WINTHROP — Winthrop Middle School eighth-graders Maddie Weymouth, Rhyan Sawlivich and Emma Shuman wanted to write a love story — they just had to figure out how it should start.

The trio and their classmates were assigned the task of writing an opening paragraph as part of a workshop Tuesday with author Shannon Parker. Their opener, they were told, had to capture readers’ attention with an engaging first line, as well as develop a character and put them into a predicament.

“I can’t believe we’ve done this,” the girls’ story began.

Lisa Gilman, who teaches art and reading at the middle school, asked Weymouth, Sawlivich and Shuman, “Who is your main character?”

“His name is Dylan,” Weymouth said, “and he smells good.”

Parker found the students full of ideas.

“It’s amazing to see what they come up with,” she said. “Their minds are just so uninhibited by what we expect, and so they just go beyond all the expectations of storytelling. They make this amazing mix of characters.”

Parker’s young-adult novel, “The Rattled Bones,” is part of the reading curriculum for students in the eighth grade. It’s a fictional story about historic events, showing readers the history of Malaga Island.

Winthrop Middle School teacher Lisa Gilman speaks to eighth-graders Tuesday about growing up on Orr’s Island in the 1970s and 1980s and recognizing descendants of Malaga Island. The students read “The Rattled Bones,” by Shannon M. Parker, which teaches the history of the island through a modern, fictional story.

The community on the island near Phippsburg, a mixed-race group of around 40 fishermen and laborers, was expelled forcibly in 1912, according to the Maine State Museum, which had an exhibition of artifacts that some of Gilman’s students had seen. The extrication was a racially and economically charged move by the state to encourage tourism on the coast. Houses and belongings were removed and bodies were exhumed from their graves.

Gilman chose the novel for the class because she found the characters relatable and she felt as though it brought up themes that are hard to discuss at the age of her students, such as racism and discrimination.

The history came to life for student Eli Libby. An avid reader and writer, Libby sees himself one day becoming a writer, and he was eager to learn about Parker’s writing process.

“Why did you have Rilla be a lobsterwoman?” he asked.

“I like people to think about occupations that women are doing that are not necessarily associated with females,” Parker said.

Students took good advantage to learn from the author about the nitty gritty of writing — such as what the best writing environment is (in the morning in pajamas, for Parker), how to draft (it’s OK to delete everything and start from scratch) and how to build character (“My whole world is Libby and Oliver,” she said about the characters in the book she is writing now.).

Gilman selected the book for curriculum because she felt as though it would engage her students and encourage them to read. She also created a fundraiser to purchase copies of the book for the classroom and bring Parker to speak to the students. Writing, like reading, Gilman said, can be hard for students to continue.

“We don’t ever have time where something isn’t going on in our heads,” she said.


Abigail Austin — 621-5631
[email protected]
Twitter: @AbigailAustinKJ

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