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

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.

Celebrating National Poetry Month

The Maine Department of Education is celebrating National Poetry Month throughout the month of April. Find resources for accessing poetry, prepared lessons, and activities for educators and parents to supplement remote learning, and to celebrate and appreciate the beauty of poetry all month.

Anyone interested can find poetry resources on the Maine DOE Websitesuch as poems to inspire you, helpful links to The National Council of Teachers of English, in addition to a listing of activities the Department is encouraging throughout the month of April.

The Department hopes to encourage poetry celebration and appreciation with themed activities that can be done at home or using social media throughout the month. There will also be poetry specific virtual meetings designed for educators throughout the month.


  • April 5th – 18th: Historical Poems and Poems celebrating History
  • April 19th – 25th: Earth Day/Nature
  • April: 26th – 30th: Creating Poetry


  • Read in the round. Select a poem and have each person in your home read a line or a stanza. Practice changing your voice and reading with different emotions.
  • Write a poem. Tell a story about something you remember, how you are feeling, or something you wish.
  • Create a collage of photos or images with lines from a favorite poem. How does the poem look to you?

Schools, students, and families that would like to participate are encouraged to follow the Maine Department Education’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Tag us in any of your poetry activities this month, we’d love to keep up with what you are doing to celebrate poetry in April!

Lincoln Elementary Helps Kick of 5th Annual “Read to ME” Challenge

For the 5th year, schools and community partners across Maine have collaborated with the Maine Department of Education to launch the Read to ME Challenge, a month-long public awareness campaign held in February to promote childhood literacy in Maine. 

Lincoln Elementary School in Augusta helped kick off this year’s Challenge by hosting Commissioner Pender Makin who read Full, Full, Full of LOVE by Trish Cooke to an assembly of Kindergarten through 2nd grade students. Joining the Commissioner was Lincoln Elementary School Principal Heather Gauthier, Maine Senator Matthew Pouliot, Maine Representative Donna Doore, Augusta Superintendent James Anastasio, Augusta Assistant Superintendent Donna Madore, Augusta Title I Director Theresa Violette, and Augusta School Board Member Staci Fortunato, along with Lincoln Elementary School teachers, staff, community members, and other representatives from the Maine DOE. 

After a warm greeting and introduction from Principal Gauthier, Commissioner Makin read to students and then issued a challenge to Governor Janet Mills and to all of the Commissioners in the Governor’s Cabinet to participate in the 2020 Read to ME Challenge campaign.  This simple but powerful campaign challenges adults to read to children for 15 minutes, capture that moment via a photo or a video, and then post it on social media and challenge others to do the same. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #ReadtoME and tag the Maine DOE at @mdoenews on Twitter and @MaineDepartmentofEducation1 on Facebook! 

Following the reading and challenge, Maine Department of Education staff members Dee Saucier, Lee Anne Larsen, and Mary Hermon, along with Senator Matthew Pouliot, and Representative Donna Doore visited different classrooms at Lincoln Elementary and were among the first to take the Challenge.  

The Read to ME Challenge will run for the month of February, leading up to Read Across America Day on March 2, 2019. Learn more about the Read to ME Challenge on the Maine DOE Website, which includes a heat map of participants and an opportunity to submit your Read to ME story for the heat map! 


Read to ME Challenge to Kick-off February 3rd at Lincoln School in Augusta

Year five of the Read to ME Challenge is scheduled to begin on February 3, 2020.  Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin will launch the campaign by reading to children at the Lincoln School in Augusta.  She will follow up her reading by issuing a challenge to participate in the 2020 campaign.  The Department will be live streaming this event, and will provide those details soon. This simple but powerful campaign challenges adults to read to children for 15 minutes, to capture that reading episode via a photo or short video and then post it on social media to challenge others to do the same.  The Read to ME Challenge will run for the month leading up to Read Across America Day on Monday, March 2, 2020.

Schools and organizations are invited to join the challenge and to encourage community members to do the same. The collective voice of many key partners, leaders and those in respected positions will send a clear message about the vital importance reading to children plays in the social and economic well-being of Maine. Maine DOE also encourages partners to be creative and to use this opportunity to enhance ongoing literacy education outreach efforts.

If your organization is willing and able to promote the Read to ME Challenge, please follow this link to provide us with your contact information. Read to ME Challenge resources, including a guidance document, public service announcements in a variety of languages, fliers and a list of engaging ways to incorporate the challenge are available on the Read to ME webpage.

Reading aloud to children is one of the most cost effective and highly beneficial methods of building children’s literate abilities. The simple act of reading aloud to a child 15 minutes a day for five years results in 27,375 minutes of language exposure which can put children on the path to high literacy achievement.  Reading aloud exposes children to the world around them, helps them see reading as an enjoyable and valuable activity and often strengthens bonds with trusted adults.

Thanks for your consideration of this opportunity, and don’t hesitate to contact danielle.m.saucier@maine.gov (624-6734) with any questions.