Telling Room Student Reviews

Geared to aspiring journalists and critics alike, our Week in Review camp takes full advantage of The Telling Room's Old Port location with art, music, food, and entertainment at our doorstep. Together, we explore art galleries, food establishments, and check out some local performances. Campers delve into the art of critical observation, evaluation, and persuasive writing in the form of art, food, and performance reviews. We chat with a panel of local editors and journalists to get their tips of the trade, and take a tour of the Portland Press Herald and have a Q&A with their features editor and music reviewer. This camp is led by Telling Room staff member Sonya Tomlinson who spent nine years as traffic manager and contributing writer to the Portland Phoenix.


Camper Reviews - 2016


Empire Chinese Kitchen
The Mouth- Watering Empire Chinese Kitchen (as seen in The Portland Press Herald)

By Sage Kuchta, Age 11, Portland

The huge neon sign flickered and flashed, high above all the others. The exterior door was wide open, inviting people to enter and eat the scrumptious food. The walls were a creamy beige, and plants lined the room. There was soft music in the background, and you could hear the clatter of plates in the kitchen. I inhaled the delicious aroma of food being baked, grilled, and steamed. This was Empire Chinese Kitchen at 575 Congress Street, and it looked and smelled heavenly.

This restaurant has been here for 3 years, managed by Theresa Chan with her father, Freeman Chan, as the head chef. It is named Empire because a hundred years ago, there was a restaurant there by the same name. There was also a venue called Empire Dine and Dance, where bands played live music while people ate. When that closed, Empire Chinese Kitchen took its place. They named it after the previous establishments.

The first dish we ate is the most popular, three times more popular than all the others says Chan. It was Garlic Green Beans—wok fried! A wok is a round pan with a round bottom. Americans have modified it so that it has a flat bottom, to make it easier to cook on an electric stove. Traditional Chinese woks have a round bottom. Anyway, the green beans were amazing.

The next dish was called Chicken Bao. This bao was  a dumpling filled with chicken, cashews, and warm sauce. It reminded me of mushu, which I don’t like, so even though the bao was good, I couldn’t get past my mushu association. The cool thing was that it was made just for us to review! No one had ever had it before, as it was not yet on the menu.

The next and last dish was Lo Mein. There were vegetarian noodles with broccoli and sprouts. Then there was a meat option with duck and vegetables. I ate the veggie one. In China, long noodles symbolize long life, so usually they are eaten last. Chan told us that to bite or cut the noodles was thought to cut life short—so it is not rude to slurp your noodles whole! I absolutely ADORED those noodles!

For dessert, we had fortune cookies. They were chocolate flavored, which I appreciated, because the plain ones taste like Styrofoam. I thoroughly enjoyed the Empire Chinese Kitchen, and would love to return to eat more, and new, delicious foods.

Empire Chinese Kitchen

Topher Kavookjian, Age 12, Portland

I went to Empire Chinese Kitchen on Congress Street. I stepped inside a corner-located marble building that read Empire along the side.  I was seated at the end of a long table by servers Rob and Alyssa. The room felt comfortable because of the dim lights and the smell of dumplings and vegetables. The walls were lined with Chinese symbols. After a few minutes, down-to-earth manager Theresa Chan walked over to the table and greeted me and other Telling Room students. She gave us a little backstory, and chopstick-using lesson.

“I didn’t learn how to hold chopsticks correctly for like, the first 14 years of trying to use them,” she said. “One time a party of 8 came in and brought their own forks. They didn’t know that we already have them here!” I laughed when I heard this.

The staff planned on bringing us three dishes to review. The first was Garlic Green Beans,  the most popular item on the menu. They came prepared on a stone dish. I picked some up and placed them on my plate. I lifted the red chopsticks and took a bite. They had a smoky yet juicy garlic and ginger flavor. I just loved them! They were great for so many flavorful reasons.  

Dish two of three was Chicken and Cashew Bao. It came as a large pillowy steamed dumpling. I took a big bite of what tasted like gold. It was fantastic.

The last but not least was Duck Lo Mein. Theresa recalled, “When I was a kid my parents told me that noodles represent long life, which is why they should be eaten on birthdays.”

The dish was thin soba noodles with cubed duck slices, veggies, and jalapeñeos. As I slurped the noodles, my mind was blown. I was really amazed by the outstanding yet spicy, soft flavor of heaven. I had to have more. I did. 

I would recommend Empire Chinese kitchen to absolutely anyone. The food is absolutely spectacular to the classic level, 10 out of 10, and the staff members are very humble and kind. Go to Empire.


Empire Chinese Kitchen                   

Alina Lindemann Spear, Age 11, Portland

If you like Chinese food then you’ll love Empire Chinese Kitchen. If you’re in downtown Portland with a grumble in your stomach, Empire, located at 575 Congress Street, is a convenient place to eat. When you open the doors you will see a load of friendly faces and smell fresh steamed rice and vegetables. We were greeted by the lovely manager, Theresa Chan, who served us and introduced the various dishes. As we were being seated, I heard pots and pans clinging and clanging while a rhythm of music played, stopped, and played again.

As each dish came out we learned about the traditions and the food. Empire used to be an old restaurant from 1916 to 1953. Then in the 1960’s it was a Dine and Dance, and now it is Empire Chinese Kitchen. It has kept the name Empire all this time—for 100 years.

As a plate of green beans with ginger and garlic sauce touched the table, I was thrilled to try the crunchy, mouthwatering, green beans. Our second course was Bao with cashews and chicken on the inside and sweet white steamed doughy bread on the outside. Our final course was two noodle dishes. One was duck meat and the other was with vegetables. If you like spicy food, then you’ll love the duck meat noodles. Both were delicious! We learned never to bite your noodles-- especially your long noodles-- as they represent a long life. Everything we tried was scrumptious and at the end we got chocolate fortune cookies.

Empire is open every day of the week except Tuesday. Lunch or dinner, Empire is the way to go.


Empire Chinese Kitchen

Kate Waxman, Age 13, Falmouth

Chinese food is common cuisine that most people eat. It can be hard to find Chinese food that tastes delicious, but we have found one. The Empire Chinese Kitchen has been around for three years, but has more history than that. Before this restaurant was created, there was a restaurant before it called Empire Dine and Dance, where Empire got its name. The new restaurant still has that classic Chinese aura, but with a modern twist. There was a mix of contemporary lighting, with traditional Chinese chopsticks. There were large Chinese characters written on a brick wall, as well as wooden tables and chairs.

The first course of the meal was Garlic Green Beans. You’re probably wondering, “garlic green beans?” Well, yes, garlic green beans! They didn’t have that average bitter vegetable taste, but a rather flavorful zest to them. The green beans were stacked high on a white plate with shaves of ginger on top and cloves of garlic. They were flavor packed with a slight charred taste. Manager Theresa Chan said, “the green beans are ordered three times as many as the regular dishes”.           

The next dish that I tried was the Chicken Bao. The bao is a chicken and cashew dumpling wrapped in steamed dough. The salty cashews and the savory chicken complemented with the sweet soft dough. It seemed like a savory cake. The bao’s dough was steamed at a perfect temperature to make sure that the dough was cooked, but not too much so it still had that sweet cakey texture. We were the first people to sample this bao, but sadly for the general public, it is not yet on the menu.

The next course that we had was Lo Mein. Noodles normally come at the end of a Chinese meal because they symbolize having a long life. This explains the long length of the soft noodles. If you cut the noodles, it symbolizes cutting off a long life. The noodles were served in a ceramic bowl, and you have the choice between veggie and duck noodles. The duck noodles had a jalapeño sting to them, whereas the veggie had the simple taste with slight spice.        

The Empire Chinese Kitchen is a very appetizing restaurant, and I enjoyed it very much. I definitely recommend you walk through the glass doors into Empire Chinese Kitchen.


Empire Chinese Kitchen

Hannah Dwyer, Age 14, Yarmouth    

There was an overpowering smell as I walked into Empire Chinese Kitchen on 575 Congress Street in Portland, Maine. It was somewhere between traditional and exotic; spicy, sharp, and bold scents filling the air. The overall environment was bright and lively. We were greeted by the manager—fun and upbeat Theresa Chan. Three years ago, Theresa and her father Freeman Chan, the head chef, turned this space into Empire Chinese Kitchen.

As soon as we sat down, friendly Chan started telling us the interesting story of why they named the restaurant Empire. In 1916, 100 years ago, this space was a Chinese restaurant named Empire. Later separated into two floors, the top floor was a music venue and the bottom floor was formally known as Empire Dine and Dance. When Chan and her father acquired the place, many people told them to consider keeping the name as a small tribute to the once thriving businesses that occupied the space before.

We had three courses. Our first course was explained to us as the most popular and most ordered dish at Empire, Garlic Green Beans. I have to admit that when I first saw these beans I wasn't impressed, but the more I dug in, the more my first impression faded. From the first bite, I was hooked. The way the sweet sauce reacted with the fresh warm beans was unforgettable. The raw crunch of the outside of the green beans fit together so well with the firm fresh center.

For our second course they brought out a Cantonese version of a cashew and chicken dumpling. The dumpling, or bao, is great for people who want to widen their usual variety of foods. Packed with flavor, you will want to eat the whole plate!

Our third and final course consisted of two dishes: one bowl of Veggie Lo Mein and a second bowl of Duck Lo Mein. When the noodles were first put in front of me, they looked almost delicate. But from my first bite, the robust noodles produced the spicy kick I had been waiting for. From the charcoaled crunch of the noodles to the mild sauces, I can say with confidence that I’ll be back soon, and you should have already started planning our visit.


Portland Museum of Art, Women Modernists of New York

Portland Museum of Art (as seen in The Portland Press Herald)

Elizabeth (Libby) Dakers, Age 12, Kennebunkport

Dive through the controversy surrounding modernist women artists and enter a world filled with vivid colors, bright patterns, and stunning paintings. The unique styles of Georgia O'Keefe Marguerite Zorach, Helen Torr, and Florine Stettheimer all result in iconic paintings in this group show, Women Modernists of New York  at Portland Museum of Art.  These four women committed their lives to art whether they were rich or poor, popular or shy. 

Walking into the spacious, chic gallery felt overwhelming. Stunning art was hung on the walls leaving the viewer to question the paintings ages. The friendly tour guide took us to the far wall of the show and began to describe the life of artist Marguerite Zorach. Zorach was a mother and an artist who used a lot of symbolism in her paintings. She even took on embroidery considering it was easier to juggle with her kids. Next, was Florine Stettheimer’s art. Apparently, her art did not receive much recognition in her time. Her artwork features the wealthy men and women of the early 1900s at public events, parks, and beaches. She used light, airy colors to capture the aristocrats in their tracks. Then we saw Georgia O'Keefe’s paintings. O’Keefe painted close-ups of flowers with breathtaking colors put into the right places. However, controversy began to crowd around O’Keefe’s paintings when the public started to believe them extremely sexual and that they were not “art.” Lastly, we viewed Helen Torr’s paintings. Helen’s paintings were nautical and used shades of grey and blue. Her paintings took a more realistic turn on modernism, but are equal in beauty to Zorach, Stettheimer, and O’Keefe’s.

So tag along with the Portland Museum of Art on a journey that displays the abstract paintings and “busy, mom-friendly” embroidery of Marguerite Zorach, Georgia O'Keefe’s bold flower close-ups, Florine Stettheimer’s paintings of public events, parks, and beaches, and Helen Torr’s nautical paintings that feature the shores of New York and Long Island. Come meet the friendly staff at the Portland Museum of Art today and travel back to the early 1900s to see the clean, right brush strokes put into place by the women who started it all, risked it all, and demanded the rights they deserved.      

Long story short, don't see this as just another review, use this as an opportunity to embrace what art really is: the ability to express yourself.



Women Modernists of New York

Sumner Meahl, Age 14, Portland

Helen Torr’s work featured in the exhibit Women Modernists of New York emphasizes the suffrage experienced by women during her lifetime. The hypnotizing piece, “Mountain Mood” is a gloomy landscape of mountains that have been created through simple jagged lines. The mood of the painting is highlighted through the drab grey, white, and black colors. The same gloominess of “Mountain Mood” is displayed in a haunting picture that Helen Torr painted of herself, “Self Portrait.” Helen Torr’s sad expression is captured by the bags tinted purple looming under her eyes. With her chin tilted high and shadows crossing her face, this piece becomes mesmerizing. This piece is like memory foam and will leave a lasting imprint on your mind. Another piece displayed by Helen Torr was “White Cloud (Light House).” This piece is a realistic painting of a simple light house on a rocky shore in a fog of puffy clouds. The dark blue sky in the background highlights the lighthouse in the foreground. The same distressed mood as shown in the other pieces is displayed in the “White Cloud (Light House)” painting. Helen Torr’s discomfort is clearly shown in her work.

Portland Museum of Art is lucky to display Helen Torr’s work. Mainers are fortunate to have an opportunity to experience this art and should make time to visit this exhibit. Portland Museum Of Art is located on Congress Square in Portland, Maine. The Women Modernists of New York display will be shown until September 28th. This is a fun and easy way to spend an afternoon in summer.


Equality Shows at the Portland Museum of Art

Sarah Card, Age 14, Scarborough

If you believe in gender equality, you don't want to miss Portland Museum of Art’s Women Modernists of New York. The show centers around four artists; Georgia O'Keeffe, Florine Stettheimer, Helen Torr, and Marguerite Thompson Zorach. These women defied the rules of society with their art in unimaginable ways. The four artists refused to put feministic labels to their work, knowing that nobody would take them seriously if they were only recognized as female painters. Everyone was against them, but nothing could stop them.

The gallery began with Georgia O'Keeffe, possibly the most well known of the artists. The colors in her paintings swerve and blend together, but still manage extraordinary detail. Her art created a world in which art is mightier than words, a world in which art is examined with individual perspective, not gender.

Next was Florine Stettheimer, a wealthy woman who painted just for fun, not concerned about being paid. She used stunningly bright colors in her work to channel her strong emotions. The people in her paintings were whimsical, almost as if they were taken from a fairy tale. Her lively paintings are all around the gallery, and you'd have to try hard not to notice them.

Art took a darker turn with Helen Torr. She included stormy skies with her paintings of nature, structures, and landscapes. As I walked through the gallery, I noticed that she changed the details on less important objects in her paintings to add focus to the main subject. This move is brave and makes you think about why the subject is significant to you.

Towards the end of the tour, I came across some works of Marguerite Thompson Zorach. The paintings of her family are realistic and down to earth, but still have a mystical quality in the character's eyes. Later in her life, Marguerite turned to embroidery to pay the bills, but it's easy to tell that she puts just as much effort into the weavings as the paintings.

This exhibit is perfect for anyone, whether you're going with friends or on your own for a quieter atmosphere. The show will be on display until September 28th, 2016.


Portland Museum of Art

Zoe Ruff, Age 12, Bath

I want the reader, whoever you might be, to take everything you think you know about impressionists, and get rid of it, because the Portland Museum of Art presents a completely new look on art and four female modernists whose names may be familiar to you.

Florine Stettheimer's style is unique and eye-catching. When we visited, I found myself staring at her whimsical paintings, figuring out patterns between them. I found many. For example, a lot of them had pale colors and one eye-popping bright color (usually apple red) used in many places. Another, is that Stettheimer wanted the emphasis to be on the action of the moment captured, not the elements within that moment.

I personally did not enjoy the works of Helen Torr, but I could see how others would. Torr uses darker, cool colors to bring out the mood. In one, ”White Clouds (Lighthouse),” light colors on the top fade to darker shades further down. I didn't like her work as much as the others because, if you look at them just right, you can't see the brushstrokes. This means she didn't put care into the work she was creating; she rushed. To me, it looked like she did her art beautifully, but not because she enjoyed it.

Margaret Thompson Zorach hasn't got one style in particular, but one thing is similar between each piece: they're all made up of complex shapes. In the portrait of Zorach’s daughter, Dahlov, and the family’s nanny, Ella Madison, they are depicted in hues and shadows that make their faces geometric. However, other pieces of hers have hard lines and soft features. Zorach also did embroidery. The piece ”Family Dinner” sticks in my mind, and I know it will for others also. It shows two scenes: a town with houses, trees, and streets, as well as a family eating dinner around a table, made up of the town scene. I could've stared at it for hours, trying to figure out how she planned this, how long it took, and how much work was involved.

The name Georgia O'Keefe is well-known everywhere, and PMA presents some of her most famous works. ”Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. 3” is one. The colors are bright, beautiful, and deep, with not one stroke out of place. On the topic of brushstrokes, in O'Keefe's art, you can see every single move her brush made, showing the thought, hard work, and patience that went into them.

PMA has a comfortable, quiet atmosphere, and the artwork creates a catching splash of color to the white walls. I recommend going by yourself, because it would be nice to have plenty of time to take in each work of art.

Whether you enjoy portraits, still-life, or scenes, there's something for everyone, and I recommend you visit the Portland Museum of Art to see this incredible exhibit before it's gone.


Women Modernists of New York

Nicoletta Coupe, 13, Cape Elizabeth                            

At the Portland Museum of Art I observed a modernist exhibition featuring four women artists from New York; Georgia O`Keefe, Helen Torr, Florine Stetthiemer, and Marguerite Zorach. I had mixed opinions on the exhibit. I vastly enjoyed O`Keefes early flower paintings while I found the other three artists work less impressive.

O`Keefe painted her flowers extremely close-up focusing upon the intricacies of the flowers petals and blossom. She brought out the warm colors in her paintings with smooth brushstrokes that gave life to her flowers, while, the contrasts of the warm and cold colors she used gave them depth. Her strokes flowed together seamlessly and were masterfully blended to a point where you couldn't tell where one ended and another began. This added to the overall uniqueness of her flowers and highlighted the flowers complexities, making them appear almost too perfect to be found in nature, yet just flawed enough.

O`Keefe had two paintings that really stood out to me, “Jack in Pulpit” whose bright vibrant colors that faded into a darker background made the flower appear to be glowing from within. The other painting of O’Keefe's that really caught my eye was called “White Calico Flower”. The flowers petals are a beautiful shimmery silver that fades gorgeously into the dark green background like the moon’s shining reflection on the surface of a lake, a peaceful serenity undisturbed by even the slightest ripple, reminiscent of the eternal tranquility of the night. “White Calico Flower” is a painting of the past that will live on in the future.

Helen Torr’s paintings ceased to leave an imprint on me the way O`Keefes did. I found them lackluster and uninteresting. The only emotions I gathered from her paintings was dreariness and tiredness. She suffered from ill health and depression throughout her life, as well as receiving very little recognition for her work while her husband's artwork was met with great respect and was renown. Although, art critics today would argue that she was actually more talented than her husband. Many of her paintings were painted on her houseboat, they were of single subjects painted in drab colors. They exuded feelings of isolation and loneliness..

Florine Stetthiemer on the other hand managed to wow me. Although I was not a fan of her painting style or the abstractness of her paintings, I still found much to enjoy about her work. Stetthiemer painted flamboyantly with messy, passionate brush strokes and expressive vibrant colors as if she was pouring all of her feelings into her paintings. A style that was captivating to the eye and resonated deeply. I prefer realist paintings which is why I did not particularly like her style and color scheme, but, even I could comprehend and appreciate the level of feeling and meaning Stetthiemer put into her artwork. She was an expressive woman in her lifetime, her residence was on 5th avenue and she was a member of New York's elite. She rebelled against society's expectations of her, choosing to never marry and spend her time painting instead of partying. She always painted herself somewhere in her paintings, and while she would often paint an exciting, whimsical, scene such as a circus, gala, or picnic, she would paint herself alone. This conveyed her feelings of not fitting into her role in society as well as her loneliness amongst the other members of New York's elite. During her lifetime she never exhibited her work and decreed that after she died her artwork be destroyed, suggesting that as it was not a lady's place to be an artist  and that she was ashamed and unconfident about her unique artwork. When she died, one of her sisters went against her wishes and exhibited her work. While it was not what Stetthiemer wanted, art critics, enthusiasts, and lovers are thankful to be able to see and appreciate her artwork.

Marguerite Zorach is the fourth, and possibly the least captivating artist of the four women. Her husband was a very successful painter and she was very supportive of him, although art critics today say that her artwork was actually much better than his. She had two children and they were her priority which led her to stop painting and do less time-consuming art. So, she started quilting and embroidery. I was not impressed by her paintings. They were very bland and monotonous. I could detect little feeling or expression. I liked Torr better because at least with Torr's paintings you could feel the depression and the isolation. With Zorach’s there was nothing to feel. Her embroidery and quilts were beautiful and meticulously detailed in ways that I found very creative. It was in this medium, that her clear artistic talent was displayed.                                                                          

The exhibit runs from June 24 through September 18 and tickets are $7 for kids and $10 for adults. On Friday night from 5:00 to 8:00pm, the exhibit is free. If you have an open Friday night, or really any day of the week I would recommend stopping in and visiting the Portland Museum of Art, Women Modernists of New York exhibit to experience the wondrous artwork for yourself.  


Stop Here, This is The Place: A Year in Motherland, a book by Susan Conley and Winky Lewis


We Spin and Spin (as seen in The Portland Press Herald)

Abbie Hews, Age 11, South Portland

Stop Here This Is The Place, A Year in Motherland   is the heartwarming story created by  two mothers who try to slow down time and pay attention.  Susan Conley, a local, Maine writer, and Winky Lewis, a photographer, despite their jam-packed lives of commotion, team up in the pursuit of capturing the simple pleasures of life.

As mothers, they fear they’re going to look back and somehow their children’s lives will have slipped from between their outstretched arms. The dearest of memories discarded like flotsam and jetsam and lost into the slippery waves of never ending time.

Thee book expressed a sense of awareness, a warning.  Almost that time itself is alive, a  sensitive thing not to be meddled with and not to be wasted. We often get caught up in our lives—something always needs to be done, there's always somewhere to be, and there is always someone to please. We try to stuff our lives with as much as we possibly can, often not leaving enough room for those we love the most.

Susan Conley  and Winky Lewis give us a taste of their lives week by week, for 52 weeks.  In week eleven of the book, there is a photograph of Lewis’s daughter where she has a dog’s paw cupped in her hand, which I interpreted as a symbol of love and promise never to part. It was a simple gesture yet so full of meaning and unconditional love.

I felt as if every page opened the door to a new beginning, another chapter.  Simply stated, just another week in the magical world of Motherland.  

“We spin and spin and spin and don't ever let go.” ~   -Susan Conley


Stop Here This Is The Place

Ava Hoffman, Age 13, Falmouth

My mom always says carpe diem –seize the moment. A dull rainy day was changed into a great memory of a wet and watery slip and slide. The outdoors became my own personal water world. Changing moments by putting them on pages, two moms Winky Lewis and Susan Conley understood the concept of carpe diem. They seized life’s moments for one year.

Winky Lewis captured the flawless fantasies of the author’s children and her own kids during the year. Stop Here This Is The Place, the art book they created, is a piece of work where you can almost feel like you’re living the moment. The girl running down the road—chasing after her in the dark scenery. The words that are incorporated with each picture make you fall into a fantasy of reading. The words capture and lure you into the page. The photographs capture fleeting moments of childhood happiness. A wink in time was plastered onto the square hard, smoothness of the cover. Two boys backs to the sun, bathing suits on, looking towards the ocean floor. Full of minnows, hair wet maybe from the exciting swim they’d had.

The book is filled with 52 pictures from throughout the year. In one picture a girl with blonde hair is the focus, with a lake in the background and two boys on a rock. The page talks about the seconds of  holding our breath underwater. Like the seconds in life that create the minutes, which become hours. Finally, there are years. The boys are blurry as if they are growing out of childhood and reaching adolescence. The young girl is the focus, she is still in her youth. There are fifty other amazing pictures taken in this book you can enjoy. Whether you're taking a picture or reading a book, pick up Stop Here This Is The Place, it’s is the perfect choice to look at and read.


Stop Here This is the Place

Elsa Engesser, Age 12, Kennebunkport

Stop Here This Is The Place, is an art book by Susan Conley and Winky Lewis, published in April of 2016. Lewis would take pictures of moments throughout her day and email them to Conley, who would respond with a piece of writing to caption them. Although they saw each other throughout the day, it was only to exchange children or “Emergency cups of coffee” as the book puts it.  

Stop Here This Is The Place shows the pitfalls, the happiness, the sorrows, and the silliness of both childhood and motherhood. It stops life at the most perfect and most human moments. It makes you slow down to take advantage of the times without science fairs and soccer practice, the times before school dances, and college applications. It shows laughter, simplicity, and even the hope of a pact between dog and child.

Photographer Winky Lewis shows the most personal moments of her life through the camera lens. She shows the struggle in the life of a ten-year-old through the angles of the pictures she takes. Susan Conley does the same, but with her pen, or in this day and age, her keyboard. She captures the pit in your stomach that is homesickness, the excitement of jumping in a puddle, the sadness of school approaching and summer ending.

But it’s the things that happen when Lewis and Conley get together that is truly magical. The images and the words speak to each other, intertwining through the thick pages splashed with colors.  

Whether you have to break into a bookstore, or hijack Amazon, it will be worth it for this book.


Exploring the Meaning of Home

Grace Flynn, Age 13, Gorham

Though photography and writing have been paired millions of times before, this collaboration and the feeling the art gives you is strangely unique. From the intimacy of each picture to the story behind the project, it is a tale like no other. Stop Here This Is The Place by Maine author Susan Conley and photographer Winky Lewis publicizes a new level of motherhood from playing dress up, to watching your kids grow farther away.

The few short paragraphs at the beginning of the book discuss how the experiment blossomed into a book, starting with how the two artists began as next-door neighbors who on occasion would swap kids while the other parent was working. One day Lewis decided to take a picture of the children and then Conley wrote a story to go with it. The two did this every week for a year, but opted not to have conversations about it. This detail makes the book far more fascinating; the closeness achieved without any communication between the artists is simply astounding.

Reading this book is equal to experiencing the seemingly miniscule moments in these families’ lives. You feel like you’re sitting with them on the dock as the waves lap at your feet, and you’re standing on the damp street soaking from the storm that’s now abandoned your small neighborhood. Each piece of writing creates a story that unfolds itself into the picture next to it, creating an unexpected twist. For example, the photo on page seven shows a group of children playing on a faraway cliff. The story complements it by describing a mother afraid of what will happen when she no longer has the ability to protect her son.

Stop Here This Is The Place is a must read for any parent or any child who have shared a strong bond..


Yes. I'd Stop Here.

Maddie Kerr, Age 14, Portland

Relatable. Memorable. Stop Here This Is The Place, A Year in Motherland is an art book written by two childhood friends, Susan Conley, writer, and Winky Lewis, photographer. This whole project started as an experiment that escalated to a 52-week collaboration that brought them closer together. Each spread is a week. The photos, mostly of their children, have a piece of writing beside them. Though written by adults, these stories connect childhood to growing up, making it to relatable to all. Reading this book, I could see myself in it. I could remember similar things I did as a child. But, I could also see it from an adult's point of view, reminiscing at times, scolding at others.

Week 30 was the page that stuck with me after finishing the book. It was of two little girls planning to run away when things got worse. Immediately after reading this entry,  my mind snapped back to when I was about eight. My best friend and I had planned to run away for whatever reason.

This book is a perfect opening for deep discussions and old memories. Conley did an amazing job, leaving the reader puzzled but enticed. The work is so passionate; I could feel Conley and Lewis's excitement throughout the pages. Lewis took majestic pictures and Conley wrote profound sentences, which fit perfectly together. Susan Conley and Winky Lewis have outdone themselves with Stop Here This Is The Place, A Year in Motherland.


Stop Here This Is The Place

Liam Brown, Age 13, South Portland

Stop Here This Is The Place by Susan Conley and Winky Lewis is a creative work of art. Living in Portland, the next door neighbors tried an experiment. For one year Winky would take a photo and Susan would then write about the image. I have not yet found a book similar to Stop Here This Is The Place. After reading a couple deep and well thought-out pages, I wanted to own it. The words and pictures correspond perfectly on the page. Although simple, simplicity works for this book. There is a picture and words for all 52 weeks in a year. What makes this so original, is that all photos in this book are of the authors’ children.

Flipping through the book week number thirty-six caught my eye. The image of the rural, winter-white background made the black lettering on the sign stand out much more. It reads, “Every Thu. Bingo 6:30 P.M.” Giving the photo an even deeper meaning, Conley’s entry for the week reads, “The fields have tufts of green hair and the sky is so big and flat that everything feels entirely possible. Everything feels within reach. Which is why you should come with me.”

This book is a one-of-a-kind book. While reading I felt like I was there with the kids: skateboarding, blackberry picking, swimming. the feeling of sitting back and watching the kids grow was a joy. I recommend you picking up a copy and reading it for yourself.


A Book At Its Best

Sarae Leonard, Age 14, Yarmouth

Stop Here This Is The Place by Susan Conley and Winky Lewis is a beautifully simple story. Each photo is full of so much emotion and meaning. These photographs are creative and candid, yet some of them are so perfectly posed. It's not like Winky posed the subjects and said, “Put your foot there and don't move”, it's as if she took out her camera each week and made herself unknown, like the paparazzi of her and Conley’s families. This book inspired me to grab my own camera and capture the underrated scenery of the world around me.

As you progress further into the book, you become more and more familiar with the families of Susan Conley and Winky Lewis. Everything the children do in the photos is so vivid and relatable it almost seems like you are a part of each moment. While I was reading this a feeling of comfort washed over me. This book takes you on a captivating journey through the lives of these mothers and their children. The clarity of the photos lets you see every grain of skin and the dirt on their shoes. It just makes the experience that much better.

The physical cover is very soft and well put together. The layout of this book is that on every page there is a photograph and a small text narrating the situation. The text was very well-corazon

composed and the images and words gelled nicely. I can't stress enough just how much emotion is in each and every photo. I felt like I could understand exactly what Conley and Lewis were trying to capture, which was that a picture book doesn't have to be a children's book, it can have more depth, it can be a visual experience for the reader.

The families in this book have such unique perspectives on life which made reading this book that much more enjoyable. A particular photo that caught my eye was a photo of the two children jumping off a dock near the ocean. It brought back a flood of memories for me. Overall this book was one-of-a-kind book, I have never read a book like this before. I absolutely recommend this book to you and anyone you know!  


Samuel James, "Old Dan Tucker"

Samuel James ‘Old Dan Tucker’

Metis Welthy Bradford Tucker, Age 11, Saco

Samuel James’ song “Old Dan Tucker” made me want to first just sit and listen—but then made me want to get up and dance to the beat of the country-style music. I don’t usually like that much country music, but this I liked. You know in old movies when a cowboy is walking through an abandoned town with tumbleweeds? The music is like that except the lyrics  are more homey—like a backyard full of chickens vibe. The actual lyrics are from an old folk song. James’ version makes you want to stand up and stomp your foot, and bob up and down.

His new album including  “Old Dan Tucker” is called Already Home Recordings Volume 1. Each volume will be released over a year’s time with a subscription to the next volume with the purchase of one.


Space Gallery, The Genuine Article

The Genuine Review (as seen in The Portland Press Herald)

Ella Briman, Age 13, Cape Elizabeth

Upon entering, the fluorescent lights lit up my eyes. The Genuine Article, an installation at the SPACE Gallery in Portland, Maine, is designed to look like a conventional dive bar. The art is tacky in a good way; it’s colorful, playful, and whimsical. The cheap wood paneling on the walls was actually hand painted by Leon Benn and Seth Gass, the artists in charge of the show. Benn and Gass also chose the pieces that are displayed in the installation, asking their artist friends to send them pieces. Nat May, the executive director of Space, explained, “The artists acted as the curators in this show.”

There’s everything from a taxidermy Kermit the Frog pinned to the wall, to a stained glass hanging lampshade. On the back wall, black and white sequins create the silhouette of Darth Vader on a fake door. According to Space’s online description, “This installation situates itself in the greater trajectory of kitsch, pop, and decorative art.”

You might as well cancel your afternoon plans, and head to this show to sit on the center benches and watch vibrant, contrasting lights flicker. Above all, this installation is memorable, and something to be experienced with all your senses as a whole. The slightly musty smell ties well with the theme of the rest of the room and the sound of the murmuring of the passersby walking up and down the busy Portland street just outside. SPACE Gallery is located at 538 Congress Street, and the exhibition is open to the public from June 23rd to September 23rd, 2016.


The Genuine Article

By Natalia Pinette, Age 13, Portland

I’ve never thought of myself as an artist or even an art enthusiast. Sure I’ve been to art galleries where the paintings are hung on the walls not even a centimeter crooked, and the sculptures sit in cases with heavy surveillance, but I never really enjoyed it. Museums were a thing my mom brought me to where you had to be quiet and you couldn’t touch anything. I’ve seen pieces that I thought were beautiful but always wished I could touch the art. I never thought I would find an exhibit where that could happen.

From the name The Genuine Article, an exhibit at SPACE Gallery in Portland, by Leon Benn and Seth Gass, open until September 23,  I assumed it was just a regular paintings-on-plain-walls exhibit. What I got was so much better.

Walk through the doors and you're in a completely different world. In front of you is a dimly lit dusty old bar. A dive bar. The floor is scratched and scuffed and the walls, painted to look like wood paneling, are covered in random pieces. From a Darth Vader door made of sequins, to a Kermit the Frog head mounted on the wall. And you know those old-timey chandeliers, the ones that look like they're pieces of stained glass placed in no particular pattern? There’s a multicolored one hanging in just the right spot with a dart board behind it and the bar below. The place even has a smell of it’s own, a little musty but not so much so that it’s gross.

If you close your eyes you can picture perfectly who might be there and what’s going on. You can hear a band playing on the stage and see the bartender pouring drinks. You can smell all the perfume and cologne as it settles in a hazy mist over the crowd cheering on the band. But the installation wouldn’t be complete if it weren't for the artwork within it. All of the paintings and art pieces are absolutely exquisite, full of color and while they're all very different, they fit together seamlessly. One of my personal favorites is called “Cowboy with Palm Tree”, 2016, by Leon Benn. It’s a painting of a cowboy lying in the grass under a palm tree. I love how there’s a lot of color and most of the picture is made up of circles.

Maybe it’s the dim colorful lights or the painted walls, but this is one of the most realistic and creative installations I’ve ever seen. The whole setup feels like it’s been that way for decades, it’s crazy to think that Benn and Gass installed it in a week. For anyone looking for a unique art experience you should visit The Genuine Article. Everything down to the squishy couch is filled with antiquity that’s hard to find. If you get the chance to visit it’s free and well worth your time.


Magnificent Exhibit in the SPACE Gallery

Isa Kesselhault, Age 12, Cape Elizabeth

Walking through adjoining doors leaving the bright and sunny annex, and entering SPACE’s main gallery, it was suddenly dim. This interesting room, curated by Leon Benn and Seth Gass, was made to look like a dive bar.

The two artists painted the walls to look like wood paneling. The realistic dark room was filled a colorful cool collection of art pieces, and fluorescent lights. Because of the dark walls and lighting, the room felt enclosed. But the feeling of a small dark room just added to the experience. Benn and Gass put out a call for submission to a dozen artists. Having twelve artists contribute their craziest pieces of art makes all of the pieces on the walls so different. The show called The Genuine Article started June 23 and ends on September 23.

My favorite piece of art in this exhibit is the Darth Vader door. If you look closely you’ll notice that the design is made out of black and white sequins. The outline of Darth Vader’s mask is made with tiny white sequins. Slowly the white sequins fade into something that looks like a snowstorm with a black background, like the night sky. The white sequins being the snow that blows everywhere.

My experience at the The Genuine Article exhibit was definitely worth it. Appreciating all the hard work Leon Benn and Seth Gass put in,  you enjoy the exhibit even more. The Genuine Article is a magnificent exhibit in the SPACE Gallery. I recommend you come and see it before it closes.


My Experience at The Genuine Article

Quentin Wu, Age 12, Scarborough


My experience at The Genuine Article was unique, for when I stepped into the room, I was amazed at the setting. It was unusually dim, and there were neon lights, something not that common for the backgrounds of art exhibits. I also noticed a bar and a stage, not to mention a Star Wars themed door, which could not be opened. There were also two mirrors, one with words listing the artists who helped in the making of the exhibit, and another one with a picture of someone pointing to his muscles. Lastly, there were a  few abstract paintings each with vibrant colors, but each painting did not have a wide spectrum of hues. All of it was quite peculiar, and I liked it. That is why I would recommend for people. However, the show doesn’t last forever. It closes on September 18!

The room had a wide range of colors and was dull and neutral at the same time, for you could easily see the neon lights in contrast against the dark walls of the room. The neon lights dimly lit up the bar, giving a feeling as if there could be people waiting to be served. The Star Wars themed door featured Darth Vader. The depiction was quite abstract, as it was just an array of black and white sequins, but their arrangement made it so that it looked like Darth Vader, when viewed far away enough. There was not really anything on the stage, but above it there were unlit strobe lights and beside and in the front of the stage, were stairs, making it somewhat realistic. But what I liked most was the lighting of the room, as that was what stood out to me when I entered.



El Corazon Food Truck

El Corazon (as seen in The Portland Press Herald)

Thalia Tucker, Age 11, Saco 

The chicken burrito was the best I have ever tasted. When I bit into it, a bomb of flavors and textures assaulted my mouth. Avocado! Grilled chicken! Rice! Beans! Tortilla! And a little bit of spice screamed for attention in my mouth. Not only that, the textures were magnificent. The guacamole was not too clumpy, not too smooth. The chicken was hearty and flavorful. Admittedly, the rice was not totally perfect; it was a little too sloppy (more like it belonged in a chili soup). The beans were not too hard, not too squishy. The tortilla was warm, soft, and a little bit chewy—just right. The spice was not overpowering, but still enough to add a kick. It felt like I was biting into a dance-off of flavors, everything spinning and twirling around in my mouth, but contained neatly into one small package.

If you're wondering where I got this super burrito, it came from El Corazon, the red food truck. Usually parked at the corner of Spring and Temple Streets most weekdays, El Corazon is easy to recognize with its dark-red coloring and vibrant day-of-the-dead-skull.

When I asked co-owner April Perry where the ingenious recipes came from, she replied that they came from her step-father, who is from Southern Arizona. It's a family business. She had to poke her head out of the back of the truck to speak to us while she continued to work the line. "When we lived in California, there was a lot of Mexican culture. When we moved to Maine, we wanted to bring that with us." After talking to April, the food was ready, and I enjoyed the best burrito of my life! El Corazon is a good place to stop by on lunch break, and if you do, you'll be in for a tasty surprise!    


Mexican Madness

Emma Hallee, Age 11, Portland

The bright red truck pulled me in. They were parked in their usual location, on the corner of Spring and Temple street, and they were busy. People waiting off to the side, people waiting in line. That’s right, this is about El Corazon! The Mexican smells coming off the truck were of meats and spices and fried food all in one. Cars were passing by and I was wondering why they weren’t stopping to try this amazing smelling food. It’s not like there was nowhere to park there was a parking lot right next to the food truck. Even though cars weren’t stopping there were a lot of people showing up, who were just walking by.

A fellow customer named Marcus said that his favorite two meals to order were the fish taco and the Sonoran hotdog. Marcus also mentioned that the fish tacos are the best he’s had in Portland.

El Corazon is a family owned business of four. April Perry, the daughter, willingly popped her head out the back to answer some questions. Taking time out of her busy day, she had a smile on her face while talking. Their recipes came from Perry’s stepdad who lived in southern Arizona on the Mexico border. El Corazon decided to be a food truck verses a restaurant because it’s less overhead, and this way they have a flexible schedule and they're able to do weddings, rehearsal dinners, and park outside of local breweries. El Corazon sells Mexican food because April’s family is Mexican and because they used to live in California and they realized that not a lot of places sell traditional Latin dishes, so they brought it to Portland in a truck.

As I unfolded the tinfoil that was labeled “chix” for my chicken taco, I smelt the chicken and lime burst off the taco. It looked decent, but a little messy. I folded it together and took a big bite. First reaction was “Oh My God! Delicious!” It was better than I expected. There was a nice mix of all the ingredients and the chicken wasn’t too spicy. Just as I went in for my second bite, the tortilla fell apart and most of my chicken and lettuce fell out into my dish. But it was still amazingly good. The taco was actually quite filling.

Try El Corazon, it might surprise you. It surprised me and now I want to take my whole family there. Nice service. Great food. Unforgettable reactions.


Mexico in a Truck

Max Bennett, Age 13, From Scarborough

If you see a bright red truck, decorated with authentic Mexican designs, you know you’re looking at El Corazon—a  popular food truck in Portland, owned by Joseph Urtuzuastegui and his family, who have prominent Spanish roots.

When you get there, you are greeted by the delicious smell of fried food, showered in intricate spices and cooked to perfection. Around 15 people were standing in line around noon. However, the line went quickly, due to the fast and kind service.

In the background played a variety of jazzy tunes; the whole ordeal was quite relaxing and easy to enjoy. When I spoke with a customer, he exclaimed that El Corazon had “The best fish tacos in Portland!” The man was an employee at Port Property in Portland and he said that “El Corazon if very easy to get to from work.” The truck is usually parked near the intersection of Spring Street and Temple Street, Tuesday through Friday, from 11am to 2:30pm.

The food itself was quite tasty, warm to the touch and served fresh and moist. El Corazon was voted “The Best Food Truck in Portland” in 2015, so, as to be expected, it was delectable. With each bite came a burst of interesting flavors, none too spicy, none too mild. The chicken is thoroughly cooked, perfect for anyone’s palate.

The family comes from California, but the recipes originate from Urtuzuastegui’s family, who lived on the Arizona-Mexico border.  When they moved to Maine and noticed the lack of Mexican food, they decided to open El Corazon, meaning  the heart, in Spanish.

You should definitely try this food truck. They can substitute any ingredients for food allergies, service is kind and quick, and the food is very affordable. The refreshing and relaxing experience will leave you wanting more. Hope you can go!


My Experience at the El Corazon Food Truck

Quentin Wu, Age 12, Scarborough


I went to El Corazon once. El Corazon is a food truck that serves Mexican food. I ordered a chicken burrito and I can tell you about this experience. At the surface of the burrito, all that can be seen and smelled is the tortilla on the outside. However, there is a very scrumptious interior.

I take a bite of it. It tastes like a combination of meat and McDonald's Special Sauce. The guacamole did not have much flavor, and neither did the rice, but the rice, had more flavor. There was supposedly beans, sour cream, and salsa in the burrito, but I could not find it. What came with the burrito was a slice of lime, and when the juice touched my teeth, it felt like it was “eating” through them, like they were in pain and discomfort. The lime also had a flavor, as it was sour and tart, but it was quite mild and I liked the flavor. So that was my experience, and I enjoyed it, so I would recommend it for you.

Now about the truck that served the Mexican food. The El Corazon food truck is mostly red, with fuel storages in the front and back. It was parked nearby the intersection of  Temple and Spring Street, as where it has been parking for the past three years. When I was towards the back of the car, I could smell meat, and it sure smelled delicious. How the business got started was that a family of four used to live in California, where Mexican food was popular. However, when they moved to Maine, they found Mexican food not that popular. So in that case, they decided to start their business, and they are now they are considered the best food truck in Maine.


Camper Reviews 2015 as seen in The Portland Press Herald

Camper Reviews 2014 as seen in The Portland Phoenix