Children’s book ‘Augustus and Me’ captures historical North Fork figures

The history of Oysterponds lives on in Janis Rose’s newest book, “Augustus and Me: An Oysterponds Adventure,” with colorful motifs, hidden messages and detailed watercolor illustrations lining each page.

Designed for children and adults, it tells the story of Augustus Griffin and other historical North Fork characters. Former Orient resident Alan Bull created the illustrations. Told through the eyes of a modern-day young boy, who is never named, the story takes readers on a journey into the hamlet’s rich history.

The boy’s family brings him along to stay with an uncle on Village Lane — in a house that exists to this day, just across from Oysterponds Historical Society. But he is confused: Why would they think he’d have any interest in this place? He is, after all, a ball-playing, bike-riding kid, accustomed to a faster way of life. As the pages turn, however, the community’s days of yore start to reveal themselves and locals from its past begin to appear — transforming the boy’s perception of the town, and demonstrating the value of chronicling life’s events.

“This is about exploring history and Augustus is history — real history,” Ms. Rose said. “There hasn’t been a book in a long time with real North Fork characters, current or old.”

A King Street resident, Ms. Rose grew up in McKeesport, Pa., a steel mill town where smog and fire emanated from a sea of smokestacks. When she was 20, her then-boyfriend, Don, brought her out to the North Fork, where, she said, the skies and the seas looked very different.

In 1979, the two rented a small summer cottage sans foundation or heat from Don’s family, just across the street from the William Steeple Davis House. They summered in Orient for years and in 2012 decided to move in full time. Before that, though, they bought a boat called the Vintage Rosé in 1974 and spent five years living at the dock with their firstborn son.

“We walked out on the dock, and the sky is so blue, the water is so blue — the light. I just go, ‘What is this?’ … My brother always said to me, ‘It’s a long way from McKeesport.’ ”

As people began moving out of the steel-manufacturing hub, few mills were left. Ms. Rose, whose father died when she was young, said that her Canadian mother kept their life moving despite that loss. Ms. Rose’s early appreciation for Orient and East Marion — formerly Oysterponds — sparked the idea that everyday life is, indeed, history, and that taking note of said history is both essential and fruitful.

Ms. Rose wrote two children’s books in graduate school and met quite a few young authors during her career as an educator and media specialist in Rutherford, N.J. She redesigned the library of the middle school where she worked, and is heavily involved in her community today, as both a William Steeple Davis trustee and chairman of the education team at Oysterponds Historical Society.

The idea for the book came to her in January 2017, a decade after Augustus Griffin’s journal was republished. Mr. Griffin lived 99 years and documented most of his days in a diary, telling tales of his wife, Lucretia Tuthill; their six children; an inn he built — now called Village House; a garden he planted in 1844; and guests he encountered. He detailed both the quotidian and thrilling aspects of daily life that he experienced and observed.

“It’s sort of a crazy kaleidoscope of history-hopping [and] real-life characters, from history and present day,” Mr. Bull said.

The duo said they tried to keep the book — researched over two and a half years — as authentic as possible, borrowing from historical archives and photographs. Mr. Hughes, a local Orient cat that can often be found perusing the Country Store, makes multiple appearances in honor of Mr. Griffin’s cat of 20 years, which is mentioned in the journals. And the young protagonist sports former Chicago Cubs pitcher and Orient resident Bill Hands’ No. 49 jersey. Orient farmer and businessman Lucius Hallock and teacher Amanda Brown also appear in the book, representing buildings that still stand — the little yellow school, the Red Barn, Webb House, Old Point School House. Even George Washington is featured, chatting with friends over warm bread and cider at the Constant Booth Inn. Mr. Griffin voted for both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime and wrote about those experiences.

Karen Braziller joined the team, editing and providing publishing advice. Rita Lascaro served as book designer — having also designed the reissued Griffin diaries. As the pieces started to come together, Ms. Rose said, what was just an idea quickly became a reality.

“I hope that it encourages kids to start keeping a journal and that the everyday things can somehow be important to record,” Mr. Bull said. “It’s not up to us to know what is going to be important or interesting from our childhood, someday when we grow older.”

“Augustus and Me: An Oysterponds Adventure” can be purchased at Burton’s Bookstore and Preston’s Chandlery in Greenport; Orient Beach State Park, Old Orchard Farm Store, Orient Country Store and Oysterponds Historical Society in Orient; and Hallockville Museum Farm in Riverhead. Steve and Jean Scott gifted multiple copies to libraries and schools across Suffolk County, in collaboration with Greenport’s Floyd Memorial Library.

Ms. Rose and Mr. Bull will be on hand for book signings at Orient’s Poquatuck Hall Sunday, June 9, from 1 to 3 p.m. and at Floyd Memorial Library Saturday, June 29, at 3 p.m.

Photo caption: Author Janis Rose of Orient teamed up with artist Alan Bull to create ‘Augustus and Me: An Oysterponds Adventure,’ a children’s book that can appeal to all ages. The book depicts East Marion and Orient when they were still one village. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)

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