IRW_Spring2014News_VRevised2-1IRW Spring 2015 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

Hibernation during these cold winter months is not an option for Island Readers & Writers! Our sights are focused on preparing for spring school and community programs having ended 2014 on a high note. By all measures, IRW is thriving!

We welcomed in the New Year from our wonderful new headquarters at 246 Main Street in Southwest Harbor. In the last five months, not only did we triple our office space but, most importantly, we welcomed two very talented and experienced professionals, Program Director Ruth Feldman and Office Administrator and Communications Coordinator (OACC) Jenna Beaulieu, to IRW. They both bring energy, intelligence, humor, and a deep commitment to our mission and work.

As we “Spring Forward” we have lots of exciting plans to share! Highlights include: expanding our presence in Washington County; working with several schools reading the same book concurrently; adding new school partners in the eastern-most region of coastal Maine to our roster of (18 to 21) sites; deepening our partnerships with The Outer Islands Teaching/Learning Collaborative (TLC)*, Lubec Elementary School, and others, with special pilot programs and focused evaluation to help us deepen mission impact.

I am very grateful to all of you for your continued enthusiasm, commitment and investment in Maine children. It’s your support that helps us “spring forward in style.”

Very best,

Jan Coates

*Outer Islands TLC is a group of Maine island educators committed to creating virtual and tangible learning communities for teachers and students from the islands of Cliff, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, the Cranberry Islands, Matinicus, and Monhegan.


The Dream Team’s In Place

It was a topsy-turvy fall season, in all the best ways. In September, IRW welcomed Ruth Feldman as Program Director. Ruth is the perfect blend of “city fish” and “country fish,” having moved from Boston to an off-the-grid cabin in Milbridge, right in the heart of Washington County. She set herself to the task of learning all about IRW’s places, people, and programs, and has already logged thousands of miles with her little yellow car, zipping along Maine’s coast from site to site.

Ruth said, “In landing at IRW, I have found the opportunity to engage in some of my favorite things on a daily basis; literature, reflective and deep learning (at every age), and the great challenge and joy in helping to evolve an organization for great impact in the world.”

More staff required a larger office space, so in September, Jan and Ruth packed up the office in Town Hill and moved to Main Street in Southwest Harbor. Now we have plenty of room to dream big and work hard!

A couple months later, IRW created the position of Office Administrator and Communications Coordi

-nator and added Jenna Beaulieu to the team. Jenna hails from Fort Kent and is no stranger to isolated geographical regions. She felt she’d earned her “forest badge,” and moved to Mount Desert Island in 2014 to pursue her “sea badge.” As a young

teen, she met Maine poet Wesley McNair (now the state’s Poet Laureate), and he inscribed a book for her. She still cherishes it, and Wes has inscribed the title page for her half a dozen times since.

“Having observed students’ reactions to authors and illustrators during an IRW program, I am now a witness to children experiencing my same delight and intrigue with books – truly fulfilling stuff,” said Jenna.

Ruth, Jenna and Jan have already developed a fun working relationship, and inspire each other to do their best work. With initial training and orientation behind them, they’ve hit the ground running to prepare and implement high-quality book-based programs for Maine children.

More information about Ruth and Jenna is available on our website – check out the “About Us” section!

As for Jan, life couldn’t be better. Having founded the organization, she is truly thrilled to share her work with others that are equally as passionate and committed to IRW’s mission.


We Thank Our Lucky Stars

Scholastic is publishing A Handful of Stars in May, but we’re already feverishly planning a book launch for Cynthia at Milbridge Elementary in early June.

Milbridge is a great place for the launch, because the book is set in Washington County! If you attended last year’s Summer Morning in Maine, you heard Milbridge Elementary’s Principal White publically invite Cynthia to bring her book to their school.

Cynthia has visited several Washington County schools with IRW. When asked about the setting of her latest book, she said, “I always set my books in places I love. I am drawn to dramatic landscapes and strong people, and there’s something very powerful about that area.”

A Handful of Stars follows the friendship of two girls: Lily, a year-rounder and owner of a blind dog named Lucky; and Salma, a summer resident from a migrant blueberry picking family, who cleverly saves Lucky’s life by luring him away from the road with a sandwich. The girls work together to help each other tackle two challenges; Lily hopes to bring back Lucky’s vision, and Salma hopes to be the first migrant entry (and winner!) in the Blueberry Queen Pageant.

We are all on board for a celebration of reading, blueberries, and these kinds of serendipitous partnerships!


ARROW Retreat

The 3rd annual ARROW Retreat is on, and this year’s presenters are Newbery Medal winner Clare Vanderpool and Lupine Award winning artist Rebekah Raye! We are over the moon that Clare has agreed to come to Maine, discuss her book Navigating Early, and guide young enthusiasts in the craft of writing. Rebekah has – for both years past – been a favorite of retreat participants. During spring break, April 20-23, homeschoolers and sixth through eighth grade-aged students from Mount Desert Island, its outer islands, and Trenton will have the opportunity to delve deep into art, critical thinking, mindful reading, and concise writing. This year we’ll be at Camp Beech Cliff, a stunning site that provides ample outdoor space for activities and inspiration. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis, and begins online on March 31.


This spring we’ll be visiting with children from…

  • North Haven
  • Vinalhaven
  • Outer Islands TLC (serving Cliff, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, Cranberry Islands, Matinicus and Monhegan) 
  • Deer Isle-Stonington
  • MDI
  • Swan’s Island
  • Milbridge
  • Beals Island
  • Jonesport
  • Machiasport
  • Whiting
  • Edmunds
  • Pembroke
  • Lubec
  • Charlotte
  • Trenton


Whalen Gets On Board

IRW is thrilled to welcome Hannah Whalen to its Board of Directors!  Hannah has been a long time supporter, volunteer, and consultant to IRW, ever since our extensive island tour with Chris Van Dusen’s book The Circus Ship in 2009. She assisted with publicity planning for this innovative tour, where we visited a record ten islands in two weeks – the itinerary for the program was five pages long!

In 2010, Hannah also worked with us on The Big Read event – a break-out program for IRW – featuring The Call of the Wild. Hannah’s professional expertise in event planning helped create a memorable kick-off program at MDI High School.

She is truly an idea generator – she thought of providing temporary tattoos that read “I Love Buck” to children during The Call of the Wild Big Read events, and also procured an abundance of Klondike ice cream bars, generosity of Hannafords, to give attendees at our kick-off event.

“In addition to her deep, thoughtful work bringing our programs to the public, she came up with ideas that were fun, whimsical, and engaging. We can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!” said Executive Director Jan Coates.

Hannah brings a wealth of professional experience that translates well into her responsibilities as a Director and will contribute to IRW’s future.

She has served as campaign manager for The Down East Family YMCA and The Neighborhood House, was the Director of Development at Bar Harbor’s Abbe Museum and the Corporate Relationships Manager/Major Gifts Officer at UMaine-Orono, and is currently the Senior Foundation Officer at Maine Community Foundation.


New authors, new schools, and collaborations abound!

We are honored that Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech will join IRW for a school visit this spring. Sharon is a huge name in children’s literature, having been recognized by her peers and readers alike for her outstanding work. She will offer a presentation and workshop on her book The Wanderer to Jonesport and Beals Elementary students in May. Jonesport Elementary Principal Deborah Lay has picked a wonderful theme for the school visit – Navigating Your Storm – that speaks both to The Wanderer’s plot and the commonality of every individual facing their own challenges in life.

Also new to IRW is Maine author/illustrator Ryan Higgins! We are always looking for new talent that aligns with children’s interests, and Ryan’s experience in digital illustration is sure to be a hit in the arena of tech-savvy classrooms. We love Ryan’s stories and the crazy creatures he draws, and we aren’t alone – Disney has discovered him, too! In March, Ryan will offer children at Fort O’Brien Elementary in Machiasport, Whiting Village School, and Edmunds Consolidated School a presentation and workshop on the craft of using technology and animating to tell and illustrate a story.

We’re kicking off our spring programming in Washington County with three new schools! Edmunds Consolidated, Pembroke Elementary, and Charlotte Elementary are now part of the ever-expanding roster of “inland island” sites (we’re now at 10!).

IRW is also excited to pilot several interschool collaborations this spring. Edmunds Consolidated will join Whiting Village School for our visit with Ryan Higgins, Charlotte Elementary is participating in The Secret Pool program at Pembroke Elementary in March, and Beals Elementary is collaborating with Jonesport Elementary for Sharon Creech’s visit in May.

Students gathering together from several schools to read quality literature and learn from experienced, talented artists and illustrators – What could be better?


Swimming Ahead to 2016!

We’re barely into 2015, but already have plans in motion for an awesome community program in Spring 2016 focusing on alewives, a river herring with strong cultural roots and environmental importance to Maine’s marine life.

Our community program, Alewives: Small Fish, Big Impact, will feature author presentations on the books The Secret Bay and Swimming Home, public panel discussions on the life of the alewives and their importance and impact, school presentations on the alewife’s journey from ocean to river, a public film series and discussion on sustaining the alewife’s annual run, artist presentations, and a final celebratory event on May 21, 2016 – World Fish Migration Day.

The early planning stages have been packed with forming new partnerships! We’ve already had deep conversations with East Machias Aquatic Research Center and the Downeast Salmon Federation, attended a day-long program on alewives with members of the Downeast Fisheries Partnership, and identified artists, writers, educators, dedicated harvesters, conservationists, and environmental experts to serve as collaborators with schools up and down Washington County.    

It’s going to make quite the splash!


IRW finds home in Lubec!

IRW now has a satellite office in Washington County. During a recent visit to the Lubec Consolidated School by Ruth and Jan, Principal Tina Wormell invited the organization to make the school its home in that region. We graciously accepted!

When asked what prompted the invitation, Principal Wormell said,

“Island Readers & Writers is a great program that works across the curriculum with literacy, art, and science…What more could we ask for – a great experience for our children!”


Behind The Scenes: Building an Impactful Program

IRW works with educators in preparation for each school visit, sharing suggested exercises that complement the theme or book, and helping to build upon pre-existing curriculum in order to create meaningful, real world experiences that bring the books to life.

We love it when we visit a school and students have handfuls of beautifully crafted work to share with IRW and authors/illustrators based on their pre-visit activities. Often this artwork, creative writing, or investigative research ignites their curiosity about subject material presented during our visit.

Prior to visiting Rockland in November to meet City Fish, Country Fish author Mary Cerullo, Amy Palmer’s fifth grade class from Vinalhaven School watched two Blue Planet videos about coral seas and the open ocean. They also read a poem about City Mouse and Country Mouse, and talked about the use of analogies in writing. After their visit, the fifth graders created a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting City Fish, Country Fish, and wrote accompanying comparative essays on the topic.

What a great way to keep knowledge fresh!


Save the Date

The 2015 IRW Annual Meeting and appreciation event, complete with pancake breakfast, is scheduled for Thursday, August 13, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Cape Farm in Seal Cove. We’ll have more details as the date approaches.

What a great way to keep knowledge fresh!


Reading, Reading and More Reading!

Thomas Jefferson said, “I cannot live without books.” We know how you feel, Mr. President! If Jefferson was still around, we’d have dozens of ideas for books he might enjoy. IRW staff and volunteers read books throughout the year – from picture books to teen novels – parsing out quality literature from the pile and writing recommendations for them.

The word around town is that OACC Jenna Beaulieu had 29 books out from the library at once! However, some books fail to meet the bar, falling short in categories like theme, thought-provokingness, or plot. IRW volunteer readers provide recommendations for books that meet or exceed our expectations, surprise us with their creativity and ingenuity, and stick with us beyond the last page.

Check out our Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages for new book suggestions. We also create recommended book lists twice a year – at summer’s onset and during the winter holiday season. These lists can be accessed on our website, under “book talk.”

We’d love to bring some new readers on board in preparation of our Summer Book list, who could read one or more books and fill out a very brief review (Picture, Middle grade reader or Young Adult). If you’d like to volunteer to be a reader, please send an email expressing your interest to: