Caldecott-winning author/illustrator Sophie Blackall arrived in Maine from New York City on Easter Sunday ahead of her five-day “Hello Lighthouse” tour of Washington County, Mount Desert Island and Swan’s Island.
Sophie arrived to a chilly fog, but enjoyed Easter lunch in Bar Harbor with IRW Executive Director Jan Coates and Program Assistant Lisa Herrington. Sophie even brought us bagels from New York! She got a tour of Sand Beach and the Park Loop Road before settling in at her hotel in Prospect Harbor for a night of rest before the long week ahead.
Departing for Beals Island from Prospect Harbor early in the misty Monday morning, Sophie stopped to get a picture of the old cannery sign depicting the yellow slicker-wearing fisherman, a classic reminder of the important role mariners have played in Downeast Maine and their important connection to lighthouses.
The enthusiasm among teachers at Beals Elementary School at an early March meeting was a sure sign of a terrific first day of Sophie’s visits. Weeks before our arrival, the research and creative processes among all students were underway. Two weeks later, the middle school students had chosen a lighthouse to research and presented their projects to the local historical society. Beautiful paintings were also created on canvases donated by the local library. We love when community comes together to support the students.
After all of this preparation and hard work, Sophie finally arrived to Beals! A lighthouse made with Campbell’s soup cans greeted Sophie in the front hallway. The students had held a canned food drive to create the lighthouse. The soup cans will be donated to the local food pantry. What creative and thoughtful school community!
Before the all-school presentation, middle schoolers performed a sea shanty song inspired by “Hello Lighthouse,” complete with the sounds of bell buoys and drums signifying an impending storm. The song went beyond all expectations and filled Sophie’s eyes with tears.
Sophie then shared how she came to fall in love with lighthouses and her process for creating the book. It took her three years to complete “Hello Lighthouse,” which she wrote the first draft in a lighthouse in Newfoundland. Sophie then asked the school to help her illustrate the alien character for her upcoming book, “If You Come to Earth.” Kids shouted out suggestions to create a crazy-looking alien, which could appear in her next book!
During the pre-k/kindergarten workshop, Sophie drew a kangaroo, an animal native to her homeland of Australia. She showed the class where the country is on a map, and was impressed by the kids’ knowledge of kangaroos! She then read aloud from the first book she both wrote and illustrated, “Are You Awake?” The class shared the lighthouse replica they had made out of clay. As Sophie signed a copy of “Hello Lighthouse” for one little girl, she said “I wish I could do what you do!” To which Sophie replied, “I bet you can!”
Grades 1-2 created a mural of Beals Island. Each artist drew something they might find on their island and then cut it out and placed it on a large mural. Some drew sea life, while others drew their school or home. All work was creative and beautiful!
The grades 3-4 workshop worked on a similar project. Two students even worked together to create the bridge from Jonesport to Beals Island. They shared with Sophie miniature lighthouses they had made out of clay and researched.
Grades 5-8 worked on watercolor paintings using frisket paper, a clear, stick-on film that artists use when they want to create white space. Each artists cut out a shape in the frisket paper and stuck it to their watercolor paper before painting. They then ripped it off to reveal their shape.
Thank you, Beals, for a wonderful welcome for Sophie and IRW. Next up: Sophie’s visits to Lubec Consolidated School and Whiting Village School.