Maine writer Ellen Potter recently traveled to three outer islands with Island Readers & Writers aboard the Maine Seacoast Mission’s 75 ft. Sunbeam V. Ellen’s latest series, Piper Green and the Fairy Tree, is themed around young kids who live on an island and are ferried to school by lobster boat. What better way to celebrate that life than to visit island schools for writing workshops, read alouds and hands-on exploration?
Douglas Cornman of the Maine Seacoast Mission warmly welcomed Ellen aboard, along with her husband and son, then all, including IRW Program Director Ruth Feldman, settled in for a good night’s sleep to prepare for the first early morning ferry ride out to Islesford and the Ashley Bryan School.
The Sunbeam can’t dock at Islesford so the Beal & Bunker mail boat was the preferred mode of travel for the day! Of course first stopping at Great Cranberry Island to pick up commuter students brought the book to life as they exchanged morning pleasantries with the author across the channel.
Morning sessions with younger students at Ashley Bryan School focused on character and story development. In honor of Piper Green and the Fairy Tree, they built fairy houses and clothespin fairies. All students got a sneak peak at manuscripts and the newest Piper Green story yet to be published, to which they contributed ideas for characters and names!
Afternoon workshops with older students were interactive; included props from Ellen’s toolbox; and covered the development of a story, characters, the elements of surprise and suspense, and the ever-present challenges of writer’s block and rejection/revision. Ellen discussed her novel Slob, and they asked thoughtful questions and provided observations they had prepared in advance of her visit.
Students were so deeply engaged with their writing that they requested time with Ellen one-on-one, even after the group sharing of stories. The day was celebrated with lemonade and cookies and parents (and none other than author Ashley Bryan himself dropping in for a visit), and topped off by a visit to Ashley’s house, which is like a living museum with projects and examples of his work past and present in every nook and cranny. Ellen and family were mesmerized by its magical effect.
A morning departure from Northeast Harbor brought the island-hoppers to Frenchboro where Ellen and Ruth visited with the four young girls who attend that one-room schoolhouse. Ellen walked with the girls in the nearby woods, which was reminiscent of Brigadoon, or Finnian’s rainbow; moss covered, wooden pathways and lush greenery set the stage for the girls’ recent fairy house structures.
A second night aboard the Sunbeam gave Ellen and her family an opportunity to get to know the crew a bit better and to experience a (predicted) rough entry as the boat approached Isle Au Haut.
A hearty dinner prepared by Ship Steward Jillian was shared and a rousing game of Uno Jenga gave everyone an opportunity to decompress and think about the final day of school visits.
An early morning start at Isle Au Haut School (two 8th grade boys) provided a chance for Ruth, Ellen and family to share in the morning rituals, have some casual conversation with the students and teachers, and offered a more personalized and intimate writing and discussion session. Ellen pulled writing prompts out of her toolbox and had everyone developing stories building on the Mad Lib idea, and then got the students to evolve character traits.
In the afternoon, Ellen worked with some young homeschooled children and their moms at the local library. More fairy creation, involved character development, and story construction finished up our visit.
Ellen and family rode the mail boat back to Stonington. Her family had gotten to hike and explore all three islands during workshop time (even finding some cool whale baleen!) and she got to visit with real Piper Greens, and work with budding Maine island student writers. Fairies or not, it was a magical trip and IRW can’t wait to work with Ellen again!
Piper Green and the Fairy Tree is a hit for readers beyond these islands, too! DownEast Magazine just featured the series in the November 2015 issue, and mentioned Ellen’s IRW visits aboard the Sunbeam in their September 2015 issue.