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Books: St. Lawrence ABCs

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What began as a hobby to learn more about the Thousand Islands and St. Lawrence River has become a children's book that's an alphabetical journey through the region's landmarks, history and culture. Silvana Gargione spent summers on the river as a child, and even though she's an actor in Los Angeles, she still often visits the North Country. St. Lawrence ABCs: 1000 Islands, 26 letters, 1 river was written by Gargione and illustrated by Megan Gaffney, also a seasonal river resident. Todd Moe spoke with Gargione about this new non-fiction book that uses the alphabet to explore the St. Lawrence.

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Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer

Silvana Gargione often visited Wellesley Island when she was growing up since her mother is from Ogdensburg. Gargione left the North Country to attend college in Boston, and spent less of her summer vacations in the Thousand Islands. “When you finish college, it’s like, how do you get up here for the whole summer?” she said. “Part of this was to be able to be here more. I live in California, so this is where I really want to be now, is on the river.”

Gargione’s mother had nine siblings, and the large family often came together to spend summers on the river. “So the boating, fishing, biking, swimming thing you can do here, you can’t really do anywhere else, and it’s like having 25 siblings,” said Gargione of her cousins. “It’s fun, and that’s what I remember. Still, as an adult, we get together every summer, but that was the motivation really. I want to capture that fun part.”

Gargione began to work on her book and started with the letter A. “I knew I wanted an island for every letter, and so X was the hardest,” she said. “For A, I knew all the islands, looked up all the islands I could find, and I said, which one is the most interesting?”

Each letter of the book included as many words that started with that letter as possible. “It’s all alliteration; there’s some tongue-twisters in there that, now that I’ve written it, and I’ve read it out loud a few times, I’m like, that’s a lot tougher to say than I thought! ‘G’ is the hardest in my opinion.”

Gargione says she wanted the book to be a challenge for kids so that they wouldn’t be bored by the book. “You want to keep them interested,” she said. The only island that she struggled with was ‘X,’ and she settled on “the axeman” for that letter. The letter ‘Z’ proved to be easier, since there is a Zavikon Island.

While she was writing her book, Gargione learned more about the region. She said, “There was a lot more about battles and battleships and forts on the rivers than I knew before. I knew more about the prohibition era, but the river’s much older than that. You sort of forget about that, because the golden age, you know the castles and millionaires, is sort of the story that everyone hears first.”

Gargione says that meeting all of the people who live on the island was the most fun aspect of her research. She found them through Facebook and real estate agencies. She said, “That was by far the best part, was meeting the river rats that love it as much as I do and were happy to have their island in the book and wanted the facts straight. I feel like the river has gotten much bigger and much smaller from this project.”

The book can be read by a range of age groups, and also serves as a reference book to the islands that it includes. Gargione says that this was her intention. “I reached out to a lot of people who have come before me and have written reference books. You know, they sort of paved the way that this was possible. They gathered, they looked at maps, they looked at old land deeds,” she said. “A lot of the things are boating, and that’s really fun, but I wanted there to be history too since there’s a lot here.”

According to Gargione, she says that she did not consider herself a writer before completing this book.  She currently works as a professional actor and lives in Los Angeles. She printed the book herself because she wanted it to be a local artist and wanted creative control. “It came as sort of a hobby and a love for the river,” she said. “I think I would do more of those down the road.”

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