Island Readers & Writers Blog

Ferry over to Islesboro with Cynthia Lord!

Excitement was palpable from the moment Ruth from IRW and Cynthia Lord got off the ferry and approached Islesboro Central School. Gr K-1 had made some race cars, a la Hot Rod Hamster, using a 3D printer! They test drove them for us; one powered by air from a balloon, and the other by a mouse trap design.

Grades 2-3 were familiar with her Shelter Pet Squad series and had built Ferret habitats based on her most recent book in the series, Merlin. They were eager for the special treat of hearing a Hot Rod Hamster reading as well!

Two of Cindy’s books were chosen to read at the 4/5th grade level, Touch Blue and Half a Chance. Students had conducted some impressive research related to both books. Touch Blue, and the idea of school closures due to low populations, inspired oral history interviews and a visual mapping of the many schools that once existed on Islesboro. Half a Chance and its photo contest theme led the students to capture some of their own photography images according to some of the themes, such as “Holding on,” or “At the Shore.”

They were full of ideas and questions for Cindy during workshops: when she started writing, where she gets her ideas, how many pets she’d fostered, how long does it take to write a book, and more.

Cindy left them with the notion that sometimes as a writer you need to reach outside yourself to delve into other experiences. Principal Heather Knight observed that it is so valuable for students to hear directly from Cindy about the editing process, and to understand that feedback is not personal and is critical for kids to understand the importance of crafting their work to the best possible quality. Islesboro kids will definitely be doing that as they continue to record and document community elders and make connections to the themes in Touch Blue and Half a Chance. Cindy also shared info about her next two books to be published!

For more photos from the school visit to Islesboro, check out our Facebook photo album.

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Poet Guy Paul Janeczko takes word power to Whiting and Machiasport

Paul Janeczko is a poet, a poet anthologist, a writer, and a collector of poems! Last week, IRW brought Paul to Whiting Village School and Fort O’Brien School in Machiasport to share his love of words and poetry with students in Washington County.

At Whiting, Stephanie Higgins’s Grade 1-4 group had been working on poetry for a few weeks using Paul’s poetry anthology, Firefly July. Grade 5-8 worked with Scott Johnson, their teacher/principal, on “literature through the ages” to prepare for reading Paul’s collection, The Death of a Hat.

The younger grades prepared a Narrative Poetry Collection, as well as a full array of Spring Poems – short poems complemented by beautiful artwork  (fun, colorful, and festive!). They were full of questions, such as: When did you first ever write a poem? What was the first poem you ever wrote?

Paul shared that he first started writing postcards to send away for all of the free stuff companies used to offer, and just writing, sending stuff out to the world, and getting a response inspired him to keep going. He admitted that he didn’t like school but was always a reader (he couldn’t get enough of the Hardy Boys – we had to explain who those characters were!).

Paul encouraged students to hear the rhythm, patterns, and melody of poems, while also reminding them that poems don’t always have to rhyme.

Despite all of the fun and play they had with Paul and poetry – he was very honest with them in saying, “ I will show you (today) what you (all) can do; IF you want to, and IF you practice!”

A lovely sign and lineup of poetry books welcomed Paul and IRW to Fort O’Brien School on May 9th. All students were familiar with the poems in Firefly July, and came with questions about poetry, writing, and Paul’s personal life. Kids always want to know if our author and illustrators have pets, and they giggled to hear about how his dog followed him around everywhere and how he identifies with Indiana Jones.

Students in first grade had written and illustrated their own poems about spring, modeling their project on the book. Students in grades 2-6 had conducted research on Machiasport and wrote Diamantes and Acrostics from their work. One young man orally shared a poem he had written and memorized about Minnesota!

Paul took 7th and 8th graders through a “personal inventory” activity to get them warmed up for writing. “If you had to suddenly leave your home, what one item would you want to retrieve? Why is it valuable to you?”

Another wonderful tour of poetry and words with the Poet Guy – Thank you, Whiting Village School and Fort O’Brien School, and thank you, Paul, for collaborating on such a successful couple of days celebrating poetry and creativity!

For more photos from Whiting Village School, check out this Facebook photo album.

For more photos from Fort O’Brien School in Machiasport, check out this Facebook photo album.

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Julia Alvarez virtually visits Narraguaguas Junior High

As part of IRW’s Food for Thought program, students at Narraguagus Junior High School enjoyed a virtual visit with author Julia Alvarez, hailed as one of the most influential Latina writers of our time. All seventh and eighth graders had read her novel, Return to Sender, that tells the story of a small New England dairy farm that must rely on the strength and contribution of a migrant Mexican family. In the story, they discover friendships and loyalty, and share their special customs.

Narraguagus students hail from five neighboring towns in Washington County. They had prepared thoughtful questions for Ms. Alvarez, and were able to ask some of them while interacting with her live via Skype.

Here are a couple examples from the Q&A session:

How long did it take to write this book? “All of my life…A story is like a pebble in my shoe.”

Why did you write about immigration? “I did not chose to write about immigration. I was more interested in the characters and their stories, not the abstraction. Things become more human.”

She also told students, “A writer is a writer all of the time. You gather information that you access later on.”

Julia introduced herself as a storyteller/medicine woman and shared how her experience of translating for local dairy farmers and their undocumented workers near her home in Vermont, and tutoring some of those kids, sprouted the idea for this story. Julia believes in the power of stories in helping us understand what is going on in our lives and the lives of those around us.

She talked about sustainable agriculture: “Take care of the land. Take care of the people. Nurture the soul.”

She inspired children: “What story is missing? The one that you’re going to write.”

She advised the brave: “Write to find things out.”

In preparation for the author visit, students made posters representing their own family background. Students discovered they came from all over; Mexico, Ireland, Scotland, Lithuania, France, Native American… “We are all immigrants,” was the theme. They also did reports on farming in Washington County – from blueberries to clams to maple syrup.

They had a Day of the Dead table set up that mirrored the custom described in the book to honor and memorialize someone dear who had passed away. Everyone throughout the school was encouraged to bring in a photo or item to display. Traditional rock skulls were painted and colorful skull pages were hung along the edge.

Since Ms. Alvarez had shared a virtual greeting before the visit, students created a video for her representing their community; the coast, forests and barrens of Washington County. They also included their school, surrounding areas and the migrant farmer housing that dots the side roads nearby. They learned a lot about Ms. Alvarez, the power of story, and most importantly, themselves.

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To the islands and beyond!

In his book Faraway Friends, Russ Cox’s characters declare, “To Jupiter and beyond!”

On April 25th and 26th, IRW went to the islands and beyond.

At North Haven on the 25th, Russ pulled props out of an envelope for 5th – 8th graders to use as prompts to get creative with their newly acquired sketchbooks, by incorporating their prompt object into their drawings. The 7th & 8th grade group requested a second session with him for after lunch since they were just getting warmed up in the morning!

The PreK group at the Waterman’s Center on the island had created their own helmets and a space ship complete with a drawbridge entry door! They were also very well practiced on the space countdown.

Kids had interesting questions for Russ, such as the 5th/6th grader who asked, “Have you ever used a rock to draw on another rock?”

A great first island visit day was topped off by an adventure by water, not spaceship, as Ruth, IRW program director, and Russ crossed the thoroughfare by water taxi to Vinalhaven.

A lovely potluck dinner with Vinalhaven elementary grade teachers awaited us, thanks to the hosting by long-time teacher/IRW supporter/Vinalhaven’s school site coordinator Sue Dempster.

Russ viewed students’ projects based on his book, including PreK and kindergarteners’ paper rocket ships and “shape ships,” 3D rockets ships, rocket ship collages and accompanying stories (which first graders read to us out loud).

The highlight of the day was an epic egg drop; all elementary students were partnered across grades and given an identical kit of materials with which to build a safe container for their egg to be dropped. They had to graphically design the “harness,” describe it, and write a story about it. Amidst shrieks of excitement and disappointed “aw”s in unison, the surviving eggs – dropped from a height of 25+ feet – were celebrated and cheered on.

During an afternoon workshop with Grades 3 – 5, students asked Russ engaging questions, such as, “When did you make your first project?” “Did you go to art school?” and “How long does it take to write a book?” (Answers: About one year old, yes, four years and seventeen versions).

Thank you, North Haven and Vinalhaven, for welcoming us to your schools and being dear (and not-so-faraway) friends to our team and authors!

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Grades 7-8 students from three schools virtually visit with Gary Schmidt

During a virtual visit with Edmunds, Pembroke and Charlotte 7th and 8th graders, Gary Schmidt, author of Okay for Now, shared “the story behind the story.” He recounted how a library he was familiar with in Flint, MI, was running into financial hardships and began selling off their John J. Audubon prints (prominent in the novel).
He shared history of the prints and some history of the U.S. which contributed to the pieces of the story as it unfolded in Okay for Now. With candor and deep interest, the students, teachers, and Gary exchanged heartfelt reactions about the characters and their circumstances. They were particularly interested in knowing the outcome of characters and were pleased to hear that the same protagonists show up in Orbiting Jupiter, a recent novel, and that they show up in an upcoming book as well.
Students got a sneak peek when Gary shared some visuals and the writing/illustrating process with them regarding his picture book to be published about Sojourner Truth. Gary shared that there are two general plots in the world: a stranger comes to town, or someone leaves town. Either way, Gary says that you get to reinvent yourself.
Students had lots of questions regarding the characters, those they liked and related to, and those they hated (Doug’s mean father), and asked about how true any of the circumstances were in the story.
Ultimately, they loved comments about writing like this one: “ inspiration is just a bunch of hooey – sit your butt down and you just do it!”
We’re so glad that Gary does, and that he’s always willing to guide young writers and inspire them to write it out!

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Looking Up with Annette LeBlanc Cate

Bird watching was the name of the game in Pembroke and Edmunds last week when Island Readers and Writers brought author/illustrator Annette LeBlanc Cate and her book, Look Up! Bird-watching in Your Own Backyard, to the region. First up, IRW and Annette visited students in Grades PreK – 6 at Pembroke Elementary School. Annette gave a presentation to the whole school on her journey as an artist and her career, all illustrated via sketches on a large sketchpad, created specifically for this visit. Annette’s latest publication is a bird-watching guide for children.

Bird watching might not be what you think it is – as one young man in the 5th/6th grade group shared with Annette: “Before I read your book, I thought that bird watching was just boring. But since I’ve read your book, I’ve found that bird watching is actually really cool.”

The 5th and 6th graders each researched a Maine bird and shared their work with Annette who engaged them in conversation, drawing out their knowledge and pointing out new fun facts.

Observation skills became very important when the first and second graders created a list of their “neighborhood birds.” And, due to rainy weather that kept us all inside, drawing on their memories was critical!

That evening, the school hosted (for the second year in a row) a Literacy Night for students and parents, and IRW brought Annette along!

Parents and kids were on the bleachers as we gave a brief overview of IRW and highlighted some of the recent activities at Pembroke, including the great day we’d just had with Annette.
We also reiterated what parents can do with their kids before and after an author visit – and the fact that we LOVE to have parent volunteers! We displayed books for parents to look at while numerous other activities were in full swing: bookmark making, a raffle, and stamping projects.
The clouds gave us a break from the rain during our next day at Edmunds Consolidated School. We started off with a full-school assembly again, then journeyed outside for a looking and listening walk with students in Grades PreK – 2. They heard chickadees (and spotted one, too!), and also watched two bald eagles circling overhead. In response to Annette’s directions to be very quiet (so as not so spook the birds away), some students walked on their tiptoes and spoke in whispers. Most students had story after story to tell of all the birds they’d recently seen, in their neighborhoods and around the playground.
The next group of students were in third and fourth grade. We ventured outside, and Annette impressed them with her impeccable seagull call. They proudly proclaimed, “You’re one of us now!” to her, and practiced their own bird calls as well. Once we came back into the school library, Annette showed them sketches of birds she’d seen in the last couple days since she’d been in Maine.
They drew seagulls all over a large sheet of paper and gave it to Annette, and were very happy to take group shots when they all practiced their calls one last time together.
The last group comprised fifth and sixth grade students who participated in a sketchbook workshop with Annette. She started out by showing them a stack of her sketchbooks from over the years. She pointed to a stick she’d sketched years before and said, “I remember that stick, because I paid such close attention to it while I was drawing it.”
In addition to Annette’s book Look Up!, each fifth and sixth grade student received a fresh sketchbook to fill with their own creations.
Once outside, it was nearly impossible to keep the inspiration from overtaking us all! Students drew trees, lichen on stumps, the school bus, and each other! Annette guided them in looking at the subject when sketching, not sketching from conceptual knowledge of the subject (Should you just draw an oval for the face? Is the subject’s face actually an oval shape?)
We discovered, we tried new things, we asked questions, and everybody learned something (IRW team included!), especially “look up!” and “Don’t forget to listen!”

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Young Writer’s Workshops at Princeton and Sipayik

“Everyone has a story” became the mantra during the three-day Young Writer’s Workshop for 7th and 8th graders at Princeton Elementary, when author Genevieve (G.A.) Morgan, author of the Five Stones Trilogy, guided students in their own writing journey. The focus was the classic, centuries-old Hero’s Journey with its various stages of challenge and revelation.

To warm up their creative juices, and begin to think about their own stories and where their “daylights” might take them, students took Genevieve’s “Find Your Tribe” quiz, based on the daylight powers of Ayda, the island we are introduced to in The Fog of Forgetting (first in the Five Stones Trilogy). Genevieve also gave them prompts for using everyday, ordinary objects as portals that lead to extraordinary transformations.

Genevieve would masterfully switch gears from focused writing prompts to a quick spontaneous game of “Telephone” where, in lightning-round fashion, a story is created one word at a time at a rapid-fire pace. When things got too nonsensical, Genevieve reminded them, “Your job as the writer is to make it make sense.” Somehow, a cohesive story would unfold with surprising story lines.

From instructions on how to operate a remote controlled car to Fan Fiction and even stories about hunting, students discovered that each one of them had a story to tell and that writing was more fun than they anticipated (or had ever experienced). They also learned techniques for giving critical and thoughtful feedback.

Not only were words woven during the course of the three days, students also created a beautiful weaving on an Earth Loom to represent the various attributes of the tribes of Aydan and the journey of the Young Writer’s Workshop. In the end, the trust built between Genevieve and some of the students over the three days culminated in hugs and tears upon departure. We’re confident their s/hero’s journey will continue as they develop and refine their stories.

Seventh grade ELA teacher Kaylee Disher enjoyed “the writing prompts and the less ‘formal’ approach to instruction.” Kaylee said, “Gen was awesome with the kids. They were all so taken with her.”

According to Ms. Cochran-Barnes, unlikely students really blossomed with the right support and motivation and wrote pages.

Many students commented that they were surprised that they were not that bad of a writer, or how much the workshop helped their writing, and just how much it takes to write a story. They said the most valuable things they wanted to remember from their experiences were that they’ll always have supporters, that writing is the base of many things, and to never give up.

IRW then brought Genevieve to Beatrice Rafferty Elementary School at Sipayik for a one-day Young Writer’s Workshop. Students learned that part of the journey is, according to Genevieve, “finding people who believe in you and who can be your mentor, your Obi Wan Kenobi.” They also discovered that “Great writing comes from a place of self-knowledge. Knowing what you like helps you write.”

Both students and teachers learned how normal, everyday objects can become fantastic writing prompts. They were tasked with making lists of adjectives to go with garbage, beach, a pot of soup, a movie theater, boots, and sky. By describing an object, protagonist, and action, a story begins to take shape.

Teachers Sarah Donahe and Rhonda Stevens both commented on the confidence that the students began to have in themselves and the kids’ laughter and smiles they exhibited while creating!

Throughout the Young Writers Workshop days, Genevieve read aloud from her own Five Stones trilogy, recited popular song lyrics to show how stories are told everywhere, and shared some classic hero fables as recommendations for further reading. At both schools, students received signed books, everyone signed the YWW poster, and there were great celebrations and sharing of stories. Young writers in Princeton and Sipayik had a rich experience that took them on a writing journey and each, in their own way, found their hero’s voice.

For more photos from Princeton, check out our Facebook photo album, and check out this album for more photos from Beatrice Rafferty.

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Calef Brown comes to town – and islands, too!

Calef Brown began his spring IRW tour with a rousing visit to Conners Emerson Elementary School on Mount Desert Island. Three workshops with kindergarteners were filled with giggles, creativity, and lots of word play. Calef shared his own work and students got to imagine, write, and draw their own combination creatures. They knew about opposites and similes, and helped him to develop snappy names for strange beings that they brought to life on paper.

The upper grades took advantage of Calef’s visit and enjoyed his informal presentations for 5th – 8th graders during their lunch break. In a relaxed setting, he shared examples of some of his own professional marketing work, and samples of his RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) student assignments. He got them thinking about how to create a message and story with visuals. They were engaged and interested in the RISD students’ projects and how they used graphics to relay thoughts.

Next, Calef and IRW popped over to Trenton Elementary School to visit with students in Grades K – 2.

They discovered that silliness is not just for kids! When Calef is in the room, imaginations run wild and combo monsters like dragon-rhino-fish come to life. One first grade boy was so excited to meet Calef that he declared – “I write books!” – upon entering the library.

The next day, Calef, IRW, and the three students and teacher from Frenchboro School all boarded a ferry for Great Cranberry Island, where they visited Longfellow School’s wonderful group of students from both Cranberry Islands. Monhegan School and Cliff Island School also virtually participated in the day through a Zoom video conference. Though it was a tech-learning experience, it was an overall success and helped connect students far south of the Cranberry Islands with over a dozen other island students reading the book.

Calef gave a presentation on rhyming, portmanteau, word mash ups and mixed up combination creatures. He then worked with youngers, in the room and then virtually, on their very own creature combinations, like a dorse (door-horse), bunnyox, and cheetahare.

Older students got to see some of Calef’s portfolio and how he develops messages for clients through his visual work. They took that inspiration and came up with some interesting interpretations of their own for examples of messaging that were important to them about the environment, city vs. country life, etc.

One final circle for the day gave everyone a chance to share their words and artwork and for Calef to give feedback on what he saw in their work. They shared via ZOOM the artwork and poems they developed on Cliff and Monhegan including a RabbitTiger, complete in orange and black lettering (to simulate tiger stripes).

When we asked the students – what are you excited about? –  they said: Writing poetry, Drawing, About Calef, Drawing animals, Mash ups, “I actually drew a person successfully!!” and “Making a first draft and developing an idea.”

It was great to convene these four schools and its always great to work with Calef and his whimsical, meaningful and thoughtful art and writing. Who knows where we’ll end up next?

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Ellen Potter, Deer Isle – Stonington, and the Creative Writing Club

From the welcome sign at the entrance to the final Creative Writing Club meeting after school, Deer Isle – Stonington Elementary School was gracious, excited, and engaging with author Ellen Potter.

Ellen brought her Author Tool Box to an all-school presentation complete with “Ellen’s Brain” – a bag of ideas and symbols of surprise and suspense that she draws upon to create her characters and stories.

During several workshops with 3rd and 4th grades, students let their creativity wander and shared some fun and funny stories that they developed on the spot. All received a signed copy of Olivia Kidney so they could read and imagine all of Olivia’s escapades in her magical apartment building and world.

Ms. Staples the librarian was a great hostess and we were able to use the wonderful DISES library as homebase for all workshops. She hosts a Creative Writing club after school,  and they happen to be using Ellen’s book that she coauthored, Spilling Ink, as a young writer’s resource. The participants did some writing warm up exercises and discussed their interests and challenges in writing with Ellen.

There was even enough time for Ellen to visit briefly with the younger grades K- 2. She read aloud from her Piper Green series which some of them had already read with their teachers. There were many hugs and “I Love You, Ellen!” from those students.

All in all a good day and, like Piper Green, Ellen then left the island for adventures elsewhere! Stay tuned – we’ll be going to more schools with Ellen this fall.

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Ice Harbor Mittens at SWHPL and on Swan’s Island

Last week, master knitter, folklorist, and author Robin Orm Hansen started off her local visit with a Women’s History Month event at the Southwest Harbor Public Library, where she met with others of her tribe of knitting aficionados to talk about mittens, mittens, mittens – Fishermen’s mittens, mittens from Norway, mittens from Newfoundland, and much more!

Together they shared stories, traditions, and beautiful examples of intricate knitting patterns. One local woman showed mittens with tassels that her family sends her from her home country of Norway every winter. Another local woman displayed a case of dozens upon dozens of handmade mittens for dolls. They all had a wealth of knowledge, experiences, and stories to share!

The next day, Robin and IRW program director Ruth Feldman headed out to Swan’s Island Elementary School, where students had read Robin’s book, Ice Harbor Mittens, which tells the tale of a young sternman lost in the fog at sea who discovers the compass pattern on his mittens actually helps him find his way home.

Most of the students had brought in a handmade pair of mittens to show. During grade level workshops, students drew mitten designs, learned how to make rope, and mastered finger knitting.

They also heard from Robin about turning fact into fiction and had some great ideas about how they could evolve the story from their handmade rope into a fantastical tale.

By the end of the day, many students had yarn in their hands, and they didn’t want to stop finger knitting! For more photos from a great day, visit our photo album.

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