Book Review: A St. Lawrence Summer, by Helen Cardamone

By: Susan W. Smith

Volume 16, Issue 10, October 2021

Author Helen Cardamone captures how many of us feel when we drive to the Thousand Islands. For me it is when I come from Ottawa on the 401 and see the sign for Brockville. For my American family it is exactly Helen's description:

As you approach the Thousand Island Bridge, you hear, "Who can see the water first? There is a secret crevice between trees that offers a first glance that you always struggle to find. While going over the bridge, you roll the windows down and smell the fresh scent of the St. Lawrence River. It's a combination of seaweed, muskrats, beavers, minks, terns, ospreys and every fish beneath the surface of the cold, deep water. You are exiting the mainland and entering Wellesley Island, which unlocks the key to a weekend bursting with exuberance, flirting with fun, and resting in the company of family.

Reading the first page was all I needed to want this children's book for my island library. Not only is the text fun to read for a young audience but us older folk will appreciate the thoughts as Helen takes us through many summer activities: An afternoon boat rides around Boldt Castle, and carrying on around Wellesley Island. Then the water skis come out . . .  

Excerpt: The water skis come out and you're filled with excitement and a healthy amount of fear. You watch others fly in and out of the wake on their skis like a mosquito bouncing across the water. Knees bent, loose arms. you see a ski drop. The boat turns around to pick up the ski, water spraying over the side and onto your face. It's your turn 1, 2, 3, GO! Wait! Slow down!

And who of us will not find this next summer activity, extremely familiar?

As the day winds down, the weather grows cold. A storm rolls in forcing everyone into the cottages. Find a board game, find a friend.

Of course, reading this small book was a delight, but I wanted to know more about the author.  I learned that this young lady received her BA at Wake Forest University NC, in Studio Art and Entrepreneurship and is now in a Masters of Fine Arts Program at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

The inspiration for writing the book actually came while sitting with a friend at Bella's in Clayton, NY.! She says "we were brainstorming ideas about future projects and the book just came to me as we were staring out at the water. It seems like the best next project to take on. One of my favourite children's books growing up was The Long Weekend by Troon Harrison. I loved the illustrations and reading about the adventures that a mother and her son had everyday. Their weekend at the beach seems just like my Thousand Islands summers."

A St. Lawrence Summer's first draft was written over a few weeks in 2019 (She says that version was pretty bad) but the revisions in 2021 brought the book together. She did 16 illustrations, and each was completed in oil paint on a 24x30 inch canvas.  She was able to complete the 16 paintings over the course of six months.  

Two of the illustrations have already been appreciated by Thousand Island audience as they won prizes at the The Thousand Islands Arts Center (TIAC) Along the River’s Edge art exhibition and sale held in July. "Morning Coffee." received the Juror's Choice Award and “The Narrows” won the People's Choice Award.

Helen is pleased that the book has already received acclamation in the community. She says she wants to acknowledge her parents John and Sally Cardamone and her brother Chris for their encouragement and support. Also she gives a big shout-out to TI Park's David Lake who helped edit the book.

Yes, be sure to look this one up online. It is a perfect book for young and not so young readers.

Excerpt: Today is the day you will get your new set of wings. To be able to fly through the streets. To race without fear. You hop on your bicycle, wobbly at first. You pedal slowly with some help and then you are let free, no training wheels or hand holding. Biking on rocks, biking on grass, wind in your face . . . Oops you realize you don't know how to stop. You seek out a nice oak tree and use it as a brake. Ouch!

A St. Lawrence Summer can be ordered online at:

By Susan W. Smith, Editor.

[Header illustration from A St. Lawrence Summer by Helen Cardamone]

Posted in: Volume 16, Issue 10, October 2021, Book review

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