B is for Berkshires: New children's book covers the Berkshires, from A to Z


B is for book, but it's also for a book about the Berkshires.

Children, adults — both local and tourists — are invited to explore the iconic Berkshires one page, and alphabet letter, at a time in the newly released picture book, "B is for Berkshires," by Joannie Duris and illustrated with photographs by Berkshire Eagle photographer Gillian Jones.

For author Duris and Jones, collaborating on the book — the first published book for both professionals — and seeing it come to life was a dream come true, in a kind of happy case of being at the right place at the right time. Both were approached last March by Melissa Kim, senior editor of children's books at Islandport Press, to see if they would be interested in working on the title — the third in a series of location-based alphabet books. (Other books in the series include, "A is for Acadia," and "C is for Cape Cod.")

"It's kind of a dream come true," Jones said. "I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. I'm really excited I was given the opportunity to do this."

The glossy children's non-fiction hardcover chronicles the discoveries to be found in the Berkshires from A to Z — starting with "A is for Adventure" — picturing an excited girl sliding down a snowy Taconic Golf Course hill — and ending with "Z is for Zip Line," explaining the different outdoor courses available in the county.

Duris — an adventurer herself, who in her free time is a member of the Northfield Mountain Nordic Ski Patrol — came to writing for children via her day job as a psychiatric nurse, where for the past 10 years she's worked with connecting with children in the child psych unit.

"I've always been somebody who reads voraciously," said Duris, who lives in Hubbardston. "It's important to me to instil the love of reading in children — to show them the joy of reading as a way to explore the world and make new discoveries."

Duris discovered, or perhaps rediscovered, western Massachusetts while researching the book one letter at a time, making day trips back and forth each month while working under a tight deadline. For Duris, who has spent considerable time in South County visiting her favorite spots in Great Barrington, exploring the rest of the Berkshires was a happy assignment. While she was conducting interviews, researching online and in books, Jones was gathering photos from her archives as a photojournalist in the Berkshires.

A North Adams resident, Jones began working at the former North Adams Transcript in 1992 and joined the Eagle staff in 2014.

"The Berkshires is an amazing county," she said. "I've lived here for over 30 years, and there's stuff about this county I still don't know. The idea is that there is a lot to discover and learn about the history of the county and this book is going to be great way to do that."

Photographing for the book and filling spots where her archives wouldn't work allowed Jones to explore some famous Berkshire spots that she'd never had a chance to visit, she said. When charged with illustrating "C is for Caves," Jones searched for a hidden hideout that wasn't on private property, which led her to Bartholomew's Cobble in Sheffield.

"I took my vacation in August and did lot of shooting," she said. "I had never been to Bash Bish Falls [in Mount Washington State Forest], so I went down there because 'W is for Waterfalls.' I tried to get a sampling, and it really expanded my horizons — even Bartholomew's Cobble, which I had never been to."

Those kind of right-in-your-own-backyard discoveries are what inspired Duris as she, Jones and Kim collaborated to piece together the alphabet that would best showcase the Berkshires. Like "U is for Upside Down," picturing Mass MoCA's "Tree Logic" exhibit with the text: "Upside-down trees make us stop and stare. Why are they hanging up in the air?"

"There are lots of cool fun, quirky things about the Berkshires you may not know if just pick up tourist brochure," said Duris, who picked up many while researching the book. "I didn't want a basic alphabet book — A is for apples kind of thing — I wanted interesting facts with detailed text that would be great for kids and adults. I purposely searched for information that covered cultural, history and science, so it would be useful for teachers and librarians, as well."

When asked what is her favorite image or page of the colorful book, Jones said she simply couldn't pick one — "It's like a picking favorite child or something," she joked. But while she listed the iconic lawn image for "T is for Tanglewood" or the vibrant leaves pictured in "F is for Foliage," Jones said she has a special spot in her heart for the cover image of cows grazing at Cricket Creek Farm, in Williamstown. It's an image, she said, she just shot one day while driving home from work.

"I just knew it was going to be the cover," she said.

Jones said she hopes the book will become a coffee table staple for locals, a children's favorite read and a souvenir for tourists and those who may have moved away, but forever call the Berkshires home.

"I really hope and believe when people look at this book they will learn something about the Berkshires they didn't know," she said.

B is for book launch:

What: 'B is for Berkshires' book launch, with books for sale, light refreshments and Joannie Duris and Gillian Jones available for book signing

When: 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 28

Where: The Parlor Cafe, 303 Ashland St., North Adams

What: Book signing with Gillian Jones

When: 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 18

Where: Water Street Books, 26 Water St., Williamstown

To purchase: 'B is for Berkshires' is available online at Amazon, www.islandportpress.com, local bookstores — including Water Street Books and Mass MoCA — retailing for $17.95.


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