Island Readers & Writers Blog

Extreme Survivors with Kimberly Ridley kicks off at Pembroke

Kimberly Ridley‘s latest book, Extreme Survivors: Animals That Time Forgot, is the focus of a program students at four Washington County students have been participating in since earlier this fall. First, they ventured out on a field trip with their teachers and IRW staff to learn about ice ages and explore traces and indications of glacial movements in their own backyard.

Kimberly visited Pembroke Elementary School last week to kick off IRW’s Extreme Survivors week of visits, and talk about her new book and how the ten creatures she writes about are connected to the ice ages of our earth’s past. She shared with them that they were the very first kids in the whole world to read her book and how exciting that was!

She tied in the Ice Age Trail and how now she was zooming in, zooming in, zooming in. The kids were incredibly eager with questions and facts they had learned and wanted to share with Kim. She shared how much she loves being a reporter and how, while doing research with other scientists and looking for tardigrades in the moss they collected, they referred to it as a “tardi party.”

She encouraged kids to “observe, ask questions, and research” as she turned them into ACE Reporters (Accurate/Creative/Edited). “How is an Ace Reporter like a Jedi Knight?” she asked them. “Focused” yelled one kid, “Determined,” said another. She helped them think about reliable websites and sources, telling them, “May the force source be with you.”

“Research is exciting,” she shared. If a comb jelly can grow a new brain and scientists can blend up sponges only to have their cells reunite, that is proof that no subject is boring!

During workshops, kids wrote a “News Flash” for their community, practicing their newly acquired Ace Reporting skills. “An Amazing Animal Lives in Our Town,” they began and used facts paired with creativity to “hook” their readers. During a final Q&A session questions ranged from inquiries about the writing process, “Is it harder to write for adults than kids?” to more scientific in nature, “Can comb jellies be fossils?”

What a great day! Next up with Extreme Survivors? Whiting Village School!

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Milbridge and Beals school warmly welcome Megan Frazer Blakemore

Once again Milbridge helped IRW to launch an exciting point in IRW history as we brought on author Megan Frazer Blakemore for the first time to our talented author roster. Pictured above, Principal Maria White stands with Megan and her book, The Water Castle, which Maria will add to the trophy case in the school’s lobby, where it will join other signed books from IRW programs.

To start the day, Megan gave a presentation and engaged the whole school by getting even the youngest of readers involved in using their imagination to ask “What If?” She shared the important components of a rich story: characters, what they want, and what gets in their way. Some lively and creative brainstorming ensued when students came up with ideas in each category. By piecing together their random ideas within those categories, Megan led them on a story making exercise that was contagiously funny.

Third and fourth graders expanded upon the What If? theme and wrote or drew their stories after some warm up together. The 5th and 6th graders used a gallery of historical props that Megan had brought to think about who used the item, how, and what was their adventure?

The next day at Beals Elementary, in addition to workshops, the 5th – 8th graders had a host of projects to share with Megan all related to The Water Castle themes. They shared their projects proudly, first with artwork created to emulate the castle image from the book – some scary, some dramatic, and some evoking the grandeur of a historical structure such as the castle of Poland Springs upon which the story is based.

They also shared their creative packets that contained the writing and artwork each students had prepared about the book, each one crafted with a different book cover depicting whatever the story evoked in them. Some reflected the personalities that students imagined from the book and some were reminiscent of journal entries.

They created posters with their own mottos in homage to Peary’s quote, “ Find a way or make one.” Sayings such as “If your day is not going good, all you have to do is smile” and “Take every challenge one step at a time and Never give up till you reach your destination” decorated the hallways.

“A writer paints a picture with words,” “ A writer tells a story,” and “Uses their imagination” is how some 8th graders answered Megan’s question to the students as to what a writer does.

In honor of adventurers and inventors referred to in The Water Castle, each student did research and an informational poster about an explorer such as Leif Erikson, Amelia Earhart, and others.

Historical artifacts and family memorabilia were brought in by teachers and displayed to inspire the students. Together with Megan’s treasures, the gallery of props inspired this creative bunch and many of the stories they shared at the end of the session were lively and imaginative.

They could hardly contain their curiosity at the end of the day when Megan opened the conversation up to questions. In addition to the more typical questions about favorite book, length of time to write, etc., they were curious about any sequels, and what changes Megan would make if she were ever going to rewrite The Water Castle. But most of all they wanted to know what happened to Price, Will Mallory, and Dr. Appledore??? Megan encouraged them to imagine and write an ending of their own! You could hear the wheels spinning and the wonder aroused as the workshops progressed.

Megan’s final suggestions to the energetic writers were to go places that are new to you, places that make you uncomfortable to experience new things, notice what sparks the “What if?” in you, and finally, READ. “Reading,” Megan says, “stretches your imagination and helps you to be familiar with words and with your own creativity.”

IRW wholeheartedly agrees!

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Elizabeth Atkinson and The Island of Beyond at Edmunds Consolidated

Great and creative minds think alike, and so the diorama at Edmunds greeting Elizabeth Atkinson in the school lobby was a reminder of the great art talent in Washington County that brings stories to life. Art teacher Sarah Myrick had worked with students to recreate The Island of Beyond — complete with water raft, tree house, “Martinville,” and even the accurate summer constellations as seen in Maine from the story!

Students were definitely immersed in the book and excited to ask Elizabeth specific questions, about which they felt very passionate i.e. “ Why a pet raven and references to Poe throughout the book?”, “What about Martin’s dad’s attitude (which we didn’t like)?” To this Elizabeth explained that she “didn’t necessarily want the dad to change (they/ adults usually don’t), but wanted to show Martin’s transformation.” ELA teacher Molly Calder was just as enthusiastic about the book and about reading, and her excitement clearly rubs off on Edmunds students!

And – of course – the ever present question about a possible sequel or movie, because students desperately wanted to know what happened to Clam, a character in the book, to which Elizabeth responded, “Well, what do you think?”

Elizabeth shared just a hint of her work in progress, and then students did the same – after some writing workshop time in which they worked on Protagonist, Antagonist, and Characteristics. One boy said that he thought the whole island could be the protagonist in the story! They sketched their stories, and developed the feeling or mood through description.

7th & 8th graders also had an opportunity to share their completed and in-progress Powerpoint presentations they had developed about the book. While some were more high-tech and others more traditional, they all followed a format for sharing the story summary, the characters, highlights, conflicts, and what resonated the most for them. All were creative, thoughtful, and truly impressed Elizabeth in their beautiful recapturing of her story.

A closing session allowed Elizabeth and the students of Edmunds to acknowledge that Martin was dealing with many emotions as he grew that summer on the Island of Beyond, about himself, about relationships and about what is possible – not so different from the young people growing up in Edmunds.

Principal Trudy Newcomb wrote in the school newsletter later that week, “Mrs. Atkinson was very appreciative of the time and thought students had put into their projects, and noted to me her overall enjoyment of her time in our school and how impressed she was with the students here. Her thoughts echoed my own, as I am very proud of the work and attitude of kindness the students here at our school show me every day.”

IRW is proud, too – of our author partners, the teachers and principals who partner with us, and the students who let us in to their wonderful, creative worlds!

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New-to-IRW author Elizabeth Atkinson visits Charlotte Elementary

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!

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From island to island: Anne Sibley O’Brien on North Haven and Vinalhaven

“Who here has ever been new? Who here has ever felt uncomfortable? How do we welcome someone new to our school, our community?” These are all questions that Anne Sibley O’Brien asks students after she introduces herself in Korean. Using her story as an American growing up in Korea in the 1960’s and 70’s, and through her talents as an illustrator and author, Annie shares ways in which we’re all connected and alike. When they heard her speak Korean, one student exclaimed, “You’re talking like you’re new here!”

On the island of North Haven, Anne showed students what it is like to live among Koreans in South Korea, what some of the implications are of living on a divided island (North and South Korea) and asked middle schoolers to imagine what it would be like to wake up one day and have your island completely broken into two homelands.

While reading together I’m New Here, students were able to notice things in the illustrations and understand the implications for how Fatima was able to slowly integrate into a new community through dress, activities, and more.

Middle schoolers had read Annie’s book A Path of Stars and talked about culture and heritage. A highlight was when Ms. Ann, the fourth grade teacher, shared the fact that they had been tracking the weather and studying and wondering through inquiry about effects of weather. This is represented on a bulletin board where they visually “wonder” in the LAKE, and chart what they “do know” in the POND.

Anne shared her No Excuses Art Journal with them, the daily journal she keeps in which she paints with watercolors, a color, a design, and the weather. They were in total harmony for the workshop!

Every child received their book in the traditional Korean manner from Annie – with two hands extended, a slight bow, and the greeting of “Are you in Peace?”

Annie also visited a group of ninth graders who were intrigued with Korea and her experience. They added onto the brainstorm map that students had previously done with Annie about what they know about North (Chosun) and South (Han Guk) Korea. Though they had some basic knowledge of Korea, everyone agreed that hearing about it from Annie made it more realistic, especially those older students that had read In the Shadow of the Sun.

Later that day, after a quick trip by boat over the channel, Vinalhaven teachers hosted Annie for a wonderful potluck supper. They told her all about what their students had done in preparation for her visit! In addition to the above books, Annie also worked with the 3, 4th and 5th graders and her graphic novel The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea.

They had watched the American Robin Hood movie so were familiar with the premise of the Robin Hood story. During an art demonstration, Annie guided them through creating their own dragon and helped them to understand some of the symbols embedded in the artwork. Students were very knowledgeable about dialogue boxes, clouds of thought, and the noises that show up throughout a story to develop a real sense of place and situation.

Students wanted to know Annie’s favorite books growing up, and also particular things about Korea like what kind of food do they eat there? Annie also shared some of her treasures from Korea with the older students and they were curious to know why she wrote a book about North Korea if she lived in South Korea. They also dissected the characters with Annie and had lots of reflective impressions of why she developed some of the situations and characters the way she did in In the Shadow of the Sun. They could all agree that there are times when you feel nervous or not very confident.

The visit ended full of energy as they watched a Kpop video to get a sense of what some of their North & South Korean peers listen to for music.

Island to island – Korea to Peaks (where Annie lives) to North Haven and Vinalhaven – cultures and communities coalesced in an exciting way!

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MDIRSS 7th Grade Read brings together students from seven local schools

All 120 seventh graders from seven Mount Desert Regional School System (MDIRSS) schools came together Oct. 20 for Island Readers & Writers’s 7th Grade Read. Students from Connors Emerson in Bar Harbor, Pemetic Elementary in Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Elementary in Northeast Harbor, Trenton Elementary, Tremont Elementary, Swan’s Island, and Cranberry Isles converged at Camp Beech Cliff for a morning filled with activities based around the Newbery Honor-winning book, Wolf Hollow.

Wolf Hollow author Lauren Wolk was on hand to speak about her inspiration for the novel, answer questions, and listen in on small discussion groups in which students from various schools opened up about their favorite parts of the story. An icebreaker activity warmed up students by urging them to find others who had the same favorite childhood book, or the same comfort food, to form small affinity groups.

A Four Corners activity asked them to respond to some charged questions, and decide by using their feet to move to different corners of the room based on where they were on the scale of “agreement” to issues such as, “Gossip being a productive form of communication,” and “First Impressions are True.” Both were issues Lauren dealt with in the book.

The middle-grade novel tells the coming-of-age story of Annabelle, a 12-year-old girl growing up in rural Pennsylvania during World War II. It has received international praise and has drawn comparisons to Harper Lee’s classic bildungsroman, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Wolk noted that the story was inspired by her mother’s own experiences growing up and told students, “the things you are doing right now are shaping who you will be and may someday make it into a book of its own,” said the author. “You are in the middle of your own coming-of-age story.”

Wolk suggested that the group write their own stories and take note of “the ordinary that can become extraordinary.” The author also urged each student to find his or her voice, much like Annabelle did in the story.

“You may not feel like you have much power at 12-years-old,” said Wolk. “But it matters very much what you think and what you say. You have enormous power. Use your voice and use the tools you have at your disposal. You have individual power and you also have power as a generation.”

Many students created book trailers, similar to movie trailers, and presented them to their peers and to Wolk, who was impressed by the students’ skills.

Lauren’s wisdom continued to impress facilitators, IRW staff, and MDIRSS students. Here are some other notable quotes from the morning:
– “You’re in the middle of your own coming-of-age story.”
– “The things that bind us together do not change. Listen carefully to the echoes between generations and cultures.”
– “Reading is a thread that wound around our family and pulled it tight.”

Thirteen volunteers from different corners of the community, including Ephron Catlin, Dianne Clendaniel, Amanda Crafts, Autumn Demaine, Carrie Eason, Jean Evans, David Evans, Jill Higgins, Lisa Horsch-Clark, Dencie McEnroe, Margie Phelps, Tony Preston-Schreck and Mark Woida, led small group discussions based on aspects of Wolf Hollow, which included the themes and topics of bullying, lying, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

IRW Program Director Ruth Feldman said, “The connection that the students made with the book and with Lauren is what IRW strives for in all of our visits; engagement with the book from many perspectives. The event is unique in that it brings together all seventh graders from MDIRSS to share and get to know one another, develop their own voice and ideas through facilitated, interactive exercises.”

Thank you to everyone who helped to make it a hearty success and a day to remember! We can’t wait until next year.

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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!