Anne Sibley O’Brien talks about Korea on Islesboro

A wonderful Welcome sign greeted IRW and Anne Sibley O’Brien upon entering Islesboro Central School! Principal Heather Knight and IRW site coordinator Melissa Olson graciously provided a tour of the school, which serves K-12 students on Islesboro, an unbridged island with about 600 year-round residents.

IRW’s school visit program focused on the sixty-two students in Grades K – 8. For the Grades K – 3 group, Annie talked about living on Peaks Island, and they identified similarities and differences between Peaks and Islesboro. She also told them about spending part of her childhood in Korea, and used the globe to help them find Korea on the map. Students had read Annie’s recent picture book, I’m New Here, which is about three young students who move to a new area and must navigate a new school. Annie and Islesboro students discussed what it means to be new, and what different circumstances they could think of when they felt new. She then cracked open a copy of I’m New Here and read to the group, prompting one student to ask, “Was this story kind of about you?”

Grades 2 and 3 students showed Annie the posters they had created about their community, which featured the ferry, the town library, school, family, and the community center! They had also created a welcome book for a new teacher and their family.

In the Grade 4-6 workshop, Annie began by introducing her childhood photo while speaking Korean. The children sat spellbound! She definitely caught their attention! Did you know that when you say “hello” in Korean, you are saying, “Are you in peace”…? We learned something new! Fourth and fifth graders shared their knowledge about Korea based on recent research projects, including Imports/Exports, Money, Flag, Dance and Dress, Military, etc.

Students had read Annie’s book In the Shadow of the Sun, which is set in North Korea. She shared her experience of being different, and of the issues facing Korea post-war. She also talked about North Korea always being the “bogeyman,” and how her experience shaped In the Shadow of the Sun. The students were absolutely captivated by her presentation. During the discussion and Q&A time, kids addressed big questions like, “What is a dictatorship?” and “Why would North Korea want nuclear weapons?”

One student learned in his research that you cannot give gold jewelry to someone unless you are in the government. They had on display examples of traditional ceremonial clothing, and embraced many opportunities to share their research with Annie. One student also made Korean meatballs for all to sample!

Seventh and eighth graders had read The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea,  a graphic novel. The large student group included a lot of graphic novel lovers, which was perfect for discussing the book! Again, Annie greeted them with an opening in Korean, as well as a discussion on the Korean alphabet. She showed them the process of laying out comic books, something she had to learn in order to write this book in that form. They learned about panels, sound bubbles, atmosphere and narration levels and how to use comics to enhance elements of a story in each frame. She recommended Scott McLeod’s Understanding Comics for anyone wanting more information.

Last but not least on the day’s agenda was a meeting with the High School Literary Magazine group – four lovely high school students who interviewed Annie for their newly established Lit Mag! They had some complex questions prepared to ask including,
“What are your favorite sources for research?
“How do you know when you’ve done enough research?”
“Do your characters ever surprise you or talk to you?”
“How did you childhood experiences give you inspiration and perspective?” and many more!

Wrapping up an excellent day, IRW and Annie hopped on the ferry, and headed back to the mainland. Thanks for the warm welcome and thoroughly inspirational day, Islesboro Central School!


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