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Fall 2012 Newsletter

 IRW Fall 2012 Newsletter – Click on the photo to see the newsletter as it was mailed, or scroll down to read each of  the articles individually.



A Note from Executive Director Jan Coates

It’s been a spectacular autumn here in coastal Maine, and that’s nothing to do with the foliage. Here at Island Readers & Writers, the summer and fall of 2012 have truly proved to be the best of times.

We had a very successful annual meeting in August. Thanks go to our generous hosts Tom and Annie Flournoy, author Chris Van Dusen, artist Rebekah Raye, and IRW colleagues Michelle Finn and Linda Uberseder.

The memories of that day were still fresh as we got busy on our fall schedule. Already, the kids at Pemetic Elementary School have enjoyed a visit from Cynthia Lord; IRW will be introducing her to more schoolchildren in Maine before the year is out. Hot on the literary heels of Cynthia, our old friend Kathryn Lasky visited Swans Island with IRW, and all the kids there got copies of The Capture, the first book in her popular “Guardians of Ga’Hoole” series. Poet Paul Janeczko and author-illustrator Chris Van Dusen are set for school visits later this year.

Meanwhile, we’re preparing to launch our Literary Links to Science program in schools Downeast; and Friends Over Books is transitioning into a pilot program for libraries throughout Maine. Oh yes, we’re busy here at IRW, but never too busy to hear from you.

We welcome your comments, ideas, donations and questions.

Very best,

Jan Coates



New Endeavor: Literary Links to Science

IRW is linking literature and the laboratory for some of the youngest schoolchildren in Downeast Maine, with the help of scientist Dr. Karen James and volunteer Linda Uberseder.

Literary Links to Science is a new program for kids in kindergarten through second grade.

“It’s a fantastic idea,” says Karen, who works at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory. “It makes a lot of sense to bring natural history and biology to kids so young because it’s something they’re already interested in…collecting rocks and shells and bugs and things. Kids just gravitate toward that kind of thing.”

She is creating hands-on activities for a curriculum developed by Linda, a retired teacher and principal, who believes, “Children have a natural curiosity about science. They want to know more; they want to learn more. If you can feed that and keep them excited about it, it’s something they’ll retain longer.”

That’s the whole idea behind Literary Links to Science. “This is to link some fun children’s books to some basic scientific principles,” says Karen, who will work with the children at their schools, taking them outside to do real field work and taking them into the world of science with experiments she creates.

“I’m excited to see how they respond to Karen…she’s a real scientist and they’ll see that hey, maybe this is a possibility for them,” says Michelle Finn, who is leading IRW’s inland island expansion.

There will be programs on Trees, Swirls in Nature, and Tide Pools. Students will each get a picture book courtesy of IRW related to the topic, and teachers will get a series of books, a video introducing the program and suggested lesson plans including book-related activities to do before and after Dr. James’ visit.

“I wanted it to be extremely flexible,” Linda explains. “I know the teachers don’t have a lot of time so I wanted to make the program blend so they didn’t feel like they were doing things outside of what they needed to do.”

Karen will springboard from Linda’s plan and lead the children through experiments and fun activities. For instance, they’ll go out in the school grounds and collect twigs or leaves and create their own specimen sheets. “The idea is that year after year we can do this again and again,” says Karen, “and then the school will start developing an herbarium of the local tree species and the kids will be able to look back at the collection and ask questions about leaves, colors, what time they were collected, shapes, size…hopefully get a nice representative collection of the tree specimens in the school’s area.”

The picture book, hands-on activities, and curriculum will work together to form a fun and exciting program–and a better future for the children participating in it.

IRW’s executive director, Jan Coates, is excited to see Literary Links to Science get started: “We’ve made a commitment to really develop our hypothesis, which is that storybooks and great stories are a great way to introduce kids to science.”



Owl Alert on Swans Island

Whoooooo’s a fan of Island Readers & Writers? New York Times bestselling author Kathryn Lasky, that’s who!

Kathryn is the author of more than 60 books for young readers, including the oh-so-popular Guardians of Ga’Hoole series that has owls as main characters. It’s been almost a decade since the first book in that series was published, but the author can still rattle off owl facts easily.

“Each feather has a specific task almost…and I love researching about the eyes, which are not eyeballs, they’re eye tubes…to find those little details and figure out how to integrate that into a story and make it very lively so it doesn’t just lie there like a big fat old dead fact, well that is so fun and challenging.”

All those facts came in handy early in October when Kathy visited Swans Island with IRW two days after a naturalist from the Chewonki Foundation visited the school with three real live owls.

“These school kids who live so far out on the edges of things, I think reading connects them to the world…that’s the great thing about literature,” Kathy says.

She doesn’t visit many schools, but she makes an exception for IRW, saying, “I hope it keeps going. It’s just a terrific program.”


Writer ‘Rules’ Downeast!

IRW is taking Cynthia Lord, author of the Newbery Honor book Rules, to Milbridge Elementary School in November as part of an expansion of programs to inland islands in Downeast Maine. She will be working with students in all grades, and presenting Touch Blue, her newest novel, which is set in Maine.

It will be her second outing for IRW this school year: on September 24, she visited with children at Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor, reading from Hot Rod Hamster to the younger children, and conducting a workshop on writing and a discussion of Rules with the older kids in an event co-sponsored by the school.


Chatting with Chris Van Dusen

Award-winning picture book author Chris Van Dusen, a longtime friend of IRW, is back on bookshelves with If I Built A House, the much-anticipated follow-up to the E. B. White Award-winning If I Built a Car. IRW will be taking Chris to Maine islands and IRW inland islands to work with kids after the book’s Oct. 25 release.

Chris first worked with IRW after the 2005 release of If I Built A Car. “The book really seemed to inspire kids to use their imaginations…they created their own cars out of cardboard boxes and things. It was really kind of amazing how they took this one book and turned it into a creative project.” He’s hoping for similar results with If I Built A House. And IRW is right there with him, already planning fun activities around the new book.

“IRW comes up with some really great ideas – what’s the oldest house in your town and what sets it apart? and things like that,” says Chris. “I’m looking forward to seeing what the kids come up with.” He visits a lot of schools, but says visits with IRW are special. “They know you made the trip out there, and sometimes it’s not an easy trip…the reaction you get from the school kids on the islands, that keeps me going back.”


Friends Over Books charts new territory – all of Maine!

An IRW program that started with one small boy on a Maine island is evolving into a pilot project for libraries throughout the state. “We hope this will be a real service for Maine librarians,” says Diana Hambleton, a longtime IRW board member who has led the program, Friends Over Books (FOB), since its beginnings.

It started when IRW executive director Jan Coates still owned Port In A Storm Bookstore. “I walked into the store one day and Jan started telling me about the organization she was trying to start,” recalls Diana, who volunteered to help if there was a child on one of the islands who could benefit from a special reading program.

There was, on Frenchboro. “I went out to the island regularly and he and I spent a summer reading about Venice.” At the end of that summer, the boy built a toy gondola. He told Diana, “Frankly, it was a lot of work, but it made me want to go to Venice when I grow up.”

FOB grew to include more adult volunteers, books on three different topics each year, and lots of young readers. In 2012, FOB completed another successful session with the help of volunteers Virginia Agar, Mary Lee Bayne, Barbara Brack, Amanda Crafts, Jean Evans, Fran Howley, O.P. Jackson, Jackie Lowe, Trish Marx, Charles Merriman, Louisa Newlin, Carol Null, Betsy Pickup, Diana Rockefeller, Chrissie Strawbridge, Jill Trask, Helene Tuchman, Peggy Vettese, Anne Welles and Cass Wright.

Now there are plans to create a package including books, discussion questions, props and activities so FOB programs can be used in libraries throughout Maine. IRW will invite six libraries to participate in a pilot program in the spring of 2013 to assist evaluation and refinement of this package. Valerie Osborne, a consultant for the Northeast District of Maine Libraries, recently got an overview of what’s happening with FOB. “She loved it and was impressed by the depth and breadth of our work,” Diana says.

Stay tuned for more exciting FOB news in 2013!


Summer 2012 Newsletter

IRW Summer 2012 Newsletter – Click on the photo to see the newsletter as it was mailed, or scroll down to read each of  the articles individually.



A Note from Executive Director Jan Coates

Where does the time go? It seems only yesterday we here at IRW were sitting down to plan The Big Read for the winter of 2012 around Mark Twain’s classic, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Yet here we are, busy with a cornucopia of exciting programs, and The Big Read is a fond memory of one very successful event. It served more than a thousand readers, old and new, and brought us coverage in radio, print, and online publications. But it is by no means an only child.

Through our Island Book and Author Program, we have worked with hundreds of school children in 2011 and 2012 to welcome Newbery Honor and Printz Prize winning author Gary Schmidt, author Toni Buzzeo, poet Paul Janeczko, illustrator and teacher Mary Beth Owens, Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord, illustrator extraordinaire Rebekah Raye, and picture book author Scott Nash to classrooms in coastal Maine. And 2012 is only half gone!

Our annual 7th-Grade Island-wide Read took the work of iconic children’s writer Lois Lowry–winner of two Newbery Medals!–into the lives and classrooms of students on Mount Desert Island with the help of teachers, school administrators and facilitators from many walks of life in the community. And the great lady of letters herself visited to finish off the event.

Meanwhile, our partnership with Vanderbilt University’s Aspirnaut program is going strong, working with our own Literary Links to Science initiative to introduce young readers to science in an interdisciplinary approach that is forging new ties in the community. And best of all, the kids love it!

And our annual Friends Over Books summer reading initiative is in full swing, too. Over the winter, volunteers have been reading diligently to choose just the right books for young readers and their families to read together this summer. We can’t thank them enough for their hard work.

But there is still plenty to do to fulfill our mission of inspiring a passion for reading and learning among children living on Maine’s coastal islands. To that end, I am so pleased to introduce you to our newest effort–expanding our programs into “inland islands” in Maine.

In this brief missive, we hope to catch you up on what we’ve been doing, and inspire you with what we hope to accomplish. As always here at IRW, we welcome your comments, ideas and donations.


Jan Coates


IRW expands to serve ‘inland islands’

It’s been six years since IRW began our goal of inspiring a passion for reading and learning among children living on Maine’s coastal islands, and now we’re excited to announce an expansion of that mission to include “inland islands.” These are areas on the mainland where the challenges and needs of small towns mirror those of the islands we’ve been serving: geographic isolation, limited resources, living by and from the sea, and, in some instances, small classroom size.

After much planning and networking with people and organizations in Washington County (Maine’s poorest), we identified five towns where we think our programming will find a warm reception and eager participants–Jonesport, Machiasport, Lubec, Milbridge and Machias. And we’re thrilled to have hired the perfect person to lead IRW’s efforst there: Michelle Finn.

For the last four years, Michelle and her husband Doug have been the only two teachers on Frenchboro, teaching kindergarten through eighth grade and hosting IRW programs. That’s how she became acquainted with IRW, and how we became acquainted with her.

“I think it’s going to be really exciting,” Michelle says.

As a native of South Addison in Washington County, she is well aware of the challenges facing students in the region.

“I have no memory of authors or illustrators coming into my school in Down East Maine,” she says. “I think the kids in Washington County deserve a little enrichment. They deserve a little extra, things to be really excited about. And I’m passionate about bringing that to them.”

Michelle left home for college at the University of Maine at Orono and graduated suma cum laude. After that she taught everything from nature appreciation and survival skills, to English to, well, everything. And she taught it to students of all ages at schools in places as close as Greenfield, Massachusetts and as far away as St. Lawrence Island in Alaska, a mere 35 miles or so from Russia. She and Doug also served as education consultants, working with teachers across the nation.

Now she’ll bring all that formidable experience back to where it all began for her, and where it’s just beginning for IRW. “My heart and soul are in Down East Maine,” she says. “I am thrilled to be working with IRW.”

She’ll be doing behind-the-scenes assessments and curriculum development, creating online resources and continuing outreach in the region. And plans already are under way for Cynthia Lord, the Newbery Honor-winning author of Rules and Touch Blue fame to visit at least one of our Inland Islands.

We’re excited about this new venture and about the person leading it. Our mission to inspire a passion for reading just keeps getting bigger, as does the circle of fine people who are passionate about it.


A Very “Big” Deal

“Big” was the operative word as Island Readers & Writers launched its second Big Read in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Arts, this one celebrating The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, in January and February with the help of our primary library partner, the Northeast Harbor Library. In all, 1,290 copies of Mark Twain’s classic were distributed and about 1,500 people of all ages on Mount Desert Island, the region’s outer islands and Deer Isle/Stonington participated. The event included 12 library partners, 20 other nonprofit partners, and 107 volunteers for events ranging from in-school programs, to art projects, music performances, community readings and panel discussions and lectures in the community. But the “biggest” part was all the fun that started with a book.


Lois Lowry gives to 7 th-graders

What do you get when two-time Newbery Medal winner Lois Lowry comes to town? A rollicking good time, that’s what. Of course, 7th-grade students on Mount Desert Island and their teachers–plus facilitators from the community–had prepared for months in advance of the event. They all read The Giver, one of Ms. Lowry’s Newbery winners. (The other was Number the Stars.) So when the author herself met with participants in the annual 7th-Grade Island-wide Read, she got a lot of probing questions about her characters, her process, and her life as a writer. The students described her presentation as lively, candid, captivating and inspiring. And her personal grace, integrity, and passion for expanding the minds of her readers, and pure joy in telling a good story, were palpable.


Picture Books = Science

Yes, you read that correctly. While IRW is all about inspiring a passion for reading, what is reading for, except to inspire a passion for everything? We are developing a program for kids in kindergarten through second grade using picture books and stories to serve as a portal to science.

As the kids would say: How cool is that?

Longtime educator Linda Uberseder is designing the curriculum and Dr. Karen James, a visiting scientist at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Salisbury Cove is designing complementary labs and science adventures, which she will lead. Before joining the MDI Bio Lab, Dr. James was a postdoctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum in London where she designed programs for children.

This new initiative is a natural evolution of our programs for 3rd & 4th-graders provided in collaboration with the Aspirnaut Program at Vanderbilt University where the books The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and We Can’t All Be Rattlesnakes stimulate children’s thinking about nature and science, introduce them to scientific methods. Then the students conduct customized book-related science experiments.

In this new IRW program, picture books will open gateways to science; projects will include reading, drawing, problem solving, discovering, visiting and evaluating. It’s likely a passion for reading will spur a zest for science, and that’s a formula that adds up to fulfilling IRW’s mission.