The day before Thanksgiving break, we boarded the ferry to Swan’s Island along with author Cynthia Lord and school principal Crystal DaGraca as snow flurries began to fall around us. School was closing early due to the snow and we used our travel time to revamp the schedule for the day. That’s often where island meetings are conducted – on the ferry!
Once we arrived on Swan’s Island, we hopped into the district-provided minivan and were shuttled to the school to begin workshops. With the 6th-8th graders, Cynthia shared an acronym she uses to help with crafting a story: W.O.W. What does the character Want? She told them this ‘want’ should last throughout the entire book. The ‘O’ represents the Obstacles or the problem that is in the way, and the final ‘W’ stands for Win – will their character get what they want? “That’s up to the writer to decide,” she told them. They were all reading Cynthia’s book, “Touch Blue,” and had begun some research of their own on local landmarks and legends. They hope to compile a book to present to island residents and promised to share with us. We look forward to seeing it!
Next, grades pre-K-5 piled onto pillows in Mrs. DaGraca’s classroom where Cynthia told the students about all the pets she has adopted over the years. One was a guinea pig just like the one in “Shelter Pet Squad,” another was a hamster named Rocky that was the inspiration for “Hot Rod Hamster.”
During her presentation, Cynthia showed pictures of all the places where she writes, including the studio at her house, outside in the garden and she even shared a photo of her writing on a ferry! She read her book “Hot Rod Hamster” out loud with children participating by honking, purring and beeping along. After signing a book for every child, the younger students went into the hallway to race their 3D printed hot rods, which they excitedly shared with Cynthia.
With the 3rd-5th graders remaining, Cynthia asked if they would like her to read a chapter from “Shelter Pet Squad,” which they had been reading aloud in class. They enthusiastically yelled, “Yes!” so she picked up where their teacher had left off and read one chapter, and then another, and kept on until the final page. “How cool is that,” remarked their teacher, “to have the author read her book to you in person!”
We learned that this group had also been reading “Pay it Forward,” by Catherine Ryan Hyde and were fundraising to give back to the local animal shelter, which was inspired by both books. What a fabulous connection both between books and community! They gathered much-needed items for the shelter and volunteering their time the next week. They also will be paying it forward in December identifying two people in need in their community.
Before heading out to catch the noon ferry back to Bass Harbor, we heard a teacher ask a girl “Are you excited about the snow day?” Her reply, “Yes, so I can stay inside and read this book [“Shelter Pet Squad”] all day!”