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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely writer, illustrator team up on new childrens’ book

Jodi Summit
Posted 5/24/23

ELY- A new book published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press will give area families a new tradition to celebrate with their children. The book is now available at area bookstores and online. …

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Ely writer, illustrator team up on new childrens’ book

Star Party book cover
Star Party book cover

ELY- A new book published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press will give area families a new tradition to celebrate with their children. The book is now available at area bookstores and online.
A book release and signing will be held at the Piragis Second Floor Bookstore on Saturday, May 27 at 1 p.m., and on Sunday, May 28 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Split Rock Lighthouse.
“Star Party,” by Polly Carlson-Voiles and illustrations by Consie Powell, both of Ely, tells the story of a young girl who goes on a night-time adventure with her grandparents, as they picnic in the dark on their cabin’s lakeside dock, and marvel at the stars near the Boundary Waters.
“I like this party, just us, under a kazillion-trillion stars,” says the book’s main character Nora, who not only gets a chance to see the stars not visible at her home back in a big city, but also gets to know some of the nighttime creatures seen and heard in the Northwoods.
The book also includes information on observing the night sky, nocturnal animals, constellations, and light pollution and the movement to preserve dark skies. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was designated a Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2020, and is one of the largest such sanctuaries in the world with over a million acres. Other designated dark sky areas include Voyageurs National Park and the Quetico Provincial Park just north of the border in Ontario.
Carlson-Voiles was a teacher in Minneapolis, working with special education students, teen mothers, and youth who were incarcerated.
“I’ve always written,” she said. “But I wasn’t submitting my books.”
“I waited until I retired and could put myself into it full-time.”
And so, she did. A mix of picture books for young children and novels for young adults. Her first novel was “Summer of the Wolves,” which won a Northeast Minnesota Book Award. A sequel, which takes place in the wintertime, is coming out soon.
Carlson-Voiles said she strives to give scientifically-accurate information to readers of all ages.
“I review books about wolves for the International Wolf Center’s magazine,” she said. “So many are riddled with errors. Publishers are not fact checking.”
“We want kids to be interested in science and animals,” she said.
Carlson-Voiles said both she and Powell love working with the Minnesota Historical Society Press (MHSP), which is very supportive of their writers.
The inspiration for this book started when she was a child.
“As a child, my mother was a lover of the moon. She delighted in grabbing anyone in the family to go outside on clear nights to admire the particular phase or brightness of the moon,” she said. And this wonder only grew after she first visited the Boundary Waters as a teenager.
“My sense of awe about the stars intensified to a new level when I went on my first canoe trip at the age of 15 and experienced dark skies. As a city girl I was blown away by everything about this Boundary Waters trip, but particularly by the fact that we were far from any road, and that we were far from any city, revealing the most amazing stars I had ever seen. Every clear night we huddled on the rocks for the shows, including northern lights. I could hardly wait to return for more.”
In college, she took an astronomy class, and learned about the vastness of the universe.
Her professor, at the University of Minnesota, told his students to never forget, you are all just riding around on a little speck of dust!
“That was exactly the feeling I had experienced sitting on slabs of glacial rock on my canoe trips. Feeling so small,” she said.
Carlson-Voiles and her husband and two children spent summers at a family cabin on Lake Vermilion.
“For many years we had star parties on clear nights, looking for constellations, shooting stars, northern lights, with treats and pillows, on our deck or the dock, again experiencing the marvel of skies with very little ambient light,” she said.
Once she and her husband retired, they moved to a hilltop on the edge of the Boundary Waters.
“In fifteen years, there has seldom been a clear night where we didn’t go out on the decks to check the Milky Way, the moon, the loons on the lake, and to remember that we were just riding around on a little speck of dust.”
This was the inspiration to write “Star Party,” she said.
She worked on the book during retreats with fellow children’s book writers at Atsokan Island on Rainy Lake, where she shared her star party tradition with the other writers.
It was the MHSP that paired her up with Powell.
She agreed “to interpret the story with her wonderful portrayal of the mysteries and magic of the night forest and animals and lakes and stars.”
Carlson-Voiles said her hope is that she can share the awe she feels while stargazing is shared by others
“It is my profound feeling that this awe I feel, while speechless and gazing, is shared by fellow humans on every continent, speaking every language, in every country, and my hope, by every child, “on this little speck of dust” we share,” she said.
The book’s official launch was on May 6 at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum. Piragis Second Floor bookstore is hosting a book launch on Memorial Day.
The book’s author and illustrator are both Ely-area residents. Carlson-Voiles is a two-time winner of the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award. Her other books include the young adult novel “Summer of the Wolves,” and illustrated picture books “Eat Sleep Howl,” “Someone Walks By,” and “Big Yellow,” which was also illustrated by Powell.
Powell has illustrated numerous children’s picture books, including “Who Lives in the Snow?”, “Big Fish Dream,” “Canoeman Joe,” and has also written and illustrated “Old Dog Cora and the Christmas Tree.”