When you were a child, did you yearn to go blueberry picking with Sal?

The iconic cover illustration of Sal and her impish smile while she picked (and ate) blueberries in Downeast Maine.

Were you thrilled when deep-water man Burt Dow, his seagull sidekick and his multi-colored boat the Tidley-Idley were swallowed by a whale?

Have you made a pilgrimage to Boston to see the famous ducklings parading across the Public Garden?

Whether Robert McCloskey’s wonderful books were a part of your childhood or if your first introduction to his magic was reading them to your kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews, they likely made an indelible impression on you.

As a youngster, I pretended Sally and Jane were my  friends and imagined that I accompanied them on their escapades. My make-believe companions and I were reunited this summer, where the work of their marvelous author and illustrator father is on display at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick.

The Illustration Institute and Curtis Memorial Library’s collaboration resulted in a captivating exhibition.

I had a chance to hang out with Nancy Gibson-Nash and Scott Nash on Peaks Island last month during my week-long Illustration Institute residency, which included a reading/writer chat at the Fifth Maine Museum.


Called ROBERT MCCLOSKEY: THE ART OF WONDER, the warm and wonderful exhibition is a collaboration between the library and the Illustration Institute, a Portland-based organization founded and run by Peaks Island residents Scott Nash and Nancy Gibson-Nash, who I’m fortunate to count as dear friends.

As hardworking as they are endlessly creative, they arranged to borrow some of McCloskey’s materials from the May Massee Collection at Emporia State University in Kansas, which houses McCloskey’s original book illustrations, manuscripts and other papers.

Robert McCloskey’s 1941 classic book, Make Way For Ducklings

The Brunswick exhibition, which includes nearly 70 original Robert McCloskey illustrations, focuses on four Maine-set books (Blueberries For Sal, One Morning in Maine, Time of Wonder and Burt Dow, Deep-water Man) and also features extensive sketches of the brood of ducklings made famous by McCloskey’s 1941 award-winning classic, Make Way For Ducklings.

ROBERT MCCLOSKEY: THE ART OF WONDER opened in June and by the end of August, more than 75,000 (!) people had visited. I’m willing to bet most every one of them was wearing a delighted smile when they left the  library.

Robert McCloskey’s gentle humor and the brilliant detail of his art bring back happy memories of losing oneself in exquisitely illustrated stories where curious, independent children were encouraged to explore blueberry fields, beaches and sailboats, learning about themselves and their capabilities (and meeting a few bears along the way).

Here’s a link to more information about the exhibition: https://www.illustrationinstitute.org/new-page-5

It’s recently been extended through the end of October. It’s free, it’s fun, and it’ll stir many happy memories. Don’t miss it!


Brenda Buchanan brings years of experience as a journalist and a lawyer to her crime fiction. She has published three books featuring Joe Gale, a newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. She’s now hard at work on new projects. FMI, go to http://brendabuchananwrites.com

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  1. Kate Flora says:

    Impossible to describe the joy I felt seeing this exhibition and all around me, other faces reflected that same joy. I grew up with those books and revisiting them was such a treat.


  2. Vicki Erwin says:

    It was an excellent exhibition. Loved seeing the original sketches and artwork. Plus, that library is amazing.

  3. Anne Jordan says:

    It was an amazing exhibit- I learned so much and I so enjoyed seeing the original illustrations and the markings for the future text to be inserted.    A Time of Wonder is such a beautiful book- so underrated.    Thank you to your friends for bringing this to Maine.  

  4. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    Curtis is the bomb! Love this post.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much, Brenda, for sharing your thoughtful, heartfelt comments on the McCloskey exhibit with your readers- it has been an honor to collaborate with the Curtis Library and a huge treat to bring McCloskey’s illustrations to so many. We were also very honored to have you in residence and your candid, generous sharing about the writing process. We are so lucky to have such talent in our midst!
    Nancy and Scott

  6. Anonymous says:

    Blueberries for Sal was a childhood favorite. Coincidentally, I have just reread it, and also learned that there is a companion cookbook! I wish I were near enough to visit this exhibit.

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