In a region rich with creative residents, an open contest resulted in a sea of new original children's picture books, which are now the focus of a special exhibition at Cape Ann Museum.

For the next two months, the museum has mounted "Once Upon a Contest," featuring selections from the Cape Ann Reads contest in this celebration of local children's book authors and illustrators.

The contest was designed to honor Cape Ann's legacy in the realm of picture books "then and now," said Catherine Ryan, the contest director and curator of the show.

An opening public reception takes place on Saturday, Jan. 5, from 3 to 5 p.m. The exhibition, which will include a reading nook for visitors of all ages, runs through Feb. 24.

The museum scheduled this exhibition to coincide with its Virginia Lee Burton retrospective, "The Little House: Her Story," which is dedicated to the award-winning Gloucester children's author. 

The Cape Ann Reads initiative resulted from the efforts of the four public libraries on Cape Ann — Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library, Manchester-by-the-Sea Public Library, TOHP Burnham Public Library in Essex, and Rockport Public Library. 

The four librarians of Cape Ann saw an opportunity to harness local talent for the purpose of promoting early childhood literacy.

"A passion for writing literature and the arts is one thing that ties all four communities together, making Cape Ann Reads a meaningful collaboration between our four libraries and the Cape Ann Museum," said Cindy Grove, Rockport's library director.

The children's picture book contest received more than 50 eligible entries from a varied combination of writers and artists. The subjects of the entries were diverse, from the fanciful to spiritual and sentimental to just plain funny.

The "Once Upon a Contest" exhibit highlights works by Leslie Galacar, Martha Shaw Geraghty, Marion Hall, Steven Kennedy, Charles King, George King, Michael LaPenna, James McKenna, Barbara McLaughlin, Alexia Parker, Victoria Petway, Jim Plunkett, Diane Polley, Mary Rhinelander, James Seavey, Gail Seavey, Kim Smith, Christina Ean Spangler, Bonnie L. Sylvester, Juni Van Dyke, Maura Wadlinger, Betty Allenbrook Wiberg, Kirsten Allenbrook Wiberg, Jean Woodbury, and Claire Wyzenbeek.

The works on view range from preliminary mockups to final published illustrations for original books. The exhibit includes an original wall painting by Sylvester, which is designed to create an immersive walk-in effect, Ryan said. 

Deborah French, director of Essex’s TOHP Burnham Public Library, applauded the impressive efforts of the artists, illustrators and writers.

Grove explained how picture books are a great tool for early literacy.

"By using the combination of text and pictures, the child learns with each page how a story develops. They learn that you read left to right, and (the books) are meant to be read to children, so it encourages a bonding experience between a caregiver and child around a story,” she said.

The Cape Ann Reads jury panel included librarians, children’s book author-illustrators and a rare books dealer. The jury members were Carol Bender, Pat Lowery Collins, Ann Cowman, Kate Strong Stadt, Giles Laroche, Bob Ritchie, Justine Vitale, Anna Vojtech and April Wanner. Five children served on a "kids panel."

Ryan noted that Cape Ann Reads continues to foster connections among the children's picture book network. To date, six books have been self-published, and sold in local stores.

When the museum show closes, the exhibition will tour the four communities of Cape Ann throughout 2019 as follows: Manchester in April, Essex in May and June, Gloucester in August and September, and Rockport in October and November.

Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-675-2706, or at gmccarthy@gloucestertimes.com

IF YOU GO

What: "Once Upon a Contest," highlighting the Cape Ann Reads children's book entries 

When: Through Feb. 24. Opening reception Saturday, Jan. 5, 3 to 5 p.m. Museum hours Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m.

Where: Cape Ann Museum, 27 Pleasant St., Gloucester 

How much: The museum is free to Cape Ann residents throughout January. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 seniors and students, and youth (under 18) and museum members are free. 

More information: Call 978-283-0455, ext. 10, or visit www.capeannmuseum.org

Special events: The museum will offer free weekly story times with staff members and guest readers on Wednesdays at 4 p.m. through March 31. On Saturday, Jan. 12, from 10 a.m. to noon, children and their families are invited to enjoy the exhibition and participate in art-making and writing activities. Admission is free. During February school vacation week, the museum will host children’s book creation workshops for school-age students on Tuesday, Feb. 19, through Friday, Feb. 22, from 1 to 4 p.m. The cost is $15 for museum members and $25 for nonmembers. To register, contact Sarah Flanagan at 978-283-0455, ext. 16, or email sarahflanagan@capeannmuseum.org.