Island Readers & Writers Blog

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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New IRW partner school Indian Township Elementary welcomes Kimberly Ridley

We arrived for our first-ever visit to new IRW partner Indian Township Elementary School on a chilly October morning with author Kimberly Ridley, who greeted children as they entered the gym for the all-school presentation. A delight of extreme creatures and ultimate survivors from prehistoric times was presented along with information on vernal pools and all the wonderful creatures therein.

Kim’s first workshop was with the 7th and 8th grades, where they were encouraged to be “ACE Reporters” — to observe, ask questions and research. She told them that all good reporters start with a catchy first sentence and they were let loose to give reporting a shot by choosing one of the creatures in her book, “Extreme Survivors,” for inspiration.

Younger students were happy to pretend they were at a secret pool, to close their eyes and listen to the sounds. One lucky child heard dinosaurs breathing! The pre-k and kindergarten students laughed to hear that fairy shrimp swim upside down and breathe through their feet.

The 3rd-6th graders were given a writing prompt and shown video of a tardigrade magnified. Some were thrilled at how cute the “zombie bears,” as Kim calls them, are and others thought it was super gross. One teacher exclaimed, “I can’t believe they are ALL writing!” as the children jumped right in to their assignments.

We had lunch with the 4th graders while they happily showed us the projects they had been working on around Kim’s book, “Secret Pool,” including amazing posters of their favorite creatures complete with life cycles.

After spending the afternoon in workshops in the beautiful library, Kim was whisked away to the 6th grade classroom to see their wall mural of a goblin shark, another extreme survivor.

We left the school with a chorus of “woliwon,” which means “thank you” in Passamaquoddy. Woliwon to all in Indian Township School from Island Readers & Writers — we are so glad to be partners with you.



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Kimberly Ridley at Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge with Charlotte Elementary

A beautiful day for nature observation at Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge.

This fall, IRW has been shaking things up by taking our author programs out of the classroom and out into nature! On Oct. 22, the entire Charlotte Elementary School moved to the Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge near Baring Plantation in Washington County where we met with author Kimberly Ridley and biology technician Clayton Merrill. The school bus transformed into a tour bus as we explored this habitat created for the American Woodcock.

The first stop on the tour was to view a beaver dam and lodge. With pencils and homemade sketchbooks in hand, the kids used their observation skills to make notes of what they noticed.

There were interesting things to see everywhere.

An otter slide was discovered near the dam which drew great interest! The pencils were flying furiously as rough sketches were drawn and notes were jotted down. Clayton focused in on some black ducks on the pond using a spotting scope. It wasn’t long though before they burst into flight and zoomed right over our heads!

The kids used notepads to write and sketch their observations to use later in the day.

Sometimes, observations were made from the bus seats with “tour guide Kim” giving clues to what they might see. Another flock of ducks was spotted and took flight and a group of Canada Geese floated in a second pond. Clayton shared that two black bears were living in the area, a fact that was greeted with big “ooohs” and “aaahhs.”

Tour Guide Kim!

Back in the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) building, which served as headquarters for the day, some serious brainstorming took place. “What did you notice?” Kim asked. A blank poster for observation was filled. “What do you wonder?” Two posters for curiosities were filled. And, “What did it remind you of?” — another poster filled.

All of this brainstorming work was done to inspire creative thinking and, as a whole school, write a rough draft for “The Secret Refuge,” a book in the style of Kimberly Ridley, but written entirely by Charlotte students! To really get their creative juices flowing, the writers and artists next used water color pencils and paper to use their knowledge from observations and notes to inspire the story. The room became a real art studio with focused creativity pouring onto the pages.

Getting creative juices flowing with watercolor pencils!

The kids were also able to draw inspiration and get real details from the large display of taxidermy animals that adorned the YCC. Flying ducks, owls, and even a fawn were on hand for observation. They will have two weeks to write their rough draft and then IRW and Kim return for a day of editing to really get a sense of the book-writing process. These kids were incredibly focused and eager to participate. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for our return on Monday, Nov. 5. Stay tuned!

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Mary Cerullo visits Vinalhaven

Author Mary Cerullo and IRW crew were hosted by island resident Pat Lundholm for their visit to the Vinahlaven School which often includes an overnight stay, while longtime IRW friend Sue Dempster put on a wonderful potluck gathering where teachers and the IRW crew shared food and stories — mostly about books. Go figure!

The day of the visit began in the auditorium with grades K-5. Mary’s presentation included wonderful sea creature photos and lots of stories to share with the children. Many hands were being raised and students had good comments and questions for Mary.

Some great advice from Mary during her all-school presentation.

To the pre-K students, Mary read a new book she is working on that isn’t yet published. The children were attentive listeners as they listened to this never-before heard story! And Mary got some good feedback from her audience. It was a pretty special experience.

Pre-k students got the chance to read from Mary’s unpublished book!

Second and third graders had read her book, “Sea Secrets,” and Mary asked, “What do you know about climate change?” A student answered, “It’s the problem for everything!” Mary mentioned how warmer waters are more acidic and its general effects on marine life. A student asked, “Do lobster shells get affected by acidic water?” This kid was thinking about the impact on the vital fishing industry, which is integral to life on Vinalhaven. Every student shared a fact about the sea animals they were studying. One student shared, “Starfish have lots of birthdays!”

Sea creatures created by second and third graders.

Kindergarteners and first graders had read “City Fish, Country Fish,” a meaty book for such youngsters but their enthusiasm was great. Mary asked the children why they would choose to be a country fish. Here are a few responses: “I like the colors.” “I could eat whenever I wanted.” “I like to hide in the rocks!”

Grades four and five had read and worked with “Sea Secrets.” Mary asked what the secret was and all the children shouted, “krill!” These kids knew their stuff, partly due to a recent visit to the Gulf of Maine Institute. They had done food web studies, chosen habitats to explore, and made posters about them.

While Mary shared about climate change and its particular impacts on the Gulf of Maine, she suggested the children talk to their grandparents and parents and ask them if they noted changes in the waters and marine life around Vinalhaven during their lifetimes. She then had them play a bingo game about marine animals and asked if each one was a winner or loser when it comes to climate change. The session ended when fourth grade teacher Rob Warren played two cartoon videos that Mary explained were created by O’Chang Comics. The students loved the humor and laughed out loud while watching “A Climate Calamity in the Gulf of Maine: The Lobster Pot Heats up” and “Part 2: Acid in the Gulf.”

Each Vinalhaven student loved receiving their own signed copies of her books. They all opened them immediately and were sharing with each other as they talked about the pictures and discussing the what they had learned that day!


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MDI 7th Grade Read at Camp Beech Cliff

The 7th Grade Read has become an annual cornerstone of our fall programming and this year’s event with author Clare Vanderpool at Camp Beech Cliff was once again a great success.

The Oct. 19 event brought together all 137 seventh graders from each MDIRSS school to Camp Beech Cliff for a morning to discuss Clare’s book, “Navigating Early” and hear from the author herself.

The goal of this annual event is to provide an opportunity for all MDI seventh graders interact with their peers from different schools, read an acclaimed novel by an author who each student gets to meet, and have community members share their love of reading by facilitating small group discussions.

As the kids arrived, Billie Holiday (a favorite of main character Early’s) played from a record player in the entrance to the Eagle’s Nest. Each student had a name tag featuring a constellation — another element of “Navigating Early” — and were assigned to meet up with the group leaders who matched their constellations.

As everyone entered, they used the constellations on their name tags to join their groups that included kids from different MDIRSS schools.

The first activity was a Gallery Walk in which each group had two minutes each to answer five different questions about the book and vote on whether they agreed or disagreed on the answers. There was some hot debate among some of the questions, which is exactly what we love to see when discussing literature!

Gallery Walk

Gallery Walk

MDI teachers came up with questions for the Gallery Walk to help get the kids in the mood for the group discussions.

The groups then moved into a 25-minute discussion of the book, facilitated by one of 15 wonderful community volunteers.

Getting a kick out of the group discussion.

Community volunteers read the book and prepared to facilitate the small group discussions.

Clare sits in on a small group discussion.

IRW is extremely grateful to its volunteers from many different corners of the MDI community: Lee Bonta of the Jesup Memorial Library; Ephron Catlin; Dianne Clendaniel of College of the Atlantic; Matt Cornish of Camp Beech Cliff; Autumn Demaine of Trenton Elementary School; Tiffany Dow of The First; Tim Garrity of the MDI Historical Society; Billy Helprin of the Somes Meynell Wildlife Preserve; Lisa Horsch-Clark of Friends of Acadia; Jenny Jones, of the Bar Harbor Food Pantry; Margie Phelps of Hinckley; Andrew Simon of Barn Arts; Mark Woida of Harbor House; Jamie Whitehead of Camp Beech Cliff and Marie Yarborough of Acadia National Park.

Our wonderful volunteers! From left: Margie Phelps, Jamie Whitehead, Tiffany Dow, Mark Woida, Dianne Clendaniel. Matt Cornish, Lisa Horsch-Clark, Tim Garrity, Andrew Simon, Billy Helprin, Lee Bonta. [Not pictured: Ephron Catlin, Autumn Demaine, Jenny Jones, Marie Yarborough.]

Clare talks about her life and writing.

After the group discussions, book trailers the kids created were shown to much applause (and sometimes laughter). Clare then talked about her inspiration from the book and about how some scenes or elements from the story are inspired by her own life. “Life experiences can bubble up when you need them,” she said. All 137 kids received a personally-inscribed copy of “Navigating Early” and left Camp Beech Cliff inspired by their peers from different schools and by meeting and chatting with Clare.


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Clare Vanderpool with Ella Lewis & Charlotte at the Henry D. Moore Public Library

We always love seeing these smiling faces!

It was like stepping back in time on October 18th when the 5th-8th graders from Ella Lewis and Charlotte came together around the book, “Navigating Early,” by Clare Vanderpool. Walking into the Henry D. Moore Library and Parrish House, our gracious host venue, and hearing Billie Holiday’s voice coming from an turntable while stepping onto the old, wooden floors really brought the program to life, specifically back to the 1940s when Clare’s novel is set. Modeled on our MDI 7th Grade Read, these kids were mixed into small breakout groups to discuss some pretty deep questions about the book, such as: “Both Pi and Jack dream of an encounter with looking into the eyes of a white whale…Are dreams important? What can they tell us about our awake life?” “Sometimes dreams are predictors,” remarked one student. Sometimes the answers weren’t clear and rather than agree or disagree, students said they were “on the fence.” Literature, as in life, can have some gray areas.

Ella Lewis 5th and 6th graders created mobiles featuring passages from the book that stood out to them and images that went with words.

Though time is always our enemy, the shared experience with the two schools, teachers agreed, was really nice. Kids noted that, while at first they were nervous, once they started talking about the book, getting to know each other felt pretty easy.

Small group discussions helped kids think about deeper questions stemming from the book

During Clare’s presentation, she shared her writing process and how, sometimes, a character or an idea just pops into her head and she really doesn’t know where it came from. This surprised at least one teacher who noted that she would have to rethink how she taught writing after hearing this from Clare. Another teacher, who had a very personal connection to the book, got to share that with Clare. It was quite moving to witness. Sometimes the impact of our programs is unpredictable and amazing.

Clare talks about her inspiration for the book.

Some drew their interpretation of the main character Early’s room, which is described in detail in the book.

With the Moore Library right across the street and serving as the school library for Ella Lewis, a few lucky kids got to linger for additional Q&A time with Clare. They begged her to reveal information about her next book but her lips were sealed. Their excitement was truly palpable!

Chatting with Clare after the event.

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Look Up! with Annette LeBlanc Cate at the Schoodic Institute

Over three days in mid-October, students and teachers from Beals, Jonesport, and Ella Lewis schools gathered at the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park for a day each of bird watching and art centered around Annette LeBlanc Cate’s book, Look Up! Birdwatching in Your Own Backyard. To kick off each morning, Annette provided an introduction to herself and how she got started birdwatching and writing and illustrating. She also went over basic instructions on quick sketching from observations in the field. Each student received a sketchbook and pencil for taking notations in the field for note-taking and quick drawings.

Before heading out in the park, rangers provided an overview of the park, the national park system, why it is important, and how to protect it as a resource for generations. As Ranger Mackette said, “You are part of our story and history here. You can help protect this place.”

Hikes were taken to explore various habitats and observe bird activity. With sketchbooks and pencils in hand, the kids got to observe shore birds, forest habitats, and even some birds in flight. After lunch, the kids had the opportunity to use water color pencils, paper, and black pens to draw and paint from their observations that day, or other birds they have seen before in their own backyards. Some of the birds included gulls, eider ducks, robins, ground doves, owls, crows and much more. The budding birders in artists depicted birds in flight, and birds in trees — all were unique in their own ways.

Annette shared some basic techniques as well as her well-loved field guides and journals for use as inspiration. There were some truly amazing artists in these groups! A final mini “museum” exhibition using a lovely frame Annette had made to display student work was held, and kids were asked to talk about their work. Feedback was requested on what other students liked about the paintings. Lots of great feedback helped the kids feel good about their work and there seemed to be a new appreciation for birds and bird watching among the kids. Annette reminded everyone to keep drawing, and to keep looking up!

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Lynn Plourde visits Lubec and Pembroke

Maine author Lynn Plourde brought her fun and theatrical style to Lubec Consolidated School and Pembroke Elementary with her picture book At One in a Place Called Maine, and graphic novel Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness, Donn Fendler’s story of survival after becoming lost on Mount Katahdin as a child in July 1939.
To kick-off her school visits, Lynn brought the entire school together in the morning to act out her picture book Moose, Of Course! as a play. Kids of all grade levels had a blast acting out the various parts of the story about a boy who looks high and low for the chance to see a moose. A few kids even turned into moose before our very eyes!

Performing “Moose, Of Course!” at Lubec.

The moose family at Pembroke

During Lynn’s small-group presentations, kids in grades 5 and up learned about the research that went into Lost Trail, and saw original documents from Donn Fendler’s rescue and celebration of his homecoming. At Lubec, the older kids displayed informational posters about animals found in the Maine woods, showed Lynn videos they made about different wildlife found in Katahdin, and also created 3-D printed animals. Students in grades 5-6 at Pembroke shared panels from their own graphic novels inspired by Lost Trail, while grades 7-8 created lean-tos in the woods around their school, similar to what Donn would have used for shelter. Lynn was thoroughly impressed with their craftsmanship.

Fun with “Lost Trail”

Lean-to shelters inspired by Donn Fendler’s story of survival at Pembroke

3-D printed animals at Lubec


During Lynn’s workshops for the younger students, they created poems inspired by At One in a Place Called Maine and things that they love about their state. At Lubec, Pre-k artists painted fall scenes, while those in kindergarten painted scenes with the prompt “I can…,” and the budding authors and illustrators in grades 3-4 at Lubec gifted Lynn a book they had written and illustrated featuring places that they love, featuring a heartwarming inscription that speaks to why we do what we do: “Thank you for visiting our school. Authors like you inspire us to become better writers. You help us realize our voices are powerful.” 

Artists in grades 3-4 at Pembroke shared with Lynn their illustrations of their favorite places. Many chose to illustrate their backyards or the playground!

Lynn was overjoyed with the book that Lubec third and fourth graders created for her

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