From island to island: Anne Sibley O’Brien on North Haven and Vinalhaven

“Who here has ever been new? Who here has ever felt uncomfortable? How do we welcome someone new to our school, our community?” These are all questions that Anne Sibley O’Brien asks students after she introduces herself in Korean. Using her story as an American growing up in Korea in the 1960’s and 70’s, and through her talents as an illustrator and author, Annie shares ways in which we’re all connected and alike. When they heard her speak Korean, one student exclaimed, “You’re talking like you’re new here!”

On the island of North Haven, Anne showed students what it is like to live among Koreans in South Korea, what some of the implications are of living on a divided island (North and South Korea) and asked middle schoolers to imagine what it would be like to wake up one day and have your island completely broken into two homelands.

While reading together I’m New Here, students were able to notice things in the illustrations and understand the implications for how Fatima was able to slowly integrate into a new community through dress, activities, and more.

Middle schoolers had read Annie’s book A Path of Stars and talked about culture and heritage. A highlight was when Ms. Ann, the fourth grade teacher, shared the fact that they had been tracking the weather and studying and wondering through inquiry about effects of weather. This is represented on a bulletin board where they visually “wonder” in the LAKE, and chart what they “do know” in the POND.

Anne shared her No Excuses Art Journal with them, the daily journal she keeps in which she paints with watercolors, a color, a design, and the weather. They were in total harmony for the workshop!

Every child received their book in the traditional Korean manner from Annie – with two hands extended, a slight bow, and the greeting of “Are you in Peace?”

Annie also visited a group of ninth graders who were intrigued with Korea and her experience. They added onto the brainstorm map that students had previously done with Annie about what they know about North (Chosun) and South (Han Guk) Korea. Though they had some basic knowledge of Korea, everyone agreed that hearing about it from Annie made it more realistic, especially those older students that had read In the Shadow of the Sun.

Later that day, after a quick trip by boat over the channel, Vinalhaven teachers hosted Annie for a wonderful potluck supper. They told her all about what their students had done in preparation for her visit! In addition to the above books, Annie also worked with the 3, 4th and 5th graders and her graphic novel The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea.

They had watched the American Robin Hood movie so were familiar with the premise of the Robin Hood story. During an art demonstration, Annie guided them through creating their own dragon and helped them to understand some of the symbols embedded in the artwork. Students were very knowledgeable about dialogue boxes, clouds of thought, and the noises that show up throughout a story to develop a real sense of place and situation.

Students wanted to know Annie’s favorite books growing up, and also particular things about Korea like what kind of food do they eat there? Annie also shared some of her treasures from Korea with the older students and they were curious to know why she wrote a book about North Korea if she lived in South Korea. They also dissected the characters with Annie and had lots of reflective impressions of why she developed some of the situations and characters the way she did in In the Shadow of the Sun. They could all agree that there are times when you feel nervous or not very confident.

The visit ended full of energy as they watched a Kpop video to get a sense of what some of their North & South Korean peers listen to for music.

Island to island – Korea to Peaks (where Annie lives) to North Haven and Vinalhaven – cultures and communities coalesced in an exciting way!

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