One Saturday morning, Jenn Bogard, author of “The ABCs of Plum Island, Massachusetts,” sat down with her editor, Joni McNeal, to talk about life, learning, and their shared love of oat milk lattes. Here are some highlights from their conversation.
Why a book about Plum Island?
Plum Island has been such a special place for me and my family over time. My family has been on the island since 1905 and kept photographs, documents and newspaper clippings of life on the island. I learned how to swim there, I learned how to row a skiff there, and as I grew up, my grandparents taught me about my ancestors’ lighthouse keeping days there. The book combines my love for the island, for teaching children, for history and poetry, and for the major theme of celebrating Plum Island.
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
To celebrate the everyday wonders of where they live. The first step to protecting and caring for the things that matter to us is recognizing how we value and appreciate these things. It’s easy to take for granted the things that are familiar to us! Seeing pictures of local places and birds in a book makes us think about how special they truly are. By blending the past and present, I hope to inspire curiosity about the history of the area and encourage research. As an elementary school teacher, I experienced first-hand how primary sources—the newspaper articles, old photos, documents—spark wonder and how they allow us to relate to people and times of the past. I’m excited for readers to do the scavenger hunts and experience familiar places with fresh eyes. Some readers have sent me their original poems about the island, which I love!
How did you choose a format for your book?
I wanted the book to be a family book with a little something for all ages, one that adults and children in the family can sit and enjoy together. The ABC format allowed me to include different aspects of the island. Many of the poems are found poems, which let me stay as close as possible to the information, by using exact words or phrases right from the source or experts. I used a mixed-media format and combined a variety of sources from the past with photos of today. My ancestors were the inspiration for that—how they saved a collection of items over the years, which is the “Barbara and Arthur Woods Collection” at the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center. I also had a special teacher, years ago, who inspired me to use primary sources in my writing.
What surprised you the most when doing research for the book?
What a treasure trove the archives at the Newburyport Public Library is! I uncovered so many layers while doing research there. One topic would lead me down a different path, plus being able to see the old maps and postcard collections. I loved talking with people at the archives, the Parker River Refuge, the museums, the airport, the local shops, all of the experts in the different fields and hearing their experiences.
What do you like to do when not writing poetry?
I visit Newburyport often to see my grandmother and spend time on the island, but I live in southern Maine now with my husband, Rob, and two dogs, Lucy and Trinny. We like to take family walks in the woods and on the beach, but I also love hiking the 4,000-footers in New Hampshire, the 52-with-a-view, and the Belknap Range. And maybe it won’t be surprising that I love to visit museums and historical sites! My favorite thing to read is poetry, and my favorite gift is getting a poem.