Island Readers & Writers Blog

Mock Newbery Book Club

IRW’s 2018-2019 Mock Newbery Book Club at Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor was a fun success!

For the second year in a row, all Pemetic fifth and sixth graders were invited to participate in this extra-curricular program in which they read titles from a list of 15 Newbery Medal eligible books, reviewed and culled by IRW volunteers. This year, 10 judges participated in the club, which meets once per month at lunchtime from October-February. Throughout the meetings, the judges discuss their favorites with their peers, and engage in gallery walks where they answer questions and even draw pictures related to the books they’ve been reading. The judges fill out secret ballots where they rank their top three favorites based on Newbery Medal criteria, including:

  • Interpretation of the theme or concept
  • Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization
  • Development of a plot
  • Delineation of characters
  • Delineation of a setting
  • Appropriateness of style

After months of reading and discussion, the judges cast their ballots in early February. The 2019 Mock Newbery winner is: “The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle” by Leslie Connor, and the runners-up are “The Night Diary” by Veera Hiranandani and “Breakout” by Kate Messner! Thanks to Pemetic librarian Tracey McCarthy who helps make this program possible. IRW has donated one copy of each book to the Pemetic library, Harbor House Underground and the Southwest Harbor Public Library, where everyone can check them out! Click here for the complete reading list.


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Rebekah Raye at the Eastport Arts Center with Beatrice Rafferty

After rescheduling due to a snow day in mid-November (that we hope does not portend what winter has in store for us), we finally met with the grades 1-4 from Beatrice Rafferty School and author/illustrator Rebekah Raye at the lovely Eastport Arts Center in early December.

Upon entering the arts center, we found the hall decorated for the holidays with twinkling lights and silver and blue baubles that made the room bright and festive for the young artists. “Thanks to the Animals” is the book they were working with and Rebekah hung her companion mural up for all to see. In the story, little Zoo Sap and his family are moving from the coast inland for the winter and other animals help Zoo Sap stay warm. Listening to Rebekah with her lilting southern accent share how she met the author, Allen Sockabasin, the kids were quietly attentive. She shared how her ideas came from listening to Allen tell the story over and over and the images formed in her mind.  “Don’t ever be afraid of your ideas,” she told them, “we need your ideas.” She showed them Goosey Goose (he’s made of papier maché and comes along to every visit for children to pet). “That’s why there’s a goose in the story,” one youngster noticed.

The third and fourth graders were given tracing paper, carbon paper, and heavy multi-media paper along with graphite pencils and kneaded erasers to get started on their artwork. “The tracing paper is where you get to practice your design,” Rebekah said as she demonstrated the technique she uses regularly. This would create a “ghost” image for them. It was an advanced art method, but the kids were up to the challenge.

One young lady drew two cats side by side with contrasting colors. We like to incorporate a shared reflection and feedback opportunity for the kids at these workshops and while sharing her cats, a fellow student noted, “They’re doing a staring contest.” Another expressed that she liked the ginger cat. “I love that you used that word, ‘ginger,’” Rebekah responded.

With first and second graders, Rebekah kept the workshop simpler, but added colorful paint sticks that were a huge hit. “We all have our own style,” she stressed before pointing out that there are a few elements that every picture needs: dark, medium, and, with a chorus of a response from the kids, “Light!!”

While the children tested their skills with graphite and kneaded erasers, Rebekah showed them her original paintings for the book. She pointed out the picture of Zoo Sap falling off the sled and asked the children why they thought he fell. They all could see it was because he was curious about the animals and reached a little too far because he wanted to learn more. “This,” she said, “is something you all should remember, be curious and learn all you can.” She left them with a final instruction, “Leave a sparkle of light in the eye — every living thing with eyes has a spark of light, it adds life.” “I see a sparkle in your hair!” one girl noted. She was right. Not only does Rebekah have a twinkle in her eye, she literally has sparkles in her hair. It’s always a bit magical with Rebekah Raye.

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Woodland welcomes Rebekah Raye

The IRW staff had a tough, snowy drive down Route 9 to get to Woodland Elementary School on the day of Rebekah Raye’s visit. But the artist, her husband and her traveling art studio were waiting for our arrival along with lovely sign welcoming us once we finally arrived. The very accommodating cook had arranged bagged lunches for the students to eat in their classrooms as we transformed the cafeteria into an art studio for the day. Rebekah Raye comes to a visit armed with paintings, drawings, photographs, and her much-admired papier maché replica of her beloved pet goose, Goosey Goose. “That’s why there’s a goose in the story!” exclaimed one youngster upon seeing the goose in her mural hung for all to see.

The morning began with Rebekah singing a song about the moon to delighted kindergarten students and their teachers. As they sat on the floor, Rebekah acted out her book, “The Very Best Bed” with her painted, larger-than-life cutouts. She then gave a drawing demonstration of a puppy as one child exclaimed to her teacher, “Do you love that!” and “She’s so good!” While Rebekah signed a book for each student, the kids drew an animal of their choice on a landscape Rebekah had prepared. A lot of rabbits and deer and even a bat were added to this masterpiece.

Grades 1-2 were told about how the original Goosey Goose was born on the same day as her grandson, which made her super special. They looked at her childhood drawings and she told them about when she was a little girl coming home from school to her mother’s microscope. This began her love of science and the natural world. Her father was an artist so she spent a lot of time learning from him, too.

Rebekah drew a cat and mouse, demonstrating her technique of using graphite and erasers. Then they all tried their hand at drawing the Rebekah way. “Don’t ever be afraid of your ideas,” she told them. “We need your ideas.” “That’s the best guy I ever made!” said one happy student. After books were signed, they wanted a group photo and instead of saying “cheese,” they yelled out “Thank you Rebekah Raye!” One student was heard saying, “I’m going to take mine home and show my parents.” We followed these kiddos down the hall to view their animal habitats made with found natural objects. Rebekah sat right down on the floor with them as they enthusiastically shared their creations.

With grades 3-4, Rebekah shared how she met and worked with the author, Alan Sockabasin, and how he wanted the Passamaquoddy language and stories to stay alive. She showed her original art from the book and explained about full spreads and how she had to make sure to keep her important features out of the gutter, the center of the book. The kids had come prepared with a whole lot of questions on sticky notes for Rebekah. “Do you like to make the pictures?” “Are those all your favorite animals?” “What gave you your ideas?”  “Do you have to have it quiet when you draw or can you stand people talking?” There’s always a question for the artist about her favorites, but this one stood out: “Which animal do you draw the most, from land, air, or water?”

They did their own drawings after another of Rebekah’s amazing samples (she makes it look so easy!). One young man drew a picture of tall trees in the forest. When we asked him to tell us about it he said, “This really happened in my life.” He went on to share how he had heard a rumbling sound coming from the forest and he didn’t know what it was. He entered the forest to investigate and discovered it was squirrels up in the trees. As he stood there, he discovered that they were dropping acorns on to the ground. They even dropped a bunch of leaves that he put on his head because it looked like a hat. That is the beginning of a wonderful story and we encouraged him to write it.

In the end, as they were leaving, Rebekah did her impression of an owl and it was so realistic that we thought she had brought the real thing with her! Just like the rest of the day, full of nice surprises.



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To Deer Isle-Stonington…and Jupiter and beyond with Russ Cox!

The view was spectacular as we made our way over Caterpillar Hill and onto Deer Isle for a visit with Russ Cox at Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School. IRW Site Coordinator Morgan Witham and art teacher Hilary Tobin welcomed and set us up in the art room for the day where workshops were held for grades 1-4. Shouting out a “good morning” greeting and getting a quiet and kind of tired response, Russ asked, “Do you all have part-time jobs or something?” That got them warmed up and ready.

Russ shared his favorite childhood books including “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” both of which received cries of recognition. “Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel” was perhaps a bit too old for these youngsters, though it was Russ’s favorite. They soon learned that he has an affinity for monsters and machines and any combination of the two.

Russ shared that he tries to draw every day and a second-grade student chimed in, “It’s good for you!” He shared  his sketchbooks and pages that are all one animal and how that provides good practice and allows characters to emerge for him. “Can you draw a unicorn?” someone asked. He found one in a sketchbook. “Ahhhh” and “Ooooh” were the responses. “Everyone can draw” he told them, “it’s just practice.”

Russ’s easy manner generates a lot of back and forth. He loves responding to questions and, not only did these kids come prepared with them, they were quick on their feet with generating new ones. “Did you have any friends that draw?” “Why did you want to write a book?” “How old is your son?” (When he answered 33, a kid shouted out, “The son that’s 33 is catching up to you,” which garnered much laughter from Russ.) He happily answered as many questions as possible but then it was time to get drawing.

Getting them warmed up “Just like stretching for sports,” he had them draw circles. “Don’t even think about it, just fill the page.” The idea was to make that page as dark as possible. Then he threw them a curveball by giving them erasers and telling them to draw with them. Keeping them on their toes he asked them to draw a bird. Once complete they had to switch their pencil to the other hand and draw that same bird. Though there were many mutterings of, “I can’t,” we were all pleasantly surprised by how close some came to their original drawings.

Once he had them warmed up and thinking quickly, it was time for a group draw. After starting a drawing on poster paper, each kid had a 10-second turn to add to the drawing. Becoming a quick moving and excited assembly line these kids caught on fast adding on to what came before them. Bending sideways from their lineup they would try to catch a glimpse of what was happening and were giggling excitedly as the drawing progressed.

With first graders, the energy reached maximum levels as these kids were bursting with excitement. He didn’t ask these kids about part time jobs as they were wide awake and full of enthusiastic questions. “Did you make a robot?” “Do you like your job?” Since silliness was the order of the day and one of Russ’ new projects includes making faces, he had them make the silliest face they could. “Can you hold that all day?” he asked. A few tried. We made time to visit the first grade classroom to see the lego rockets they had built in preparation for the day. Very cool.

Second grade was much mellower but still full of good questions and comments; “How did you write a funny book?” “We’ve already read this book. It’s so much fun!” But they hadn’t done the “Faraway Friends” method of the countdown yet and so Russ led them through the echo version. “10,10,10,10,10,10,10, 9,9,9,9,9,9,9,8,8,8,8,8,8,8…..And then this question showing a particular eye for detail, “Did you mean to make the eyes over there to show there is a friend moving in?” And, when he showed some of his art, one kid reacted, “You’ve got to be kidding me! That’s the most creative thing I’ve ever seen!”

After the warm up exercises he had these kids fold their paper in half and told them to draw anything they wanted. “Best day ever!” exclaimed one young man. And with the group timed draw, some of the kids worked together to get the name of their class on the poster showing some real team spirit.

To round out the day we met with the PK-K kids (at least those who weren’t napping!) in the library for a read aloud. Mrs. Witham got them warmed up by reading some clever and interactive picture books from her collection. And Russ came prepared to follow with his handy dandy paper bag helmet. This final countdown took us to Jupiter and beyond!

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Anne Sibley O’Brien pilots two-day program at Edmunds Consolidated School

Day One

Winter weather was no deterrent when we visited Edmunds Consolidated School with Anne Sibley O’Brien for day one of a special two-day pilot program. Despite some wickedly icy roads and a two-hour delay, the sun broke through and produced a lovely rainbow and we sallied forth for a grand day.

Once everyone got safely to school, it was full steam ahead. With an all-school presentation, Annie showed photos of her life growing up in South Korea and there was much excitement about her colorful traditional clothing depicted in the photos. She shared that the locals often viewed her as a “princess” or a “friendly space alien” with her white skin and fair hair. When she started speaking Korean, there were burst of, “What is she saying? Is that Korean? Cool!”

Into the bright and well-stocked library (kudos to Alison Goodwin), Annie surprised the youngest students by reading her latest book, “Someone New,” the companion to “I’m New Here.” The two books share the same characters but are told from different perspectives. The children made comparisons to how they felt being new when they began school that fall. They determined they could make someone feel welcome by saying, “You can play with us.” Upon receiving his very own copy of “I’m New Here,” one young fella declared, “We read this two times!”

First and second graders showed us their wonderful projects hanging in the hallway. They had devised maps of their community showing the Denny’s River, the school, firehouse, their houses, and even the hairdresser! They also had thought about how they could help make a new student feel welcome and drew pictures of “What I Can Do to Help.” Some of their ideas were: helping a new person find a seat, or asking them to join in their games, and even how to find the bathroom.

“I was very nervous and scared when I first came to this school,” one youngster shared, “I didn’t even know where my class was.” Another said, “I was nervous when I first moved to Trescott. I didn’t even know if I’d make any friends.” These kids had many questions for Annie about South Korea like, “How long does it take to get there?” and “What kind of clothes did you wear?” Annie signed all their books with a special “friend” for each student – a drawing of a boy or girl for them to keep forever.

The third and fourth graders read “The Legend of Hong Kil Dong” a graphic novel about a Robin Hood-type character, set in the 1400’s. They had studied the story of Robin Hood and done some comparisons. “Was the story about North or South Korea?” one student inquired. She told them that this was a time before Korea was split into two separate countries. “And this is what South Korea looks like today,” she told them, pointing to a current photo in her slide presentation. “Futuristic,” said one student. “It looks like L.A.,” said another.

After explaining about graphic novels and how this story “wanted to become one,” Annie demonstrated how to draw a Korean dragon with a heart-shaped head, whiskers, beard, and horns. The children were given art supplies to create their own version and were amazed at how great everyone’s dragon turned out.

For the last workshop of the day, Annie met Mrs. Molly Calder’s 5-8th grade ELA students. As part of a pilot program, they had read both “In the Shadow of the Sun,” and “The Legend of Hong Kil Dong,” and had delved deep into the culture and history of Korea. Though the two texts were very different, they used the hero’s journey theme to examine the characters and begin to identify their own hero stories. The first day was an introduction to comparing literary/cultural formats around the hero’s journey, conversations and connections about identity and introduction to developing a character with purpose.

First though, there were many questions and, as often happens with Annie, an intriguing discussion took place. After all, living in rural Maine, it’s not an everyday opportunity that you get to talk to someone who has lived in South Korea and wrote a novel based in North Korea.

Annie loves to tell the story of how she got to visit the North Korean border in China to do research for the book. Though she is fluent in Korean, she does not speak Chinese and yet, by using creative communication methods, she managed to relay to a Chinese taxi driver that she wanted to go to the border wall. Not really knowing what the man was saying, she agreed to get into the cab with two other Chinese men. “You what?” gasped the class. “Don’t you know that’s dangerous?” they asked. Tossing her head back and laughing, Annie assured them she was safe.

Amazingly, she found physical characteristics to the landscape that she had already written into her manuscript, including a boat in the river! Serendipitous for certain. She even went into North Korean waters on a boat and waved at a civilian on the North Korean side. “Weren’t you scared?” the kids wanted to know. “What if you’d been caught?” But she wasn’t and now has a thrilling tale that really brings the novel to life for these lucky kids.

Annie wrapped up day one with the 5-8th graders and a challenge to have a hero’s story ready in their minds for day two.

Day Two

Day two of the program was a full day of hands-on drawing/composing comics from story board to dummy. The budding writers and artists shared their pre-visit projects with Annie, everything from plot diagrams to Venn diagrams, dioramas, letters to Annie, and fact posters. Annie shared some variations on plot diagrams that they could use and instantly Mrs. Calder created an assignment, “Research a plot diagram you like for Monday.” “Can we make our own?” asked a student. “Our plot diagrams are going to look much different from now on,” noted Molly with excitement.

Kyle, all of his own volition, had created a Google Map of Mia and Simon’s adventures. Bringing it up on the large screen, Annie was able to point out the accuracies and some slight variations that needed correcting. She was super impressed. A connection was made to another Maine teacher’s map and Molly said she would be using that in her unit later. Annie shared that Google Lit Trips is going to be making an “official” map including 3D. When Annie is with kids it becomes a shared discovery process with her learning as much from the students as they learn from her. And Molly reinforced that idea saying, “I love learning new things with the kids.”

On to drawing comics. “The power of the frame is important,” Annie shared showing them the various layouts that can be used. “Zoom in and zoom out. Use the frame to control your setting.” She encouraged them to make it rough and quick and don’t get bogged down in perfection. Molly shared that her students really struggle with the idea of rough drafts. “The best gift you can give yourself is the ability to do roughs,” Annie shared.  “The advantage of roughs is you have to do it over again, you make discoveries and the quality of the work gets better.” Molly loved that her kids were hearing this from someone else.

At the end of the day the kids eagerly shared their “roughs” and pointed out what they liked about each other’s work. They were thoughtful and kind, even after working all day long.

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Whiting Village School welcomes Anne Sibley O’Brien

Whiting Village School was cozy and warm on the day of our visit with Anne Sibley O’Brien. We began with an all-school presentation and Annie greeted them in Korean asking, “Are you in peace?” Soon after, she was bombarded with questions about South Korea where she spent her childhood. “What is your favorite Korean food?” and “What is your favorite animal?” “What was it like to grow up there?” another asked “Did you like growing up there?” Her favorite animal is a cat, she loved growing up there and I can’t spell her favorite Korean food. As for what it was like to live there, Annie said it was great to grow up in South Korea and she likes to tell students what she has learned about people from her life experiences;

  1. We are all one human family; we have a lot in common.
  2. Peoples’ differences are all fascinating, glorious and beautiful!

“A lot of your views come from how your family presents it,” she shared.

Joining grades 1-4 in their tin ceilinged room, we saw that they had done a lot of work ahead of Annie’s visit. All of them had asked their parents and other relatives about where their ancestors came from. A nice poster depicted the variety of countries that their families immigrated from. After reading “I’m New Here,” the kids pondered what it would be like to be new in a school. They had a new friend from a different state this year so were able to compare his experience to the children in the book. Annie talked to them about the differences between being an immigrant and a refugee and then read her new book “Someone New.” One child related her experience of being new. “My mom is in the military,” said a young girl, “and we have to move every four years.” These kids were relating the characters to their own lives. They loved comparing the similar books and talked about what was different about them. After reading, Annie signed a copy of “I’m New Here” for each of them, with a bonus signature in Korean. One girl said, “I love getting these books, I keep all my Island Readers & Writers books together on a special shelf!” We left them making their own welcome posters in a variety of languages including, Passamaquoddy, French, Spanish, Korean, and more.

We then moved into the pre-k-kindergarten area and were amazed by the exuberance and wonder of these children. Annie read parts of the book aloud and they spontaneously stood up and started “greeting” each other in a role play. We all were blown away by how they acted out sharing a toy, saying hello and inviting someone to join in a game. Cutest thing ever! As Annie signed and handed out their books they sat on the floor looking at them and one boy pointed at a picture and said, “Look, he’s confused and she’s lonely.” These children are definitely making connections.

To round out the day we visited grades 5-8 where Annie told how “The Legend of Hong Kil Dong,” her book about a traditional Korean hero, became a graphic novel. She explained the parts of a graphic novel and demonstrated how to draw a Korean dragon. A lively Q&A session took place before the students were given watercolor pencils and paper to create their own amazing dragons. Demonstrating some simple techniques to get them started, they quickly caught on and produced some beautiful artwork. Annie was thrilled with the results. She said how much she loves these smaller schools, “You really get time to spend with each student.” She then showed photos of what Korea looks like now. “Wow!” was heard over and over. “That looks newer than New York!” “Yes”, said Annie, “I like to show that it is a very modern place now.”

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Princeton Elementary welcomes Rebekah Raye

Cold winds blew outside when we arrived with author and illustrator Rebekah Raye at Princeton Elementary School, but warmth and cordiality met us inside this lovely school. Rebekah was excited by the welcome poster created in honor of her visit and raved over all the student artwork in the halls. A few eager students helped carry all of Rebekah’s things into the room, which quickly transformed into an art studio. Her characters and paintings really brought the space to life for the budding artists of Princeton. Goosey-Goose, her papier-maché goose, came along as he does to all of the schools she visits. A harbor seal pup, the newest addition to her menagerie, made an appearance as well.

The first workshop was with the grades 3-4. They sat down at tables ready with art paper, charcoal, graphite pencils, smudging cloths and erasers, to begin their own drawings after watching a demonstration by Rebekah. Her technique starts with thinking of drawing as writing, “If you can write your name, you can draw,” she says to the students. “Fine lines or bold lines, they’re all wonderful because we all have our own style.” She begins with an upside down ‘U’ then it turns into an ‘L’ then a ‘Y’ and so on until, “Oh my gosh, it’s a squirrel!” said one little girl. “She must be really good!” said another.

She told each class about negative space and to fill in the whole paper with graphite, smudge it and then to use the eraser to bring up highlights. She talked about how she came to write her book “The Very Best Bed”: “As a child I thought about the animals at night and worried about how they were sleeping,” she told them. “So when I was asked to write my own book that is what I wanted to explore.” She likes to do the paintings first and then the words come after. She also told them it took her six months to do the painting of the bear!

The artists in grades 1-2 were provided with paint sticks to add color to their drawings. One child declared of Rebekah, “She’s not just a miracle worker, she’s awesome!”  Students in pre-K to grade 4 were each given a signed copy of “The Very Best Bed,” while grades 5-8 were sent home with orange sketchbooks from IRW and graphite pencils and erasers thanks to Charity Williams, their principal. All were encouraged to keep on drawing and writing.

After lunch, Rebekah acted out “The Very Best Bed” for the pre-and kindergarten students with amazing, cardboard cutouts of the book’s characters to the delight of all the students and teachers alike. One teacher was very moved and as she left the room teary eyed, said how much she loved the story and seeing Rebekah’s telling of it.

We were then treated to all the amazing projects that had been done prior to Rebekah’s visit. We saw the adorable pictures from kids in grades 1-2 of “A Tree is a Bed for an Owl” and “A Den is a Bed for a Bear.” Then it was off to see fourth grade’s own “very best beds” with pictures of the kids in a bed peeking out over quilts. Each quilt square represented an animal from the book! Kindergarteners had charted which beds were their favorites.

The middle school history class created a historical timeline of beds and two videos: one a very clever parody of “The Very Best Bed” called “The Very Best Chair,” and a reenactment of the book with the children wearing masks, costumes and fluffy tails that brought Rebekah to tears.

It was a wonderful day and after all was done, Rebekah signed the wall of fame in the library for the second time while a little girl said, “I am going to buy a bunch of your books and give them to every one I know!”





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Cynthia Lord on Swan’s Island

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!”

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Charlotte Elementary reveals “Moosehorn Secrets”

Charlotte Elementary School was abuzz on the second day of a two-visit program with Kimberly Ridley, who had spent a day with them two weeks before at Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge. While there, they got to see animals and their habitats up close so that they could return to school and get started on their own book in a similar style to Kim’s “The Secret Pool,” titled “Moosehorn Secrets.” Kim returned with us for this second visit to hear what they had done and to give suggestions to help them with their writing.

The spotlight for this visit was on the students and they took turns sharing what they had written with one another. It was a very fun story of an eagle noticing a funny long yellow thing [a school bus] arriving in the forest, and out jumps loud children and teachers running in all directions. The main character, Eagle, then has to warn his wildlife friends of the danger coming their way!

The enthusiasm was great as we listened to how they started their research and chose the characters for their book. There was much discussion on who would be the main character and Eagle was chosen because of its bird’s-eye view and how seeing the big picture along with being able to hone in on minute details was very important to their plot. Kim agreed that this was a brilliant strategy.

We broke into three groups and each had a turn working with Kim on different sections of the book from beginning to end. The first group was asked, “What makes a good beginning?” After a flurry of answers, she told them to take their good ideas and think about how the animals in their story feel, and helped them connect their research with the story process such as, “How is the eagle regal?” and “How would an eagle talk about itself?”

A similar process was done with the groups that worked on the middle and end of the story. Kim demonstrated how some sentences could help you see and hear the scene more clearly, and that just changing one word can make a huge difference. Kim helped the second group see that the middle of a story should have a conflict that needs to be solved. They wanted to bring in a squirrel that shows up in the end and this gave Kim the opportunity to explain foreshadowing. The last group had worked on the story’s ending and during their time with Kim, creative ideas were abundant! Some were a little far out there and cliffhangers were discussed.

In the afternoon, we returned to the circle and the principal, Peggy White, read the newly revised version out loud to all. What a thrill to be a part of this story unfolding. We cannot wait to see the finished version. We hear it will be available next spring.

Before leaving Kim asked the students each to finish this statement about the book they are writing, “I Wonder…” Here are some of their replies:

“I wonder what the illustrations will look like?”

“I wonder how all 3 parts will be connected, beginning, middle and end?”

“I wonder if many of us will be writers?”

“I wonder if you (Kim Ridley) will come back when you write another book?”

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Kimberly Ridley visits Milbridge Elementary School

Milbridge Elementary School welcomed Kimberly Ridley with hallways filled with projects they had worked on after reading her books, “The Secret Bay” and “Extreme Survivors.” There were posters and shadow boxes of estuary creatures, photographs of students visiting a salmon hatchery, Haiku poetry and paintings inspired by a book authored by a Milbridge parent and an amazing food chain mural.

Kim began the day with an all school assembly in the gym. She asked the students, “Who likes secrets?” Everyone raised a hand. Then she asked, “Who is good at kee

ping secrets?”  A few raised a hand. She told them that she is not very good at keeping secrets because she ended up writing a book about all the secret creatures she learned about!

When someone asked, “How did you become a writer?”, she told them that she follows her curiosity. When she gets excited about something she wants to learn more and she takes her curiosity seriously. “To write a book one has to observe, ask questions, research, reflect, organize, write and rewrite.” She re-wrote “The Secret Bay” 12 times!

In writing workshops for grades 3-6, Kim worked with students by pretending they were “Ace Reporters” looking for a catchy first sentence to hook their readers. They were to tell the story of the strange creature living in their backyards, the tardigrade, a microscopic creature that lives in moss. She also had an exercise that showed how important reliable research is.

With the younger students, she talked about how estuaries are like a big mixing bowl with brackish water, a mixture of salt and fresh that creates the perfect magical home for some pretty amazing animals. They were encouraged to pretend they were creating an estuary right in the room and she read passages from “The Secret Bay.” She showed them a horseshoe crab molt and told them all sorts of interesting facts about this extreme survivor.

At the end of the day, each class met Kim in the hall to tell about their projects, a time for each child to tell about their process. This school has such a rich learning environment with collaborations with community organizations and individuals and a reaching out from the school to embrace all that this community has to offer.

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