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 www.islandreadersandwriters.org.