents them in a way grounded in seasons, and failures and successes that young children will relate to. We meet him as a little a boy growing up in a Rust Belt town, one who dreamed of being an astronaut, and whose desire to serve his community is evident already in high school when he stands for various school posts.

While Sanders doesn’t mention it, his emphasis on Mayor Pete’s simple beginnings reminds me (the foreigner) of another famous gay American politician, Lincoln, born in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky but who then moved to and grew up in southern Indiana! Certainly Mayor Pete’s unpretentious midwest beginnings are relatable.

With nimble picture book prowess, Sanders creates a refrain that links the evolution of this young motivated boy through his life’s choices thus far to the first-of-his-kind man running for presidential office. The refrain seen above at the bottom of the opening page echos through to the last page with its,

“Only time will tell who Pete Buttigieg, presidential candidate, will become.” It is also a refrain that offers aspiration to readers that we do not know the exciting tasks to which our lives are destined.

I have always personally loved Mayor Pete’s linguistic prowess!

Four double paged spreads are given over to Mayor Pete’s (publicly) coming out after his return from Afghanistan and how it did not impede his election as mayor, nor did his marriage to to Chasten Glezman prevent Pete’s political progress.

After this week’s historic SCOTUS decision when it ruled that LGBTQIA+ workers are protected from job discrimination it seems fitting to be promoting a picture book about Pete Buttigieg.


Back matter includes a time line, a short discussion about Mayor Pete’s place in history, who can be president as well as a selected list of sources, and how to pronounce that name! This is a great text to add to our diversity bookshelves, and in an election year, a terrific text to talk about presidential candidates with our future voters.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Posted in Book Promotion, Book recommendation, LGBTQIA, Perfect Picture Book Friday | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments