Located in Rockingham County in the Granite State, Portsmouth is best-known as a history and its seaport. Usually, a visit there includes a stop at Market Square, Prescott Park, or Strawbery Banke. This time, for a change of pace, we focused on words, books, authors, and illustrators. Though we did sneak in a gundalow ride. That’s not a typo; it’s actually a type of boat from the 1600’s, unique to the Piscataqua Region. As we sailed along, Neil got to use his favorite word-brackish-not once, but twice!
But I digress. My sister, a native New Hampshirite (another cool word!) had found an exhibit entitled “Imagine That: The Power of Picture Books” at the Portsmouth Historical Society. Billed as a “who’s who” of New England authors and illustrators, two floors of exhibits document the creative process of writing and drawing for children’s picture books over the decades. There’s something for everyone here; Maxfield Parrish, Robert McCloskey, Melissa Sweet, and Mo Willems.
It was both charming and awe-inspiring to learn the background and history behind some of my favorite books, as well as my children’s. The exhibits are colorful, informative, and engaging. They reminded me of how I first became enraptured with words and books as a toddler. Seeing Curious George lifted up to the sky and carried over the countryside by the bunch of balloons he grabbed still has the power to make me smile! Well-written children’s books not only spark our imagination in a million different ways, they encourage a shared love of reading between adult and child that’s impossible to replicate. My adult kids and I still love to talk about what we’re reading and books are often our gateway to examining issues from every possible angle.
Not only did this carefully curated collection showcase what books were, and are, available to kids these days, it didn’t forget to mention the lack of diversity in New England books. The Portsmouth Historic Society website provides links to resources (like a New York Times essay by Walter Dean Myers and a TED Talk by Grace Lin) for diverse books for parents and educators.
Once we had finished browsing and reminiscing in Imagine That! I wandered next door to the Seacoast African American Cultural Center, founded by Portsmouth teacher, Ms. Vernis M. Jackson, who not only identified a need to make the African American culture more visible in New England, she took action. You can learn more here: https://soundcloud.com/user-705525288/episode-32-vernis-jackson-saacc
Coincidentally, they had an exhibit dedicated to African American authors and illustrators of children’s books. including Jacqueline Woodson’s, The Other Side and Ebony Glenn’s book about Simone Biles, Flying High. There was also an exhibit on Afrofuturism: Exploring Justice through Beauty, a concept I wasn’t familiar with which I found quite interesting.
Worn out by our adventures, we went to dinner at The Library Restaurant on State Street (reservations recommended). A historic New Hampshire steakhouse that has hosted numerous presidents and was the location of the signing of the 1905 Russo-Japanese Treaty, it definitely lived up to its reputation. The meat was wonderful but it was the vegetables, served family-style, that really made an impression. In particular, the Roasted Brussel Sprouts in ginger-soy sauce and the Bourbon Creamed Corn would be ordered again.
At the end of the meal, your server will bring you a book from the shelves with your check and the suggestion to read a passage aloud to the rest of your table. Careful-some of the volumes are a bit risqué!
Book & Bar on Pleasant Street. With a motto of “Eat. Drink. Read. Repeat.” what could possibly go wrong?