The mail plane from the mainland hasn’t arrived for days, due to bad weather, and young Riley is getting very anxious, awaiting a birthday package from his grandmother. “If we lived on the mainland then I’d get to have a normal birthday,” he tells his Mom, “with a bunch of kids my age and presents from a toy store.”
Well, yes, there is that, but life on an island is idyllic, although it might be hard to convince Riley of that. He doesn’t even have milk for his cereal, because they are all out and won’t get more until the plane arrives.
As time goes by, Riley’s neighbors step up to make sure he enjoys all that island life offers, from a night swim in the dark when there was phosphorescence in the water, to walking on a deserted beach and finding a perfect moon shell. Riley spends time with a local lobster lady, a phone line worker, and Harv, a local guy who is seen painting a truck bright colors.
“Harv, do you ever get sick of living on this island?” Riley asks. “Sure, I get frustrated,” answers Harv. “I’m out of turpentine and red paint. I’ve been waiting for my art supplies for a week.”
“Well,” says Riley, “I think people have to be crazy to live on an island.”
“A lot of people thing there’s something really special about living way out to sea,” answers Harv, before he and Riley set out to collect some driftwood that Harv uses to build benches.
Linda and I discovered just how special Maine islands are five years ago when we started writing weekly travel columns for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. We’ve now been to Monhegan a half dozen times, and also written about Peaks Island, North Haven, and Swan’s Island.
Author Eva Murray, author of this wonderful book, Island Birthday, is a well-known writer who moved to Matinicus Island in 1987. She’s written two other books, Well Out to Sea: Year-round on Matinicus Island and Island Schoolhouse: One Room for All. All of her books, including Island Birthday, have been published by Tilbury House in Thomaston.
As is typical on a Maine island, Eva has a lot of jobs, serving as an emergency medical technician, wilderness first responder, CPR instructor, and search and rescue volunteer. She also runs her town’s recycling and solid waste program and works full-time as a baker in the summer months. And she’s a certified elementary school teacher.
The illustrations by Jamie Hogan in Island Birthday are wonderful and really bring the story to life. Jamie teaches illustration at Maine College of Art and has won awards for her illustrations in a number of children’s books. She lives on Peaks Island.
Hannah Pingree, who served in the legislature including a stint as Speaker of the House, but stepped away from all of that to raise her kids on North Haven, summed it up well on the back cover of the book: “I grew up on a small island and I am now raising my own small kids on an island. It is a unique and amazing experience for children to grow up in tiny, rural, and isolated communities where they know everyone of all ages. Eva Murray and Jamie Hogan capture this life well in this wonderful story about the tiniest of Maine’s islands and a special birthday.”
I agree with you Hannah. And I hope Linda and I get back soon to your wonderful Nebo Lodge on North Haven, for another island life experience.