ELLSWORTH — Maine has a long history of producing award-winning authors, from Stephen King to Richard Russo. And for the last three years, some of those authors have paid a visit to the Ellsworth Public Library, thanks to a partnership between the library and Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School (EEMS).
Topics of the presentations have ranged from the whimsical (circus animals stranded after their ship runs aground) to the more serious (news literacy and informed citizenship).
The library visits have been sponsored by organizations including the Maine Humanities Council, the EEMS Parents, Teachers, Friends group and The Ellsworth American.
“Because they’ve read the books ahead of time, I can then take them to the next level and pull back the curtain,” said Woolwich author Jennifer Richard Jacobson, after speaking to students about two books of hers that they had been reading in class, “Paper Things” and “Small as an Elephant.”
“Small as an Elephant” is about a young boy whose loving, but sometimes unstable mother disappears while the two are camping in Acadia National Park.
“Paper Things” is about a young girl, Ari, who must choose to stay with her guardian or be with her big brother Gage. The trouble is Gage doesn’t have a place to live and the two couch-surfing and stay in a shelter to have a roof over their head.
On April 22, students packed into the library’s main room, sitting cross-legged on the carpet and peering down from the second-floor balcony. Jacobson answered questions from the crowd and tackled the two books’ themes, which include teen homelessness and mental illness. She shared tips on note-taking and what it takes to get a book published while flipping through photographs of local spots that feature in her stories.
“One of the things that I was able to accomplish with this book is that I was able to create a very difficult situation without any villains,” Jacobson explains on her website, speaking about “Paper Things.” It reminds us that there are people around us whose lives we don’t know a whole lot about.”
Authors have come from around the state to speak at the library. In September 2018, children’s book author and illustrator Chris Van Dusen visited from his home in Camden. Van Dusen is known for his crisp, eye-catching gouache illustrations (a water-based paint), which have a vintage feel.
Last fall, he spoke with kindergarten through fourth-grade students about his life as an illustrator and did a dramatic reading of his book “The Circus Ship,” a story of circus animals that befriend a group of islanders after they are stranded off the Maine coast. At the end of his visit with each class, Van Dusen asked the children to think of animals — both real and imaginary — that he then drew as a single fantastical creature.
And in January the library hosted former award-winning investigative reporter Anna Crowley Redding. The Cape Elizabeth resident has written young adult books on the history of Google and a biography on Tesla founder Elon Musk.
She works with fifth- and seventh-grade students as part of a program focused on news literacy. During her visit, Redding tasked fifth-graders with using primary sources to get to the bottom of an historical, real-life mystery. Seventh-graders were cast as reporters, covering a story from different angles.
The next author visit is scheduled for this month, when local illustrator and cartoonist Josh Alves will visit with fourth-graders for a hands-on graphic novel workshop.