Happy, Happy Book News!

It’s official!  Super-Agent literaticat   says I can share the news that’s had me over the moon for the past three weeks or so….

She sold my picture book to Chronicle Books!  Here’s the official announcement from Publishers Marketplace:

Picture book 
Kate Messner’s OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, in which a girl on a ski trip discovers the secrets of the animal kingdom beneath the snow, to Melissa Manlove at Chronicle, by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (World).

…and here are some of the juicy details.

If you read my blog much, you know that I love spending time outdoors in every season — especially winter.  Really astute blog readers might even remember this entry, where I talked about a snowshoe trip I took with my 7th grade students in the Adirondacks.  We saw tracks like these…

…disappearing into a crevice in the packed snow and heard all about the tunnels of the subnivean zone, under the snow.  I was enchanted.  So I started reading and researching and writing, and playing around with the poetry of snow, and then I went to the Kindling Words retreat and shared the manuscript with a new writer friend, Joan.  She loved it and gave me a few ideas for revision.  In early February, I sent OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW off to Jennifer, my agent.  She fell in love and sent it out to a few editors she thought might fall in love, too.

One of them did.  She took the book through the acquisitions process, and Chronicle’s formal offer came a few weeks ago. 

I am thrilled — more than thrilled — to be working with a house that publishes such beautiful, beautiful picture books.  Plus, there’s the added bonus of Ivy & Bean.  My daughter LOVES the Ivy & Bean series and was very excited when she found out it’s the same publisher.  I told her this kind of makes her related to Ivy and Bean in a way…like distant cousins or something. 

Since then, my house has been a chatty, excited place — even more so than usual.  There’s been a lot of squealing and jumping up and down and imagining what the illustrations will look like. I’m early for the Thankful Thursday blog post, but this time, I was too thankful to wait.

best tracker

Sunday in Montreal

We spent our Sunday in Montreal enjoying three of my favorite things…food, the performing arts, and a great book.

First, we went for dim sum at La Maison Kam Fung (yes, that’s the right name…stop laughing. That’s what happens when you have a Chinatown in the middle of a French city).  Our table was littered with empty bamboo steamers after we consumed huge amounts of shaomai (steamed pork dumplings) and har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings). 

After brunch, it was off to Place des Arts to see…

…Swan Lake on Ice, performed by the Imperial Ice Stars.  We bought the tickets as a Christmas gift for the kids and weren’t quite sure what to expect.  We were absolutely floored.  This show was an incredible marriage of theater, ballet, and figure skating.  It was truly stunning, from start to finish.   I checked the tour schedule, and it looks like there’s just one more stop in North America — in Toronto.  If you live anywhere near there, it’s definitely worth checking out.

On the ride home, we finished a read-aloud of Andrew Clements’ No Talking, a lively, funny book that can be enjoyed equally by a six-year-old, an eleven-year-old, and a couple parents.  We spent the rest of the evening trying to talk only in three-word sentences (if you’ve read the book, you understand).  Thanks, Andrew – your characters were fabulous company in the car, and the game they inspired ended our weekend perfectly — with terrific fits of laughter.

I have a confession…

I steal my children’s ARCs.  Sometimes, when they’re in bed at night with their new books clutched in their hands, I pry their fingers loose and sneak the books downstairs to read.

J and E are members of the Harper Kids First Look Program.  Every month, they go to a website and choose the titles they’d like to read from a list of books on offer.  Harper has a drawing and sends them the ARCs to review if they win.  Cool, huh?

Except grownups aren’t allowed to participate.  Just kids. Which forces me to stand over their shoulders when they log on each month, saying things like, “Ooohhh…don’t you want to read that one?  I really think you’d like that one. Look how exciting  it looks.  You really ought to let them know that you’d like to review that one…”  Sometimes it works out beautifully.

Like last month… when E scored ARCs of two books that I absolutely LOVED.  Both walk the line between genres — mixing text and illustration in creative ways that bring even more life to already lively stories.

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, due out in June, is by Chris Riddell of  Edge Chronicles fame.  It’s the kind of book you might imagine if Roald Dahl and Brian Selznick had teamed up on a graphic novel.  Ottoline is a  young girl whose parents travel the world and leave her home in the family townhouse in the care of a friendly, hairy creature-person named Mr. Monroe. I loved the characters in this book. Ottoline’s a little like Pippi Longstocking — brave and funny and always up for an adventure.  And Mr. Monroe…. well, he was so cute I want to adopt him and keep him as a lap dog.  Ottoline and Mr. Monroe team up to solve the mystery of a string of neighborhood burglaries — a plot that is brought to life by the abundant and amazing illustrations.   This one was well worth the grief I got from my daughter when she found out I stole it.

Then I had to wait a while to read The Curse of Addy McMahon by Katie Davis because E wouldn’t let it out of her sight until she finished.    Like Ottoline, this book mixes text and illustrations in a way that’s sure to grab even the most reluctant readers.  Sixth graders, in particular, are going to love this one because it’s the perfect mix of humor and the honest-to-goodness angst that’s part of starting middle school. I’ve already recommended this one as a purchase for our school library. Addy McMahon has a lot to deal with as she makes that transition — a father who died of cancer, a mother whose icky boyfriend is moving in, and an email disaster that nearly costs her her best friend.  Add it all up, and Addy’s convinced that she’s cursed. What middle school kid hasn’t felt that way? 

Addy is both a talented writer and illustrator — just like author Katie Davis — so the book’s narrative is told in part through Addy’s “autobiograstrip,” an autobiography in comic book form.  Full disclosure time… I met Katie Davis at a writers retreat this winter and thought she was fantastically funny and smart and energetic, so I fully expected to like this book.  It didn’t disappoint, and it’s going to be a terrific title for kids making that leap from elementary school to middle school.  They’ll appreciate the warmth and honesty as well as its creative format.

An open question for writer friends…

I just received a whole new batch of questions from kids at Madill Elementary School — a follow-up to my author visit there a few weeks ago.  Two questions from the kids were similar, and I thought I’d combine them and toss them out there for your thoughts…

Does it bother you when people say bad things about your writing?  Because you worked really hard on it and everything.

Ah…the wisdom of young people.

My response:  Having people say some negative things about your writing is part of being a writer.  Sometimes you submit work to editors and they say no thanks.  Sometimes, you have a book published, and then people write things about it in the newspaper or journals or online.  Lots of those things are very nice, but some aren’t.   And sure, it hurts my feelings when that happens.  And I might mope a little or sniffle a little (okay…sob) but I do know that it goes with the territory, so eventually, I go outside for a run and have lunch and get back to writing my next story.  I’ll also say this… Nice notes from kids make up for anything that grownup critics have to say.  So thanks!

How about it, writer friends?  Care to respond to that question?

Are you fond of Louis Sachar?  And did I take good pictures during your visit?

I like Sachar a lot.  Holes, which you’ve probably read, was my favorite.  And yes, you took great pictures. Thanks!

What was your favorite part of your book?  Who was your favorite character?  Mine was Abigail.

Asking an author to choose a favorite character is sort of like asking a parent to choose a favorite child.  I love them all!  My favorite part of the book is probably the escape scene.

I think that the hard tack was not good. Did you like it? Did you also like the pea soup also?

No, I don’t really like hardtack either.  I’m glad I don’t have to live on it.  And I really, really didn’t like the pea soup on the boat. It made me sick to my stomach.

I think Spitfire is one of the best books ever written. I think you did a terrific job. Did any one inspire you to write Spitfire?

Well, thank you!  Actually, I was most inspired to write Spitfire because of the educators who work at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. They visit schools, too, to teach kids about that period in history.  I bet you’d like their website:  http://www.lcmm.org.

My name is Adam. I am eleven years old and Spitfire is one of the greatest books I have ever read. I love your website!!

Thanks, Adam!

It was very interesting seeing how and where you got you’re ideas from. But I have to tell you the hard tack was disgusting!(no offense). I liked hearing about your adventure on the reanactment,that was cool! who inspired you to write books?How do you feel when you write books? How old were you when you started writing?

I was seven when I figured out that I loved writing.  Reading great novels by other authors has always been an inspiration.  How do I feel when I write books?  Sometimes it’s the best thing in the world, and words just pour out.  Other times…. well…the truth is that a lot of the time, I feel like it’s very hard work, and sometimes it’s frustrating, especially when I know I need to revise to make a book stronger and I’m just not sure how to do that.  But I always feel great after I’ve finished writing for the night.  And I love that kids like you get to read my books!

I don’t really like writing but people say I am kind of good at writing, like it is neat,but do you ever get bored of writing?

I used to get bored with writing sometimes when I was in school, because they wanted me to write about a particular subject — like apple trees or something — when what I really wanted to write was a story about gorillas.   Now that I get to choose my own ideas for writing, I never ever get bored.

I know you said that you love to teach and love to write but have you ever wished that you did something else?

I used to want to be a marine biologist.  I still love the ocean.

I know that making those powder horns are hard to make in all but have you finished them yet I know that you were just here not to long ago so you might not have but I was wondering if you have finished them yet?

Ummm…no.  But thanks for the reminder.

You have been writing for quite some time and I was wondering how old you were when you starting writing. And if your first book was Spitfire or was it another book but it didn’t get published?

I wrote a book about sharks when I was seven.  It wasn’t published, but my parents taped it to the refrigerator.  :^)

What kind of books do you read now?

I read a huge variety of books, including kids’ books, which I still love.  I’m reading No Talking by Andrew  Clements with my daughter right now (so funny!) and on my own, I’m reading a book called The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.  It’s great so far, and the writing is really beautiful.  I hope you’re enjoying the book you’re reading right now, too!

Fresh eyes

Tonight, I started revising a middle grade novel. 


Six months ago, I thought I didn’t know how to revise this one any more.  I really, truly couldn’t see anything else I could do to make it better.

But now I can. 

How did I miss that spot in chapter two where the tension just dissipates?
Why isn’t there more with her best guy friend? 
What’s with the two characters who just go away mid-book? 

And while we’re at it…

Hey, you… antagonist over there in the corner… How come you didn’t say that great line in chapter one during my first draft?  Or even my ninth draft?  Not that I don’t appreciate you coming up with it  now, but still…

It’s a strange metaphor, but I feel like a film has lifted from this manuscript, and I’m seeing so much more than I did before.   Attacking it again is downright fun.

I’m wondering if it’s the passing of time, or growth as a writer, or new feedback, or a combination of all three.  If this is a familiar story in  your writing life, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Teaching the Quad

The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum has a fantastic reputation when it comes to staff development for teachers, so I was thrilled to be a part of today’s workshop called Teaching the Quad, helping educators prepare for the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s voyage in 1609.  I talked about Using Historical Fiction in the Classroom and gave my first-ever reading from Champlain & the Silent One, my new middle grade historical novel that comes out in September.  For me, reading out loud from a novel for the first time is a milestone that’s always a little scary but a lot of fun!

As the last speaker, I got to relax for most of the day and enjoy the other presenters — including biographer Willard Sterne Randall, whose work I’ve admired for years.  His Benedict Arnold biography was one of my first stops when I was researching Spitfire.  Randall and his wife have worked together to put together this fantastic website focusing on Champlain and the Quadricentennial Celebration.
Also on the agenda today – Dr. Fred Wiseman from Johnson State College, who shared parts of his new documentary about 1609 as well as information about some recent archaeological discoveries that may change the way we view the lives and culture of Native peoples in the Champlain Valley. 

Sarah Lyman from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum talked more about the museum’s Quadricentennial curriculum, a 200-page treasure trove for educators that’s available as a free download here.  It includes the first chapter of Champlain & the Silent One, as well as a sample chapter of the study guide.

Joan Robinson of the Flynn Theatre got us all up and moving around with some dramatic activities relating to the 1609 encounter between Champlain and the Iroquois.

And Roger Longtoe of the El-nu Abenaki Tribe shared his expertise on Abenaki culture of the 17th century and today. 

I was especially intrigued by the wooden shield he’s holding here, since it was modeled after the ones that Champlain describes in his 17th century journals.  No matter how many times I read the descriptions, I couldn’t quite picture what they looked like until now.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of today’s workshop for me was listening to the struggles of some other researchers who have delved into Champlain’s life and the world he inhabited in 17th Century New France.  Because there are still so many unanswered questions about this time period — and so many controversial opinions — the Quadricentennial Celebration in the Champlain Valley is promising to be a time of tremendous scholarship, discussion, and discovery. 

Feeding the Muse

I’ve been a mighty quiet blogger lately — not because I’ve been busy writing…but because I’ve been busy NOT writing.  Laurie Halse Anderson calls it “filling the well,” taking time to do things that aren’t writing, things that feed our souls in different ways.

For me, that included visiting with writer friends at the New England SCBWI Conference in Nashua last weekend.  I attended fantastic workshops presented by

, who talked about the ins and outs of writing a series,

, who explored the concept of improvisation as a writing strategy, and

and Charlesbridge editor Yolanda Leroy, who teamed up to present two fabulous hours on writing nonfiction. 

The day after the conference, we left for a trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast to visit family and do more well-filling.  It was a wonderful week of long, morning coffee conversations and play time on the beach.

E and I spent a whole afternoon finding just the right sparkly shells for our sand-mermaid’s fin and gathering enough seaweed for her hair.

We all loved the fabulous and far-fetched sights of Sarasota’s Ringling Circus Museum…

My husband swears that if I’d been with the circus in the early days, I would have been the woman being shot out of the cannon.  Do you suppose he means that as a compliment?

My favorite part of the trip was the morning we spent in the Everglades.

This week it’s back to school and back to the drawing board, with a middle grade novel revision that I started tackling on the plane trip home.

My muse is happy tonight, full of play time and nature and Nana’s chocolate chip cookies (no, wait…it’s me who’s full of those). 

Fabulous Fourth Graders

I got a lovely surprise in the mail last week from some fourth graders at Saranac Elementary School…

They created a picture book version of Spitfire, complete with chapter summaries and detailed drawings of their favorite scenes.

The kids also sent me wonderful postcards, sharing their favorite parts of the book. 

 The postcards are up on the bulletin board over my writing desk now.

Thank you, Saranac 4th graders! You made my whole week.

Full of Questions!

Talk about an interested, enthusiastic group of readers!  I spent a terrific day with the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders at Ogdensburg’s Madill Elementary School last week.  They had great questions during my visit and sent me even more questions & comments today, and I promised them a blog post.  Curious minds want to know…

How old were you when you wrote Spitfire?
What was your favorite book when you were in school?
When you wrote your first book, were you nervous about what people would think of it?
Have you made those horns into powder horns yet?

If you were Pascal, what would you do in the middle of battle?

I’d probably feel scared and try my best to follow orders, just like Pascal did.  I’d like to hope I’d have some of the same courage that Abigail showed, too.

Spitfire is a really good book.I liked the part when Pascal discovered that Adam was a girl. I still wonder why they couldn’t just buy canned food instead of eating hard tack.

There was no “canned food” like we’d buy at the grocery store.  Hardtack and dried peas and beans were the best options they had at the time when it came to food that would last a long time on a ship.

I thought the stuff you researched was really cool like the ship that was at the bottom of the Lake Champlain.

Thanks!  I love learning about shipwrecks!

I really liked you spoke loudly and and didn’t act as nervous as you really were.

Hey!  How did you know I was nervous?!

My favorite thing in Spitfire was when Pascal found out that Adam was actually Abigail and he didn’t tell anyone she was a girl. When you wrote your first book were you nervous about what people were going to think of it?

Yes – and I’ll feel that way about the second book, and the third book, and probably all the rest.  When you write a book, you put lots of yourself into it — lots of pieces of your heart — and hope that readers connect with the story you had to tell.  It’s very, very exciting when they do, which is why I so loved visiting your school.

How old were you when you wrote Spitfire?

When I started or when it was published?  (It’s a big difference!)  I started researching Spitfire seven years ago, so I was 31 then.  I’m 37 now.

Why did you choose to write a book about the Revolution?

Remember when I told you I used to daydream a lot in school?  I still daydream, and now that I live on Lake Champlain, I think a lot about what happened out on the lake before I was around to see it.  I was fascinated by the Battle of Valcour Island, especially.

What was it like being on the ship during the reenactment?

It was really fun and really interesting.  I had to listen carefully, too, to understand the orders I was being given.  Most of the people there had much more experience reenacting than I did, so I had to work extra hard to follow directions.

How did you come up with all the different characters?

Many of the characters in Spitfire are based on real historical figures.  That’s one of the great things about writing historical fiction; you don’t have to make everything up.  Others, like Abigail and her Uncle Jeb and Aunt Mary, were fictional.  I spent time writing about them — their lives and what they were like — before I wrote the book so I’d know that they were acting in a realistic way for their characters.

You said some characters are like you and the people you know. Who is Philip based on?

Philip wasn’t based on anyone in particular.  He’s really a character I invented to try to capture the fear that all of these men must have felt, being thrown into a naval battle when few of them even had experience sailing.

I liked your book Spitfire because it has a lot of facts and details. What does it feel like to be an author?

It’s wonderful.  Especially after working so hard  to have a book published.  And especially when I get to meet real live kids who have read my book – so thank you!

Do you like writing children’s books or would you rather write books for adults?

No offense to your teachers…but I’d much rather write for kids.  I believe the books we read as kids are books that help shape us, in a way that adult books can’t quite do, no matter how beautifully they’re written. 

I’m really interested in Spitfire. it was cool in the book when they had to cut Phillip’s,then put his arm in tar and when they tried to sneak around the British ships. How lond did it take you to write Spitfire?

It took me about a year to do the research, a year and a half to write, another few years to send out the manuscript and get feedback with rejection letters, and then another year to do final revisions and edits after I found a publisher.

Why did you put Pascal in the book?

Because I was amazed by the idea that a real boy who was just twelve years old fought in that battle.

Did you make those horns into powder horns yet?

Er….umm….well, no.  Not yet.  The truth is, it turns out they’re kind of small for real powder horns.  And I’ve discovered that I like taking them around to schools to show kids like you.

I think you are really brave to do all the stuff that you did for us all the Madill kid students.

Well, gee… thanks!  You were all so friendly that I wasn’t all that nervous, even though there were a lot of you!

I love the pictures you showed us because you gave us a lot of details of what you do for a living. I like you because you gives us a lot of details about your life.  Not everybody does that so we are so lucky we found and met you.  I love your personality because you’re really nice, nicer than anybody I’ve ever seen or heard from.I like the hard tack you gave us because you took time to let us try those so thank you for everything.

Wow!  Thank you!  You were all very nice, too!

Kate Messner, thank you for coming. I really like your book. Is the Josh person a real person?

No.  Josh was a fictional character I invented for that early draft of the book that I told you about.  Poor Josh never even made it into the final draft.

What was your favorite book when you were in school? How old were you when you read it?

When I was in elementary school, I loved ALL the books I could find by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume.  As I got a little older, I discovered The Chronicles of  Narnia by C.S. Lewis and loved those books, especially The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.  And I loved Harriet the Spy.  That’s one of the books that made me start writing. I had a notebook that I carried around when I spied on people, and I took notes on them like Harriet.

My favorite book was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer`s Stone. I was 9 years old when I read it.

Sadly, Harry Potter wasn’t around when I was a kid. But that’s okay because I read the whole series as an adult and loved them just as much. The fourth one, Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, is my favorite.

Thank you, Ogdensburg students, for your fantastic questions!  

I loved visiting your school, and I hope you have a fantastic spring!

Author Visit Evaluations

Inspired by a few recent posts offering advice on school visits, I’m adding one of my own shortcuts to the list of tips for LJ writer friends.

SurveyMonkey is a free, online tool that allows you to create surveys that you can send to teachers and librarians after a school visit.  I used the site to put together a simple survey asking people to rate statements like these…

The planning and communication before this author visit was timely and efficient.
The author established a rapport with staff and students.
The presentation was educational and entertaining for students.
The presentation and/or workshops met the school’s needs and aligned with curriculum.
The honorarium and travel expenses were reasonable and a good value.
I’d recommend this author for school visits.

You can set up whatever multiple choice responses you like, but I included a matrix like this for each statement:

strongly agree
somewhat agree
somewhat disagree
strongly disagree
don’t know/not involved in this aspect of visit

I also included a place where people could comment on the best part of the presentation and offer suggestions for improvement, as well as a form for general comments.  One last question asks respondents if I have permission to use their comments on my website or other materials for teachers who may be interested in author visits.

Because it’s an online survey, many people find it easier and quicker than filling out and mailing back paper surveys.

What about you?  How do you get feedback about your school visits & other presentations?