Island Readers & Writers Blog

The Art of the Picture Book

Island Readers & Writers spent a wonderful two days at the end of August at the Henry D. Moore Public Library in Steuben, hosting “The Art of the Picture Book,” a multi-component program around picture books in collaboration with the Ella Lewis School and Step by Step Childcare.

“Whole Book Approach” Workshop

IRW welcomed 12 educators, childcare professionals and public librarians from Washington and Hancock counties for a three-hour professional development workshop led by Courtney Waring, director of education at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (The Carle). Courtney traveled from Amherst, Mass., to spend the weekend with us and we were so very fortunate to have her with us.

The Carle advocates the “Whole Book Approach” style of reading (designed by author Megan Dowd Lambert) with children rather than to them. After IRW staff participated in an online training session with Courtney on this subject earlier this year, we knew we wanted to share this approach with educators and all those who read with children here in Downeast Maine.

During the workshop, participants learned about different ways illustrators tell stories through their pictures and how images help advance a story. They learned to always peek under the book jacket for fun surprises, to take note of the end papers at the beginning and end of the story, how text design captures the mood of a story and how illustrators use the gutter — or middle of the book — to depict story elements on either page.

Even these seasoned picture book readers learned something new about the art form and how to engage children with picture books during story time, from asking open-ended questions about the story, to having them point things out on the page to asking them to guess what might happen next.

“Whole Book Approach” Story Time

Following the workshop, IRW along with staff and volunteers from the Henry D. Moore Library hosted a community lasagna supper and story time with Courtney. Children participated in story time while members of the community watched how Courtney demonstrated the Whole Book Approach style of reading with the books “Z is for Moose” by Kelly Bingham, “Flora and the Flamingo” by Molly Idle and “The Watermelon Seed”  by Greg Pizzoli, titles she selected that feature standout examples of elements from the Whole Book Approach.

Chris Van Dusen and “The Circus Ship”

The next morning, 50 members of the community joined IRW and the Moore Library for a fun morning with beloved Maine author/ illustrator Chris Van Dusen.

Chris discussed his many, many picture books and then indulged us with a reading of “The Circus Ship” — although, Chris says, he has the story memorized word-for-word, so he no longer actually has to read the words. The dozen kids in the audience delighted in picking out the circus animals that are hidden within two pages of the book. Later, Chris drew two crazy creatures featuring different elements of animals that the kids had suggested!


Chris’ illustrations are on display at the library, so go check them out!

At the end of the program, each family received an autographed copy of “The Circus Ship” to take home and add to their collections.

It was a very special weekend and we are so grateful to our hosts at the Moore Library, special guest presenter Courtney Waring, community partners from the Ella Lewis School and Step by Step and to the Belvedere Fund of Maine Community Foundation for the grant funding that made this community program possible.

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Meg Medina at Blueberry Harvest School

One muggy afternoon in mid-August, a group of little eyes peered into a big glass bowl where a three chrysalises were readying to hatch. These children of migrant blueberry harvesters, who come to Washington County in August to participate in the blueberry harvest, were in their final days as students of the Blueberry Harvest School (BHS), a federally-funded, monthlong program run by the nonprofit organization Mano en Mano, which is held each summer at Harrington Elementary School.

Observation of the soon-to-be butterflies was part of the school’s 2018 theme of “Imagining New Stories,” which carried over into the disciplines of reading, writing, art and science. Island Readers & Writers was thrilled to be a part of “imaginando nuevas historias” this summer along with author Meg Medina, a bilingual speaker of Cuban heritage, who spent three days at BHS with 88 children, ages 4 to 14.

Clustered into three groups by age, the children spent three wonderful days learning about Meg and how she came to be a writer, how she gets the ideas for her stories and how to tell their own stories through words and art.

The youngest children read “Mango, Abuela and Me,” Meg’s picture book about a young, English-speaking girl who tries to communicate with her Spanish-speaking grandmother through a bilingual parrot. Meg helped the youngest group of kids identify with how stories are attached to them by sharing a picture of her dog, Noche, whose tail is attached to him and yet he continues to chase it. “Sometimes we forget that our ‘tales’ are attached to us,” said Meg. To the delight of these youngsters, Mango the parrot puppet came out to meet them and help them with some Spanish words from “Mango, Abuela and Me.”

The kids created their own parrots out of paper by tracing their feet and cutting them out to create the look of feathers. Next, they chose vibrant colors and used paint rollers to create a marbled effect with the paint. Meg was awed by their work and commented on how they “all approached the assignment as artists” and that “art is about making new ideas…it’s the same with stories.”

The older group read Meg’s story “Sol Painting” from the short story collection “Flying Lessons and Other Stories,” featuring stories by 10 middle grade authors such as Kwame Alexander, Jaqueline Woodson and more. The kids asked thoughtful questions about what it takes to become a published author (a lot of work, according to Meg!) and about her other books. They were delighted to learn that “Sol Painting” is going to be extended into a full-length novel, “Merci Suarez Changes Gears,” this fall.

On the second day, the older group worked on writing in response to Meg’s question, “What is the earliest thing you remember?”

Some examples:

“When I was three I buried myself in the sand,” said one girl.

“When I was one I was in the water,” said another child.

“When I was ten I remember getting a stick stuck in my hand.”

“When I was two I didn’t eat all my lunch at day care.”

“When I was nine I got in trouble because I broke a glass.”

“When I was nine I went to the principal’s office and then I went to the mountains with my father.”

And with these stories swirling in their heads, she asked them to think about their hopes and dreams and introduced the project they’d be doing on the final day of her visit: creating milagros, traditional Mexican folk charms that represent miracles, hopes and dreams.

On the last day, the older students used wooden-tipped tools to etch their hopes and dreams into foil squares to create milagros. One young lady etched a star and a rainbow and said, “I kinda drew it because I want to be a star, a singer. And also because it represents my wish upon a star.”

That night, Meg along with IRW staff attended a pizza dinner in the Harrington Elementary gym, where all all of the colorful parrots and shimmering milagros were displayed for kids and their parents to see, along with other artwork the students had done throughout their time at BHS.

All of the milagros shone beautifully, but one in particular stood out; one that we hope signifies the aspirations and dreams of this young person to transform into their fullest potential, like the butterfly they saw hatch from chrysalis to monarch during their time with Meg Medina at the Blueberry Harvest School.

 

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Deer Isle-Stonington welcomes Annie

This two-day visit was IRW’s 11th time to Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School and we always love a chance to cross Eggemoggin Reach. And, in fact, most of our day one workshops were held in “The Reach,” the beautiful performing arts center, so aptly named, where Annie took them on a journey to South Korea.

Seventh and eighth graders had done a unit on In the Shadow of the Sun, and Ms. Austin  asked her students, “What can we do to learn about perseverance, courage, and resilience?” They chose to study WWII and read Night by Elie Wiesel. They were amazed how every day something to do with North Korea came up in the news that they could discuss. They watched videos about defectors, read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and developed a fantastic list of questions.

They were also courageous enough to share their critical feedback, which didn’t shock Annie and told her that they read and cared deeply about the book. Annie told them that their going deep into the book with research and questions was “the greatest honor you can give an author.”

The kindergarten to second grade group also had a list of questions for Annie, such as:

How did you make your book? (Annie told them that she makes a big, big pile of ideas so she can pick the very best one!)
What’s your favorite thing to draw?
Why do you like to draw?
What if someone stole your art journal?

On the second day, third and fourth graders joined Annie in the airy and open beautiful school library. A big group of three classes and teachers, they all were working on research projects about Deer Isle so they could share with Korean students on the island of Jeju as an exchange thanks to Anne’s introduction!

We can’t wait to hear and see some of what take place after the visit. They prepared extremely interesting and thoughtful questions that they brought to their sessions with Annie and practiced their dragon drawing while Annie signed their books with the Korean spelling of their name.

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Anne Sibley O’Brien on Swan’s Island and Great Cranberry Island

Swan’s Island Elementary School

Anne Sibley O’Brien encouraged students at Swan’s Island Elementary School to jump into becoming writers and artists — now! In her all-school presentation, Annie discussed life in South Korea and delighted students by introducing herself in Korean.

Students in grades K-2 shared in a read aloud of I’m New Here with Annie. The group then talked about what it’s like to be new, feeling different than others and about how to welcome someone new by saying things like “You’re cool!”, playing with them, or finding ways to make them feel special.

Students in grades 3-5 had spent time with the graphic novel of The Legend of Hong Kil Dong and had some substantial questions to ask Annie after hearing about other Robin Hood legends. They wondered how she came up with the idea, how long it takes her to illustrate books, and wanted to see an example of her earliest writing pieces. She showed them a story from grade school and talked about how her writing has evolved!

This group also crafted letters to share with pen pals at a school in South Korea. We can’t wait to hear what they learn from budding Korean writers!

Students in grades 6-8 were reading Annie’s novel set in North and South Korea, In the Shadow of the Sun, which is filled with intrigue, drama and adventure, and had come up with some great questions for Annie. They also asked for tips on how to be a good writer. Annie’s suggestion? “Read, read, read! If you want something to be strong and healthy, you need to feed it. Reading is like brain food for your mind; from reading you learn how to tell a story and different ways to write.”

Cranberry Isles with Frenchboro

Cranberry Isles students were joined by the three Frenchboro girls in welcoming Annie to the Longfellow School on Great Cranberry Island. Older students had developed probing questions about Korea and had done some research on North and South Korea, which gave them the opportunity to delve more deeply into the book and their time with Annie.

Students were very tuned into how it might feel to be new and different from everyone else. Many excelled at drawing Korean style dragons with Annie.

Of course, a fun part of any island visit is visiting and taking the ferries. The day started with the Frenchboro students aboard the Seacoast Mission’s Sunbeam and ending the day on the mailboat back to Northeast Harbor. Kids and authors enjoy those special moments shared on the water journey.

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Milbridge welcomes Anne Sibley O’Brien

Milbridge Elementary School truly embraced Annie’s books and delved deep into the content by plastering the hallway walls with fabulous Korean-inspired projects; descriptions and pictures of how it feels to be new, and comparing the Korean legend of Hong Kil-Dong to that of Robin Hood.

 

Grades 3-4 created Korean flags and fans and translated their names into Korean. These students asked Annie a lot of questions about her life in South Korea, such as: Was it hard moving from New Hampshire to Korea? And,  “On a scale of 1-10 how much did you like growing up in Korea?” Annie’s answer was 11! Later, they learned some techniques for drawing dragons and practiced their technique.

 

Inspired by the style of The Legend of Hong Kil Dong, students in grades 5-6 chose writers and poets to research and then created graphic novels or comics about them. They also researched the game of “Yut,” a traditional board game played in Korea. “It’s a lot harder than it looks,” declared one young man.

Their workshop was on how to draw comics from story board to dummy. With comics there are images, panels, and text. Annie had them thinking about what type of text gets presented in comics- speech, thought, narration, and sound words, aka onomatopoeia.

Students in grades 1-2 worked with the book, I’m New Here, and talked about what home and community means. They read two similarly themed stories, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote and The Seeds of Friendship to compare and contrast. They knew all about rough drafts when Annie mentioned them but they knew them as “sloppy copy.”

The pre-K to kindergarten group showed off a mural made from I’m New Here coloring pages and enjoyed story hour with Annie.

 

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Anne Sibley O’Brien at Charlotte

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“Are you in peace?” (in Korean) is how Anne Sibley O’Brien greeted Charlotte Elementary School students, as she explained the different ways of greeting people based on their status in society.

Having grown up in Korea, Anne really grew up in two cultures and found human differences to be fascinating and beautiful. She shares her experience and gets kids thinking about what it’s like to be new and how wetreat people who are different and how smiling can go a long way. “Maybe a smile is a super power,” she says.Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting

In the pre-K to first grade workshop, the teacher had connected animal migration to immigration and talked about the patterns of movement and why it happens. Annie was delighted by this very relatable idea for such young students. She was so excited to be working in a small school where she could take the time to connect to each kid individually. They had a great conversation about families and the wide variety of family structures. They then got some hand-on drawing time learning to create faces with various feelings.

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Next up was a visit with grades 6-8, where a diorama of the escape scene from In the Shadow of the Sun was displayed. Annie was blown away by the thought and detail that captured the feeling of the story. They also had compared and contrasted The Legend of Hong Kil Dong with the story of Robin Hood and made a venn diagram. An intense discussion and Q&A ensued as these kids had some serious questions and were obviously very interested in the story. To Annie’s delight, they shared a video they made recreating some scenes from the book. Although not quite finished, they promised to share the final product when complete.

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Walking into the grades 2-5 workshop was like walking into a Korean festival. We were welcomed with a song which Annie quickly joined in singing. They then proceed to share all the interesting projects they had done from a timeline put together by fifth graders, to Korean foods prepared by fourth graders; Korean language and music research by third graders, geography research by second grade, and kites made by all! After sharing and Q&A time, we were served some Korean inspired delights: egg rolls, soup, and a gorgeous rainbow crepe cake. The rest of the school was invited in to share for a festive wrap up to a terrific day.

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“Extreme Survivors” on MDI

Kimberly Ridley started out her spring 2018 school tour on MDI at Mount Desert Elementary (MDES), followed by a visit to Pemetic Elementary in Southwest Harbor, before a stop in Washington County. She finished up her visits at Conners Emerson Elementary School in Bar Harbor.

“Have you ever seen a comb jelly in real life?” and “ Are you going to write another book?” were just some of the questions posed by students in grades 3-5 at MDES. The Northeast Harbor Public Library hosted the opening presentation with Kim Ridley as she launched her school visit tour with IRW. Students had been diving into “Extreme Survivors,” and had gotten a first-hand orientation to the Downeast Ice Age Trail with Acadia National Park rangers just a few days earlier.

The team of teachers had developed a whole day of rotating workshops based on “Extreme Survivors.” Kim’s was one of the day’s workshops when students became ACE reporters; Accurate, Creative and Edited. Kim noted how doing research makes any subject come alive, and that research is kind of like going on a field trip: “Who doesn’t like a field trip?”, she asked.

The other workshops focused on creating timelines, artwork and profile writing of the various animals and creatures. An impromptu gallery of the wonderful writing, art and projects created throughout the day topped off the visit with an amazing collection all about “Extreme Survivors.” Students seemed both proud and excited to share all of their work and their accumulated knowledge and Kim herself could not have been more pleased. One student commented early in the day, “I had hoped you’d be nice and that you’d be loud, and you met both expectations.”

Pemetic Elementary

Grades 3-6 at Pemetic Elementary participated in writing workshops where they watched a video of a tardigrade and gave it creative descriptions. 

In the third grade workshop, Kim told the budding writers not to worry about whether their first drafts were perfect. The most important thing, she said, was writing what came to mind. The students told Kim they had been working on informational writing in their classrooms. One important aspect of informational writing is to use reliable sources, which the writers said they had been doing in their homework. When writing about dogs, for example, one student sought out a vet. When writing about baseball, another got information from a coach!

Third graders created tunnel boxes featuring creatures from “Extreme Survivors.”

Fourth graders created an acrostic story with the title of Kim’s book. Each student researched an animal in the book and wrote about it for this display in the library.

These writers remembered Kim and Rebekah Raye’s visit with “The Secret Bay” and recalled the horseshoe crab, which is also featured in “Extreme Survivors.” They also participated in a writing workshop, One writer was having such a great time writing about tardigrades that she didn’t want to leave and go to recess! Another told Kim how much she loved her book: “It makes you go into your imagination with all of the descriptive words,” she said. “I love it.” Sounds like we have some future science writers in this class!

In the fifth and sixth grade workshops, students had already read “Extreme Survivors” and prepared probing questions for Kim, such as: “What happens if a sponge is broken up and deposited into different oceans?” and “Does a sponge sneeze for a long time during the ‘ahh’ or the ‘choo’?” Kim urged the students to look up the answers — of course using a reliable source, which the sixth graders were already knew about.

When it came to the writing portion, Kim reminded the writers that there are “no boring subjects,” and the Pemetic sixth graders seemed to agree! One student said that she would “look up cool facts to make a subject interesting.”

Conners Emerson Elementary School

Caterpillar, alligator, see-through, shrimp, cute, cous-cous, moving jello, “like it tickles” — these are just some of the descriptive words that Conners Emerson third graders used to describe the microscopic tardigrade during their writing workshop with Kim.

 

 

The third graders shared their favorite sentences with Kim and their classmates about “An Amazing Animal Lives in Our Town,” as if they were reporters for the Mount Desert Islander. Mrs. Tripp’s class wanted to know how they could submit their work for publication!

Scientists in Mrs. Fournier’s fourth grade class had already seen a tardigrade under a microscope after gathering moss, lichen and bark from outside and wrote stories about it called, “If I were a tardigrade.”

Grades 5-6 all came together for a big presentation in the library, where they shared their knowledge about tardigrades, comb jellies and other animals in Kim’s book. Our visit to Conners Emerson was a wonderful way to wrap-up a five-day tour!

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Kimberly Ridley at Princeton and Woodland

“Are you ready for some time travel?” That’s how science writer Kimberly Ridley hooked her readers as they delved into her latest book Extreme Survivors: Animals that Time Forgot. IRW journeyed with Kim deep into Washington County to visit both Princeton and Woodland elementary schools.

Kids in grades Pre-K to 2 at Princeton worked with Kim’s book, The Secret Bay. When she asked, “Does anyone know the word habitat?” “YES!” was the resounding answer. Having explored many similar texts, these kids knew their stuff. After a read aloud Kim said, “Let’s take a trip through the estuary with our bodies.” They became the sun shining down on Grand Lake Stream and the St. Croix River and the sun turned them into phytoplankton which got eaten by mummichogs- a favorite word to say for these cuties.

The first graders had studied the water cycle impressing Kim with their knowledge. They had great questions, such as, “How long can a beaver breathe under water?” Kim encouraged the student to research that further. As she thanked them for sharing their work Mrs. Deacon said, “And we have to thank you for the inspiration!”

Second graders discovered her other book The Secret Pool in their school library and the illustrator Rebekah Raye’s signature on their signing wall and were beyond excited. They made a book for Kim in return, a gift she will treasure. One boy, clutching his newly signed book declared, “I’m going to go home and read this to my sister.” His teacher encouraged him to have his sister read her copy of Extreme Survivors to him as well. “Yeah,” he said, “and I can ask mom to read this as my bed-time story!”

 

With the upper grades, Kim had them all thinking about how to be ACE reporters. Accurate, Creative, and Edited. They watched a video of a tardigrade aka a “water bear”  that a scientist made and noted their observations. “Okay my ACE reporters. This is the newsroom of the Calais Advertiser. Here’s your headline: “An amazing animal lives in our town.” And they were off with blazing pencils writing away.

Th fourth grade had made 3D, multimedia projects using clay. Clearly, they have some talented artists in that class. Third graders were still working on their research. One young man noted that when he started his research on the comb jelly, “I thought it was going to be boring but it wasn’t!”

Fifth and sixth graders grew tadpole shrimp in their classroom! They created a marvelous video of the entire process from opening the box, to adding the water, watching and waiting, until one day…babies! And the crowd went wild. At the very end of the video a student declared, “ Our tadpole shrimp are officially adults and I can’t wait to see you, Kim Ridley.” And truly, there they were, tadpole shrimp swimming away in their little tank. How cool is that?

As with many of the other sessions, Kim started seventh and eighth grade students off with eyes shut as they listened to what was around them in order to get into the zone of active observation and reporting. They had worked on a collaborative slide show that contained further research and relevant links, while other students had utilized four poetic device forms to write from the perspective of one of the animals profiled in Extreme Survivors. They got tips from Kim about where to possibly publish!

 

Woodland Elementary

What better way to enter a school than to walk in and see this gorgeous sign? And it only got better from there during our visit to Woodland. With papier-mâché comb jellies lining one wall of the hallway and a museum gallery of art and interpretive description spanning habitats that included Extreme Survivors lining the other wall it was a truly grand entrance.

Once again the Calais Advertiser had some extra hands on deck in the form of ACE reporters in the third and fourth grades. These kids had been practicing doing “sticky note” summaries so they were ready to skim their facts. Kim loved when one youngster pointed out that, “A tun (a tardigrade in dehydrated form), looks like a wrinkled potato.” “That is a truly awesome description,” Kim replied. Third graders were very proud of their projects created from Kim’s website listed activities, including their extreme survivor super powers!

Kim likes to begin with gratitude and so all together the kids in first and second grades thanked IRW for bringing her and giving them books. Working with her book The Secret Bay she had them think about secrets. Who’s good at keeping them? Who can’t? “Oh, I am,” said one a young fellow, “I’ve kept one since I was three!”

Kim taught them a secret to saying the big word “estuary.” “It has a sneeze in the middle. Est-choo-ary!” And when she asked talked about alewives and how they swim upstream, the students were eager to share their knowledge, “I know a fish that does that: salmon.”

The third graders were inspired by Extreme Survivors and a prompt on Kim’s website to write a story about their favorite extreme survivor as a superhero. They had to write about “how it used its survival secrets to save the day.” They drew pictures to go with their writing and were “extremely” excited to share their projects with Kim. Their teacher Mrs. Morrison relayed to IRW staff, “We decided that Mrs. Ridley made reading non-fiction fun.” Hooray for Kim!

Our visit to fifth grade was truly amazing. Some of these kids were creators of the lovely floating comb jellies lining the halls. Kim got them fired up to make some observations by sharing the scientists video of the tardigrade. Mr. Romanelli and his class surprised us all with a video of their own of a tardigrade they had just found in the backyard of the Woodland Elementary School! That was a first for both Kim and IRW and the whole room was buzzing with excitement.

It was so special that Mrs. Westrack had him share it with the sixth graders who were full of questions and comments for Kim, such as: “I thought they’d have webbed feet,” and “How do we not kill them when we step on the moss?” And then more focused on writing, “Do you pick the days of the week you want to work? And do you choose the times of day?” “Why did you put the goblin shark on the front of the book?” Wouldn’t you have?

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Elizabeth Atkinson and “The Island of Beyond” on North Haven

Elizabeth Atkinson delighted in bringing her book “The Island of Beyond” to students at the North Haven Community School. Teacher Nikole Seeger enthusiastically led students in grades 5 – 8 in their reading and exploration of the book in anticipation of Elizabeth’s visit.

The whole group gathered to hear an overview presentation which included the challenge of being an author and how and where Elizabeth gets her ideas for her books —  by noticing things all around her and imagining their underlying stories.

Nikole and her students were prepared since they were familiar with using descriptive words to make simple statements pop and be more intriguing for readers. They were particularly drawn into using the visual prompts that Elizabeth shared to bring stories to life. They had lots of questions about the characters in the story.

Students had done rough drafts of their own version of North Haven, much like the “Martinville” created in the “The Island of Beyond” by the book’s protagonist. Complete with map keys, symbols and some with their own crests and shields, students illustrated the elements of their personal village by depicting shops, schools, friend and family homes, military defense, natural resources and other elements that made up their ideal community.

Speaking of descriptive language, when asked about the day’s visit students’ comments included, “Amazing, Inspiring, Fun, and Awesome.”  They shared that some of their takeaways from the day were the inspiration and ideas they got from Elizabeth, how much visuals help in creating stories, and how a map of the setting really brings the story to life. This island really embraced “Island of Beyond”!

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Ellen Potter at Pembroke, Jonesport and Beals

Fairy trees, imaginary apartments, and creative inventions greeted IRW and author Ellen Potter during a whirlwind tour of three schools in Washington County. The first stop was at Pembroke Elementary where projects based on her three books (“Piper Green and the Fairy Tree,” “Olivia Kidney” and “Slob”) adorned the hallways and classrooms.

The pre-K to Grade 2 group heard a bit from Ellen’s latest book, “Big Foot and Little Foot” to which one kindergartner proclaimed, “My dad has a big foot!’ Older students designed apartments and rooms based on the strange living habits of the characters in “Olivia Kidney.”

While discussing the art of writing with Ellen, some students spoke about their own writing habit, “I like to write because it inspires me to go forward ….[with my dream],” and another proclaimed, “Writing takes you to a whole different world.” We couldn’t agree more. The Pembroke visit was topped off with a Literacy and Math night where we got to share tales of the day with parents.

Jonesport Elementary was next where the pre-K-kindergarten group had made a huge wall fairy tree with treasures to be left in the fairy tree. The whole display was made as a family project with parents and kids doing everything from twisting the branches, to sewing the kitten that gets stuck in the tree in the story, to ornate fairy villages. On the fairy trading cards that they created with Ellen, they came up with all sorts of super powers from super vision, very fast, invisible, and love, to super slow! Of course IRW also loved the super power of a pencil so that one could draw or write whatever they needed to be safe.

A second grader was heard to say, “I never thought I’d meet a real author!” to which Ellen replied, “I never thought I’d meet a student from Jonesport!” With older students, Ellen reiterated that you can start writing at any time; you don’t need to wait till you’re a certain age. She also reminded them not to talk themselves into a negative tail spin; go for a walk, move, change your scenery and refresh – good advice for us all.

There was a real tea party awaiting us on day three at Beals Elementary. Pre-K-kindergarten students and parents welcomed us with a proper tea, tablecloths, cookies and of course a fairy house diorama and lively questions for Ellen.

Students in grades 1-2 are budding writers and had drawn and described their own tree, tidal pool or bedroom! Such is life on an island!

Grades 3 & 4 read “Olivia Kidney” closely and had terrific questions for Ellen about the characters, apartment living, about writing about what you don’t know, and what most shocked them!

“Slob” book discussion brought up the reasons for the main protagonist, Owen, doing what he did in the book and students realized that perhaps it was his way of letting go of his sadness. As prep for Ellen’s visit they had watched some of the retro TV shows mentioned in the story, had taken online IQ tests, and talked about appropriate height and weight – all elements of “Slob.” Another student shared, “I like when authors start the story with something that grabs you…mystery” — like Ellen.

All three of these schools, and two schools that Ellen visited last fall, are participating in a new IRW project, WordCraft, where they can opt in to work on an online platform to hone their writing and connect with further with Ellen. We can’t wait to see what these budding writers come up with as our pilot group of WordCrafters!

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