Summer 2012 Newsletter

IRW Summer 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

Where does the time go? It seems only yesterday we here at IRW were sitting down to plan The Big Read for the winter of 2012 around Mark Twain’s classic, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Yet here we are, busy with a cornucopia of exciting programs, and The Big Read is a fond memory of one very successful event. It served more than a thousand readers, old and new, and brought us coverage in radio, print, and online publications. But it is by no means an only child.

Through our Island Book and Author Program, we have worked with hundreds of school children in 2011 and 2012 to welcome Newbery Honor and Printz Prize winning author Gary Schmidt, author Toni Buzzeo, poet Paul Janeczko, illustrator and teacher Mary Beth Owens, Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord, illustrator extraordinaire Rebekah Raye, and picture book author Scott Nash to classrooms in coastal Maine. And 2012 is only half gone!

Our annual 7th-Grade Island-wide Read took the work of iconic children’s writer Lois Lowry–winner of two Newbery Medals!–into the lives and classrooms of students on Mount Desert Island with the help of teachers, school administrators and facilitators from many walks of life in the community. And the great lady of letters herself visited to finish off the event.

Meanwhile, our partnership with Vanderbilt University’s Aspirnaut program is going strong, working with our own Literary Links to Science initiative to introduce young readers to science in an interdisciplinary approach that is forging new ties in the community. And best of all, the kids love it!

And our annual Friends Over Books summer reading initiative is in full swing, too. Over the winter, volunteers have been reading diligently to choose just the right books for young readers and their families to read together this summer. We can’t thank them enough for their hard work.

But there is still plenty to do to fulfill our mission of inspiring a passion for reading and learning among children living on Maine’s coastal islands. To that end, I am so pleased to introduce you to our newest effort–expanding our programs into “inland islands” in Maine.

In this brief missive, we hope to catch you up on what we’ve been doing, and inspire you with what we hope to accomplish. As always here at IRW, we welcome your comments, ideas and donations.


Jan Coates


IRW expands to serve ‘inland islands’

It’s been six years since IRW began our goal of inspiring a passion for reading and learning among children living on Maine’s coastal islands, and now we’re excited to announce an expansion of that mission to include “inland islands.” These are areas on the mainland where the challenges and needs of small towns mirror those of the islands we’ve been serving: geographic isolation, limited resources, living by and from the sea, and, in some instances, small classroom size.

After much planning and networking with people and organizations in Washington County (Maine’s poorest), we identified five towns where we think our programming will find a warm reception and eager participants–Jonesport, Machiasport, Lubec, Milbridge and Machias. And we’re thrilled to have hired the perfect person to lead IRW’s efforst there: Michelle Finn.

For the last four years, Michelle and her husband Doug have been the only two teachers on Frenchboro, teaching kindergarten through eighth grade and hosting IRW programs. That’s how she became acquainted with IRW, and how we became acquainted with her.

“I think it’s going to be really exciting,” Michelle says.

As a native of South Addison in Washington County, she is well aware of the challenges facing students in the region.

“I have no memory of authors or illustrators coming into my school in Down East Maine,” she says. “I think the kids in Washington County deserve a little enrichment. They deserve a little extra, things to be really excited about. And I’m passionate about bringing that to them.”

Michelle left home for college at the University of Maine at Orono and graduated suma cum laude. After that she taught everything from nature appreciation and survival skills, to English to, well, everything. And she taught it to students of all ages at schools in places as close as Greenfield, Massachusetts and as far away as St. Lawrence Island in Alaska, a mere 35 miles or so from Russia. She and Doug also served as education consultants, working with teachers across the nation.

Now she’ll bring all that formidable experience back to where it all began for her, and where it’s just beginning for IRW. “My heart and soul are in Down East Maine,” she says. “I am thrilled to be working with IRW.”

She’ll be doing behind-the-scenes assessments and curriculum development, creating online resources and continuing outreach in the region. And plans already are under way for Cynthia Lord, the Newbery Honor-winning author of Rules and Touch Blue fame to visit at least one of our Inland Islands.

We’re excited about this new venture and about the person leading it. Our mission to inspire a passion for reading just keeps getting bigger, as does the circle of fine people who are passionate about it.


A Very “Big” Deal

“Big” was the operative word as Island Readers & Writers launched its second Big Read in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Arts, this one celebrating The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, in January and February with the help of our primary library partner, the Northeast Harbor Library. In all, 1,290 copies of Mark Twain’s classic were distributed and about 1,500 people of all ages on Mount Desert Island, the region’s outer islands and Deer Isle/Stonington participated. The event included 12 library partners, 20 other nonprofit partners, and 107 volunteers for events ranging from in-school programs, to art projects, music performances, community readings and panel discussions and lectures in the community. But the “biggest” part was all the fun that started with a book.


Lois Lowry gives to 7 th-graders

What do you get when two-time Newbery Medal winner Lois Lowry comes to town? A rollicking good time, that’s what. Of course, 7th-grade students on Mount Desert Island and their teachers–plus facilitators from the community–had prepared for months in advance of the event. They all read The Giver, one of Ms. Lowry’s Newbery winners. (The other was Number the Stars.) So when the author herself met with participants in the annual 7th-Grade Island-wide Read, she got a lot of probing questions about her characters, her process, and her life as a writer. The students described her presentation as lively, candid, captivating and inspiring. And her personal grace, integrity, and passion for expanding the minds of her readers, and pure joy in telling a good story, were palpable.


Picture Books = Science

Yes, you read that correctly. While IRW is all about inspiring a passion for reading, what is reading for, except to inspire a passion for everything? We are developing a program for kids in kindergarten through second grade using picture books and stories to serve as a portal to science.

As the kids would say: How cool is that?

Longtime educator Linda Uberseder is designing the curriculum and Dr. Karen James, a visiting scientist at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Salisbury Cove is designing complementary labs and science adventures, which she will lead. Before joining the MDI Bio Lab, Dr. James was a postdoctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum in London where she designed programs for children.

This new initiative is a natural evolution of our programs for 3rd & 4th-graders provided in collaboration with the Aspirnaut Program at Vanderbilt University where the books The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and We Can’t All Be Rattlesnakes stimulate children’s thinking about nature and science, introduce them to scientific methods. Then the students conduct customized book-related science experiments.

In this new IRW program, picture books will open gateways to science; projects will include reading, drawing, problem solving, discovering, visiting and evaluating. It’s likely a passion for reading will spur a zest for science, and that’s a formula that adds up to fulfilling IRW’s mission.