Sophie Blackall Visits Students in Rural Maine

Blackall's Caldecott-winning "Hello Lighthouse" inspired art by young resident of Maine, where connections to lighthouses run deep.

Art inspired by Blackall's Caldecott winning picture book; a field trip to a local Maine lighthouse.

Two-time Caldecott winner Sophie Blackall visited more than 325 students in rural Maine communities. The preK–Grade 8 students had the opportunity to meet and work with Blackall, who called upon them to dream up their own pictures and stories.

Blackall, whose Hello Lighthouse won the 2019 Caldecott Medal, visited five schools as part of a program of ­Island Readers & Writers (IRW), a nonprofit organization based in Southwest ­Harbor, ME. IRW connects authors and illustrators to children living in 27 ­predominately remote and underserved communities along the coast and outer islands.

Blackall creates art with a student.

Through the program, teachers worked with students across curriculum in advance of Blackall’s visit. Students created on their own projects and reached out to the community. They presented lighthouse projects to the local historical society and took field trips to local lighthouses.

When Blackall arrived, they shared their artwork and research projects and had the chance to work with her in small group workshops.

Hello Lighthouse was particularly fitting for these communities, which are near lighthouses, and students often have fishermen and boaters in their families. Many students and teachers have deep ties to their local lighthouses and shared stories of ancestors who were lighthouse keepers.

Throughout the week, Blackall’s small group workshops varied by grade level and school. She altered her projects based on what the students had already created, the size of the classes, or limited classroom space.

Younger grades listened to Blackall as she read from Hello Lighthouse and other books she has written and illustrated. In the art workshops for older students, Blackall worked with them to create lighthouse murals, collage, watercolor paintings, alien drawings, and some even tried their hand using Blackall’s favorite Chinese ink.

For kids in Maine’s rural and economically challenged communities, for whom place-based, book-centered programs are limited, Blackall’s visits created excitement in art and writing and inspired children to imagine new possibilities.

Taylor Bigler Mace is the community engagement coordinator at Island Readers & Writers, a nonprofit children’s literacy organization based in Southwest Harbor, ME. A book lover and former newspaper reporter, she has a B.A. in English from the University of New Orleans and a M.S. in journalism from Boston University.

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