Island Readers & Writers Blog

Bentley rides with Seal Cove Auto Museum

Thanks to the Seal Cove Auto Museum, part of Gary Schmidt’s middle-grade novel “Pay Attention, Carter Jones” came to life for participants in the IRW Community Book Club!

Kids and adults in the book club had free admission to the museum and took a spin in a real, vintage Bentley, just like the one Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick drives in the book (except this one was dark blue, rather than “eggplant”). The car plays a significant part in the book, which touches on themes of family, friendship, courage and the game of cricket.

Special thanks to the Seal Cove Auto Museum and to the generous owner of the 1958 Bentley, who brought it down from Washington County for the occasion.

Posted in: Bringing books to life, Collaborations, Mount Desert Island

“Books as Bridges” with Anne Sibley O’Brien

Site Coordinators from our Washington County partner schools gathered at the Downeast Salmon Federation office in East Machias for a day of professional development around the topic of “Books as Bridges.”

Author/illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien joined IRW staff to provide two days of professional development workshops for our partner school Site Coordinators before the start of school. She facilitated discussions around her “Books as Bridges” presentation which focuses on a celebration of differences, building positive cross group interactions, the complex issues of identity and racism, and how books can be used to facilitate a change in attitudes. Anne has been working with and writing about diverse books for children for over 40 years. Teachers were able to share their personal experiences in their own communities and draw on the experience of others around the table. We learned how to talk about this difficult topic from Anne and were given resources for finding diverse books with different viewpoints. It was a great two days of sharing.

Stephanie Higgins, grades 1-4 teacher at Whiting Village School, shared these words with us after the workshop:

“Anne’s workshop was one of the most useful and important workshops I have had as a teacher during my 15-year career. The issues of celebrating diversity, reducing prejudice and creating empathy are so critical at this point in the United States and our global community. I have been shocked into the realization through recent conversations with my daughter and participation in Anne’s presentation that there are many things I have not been aware of because of my “majority identity” as a white person in America. Anne explained how we can change our ways of viewing ourselves and the people around us. She provided resources and tools I can take back to my classroom and use right away. She allowed time for discussion as we grappled with these important issues. I am so grateful to have had the chance to see my attitudes, and the world differently through participating in Anne’s enlightening presentation and learning about her ongoing work in this field.”

Posted in: Professional Development, Site Coordinators

Story hour with Anne Sibley O’Brien

In late August, author/ illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien delighted 25 kids from Step by Step Day Care in a story hour at the Henry D. Moore Library in Steuben as part of IRW’s Getting the Right Start initiative. Drawing on the Whole Book Approach to reading picture books with children, Annie engaged this lovely group in deep conversation about the artwork and their visual interpretation of her book, “I’m New Here,” a 2016 Maine State Library Cream of the Crop choice. Children were so engrossed in Anne’s descriptions and questions about the cover of the book that they didn’t notice the book hadn’t been opened until Anne said, “We just learned all that information without even turning a page!”

After story hour, Annie personally-inscribed a copy of the book for each child. As they waited their turn, kids showed off their artistic talents with paper and markers.

IRW’s Getting the Right Start program aims to improve literacy skill development, connect reading with art and promote a love of learning to help pre-K children get the right start in school. The Moore Library is one of five sites where programs will begin to take form over the coming months.

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Ben Bishop visits Beatrice Rafferty and Indian Township schools


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Graphic artist Ben Bishop was the star of our final visits of the semester at Beatrice Rafferty and Indian Township Schools. Ben shared his personal story of determination and persistence and caught the attention of students and teachers alike by showing that disappointments can be overcome if you just keep trying.

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Ben’s early love of Marvel Comics and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” led him to write a letter to Marvel at age 11 asking for a job. They declined his request, but gave him some good advice: keep practicing his art and grow up a bit. Ben did both, and after a few life changes he made it to Maine where Downeast Books discovered his self-published graphic novel, “Nathan The Caveman.” It sat on their shelf for nearly six years, but when they decided to dive into the comic book world they knew just who to call and asked him to illustrate the book “Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness,” the story of Donn Fendler’s survival on Mount Katahdin, co-written by Donn and Lynn Plourde.

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During the workshops, Ben shows students his early work, which includes a book he wrote while in second grade called “Turtles.” It’s all about his childhood pets and how they died. It was a grim tale, but he assured kids he was a good pet owner now. He showed in great detail how to condense words into pictures, and how as the illustrator you get to be the one “behind the camera,” choosing the perspective that tells the story best. He shared techniques he uses for quick first drafts and the importance of doing many drafts to see how your art will improve with each step.

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Beatrice Rafferty students had many questions for Ben such as, “What got you interested in comics?” “How do you add the colors?” and “Have you ever climbed Mount Katahdin?” They also wanted to know about the newspaper articles at the beginning of each chapter, how he made it look old and if the words were really from “The Bangor Daily News.” He shared that to make pages look like old clippings, Ben dyed the paper in tea, wadded it into a ball and sat on it for hours while drawing other pages.

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Indian Township had a science fair going on at the same time as our visit and the fourth-grade students chose to use “Lost Trail” as a springboard for ideas for their science projects. There were survival equipment lists, shelter building demonstrations, maps and models of Mount Katahdin and habitats of animals found in Baxter State Park made of clay and cardboard.

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Ben’s story of ups and downs, highlights and disappointments, comes full circle as he shares how he now does the illustrations for the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” comics and is working with the originator of this series, Kevin Eastman, on other projects! After watching Ben’s drawing demonstration from sketch to finished panel, kids and teachers were very impressed by his speed and exceptional skill. “It just goes to show,” one student said, “practice does make perfect!”

See more photos in our Facebook albums!

Beatrice Rafferty Elementary School

Indian Township Elementary School

Posted in: Artists, School Visits, Uncategorized
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Anica Mrose Rissi visits Ella Lewis School and Milbridge Elementary

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The final two days of Anica Mrose Rissi’s four-day tour with IRW were full of excitement and surprises, as there were so many amazing projects made by students on display. Anica was overwhelmed by all the creativity. (At the beginning of the week, Anica visited Jonesport Elementary School and Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School.)

Ella Lewis School

Upon entering the Ella Lewis School in Steuben, teachers, custodians and Principal Joanne Harriman were putting final touches on the hallway displays as we entered. Some wore dachshund-themed socks and scarves in honor of Banana, the dog from Anica’s book, “Anna, Banana and the Friendship Split.”

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We filed into the gym where Anica shared one of her earliest books, “Anica’s Book of Poisonous Things,” showing kids know that they, too, are writers even at a young age. She read aloud “The Teacher’s Pet,” to pre-K and kindergarten students and five kids visiting from Step By Step Daycare.  Some students were wearing adorable handmade hats and masks of animals that “may or may not” make good pets.

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The hallway near the first and second grade classroom featured a life-size hippo that certainly got Anica’s attention. She discovered she is the exact same size as the average teacher! On the classroom door, the giant hippo head complete with a mouth that opened was also a big hit.

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In her grades 1-4 workshops, Anica used story titles as jumping off points for brainstorming a story that they created out loud. As kids shouted out suggestions, Anica’ prodded them to go deeper with questions such as “Where are they?” “Who are they with?” “Why do they feel that way?” There were a lot of clever ideas that came from the title, “The Day My Sister Came Back.”

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The fourth grade students created dioramas of scenes from “Anna, Banana,” complete with tiny details such as a little jump rope and broken pencil. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day came when we entered the third grade classroom where, in the corner of the room was a dachshund book nook the size of a sleigh that could fit two adults quite nicely. Anica had a chance to try it out while she read to the students. It was a magical day.

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Milbridge Elementary School

At Milbridge, the same spirited enthusiasm was palpable across the school. Hallways were filled to the brim with creative and clever projects using themes of Anica’s two books “The Teacher’s Pet” and “Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split.” Teachers and students were even wearing orange and purple because the character, Anna, loves those colors!

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This day began in the fourth grade classroom where we learned that these students had read all of the books in the “Anna, Banana” series! Through Anica’s presentation, we learned that she became a writer in part because she likes to boss people around. In the workshops, she began the “brain dump” of ideas for an oral story that began with the title, “The Happy and Sad Giraffe.” Anica asked questions beginning with “Where?” “When?” “How?” and “Why?” to expand on their story. The giraffe, we found out, is bathing in a chocolate fountain. He is happy because there are strawberries, but sad because everyone is watching him. This silly and fun start is only the beginning to a clever story that Anica tells back to them with out missing a single detail.

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During the read aloud of “The Teacher’s Pet” with the younger students, Anica asked how they would get the character, Mr. Stricter, out of the hippo’s mouth if they didn’t know he was allergic to plants. In true, Downeast, Maine, fashion one answered, “Give him lobster!”

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The day ended with a gallery walk of the amazing hallway displays and Anica was impressed by all of the kids’ hard work. The students came out from their classrooms to discuss and share their work with Anica. There were pet rocks, clothed and placed in habitats by pre-K and kindergarteners. The first grade had made posters of what Bruno, the hippo from the book, ate and compared that to what real hippos eat. Second graders made a giant crossword puzzle and acrostic poem. The third grade shared photos of their “friendship tea” event. They also made “friendship haikus” and jump rope rhymes while fourth graders made posters of Anna’s emotions with photographs of the children depicting each one. What an amazing day and fun-filled week!

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See more photos in our Facebook albums!

Ella Lewis School Album

Milbridge Elementary School Album

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Charlotte Elementary debuts “Moosehorn Secrets”

Last fall, science writer Kimberly Ridley accompanied us to the Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge with the entire Charlotte Elementary School. Kim proposed the idea of guiding the kids through hands-on research that they could use to write their own story similar to her books, “The Secret Pool” and “The Secret Bay.” Mrs. White, the principal, loves to expand learning outside of the school, so when we proposed a more experiential visit her wheels started spinning. Soon the idea for “Moosehorn Secrets” was born.

After our initial field trip to the refuge, we returned to the school two weeks later so that Kim could provide guidance on their project. They spent time every week throughout the year researching, writing, editing and illustrating. Each grade from pre-K to 8 worked in teams with older students mentoring younger students. On May 20, we returned to hear about their process and see a sneak peek of their soon-to-be published book.

One of the biggest lessons learned when publishing a book? “When you think you’re done, you’ve just begun.” Mrs. “L” noted that when she asked her students to work on the book, there were grumbles of, “Oh, no, not that again.” We asked what made them stick with this project and about the challenges they faced. Many simply liked writing. Others wanted to see a finished product. There was interest in being able to sell their book. Once you’ve begun, “you’re already halfway there,” one noted.

Kim asked the researchers, writers and illustrators who had the toughest job. Each group said their own task was the most difficult! But no one ever wished they were in a different group. The researchers liked learning about cool animal facts. They even sent all of their facts to the biologist at Moosehorn Refuge for fact-checking and revisions as needed.

When we asked about the illustration process, the illustrators provided us with a demonstration. They did research and used the notes and sketches from their day out at Moosehorn and made sure to use factual pictures for inspiration. After doing a sketch, they uploaded the picture to an iPad to color it digitally. While showing us the process someone noted, “When we work together, look what we can accomplish.”

“What would you tell another school about to embark on this process?” we asked. “Think about the end prize.” “Completely commit.” “It’s more work than you think.” “Have fun!” “Be prepared to disagree.” “Pull in outside help.” All good advice. And when asked if it was worth it, “Oh yeah!” was the overwhelming response.

Finally, it was time to read the book! Students took turns reading from an enlarged version of the book projected onto a screen in the gym. “Moosehorn Secrets” is filled with beautiful illustrations, fascinating facts, humor and a creative plot. Kim was so proud of each and every student for their hard work and dedication.

“Moosehorn Secrets” is available for purchase on Amazon for $6.99. Congratulations Charlotte Elementary School and thanks for letting us be a part of this awesome experience!

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Rebekah Raye visits Trenton Elementary School

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Artist and illustrator Rebekah Raye had an enthusiastic welcome at Trenton Elementary School on May 9. One child entered the library, where we spent the day in art workshops saying, “I can’t wait to get started!”

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This time we worked with “Thanks To The Animals” written by Alan Sockabasin and illustrated by Rebekah. The pre-K and kindergarten classes were in for a special treat as Rebekah had an audio recording of Mr. Sockabasin telling the story with soft acoustic music in the background while Rebekah turned the pages.

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After the story ended, she handed out beautiful handmade masks on sticks featuring all of the animals in the story. The children held them, dancing in a circle, while she played the tape of Alan singing the Celebration Dance. It was magical.

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Older students were shown Rebekah’s technique of using graphite pencils to draw and shade illustrations. One group was headed to The School House Museum in Mount Desert the next day and their teacher explained that they would be using pencils just like these while visiting. We love these connections.

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After the graphite drawing, she showed them how to shade and color their pictures with paint markers in beautiful, bright colors. Everyone chose a different animal to draw and the results were amazing.

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Rebekah shared advice to the young artists such as, “Do not be afraid,” “We all have our own style” and “There are no mistakes, you just change your mind,” which were helpful reminders for students and teachers alike. One teacher said that she reminds her students frequently that mistakes are allowed. Another teacher said, “I could listen to her all day” and yet another asked to take her home because she is so calming.

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The children’s work speaks for itself as Rebekah draws out the very best artist in each child by creating a loving and special space. Like the light that sparkles in the eye of each character she draws, each person she shares her art with also shines. One student said it best; “I can see the light in your eye, Rebekah Raye.”

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See more photos in our Facebook album!

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Annette LeBlanc Cate on Vinalhaven and North Haven

Previously: Annette Cate on Islesboro

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Day 2 on Vinalhaven

Thank goodness our outer island site coordinator, Jan Keiper, joined us on day two of our visits with Annette LeBlanc Cate, as we had a delayed start to our morning. She was waiting at the ferry from Lincolnville to Vinalhaven with tickets in hand as we ran with our bags and sketchbooks banging, to hop on just in the nick of time. Island living has its challenges and everybody knows that the ferry waits for no one.

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Walking into the beautiful granite foyer of the Vinalhaven School, we immediately noticed the papier-mache bird sculptures displayed for all to see. In the library, there were incredible multi-layered seagull paintings. Annette was impressed with the various viewpoints the kids chose to paint.

This visit was a special collaboration between the North Haven Community School and Vinalhaven School, along with area conservationist groups. As one teacher picked us up from the ferry, another was picking up the North Haven kids from grades 2-4 at the thoroughfare.

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Joining us for an all-group presentation that morning was Kirk Gentalen of Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Sherry Rega of Vinalhaven Land Trust. IRW was thrilled to partner with both community organizations after a great deal of advanced planning that had taken place earlier this spring. Their combined expertise was put to good use out on the trails. Before heading out, each shared a bit about their organizations, the work they do to preserve habitats on the island and why it’s important. Annette had created a “why watch birds poster” to get kids thinking.

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Annette noted that kids are great observers. “You can sharpen your observation and drawing skills,” she said. “Your sketchbook can be like a diary of your day.” She encouraged them to just “catch shapes” and “make short notes” and not to get caught up in perfection.

Kirk, a natural on the stage, performed a dramatic representation of the woodcock “beeping” which elicited great laughter from the crowd. He asked the kids, “Why do birds sing?” “To attract a mate,” was the clear response. Next up, Sherry shared some good trail information and handed out maps and brochures for all. “How should you be on a bird walk?” Kirk asked, helping kids to think before we headed out.

As is always the case with a school visit, flexibility and adaptability are the name of the game so when the bus meant to transport us didn’t start, we had no problem shifting gears and walking to the trailhead. It was delightful to see 36 kids and accompanying adults walking down the streets of the island. Immediately, Annette, ever with a sharp eye, pointed out a cardinal. But it wasn’t long before kids began pointing out gulls, eiders, goldfinches, and even a great blue heron. The prized sighting was an American kestrel, a small and gorgeous falcon.

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Along the trail Mr. Warren, fourth grade teacher at Vinalhaven, shared with Annette that his kids loved her book, “Look Up! Bird-watching in Your Own Back-yard.” He said they were so enthralled by it that he’d have to stop them from reading to move on to other work! Annette loved hearing that!

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When walking with children you just never know what they might say. Looking down at his now-dirty shoes one youngster said, “My sneakers match my tuxedo now. It got dirty on Easter.” A young girl walking behind us was heard singing, “Tuesday is a fun day. Funday Tuesday!” Does it get better than that?

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After the installation of a new battery, the repaired bus picked us up to head back to the school to the great relief of many tired students. One little guy said if the bus wasn’t there he was going to call his mom to come get him! After lunch, we were back in the library where the kids used Annette’s field guides as references to double-check the details of what they wanted to paint. As the Vinalhaven and North Haven students chatted as they created, one boy from Vinalhaven asked a girl, “You live on North Haven?” She shyly replied, “Yes.”  Then a girl said to her, “I love your earrings!” And another said, “Are you going to visit again?” Bringing the two island schools together in collaboration was one of IRW’s goals for this visit.

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Fantastic artwork was created and then those who wanted to share did so. One of the last to share had painted a chickadee and using his humor he let us know it was “Chick ID,” to which Annette chimed in, “Hey, chick do you have an ID?” It was great fun all around.

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The highlight of the day was the newly-hatched baby duck brought in by Vinalhaven third grade teacher Ms. Reidy. She let every child have a turn holding the adorable, fuzzy duckling. Total cuteness overload!

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Day 3 on North Haven

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It took two trips for Brown’s taxi to get IRW and Vinalhaven kids from grades 5-7 across the thoroughfare as we headed off to North Haven for the day. The rain held off for us once again and we were able to enjoy another great day of hiking. First, the North Haven team had organized some “get to know you” games.

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This time, we had 41 kids altogether and Maria, the Island Institute Island Fellow, facilitated the games. With everyone in a circle, it was a bit like musical chairs except there were mini bean bags instead of chairs.

Once settled on the gym bleachers for an overview of the day, North Haven grades 5-6 teacher Mr. Dow asked the kids, “Why did we do the games?” “To get comfortable.” “To mix us up.” “To get to know each other.” During Annette’s overview, she wanted kids to recognize that birds who migrate always return.

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Also joining us on our hike was Kate Quinn, North Haven school librarian and avid birder. After dividing into three groups, we boarded the bus (no hiccups this day!) and were dropped off at three different locations. One group spotted a phoebe right away and it seemed to follow us along for a bit. Maria had the kids try the technique of “phishing” where you say “psh, psh, psh” to see if you can attract any birds. She also had the kids practice focusing by shaping their hands into circles and drawing them up to their eyes to focus on a specific spot. She also sent us through the woods in turn on a “solo walk.” She would release one person every 20 seconds and we had to walk silently along the path, through the woods and out onto the golf course where we met the other two groups. One boy shared with IRW Site Coordinator Jan Keiper, “I want to be one of those people who studies birds.” “An ornithologist?” she asked. He had his grandma’s binoculars that were a bit big for his little hands.

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While the whole group enjoyed a snack we spotted not one, but two kestrels near the green. Time flies when you’re having fun and there are buses to catch, so we had to regroup and head back to the school.

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A special lunch prepared by volunteers was awaiting us; corn chowder, chicken soup and other delights. After cleanup and another team building game, the kids settled in to create art using their notes and Annette’s field guides. Some amazing art was created even by the most hesitant kids. It can be intimidating to create in front of new people and these kids did amazing work.

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IRW was thrilled to act as catalyst to bring these two communities together. The middle school students talked to their island peers about when they might get together again. It was nice to see them personally connecting with each other. A dance was announced so perhaps they will get to see each other soon! The feedback of the day was overwhelmingly positive and we look forward to future collaborations with all involved.

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We’d like to give a special shout out to the following organizations who collaborated with IRW and our partner schools:

Maine Coast Heritage Trust

The Vinalhaven Land Trust

Island Fellows/The Island Institute

Thanks also to North Haven Central School for sharing additional photos with us.

See more photos in our Facebook album! 

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Whiting students share lighthouse projects

Students from Whiting Village School shared research projects and stories inspired by Sophie Blackall’s “Hello Lighthouse” program at their recent curriculum fair.

Experts on the Fresnel lens, historic Maine heroine Abbie Burgess and other topics presented their findings to their families, community and peers — and even came dressed in period-appropriate costumes found by Mrs. Higgins at Goodwill! (Three other students had also worked on projects, but were unable to present that night.)

Prior to Sophie’s visit to their school last month, these kids worked hard researching and creating impressive work in preparation for the author visit. They proudly shared their projects with Sophie, who was overjoyed by their work and took time to compliment each student. As you can see, the learning incited by these programs and great stories creates ripples that extend far beyond the day of the author visit.

Mrs. Higgins said:

The kids built lighthouses out of cups with tea lights at the top, Principal Scott Johnson’s clever design! They are pictured in front of Sophie’s mural project…They wanted to dress up, so I had fun at the Goodwill finding costumes for them. Pictured from the top: Phoebe read her report on Abbie Burgess; Cort read his on the Fresnel lens; Terra, life in a lighthouse in 1951 (she had never buttoned a blouse!); and Ryan, the duties of a lighthouse keeper…Thanks for Sophie, a great educator/writer/artist and her finely crafted book. The kids had a great time.

Thanks to Stephanie Higgins for the photos and information!

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Anica Mrose Rissi visits Jonesport and Deer Isle-Stonington

IRW spent four, fun-filled days days with children’s book author Anica Mrose Rissi, a native of Deer Isle. We first met Anica last summer at an event at the Chase Emerson Memorial Library in Deer Isle and were thrilled when she agreed to work with us! She visited Jonesport, Deer Isle, Steuben and Milbridge with a program around her picture book “The Teacher’s Pet” and “Anna, Banana” chapter book series.

Jonesport Elementary School

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Anica kicked off her school visits with us at Jonesport Elementary School, where pre-K teacher Jeanna Carver had just been announced as the Washington County Teacher of the Year! Her classroom was filled with science projects inspired by “The Teacher’s Pet,” in which a tadpole turns into a hippo, an unlikely occurrence. But the kids took the opportunity to study life cycles and were busy hatching salamanders, salmon and even ducks!Image may contain: 1 person

Anica led story time with pre-K and kindergartners with “The Teacher’s Pet,” which the kids had read in class and loved. She also had time to read her newest book, “Watch Out for Wolf,” a spin on the classic tale of the Three Little Pigs. She uses Visual Thinking Strategies during her story time, a similar method to the Whole Book Approach, so that kids can pause to take in the art and what it might be telling us about the story. After story time, Anica took in the life cycle posters the pre-K kids had created out of recycled objects and other media. There were some very creative life cycles!

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Grades 1-4 participated in small group workshops with Anica in the cozy library. Anica shared the book she wrote and illustrated at the age of four as a child growing up in Deer Isle called “Anica’s Book of Poisonous Things.” It contains great advice such as, “This is dirt. Do not eat it!” She said she was always creating stories and had a great interest in both animals and birthday parties. Those interests led her to her first book, “The Teacher’s Pet,” and then her popular “Anna, Banana” chapter book series, the first of which is about a birthday party gone wrong.

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After her presentation, the older grades, who had read “Anna, Banana and the Friendship Split,” came up with stories out loud. Anica gave them a prompt and then continued to ask questions about what a character did, where they were and why they did what they did. It is a great exercise to get kids thinking about how stories flow and what questions a story needs to answer.  There were some very silly and creative stories from Jonesport kids and fun was had by all.

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Deer-Isle Stonington Elementary School

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Although the school has moved to a new building since Anica was a student there, it was still a wonderful homecoming as Anica knew many of the teachers with whom she attended school and are now educators there!

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She was able to connect with the kids by sharing how she got her start writing right there in Deer Isle and that many of the kids likely pass her childhood home on their way into school each day. It was wonderful to have Anica model for these kids that writers come from everywhere, including small islands off the coast of Maine.

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First up was a visit to the first grade classroom, where the kids enjoyed a read aloud from “Watch Out for Wolf.” As Anica signed copies of “The Teacher’s Pet” to each child, the kids illustrated a story they had come up with aloud together about a lost kitten.

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In the grades 3-4 workshops, Anica read from a book in her “Anna, Banana,” series as the kids had read the first in the series, “Anna, Banana and the Friendship Split” in class. Anica handed out three book titles and the kids took turns creating stories that would go with the titles.

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Kindergartners enjoyed a story time and then as Anica signed books, the kids split into two groups to illustrate animals they might see in a zoo. So many bright colors and shapes were used to create fun scenes!

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In the last workshop of the day, second graders came up with a crazy story — another one involving a kitten — and then illustrated a scene from the book. Anica then left for the day, but said she hopes to see some of these new faces around Deer Isle, where she will be for the summer!

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Up next, Anica’s visits to Ella Lewis School and Milbridge Elementary School.



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