'G' Is For Great, Grandiose, Granite-inspired Literature

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By Susan Morse

Hampton Union, Friday, April 18, 2003

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
New Hampshire Poet Laureate Marie Harris
NH Poet Laureate Marie Harris

HAMPTON - New Hampshire Poet Laureate Marie Harris and artist Karen Busch Holman read from their new children’s book "G is for Granite" at the Lane Memorial Library in Hampton Wednesday night, [April 16, 2003].

Harris, who wrote the words, and Holman, who did the illustrations, have been touring libraries and schools throughout the state to promote their work. The book was released at Christmas by Sleeping Bear Press of Michigan, which is publishing similar books in other states.

[Photo left: On Wednesday, Poet Laureate Marie Harris talks with kids about her book "G is for Granite" at the Lane Memorial Library. Staff photo by Jackie Ricciardi]

Each letter of the alphabet represents a fact unique to New Hampshire, Harris of Barrington explained to the eight children who gathered to hear the story and see the colorful illustrations.

"U is for Uncle Sam," she said. "Sam Wilson’s old house still stands in Mason. He had a nickname that brought him great fame: 'Uncle Sam’ stood for the name of our nation!"

The book is a compilation of historic state facts. Readers learn that Amos Tuck established the Republican Party in Exeter in 1853; that the state wildflower is the Lady’s Slipper; and that "Black Jacks" was the name given to African-American sailors who shipped out of Portsmouth.

The book is geared toward all ages, Harris said, but fourth-graders find it particularly interesting because they are studying New Hampshire history.

Fourth-grade teacher Rosemary Sheehy, who teaches at the local Marston School, attended with children David, 10, Philip, 7, and Ann, 6. Sheehy bought at least two books, one for her class and one for another fourth-grade teacher’s class.

"Cindy (Children’s Librarian Cynthia Stosse) saved a book for me and I read it and just loved it," said Sheehy. Students in her class have been making their own 16-page New Hampshire ABC book

"I think it was great," said David Sheehy, 10. "I liked the pictures in it."

"I liked the poems and illustrations," said Matt Casassa, 8, son of library trustee Sara Casassa. "My favorite one was Z because of the kitty."

The cat drawings are the kid’s favorite, admits Holman, who used her own cats, Penelope and Sparky, as models. Holman lives in Salisbury (NH), near Concord.

Each painting took 10 to 15 hours to create and Holman had four months to complete 26 drawings plus the cover, which shows lilacs, a purple finch, Mount Washington and the Old Man in the Mountain against a backdrop of granite.

Illustrating the granite was tough, she said, until she borrowed her son’s Winnie the Pooh toothbrush and splattered colors of gray and white to make it look like the rock. Her son Tyler also posed as a model. She used the old general store Calef’s in Barrington for the "V is for Village Green" and her town square of Salisbury as the background.

Holman and Harris got together when Harris saw some of Holman’s work at the University of New Hampshire. Holman is a former interior architect from New York City who now works in graphic design. She helped to paint some of the interior for the World Trade Center, she said, and knew many of those who were in the towers on Sept. 11, 2001, including the occupants of one office that lost 46 people.

"I would never go back to New York City," said Holman, who is now happy to remain in a town of 1,000 with her husband and young children.

Harris had a year to write the book.

"I thought, piece of cake, 26 letters, one year, no problem," Harris told the group. "It was not easy at all. It took a whole year to do it."

Rules included that each letter had to match something unique to the Granite State.

"I couldn’t do B is for bear, M is for moose," she said. "How many zebras do we have in New Hampshire?"

The children laughed as she answered, "zero."

The children guessed that the hardest letters to do would be X, Y, Z, and Q. Those weren’t as hard as others, Harris said, in which she had to choose between topics.

X is for X-truss, the braces used to strengthen covered bridges; Y for "Young Hickory of the Granite Hills," the nickname of New Hampshire native and 14th president Franklin Pierce; and Z, which features a cat on the quilt covers, is for zero degree weather.

Each poem in the book has the same rhythm scheme, Harris explained to the children. The first and last lines have 10 beats each and the two middle lines have five. The first and the last lines rhyme as do the two middle lines.

Alice Howard, with her husband and two children Christopher, 7, and Chloe, 8, just moved to the area from Silicon Valley in California. She said she saw the flier about the reading when one of her children brought it home from school and decided to come.

"Everything is new for us," she said. Through the book she and her children have been exploring the Old Man in the Mountain and other things New Hampshire.

"It’s so different," she said of her new home. "We love it here.

For more on New Hampshire’s Poet Laureate Marie Harris, see Sunday’s Herald: Poetry and Politics Collide

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