Engage Young Readers with Resources from the Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival

Indigo Arts Alliance launched the Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival across the State of Maine in Summer 2020 and shines a spotlight on the Black artists and writers who create children’s books featuring characters of the African Diaspora. Named in honor of Maine’s own Ashley Bryan, this inaugural event presented in partnership with I’m Your Neighbor Books, Diverse Book Finder, and the Maine Association of School Libraries honors roots, identity and resiliency of Black people across the world.  

Unable to engage with readers in person this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival celebrates virtually from May 25 to August 31, 2020 and features arts & crafts workshops, guest speakers, book read-alouds, a lively dance-along, and amazing performances.  

One of several Indigo programs that bring real, actionable change to the Maine’s arts and culture sector, the festival inspires children to read, write, or illustrate as well as raise the visibility of the extensive community and culture of Black and African American Authors and Illustrators. In a commitment to enable readers young and old to see themselves reflected in literature not just online, the festival created access to Black and African American characters in Maine by providing over 1,500 free books to children of all backgrounds in Portland.  

Although the festival specifically highlights books created for readers up to the age of 12, the overall mission applies to the entire family.  As Diverse Book Finder Director Dr. Krista Aronson explains, she and Indigo know it is important to create access to literature that cultivates creators who understand the necessity of self-identity.  “Books leave their mark,” the professor of Psychology at Bates College states in an early festival video. “They shape who we are, how we come to see ourselves, and who we will become… Picture books provide vehicles for parents and children to connect and share when they depict stories to which parents can relate.” 

With a festival kick-off in sync with the Maine’s Bi-Centennial events, the Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival is truly an all ages Black is beautiful celebration.  This year’s featured picture books and creators include selected works by several nationally recognized Black authors and illustrators as well as several Maine contributors including Ashley Bryan, author Samara Coyle Doyon, the Young Adult Writers of The Telling Room, and Coretta Scott King Award Winning Illustrator Daniel Minter.  Presenting nine books that represent the modern and historical African American experience, the Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival also highlights the experience of recent immigrants from Ethiopia, Somalia, and Haiti.

“We are proud to have retooled and redesigned this festival so we could bring it directly to families and children,” said Indigo Co-founder Marcia Minter. “It honors diversity, respects all cultures and builds a strong sense of community for all of us.”

Find Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival content year-round at www.beautifulblackbird.com

Get to Know the DOE Team: Meet Jen Robitaille

Maine DOE team member Jen Robitaille is being highlighted this week as part of the Get to Know the DOE Team Campaign. Learn a little more about Jen in the question and answer below.

What are your roles with DOE? 

I am the Elementary Mathematics Specialist and Cumberland County Regional Rep and I am part of the Early Learning Team.  I work to design and deliver professional learning to the field in the area of mathematics as well as support assessment, standards, and best practices in elementary mathematics.  Most recently I have been working on delivering a virtual professional learning math series specific for ed techs and managing a group of grade 2 teachers working on the CL4ME module project.

What do you like best about your job? 

The aspect of my job that I like best is being able to share new learning opportunities with educators around the state.  Educators in different parts of the state have had a variety of different opportunities to engage in mathematics professional learning, so being able to offer some consistency in best practices and math resources is a highlight of my work.

How or why did you decide on this career? 

After working in the local elementary school for 16 years (classroom teacher, title 1 math specialist, and math coach) and continuing to push into more leadership roles, this seemed like the natural progression of my work in the area of mathematics.  I feel that I have a lot to offer to mathematics teaching and learning and I enjoy being able to share with others.

What do you like to do outside of work for fun? 

Outside of work I enjoy spending time with my family; I have a young niece and nephew that I am very close with.  I also enjoy camping, taking the time to relax, and making personalized crafts with my Cricut machine.

Carrie Ricker Arts Teacher Creates Virtual Arts Show to Showcase Student Work

This school year has been anything but typical, forcing teachers and students to teach and learn in new ways. As schools across the globe transitioned from classroom instruction to remote learning it was important to Jen Williams, the Visual Arts Teacher at Carrie Ricker School in Litchfield to keep her artists engaged and creating.

Normally, Williams and her colleagues would have had a large Arts Night at school filled with an art show and spring concerts. Since that could not happen this year, she decided to create a video art show to celebrate her student’s amazing artwork. This video art show showcases not only their art created at school but during remote learning.

See the Carrie Ricker Arts Show Here!

“My hope is that with this art show my students feel proud of their accomplishments and celebrated for their talents,” said Williams.  “The arts are such a vital part of education and have kept us all connected through these challenging times.”

This story was submitted by Jen Williams, Art Teacher at Carrie Ricker School in RSU 4 as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea, email Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov.

REMINDER: Register for the 5th Annual Read to Ride Summer Reading Challenge  

A unique world of remote learning and creative teaching has been the norm in recent weeks, but summer vacation is right around the corner. Summer vacation will be a welcome change of pace for families and teachers, yet the importance of summer reading will be as critical as ever. Educators and families have worked tirelessly to engage and challenge students. Making reading a part of the student experience this summer will be invaluable to a successful return to classrooms in the fall.

Once again, this year, the Maine Department of Education is collaborating with the Freemasons of Maine to sponsor the Read to Ride Summer Reading Challenge for students in grades PK-8.  The Maine Freemasons have generously donated 48 bikes with helmets as prizes for the Read to Ride Summer Reading Challenge.  During the first four years of this initiative, thousands of Maine children completed the challenge of reading 500 minutes during summer vacation.  Maine DOE hopes to see this number grow even higher during the summer of 2020.

Any school with students in the PK-8 grade span may register to participate. Participating schools will collect documentation from students who have completed the challenge. They will hold school level drawings to select two students whose names will be entered into the state level drawing to be held on September 25, 2020.   Schools are encouraged to participate in this challenge, to coordinate it with any other summer reading challenges/programs they offer, and to consider soliciting their own local level prizes for students who complete the challenge.  Find details and the link to register your school at the Read to Ride Challenge website.

Summer slide can be prevented or greatly reduced when students continue to read on a regular basis. By encouraging children to read for enjoyment from a variety of resources and to explore topics of interest, they continue to practice applying the skills they have learned, build their vocabulary, and widen their knowledge of the world.  For students who are not yet reading independently, or just beginning to read, reading to and with parents is equally beneficial.

Questions may be directed to Maine DOE’s Elementary Literacy Specialist, Danielle Saucier at danielle.m.saucier@maine.gov.

Sebago Elementary Creates Virtual Arts Festival

Sebago Elementary has approximately 100 students and a community that is hugely supportive and proud of their school. Brenda McGuinness is an Art Teacher at Sebago Elementary School one day per week along with music teacher Jennifer Null and instrumental music teacher Lindsay Waller. In March they were making final plans for the second annual Arts Festival to be held on April 14th. Unfortunately, like events all over the world, the school Arts Festival was canceled.

With a strong desire to showcase the talents and efforts of their students, they worked hard to bring the first Virtual Arts Festival into the homes of students, their families and the community in an alternative way.

Using photographs of the art projects from each grade throughout the year as well as the various events students were involved in throughout the state, along with emailed photos of student art work during remote learning, they made a memorable slideshow of art adventures for the 2019/2020 school year.

“The reaction from our students and families to our Virtual Arts Festival has been wonderful and I feel delighted to have been able to present them with this event,” said Brenda in an email to the DOE.

This story was submitted by Brenda McGuinness, Art Teacher, Sebago Elementary School as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. to submit a story email Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov.