Great Cranberry Island inspires new books

Editor’s note: Living, working and teaching on Maine islands often plants vivid memories and yields formative experiences. Such was the case of former schoolteacher Rae Chalmers and poet Susan Deborah King who recently released books inspired by their time on Great Cranberry Island.

CRANBERRY ISLES — Middle school can be a miserable time for many children. Their bodies are changing, their emotions run high and their social interactions and relationships are becoming more complex. They are gaining greater responsibility and independence.

All those factors are at play in the life of 11-year-old Bear who is exiled to Oxbow Island in Casco Bay after being suspended from his sixth-grade class on the mainland. Bear had struck his former best friend after being belittled and mocked for befriending and hanging out with girls.

Bear’s loss of a childhood friendship and the circumstances prompting him to strike his former buddy Mark are not uncommon today. They form the opening of Peaks Island author Rae Chalmers’ book “Bear and the Oxbow Island Gang” (2020, $11.95, Maine Authors Publishing). Described as an environmental mystery, geared for ages 8-11, the book is the first in a series that follows Bear through the sixth grade.

Peaks Island author Rae Chalmers. RAE CHALMERS PHOTO

In the author’s lifetime, islands and small towns have figured prominently. Originally from Wisconsin, Chalmers raised her daughters on Mount Desert Island, where she began her teaching career commuting by boat to the two-room schoolhouse on Great Cranberry Island. She went on to teach at MDI High School.

“In small towns and on islands there is an interdependence that breaks down generational barriers,” Chalmers observes in her bio on her website. “Children have more responsibilities, but they also get to have many of the freedoms of their grandparents’ childhoods: exploring independently without the safety concerns that haunt so many childhoods these days.”

To learn more about the author or purchase her book, visit

Like Chalmers, islands — one in particular — are a constant in the life of Maine poet Susan Deborah King. For many years, the writer has summered on Great Cranberry Island. Besides her own work, King teaches creative writing and has led retreats on creativity and spirituality across the country.

Poet Susan Deborah King.

While her winters are spent in Cumberland Foreside, Great Cranberry is home. During her stays on the island, King’s senses are sharply attuned to the sea, weather, bugs, migrating birds, succession of wildflowers — and the people. In two previous books, “Tabernacle: Poems of an Island” and “Bog Orchids: Island Poems,” she has captured Great Cranberry’s wild beauty and borne witness to community life — its daily rhythms and ups and downs — in the form of verse.

In her newly published collection of poems “Moon Dance: Island Poems” (2020, $18, Antrim House), King among other things acquaints readers with the island community whether it’s island builder Mike Westphal’s unflagging courage to take on early-onset Parkinson’s or the late summer resident Gina Murray who fed her crackers and broth when the poet was stricken with a deadly virus. “Washed my soiled clothes and sheets, set flowers and intriguing books by the bed.”

At this time, public access to the Cranberry Isles is limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, “Moon Dance” is a spring tonic for anyone pining to set foot on and experience the cluster of five islands off Mount Desert Island.

Letitia Baldwin

Letitia Baldwin

Arts Editor at The Ellsworth American
In addition to editing the Arts & Leisure section, Letitia edits special sections including Out & About, Overview, Health Quarterly, Your Maine Home, House & Garden and Get Ready for Winter. She comes from Chicago, Ill, but has deep family ties to the Cranberry Isles. [email protected]
Letitia Baldwin

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