Time to start putting together your summer and fall reading list, and NRCM members can help! Featured here are books published by our members covering a range of genres, from essay and memoir to poetry, fiction, and children's literature. If you’re an author of a book about Maine or related to environmental issues, you are welcome to send them along for consideration for next year’s Explore Maine. —Allison Childs Wells, Editor
The Maine Play Book, by Jennifer Hazard (Islandport Press, 2021) This four-season guide to Maine’s outdoors provides the perfect roadmap for families to explore Maine. With an introduction on how to use the book; sections split by season, location, and type of activity, and considerations for COVID-19, the author has made finding fun as accessible as possible. All the activities are geared toward the whole family, including notes on what considerations you might need to make for children of all ages. Some pieces of information are especially helpful, like wheelchair accessibility or information on making reservations for State Parks. I took my family to the Sebago to the Sea Trail after perusing the “Spring” section for a fun day trip. We were able to walk the trail, have a picnic, let our dog swim, and enjoy a beautiful day. Hazard’s recommendation was excellent. For the ambitious planners, there is a section on “Recommended Day Trips” that combines a few attractions to maximize the day. Whether you want to go skiing, swimming, or berry-picking, this book has a wealth of information. If you are looking to explore your own backyard or add some activities to your family vacation, I would recommend this book for any season.
– Becca Troast, Philanthropy & Board Assistant
Nature Notes from Maine, Volume 2, by Ed Robinson (Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, 2021) In his second volume of Nature Notes, Ed Robinson brings the reader on a tour of Maine creatures familiar and remarkable over 40 short chapters of colorful anecdotes and photos. Ed shares the ingenious strategy by which Herring Gulls lure fish to the surface, tales of unexpected visitors large and small to the backyard bird feeder, and just when you think you've heard every surprising fact about the monarch butterfly, they will surprise you once more (every few generations, at least). From the North Woods with the Canada lynx and the black bear, to the nests of Piping Plovers on sandy beach dunes, to roadside ditches brimming with lupines, a common story emerges of flourishing populations curtailed by the arrival of humans. In most cases, the story continues with attempts at course correction by state agencies and conservationists. By the time Ed brings you to the present day, you are hearing updates on these conservation efforts, now decades in the making. In addition to humorous anecdotes, such as the one about a camping buddy woken with a start by a mysterious growl in the night, these chapters are grounded in recent history, with details on how the reader can play a role. If Ed writes a third volume, it may well contain stories of readers inspired to become involved by this colorful catalog of facts, anecdotes, and environmental history.
—Abben Maguire, Accounts Payable Coordinator and Administrative Assistant
The Last Winter: The Scientists, Adventurers, Journeymen, and Mavericks Trying to Save the World, by Porter Fox (Little, Brown and Company, 2021) Many climate-related books line up on my shelves, but few are as easy to read as those by Porter Fox. Porter grew up in Southwest Harbor in freezing weather, enjoying skating and skiing. He tells tales of being a ski bum across the winter landscapes of Maine and around the world. He sprinkles into these adventure tales his encounters with others who are as bent as he is on ensuring there will be snow for the future of humankind. His particular gift is to tell a compelling story with a dose of scientific fact. For example, he notes, “It’s impossible to fully comprehend climate change, its causes and the coming doom it promises without knowing where your cooking gas comes from or where your garbage goes. In the fog of modern convenience—and perhaps a decade from the point of no return—the nations of the world are now carbonizing the atmosphere ten times faster than at any time in history.” Porter’s stories remain upbeat as he stamps the snow off his boots in the living room and even while he explains the fires, water loss, and human conflicts caused by climate change. In a recent NRCM-sponsored webinar about this book, I pressed him on how he stays upbeat despite the gloom he is reporting on. He joked that he “ignores it like everyone else.” But of course he doesn’t, as this book can attest. He can’t bear to think about his daughter’s future in relation to the environment, and he sincerely believes that we will not keep going on the current track of devastation because so many people in the U.S. accept the reality and want climate action.
—Lisa Pohlmann, CEO
Advocating for the Environment: How to Gather Your Power and Take Action, by Sue Inches (North Atlantic Books, 2021) This new book by Sue Inches is a phenomenal guide for aspiring and experienced environmental activists alike. Inches takes on issues of massive scope and scale, and grounds them in lived experiences and case studies from Maine and beyond to make them accessible for every reader. The cohesive trajectory of the book builds from advocacy basics to the nuts and bolts of decision making, using real world examples throughout to tether concepts to evidence of their efficacy. Many books of this strain use the magnitude of the climate crisis to instill a fear-based urgency among readers, but Inches insists on a more positive, energizing approach. She encourages readers to “begin right where you are” and emphasizes the power of the personal story before outlining the ins and outs of effective advocacy, providing tips and templates that are helpful for both new activists and established advocacy organizations. This book pairs the depth of a textbook with the readability of a novel, which is a remarkably difficult combination to pull off gracefully. I’ve already found myself referencing chapters in my day-to-day work, and I’m excited to share my copy with friends and family. I hope you’ll give it a read!
—Josh Caldwell, Climate & Clean Energy Outreach Coordinator
Thoreau’s Maine Woods: A Legacy for Conservation, by Dean Bennett (North Country Press, 2021) Dean Bennett has written many books on the nature of Maine, and he is a wealth of scientific knowledge as well as an environmentalist. Throughout Thoreau’s Maine Woods, the author pairs descriptions of places and natural features with maps, personal illustrations, and quotes from Henry David Thoreau. Feature by feature, the book gives the reader an intimate look at the Maine Woods through Thoreau’s eyes on his journeys to Maine in the 19th century. In one passage, Bennet quotes Thoreau’s experience hearing loons and writes, “For many places in Maine today, the call of the loon is a call for conservation, to be echoed through the world.” Like many of us, Thoreau adventured into the North Woods and was delighted as well as challenged by the elements and his encounters. I enjoyed how the book creates a common thread between the past and our shared responsibility to future generations.
– Melanie Sturm, Forests & Wildlife Director
Where Cool Waters Flow: Four Seasons with a Master Maine Guide, by Randy Spencer (Islandport Press, 2009) Dip into Where Cool Waters Flow, and you’ll soon find yourself following a stream floated by the memorable originals who explored, discovered, and guided their way through Maine’s mythic fishing spots. The book tells the stories behind the Maine fishing experience through the individuals, fish, streams and lakes, bait, canoes, and the weather. You’ll meet fishermen with “credentials from another era” drawn in Spencer’s colorful and poignant prose. The book offers Maine history through a fishing-guide lens and brings it to life with colorful portraits of individuals who led the way. Not a work for specialists, nor just about fishing, this book is for anyone who’s looking for a good regional state history. Randy Spencer’s Where Cool Waters Flow takes readers, pro and amateur alike, season by season, into the world of a Maine fishing guide.
—Fiona Gordon, Director of Leadership Giving
Dear Maine: The Trials and Triumphs of Maine’s 21st Century Immigrants, by Morgan Rielly and Reza Jalali with photography by Lilit Danielyan (Islandport Press, 2021) Based on interviews conducted by the authors, and accompanied by beautiful black and white portraits, Dear Maine offers a window into the life experiences of refugees, how they came to America, and what it means to have found homes in Maine. A wonderful way to approach these stories is suggested in the authors’ notes: “Think of this book as a local dinner party. We are introducing you to some of our neighbors. We hope you leave this party with a new perspective, an appreciation of the people you’ve met, and, hopefully, with some new friends. We also hope you leave inspired.” Our neighbors include people originally from Cambodia, Rwanda, Somalia, India, Iraq, Vietnam, and El Salvador, among other places. Told in simple, matter-of-fact language, the stories are by turns heartbreaking and uplifting. Beyond the traumatic events many of our neighbors lived through, there is a longing to retain the culture and language of their home countries while also embracing being an American (and the difficulties that go with our country’s history and divisive politics). Courage and resiliency, respect for traditions and the sacrifices of their families, and the contributions we can all make to improve our local communities are central to the experiences shared in this book. The stories stick with you long after putting the book down, and I continue to ponder what it means to belong, and what I can do to ensure my new neighbors feel they are home. I recommend reading Dear Maine and sharing it with your family and friends. Note: Morgan Rielly is a Maine State Representative and a member of the Maine Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee; Reza Jalali is a writer, former refugee, and the Executive Director of Maine Immigrant Welcome Center.
— Toby Kilgore, Grants Manager
Hatchet Island, by Paul Doiron (Minotaur Books, 2022) Unlike Paul Doiron’s previous Mike Bowditch mysteries, which are set in the Maine woods, his latest is set on islands off the coast of Maine. Those NRCM members who have participated in the NRCM puffin cruises will recognize right away that Eastern Egg Rock is Baker Island in this mystery. Doiron’s details of the island took me back to those cruises and the noise of the gulls, guillemots, and terns, as well as the puffins. Stacey Stevens, Mike’s girlfriend, has been contacted by her friend, an intern on the island, because of the strange behavior of Dr. Maeve McLeary, the leader of the research on the island. Dr. McLeary has been gone several days without explanation. Stacey, herself a wildlife biologist and former intern on the island, and Mike paddle their sea kayaks out to the island from East Boothbay only to find local lobstermen have been harassing the three interns, that someone has brought weasels to the island to destroy the puffin population, and that a solitary boatman on the ocean has been photographing them. The suspense escalates from there. I was intrigued by how the author was able to intertwine current issues along the Maine coast such as the debate over right whales and the dwindling number of puffins due to the warming of the Gulf of Maine with the rest of the plot. In true Doiron style, this mystery is fast-paced. I could not put it down!
— Betty Hartley, NRCM member, Brunswick
The Shark, The Girl, & The Sea, by Charlene D’Avanzo (Maine Authors Publishing, 2021) Are you looking for an oceanic mystery showcasing the stunning Maine coast? Be sure to check out The Shark, The Girl, & The Sea. The book follows oceanographer Mara Tusconi as she witnesses a shark attack that kills a young swimmer. But is it just a shark attack? Mara isn’t so sure since great whites typically avoid shallow water. An investigation starts as she works with a shark expert who becomes more than just a colleague. The stunning beauty of Maine’s coastal waters is featured throughout the book as you discover more about what’s under the sea. While shark attacks may seem like a thing of fiction in Maine, in 2020, a fatal attack off Bailey Island showed us that more of these creatures might be swimming off the state's shores than we think. Scientists are currently studying the shark populations in Maine and understanding how climate change could be affecting them. The author weaves oceanic and shark studies into an adventurous and mysterious tale.
— Sarah Bierschwale, Digital Content Manager
I Never Promised You a Cherry Orchard, by Danielle Woerner (Sunrise Song Press, 2021) This little book of poetry (it’s a pocket-sized six by eight inches) is packed with delightful verse in the Japanese tradition. Some pages feature multiple poems, thoughtfully arranged, accompanied by a photo that complements the verse. I read through the book in one short sitting and enjoyed the journey from melancholy to whimsical to stoic, and more. One of my favorite haikus reminds me of my own apple-picking experiences: “Apple, flushed and warm/from the branch, falls to my hand,/puts sun on my tongue”. Others are quirky: “Beer bottle, half full,/sings from the picnic table/seeks love in the wind”. This book uniquely encapsulates the poet’s life while also welcoming everyone in. I encourage you to go.
—Allison Wells, Senior Director of Communications & Public Affairs
Creation Now with Words, by Tom Fallon (Transition Books, 2020) Fallon, a prolific poet, describes his latest publication as “A primer presenting literary evolution based on the great revolution in art during the early 20th century.” With that in mind, I wasn’t surprised to find that this book reflects while also pushing the limits of words on the page. Fallon plays with space (not merely margins), rhythm, font—entire vertical pages are forced to accommodate horizontal presentations. The effect is a tidal wave of expression, and to snip out a piece to include here would not do the poet justice. In the traditional back page bio (he also includes a poem with the same title), Fallon notes his exposure to modern painting and jazz, experimental classical music, and other boundary-edge media. By experiencing this powerful book, I found it a pleasure to see, and almost hear, those art forms both captured and trying to escape.
12 Sea-Run Fish of the Gulf of Maine: A Coloring Book for All Ages, by Isabella-Zoe Ciolfi (2022) I love this picture because it is so colorful. I love this book because all of the pictures are so amazing!! But I love this picture more than all of them because it is so bright, beautiful, and full of spirit, life, and nature.
—Zoe, age 8, daughter of Colin Durrant, NRCM Media Relations & Advocacy Communications Director
Coloring Maine, by Blue Butterfield (Islandport Press, 2016) For me, there’s something so cool about seeing the places I love captured so perfectly in a piece of art. That’s how I felt when I first saw Blue Butterfield’s woodblock print postcards of the East End in Portland, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Coloring Maine. The book is filled with incredible, detailed woodblock prints of places all across the state, ready to come to life once you begin coloring. Some of the images are set in iconic Maine locales—like “Pasture near Katahdin,” “Jordan Pond,” or “Beehive Mountain Vista”—while others, like “Backyard Chicken” and “Apple Picking,” could be a snapshot of just about any community in Maine. As a current resident of Portland, Butterfield includes many depictions of Portland and Casco Bay living that exude the heart of the region. This coloring book is the perfect indoor activity for when you still want to appreciate the nature of Maine, for adults and children alike.
— Kristin Jackson, Digital Outreach Manager
Mud, Sand, and Snow, by Charlotte Agell (Islandport Press, 2019) My three-year-old daughter, Stella, and I had the pleasure of reading Wind, Sand, and Snow by Charlotte Agell on a recent rainy spring morning. This children’s board book is perfect for little learners who love to explore all that Maine’s environment has to offer in all four seasons. From dancing in spring mud puddles to savoring the smells of summer to walking in white winter snow, the book highlights many of the things we enjoy doing together outdoors. The colorful minimalist illustrations bring the story to life. The curious and joyful nature of the little girl in the story, and her colorful clothes and reddish hair, is the spitting image of my daughter, which brought a smile to my face. If you have a curious and joyful little one in your life, you’re sure to love this story as well.
— Todd Martin, NRCM Rising Director and Grassroots Outreach Coordinator
One Turtle’s Last Straw: The Real-Life Rescue That Sparked a Sea Change, by Elisa Boxer (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022) My love of children’s literature started in college when I took a class focused on books for young children and young adults. This book by Elisa Boxer is based on a video by researchers in Costa Rica who, while researching turtles, found one turtle with something in its nose, which they later discovered was a plastic straw. Elisa does a wonderful job explaining the “life-cycle,” of sorts, of plastic straws, from initial use to where they can end up, including in ocean wildlife. The illustrations are beautiful and lend themselves to discussions with children about what they see regarding other ocean pollution. A bonus at the end of the book is a piece by the researcher who discovered this distressed turtle and recorded the video of her team removing the straw from its nose. The book also includes resources for older children who might want to learn more about plastic ocean pollution and how they can be involved in reducing it.
– Beth Comeau, Communications Manager
Green Plate Special: Sustainable and Delicious Recipes, by Christine Burns Rudalevige (Islandport Press, 2017) In recent years, the once-pedestrian cookbook has achieved coffee-table-book status, enjoyed for its beautiful pictures and exotic descriptions. The prevalence of television cooking shows coupled with the generalized hibernation of the pandemic had a lot of us fancying ourselves the next top chef until we tried to actually make a dish from some of these cookbooks. Green Plate Special is a cookbook that belongs on the counter next to your stove, its cover splattered with butter and favorite recipes recognizable by tomato sauce-covered fingerprints. More than once I exclaimed, “yes!” as I read descriptions that were earth-friendly, practical, and even better, achievable with items I already had in my refrigerator or pantry. This is not a cookbook that purports to achieve sustainability by demanding you shop at Whole Foods or order random ingredients from Amazon Pantry. Instead, it challenges you to pause and consider the sourcing of your items. The recipe for Pasta Carbonara is as classic as they come. But the author’s “30 ways to think, shop, cook, and eat just a bit greener” tips encourage you to find cheese made within 50 miles of your home and save bacon fat for use in other dishes. Buy eggs that traveled a few hundred feet to get to your local farm stand instead of a few hundred miles to the grocery store. Use black pepper and Maine sea salt from the purveyor at your local farmer’s market. And then…make the Kale Rabe and Potato Tart, too!
— Marlisa Simonson, Senior Director of Philanthropy
Always in Season: Twelve Months of Fresh Recipes from Farmer’s Markets of New England, by Elise Richer (Islandport Press, 2013) In Always in Season, Elise Richer shares simple, down-to-earth recipes, with local ingredients that can be found seasonally at your local farmer’s market. Showcasing a few ingredients in season each month, you can create these delicious recipes immediately after your farmer’s market run or harvest from your garden—you don’t need to run to the grocery store for specialty or expensive ingredients. Mains, sides, soups, and baked goods are all showcased in this beautifully illustrated book. Not only is this cookbook a great kitchen companion, it also provokes deeper thinking about the slow food movement and how we can support and impact our local businesses by buying and eating seasonally and locally.
— Codi Riley-Havu, Gifts, Records, & Stewardship Coordinator