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!