IRW Fall 2012 Newsletter – Click on the photo to see the newsletter as it was mailed, or scroll down to read each of the articles individually.
A Note from Executive Director Jan Coates
It’s been a spectacular autumn here in coastal Maine, and that’s nothing to do with the foliage. Here at Island Readers & Writers, the summer and fall of 2012 have truly proved to be the best of times.
We had a very successful annual meeting in August. Thanks go to our generous hosts Tom and Annie Flournoy, author Chris Van Dusen, artist Rebekah Raye, and IRW colleagues Michelle Finn and Linda Uberseder.
The memories of that day were still fresh as we got busy on our fall schedule. Already, the kids at Pemetic Elementary School have enjoyed a visit from Cynthia Lord; IRW will be introducing her to more schoolchildren in Maine before the year is out. Hot on the literary heels of Cynthia, our old friend Kathryn Lasky visited Swans Island with IRW, and all the kids there got copies of The Capture, the first book in her popular “Guardians of Ga’Hoole” series. Poet Paul Janeczko and author-illustrator Chris Van Dusen are set for school visits later this year.
Meanwhile, we’re preparing to launch our Literary Links to Science program in schools Downeast; and Friends Over Books is transitioning into a pilot program for libraries throughout Maine. Oh yes, we’re busy here at IRW, but never too busy to hear from you.
We welcome your comments, ideas, donations and questions.
New Endeavor: Literary Links to Science
IRW is linking literature and the laboratory for some of the youngest schoolchildren in Downeast Maine, with the help of scientist Dr. Karen James and volunteer Linda Uberseder.
Literary Links to Science is a new program for kids in kindergarten through second grade.
“It’s a fantastic idea,” says Karen, who works at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory. “It makes a lot of sense to bring natural history and biology to kids so young because it’s something they’re already interested in…collecting rocks and shells and bugs and things. Kids just gravitate toward that kind of thing.”
She is creating hands-on activities for a curriculum developed by Linda, a retired teacher and principal, who believes, “Children have a natural curiosity about science. They want to know more; they want to learn more. If you can feed that and keep them excited about it, it’s something they’ll retain longer.”
That’s the whole idea behind Literary Links to Science. “This is to link some fun children’s books to some basic scientific principles,” says Karen, who will work with the children at their schools, taking them outside to do real field work and taking them into the world of science with experiments she creates.
“I’m excited to see how they respond to Karen…she’s a real scientist and they’ll see that hey, maybe this is a possibility for them,” says Michelle Finn, who is leading IRW’s inland island expansion.
There will be programs on Trees, Swirls in Nature, and Tide Pools. Students will each get a picture book courtesy of IRW related to the topic, and teachers will get a series of books, a video introducing the program and suggested lesson plans including book-related activities to do before and after Dr. James’ visit.
“I wanted it to be extremely flexible,” Linda explains. “I know the teachers don’t have a lot of time so I wanted to make the program blend so they didn’t feel like they were doing things outside of what they needed to do.”
Karen will springboard from Linda’s plan and lead the children through experiments and fun activities. For instance, they’ll go out in the school grounds and collect twigs or leaves and create their own specimen sheets. “The idea is that year after year we can do this again and again,” says Karen, “and then the school will start developing an herbarium of the local tree species and the kids will be able to look back at the collection and ask questions about leaves, colors, what time they were collected, shapes, size…hopefully get a nice representative collection of the tree specimens in the school’s area.”
The picture book, hands-on activities, and curriculum will work together to form a fun and exciting program–and a better future for the children participating in it.
IRW’s executive director, Jan Coates, is excited to see Literary Links to Science get started: “We’ve made a commitment to really develop our hypothesis, which is that storybooks and great stories are a great way to introduce kids to science.”
Owl Alert on Swans Island
Whoooooo’s a fan of Island Readers & Writers? New York Times bestselling author Kathryn Lasky, that’s who!
Kathryn is the author of more than 60 books for young readers, including the oh-so-popular Guardians of Ga’Hoole series that has owls as main characters. It’s been almost a decade since the first book in that series was published, but the author can still rattle off owl facts easily.
“Each feather has a specific task almost…and I love researching about the eyes, which are not eyeballs, they’re eye tubes…to find those little details and figure out how to integrate that into a story and make it very lively so it doesn’t just lie there like a big fat old dead fact, well that is so fun and challenging.”
All those facts came in handy early in October when Kathy visited Swans Island with IRW two days after a naturalist from the Chewonki Foundation visited the school with three real live owls.
“These school kids who live so far out on the edges of things, I think reading connects them to the world…that’s the great thing about literature,” Kathy says.
She doesn’t visit many schools, but she makes an exception for IRW, saying, “I hope it keeps going. It’s just a terrific program.”
Writer ‘Rules’ Downeast!
IRW is taking Cynthia Lord, author of the Newbery Honor book Rules, to Milbridge Elementary School in November as part of an expansion of programs to inland islands in Downeast Maine. She will be working with students in all grades, and presenting Touch Blue, her newest novel, which is set in Maine.
It will be her second outing for IRW this school year: on September 24, she visited with children at Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor, reading from Hot Rod Hamster to the younger children, and conducting a workshop on writing and a discussion of Rules with the older kids in an event co-sponsored by the school.
Chatting with Chris Van Dusen
Award-winning picture book author Chris Van Dusen, a longtime friend of IRW, is back on bookshelves with If I Built A House, the much-anticipated follow-up to the E. B. White Award-winning If I Built a Car. IRW will be taking Chris to Maine islands and IRW inland islands to work with kids after the book’s Oct. 25 release.
Chris first worked with IRW after the 2005 release of If I Built A Car. “The book really seemed to inspire kids to use their imaginations…they created their own cars out of cardboard boxes and things. It was really kind of amazing how they took this one book and turned it into a creative project.” He’s hoping for similar results with If I Built A House. And IRW is right there with him, already planning fun activities around the new book.
“IRW comes up with some really great ideas – what’s the oldest house in your town and what sets it apart? and things like that,” says Chris. “I’m looking forward to seeing what the kids come up with.” He visits a lot of schools, but says visits with IRW are special. “They know you made the trip out there, and sometimes it’s not an easy trip…the reaction you get from the school kids on the islands, that keeps me going back.”
Friends Over Books charts new territory – all of Maine!
An IRW program that started with one small boy on a Maine island is evolving into a pilot project for libraries throughout the state. “We hope this will be a real service for Maine librarians,” says Diana Hambleton, a longtime IRW board member who has led the program, Friends Over Books (FOB), since its beginnings.
It started when IRW executive director Jan Coates still owned Port In A Storm Bookstore. “I walked into the store one day and Jan started telling me about the organization she was trying to start,” recalls Diana, who volunteered to help if there was a child on one of the islands who could benefit from a special reading program.
There was, on Frenchboro. “I went out to the island regularly and he and I spent a summer reading about Venice.” At the end of that summer, the boy built a toy gondola. He told Diana, “Frankly, it was a lot of work, but it made me want to go to Venice when I grow up.”
FOB grew to include more adult volunteers, books on three different topics each year, and lots of young readers. In 2012, FOB completed another successful session with the help of volunteers Virginia Agar, Mary Lee Bayne, Barbara Brack, Amanda Crafts, Jean Evans, Fran Howley, O.P. Jackson, Jackie Lowe, Trish Marx, Charles Merriman, Louisa Newlin, Carol Null, Betsy Pickup, Diana Rockefeller, Chrissie Strawbridge, Jill Trask, Helene Tuchman, Peggy Vettese, Anne Welles and Cass Wright.
Now there are plans to create a package including books, discussion questions, props and activities so FOB programs can be used in libraries throughout Maine. IRW will invite six libraries to participate in a pilot program in the spring of 2013 to assist evaluation and refinement of this package. Valerie Osborne, a consultant for the Northeast District of Maine Libraries, recently got an overview of what’s happening with FOB. “She loved it and was impressed by the depth and breadth of our work,” Diana says.
Stay tuned for more exciting FOB news in 2013!