Island Readers & Writers Blog

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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Mary Cerullo and “City Fish, Country Fish” at Beals, Jonesport, and Pemetic

IRW kicked off our spring program tour at Beals Elementary with science writer and curiosity facilitator, Mary Cerullo. As we arrived to set up, the students were busy bringing their wonderful projects into the gym for display. Their excitement and joy for sharing was palpable. The whole school got involved in a local beach cleanup and turned their found trash into beautiful sea creature sculptures, demonstrating both the need for education on proper disposal and the creative use of discarded materials. The youngest students were doing their part with posters proclaiming, “Don’t throw trash in the ocean!”

Besides the sculptures, the kids had conducted tons of inquiry-based research on a variety of fish, discovering the differences of “City Fish” and “Country Fish.”

In her workshops, Mary got everyone thinking like scientists and asking good questions:
“What would you ask a sea creature?”
“I want to ask a dolphin, ‘Why do you rescue humans?’” (2nd grader)
“What would you ask an underwater photographer?”
“How scary is it being that close to a shark?” (5/6th grader)

Students at Beals have been visiting the Downeast Institute (DEI) every week researching how clams grow in various substrates. Mary was very impressed and told them they were doing “real science.” She even got to see their work on a tour of the DEI facility afterward.

We’re looking forward to hearing the results of the 7th/8th grade acidification experiment on local shells. Will their results help inform their substrate testing at DEI?

At Jonesport Elementary School on March 2, our visit coincided with, “Read Across America Day.” Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch! We saw many other Dr. Seuss characters throughout the day, including several Cat in the Hats, a red fish and a blue fish and a few Loraxes. It made for a very colorful audience during the all-school presentation!

When a photo came up onscreen of a coral related to sea anemones, one youngster asked, “Is it a sunflower under the water?” Another young man knew that a lionfish was venomous. In a fishing community like Jonesport, it’s not surprising to find that many of them have picked up a bloodworm or could easily identify cod and flounder. Mary delighted in their knowledge.

Third through sixth graders were wide eyed listening to Mary’s tales of octopi encounters. Apparently, they can be just as clever and cantankerous as ‘Hank’ in Finding Dory! Mary shared many cool facts with these kids. She then asked them while signing their books, “What cool fact will you share with your parents when you get home?” They certainly were absorbing the information because they answered with:
“That they can change to be bumpy.”
“That they can lay at least 10,000 eggs!”
“That the blue ringed ones are poisonous.”
“That they get bored.”
And one young man pointed out that their ink defense is, “better than pepper spray.”

Artwork and ocean-related projects decked the hallway walls, and students had participated in serious discussions about ocean pollution in their community and what they could do about it. With photos of a local wharf displaying different trash, the kids did an “I Spy” activity asking: What doesn’t belong? How did it get there? What can we do about it?

Their action steps included creating educational posters to persuade local fishermen and women to dispose of their boat trash properly.

The upper grades also created a mural inspired by “City Fish, Country Fish,” that adorned the wall of their classroom. Along the edges of the mural were index card facts about the fish depicted as well as nutritional facts and recipes. Adorned in chef’s hats they served up a stunning display of taste testers for Mary and the IRW crew that included smoked salmon, baked stuffed haddock, sardines in mustard, bacon wrapped scallops and more. It was delicious!

The next day at Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor, Mary was warmly greeted by students in the library. The library’s bulletin board was decorated with fish artwork, venn diagrams related to city fish and country fish, and compare and contrast projects.

Students in Grades K – 2 participated in workshops with Mary, and it seemed they had as much to tell Mary about the ocean and its creatures as she had to tell them!

Not only were the students so impressively knowledgeable, but the teachers really helped them make the connections between what they were learning about researching and writing from their teachers in the classroom and what Mary, as the real live author, did in creating her books. Carol, the kindergarten teacher,  reminds her students that “Non-Fiction = Non Fake.” They even knew about Endpapers & Vignettes!
The kindergarten students also had great alternate names for Mary’s revised edition of City Fish, Country Fish:
“How to Explore the Deep”
“Looking Under the Sea”
“Caretakers of the Ocean”
We are so grateful to Mary Cerullo and our incredible school partners (administration, teachers, site coordinators, and students!) for helping us create such memorable book-based experiences!

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The Final Stops of the Some Writer! Tour: Deer Isle – Stonington and Tremont

In November, Melissa Sweet wrapped up her Some Writer! Tour with stops on Deer Isle – Stonington and Tremont.

A week before Melissa visited these Deer Isle and Stonington, the Stonington Library held a discussion of E.B. White’s book, Trumpet of the Swan. They also hosted Melissa for an author presentation, book sale, and signing the night before her visit to the elementary school.

At the elementary school, Melissa gave an author presentation to the whole school, then led limerick writing workshops with students in Grades 5-6.

The community extended their programming the weekend after Melissa’s visit with a performance of Charlotte’s Web at the Reach Performing Arts Center and “E.B. White Day” at the Stonington Opera House, which included family-friendly activities and a screening of the 1973 film Charlotte’s Web.

At Tremont Consolidated School, students had completely immersed themselves into the worlds of Melissa Sweet and E.B. White. The Bass Harbor Memorial Library sent over a visiting naturalist to talk about spiders (like Charlotte) with students in Grades K-2. First graders created farm animals paintings, and young students also constructed farm collages.

Second graders read “Some Pig” and excerpts from Charlotte’s Web and Some Writer! with a particular focus on the importance of word choice for writers. Third graders used Some Writer! and other books to help them write realistic fiction, while fourth graders worked on personal narratives.

Students in older grades also created SOME ART! We were all overwhelmed by the incredible work and love put into their paintings and collages. One student named Cedar even gifted his painting of a duck to Melissa Sweet, after she had spotted it while it was displayed at the Bass Harbor Memorial Library.

The second grade teacher said, “What an extraordinary opportunity for our students. I especially loved that Melissa Sweet’s book offered so much to so many levels of readers…from kindergarten to adult!”

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Music man Stephen Costanza Downeast at Beals and Jonesport


IRW was thrilled to team up again with author/illustrator/musician Stephen Costanza! In November, we brought him to Beals and Jonesport Elementary Schools, where he offered a full-school presentation and workshops with students in Grades PreK – 2. Students in all grades at both schools fully immersed themselves in Stephen’s book, Vivaldi and the Invisible Orchestra, prior to his visit to the school.


For example, students at Beals listened to Vivaldi’s music, wrote poems, made masks, created Powerpoint presentations on the book’s setting in Venice, and also constructed mobiles based on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, among other projects and activities.


When Steve visited, art and writing projects covered the hallway walls. Students performed a skit where each grade cluster represented a season; each cluster read poems they had written while other students decorated a tree with seasonally appropriate items. It all concluded with a hilarious scene starring Beals Elementary staff!


*We are very grateful for the group of PTO parents that helped out during the day; we love having parents’ involvement during our school visits, and always welcome the helping hands!*


One middle school student said that Steve’s visit made them think “how grateful I am that people write books for children and adults to enjoy.”


The next day Stephen hopped on over to Jonesport Elementary School. Students had already learned about instruments, the vocabulary in Vivaldi and the Invisible Orchestra, the parts of an orchestra, music and the emotions, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and more, based on their grade level.


All the younger students at both schools received copies of Vivaldi and the Invisible Orchestra. One of the students at Jonesport said, “I’m going to take my book home and read it to my stuffed animals. And then I’m going to read it again, and again and again all night long.”


This student wasn’t the only one “jazzed” after a great day! Stephen said that he loved visiting these two amazing schools and such visits keep him inspired.


Next up at Jonesport and Beals – Mary Cerullo in Spring 2017!

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Princeton and Beatrice Rafferty welcome new-to-IRW author and illustrator Russ Cox

IRW was thrilled to welcome Russ Cox to our roster of authors and illustrators, and he had incredible first visits to Princeton Elementary School and Beatrice Rafferty School at Sipayik on November 9 and 10.

Upon arrival at Princeton Elementary, Principal Charity Williams and IRW’s site coordinator Jodi Deacon welcomed us and led us to the gym, where 7th and 8th grade students played a Faraway Friends book trailer for Russ and performed a short skit. The students had made spaceships and a rocket large enough for Russ to fit inside.
Russ led writing and illustration workshops (or read-alouds) with all grades. When first and second graders came into their workshop, they were wearing cardboard box helmets! Fifth and sixth graders had studied planets, created posters, and written stories about going to Jupiter (like Sheldon hopes to do in Faraway Friends). One student in the third-fourth grade group said, “I want to be an author now. This just made my whole day!”

During lunch, ELA students presented six-word stories about Faraway Friends using Google Slides.

All in all, children were excited to have Russ at their school, to have his guidance during illustrating workshops, and to look through the numerous sketchbooks he brought that document his own illustrating process.

Three students in the Gr. 7/8 group said after Russ’s visit that it had made them want to “fill up my sketchbook,” “draw all my thoughts out on a sketchbook,” and “write books and draw more.”

“Welcome Russ Cox and IRW!” Such a friendly greeting posted to the wall the next day at Beatrice Rafferty School in Sipayik. Younger students who attended Russ’s presentation and workshops wore space helmets made out of paper bags, and so did Russ, when he read his story!

In the hallway, two bulletin boards proudly displayed photos of each student wearing their paper bag helmets, too. Their teacher said, “I loved that he put on his helmet while reading to the children! They loved that, especially because they were wearing theirs!”

As the younger students participated in an illustration workshop with Russ, we overheard a truly moving exchange between two students. After one said, “I can’t do this,” his friend replied, “Yes, you can – Don’t give up on yourself, man.”

After Russ’s visit, some classes are extending their learning by reading more books that Russ has illustrated, and over 20 students said on surveys that the visit inspired them to draw, draw MORE, and become illustrators. That’s what we love to hear!

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Milbridge students welcome Alexandra Hinrichs


Since Milbridge Elementary is so great at helping IRW launch new books (Cindy Lord’s A Handful of Stars), we thought it only fitting to have Milbridge help launch a new-to-IRW author, Alexandra Hinrichs. Alex shared her first book, Thérèse Makes a Tapestry, on November 7th with K-6 students. The story depicts  a young girl in 17-century France whose family is connected to the creation of France’s finest tapestries – from wool to finished product!


Students had created lots of different weavings with yarn, paper, traditional pot holder looms, and even tried out the local craft of fish-net weaving.  They invited the local group known as the Wednesday Spinners to come in and show them wool roving and how to spin, and to talk about dyeing and weaving. They even captured the visit in photos and had them hanging in the hallways when Alex visited!


Upper grade students wrote stories and then illustrated what their tapestry would look like based on the story. Younger students made their own books filled with drawings of the various terms used and new vocabulary; weaving, wool, tapestry, and even castle! (Do you know what castle means?)


Even the science and math teacher used the occasion and “wove” the weaving theme into lessons by using the even/odd combinations of numbers and warp and weft of patterns.


During Alex’s all school presentation students noted that “Books help to grow your imagination.” Just what we think at IRW!


In workshops, kids also worked on character development through an interview activity with Alex.


Thanks, Milbridge, for another terrific “first!”


* Too late to make it onto our Thérèse Makes a Tapestry worksheets, we stumbled upon a terrific wool related book called Woolbur. Thanks to our staunch supporter – Kate at Southwest Harbor Public Library – for sharing it with us! It is a charming read and one that Milbridge and other kids of all ages will appreciate.

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Some Writer Tour stops on Swan’s Island and Great Cranberry Island


The third stop of the Some Writer! Tour with Melissa Sweet involved a ferry trip over from Bass Harbor to Swan’s Island.

Melissa’s presentation at the Swan’s library brought together half a dozen community members and the students from the elementary school. Student projects adorned the library’s walls, such as spider webs and paper mache spiders. A local artist also painted a wall-size barnyard! In the far back room was a wonderful antique typewriter display where kids could write their own letters and stories, just like E.B. White himself.


Melissa shared how the trajectory of E.B. White’s stories for children encompassed, as he himself said, the quest for beauty (Stuart Little), the story of friendship and love & death in Charlotte’s Web and, in Trumpet of the Swan, a love story on many levels: father & son (human & swan,) and a true love story between Louie & Serena.


Workshops at school covered fanciful limericks – the style of writing that the White family enjoyed around the dinner table. Other students were working on researching and developing their own biography stories, so Melissa worked with them on exploring how best to research and represent someone else’s life.


The older students brought many great questions to Melissa during their workshop like, Why all of the eggs in the collages? (E.B. White loved eggs, all kinds), When did E.B. White start writing? (Very young, but published stories in his twenties), and What did E.B. like to do? (be outdoors, bicycles, liked words – believed in freedom to do, go wherever you want).


Ultimately, Melissa shared that what is at the heart of a biography is finding out: what created the defining moment – what made them the person they became?


Frenchboro teacher Jan Keiper, her three students and grandmother chaperone joined the group at Big Cranberry’s newly re-opened Longfellow school to welcome Melissa to their island community. (Thanks to the Sea Coast Mission’s Sunbeam for helping with Frenchboro travel and lodging!)


The entire day’s event took place at the school with the public invited to the morning presentation. There was lots of excitement since the visit brought together school, library, community, and homeschoolers from the islands.


There were Melissa Sweet books out on display and manual typewriters set up in the school for students to use. After some book sales and signing for the public, workshops began for students. Older students had looked at the different beginnings of Charlotte’s Web and ways in which you could tell a story.


Together with Melissa, they created limericks and shared their fanciful words. Younger students got a reading of Melissa’s book Listen to our World, while middle grade students worked on collages inspired by Melissa’s style of artwork throughout many of her books.


After many magazines, scissors, and paste had been cleaned up, the closing circle led by teachers Miss Lauren and Miss Audrey had the students sharing their collages, why they chose to include certain pictures in their piece, and what others saw in the collages about the artist. As Longfellow student Rubye shared, she picked her photos because “ They are just so me!”


A lightening round of reactions from the students about the day ended the circle and included words like, Fun, Full of Excitement, True, Friends, Spectacular, Sound (Typewriter), Radiant, Some Day!

Not a bad way to describe another successful stop on the Some Writer Tour!

Many more photos for both Swan’s Island and Great Cranberry Island trips are available on IRW’s Facebook page.

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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.

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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!

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