Island Readers & Writers Blog

Fall Programs Update

It is mid-October, the air is crisp, and nearly six weeks of school have flown by as the pandemic continues. It has been a roller coaster ride with varying start dates, in school and at home learning and all kinds of hybrid, alternative models. One thing is for certain, educators are pulling out all the stops in creative approaches to problem solving and meeting the needs of their students. At IRW, we are doing our best to be responsive, flexible, and supportive in our programs and are thrilled to have 18 partner schools participating this fall.

WordCraft, an online writing program for students in grades 5-8, is well underway at three Washington County schools as well as multiple outer island schools. Imaginations are hard at work as the kids are developing their stories with support from authors, Dave Anderson, Elizabeth Atkinson, and Anica Mrose Rissi. One student received this advice to strengthen their story:

“Alright, let’s talk about this cat and this man…So what problems can we introduce into this story? Make the cat evil? Have him hold the man hostage? Steal his stuff? Have them both poor, stranded, starving and the man has to decide if he is going to eat the cat? Have the cat be a reincarnation of the man’s dead wife coming back to tell him something? Have the man and the cat switch bodies?”

We can’t wait to see how things develop!

Four of our partner schools are participating in the Whole Book Approach, reading and looking at picture books in their whole art form. Teachers received professional development on the pedagogy, along with supporting resources around Visual Thinking Strategies and bags of books tailored to the age groups with whom they are working. Kids have been responsive to the approach wanting to read the books used in their free time. Teachers have to explain how this can safely happen with books going into quarantine after each student handles them.

Children at Step by Step Childcare enjoy an engaging, Whole Book Approach story time once per week!

Lisa Herrington, IRW Program Assistant, has been using the approach with story time at Step by Step Daycare in Milbridge and virtually with kindergarteners at the Peninsula School in Gouldsboro. Mrs. Renwick puts Lisa up on the big screen and is able to walk around with the book being read to give kids a closer look, since social distancing has them all spread out. The challenges of Covid-19 are many, but surmountable.

Middle schoolers at Charlotte Elementary School meet virtually with Newbery Honor-winning author Lauren Wolk, after reading and loving her book Wolf Hollow.

We have six classrooms in grades 5-8 reading Newbery Medal novels by Gary Schmidt, Clare Vanderpool, and Lauren Wolk and held our first virtual author session from that program with Charlotte Elementary School students last week. They had read Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow and were eager to ask questions after she shared her story of how she came to write the book. She reminded them that when it comes to writing the key is to begin. She said she works with the universal idea that “We have so much in common as human beings, if we just pay attention, we can communicate.” Kids wanted to know if she made up all of the metaphors and similes, if she ever thought of writing a graphic novel, and if she ever thought of writing a sequel. She shared a bit of exciting news by responding that a draft was at her editors right now!

This week, our No News is Good News with Ivy & Bean program kicks off at five schools with kids in grades 3-4 working with author and illustrator Sophie Blackall. Each class will work to put together their own school newspaper. Teachers have an introductory video to share with their students that Sophie made especially for them to get the ball rolling. IRW put together packets for every child with a copy of the book and all the materials they need to write their own newspaper. The packets create the flexibility for being in class or at home. In the end we will have news to share from around the IRW horn. We know there are some awesome story tellers out there and can’t wait to see what news they bring us.

The annual 7th Grade Read is underway, but looks very different from years past when we would physically gather together all the seventh graders from Mount Desert Island Regional School System for a big event at Camp Beech Cliff. Instead, we are meeting via Zoom with individual classrooms which adds certain sweetness to the experience. Last week, we began with the three classrooms from Conners Emerson School for Zoom sessions with author Abdi Nor Iftin to discuss his memoir Call Me American, which he recently adapted for young readers. Teachers sent a very long list of questions ahead of time that the students had posed to Abdi. One that gave us a chuckle was, “Have you ever been to Vegas?” The answer is “yes.”

Author Abdi Nor Iftin held Zoom sessions with seventh graders from Conners Emerson School.

But the discussion was far more serious in nature, with Abdi sharing that he suffers from PTSD from the many traumas he experienced during his young life as a Somali refugee. “Do you understand American culture?” one student asked. “I don’t understand camping,” he replied, “Camping is a reminder of living in a refugee camp, which was not always safe.” Abdi talked about the importance of sharing his story, as the story of Somalia tends to be one of war and despair. Somalians, he noted, have hopes and dreams like the rest of us but the lack of representation in stories can be detrimental. The students had watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ted talk “The Danger of a Single Story” as part of their learning, which tied in nicely to what they were hearing from Abdi.

All seventh graders at schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System are reading Abdi’s young adult memoir, Call Me American, about his experience as a Somali refugee and American immigrant.

Though this pandemic has caused us to rethink and retool the way we serve our partner school communities, we are pleased to continue to bring quality authors and illustrators together with students and teachers and put books into the hands of children. We will work hard to continue to adapt and respond moving forward, no matter what life throws our way.

Alison Johnson, Director of School Programs

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Melissa Sweet virtually visits outer island students

IRW was pleased to assist bringing students in grades 3-5 from Isle au Haut and Monhegan islands virtually together with Maine author and illustrator, Melissa Sweet. The kids had read Melissa’s illustrated biography of E.B. White, Some Writer, as well as White’s classic Stuart Little as part of an inter-island book group coordinated by Robin Chernow of the Island Institute and IRW outer island Site Coordinator, Jan Keiper.  A few kids had even read White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, which Melissa shared was a favorite of hers. One student noted that she preferred it over the ever-popular Charlotte’s Web. “Charlotte was just not as interesting,” she said, “and the pig is a little odd.” This led to a conversation about musical instruments and what instruments the kids played, if any. “I have to play the ukulele and I absolutely hate it,” relayed one youngster. 

Melissa asked if any of the students wished they could have met E.B. White. “I don’t know,” they said. “Is there any author you would like to meet?” she followed up. “I don’t really look at who wrote the book,” was one kid’s the answer. “Oh, E.B. White would have loved that,” said Melissa. One student shared that they loved Brian Jacques’ Redwall series. Melissa was thankful for the recommendation and noted that she liked reading Gary D. Schmidt’s work and, of course, picture books.

When asked how long it took to write “Some Writer,” Melissa said it was nearly two years of research and at least another year on art. “When I got stuck with the writing, I would stop and create things,” she shared. She is now working on a biography (her favorite genre) about a woman who was born as a twin with Down’s syndrome, who was also deaf and non-verbal and loved to create fiber sculptures. She finds the question, “Why do humans make certain kinds of art?” intriguing. “I love making art so much. I think of myself as an artist who makes books,” she said. We love art, too and are so grateful for this opportunity to bring readers, writers and artists together.

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Jonesport students meet virtually with Lauren Wolk

Jonesport Elementary School fifth graders had the opportunity to connect virtually with author Lauren Wolk about her Newbery Honor-winning book, Wolf Hollow. They read the novel aloud in class last fall, an annual tradition teacher Marni Crowley started after Lauren visited Jonesport in 2017. Like many authors have done during the pandemic, Lauren and her publishing house, Penguin Random House, generously offered a free virtual visit and IRW was pleased to help facilitate and take part.

These kids had begun working on research and projects around Wolk’s newest book Echo Mountain, as they were slated to be part of a book launch hosted by IRW scheduled for mid-May, when Covid-19 forced a suspension of the program. Even though the virtual visit was not quite the same as meeting the author in person, there was still lively conversation and great questions. We connected via Google Hangouts, Brady Bunch style, with little windows of students’ faces across the screen.

Lauren relayed that in many ways fifth grade was one of the best times of her life. “What inspired you to write?” asked one girl with a calico cat on her lap. “I always start with the place,” Lauren told her. “I pick a place where I want to be and bring people into that world through the senses.”

“What inspired the character of Betty?” asked a young man. (Betty is the bully in the book.) Wolk explained how two experiences, one of her own and one of her mother’s, came together to form Betty. “When you think about bullies,” she asked the kids, “why do you think some people are that way?” A student piped in, “I think it was something to do with her parents.” Lauren said she receives many letters from boys who liked her character, Annabelle, the protagonist in Wolf Hollow, and she wondered if it matters to them as readers whether the main character is a boy or a girl. The response was mixed. She wrapped up the session by reading the first few pages of Echo Mountain, her newly-released historical fiction novel set in Maine during the Great Depression. Lauren has a knack for hooking the reader with thought-provoking opening lines and this one doesn’t disappoint. We can’t wait to bring her to visit with kids in Maine again.

Posted in: Author visit, Authors, COVID-19, School Visits
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A note to our community

April Fool’s Day may have passed, but it sure feels like someone is fooling with us as the world is as topsy-turvy as Alice’s Wonderland. Schools in Maine have been closed for three weeks now and may be closed for more. We are saddened that we have had to indefinitely suspend our school programs and miss seeing children’s smiling faces as they engage with a children’s book author or illustrator. But with every challenge we face there are always bright spots that bring hope and joy – and there has been no shortage of either during these past few weeks.

We’d like to give a shout-out to the creative community, the authors and illustrators both within the IRW network and beyond. They have stepped up to meet kids’ needs while they adapt to distance learning. From live drawing sessions to virtual story time and more, the artistic community has opened their hearts, sharing their talent with families and educators. Having worked with many of them, we are humbled but not surprised.

We’d also like to recognize the hard work of all of those in our partner schools, from bus drivers to cafeteria workers and principals who abruptly changed the way they deliver education. They have mapped out their communities to make deliveries of both learning packets and meals. They’ve coordinated pick-up sites to accommodate a variety of schedules to be sure no one is left out. They’ve worked with families to set them up with Internet through Spectrum or created Wi-Fi areas at school. Teachers and principals are reading books on social media to keep connections with their kids, which of course makes our hearts soar and we salute their efforts!

So, from our hearts to yours, we want you to know we are with you in spirit and are using these bright spots, the wonderful stories, to guide us towards the light at the end of the tunnel. We miss you all!

Posted in: COVID-19
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Art workshops with Russ Cox

IRW’s spring semester kicked off with visits by author/illustrator Russ Cox at Princeton Elementary, Woodland Elementary, and Whiting Village School. Russ’ visits were part one of a two-part program for schools participating in the “If I Built a School” program based on the book by Chris Van Dusen. Students at all three schools researched the history of their own schools, futuristic architectural designs, and used IRW’s supporting activity resources to think about what their dream school might be like. Templates were drawn and final designs were laid out on a heavyweight paper for working with gouache, the paint medium of choice for both Russ and Chris.

IRW Director of School Programs Alison Johnson and Program Assistant Lisa Herrington, hauled a bunch of art supplies from school to school where Russ led the kids techniques for painting with gouache, a thick water-based paint. Russ quizzed kids on their knowledge of the primary colors and which combinations they might need to make more colors. He demonstrated how to use different tools to get various effects including using a toothbrush, a sponge, and the handle of the paintbrush instead of the bristled end. He also told them they could actually use their fingers for a neat effect which, in some cases, resulted in some not so neat hands! Exploration was key here as they got to experiment first hand with a professional artist there to guide them.

At Princeton, there were varieties of approaches to their school visions. Third graders each chose a different room to design to eventually piece them together and make one big school. We can’t wait to return in April to see how that comes together. Other students designed schools with pools and jacuzzies and fabulous rides. There were two schools shaped like cakes, a “sundae” school, a pizza school, an outdoor school, a school with a nap room, an abandoned school, and more. One imaginative young lady even created a school in the shape of a lightbulb. Another designed a school where you have to walk three miles to get to the bathroom! Planning ahead might be in order if you attend that school.

Lisa brought along a traveling display of school items from days past. While kids were engrossed in their painting she rang the old school bell to get their attention. “Why do you think they would have rung this bell?” she asked them. She then showed them her mother’s old lunch box and asked if they thought their lunches of today would fit in the tiny box. Not many thought they would. She brought along a slate board and shared how students would have done their homework on it and brought it back to school the next day hoping their work would not get erased along the way. She had an old desk with a hole for an ink bottle and let them hold, and even try using, an ink pen. There was also a mini globe showing the world looking much different than it does on our modern version. The kids were very intrigued by these items and took turns sitting at the desk and looking at the old books.

At Woodland, Russ brought some of his work done in gouache and showed the kids to let them see what a finished piece can look like. One selection, in which he used only three colors, really had them confused as it appeared to have blue in it but didn’t. “How do you think I did that?” he asked them. They were amazed that the colors around something could actually make it look like a different color.

Russ asked the kids what the craziest element of their school design was and the answers were fantastic: a playground with a humongous pool and a wobbly spring for the giant slide and pulleys everywhere; puppies on flowers – you can pick them; a water slide and floating desks; a Lamborghini bus (four-door, mind you); virtual reality headsets as your teachers; a zoo with robot animals inside the school and a robot bus; owls for teachers because it’s a night school and many more creative ideas. Don’t you want to go to one of these schools?

Whiting Village School was our last stop and a great way to cap off part one of this program. We set up in the Whiting Town Hall so the kids would have some elbow room and we’d have space to spread out supplies. Three parents joined to help us, Robin, Kate and Kim – thanks ladies! Jack-of-all-trades and teaching principal, Scott Johnson, put on his bus driver hat and ferried kids back and forth to and from the school. Russ, Lisa and Alison even got to ride the bus to go back to the school for lunch. Russ had to duck since being so tall his head hit the ceiling, which the kids found hilarious.

Grades 1- 4 focused their designs on what a dream playground might look like. One kid had a UFO that would take you to another planet and leave you there. Another had “a giant rocket that goes up into space and then goes sideways! Mama Mia!” There was a slide with a 20-foot vertical drop. (She admitted the landing was the dangerous part.) There was a science school with genetically modified hybrids, different animals all mashed together. And a school with a tunnel under the slide which takes you deep, deep, down underground to a playground with 500 dinosaurs! Roar!

Students in grades 5-8 used perspective in their designs showing some cool rooms including a hallway with colors that slide onto the floor. There was a school with a massive aquarium that went all the way up to the ceiling, a school with jet skis in the hallways, a fantasy school with a vine that reached all around the room, and a school on the moon.

When Pk/k joined us to explore colors and try their hand at painting, one young man declared, “I really love monsters, especially one-eyed monsters.” That sentiment went straight to Russ’ heart as he adores monsters and aliens. These little ones found new ways to create texture using the sponges and toothbrushes. All of us watching were inspired by their creative process.

What a way to begin our spring semester. Thanks to all who helped to make these visits possible. We can’t wait to return in April with Chris Van Dusen.

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Diversity in stories with Anne Sibley O’Brien

Anne Sibley O’Brien visited three schools in early December to wrap up our fall school programs: Ella Lewis Elementary School, Tremont Consolidated School, and Beatrice Rafferty School. She greeted each school with a Korean “hello” – “Anneyeonghaseyo” (안녕하세요) – and had the kids repeat it back before delving into the idea of culture. “What is culture?” she asked them. “Where you’re from.” “Where you live.” “What a lot of people do together.” The simple definition she told them is, “how people live.”

Annie has written or illustrated over 37 books with a focus on diversity and brings a rich personal experience to share having grown up in South Korea. We worked with her books, “I’m New Here,” with younger kids at all three schools and discovered during workshops that the very youngest had lots to say about differences and inclusion. “Don’t listen to what others say unless it’s that you are beautiful and kind,” said one child. Lovely.

Ella Lewis School

Projects lined the hallways at Ella Lewis School, and Annie told the students how much it means to an author when so much thoughtful preparation is done around a book. Grades 3-5 participated in an illustration workshop, since they had read Annie’s graphic novel “The Legend of Hong Kil Dong.” She taught them how to draw dragons despite the cries of, “I can’t do that!” They could. And they did. And they did it well.

Sixth-seventh grade students created cool book trailers for “In the Shadow of the Sun,” Annie’s suspenseful novel about two kids who get stranded in North Korea, a timely story that sparked many questions from a lively and engaged bunch.

While reading her latest picture book, “Someone New,” to grades pre-K to 2, Annie pointed out that her character in “Someone New” was telling her story with pictures. “Like you did!” a child chimed in. Kids noticed lots of details about the speech bubbles. They liked comparing the two books, “I’m New Here” and “Someone New,” and were thrilled when they received their own copy of “I’m New Here” to take home.

Tremont Consolidated School

At Tremont, all workshops were held in the library where an “I’m Your Neighbor Welcoming Library” traveling book display had been for several weeks. Many companion books focusing on the immigrant experience were available for teachers to use with their classrooms ahead of our visit. Annie read her follow-up to “I’m New Here,” “Someone New,” with kids in pre-K to grade 2, using aspects of The Whole Book Approach to engage kids around the illustrations.

With the third and fourth graders, a discussion around inter-group anxiety took place using the characters from “I’m New Here” as examples. “What is Emma scared of?” Annie asked. “That they might not have anything in common,” was one response. In their workshop, kids drew two scenes: one of someone feeling nervous, followed by an action they might take to help.

Beatrice Rafferty Elementary School

Our final school visit of the year took us to Beatrice Rafferty Elementary School at Pleasant Point. Passing the new school construction site and seeing a buzz of building activity, we knew excitement would be in the air as they have been waiting a very long time for this to happen.

While working with the first and second graders, Annie asked if they’d like to say “hello” in Korean. “Bonjour!” one blurted out, which had us all laughing. In talking about community with these kids, Annie asked what they’d like to be when they grow up. “An artist.” “Work at Walmart.” “Someone who makes things for kids. And a ninja.” “An art teacher.” “A doctor.” “A police officer.” “A train driver.” “A chief.” “A veterinarian.” In the end we realized they had a whole community!

The kindergartners were our last group and Annie got them drawing faces of various feelings. We were impressed how many of them drew all nine of the emotions, although one student veered off course and drew a house that ate 72 clocks! Ah, the imagination at work. What a great way to wrap up our fall visits!

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“The Island of Beyond” with Elizabeth Atkinson

Fifth-eighth graders at Beals Elementary School, Jonesport Elementary School and Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School were ready to dive into “The Island of Beyond” with author Elizabeth Atkinson, and were prepared with art and research projects to share. Each visit began with a large group presentation during which Elizabeth shared how books empowered her as a child. She provided an in-depth explanation of the publishing process, from finding an agent to book distribution and everything in between. After sharing the story of her career that involved multiple rejections, she then asked students what qualities they thought one might need to be a writer. Their responses? Confidence. Patience. Imagination. Persistence. They were spot on!

After the presentation, students participated in writing workshops focusing on character development. Elizabeth got them thinking about the protagonist and the antagonist. They worked with character boards to brainstorm their ideas, and decided on the character’s physical description, background, family or circle of friends, and their character’s thoughts. Next, the kids described what their antagonist did to the protagonist to get them in trouble. Elizabeth set the scene for them: a beachside, luxury hotel where your protagonist works and where your antagonist comes to stay. The writers then put the protagonist and antagonist they created into that world. “As a writer, you need to wear three hats. Why do you think I say that?” Elizabeth asked. The kids quickly replied that you need to understand both the character’s and the reader’s perspective along with your own in order for things to make sense in a story.

Prior to Elizabeth’s visit, students at each school created wonderful projects inspired by “The Island of Beyond” and were fully prepared and engaged when Elizabeth arrived.

This program was made possible by the generous support of the Ferguson Foundation and 29 new donors to Island Readers & Writers who helped reach our goal to match a $5,000 grant from the foundation.

Beals Elementary School

Here, students made paintings depicting various scenes from the book. They also built two miniature villages populated with painted toy soldiers who became the characters for their towns. Grades 5-6 named their village Bayville and created a backstory about a hit-and-run accident.

Seventh and eighth graders named their village Annville, where a mysterious fire occurred at the mayor’s house. They wrote stories about these villages and shared them during office hours with Elizabeth at the end of the day. Many more projects decked the walls (and ceiling!), which showed the depth of their experience. Elizabeth was quite moved by it all. During office hours, kids got to engage on a more personal level with Elizabeth, and a few got the chance to read a bit from Elizabeth’s newest book, which isn’t even out yet!

Jonesport Elementary School

Elizabeth’s name along with a big welcome was lit up at the entrance to Jonesport Elementary School. Before the group presentation, she was introduced to all of the “aspiring writers” in the audience. The writing workshops were full of humor as students read about fanciful characters they created. One outrageously original character was the protagonist “Mason the Jar Man” whose head was a jar filled with beet juice infested with ninja turtles!

Fifth graders created a diorama of a village out of objects found in nature, which featured a broken-down pier “just like the real one around the corner” from their school. But there was a catch: they couldn’t use any glue or tape!

Students in grades 6-8 each created a diorama; either a village from their imagination or a recreation of the island in the book. These creative models were made of cardboard, clay, paper and paint. One even had lights! They also did analyses of “The Island of Beyond” characters with amazing drawings. At day’s end, fifth and sixth grade students shared their writing with Elizabeth. Some of the stories had us laughing, while others had us in tears; there was never a lull in creativity.

Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School

After Elizabeth’s group presentation at Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School, teachers remarked how much they loved what Elizabeth had to say, and how important it was for the students to hear about all the steps in publishing. One teacher appreciated how Elizabeth spoke of not giving up, even when she was disappointed and had failures.

At the teachers’ request, Elizabeth focused on dialogue during small group workshops. With characters like Potato Man who runs fast and is in a war against Tomato Man who can’t run fast, and Daryl Hall, the greedy, money-grubbing singer/songwriter living in 1980’s Swagville, you can imagine the laughter upon hearing samples of their writing. Some even illustrated their work and added speech bubbles. These are such imaginative kids!

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Outer islands with Ben Bishop

Comic artist Ben Bishop and IRW Director of School Programs, Alison Johnson, recently went on a three-island tour to Islesboro, Vinalhaven, and North Haven schools where kids and teachers had read, “Lost Trail,” the graphic novel version of Donn Fendler’s story of survival on Mount Katahdin. Alison and Ben joined the 30 or so students and a handful of teachers for the 20-minute ferry ride to Islesboro on day one. The ride to an island school is a bit different from a bus ride, but the views can’t be beat. We even saw some porpoises! Icy roads made for a one-hour delay and a broken down ferry the following day caused a nearly two-hour delay to Vinalhaven. But islanders are used to hiccups in plans so adapting was a piece of cake.

To kick things off, Ben shared his passion for writing and illustrating that began at the very young age of four, and was heavily influenced by the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Displaying his earliest work, a story about all the pets he had and how they died, he showed kids how he wrote his bio in pencil on the back of this early, hand-made edition.

Ben’s career path was long and full of obstacles. Pointing out each obstacle along the way he’d ask the students, “Do you think I quit drawing?” They caught on pretty quickly that he is one determined character. Whatever your passion is, “you are born with an interest in it,” Ben told them. “But it is up to you to do it every single day.”

During workshops, grades 4-8 learned how to turn a narrative into comic book action. Ben stressed that the quick sketch is the “thinking” stage and is really important. Gestural drawing (or as Ben calls it, “sketchy and ugly,” helps you process to a better version.

One young man on Islesboro wanted to illustrate the story of a kid getting hit by a paintball and falling over a half wall. It seems like a simple action but it takes some rough sketching to get it just right in your comic frame. Ben helped kids create a “cheat sheet” for their stories. He showed them how zooming in and panning out, just like a movie camera, can really highlight the important elements of a story. Drawing Donn on his knees back to, he asked kids if this was the best angle. “Seeing him from the front would be better because you could see his expressions and show emotions,” piped in one young man. Agreeing, Ben shared how panels can “squish down the action.”

Visiting Vinalhaven and North Haven back to back means an overnight on Vinalhaven. Our host, Pat Lundholm, opens her home to IRW and the teachers host a potluck supper. We were loaned a truck by our Site Coordinator, demonstrating the generosity and easy nature of islanders. It’s a treat to share time together outside of school and hear tales of island living.

At Vinalhaven, we settled into the library for a presentation followed by workshops. Upon entering the room one teacher shared that the book was one of the best he’s ever read with his students, and he’s been teaching a long time! In workshops kids were eager with questions: “Are you still trying to get into Marvel?” “How do you publish your books?”

Kids who signed up for an extra workshop session were tasked with creating a list of animals to swap with a pal and then illustrate.

There was a turtle-blobfish-squid-eel-komodo dragon-shark-jellyfish-elephant-cat lobster who lived inside of a yogurt, and a hairless cat-elephant-baboon-chicken-cow-pig-mole-dog-ostrich.

Crossing the thoroughfare to North Haven the next day was not quite as chilly as the Vinalhaven trip as the wind had subsided. We were warmly greeted at the landing dock and whisked to the elementary school by our Site Coordinator. On the islands there is no worry about not being recognized for pick up. Everyone knows when you come from off-island.

We gathered in a middle school classroom for the day and after sharing his story of becoming and illustrator Ben had the kids create their very own “Maine Mountain Monster” just like Pamola in the book.

Students with a serious interest in illustrating were encouraged to sign up for an elective session with Ben to get more into the details of the craft of comic book illustrating. They learned that:

  • the comic book term for onomatopoeia is SFX (sound effects)
  • a “splash page” is a larger image which makes it more dramatic
  • the final rough is what you see in the book
  • draw lightly at first so you can erase
  • how to place the eyes, nose, and mouth, on a face
  • everything starts with shapes
  • understanding proportions is important
  • after your rough sketch, press harder and commit

Ben was a big hit with these kids who were focused, attentive and interested in his story.

Posted in: Illustrators, School Visits
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MDI 7th Grade Read

More than 100 seventh graders from each school in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) spent an activity-filled day together at Camp Beech Cliff during the 7th Grade Read in October, with a highlight being the group discussions and presentation with award-winning author Gary Schmidt.

Since the start of the school year, seventh graders and their English Language Arts teachers read and interpreted Gary’s middle-grade novel “Trouble,” a complex story about a teenager working through a family tragedy by reaching the summit of Mount Katahdin.

The goal of this annual event is to bring kids from all MDIRSS schools together around a shared book experience, and provide an opportunity for them to interact and form friendships with one another before beginning the high school experience together in two years.

In the past, the event has been a half-day of group discussions with community volunteers as their group leaders. But this year, IRW Director of School Programs Alison Johnson and Camp Beech Cliff Camp Director Matt Cornish brought the book to life by planning interactive stations for each team to complete that drew from themes in “Trouble.”

The day-long event utilized Camp Beech Cliff’s beautiful spaces to their fullest and gave kids the chance to stretch their legs and minds and use their in-class discussions and personal interpretations of the book to complete the challenges.

Throughout the day, 12 teams competed in a series of six stations including the low ropes course that imitated Mount Katahdin’s Knife’s Edge, a relay race, creating an artistic timeline of the book, book trivia, cooking apple crisp over a campfire and having small group discussions and book signing with Gary.

It was great fun to see kids from different schools working together to solve problems on the low ropes course, cheer each other on during the relay race, help each other come up with the trivia answers and creatively connect to make a timeline of the book’s major events. Laughter was heard throughout the campus, as well as shouts of encouragement from one team to another; a friendly game of tag between several teams broke out when a station was completed early.

Kids from each school created imaginative book trailers for “Trouble” that were viewed during lunchtime. At the end of the day, Gary shared with the seventh graders the inspiration for his book and how he approaches writing. As for the old adage, “write what you know”? Forget that, Gary says. That would be boring. He recommends writing what you don’t know and learning something new and sharing it with your audience.

Gary is an inspiring and engaging speaker and we love it when he comes to Maine, a place dear to his heart. Driving to Camp Beech Cliff the morning of the event, Gary was asked why he has featured Maine in most of his books. “When I’m writing, I pick a place that I know I’ll want to be for a long time,” he said. “Maine is so interesting and beautiful, and it’s a place I’m happy to be for a long time while I’m writing.”

The seventh graders enjoyed the new format of the event. “I loved the [event]. It was super cool to meet an author of a book that I really enjoyed,” said one seventh grader. “I really liked the presentation and I never got bored. It was also very inspirational!”

We couldn’t have had such a successful event without MDIRSS Curriculum Director Julie Meltzer and Administrative Assistant Karen Shields, as well as all of the ELA teachers and support staff who prepared their students with wonderful discussions. Community volunteers led each team and we are so grateful for their support! Thanks to Jenna Beaulieu, Michelle Finn, Melissa Haas, Lisa Horsch-Clark, Jenny Jones, Helen Koch, Nancy McKechnie, Jayson Pelletier, Melinda Rice-Schoon, Carol Schaefer and Jeff Young for sharing their passion for reading with MDI kids.

We look forward to bringing a different book to life for the next class of seventh graders next year!

See more photos from the 2019 7th Grade Read in our Facebook album!

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Cynthia Lord visits Washington County

Woodland Elementary School

You know you’re in for a fun day when greeted at the school entrance by a large poster with drawings of characters from Cynthia Lord’s books and the words, “Cynthia Lord, You are a Hot Rod!” This was our welcome to Woodland Elementary School in Baileyville.

Cindy read her books, “Hot Rod Hamster,” “Hamster’s Birthday Party” and “Monster Truck Mania” to kids in grades pre-K to 1. “Vroom vroom” they called as she asked which wheels they would choose.

She was peppered with questions: “Where do you get ideas?” and “Do you think kindergarteners can write a book?” First grade had created a racetrack for their bulletin board complete with colorful, hamster-driven racecars. Cindy gave them all coloring sheets to work on while she personally signed their very own copies of “Hot Rod Hamster” provided by IRW.

We then entered the third-grade classroom where one little girl exclaimed, “Oh, Hi! Hi Cynthia Lord!” She was obviously excited to meet an author. This class had read Cindy’s chapter book, “Shelter Pet Squad,” created posters to promote donations to Paws Brave Hearts Pet Shelter in Calais along with the second grade. The “Pennies for PAWS” posters were spread all over the school and even the nearby high school. Their brightly colored masterpieces helped raise $500 from this generous community! They even made homemade pet toys to take with them and are planning a trip to visit the animals at PAWS soon.

Fourth graders read Cindy’s middle grade novel, “A Handful of Stars.” She spoke with them about how she gets her ideas for stories. For this book, the ideas came from two places; the idea of a black dog and the blueberry barrens in Deblois. After brainstorming a story together about a kid wanting a dog and all the obstacles to overcome to make it happen, Cindy had them write about or draw a pet they’d like to adopt. They asked lots of questions as Cindy signed a book for each child. A fabulous day was had all around.

Indian Township Elementary School

The next day found us a bit further up Route 1 at Indian Township Elementary School, our newest school partner which has welcomed IRW and our author/ illustrator partners with open arms. The day began with Cindy reading “Hot Rod Hamster” to the pre-K class. Cindy got them all engaged by letting them vote on their favorite car, engine and wheels from the illustrations. While lining up to return to class a young boy, hugging his newly signed copy of “Hot Rod Hamster” to his chest, said: “I’m going to show this to Unk. I’m so esited [sic]!” Calls of “woliwon” (thank you) were heard as they made their way out.

Kindergarten and first grade students made a poster with all the adjectives from the book and another with a list of questions for Cindy. They had the loudest shout of “SURPRISE” as they joined in with Cindy’s reading of “Happy Birthday Hamster.” They were adorable, sitting on the floor with their new books, stroking the pages in wonder. As they left with their signed copies, we heard them exclaim, “We get to have a book!”

Fifth graders each drew elaborately decorated bee houses like the ones Selma and Lilly painted in “A Handful of Stars.” One boy entered the room saying, “This is my favorite book!” Cindy gave a slideshow presentation with pictures of the barrens and the houses in which the blueberry harvesters live. One student said that the boy in a picture looked like an old man and Cindy told him, “That is exactly what I do as an author to get ideas – notice what you see.”

Second and third graders read “Shelter Pet Squad,” Cindy’s book about a group of kids volunteering at a pet shelter. This exuberant crew drew wonderful pictures of their favorite animal while Cindy met each of them and signed their copies of her book.

The third grade already visited the shelter in Calais and had a lot of stories and photos to share. They even got to make braided toys for the kitties while they were there! They were so excited to meet Cindy that their teacher had to explain, “They are not usually like this; this is how much they love this book!” She was also very excited to hear Cindy tell the students that she edits her work five to eight times. We all had a fun day at Indian Township School.

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