“The Island of Beyond” with Elizabeth Atkinson

Fifth-eighth graders at Beals Elementary School, Jonesport Elementary School and Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School were ready to dive into “The Island of Beyond” with author Elizabeth Atkinson, and were prepared with art and research projects to share. Each visit began with a large group presentation during which Elizabeth shared how books empowered her as a child. She provided an in-depth explanation of the publishing process, from finding an agent to book distribution and everything in between. After sharing the story of her career that involved multiple rejections, she then asked students what qualities they thought one might need to be a writer. Their responses? Confidence. Patience. Imagination. Persistence. They were spot on!

After the presentation, students participated in writing workshops focusing on character development. Elizabeth got them thinking about the protagonist and the antagonist. They worked with character boards to brainstorm their ideas, and decided on the character’s physical description, background, family or circle of friends, and their character’s thoughts. Next, the kids described what their antagonist did to the protagonist to get them in trouble. Elizabeth set the scene for them: a beachside, luxury hotel where your protagonist works and where your antagonist comes to stay. The writers then put the protagonist and antagonist they created into that world. “As a writer, you need to wear three hats. Why do you think I say that?” Elizabeth asked. The kids quickly replied that you need to understand both the character’s and the reader’s perspective along with your own in order for things to make sense in a story.

Prior to Elizabeth’s visit, students at each school created wonderful projects inspired by “The Island of Beyond” and were fully prepared and engaged when Elizabeth arrived.

This program was made possible by the generous support of the Ferguson Foundation and 29 new donors to Island Readers & Writers who helped reach our goal to match a $5,000 grant from the foundation.

Beals Elementary School

Here, students made paintings depicting various scenes from the book. They also built two miniature villages populated with painted toy soldiers who became the characters for their towns. Grades 5-6 named their village Bayville and created a backstory about a hit-and-run accident.

Seventh and eighth graders named their village Annville, where a mysterious fire occurred at the mayor’s house. They wrote stories about these villages and shared them during office hours with Elizabeth at the end of the day. Many more projects decked the walls (and ceiling!), which showed the depth of their experience. Elizabeth was quite moved by it all. During office hours, kids got to engage on a more personal level with Elizabeth, and a few got the chance to read a bit from Elizabeth’s newest book, which isn’t even out yet!

Jonesport Elementary School

Elizabeth’s name along with a big welcome was lit up at the entrance to Jonesport Elementary School. Before the group presentation, she was introduced to all of the “aspiring writers” in the audience. The writing workshops were full of humor as students read about fanciful characters they created. One outrageously original character was the protagonist “Mason the Jar Man” whose head was a jar filled with beet juice infested with ninja turtles!

Fifth graders created a diorama of a village out of objects found in nature, which featured a broken-down pier “just like the real one around the corner” from their school. But there was a catch: they couldn’t use any glue or tape!

Students in grades 6-8 each created a diorama; either a village from their imagination or a recreation of the island in the book. These creative models were made of cardboard, clay, paper and paint. One even had lights! They also did analyses of “The Island of Beyond” characters with amazing drawings. At day’s end, fifth and sixth grade students shared their writing with Elizabeth. Some of the stories had us laughing, while others had us in tears; there was never a lull in creativity.

Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School

After Elizabeth’s group presentation at Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School, teachers remarked how much they loved what Elizabeth had to say, and how important it was for the students to hear about all the steps in publishing. One teacher appreciated how Elizabeth spoke of not giving up, even when she was disappointed and had failures.

At the teachers’ request, Elizabeth focused on dialogue during small group workshops. With characters like Potato Man who runs fast and is in a war against Tomato Man who can’t run fast, and Daryl Hall, the greedy, money-grubbing singer/songwriter living in 1980’s Swagville, you can imagine the laughter upon hearing samples of their writing. Some even illustrated their work and added speech bubbles. These are such imaginative kids!

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