Fish Tales at Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival


Martha’s Vineyard’s reputation as a haven for writers and poets is well-documented–Dorothy West, Art Buchwald, David McCullough, and Judy Blume represent a few who have called the island home–and since 2005 the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival has brought authors from far and wide to celebrate reading and writing. Originally conceived as a biannual event, the free festival turned into an annual August rite starting in 2015. The brainchild of Suellen Lazarus, a former director at the World Bank Group and longtime summer Island resident, the festival is modeled on the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. as a space where authors can discuss their work and engage in thoughtful conversation.

The event has grown over the past decade; this year, the festival opened on August 2 with a conversation between Chelsea Handler and Seth Meyers at the island’s Performing Arts Center. The next two days brought over thirty authors to four separate stages set up under billowing tents in the up-Island town of Chilmark. Among others, bestselling authors John Grisham, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Joan Nathan, and Richard Russo talked about their work and participated in panel discussions ranging from the role of the press to the future of life on earth.


On Sunday, local author Janet Messineo closed out the festival by sharing stories from her book, Casting into the Light: Tales of a Fishing Life (Pantheon), which chronicles her path to becoming an expert striped bass fisherman and, eventually, fish taxidermist. “I guess you could say I’m obsessed with catching striped bass,” she said to an audience filled with fellow anglers and casual observers. “To me, catching the fish is the thrill these days. I don’t keep anything I’m not going to eat. These are beautiful and clever animals.” Messineo swapped tales with moderator and Chilmark selectman Warren Doty about fishing under cover of darkness–striped bass are nocturnal–and thrilling at the beauty of the species and the ever-present opportunity to hook “the big one.”

As the day came to a close, festival-goers filed out of the tents clutching reusable totes filled with hefty hardcovers and trekked the half-mile or so to the field-turned-parking lot, wondering which book to tackle first during these waning days of summer.

The Forest Feast for Kids: Colorful Vegetarian Recipes That Are Simple to Make, by Erin Gleeson; Abrams Books for Young Readers, 111 pages, $19.95, ages 5 and up.

Do your kids balk at eating broccoli? Perhaps they adore fruits, but bemoan a lack of variety. Food blogger, photographer, and contributor to Better Homes and Gardens Erin Gleeson’s latest cookbook is geared to those most critical foodies with The Forest Feast for Kids. This kid-friendly follow-up to Gleeson’s New York Times bestselling The Forest Feast is full of uncomplicated recipes appealingly photographed to entice young eaters to try colorful foods and to roll up their sleeves and participate in meal prep.

I decide to put the book to the test–so many children’s cookbooks aren’t really designed with kids in mind, and though full of pretty pictures, seldom do the meals on the pages appear on actual dinner plates. My seven year old seized the opportunity, and immediately bookmarked ten desserts she said we had to try, but eventually settled on Watermelon Smoothies. For nutritional balance, I tabbed the Red Salad recipe, which includes tomatoes, bell peppers, apples, pomegranates, and radishes. Together, we made our grocery list, and all the items (minus the pomegranate) were easily procured at the nearby grocery store. Both recipes were prepared in less than ten minutes, and formed a lovely accompaniment to our main course of sauteed chickpeas and rice. Even my skeptical husband ate the fruity salad. Did I mention this all took place on a schoolnight? It is possible to involve kids with mealtime decisions and preparation, and can be accomplished in roughly thirty minutes. Healthy needn’t be time-consuming or dull, and Gleeson’s book is a cheerful reminder of that.

The author’s homespun watercolors of kitchen utensils and cutting techniques recall the work of cookbook author Susan Branch, and

accompany sunny photographs of salads, smoothies, and strawberry parfaits. Directions are simple to follow, and most recipes lend themselves to weeknight dinner preparations.

Encouraging children to eat properly is much easier when they’re involved in the meal-planning, and The Forest Feast for Kids is a bright and fanciful addition to the home cook’s library.

Try one of the recipes for yourself–Abrams has graciously provided the recipe for Watermelon Smoothies, posted above.