As seen in Downeast Magazine, October 2016:


IRW is Talk of the Town

radioIn late April, IRW’s own Jan Coates and Jennifer Judd-McGee joined author (and IRW friend) Kim Ridley on WERU radio’s, “Talk of the Towns” program. Host Ron Beard got this terrific trio talking about the history and future of IRW, giving wider exposure to our mission of inspiring a passion for reading and learning. With the perspective of IRW’s executive director, a board member, and a participating author, a lot of ground was covered, not just about what’s happening but about why people are so drawn to IRW programs and eager to support them. Jennifer noted that with IRW, “enthusiasm is contagious.” And Jan explained that making a match between a program, a great story and an author who can talk with kids and not at kids can be a transformative experience.

This program was made possible by WERU Community Radio and University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

JONESPORT–Students in Jonesport are about to get “A Kick In The Head” — and that’s a good thing!

Bangor Daily News by Mel Rice

“We’re very very excited,” says Jonesport Elementary School principal Danielle Fagonde.

Award-winning Maine writer Paul Janeczko will visit the school on Monday, Nov. 5, and all students in third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades there will get their very own copy of his book “A Kick In The Head: An Everyday Guide To Poetic Forms,” courtesy of Island Readers & Writers (IRW), which is sponsoring the visit.

“Writing is definitely a major focus of ours,” says Fagonde. “Our school kids really haven’t had too many opportunities to meet real life authors, so this is wonderful.” Janeczko, a former English teacher, will conduct writing workshops for third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders at Jonesport Elementary, along with a presentation for the entire school.

In “A Kick In The Head,” he offers examples of 29 poetic forms, demonstrating not only the (sometimes bendable) rules of poetry, but also the spirit that brings these forms to life.

The book was named one of the best children’s books of the year by Publishers Weekly and the School Library Journal, and won the Parents’ Choice Awards Gold Award. The New York Times called it “wonderfully engaging, and delightful for browsing or serious study,” and in a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly called it “a joyful poetry lesson.”

Janeczko is the author of more than 40 books including poetry, fiction, nonfiction and anthologies for children, as well as books for teachers. His volumes of poetry “Worlds Afire” and “Brickyard Summer” each was named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults.

He says, “You never know what’s going to happen once you put that pen to paper. That’s one of the great things about writing. The surprise of it.”

Last year, he worked with students at Pemetic Elementary in Southwest Harbor.

“His warmness embraced my students and they fell in love with poetry in return,” said teacher Carol Null.

Jonesport has been chosen as an “inland island” by IRW, a Maine nonprofit dedicated to inspiring a passion for reading in children from Maine’s islands. This visit is the first of many IRW plans to share with the children of Jonesport.

“We’re so thankful, and we couldn’t be more excited,” Fagonde said.

MDI-based reading, activity program hopes to spark youngsters’ interest in science

from the Bangor Daily News by Tom Walsh

TOWN HILL, Maine — A new reading and activity program being launched by the Mount Desert Island-based Island Readers and Writers organization is hoping to turn young readers on to the fascinations of science.
“Literary Links to Science” will target kindergartners through second-graders in the group’s latest permutation of popular reading programs that have kindled the childhood curiosity that comes with linking up young Down East mainland and island readers with Maine authors and illustrators.
“Living in such a beautiful place as Maine, these kids are naturally curious about the natural world,” said Jan Coates, the group’s executive director. “This program will be utilizing picture books as a portal or gateway to discovering science.”
The program will be pioneered later this month in elementary schools in Lubec, Machias and Machiasport.
“We did Learning Link pilot projects in Frenchboro, North Haven, Vinalhaven and Islesboro, testing programs for different age groups,” Coates said. “We’ve been at this now for six years, and we continue to thrive in our efforts to inspire a passion for reading and learning. We continue to thrive in terms of having requests beyond what we can provide.”
Among those involved in planning and implementing the new science-centered program is Karen James. A research scientist at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Salisbury Cove, she describes the program as “a fantastic idea.”
“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,” she said. “Kids just gravitate toward that kind of thing.
“This is to link some fun children’s books to some basic scientific principles,” says James, who will work with the children at their schools, taking them outside to do real field work through the science experiments she is creating.
James’ efforts to conceptualize hands-on activities will tie into a picture book-based curriculum being developed by Linda Uberseder, a retired teacher and principal.
“Children have a natural curiosity about science,” Uberseder said. “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.”
The curriculum to be launched later this month will include three topics: “Trees,” “Swirls in Nature” and “Tide Pools.” Each student will be given a picture book courtesy of IRW related to those topics, and teachers will get a series of books, a video introducing the program and suggested lesson plans, including book-related activities that take place before and after James’ visits to the schools involved.
For the “Trees” segment of the program, James will lead experiments and activities. One field trip has students collect twigs and leaves on school grounds as natural materials for individual specimen sheets.
“The idea is that, year after year, we can do this again and again,” James says. “And then the school will start developing an herbarium of the local tree species, and the kids will hopefully get a nice representative collection of the tree specimens in the school’s area and be able to look back at the collection and ask questions about leaves, colors, what time they were collected, shapes and size.”
Coates said the new science-centered curriculum is being funded through grants and donations to the nonprofit organization. In recent years, the group’s programming has attracted two major matching grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, although NEA funding is not involved in this program.
“We try to celebrate the multidisciplinary nature of a good story,” Coates said. “We find great stories and concentrate on Maine authors and illustrators, who we take to the kids so they can learn from and meet these folks and share with them some hands-on activity, which could be writing or illustration. It’s an interactive program that creates a lot of energy.” 


Big things are on the horizon thanks to The Big Read. Scores of free events will be offered now through Saturday, Feb. 11 including theater performances, films, art exhibits, public readings and lectures, music concerts, storytelling, game nights, book discussions, workshops and crafting sessions, and even logrolling classes at venues on Mount Desert Island, Deer Isle/Stonington, Swans Island, Islesford, Frenchboro and Isle au Haut. Oh, and there’s reading, too.

The whole shebang is geared around “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” Mark Twain. “I think the beauty of this program is that you don’t necessarily have to be a reader,” said Candy Emlen, director of the Southwest Harbor Library. “You can participate in all the different programs that are offered and don’t even have to read the book and you’ll still get something out of it.” But organizers are hoping people of all ages will read the book, either on their own or as part of a group.

– an excerpt from Melinda Rice's article in the MD Islander on 1/5/12



Newbery Honor Writer to Speak at Northeast Harbor Library

On Sunday, July 24th at 4:00 pm, Island Readers & Writers will sponsor a talk on writing by renowned author Gary Schmidt in the foyer of the Northeast Harbor Library at 4:00.  A reception and booksigning for his latest novel, Okay for Now, will follow in the Mellon Room. Copies of Wednesday Wars will also be on sale.

Gary Schmidt, well known for his two Newbery Honor awards from the American Library Association, one in 2005 for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and the second in 2008 for Wednesday Wars, has already received much critical acclaim for Okay For Now, just published this spring by Clarion Books.

In that book, the year is l968 and eighth grader Doug Swieteck has just moved to upstate Marysville, New York. He is not a happy camper.  He hates his new house, which he nicknames the Dump; resents sharing a room with his bully brother; struggles with reading disabilities; and endures one of the meanest fathers in children's literature.  However, as the year progresses through a web of pain and humor, Doug becomes passionate about Audubon's Birds Of America and discovers not only his talent for drawing but also a town full of supportive friends that include an eccentric writer, an athletic coach, an elderly librarian, his father's boss and a cute spunky classmate, Lil Spicer.  Woven throughout the book are glimpses of the 60's--Joe Pepitone, Janis Joplin, NASA landing on the moon--and most significantly, a brother returning from the Vietnam War with serious disabilities. This book--as much for adults as children--tells a story about resilience, affirmation and love that is destined, like other Schmidt books, to become a classic in American literature.

Island Readers & Writers is a nonprofit organization that creates book-centered experiences that excite a passion for reading and learning.  A two-time National Endowment for the Arts Big Read grant winner, IRW collaborates with schools, communities and libraries to bring its programs to Maine’s coastal and “inland” island children.

Island readers program takes The Circus Ship to 10 islands

by Rosemary Herbert, Working Waterfront

Mention the 1836 wreck of the Royal Tar to some islanders and you’ll hear some very amazing tales. Some will tell you about rumors of an elephant arriving on the beach, or serpents seen slithering on various islands way back when. You might even be told that there are some places where people still won’t fish, ever since the Royal Tar’s boiler blew and the ship went up in flames, off Vinalhaven.

Why elephants and serpents? That’s because on that fateful night when the ship went down, the steamship was carrying a cargo of circus animals. While some people on board ship were rescued, all of the animals were lost at sea.

This month the Royal Tar is a hot topic on 10 of Maine’s islands, as the Island Readers & Writers Program brings children’s book author and illustrator Chris Van Dusen of Camden, and storyteller Judith Jerome, who is artistic director of the Stonington Opera House, to island classrooms. Van Dusen will be reading his new book, The Circus Ship (Candlewick Press, $16.99), and talking about how the true story of the tragedy inspired him to imagine a story with another, and much happier ending. In Van Dusen’s book, islanders are initially alarmed to see lions and tigers and more in their midst, until the tiger rescues a child from a burning shed.

Jerome will be providing lively programming about the true story of the wreck and about island life during the days of steamship commerce. She has prepared one presentation for younger children and another for older students and community members.

“Several of our islands claim a relationship to that particular historical event,” said Jan Coates, founder of the Island Readers & Writer’s organization. “That’s why we’re so excited to use the publication of Chris Van Dusen’s book as the occasion to open up discussion not only about the creative process that occurs when a writer creates a story but also about the islanders’ own history and legends relative to the Royal Tar.”

A former educational administrator, Coates owned Port In A Storm Bookstore in Somesville and Portside Bookshop in Bernard. Both of those stores are now closed, but their “mission of building communities of readers” continues in the Island Readers & Writers Program, Coates said.

And “communities” is the key word here. In fact, it takes more than the students and teachers to make this island-hopping celebration of books and reading a success. Not only will island schools, libraries, and historical societies contribute materials and some presentations to enriching this program, but some islanders will be hosting the visitors in their homes overnight. Some communities will also hold potluck suppers and other events when the visitors are in their midst.

Coates said the focus on the story of the Royal Tar will not be confined to the days when Van Dusen and Jerome are on each island. She has worked with teachers to help students prepare for the visits in a variety of ways. In some cases, children will be working to create their own endings for the story of the Royal Tar. Many students will be producing and exhibiting artwork inspired by the story. And one group of students will be writing and singing a song about the ship.

All of this is an outgrowth of a program Coates started four years ago when she brought author Toni Buzzeo to Mt. Desert Island, Swan’s Island, and Frenchboro. In ensuing years, 14 writers and illustrators have participated in the island visits. This year the program is more ambitious than ever with Van Dusen and Jerome visiting 10 islands.

Van Dusen said he is both honored and excited to be chosen to visit island children this year. “One of the things I’m going to stress is that it’s OK to take a true story and change it around to make a new story from it. We will talk about the true story and about what the circus was like in the 1830s. I want to show kids that history can be amazing-and this is their own history, too!”

Told with humor and in rhyme, The Circus Ship is illustrated with Van Dusen’s trademark whimsy. But those who know something about real life on the islands in the 1830s will also note that Van Dusen worked hard to capture in his illustrations accurate details of architecture, fashion, and even the shape of clothespins that would have been used in 1836. Even his choice of circus animals reflects those that were commonly in circuses at that time. He eschewed adding clowns or acrobats because this would not have been historically accurate.

“The Circus Ship is the ideal book to bring excitement about reading and island history into the classroom and the community,” Coates said. “I’m just thrilled to know that this book will open up the experience to the community in a greater way than we have done in the past.”

The Island Readers & Writers tour will travel to the following islands: North Haven on October 5; Vinalhaven on October 6; Isle au Haut on October 7; Deer Isle and Stonington on October 8; Frenchboro on October 9; Mt. Desert Island on October 10; Swan’s Island on October 13; Islesford on October 14; Islesboro on October 15; and Matinicus on October 16.

Download the IRW logo (.pdf format)

For up to the minute information about IRW's Big Read 2012































Join the fun – be part of The Big Read in Maine!

MOUNT DESERT, Maine — It’s Mark Twain’s birthday – he would have been 176 on Nov. 30 – but you get the gifts!

Get a free copy of Mark Twain’s classic “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” plus free admission to scores of fun activities including movies, musical performances, theater, community discussions, classes, and even logrolling sessions as part of The Big Read.

The fun officially starts Jan. 12, but it’s time to start planning now. The Big Read aims to bring together people in communities on seven islands in Hancock County  and we want you to be among them.

We want at least 1,500 folks to join in and read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and participate in the great variety of activities that are planned as part of The Big Read, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest; it’s designed to reinvigorate reading as part of shared American culture.

Island Readers & Writers, a nonprofit group based on Mount Desert Island, received the only Big Read grant given in Maine, which was one of only five in the whole of New England.

Visit the Island Readers & Writers website at to learn more.

Mark Twain himself once described a literary classic as “a book which people praise but don’t read.” We plan to prove him wrong. Join us and help write a happy ending for The Big Read in Maine.


Aug. 10, 2011 

MDI group gets ‘Big Read’ grant

MOUNT DESERT, Maine — There’s big news for the Big Read.

Get ready and get set, because the program is a go once again in coastal Maine thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and Island Readers & Writers (IRW).

IRW, a nonprofit organization based on Mount Desert Island, will receive a $9,000 grant from the NEA this year to host a Big Read project. The Big Read is an initiative of the NEA designed to restore reading to the center of American culture.

Grant recipients will recruit community members to read a book – in IRW’s case, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain – and will plan a series of free events in 2011 and 2012 connected to it.

IRW received the only Big Read grant given in Maine, which was one of only five in New England. Seventy-six grants were awarded in all.

“We’re thrilled,” said Jan Coates, executive director and founder of IRW. “These are competitive grants, and for IRW and its library partners to be recognized in this way is a great testament to the contributions of so many.”

In 2010, IRW’s Big Read program centered around Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” drew 1,236 readers for a month of programs in coastal Maine that involved 11 libraries, 17 nonprofit organizations, two school districts and 100 miles of coastline.

“The key to the success of the 2010 Big Read was the tremendous support of our island communities,” Ms. Coates said. “We look forward to working with even more nonprofit organizations and individuals to make this a great experience for all.”

The NEA inaugurated The Big Read as a pilot project in 2006 with 10 communities. By June 2010, more than 951 Big Read grants had been awarded, involving nearly three million readers, 39,000 community volunteers and 27,000 community partners.

The Big Read fits in with IRW’s Community Outreach program that seeks to build supportive and healthy reading communities that encourage kids to love reading by sharing with families and community members.

IRW also works with kids in their schools and their community libraries to

inspire a passion for reading and learning, often including visits by award-winning, nationally known authors.

The folks at IRW are busily planning activities for this year’s big read.

For more information, contact:

Jan Coates at IRW, 207-288-2211,, www.islandreadersandwriters.or

Liz Stark at the NEA,  202-682-5744,,

Download the IRW logo (.pdf format)