Island Readers & Writers Blog

Jonesport middle schoolers welcome Lauren Wolk!

IRW and Lauren Wolk, author of Wolf Hollow (Newbery Honor), visited students in Grades 5 – 8 at Jonesport Elementary School in October. The 7th/8th grade ELA teacher Marcia McDavid read the book with students before Lauren’s visit, and challenged her students to create scenes and characters from the book out of clay. They were all laid out on a table in Marcia’s room with scrabble tiles for the title. Grades 5-6 educator Marni Crowley prompted her students to engage with the book through creating character profile posters.

During an overview presentation with the fifty-one students in Grades 5-8, Lauren told the group, “You are much smarter, much braver, and much more tuned in than people give you credit for.” This generated respect and understanding between her and the students, and among the students themselves, setting an excellent tone for the upcoming group discussions.

Lauren then met with students in their classrooms to address questions and lead a discussion about Wolf Hollow. Students had delved deep into the bones of the story and had an impressive amount of thoughtful questions. Multiple hands shot into the air to share their thoughts, and Lauren was masterful in teasing out questions from and engaging the quieter students by turning it around and asking them questions. She noted that, “Still waters run deep. There is often a whole lot going on with the quieter ones.” She prodded one student, “If you have someone who is just plain nasty and does terrible things, and someone who just goes along with it, who’s worse?” Following this was a lengthy discussion on Upstander vs. Bystander, and what it means to be a bully.

In addition to plot and character questions, they had plenty of questions about the writing process. Lauren impressed upon them the idea that we have two universal languages – our senses and our emotions – and they should remember that when writing.

She advised students to, “Slow down and focus. You’d be amazed at what happens in an ordinary day. Take what you know and invest it in a character.”
Most of the students chose Toby – a quiet gentle character who suffered from PTSD and was sorely misunderstood – as their favorite. A young man asked, “Why does Toby carry the guns?” (You’ll have to read it to make your own assumption.) “What do you think?” Lauren asked. She affirmed the students’ responses telling them, “These are all beautiful, wonderful answers and there are many more valid possibilities.”

Upon reading the end of the book one young man shared that he told his teacher, “I’m really mad at the author right now because she made me feel!” Lauren responded, “That is why artists create.”

And there was great interest in whether or not a movie might be made. “What if you were in the movie?” One student asked. “I’d be the telephone operator,” said Lauren. “I hope they do make a movie,” said another, “I will watch it 150 times!” And this from the young man who confessed that after reading the first chapter he wanted to burn the book. But now he, “Love, love, loves it!! I think your book was like a learning book too because it teaches people not to judge a book by its cover.”

Lauren received a gift from the class – a clay sheep from the Wolf Hollow table display that she’d said she loved. (They also threw in a clay duck for her bring home!)

After the visit, Marcia McDavid said, “I noticed not one single copy of Wolf Hollow was left in the room.”

PS: Special thanks to educators Marcia and Marni who welcomed Lauren and her mom (the inspiration for Wolf Hollow) the evening before the school visit by bringing them homemade lobster rolls (which, of course, were a huge hit)!

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Anne Sibley O’Brien talks about Korea on Islesboro

A wonderful Welcome sign greeted IRW and Anne Sibley O’Brien upon entering Islesboro Central School! Principal Heather Knight and IRW site coordinator Melissa Olson graciously provided a tour of the school, which serves K-12 students on Islesboro, an unbridged island with about 600 year-round residents.

IRW’s school visit program focused on the sixty-two students in Grades K – 8. For the Grades K – 3 group, Annie talked about living on Peaks Island, and they identified similarities and differences between Peaks and Islesboro. She also told them about spending part of her childhood in Korea, and used the globe to help them find Korea on the map. Students had read Annie’s recent picture book, I’m New Here, which is about three young students who move to a new area and must navigate a new school. Annie and Islesboro students discussed what it means to be new, and what different circumstances they could think of when they felt new. She then cracked open a copy of I’m New Here and read to the group, prompting one student to ask, “Was this story kind of about you?”

Grades 2 and 3 students showed Annie the posters they had created about their community, which featured the ferry, the town library, school, family, and the community center! They had also created a welcome book for a new teacher and their family.

In the Grade 4-6 workshop, Annie began by introducing her childhood photo while speaking Korean. The children sat spellbound! She definitely caught their attention! Did you know that when you say “hello” in Korean, you are saying, “Are you in peace”…? We learned something new! Fourth and fifth graders shared their knowledge about Korea based on recent research projects, including Imports/Exports, Money, Flag, Dance and Dress, Military, etc.

Students had read Annie’s book In the Shadow of the Sun, which is set in North Korea. She shared her experience of being different, and of the issues facing Korea post-war. She also talked about North Korea always being the “bogeyman,” and how her experience shaped In the Shadow of the Sun. The students were absolutely captivated by her presentation. During the discussion and Q&A time, kids addressed big questions like, “What is a dictatorship?” and “Why would North Korea want nuclear weapons?”

One student learned in his research that you cannot give gold jewelry to someone unless you are in the government. They had on display examples of traditional ceremonial clothing, and embraced many opportunities to share their research with Annie. One student also made Korean meatballs for all to sample!

Seventh and eighth graders had read The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea,  a graphic novel. The large student group included a lot of graphic novel lovers, which was perfect for discussing the book! Again, Annie greeted them with an opening in Korean, as well as a discussion on the Korean alphabet. She showed them the process of laying out comic books, something she had to learn in order to write this book in that form. They learned about panels, sound bubbles, atmosphere and narration levels and how to use comics to enhance elements of a story in each frame. She recommended Scott McLeod’s Understanding Comics for anyone wanting more information.

Last but not least on the day’s agenda was a meeting with the High School Literary Magazine group – four lovely high school students who interviewed Annie for their newly established Lit Mag! They had some complex questions prepared to ask including,
“What are your favorite sources for research?
“How do you know when you’ve done enough research?”
“Do your characters ever surprise you or talk to you?”
“How did you childhood experiences give you inspiration and perspective?” and many more!

Wrapping up an excellent day, IRW and Annie hopped on the ferry, and headed back to the mainland. Thanks for the warm welcome and thoroughly inspirational day, Islesboro Central School!


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Downcast Ice Age Trail Field Trip for Extreme Survivors program

As part of IRW’s Extreme Survivors program, focusing on Kimberly Ridley’s latest book Extreme Survivors: Animals That Time Forgot, students from three Washington County schools met in the bright autumn air to explore and observe traces and indications of glacial movements and other ice age features on the Downeast Ice Age Trail. How have large changes over eons impacted the landscape around us? And how do the creatures in Kim’s book manage to survive all that? (That last question will be answered in a presentation and workshops at each school!)

Teachers Cathy Morse (Lubec) and Rosie Griffith (Pembroke) shared their knowledge of glacier movement, rock formations, and terrain. Professor Hal Borns (UMaine Climate Institute) trained them himself during a teacher field trip in June, so both educators knew the Downeast Ice Age Trail map and used it to explain what students were seeing. The field trip gave them and their students (and 5th & 6th graders from Beatrice Rafferty) an opportunity to put their knowledge to work outdoors.

Some of the questions the teachers posed: How do glaciers form? Where did the rocks come from? How do geologists know this deposit of rocks came from the Ice Age?

Many of the students had done work with their teachers ahead of time to prepare for the exploratory visit. They were familiar with and could explain what moraines and eskers are when prompted.

After an overview and noticing the surrounding rocks and vegetation, students split up into two groups. They identified rocks by color, size, shape, texture etc. Some lucky archeologists in training even found fossils! They also had an opportunity to make small nature journals and wrote a story about their chosen rock’s journey in either fiction or non fiction perspective, including a budding young author (from BRS) who shared her story of  “My Rocky Life.”

In November, Kim Ridley will meet with these same students and connect her book to the geological drama of theirsurroundings, and reveal to them that some of these creatures are hiding in their own backyard!