Island Readers & Writers Blog

Kimberly Ridley visits Milbridge Elementary School

Milbridge Elementary School welcomed Kimberly Ridley with hallways filled with projects they had worked on after reading her books, “The Secret Bay” and “Extreme Survivors.” There were posters and shadow boxes of estuary creatures, photographs of students visiting a salmon hatchery, Haiku poetry and paintings inspired by a book authored by a Milbridge parent and an amazing food chain mural.

Kim began the day with an all school assembly in the gym. She asked the students, “Who likes secrets?” Everyone raised a hand. Then she asked, “Who is good at kee

ping secrets?”  A few raised a hand. She told them that she is not very good at keeping secrets because she ended up writing a book about all the secret creatures she learned about!

When someone asked, “How did you become a writer?”, she told them that she follows her curiosity. When she gets excited about something she wants to learn more and she takes her curiosity seriously. “To write a book one has to observe, ask questions, research, reflect, organize, write and rewrite.” She re-wrote “The Secret Bay” 12 times!

In writing workshops for grades 3-6, Kim worked with students by pretending they were “Ace Reporters” looking for a catchy first sentence to hook their readers. They were to tell the story of the strange creature living in their backyards, the tardigrade, a microscopic creature that lives in moss. She also had an exercise that showed how important reliable research is.

With the younger students, she talked about how estuaries are like a big mixing bowl with brackish water, a mixture of salt and fresh that creates the perfect magical home for some pretty amazing animals. They were encouraged to pretend they were creating an estuary right in the room and she read passages from “The Secret Bay.” She showed them a horseshoe crab molt and told them all sorts of interesting facts about this extreme survivor.

At the end of the day, each class met Kim in the hall to tell about their projects, a time for each child to tell about their process. This school has such a rich learning environment with collaborations with community organizations and individuals and a reaching out from the school to embrace all that this community has to offer.

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New IRW partner school Indian Township Elementary welcomes Kimberly Ridley

We arrived for our first-ever visit to new IRW partner Indian Township Elementary School on a chilly October morning with author Kimberly Ridley, who greeted children as they entered the gym for the all-school presentation. A delight of extreme creatures and ultimate survivors from prehistoric times was presented along with information on vernal pools and all the wonderful creatures therein.

Kim’s first workshop was with the 7th and 8th grades, where they were encouraged to be “ACE Reporters” — to observe, ask questions and research. She told them that all good reporters start with a catchy first sentence and they were let loose to give reporting a shot by choosing one of the creatures in her book, “Extreme Survivors,” for inspiration.

Younger students were happy to pretend they were at a secret pool, to close their eyes and listen to the sounds. One lucky child heard dinosaurs breathing! The pre-k and kindergarten students laughed to hear that fairy shrimp swim upside down and breathe through their feet.

The 3rd-6th graders were given a writing prompt and shown video of a tardigrade magnified. Some were thrilled at how cute the “zombie bears,” as Kim calls them, are and others thought it was super gross. One teacher exclaimed, “I can’t believe they are ALL writing!” as the children jumped right in to their assignments.

We had lunch with the 4th graders while they happily showed us the projects they had been working on around Kim’s book, “Secret Pool,” including amazing posters of their favorite creatures complete with life cycles.

After spending the afternoon in workshops in the beautiful library, Kim was whisked away to the 6th grade classroom to see their wall mural of a goblin shark, another extreme survivor.

We left the school with a chorus of “woliwon,” which means “thank you” in Passamaquoddy. Woliwon to all in Indian Township School from Island Readers & Writers — we are so glad to be partners with you.



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Kimberly Ridley at Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge with Charlotte Elementary

A beautiful day for nature observation at Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge.

This fall, IRW has been shaking things up by taking our author programs out of the classroom and out into nature! On Oct. 22, the entire Charlotte Elementary School moved to the Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge near Baring Plantation in Washington County where we met with author Kimberly Ridley and biology technician Clayton Merrill. The school bus transformed into a tour bus as we explored this habitat created for the American Woodcock.

The first stop on the tour was to view a beaver dam and lodge. With pencils and homemade sketchbooks in hand, the kids used their observation skills to make notes of what they noticed.

There were interesting things to see everywhere.

An otter slide was discovered near the dam which drew great interest! The pencils were flying furiously as rough sketches were drawn and notes were jotted down. Clayton focused in on some black ducks on the pond using a spotting scope. It wasn’t long though before they burst into flight and zoomed right over our heads!

The kids used notepads to write and sketch their observations to use later in the day.

Sometimes, observations were made from the bus seats with “tour guide Kim” giving clues to what they might see. Another flock of ducks was spotted and took flight and a group of Canada Geese floated in a second pond. Clayton shared that two black bears were living in the area, a fact that was greeted with big “ooohs” and “aaahhs.”

Tour Guide Kim!

Back in the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) building, which served as headquarters for the day, some serious brainstorming took place. “What did you notice?” Kim asked. A blank poster for observation was filled. “What do you wonder?” Two posters for curiosities were filled. And, “What did it remind you of?” — another poster filled.

All of this brainstorming work was done to inspire creative thinking and, as a whole school, write a rough draft for “The Secret Refuge,” a book in the style of Kimberly Ridley, but written entirely by Charlotte students! To really get their creative juices flowing, the writers and artists next used water color pencils and paper to use their knowledge from observations and notes to inspire the story. The room became a real art studio with focused creativity pouring onto the pages.

Getting creative juices flowing with watercolor pencils!

The kids were also able to draw inspiration and get real details from the large display of taxidermy animals that adorned the YCC. Flying ducks, owls, and even a fawn were on hand for observation. They will have two weeks to write their rough draft and then IRW and Kim return for a day of editing to really get a sense of the book-writing process. These kids were incredibly focused and eager to participate. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for our return on Monday, Nov. 5. Stay tuned!

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Mary Cerullo visits Vinalhaven

Author Mary Cerullo and IRW crew were hosted by island resident Pat Lundholm for their visit to the Vinahlaven School which often includes an overnight stay, while longtime IRW friend Sue Dempster put on a wonderful potluck gathering where teachers and the IRW crew shared food and stories — mostly about books. Go figure!

The day of the visit began in the auditorium with grades K-5. Mary’s presentation included wonderful sea creature photos and lots of stories to share with the children. Many hands were being raised and students had good comments and questions for Mary.

Some great advice from Mary during her all-school presentation.

To the pre-K students, Mary read a new book she is working on that isn’t yet published. The children were attentive listeners as they listened to this never-before heard story! And Mary got some good feedback from her audience. It was a pretty special experience.

Pre-k students got the chance to read from Mary’s unpublished book!

Second and third graders had read her book, “Sea Secrets,” and Mary asked, “What do you know about climate change?” A student answered, “It’s the problem for everything!” Mary mentioned how warmer waters are more acidic and its general effects on marine life. A student asked, “Do lobster shells get affected by acidic water?” This kid was thinking about the impact on the vital fishing industry, which is integral to life on Vinalhaven. Every student shared a fact about the sea animals they were studying. One student shared, “Starfish have lots of birthdays!”

Sea creatures created by second and third graders.

Kindergarteners and first graders had read “City Fish, Country Fish,” a meaty book for such youngsters but their enthusiasm was great. Mary asked the children why they would choose to be a country fish. Here are a few responses: “I like the colors.” “I could eat whenever I wanted.” “I like to hide in the rocks!”

Grades four and five had read and worked with “Sea Secrets.” Mary asked what the secret was and all the children shouted, “krill!” These kids knew their stuff, partly due to a recent visit to the Gulf of Maine Institute. They had done food web studies, chosen habitats to explore, and made posters about them.

While Mary shared about climate change and its particular impacts on the Gulf of Maine, she suggested the children talk to their grandparents and parents and ask them if they noted changes in the waters and marine life around Vinalhaven during their lifetimes. She then had them play a bingo game about marine animals and asked if each one was a winner or loser when it comes to climate change. The session ended when fourth grade teacher Rob Warren played two cartoon videos that Mary explained were created by O’Chang Comics. The students loved the humor and laughed out loud while watching “A Climate Calamity in the Gulf of Maine: The Lobster Pot Heats up” and “Part 2: Acid in the Gulf.”

Each Vinalhaven student loved receiving their own signed copies of her books. They all opened them immediately and were sharing with each other as they talked about the pictures and discussing the what they had learned that day!


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MDI 7th Grade Read at Camp Beech Cliff

The 7th Grade Read has become an annual cornerstone of our fall programming and this year’s event with author Clare Vanderpool at Camp Beech Cliff was once again a great success.

The Oct. 19 event brought together all 137 seventh graders from each MDIRSS school to Camp Beech Cliff for a morning to discuss Clare’s book, “Navigating Early” and hear from the author herself.

The goal of this annual event is to provide an opportunity for all MDI seventh graders interact with their peers from different schools, read an acclaimed novel by an author who each student gets to meet, and have community members share their love of reading by facilitating small group discussions.

As the kids arrived, Billie Holiday (a favorite of main character Early’s) played from a record player in the entrance to the Eagle’s Nest. Each student had a name tag featuring a constellation — another element of “Navigating Early” — and were assigned to meet up with the group leaders who matched their constellations.

As everyone entered, they used the constellations on their name tags to join their groups that included kids from different MDIRSS schools.

The first activity was a Gallery Walk in which each group had two minutes each to answer five different questions about the book and vote on whether they agreed or disagreed on the answers. There was some hot debate among some of the questions, which is exactly what we love to see when discussing literature!

Gallery Walk

Gallery Walk

MDI teachers came up with questions for the Gallery Walk to help get the kids in the mood for the group discussions.

The groups then moved into a 25-minute discussion of the book, facilitated by one of 15 wonderful community volunteers.

Getting a kick out of the group discussion.

Community volunteers read the book and prepared to facilitate the small group discussions.

Clare sits in on a small group discussion.

IRW is extremely grateful to its volunteers from many different corners of the MDI community: Lee Bonta of the Jesup Memorial Library; Ephron Catlin; Dianne Clendaniel of College of the Atlantic; Matt Cornish of Camp Beech Cliff; Autumn Demaine of Trenton Elementary School; Tiffany Dow of The First; Tim Garrity of the MDI Historical Society; Billy Helprin of the Somes Meynell Wildlife Preserve; Lisa Horsch-Clark of Friends of Acadia; Jenny Jones, of the Bar Harbor Food Pantry; Margie Phelps of Hinckley; Andrew Simon of Barn Arts; Mark Woida of Harbor House; Jamie Whitehead of Camp Beech Cliff and Marie Yarborough of Acadia National Park.

Our wonderful volunteers! From left: Margie Phelps, Jamie Whitehead, Tiffany Dow, Mark Woida, Dianne Clendaniel. Matt Cornish, Lisa Horsch-Clark, Tim Garrity, Andrew Simon, Billy Helprin, Lee Bonta. [Not pictured: Ephron Catlin, Autumn Demaine, Jenny Jones, Marie Yarborough.]

Clare talks about her life and writing.

After the group discussions, book trailers the kids created were shown to much applause (and sometimes laughter). Clare then talked about her inspiration from the book and about how some scenes or elements from the story are inspired by her own life. “Life experiences can bubble up when you need them,” she said. All 137 kids received a personally-inscribed copy of “Navigating Early” and left Camp Beech Cliff inspired by their peers from different schools and by meeting and chatting with Clare.


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Clare Vanderpool with Ella Lewis & Charlotte at the Henry D. Moore Public Library

We always love seeing these smiling faces!

It was like stepping back in time on October 18th when the 5th-8th graders from Ella Lewis and Charlotte came together around the book, “Navigating Early,” by Clare Vanderpool. Walking into the Henry D. Moore Library and Parrish House, our gracious host venue, and hearing Billie Holiday’s voice coming from an turntable while stepping onto the old, wooden floors really brought the program to life, specifically back to the 1940s when Clare’s novel is set. Modeled on our MDI 7th Grade Read, these kids were mixed into small breakout groups to discuss some pretty deep questions about the book, such as: “Both Pi and Jack dream of an encounter with looking into the eyes of a white whale…Are dreams important? What can they tell us about our awake life?” “Sometimes dreams are predictors,” remarked one student. Sometimes the answers weren’t clear and rather than agree or disagree, students said they were “on the fence.” Literature, as in life, can have some gray areas.

Ella Lewis 5th and 6th graders created mobiles featuring passages from the book that stood out to them and images that went with words.

Though time is always our enemy, the shared experience with the two schools, teachers agreed, was really nice. Kids noted that, while at first they were nervous, once they started talking about the book, getting to know each other felt pretty easy.

Small group discussions helped kids think about deeper questions stemming from the book

During Clare’s presentation, she shared her writing process and how, sometimes, a character or an idea just pops into her head and she really doesn’t know where it came from. This surprised at least one teacher who noted that she would have to rethink how she taught writing after hearing this from Clare. Another teacher, who had a very personal connection to the book, got to share that with Clare. It was quite moving to witness. Sometimes the impact of our programs is unpredictable and amazing.

Clare talks about her inspiration for the book.

Some drew their interpretation of the main character Early’s room, which is described in detail in the book.

With the Moore Library right across the street and serving as the school library for Ella Lewis, a few lucky kids got to linger for additional Q&A time with Clare. They begged her to reveal information about her next book but her lips were sealed. Their excitement was truly palpable!

Chatting with Clare after the event.

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Look Up! with Annette LeBlanc Cate at the Schoodic Institute

Over three days in mid-October, students and teachers from Beals, Jonesport, and Ella Lewis schools gathered at the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park for a day each of bird watching and art centered around Annette LeBlanc Cate’s book, Look Up! Birdwatching in Your Own Backyard. To kick off each morning, Annette provided an introduction to herself and how she got started birdwatching and writing and illustrating. She also went over basic instructions on quick sketching from observations in the field. Each student received a sketchbook and pencil for taking notations in the field for note-taking and quick drawings.

Before heading out in the park, rangers provided an overview of the park, the national park system, why it is important, and how to protect it as a resource for generations. As Ranger Mackette said, “You are part of our story and history here. You can help protect this place.”

Hikes were taken to explore various habitats and observe bird activity. With sketchbooks and pencils in hand, the kids got to observe shore birds, forest habitats, and even some birds in flight. After lunch, the kids had the opportunity to use water color pencils, paper, and black pens to draw and paint from their observations that day, or other birds they have seen before in their own backyards. Some of the birds included gulls, eider ducks, robins, ground doves, owls, crows and much more. The budding birders in artists depicted birds in flight, and birds in trees — all were unique in their own ways.

Annette shared some basic techniques as well as her well-loved field guides and journals for use as inspiration. There were some truly amazing artists in these groups! A final mini “museum” exhibition using a lovely frame Annette had made to display student work was held, and kids were asked to talk about their work. Feedback was requested on what other students liked about the paintings. Lots of great feedback helped the kids feel good about their work and there seemed to be a new appreciation for birds and bird watching among the kids. Annette reminded everyone to keep drawing, and to keep looking up!

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Lynn Plourde visits Lubec and Pembroke

Maine author Lynn Plourde brought her fun and theatrical style to Lubec Consolidated School and Pembroke Elementary with her picture book At One in a Place Called Maine, and graphic novel Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness, Donn Fendler’s story of survival after becoming lost on Mount Katahdin as a child in July 1939.
To kick-off her school visits, Lynn brought the entire school together in the morning to act out her picture book Moose, Of Course! as a play. Kids of all grade levels had a blast acting out the various parts of the story about a boy who looks high and low for the chance to see a moose. A few kids even turned into moose before our very eyes!

Performing “Moose, Of Course!” at Lubec.

The moose family at Pembroke

During Lynn’s small-group presentations, kids in grades 5 and up learned about the research that went into Lost Trail, and saw original documents from Donn Fendler’s rescue and celebration of his homecoming. At Lubec, the older kids displayed informational posters about animals found in the Maine woods, showed Lynn videos they made about different wildlife found in Katahdin, and also created 3-D printed animals. Students in grades 5-6 at Pembroke shared panels from their own graphic novels inspired by Lost Trail, while grades 7-8 created lean-tos in the woods around their school, similar to what Donn would have used for shelter. Lynn was thoroughly impressed with their craftsmanship.

Fun with “Lost Trail”

Lean-to shelters inspired by Donn Fendler’s story of survival at Pembroke

3-D printed animals at Lubec


During Lynn’s workshops for the younger students, they created poems inspired by At One in a Place Called Maine and things that they love about their state. At Lubec, Pre-k artists painted fall scenes, while those in kindergarten painted scenes with the prompt “I can…,” and the budding authors and illustrators in grades 3-4 at Lubec gifted Lynn a book they had written and illustrated featuring places that they love, featuring a heartwarming inscription that speaks to why we do what we do: “Thank you for visiting our school. Authors like you inspire us to become better writers. You help us realize our voices are powerful.” 

Artists in grades 3-4 at Pembroke shared with Lynn their illustrations of their favorite places. Many chose to illustrate their backyards or the playground!

Lynn was overjoyed with the book that Lubec third and fourth graders created for her

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The Art of the Picture Book

Island Readers & Writers spent a wonderful two days at the end of August at the Henry D. Moore Public Library in Steuben, hosting “The Art of the Picture Book,” a multi-component program around picture books in collaboration with the Ella Lewis School and Step by Step Childcare.

“Whole Book Approach” Workshop

IRW welcomed 12 educators, childcare professionals and public librarians from Washington and Hancock counties for a three-hour professional development workshop led by Courtney Waring, director of education at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (The Carle). Courtney traveled from Amherst, Mass., to spend the weekend with us and we were so very fortunate to have her with us.

The Carle advocates the “Whole Book Approach” style of reading (designed by author Megan Dowd Lambert) with children rather than to them. After IRW staff participated in an online training session with Courtney on this subject earlier this year, we knew we wanted to share this approach with educators and all those who read with children here in Downeast Maine.

During the workshop, participants learned about different ways illustrators tell stories through their pictures and how images help advance a story. They learned to always peek under the book jacket for fun surprises, to take note of the end papers at the beginning and end of the story, how text design captures the mood of a story and how illustrators use the gutter — or middle of the book — to depict story elements on either page.

Even these seasoned picture book readers learned something new about the art form and how to engage children with picture books during story time, from asking open-ended questions about the story, to having them point things out on the page to asking them to guess what might happen next.

“Whole Book Approach” Story Time

Following the workshop, IRW along with staff and volunteers from the Henry D. Moore Library hosted a community lasagna supper and story time with Courtney. Children participated in story time while members of the community watched how Courtney demonstrated the Whole Book Approach style of reading with the books “Z is for Moose” by Kelly Bingham, “Flora and the Flamingo” by Molly Idle and “The Watermelon Seed”  by Greg Pizzoli, titles she selected that feature standout examples of elements from the Whole Book Approach.

Chris Van Dusen and “The Circus Ship”

The next morning, 50 members of the community joined IRW and the Moore Library for a fun morning with beloved Maine author/ illustrator Chris Van Dusen.

Chris discussed his many, many picture books and then indulged us with a reading of “The Circus Ship” — although, Chris says, he has the story memorized word-for-word, so he no longer actually has to read the words. The dozen kids in the audience delighted in picking out the circus animals that are hidden within two pages of the book. Later, Chris drew two crazy creatures featuring different elements of animals that the kids had suggested!

Chris’ illustrations are on display at the library, so go check them out!

At the end of the program, each family received an autographed copy of “The Circus Ship” to take home and add to their collections.

It was a very special weekend and we are so grateful to our hosts at the Moore Library, special guest presenter Courtney Waring, community partners from the Ella Lewis School and Step by Step and to the Belvedere Fund of Maine Community Foundation for the grant funding that made this community program possible.

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Meg Medina at Blueberry Harvest School

One muggy afternoon in mid-August, a group of little eyes peered into a big glass bowl where a three chrysalises were readying to hatch. These children of migrant blueberry harvesters, who come to Washington County in August to participate in the blueberry harvest, were in their final days as students of the Blueberry Harvest School (BHS), a federally-funded, monthlong program run by the nonprofit organization Mano en Mano, which is held each summer at Harrington Elementary School.

Observation of the soon-to-be butterflies was part of the school’s 2018 theme of “Imagining New Stories,” which carried over into the disciplines of reading, writing, art and science. Island Readers & Writers was thrilled to be a part of “imaginando nuevas historias” this summer along with author Meg Medina, a bilingual speaker of Cuban heritage, who spent three days at BHS with 88 children, ages 4 to 14.

Clustered into three groups by age, the children spent three wonderful days learning about Meg and how she came to be a writer, how she gets the ideas for her stories and how to tell their own stories through words and art.

The youngest children read “Mango, Abuela and Me,” Meg’s picture book about a young, English-speaking girl who tries to communicate with her Spanish-speaking grandmother through a bilingual parrot. Meg helped the youngest group of kids identify with how stories are attached to them by sharing a picture of her dog, Noche, whose tail is attached to him and yet he continues to chase it. “Sometimes we forget that our ‘tales’ are attached to us,” said Meg. To the delight of these youngsters, Mango the parrot puppet came out to meet them and help them with some Spanish words from “Mango, Abuela and Me.”

The kids created their own parrots out of paper by tracing their feet and cutting them out to create the look of feathers. Next, they chose vibrant colors and used paint rollers to create a marbled effect with the paint. Meg was awed by their work and commented on how they “all approached the assignment as artists” and that “art is about making new ideas…it’s the same with stories.”

The older group read Meg’s story “Sol Painting” from the short story collection “Flying Lessons and Other Stories,” featuring stories by 10 middle grade authors such as Kwame Alexander, Jaqueline Woodson and more. The kids asked thoughtful questions about what it takes to become a published author (a lot of work, according to Meg!) and about her other books. They were delighted to learn that “Sol Painting” is going to be extended into a full-length novel, “Merci Suarez Changes Gears,” this fall.

On the second day, the older group worked on writing in response to Meg’s question, “What is the earliest thing you remember?”

Some examples:

“When I was three I buried myself in the sand,” said one girl.

“When I was one I was in the water,” said another child.

“When I was ten I remember getting a stick stuck in my hand.”

“When I was two I didn’t eat all my lunch at day care.”

“When I was nine I got in trouble because I broke a glass.”

“When I was nine I went to the principal’s office and then I went to the mountains with my father.”

And with these stories swirling in their heads, she asked them to think about their hopes and dreams and introduced the project they’d be doing on the final day of her visit: creating milagros, traditional Mexican folk charms that represent miracles, hopes and dreams.

On the last day, the older students used wooden-tipped tools to etch their hopes and dreams into foil squares to create milagros. One young lady etched a star and a rainbow and said, “I kinda drew it because I want to be a star, a singer. And also because it represents my wish upon a star.”

That night, Meg along with IRW staff attended a pizza dinner in the Harrington Elementary gym, where all all of the colorful parrots and shimmering milagros were displayed for kids and their parents to see, along with other artwork the students had done throughout their time at BHS.

All of the milagros shone beautifully, but one in particular stood out; one that we hope signifies the aspirations and dreams of this young person to transform into their fullest potential, like the butterfly they saw hatch from chrysalis to monarch during their time with Meg Medina at the Blueberry Harvest School.


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