Island Readers & Writers Blog

Global Read with Maria Padian on MDI

Forty-five seventh and eighth graders from various Mount Desert Island schools gathered at the High School on Feb. 8 for an after-school program with Lupine Award-winning author Maria Padian.
The Global Read program, a collaboration between IRW and the MDI Regional School System, culminated weeks of preparation by area students, who all read Padian’s novel “Out of Nowhere.”

The story is set in the fictional Enniston, Maine, high school that is upended when a group of Somali refugees joins the boys’ soccer team. Tom Bouchard is the captain and star player, but all that changes when Saeed and his friends, refugees of post-9/11 Somalia, take the field.
During her visit to MDI, Padian explained the inspiration for her book. She said she was moved both by her grandparents’ own immigration story and of nearby Lewiston, which has become a second migration city for refugees escaping war-torn countries, and Lewiston High School, whose soccer team has risen to statewide prominence.
Padian’s novel touches on the themes of race, class, religion, cyberbullying and peer pressure, which she explored with the MDI readers.

Ahead of the workshop, students delved deeply into the story by creating an “Out of Nowhere” timeline with important plot points from the book and preparing questions for discussion and author queries. Teachers brought in traditional Somalian treats such as icun, similar to shortbread cookies, and halwa, a confection made primarily of sugar and butter.

“IRW was quite excited to work with Maria and ‘Out of Nowhere’ because we felt the topic of refugees and sense of community was timely and that her writing expertise and enthusiasm would be a great fit for this group of readers on MDI,” said IRW Program Director Ruth Feldman. “Maria’s presentation was lively and engaging, and students’ reflections, questions and responses expressed their sense of learning and appreciation for her, the book, and the experience.”

Students had the opportunity to participate in a lightning-round workshop led by Padian, in which the writers came up with descriptive sentences and then shared them aloud with their peers. They also engaged in small group discussion about themes in the novel, such as discrimination and judgement.
As with all IRW author visits, the Global Read ended with every student receiving an inscribed copy of the book. Many students took the opportunity to ask Padian one-on-one questions about her writing process and to tell her how much they enjoyed reading “Out of Nowhere.”

“I really liked this book because I liked how real it was,” said Lynx Fabian, an eighth grader at Conners Emerson Elementary School. “I learned quite a bit about refugees and customs and it shined a light on how important things in the Muslim culture are. It helped me go into things with a more open mind.”
IRW is a nonprofit organization based in Southwest Harbor that connects young readers on MDI, the outer islands and in Washington County to great stories and the authors and illustrators who create them. For information, visit

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Mock Newbery at Pemetic Elementary School

Since last fall, a group of 10 fifth and sixth graders at Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor have been reading away as part of IRW’s Mock Newbery book club. Last Monday, the club members revealed their pick for the Mock Newbery winner and honor books! “Forever Or a Long, Long Time” by Caela Carter was selected as the Mock Newbery Medal winner, while “Exit Strategy” by Lauren Allbright, “Pablo and Birdy” by Alison McGhee, and “The Someday Birds” by Sally J. Pla were all named Mock Newbery Honor Books.

The Mock Newbery Club had met once per month in the Pemetic library at lunchtime since October, where librarian Tracey McCarthy along with IRW staff and IRW volunteers guided the readers through different topics that the actual Newbery Medal committee looks for when selecting its top books, such as: interpretation of theme or concept; presentation of information including accuracy and clarity; development of plot, characters, setting and style.

Since there was a plethora of books to choose from in 2017, a dozen IRW volunteers scoured through Newbery eligible titles (must be published by an American author by an American publisher) all last summer and ranked their favorites. We narrowed that list down to 15 books for the Mock Newbery club members to choose from, and they were required to read at least three from that list, although some chose to read many more and one student even made it her goal to read all 15 books!

Members of the IRW Mock Newbery Club at Pemetic Elementary toss around a beach ball that prompted questions about aspects of books the students read.

The Pemetic students were so impressive with their comments, questions and feedback about the books — and were quite opinionated as well! We encourage everyone to check out the IRW Mock Newbery reading list. All 15 books will be available to Pemetic students and will be available to check out at the Southwest Harbor Public Library and at Harbor House.

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Extreme Survivors with Kim Ridley heads to Whiting

This fall, IRW led a book-based Literary Links to Science program called Extreme Survivors, focused on Kimberly Ridley’s latest book, Extreme Survivors: Animals that Time Forgot. Four schools in Washington County learned about ten creatures that have withstood eons of challenges, and how many of the challenges they faced (such as ice ages) were evident in the landscape around them.

Earlier this fall, they ventured out on a field trip with their teachers and IRW staff to learn about ice ages and explore traces and indications of glacial movements in their own backyard.

Last week, after visiting Pembroke Elementary, Kimberly Ridley and IRW staff set off for Whiting Village School to explore Extreme Survivors together with all students in Grades 2 – 8.

Before the visit, teacher Stephanie Higgins had worked on a large timeline of the animals with students that connected the big picture of millions of years and time periods with the creatures in Extreme Survivors. Students had also researched the different animals in the book.

Science teacher Ann McGhee tasked her students with completing research projects based on the book. Students shared with Kim their experiments with viscosity and where some of the creatures live – Sunlight level, Twilight, Midnight, Abyss, and Trench (portrayed in different bottles with colored liquid representing where the creatures live using rubbing alcohol, blue food coloring, baby oil, dish soap, and corn syrup).

Just like at the other schools, Kim shared with them that they were the very first kids in the whole world to read her book and how exciting that was!

Students knew all about tardigrades and were able to identify many of the details of horseshoe crabs, comb jellies and the many chambered nautilus.

Similar to her Pembroke visit, Kim zoomed in from the Macro scale to the Micro scale, and talked about how the creatures in Extreme Survivors had overcome eons of glacial movements and other geologic changes. She led workshops with students and guided them in how to become Ace Reporters.

In the Grades 1 – 4 group, there was great imagination around the writing and understanding about ACE reporting techniques. Colin said,  “It can never be finished” (because you always polish your work). They also watched a tardigrade video together to make observations, and students provided detailed, close observations: “microscopic,” “chases stuff,” and “Does it have a tail?”

In the Grades 5 – 8 group, “Extremeophiles” shared their research projects with highlights that most intrigued them, such as “Comb Jellies have tentilla; tentacles on their tentacles!”Conversation even went to life in other universes and how tradigrades survive in space.

When they observed as ACE reporters, they came up with juicy words –Slither, Squirm, Waddle, and Wiggle!

Their news stories nicely incorporated the “Why care” element after the opening prompt of “An amazing animal lives in our town….”

They had lots of questions about what gave Kim inspiration, how the decisions get made for some of the visuals, and they were desperate to know how she narrowed it down from her original 20 animals to the 10 in the book.

What a wonderful experience for all of us! The teacher, students, Kim, and IRW staff all enjoyed learning together and discovering new things about the wild world we live in.

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Beatrice Rafferty students learn all about Extreme Survivors

This fall, IRW led a book-based Literary Links to Science program called Extreme Survivors, focused on Kimberly Ridley’s latest book, Extreme Survivors: Animals that Time Forgot. Four schools in Washington County learned about ten creatures that have withstood eons of challenges, and how many of the challenges they faced (such as ice ages) were evident in the landscape around them.

Earlier this fall, they ventured out on a field trip with their teachers and IRW staff to learn about ice ages and explore traces and indications of glacial movements in their own backyard.

Last week, after visiting Pembroke Elementary, Whiting Village School, and Lubec Consolidated School, Kimberly Ridley and IRW staff arrived at Beatrice Rafferty School to explore Extreme Survivors together with all fifth graders and some sixth graders.

Just like at the other schools, Kim shared with them that they were the very first kids in the whole world to read her book and how exciting that was!

She tied in the Ice Age Trail and how now she was zooming in, zooming in, zooming in. As she had at the three previous school visits, she turned students into ACE Reporters (Accurate/Creative/Edited) and shared her own love of reporting.

They were eager to share the knowledge they gained from their own research. “Did you know a nautilus is also related to the snail and the clam?” one student shared. We loved how much they had engaged with the subject material, and seemed to thrive on their newly-acquired knowledge.

Kim led a writing exercise and inspired students to write a News Flash for their community – “An Amazing Animal Lives in Our Town.”

Kim also helped students think about reliable websites and sources, telling them, “May the force source be with you.” They were certainly not bored by Kim’s research, and one young fella asked, “Could you read us some of the book?”

During workshops, many eager hands went in the air with questions and comments. “How do tardigrades live in Antarctica if there is no moss there?” A discussion on cryptobiosis ensued. “It’s like barnacles because they close up with the water in them!” “Could you imagine being frozen for 30 years and still be able to survive?” Kim asked them.

After watching a scientific video of a water bear wiggling along on a glass slide with some difficulty one student observed, “That’s a complicated way of moving.”

Upon receiving his very own signed copy, one young man declared while hugging his book, “I have my own book.”

And so do one hundred and forty other youngsters in Washington County! IRW is very grateful to Kim Ridley, the four schools and their incredible teachers and students, and Dr. Harold Borns, who led a training sessions with teachers on the not-so-hidden secrets of the Downeast Ice Age Trail!

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Mittens and books with Robin Orm Hansen in Washington County

What “ordinary thing” can turn into something extraordinary? How do you find your way home? What do the knitted symbols on mittens mean to the people who wear them?

These and other questions were a part of the conversation when Robin Orm Hansen, master knitter and author, visited Pembroke Elementary, Charlotte Elementary, and Beatrice Rafferty School last week. Robin met with students in K- 2 grades, and up to 4th grade at Charlotte’s combined small school classroom. Before her visits, children from Pembroke and Charlotte schools had visited Done Roving Farm, and got to see the process from sheep to fleece to spinning and dyeing.

Some had drawn their own mitten patterns; the 2nd – 4th graders at Charlotte had written alternate endings to Ice Harbor Mittens or focused on a particular story element. Illustrations accompanied their writing and brought the stories to life.

The younger children had shared real life examples of other mittens that had been brought in by teachers and all enjoyed seeing Robin’s collection of different designs, textures, and sizes of mittens. When they worked with Robin, their own stories incorporated kids lost at sea, magical whales and dolphins, and supernatural compasses that helped their protagonists find their way home. Some commented on “how big and warm” the mittens were, and all were excited to contribute to the storytelling and practice finger knitting! “This is cool,” and “we’re making a really long knitting,” accompanied the excitement as each student got to try their hand – literally – at knitting!

At Beatrice Rafferty, the rooms of the K-2 grades were each decorated with colorful mittens, some with the Passamaquoddy words associated with the story, and one was made to look like Aunt Agnes’s store from the story! Students heard a bit of the story summarized by Robin, and about why and how she came to write the book (all had read the book with teachers in advance of the visit). They got to color mitten book marks that would accompany their very own signed copy of Ice Harbor Mittens. More than one student exclaimed, “ You mean this is mine to take home?” They filled Robin’s ears with their imaginative and creative story ideas and spent time writing them down to share. These and the books will hopefully remind them of finding their way home and staying warm along Pleasant Point till our next visit to Beatrice Rafferty in the spring.

Thank you to all schools for welcoming us – we appreciate your support of IRW programs, and we love bringing authors and books to your schools!

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Extreme Survivors with Kimberly Ridley kicks off at Pembroke

Kimberly Ridley‘s latest book, Extreme Survivors: Animals That Time Forgot, is the focus of a program students at four Washington County students have been participating in since earlier this fall. First, they ventured out on a field trip with their teachers and IRW staff to learn about ice ages and explore traces and indications of glacial movements in their own backyard.

Kimberly visited Pembroke Elementary School last week to kick off IRW’s Extreme Survivors week of visits, and talk about her new book and how the ten creatures she writes about are connected to the ice ages of our earth’s past. She shared with them that they were the very first kids in the whole world to read her book and how exciting that was!

She tied in the Ice Age Trail and how now she was zooming in, zooming in, zooming in. The kids were incredibly eager with questions and facts they had learned and wanted to share with Kim. She shared how much she loves being a reporter and how, while doing research with other scientists and looking for tardigrades in the moss they collected, they referred to it as a “tardi party.”

She encouraged kids to “observe, ask questions, and research” as she turned them into ACE Reporters (Accurate/Creative/Edited). “How is an Ace Reporter like a Jedi Knight?” she asked them. “Focused” yelled one kid, “Determined,” said another. She helped them think about reliable websites and sources, telling them, “May the force source be with you.”

“Research is exciting,” she shared. If a comb jelly can grow a new brain and scientists can blend up sponges only to have their cells reunite, that is proof that no subject is boring!

During workshops, kids wrote a “News Flash” for their community, practicing their newly acquired Ace Reporting skills. “An Amazing Animal Lives in Our Town,” they began and used facts paired with creativity to “hook” their readers. During a final Q&A session questions ranged from inquiries about the writing process, “Is it harder to write for adults than kids?” to more scientific in nature, “Can comb jellies be fossils?”

What a great day! Next up with Extreme Survivors? Whiting Village School!

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Milbridge and Beals school warmly welcome Megan Frazer Blakemore

Once again Milbridge helped IRW to launch an exciting point in IRW history as we brought on author Megan Frazer Blakemore for the first time to our talented author roster. Pictured above, Principal Maria White stands with Megan and her book, The Water Castle, which Maria will add to the trophy case in the school’s lobby, where it will join other signed books from IRW programs.

To start the day, Megan gave a presentation and engaged the whole school by getting even the youngest of readers involved in using their imagination to ask “What If?” She shared the important components of a rich story: characters, what they want, and what gets in their way. Some lively and creative brainstorming ensued when students came up with ideas in each category. By piecing together their random ideas within those categories, Megan led them on a story making exercise that was contagiously funny.

Third and fourth graders expanded upon the What If? theme and wrote or drew their stories after some warm up together. The 5th and 6th graders used a gallery of historical props that Megan had brought to think about who used the item, how, and what was their adventure?

The next day at Beals Elementary, in addition to workshops, the 5th – 8th graders had a host of projects to share with Megan all related to The Water Castle themes. They shared their projects proudly, first with artwork created to emulate the castle image from the book – some scary, some dramatic, and some evoking the grandeur of a historical structure such as the castle of Poland Springs upon which the story is based.

They also shared their creative packets that contained the writing and artwork each students had prepared about the book, each one crafted with a different book cover depicting whatever the story evoked in them. Some reflected the personalities that students imagined from the book and some were reminiscent of journal entries.

They created posters with their own mottos in homage to Peary’s quote, “ Find a way or make one.” Sayings such as “If your day is not going good, all you have to do is smile” and “Take every challenge one step at a time and Never give up till you reach your destination” decorated the hallways.

“A writer paints a picture with words,” “ A writer tells a story,” and “Uses their imagination” is how some 8th graders answered Megan’s question to the students as to what a writer does.

In honor of adventurers and inventors referred to in The Water Castle, each student did research and an informational poster about an explorer such as Leif Erikson, Amelia Earhart, and others.

Historical artifacts and family memorabilia were brought in by teachers and displayed to inspire the students. Together with Megan’s treasures, the gallery of props inspired this creative bunch and many of the stories they shared at the end of the session were lively and imaginative.

They could hardly contain their curiosity at the end of the day when Megan opened the conversation up to questions. In addition to the more typical questions about favorite book, length of time to write, etc., they were curious about any sequels, and what changes Megan would make if she were ever going to rewrite The Water Castle. But most of all they wanted to know what happened to Price, Will Mallory, and Dr. Appledore??? Megan encouraged them to imagine and write an ending of their own! You could hear the wheels spinning and the wonder aroused as the workshops progressed.

Megan’s final suggestions to the energetic writers were to go places that are new to you, places that make you uncomfortable to experience new things, notice what sparks the “What if?” in you, and finally, READ. “Reading,” Megan says, “stretches your imagination and helps you to be familiar with words and with your own creativity.”

IRW wholeheartedly agrees!

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Elizabeth Atkinson and The Island of Beyond at Edmunds Consolidated

Great and creative minds think alike, and so the diorama at Edmunds greeting Elizabeth Atkinson in the school lobby was a reminder of the great art talent in Washington County that brings stories to life. Art teacher Sarah Myrick had worked with students to recreate The Island of Beyond — complete with water raft, tree house, “Martinville,” and even the accurate summer constellations as seen in Maine from the story!

Students were definitely immersed in the book and excited to ask Elizabeth specific questions, about which they felt very passionate i.e. “ Why a pet raven and references to Poe throughout the book?”, “What about Martin’s dad’s attitude (which we didn’t like)?” To this Elizabeth explained that she “didn’t necessarily want the dad to change (they/ adults usually don’t), but wanted to show Martin’s transformation.” ELA teacher Molly Calder was just as enthusiastic about the book and about reading, and her excitement clearly rubs off on Edmunds students!

And – of course – the ever present question about a possible sequel or movie, because students desperately wanted to know what happened to Clam, a character in the book, to which Elizabeth responded, “Well, what do you think?”

Elizabeth shared just a hint of her work in progress, and then students did the same – after some writing workshop time in which they worked on Protagonist, Antagonist, and Characteristics. One boy said that he thought the whole island could be the protagonist in the story! They sketched their stories, and developed the feeling or mood through description.

7th & 8th graders also had an opportunity to share their completed and in-progress Powerpoint presentations they had developed about the book. While some were more high-tech and others more traditional, they all followed a format for sharing the story summary, the characters, highlights, conflicts, and what resonated the most for them. All were creative, thoughtful, and truly impressed Elizabeth in their beautiful recapturing of her story.

A closing session allowed Elizabeth and the students of Edmunds to acknowledge that Martin was dealing with many emotions as he grew that summer on the Island of Beyond, about himself, about relationships and about what is possible – not so different from the young people growing up in Edmunds.

Principal Trudy Newcomb wrote in the school newsletter later that week, “Mrs. Atkinson was very appreciative of the time and thought students had put into their projects, and noted to me her overall enjoyment of her time in our school and how impressed she was with the students here. Her thoughts echoed my own, as I am very proud of the work and attitude of kindness the students here at our school show me every day.”

IRW is proud, too – of our author partners, the teachers and principals who partner with us, and the students who let us in to their wonderful, creative worlds!

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New-to-IRW author Elizabeth Atkinson visits Charlotte Elementary

A welcome sign out front and a diorama of the setting for the book The Island of Beyond greeted Elizabeth Atkinson and IRW program director Ruth Feldman as they entered Charlotte Elementary School on October 23. During a full school presentation, Elizabeth shared her “spark” for the book and talked about how Maine is her “heart home” since she has been visiting a family home in Western Maine since she was a child.

She showed them pictures of where she found inspiration for this and other books – Maine, a New Hampshire ski town, and other places that have shaped her characters and settings. She read aloud from another of her books, Sugar Mountain Snow Ball, and discussed how kids can feel different from others and unsure of themselves, yet somehow connect in important ways.

During initial introductions with the older students, they shared with Elizabeth their favorite books, whether from their vast class library, or books they’ve discovered on their own. Elizabeth shared that one of her favorite books growing up was Stuart Little.

Writing workshops gave the students an opportunity to develop their own stories based on character and setting. They had rich conversations about The Island of Beyond, including observations and questions about: the storyline; their feelings about the ending; the mysterious uncle and other characters; and how Martin, the protagonist, evolves in the story. They noticed how Martin wanted to prove things to himself, not just to his dad (who thought Martin was too “soft”); for example, he learned to swim, canoe and climb a rope while he was in this very different environment than his own home. Some reflections by students included, “Really interesting how the aunt really trusts Martin (Martian) in the end.” Another student mused about what happens next with, “ I think Martin will have his kids and their kids come to the island.”

Elizabeth then asked the group, “Why do you think I write?” and one response was, “to put all of your imagination on the page.”

Together they worked on what Elizabeth calls “polishing” your story, and getting it to sparkle. Elizabeth explained that you need to edit, which has “rules,” and revise –  which means adding, deleting, and finding the best words to describe your thoughts with more evocative language or suspense (by showing, not telling), and getting your reader to use their imagination.

One student commented on how the story reminded him of Cinderella and Elizabeth pointed out that fables are often used in a lot of writing.

The day ended with students having one-on-one time with Elizabeth to share their work, get recommendations, and connect with a real author about their own writing. As for writer’s block, Elizabeth offered that both going for a walk, and stopping at an exciting point in your story, help to keep the momentum going. She noted, “Being able to express yourself well is powerful and will take you far.” If the day is any indication, Charlotte young writers will go far indeed!

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From island to island: Anne Sibley O’Brien on North Haven and Vinalhaven

“Who here has ever been new? Who here has ever felt uncomfortable? How do we welcome someone new to our school, our community?” These are all questions that Anne Sibley O’Brien asks students after she introduces herself in Korean. Using her story as an American growing up in Korea in the 1960’s and 70’s, and through her talents as an illustrator and author, Annie shares ways in which we’re all connected and alike. When they heard her speak Korean, one student exclaimed, “You’re talking like you’re new here!”

On the island of North Haven, Anne showed students what it is like to live among Koreans in South Korea, what some of the implications are of living on a divided island (North and South Korea) and asked middle schoolers to imagine what it would be like to wake up one day and have your island completely broken into two homelands.

While reading together I’m New Here, students were able to notice things in the illustrations and understand the implications for how Fatima was able to slowly integrate into a new community through dress, activities, and more.

Middle schoolers had read Annie’s book A Path of Stars and talked about culture and heritage. A highlight was when Ms. Ann, the fourth grade teacher, shared the fact that they had been tracking the weather and studying and wondering through inquiry about effects of weather. This is represented on a bulletin board where they visually “wonder” in the LAKE, and chart what they “do know” in the POND.

Anne shared her No Excuses Art Journal with them, the daily journal she keeps in which she paints with watercolors, a color, a design, and the weather. They were in total harmony for the workshop!

Every child received their book in the traditional Korean manner from Annie – with two hands extended, a slight bow, and the greeting of “Are you in Peace?”

Annie also visited a group of ninth graders who were intrigued with Korea and her experience. They added onto the brainstorm map that students had previously done with Annie about what they know about North (Chosun) and South (Han Guk) Korea. Though they had some basic knowledge of Korea, everyone agreed that hearing about it from Annie made it more realistic, especially those older students that had read In the Shadow of the Sun.

Later that day, after a quick trip by boat over the channel, Vinalhaven teachers hosted Annie for a wonderful potluck supper. They told her all about what their students had done in preparation for her visit! In addition to the above books, Annie also worked with the 3, 4th and 5th graders and her graphic novel The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea.

They had watched the American Robin Hood movie so were familiar with the premise of the Robin Hood story. During an art demonstration, Annie guided them through creating their own dragon and helped them to understand some of the symbols embedded in the artwork. Students were very knowledgeable about dialogue boxes, clouds of thought, and the noises that show up throughout a story to develop a real sense of place and situation.

Students wanted to know Annie’s favorite books growing up, and also particular things about Korea like what kind of food do they eat there? Annie also shared some of her treasures from Korea with the older students and they were curious to know why she wrote a book about North Korea if she lived in South Korea. They also dissected the characters with Annie and had lots of reflective impressions of why she developed some of the situations and characters the way she did in In the Shadow of the Sun. They could all agree that there are times when you feel nervous or not very confident.

The visit ended full of energy as they watched a Kpop video to get a sense of what some of their North & South Korean peers listen to for music.

Island to island – Korea to Peaks (where Annie lives) to North Haven and Vinalhaven – cultures and communities coalesced in an exciting way!

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