Children’s book by Maine islander explores challenges of remote life

Posted Aug. 20, 2015, at 1:32 p.m.

For those who live on Maine’s remote islands, inclement weather can mean delays in getting groceries, supplies, mail and more. For kids looking forward to something, that can be a really big deal.

A new children’s book explores life on remote Maine islands through the eyes of a little boy named Riley. “Island Birthday,” written by Eva Murray and illustrated by Jamie Hogan, was released in May by Tilbury House and follows Riley as he anxiously awaits the delayed mail plane, which will be delivering a special birthday package from his grandmother — and, hopefully, milk for his cereal.

The story is based on what Murray, who has lived on Matinicus Island for 28 years, says island life really has been like for her family. She first moved to the island to teach in the one-room schoolhouse there in 1987. A year later, she returned and married the island electrician, she said. That’s where the couple raised their kids.

“One of the things that I think is really kind of important to talk about is that it’s not about the birthday. The birthday is a device. … But the purpose of the book is to show a community where the child is a full-fledged member of the community. He’s going around, talking to adults — he’s an equal,” Murray said.

The book takes readers around town through Riley’s eyes and shows a variety of people working and waiting for different things. Everyone, it seems, needs that mail plane to arrive.

“Everybody’s equal, everybody’s waiting for something, everybody’s inconvenienced,” Murray said. “I hope it comes across as a story of community, the value of community, the value of friendship.”

Hogan created vivid illustrations for the story, drawing on what she saw when she visited Matinicus Island and Murray, giving the book “a real sense of place.”

“I worked in pastel, and I used paper that is very much like sandpaper, so it holds the pigment really well, so I can kind of layer over colors,” Hogan said. “I like using pastels because they are really vivid.”

Before working on the book, Murray and Hogan only briefly met once at a book signing but didn’t really know each other.

“She came to Peaks Island once when her book came out a few years ago,” Hogan said of Murray. “But I did know her writing, so when I was presented with her manuscript for this book, I was like ‘Oh, I would love to do that.’”

Murray, whose previous work has been nonfiction, said she found the book creation process for a children’s book much different.

“The whole process of doing a children’s book is so different that it was kind of a learning experience for me and kind of an interesting one,” Murray said. “A children’s book is really a work of a lot of people.”

Hogan will be signing books and doing a reading on Long Island at the Long Island Community Library on Friday, Aug. 21. She and Murray also will be at the 10th annual Children’s Book Fair By the Sea at the Camden Public Library from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 22. The book is available at book sellers throughout Maine, including Sherman’s various locations, Longfellow Books in Portland, Down Front on Peaks Island, and Hello Hello and Island Turtle in Rockland.

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