Island Readers & Writers Blog

Kimberly Ridley teaches nature journaling to students from the outer islands

“As you hold the Talking Shell, share what your favorite wild animal in Maine is with the rest of the group.” That’s how Kimberly Ridley opened up her sessions with the students from the outer islands when they all met for their TLC gathering in late October (Teaching and Learning Conference).
Kids, teachers, and parent chaperones converged in Newry, Maine at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound Learning Center to participate in rotating workshops with OB staff on Leave No Trace, outdoor survival skills, and Nature Journaling with Kim. Using her most recent book The Secret Bay, which focuses on the habitat of estuaries, she helped kids to understand the connection of habitats from their own islands, oceans, estuaries, and streams surrounding their home base in Newry.
Kids in Kindergarten – 2nd grade received copies of The Secret Bay and practiced close observation of animals from nature using beautiful photograph flash cards that Kim had prepared.
The 3rd – 5th graders also received books and looked more carefully at actual specimens and described what they noticed, wondered about, and were reminded of as they used descriptive words to help readers discover their animal’s identity. “Bumpy skin,” “spidery veins,” and “no visible ears” were some of the words used to describe what they noticed. When asked to wonder about what they saw and didn’t see in their animal photograph, questions were raised about, “ How high can it hop?”, “Why is it brown?”, and “How does it freeze?” and “How does it live after it freezes?” – all showing the curiosity necessary to do detailed research in preparation for writing.
Older students  in grades 6 -8 received sketch books to use in their nature journaling and were convinced that investigation tells you lots about an animal before making decisions about how cool or “yucky” it may be. A majority of students said that the session encouraged them to write and/or sketch more in nature and that they’d be interested in reading more about nature. Kimberly said she hoped to inspire them to take this enthusiasm back to their islands, where they could write their own nature book (about their “Secret Island!”) that could help visitors learn more about their habitat.

Posted in: School Visits, Uncategorized
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Cynthia Lord in Washington County, one of her favorite places


Cynthia Lord is an IRW veteran! We always know it’s going to be a great day when we team up with Cynthia and bring her into a classroom. This October, we brought her to Lubec and Pembroke, two small towns in Washington County, one of Cynthia’s favorite places.


At Lubec Consolidated School, students in Grades PreK-K worked with descriptive words in relation to the book Hot Rod Hamster. K – 2 students also made a racetrack for the wall, decorated with individualized cars and hamsters! They had pulled phrases from the book to add to word bubbles. When a young student received a copy of Hot Rod Hamster, she said, “When I bring my book home, I’m going to read it at bedtime.”


Students in Grades 3-4 read Shelter Pet Squad #1: Jellybean and visited local animal shelters to interview shelter workers about the cats at the shelter. They then wrote and illustrated Pet Profiles – posters with ‘classified ads’ for cat adoption. They also formed their own group – the “Lend a Paw Club!”


Fifth and sixth graders created communication booklets, such as can be found in Cynthia’s book, Rules. In addition to reading rules, they had also nearly finished reading A Handful of Stars.

As Cynthia visited each classroom, they showed her their projects first, then she talked to them about the process for imagining each story and answered questions.


The next day at Pembroke, Cynthia was wowed by the mason bee houses that fifth and sixth graders had made that were hung in the hallway. Those fifth and sixth graders! They also made blueberry enchiladas and shared them with us. Blueberry enchiladas play a crucial part in Cynthia’s book, A Handful of Stars.


And it didn’t stop there! Students in Grades 3-4 made a book trailer for Cynthia’s book, Half A Chance. She’d never seen anything like it!


Seventh and eighth graders created photo boards for a photo contest (like in Half a Chance), made scrapbooks with acrostic poems, researched topics in the book, and created a memory box related to Half a Chance where they wrote alternate endings to the story.


What a great couple of days – celebrating good books together in creative ways!

Posted in: School Visits, Uncategorized

Some Fantastic Tour!

The six-island Some Writer! Tour with Melissa Sweet, featuring her incredible new biography of beloved Maine writer E.B. White, was recently launched on the island of North Haven, the first stop of six in October and November.

IRW North Haven

Upon arrival, Lisa Shields, Education Enrichment Coordinator for North Haven Community School, welcomed Melissa and the IRW team. After getting settled at the Nebo Lodge, we were treated to a sumptuous dinner with representatives from various island nonprofits that helped organize events around the Some Writer! Tour.

IRW North Haven

The visit started on a high note at the Waterman’s Community Center, where North Haven high school students dazzled viewers with their creative, interactive art and writing installations based on E.B.White’s essay, “Once More to the Lake.” They had called upon all their senses to recount their journey to and climb of Mt. Washington. They truly made the mountain experience come alive for participants through touch, smell, taste, and assorted activities. An awesome experience!

IRW North Haven

North Haven community members gathered to hear Melissa talk about writing the book and the life of E.B. White. At a potluck-of-sweets, many community members contributed yummy desserts; the smell of chocolate was everywhere, adding a celebratory feel and smell to an already festive occasion.


The elementary students at school the next day made Charlotte’s Web come alive with their projects on friendship, farms and all things Charlotte. Young students drew farm animals with Melissa and older students worked on limericks and different forms of writing that E.B. White practiced. We topped off our North Haven adventure with a tour of the Turner Farm, complete with many pigs out in the pen; it was truly magical (after a morning of viewing giant sized spider webs with words that changed overnight, and cardboard geese trying to escape the confines of the farm).

Tom Groening, editor of The Working Waterfront, was on hand to capture the story of IRW’s Tour and all the wonderful creations and stories it has inspired.


At the next stop on the tour, Vinalhaven hosted an evening event at the public library and then welcomed us for a full day at the school, complete with an array of wonderful art projects, including paint relief spider webs with various words of kindness embedded.


A full school presentation was followed by grade-level workshops during the day. One kindergartner was in disbelief that he would not only get a signed copy of Some Writer! but that he’d be able to keep it for his very own “ forever”. Another swore that he’d be hiding his book under his bed so that his sister wouldn’t find it!


In preparation for Melissa’s visit, the second graders had delved into the world of spiders through research, art projects, and through science with a naturalist as they created a spider’s habitat. Third through fifth graders had fun using their imaginations in creating limericks with Melissa.


Older students had very thoughtful questions for Melissa including,
“How many chapters do you usually put in a book?”
“Where did you find a manual typewriter?”
“How did E.B. White inspire you?”
“Is it hard to think of ideas?”

After wrapping up the school visit, the IRW team and Melissa hopped back onto the ferry to return to the mainland in Rockland and prepare for the next four visits within the month.

We have many more photos from those wonderful days; please check out our Facebook photo albums to find more smiling faces.

Stay tuned for our next stop at Swan’s Island!

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Ellen and a stuffed Sammy the Seal visit Charlotte, Edmunds & Whiting

Ellen Potter made a whole lot of new friends in Washington County last week when she visited the warm and welcoming elementary schools of Charlotte, Edmunds & Whiting!


At all three schools, Ellen started the day with a presentation on being a writer and what she stores in her writer’s toolkit that helps in the work and art of creating characters and a story. What does she first do when she gets an idea? There’s a tool in the kit for that! Why is one of her tools a Thermos? Ask any of the students, and they’ll be sure to tell you!


One of the students’ favorites among Ellen’s tools was a stuffed seal named Sammy. He lives in Ellen’s toolkit because he reminds her of a story of perseverance and its result!


Students at each school had read one of Ellen’s books, dependent on grade level, and had many questions for her about the process of writing books and where she gets her ideas. All children also participated in a writing workshop. With younger students, she helped them to create a group story accompanied by illustration.


When she asked this group their favorite part of Piper Green and the Fairy Tree, she received an overwhelming majority answer of “kittens.” At Charlotte Elementary School, a real, live, fluffy kitten even joined us in the classroom!


With older students, Ellen led workshops that focused on writing scenes that created suspense through descriptive language and foreshadowing. The students exercised their imaginations and delighted each other with suspenseful details and surprise endings.

After each workshop, students had an opportunity to share, and we were able to fill sharing time with wild, inventive stories each and every time!

One student from Edmunds said, “I’m going to be an author when I grow up, so I should get some practice,” and a student from Charlotte said, “I’m going to keep writing – I have all these ideas in my head.”


It’s refreshing and inspiring to be among so many vibrant ideas, whimsical wishes, and silly senses of humor!

At Whiting Village School, students in Grades 1 – 4 had worked with teacher Stephanie Higgins to create their own Writer’s Tool Box – tea boxes they covered and decorated and filled with ideas for writers to get inspired!


Thank you to all three schools for welcoming us and Ellen Potter! We can’t wait to visit again.

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Scientific illustrator Karen Talbot visits over 30 kids from Maine’s outer islands


From Wednesday, September 21, until Friday, September 23, Frenchboro School played host for the traditional inter-island event for all students from Monhegan, Matinicus, Isle au Haut, the Cranberry Islands, and Cliff Island. And how did these island students spend their time together?


On Wednesday, they had a potluck, looked at the night sky, and set up their campsites. On Thursday, they started the morning with a pancake breakfast. While that was going on, IRW Program Director Ruth Feldman and scientific illustrator Karen Talbot boarded the R.L. Gott boat in Bass Harbor for the ride over to Long Island (where Frenchboro is located).
They lent a helping hand to Beau Lisy, music teacher and drumming workshop leader, by loading up the boat with African drums!

Once arrived and unpacked, Karen led one of the four workshops available to the students in three different break-out sessions (the other workshops were Drumming, Theater Improvisation, and Nature Walks). Approximately 10 students participated in each of the workshop sessions, and Karen also led a session for adults in attendance.

Karen started off each workshop session by sharing a brief video that showed kids giving constructive feedback to a peer, in turn inspiring and motivating them to use closer observation for revision. Karen guided them in the art of nature illustration by creating a specimen study, first noting descriptive words and numbers (data) and then adding color using different techniques.

Once they’d created a nature illustration, they passed their work to the right, and everyone needed to say one specific thing they liked and why, and one suggestion for what the artist should add in their next draft. It was great to see them naturally give and take feedback, using communication skills learned from the video!

The highlight of the day was the sense of community, as it is so often when island schools are involved: folks pitching tents together, congregating on the lawn, preparing communal meals and posing together for group shots. After IRW and Karen finished their workshops, the students continued their event with a talent show, another night of camping, and a final departure on Friday morning.

The event’s brochure really captures the warmth and hospitality that surrounds these inter-island gatherings: three young girls stand in the middle of a dirt road, and together hold a bouquet of wildflowers. They are the entire student body of Frenchboro School. The caption reads, “Breanna, Annabri, and MaKayla welcome you to the 2016 Inter-Island Event on the beautiful island of Frenchboro.” Thank you, girls – we felt very welcome!

For more information on scientific illustrator Karen Talbot, visit her website at

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Mary Cerullo at Outer Islands TLC event in May


Mary Cerullo, author of numerous science books for children and a “teaching science” book for educators, visited students from Frenchboro, Monhegan Island, Great and Little Cranberry Islands, and Isle au Haut during the Outer Islands Teaching and Learning Collaborative field trip to to the Wayfinder School in New Gloucester.


Mary talked to students about ocean acidification, climate change, weather, and other environmental changes in relation to her book Sea Secrets, which tells the story of penguins, blue whales, and Cassin’s auklets and how changes in krill populations affect each species.


Each student received a signed copy of the book, and were provided with supplemental worksheets before the special day to prepare for Mary’s visit.


Students played “Gulf of Maine Bingo,” used dry ice in science experiments, and discussed how climate changes will impact Maine and the rest of the world.


One female student repeatedly exclaimed, “We’re doing science!!” It was a blast – for IRW, teachers, students, and Mary. Learning science can excite minds, inspire action, and build community!

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Rebekah Raye visits Pembroke, Edmunds, and Whiting

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As part of the Alewives: Small Fish, Big Impact program, Rebekah Raye wrapped up her school visit tour by joining IRW at Pembroke Elementary School, Edmunds Consolidated School, and Whiting Village School.

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Students at each school had already participated in writing workshops with The Secret Bay author Kimberly Ridley, and now had the opportunity to participate in an art workshop with the book’s illustrator!

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Rebekah guided students in how to draw and color (with pastel crayons and watercolors) pictures of estuary creatures, that could be combined with their writing exercises from Kimberly’s workshop to create a page spread for a book.

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IRW gave each child at all three schools a copy of The Secret Bay, and all younger students a copy of Swimming Home as well.

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Chloe at Whiting Village School said, “Rebekah: I had a lot of fun doing [art] because sometimes people just talk about it, but you let us do the art and it was fun.”

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And, while the visit with Rebekah was inspiring and fun, it was also thought-provoking for many students. One fourth grader at Edmunds wrote, “This book made me wonder about if there were no estuaries.”

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Jordan, a student in the 5-6 grade group at Pembroke Elementary School, said, “Rebekah Raye and Island Readers…made me want to write and draw more.”

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We were thrilled to work with such creative, thoughtful, and energizing students, and can’t wait for our next visit to their classrooms!


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Ellen Potter: From blueberry-land to ferry-land

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What does a big pink cotton drawstring bag printed with “Ellen’s Brain,” a hard hat, and a surprise “snake can” of cookies all have in common? They are all a part of the collection of props inside of author Ellen Potter’s toolbox of writing prompts!

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During Ellen’s visit with IRW to Milbridge Elementary and Swan’s Island School, she shared what she found rewarding about being a writer, where she finds her stories (hint: everywhere) and how best to tap into one’s own creativity.

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In group workshops, students had an opportunity to try their hand at creating a character, situation and challenge – based either in reality or as far and fantastical as their imaginations led them. They warmed up their creative brain muscles by sharing similies and discovering how adjectives can liven up and make storytelling more visual.

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At both Milbridge and Swan’s Island, Ellen viewed student projects based on Olivia Kidney and SLOB, two of her middle-grade books, including drawings of fantasy apartment buildings to scene dioramas.

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Swan’s Island was an especially meaningful visit because it was the island on which Ellen based her Piper Green and the Fairy Tree series. She even got to reconnect with one of the students that she had originally interviewed in order to develop her story and characters!

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Ellen brought excitement and high energy to students at both of these schools and the students gave her inspiration for even more adventures and possible plots. Their projects and voracious workshop writing really showcased their imagination and creativity and added a “big smile!” into Ellen’s ever-growing toolkit.

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Cynthia Lord visits Princeton, Charlotte, and Trenton

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Cynthia was the kick-off author for our first visit to Princeton Elementary School, and also visited students in Charlotte and Trenton.

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Cynthia offered presentations about her life as a writer and the inspirations for her creativity to grouped grades at each school and guided them in writing workshops. Her writing workshops focused on character development, conflict, and resolution.

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She has written numerous books for each age group, so students from all three schools received one of the following titles: Hot Rod Hamster, Shelter Pet Squad #1: Jellybean, A Handful of Stars, Half a Chance, Rules, and Touch Blue.

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At Charlotte Elementary School, students said…

about Half A Chance, “This book made me think about how some people really live and how hard it can be to live some ways”

and about A Handful of Stars, “This book made me think how you can be a stranger one minute and be best friends the next.”

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Charlotte students performed skits and conducted presentations on one of Cynthia’s books (they were allowed to choose whichever one of their books they wanted), in a unique format called a “literature circle.”

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Princeton Elementary School students said about Cynthia’s book Rules, it made them feel “caring,” “a lot more happy with my life,” and “more informed.”

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Cynthia’s book A Handful of Stars is dedicated “to Island Readers & Writers and all the children they serve,” and we were very happy to bring this beloved author to meet some of those students and create memorable experiences for all involved.


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ARROW Retreat 2016

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ARROW Retreat 2016 was a great success! As part of the Acadia National Park Centennial, Island Readers & Writers designed a program that, over four half-days during April vacation, inspired participants to observe the natural world around them, write and create art based on nature, and learn about those who have come before them that also appreciated the beauty and natural resources of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park.

IRW ARROW 2016 Day 1 (138)

On Day 1, twelve ARROW participants listened with rapt attention as George Neptune of the Abbe Museum told them Wabanaki legends of creation, and the stories behind numerous local geographical locations (a mountain range that was once a giant moose!). George also taught them how to use an atlatl to lengthen the distance they could throw a spear, and showed them various items from Wabanaki culture, including furs and baskets.

Award-winning author Gary Schmidt flew in from Michigan to lead writing workshops with the participants, using Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Walking” to get them thinking about observation in nature, mindful movement through landscapes, and how to map (both in drawing and words) a local area.

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Local author and art expert Carol Little offered a presentation on the sense of place prevalent in MDI art, and talked about how the island and the park have drawn artists to its majestic beauty for two hundred years.

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On Day 2, Ranger Mike from Acadia National Park led a guided hike through the Blue Horizons Preserve and talked to participants about The Champlain Society, a group of amateur natural historians and scientists who catalogued their love of MDI in the 1880’s and planted the seeds of conservation in Charles Eliot’s mind (integral to conserving large tracts of the island, starting in the 1900’s).

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Gary Schmidt led a second writing workshop with participants, and the group also worked on various community-building projects, like creating a “graffiti-style” ARROW chalkboard mural and weaving on an EarthLoom.

On Day 3, ARROW veteran and Maine artist Rebekah Raye guided participants in an art workshop, where they used graphite pencils, watercolor paints, and oil pastels to create 3D paintings which featured an object in nature.

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Their incredible artwork can be viewed in this Facebook photo album. The day ended with an open studio session, where family and friends were invited into the studio to see completed artwork and works in progress, and to hear ARROW participants read selections from their writing exercises.

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On the final day, the group finished up their art projects, played outside games that challenged them to brainstorm solutions and apply them to conservation, had ‘quiet time’ outdoors where they ‘wrote in the wild,’ and wrapped up the wonderful retreat experience with cupcakes, an exchange of contact information, and warm hugs!

Photo albums of each day are available to view on our Facebook page.

One ARROW participant said, “I never want ARROW to end!” and another said, “This is the best thing I’ve ever done!”

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