About Book Challenges

This is Banned Books Week, when the American Library Association asks us all to take a few minutes to celebrate our freedom to read and the freedom of our libraries to provide a wide and diverse selection of texts.  So I thought I’d share some thoughts about how I’ve handled the issue of book challenges in my world.

I’m in my thirteenth year of teaching middle school English and have dealt with a handful of book challenges in those years.  Most never went through a formal challenge process but required discussion with parents and administrators all the same.

I’ve stood alongside other members of my department and library staff to defend books by Maya Angelou, Mildred Taylor, Bruce Coville, Lauren Myracle,  Sonya Sones, and more.  After a particularly troubling challenge to the Orca Soundings series for reluctant readers last year, members of our department made a commitment to be more proactive — to talk more with parents about the challenges and responsibilities of providing books to middle school kids whose ages, developmental levels, and needs are so diverse.

Here are the thoughts I shared with the parents of my students at Open House this year…

Our school librarian does a phenomenal job making sure that there are books of interest to every student in our building.  That’s a lot of students.  A lot of different students.

This middle school serves sixth graders as young as ten years old and eighth graders as old as fifteen.  Five years is a big gap, and those are no ordinary five years.  The difference between ten and fifteen is the difference between Legos and iPods, the difference between trick-or-treating and Homecoming Dances. The difference between child and young adult.

Our kids are not only different ages; they arrive at school with different reading levels, different backgrounds, and different experiences that have shaped their lives in both positive and negative ways. They have different needs when it comes to reading.

The book that is perfect for your wide-eyed sixth grade girl isn’t likely to be a good fit for a fifteen-year-old boy repeating eighth grade.   The book that eighth grader will read and love is probably not one that would be right for your sixth grader right now.  But as teachers and librarians, we have a responsibility to serve all of the kids who come to us. We have a responsibility to offer literature choices that speak to all of them and meet all of their diverse needs.

Kids, in general, do a fantastic job self-selecting books, and when they find they’ve picked up something they’re not ready for, they’re usually quick to put it down and ask for help choosing something else. As teachers and librarians, we’ll offer recommendations and steer kids toward books that are age-appropriate, and we encourage you to talk about books with your kids. We have multiple copies of many titles in our library.  Let us know if you’d like to check out two copies of a book so you can read together.  And if you find that your student has chosen a book that you think might not be the right book for him or her right now, talk about that, too. 

We respect your right to help your own child choose reading material, and we ask that you respect the rights of other parents to do the same.  If you object to your child reading a particular book, send it back to the library, and we’ll help your student find another selection.  We’ll put the first book back on the shelf because even though you don’t feel it’s the right book for your child right now, it may be the perfect book for someone else’s.

Our library will continue to have a wide range of choices for kids – to meet all of their varied needs and help them all develop a love of reading.  If we can ever be of help to you in recommending titles for your family, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Book Signing Pictures & Contest Winners!

I’m heading off to teach this morning after a fantastic, fun book signing in the Finger Lakes this weekend.  Thanks so much to everyone who came out to the Pat Rini Rohrer Gallery in Canandaigua, where we signed books and where my mom is one of the featured artists this month.  In-laws, cousins, and my parents’ neighbors and church friends all showed up — even my piano teacher from when I was nine years old!  (Thanks, Mrs. Webster… You look just the same and are still just as nice. And I really am sorry I didn’t practice more.)

Here we are signing…Don’t we look like we’re concentrating very hard?  (Thanks to my sister-in-law Linda for sharing her pictures!)

Here are Mom & Dad, visiting with friends. They are at the healthy snack table. I was over at the other table, eating candy corn.

Here I am signing a book, with Dad making sure that I’m doing it right.  Some things never change, huh?
That’s the original cover art for Champlain and the Silent One on the table easel!

And speaking of Champlain and the Silent One…I have a signed copy to give away this morning!  I had written all the names of the people who entered on little slips of paper, but I forgot to have my kids draw a winner before they went to bed, so instead, I called on the online Random Integer Generator, which never sleeps.  And it chose…. (drum roll, please…)

Congratulations, Number 19!!!

Oh wait…you don’t know who that is, do you?   Here.

jbknowles , please email me with your mailing address and I’ll get your book in the mail.

Thanks for entering, everyone!  Have a fantastic week!

Friday Five and a half – How do you do it?

I’ve gotten a few emails lately – most from friends but one from a writer-mom I don’t know who read my blog – asking how I manage to balance family, teaching, and writing.  The answer: like one of those circus jugglers who have to toss up and catch six flaming tiki torches at once, riding a unicycle on a tightrope and eating cotton candy the whole time. 

Sometimes it works. And sometimes I fall off, and the torches fall and catch my unicycle on fire and turn my cotton candy into a gooey, burned mess.  Today’s Friday Five and a half (because there’s always more than you can fit in a day, really) is about the balance…or not.

1. My  middle-grade-novel-that-used-to-be-called-MAPLE-GIRL (Walker Books, 2009) is going to copy edits and might even have a real title soon. 

2. I have lost my cell phone.  Have you seen it?  I’d call it, but the battery is dead because I also lost the charger.

3. I managed 2000 words on my new project last night – a novel that was brewing while I worked on revisions for middle-grade-novel-that-used-to-be-called-MAPLE-GIRL.   This new book has a title right now.  I’m enjoying that while it lasts.

4. I have lost my marbles. Seriously.  I have a jar of marbles in my classroom that I use for a voting activity in election years.  I cannot find them (they are clear marbles that are hard to see – I should have gotten bright red ones).  We are voting with paper clips instead right now.  Juggling flaming tiki torches is all about flexibility.

5. I’m heading to the Finger Lakes this weekend to visit family and sign books at the Pat Rini Rohrer Gallery (71 South Main St.) in Canandaigua from 2-4 on Saturday. You’re invited, too!

5 1/2.  If you see my marbles or my cell phone, would you please drop me a note?  You can’t call because…well…you know…

One more thing…


If you’d like to enter the drawing to win a signed copy of Champlain and the Silent One, click here to see the contest entry and leave a comment.  The deadline is midnight, EST tonight, and winners will be announced on my blog on Monday!

Thankful Thursday

I’m thankful for bees and butterflies today — thankful that lgburns ‘ stunning photographs on  her blog lately have inspired me to slow down and look more closely at my own backyard. Here’s what I  found…

My daughter is convinced this Monarch we spotted yesterday is one of those that we raised from caterpillars and released a couple weeks ago, come back to visit.

I’m also thankful — and downright excited — that I get to sign books with my mom in the Finger Lakes this weekend.  When I sold Spitfire, I didn’t really understand how book covers worked and suggested to my editor that my mother, who’s an artist, do a painting for the cover.  

"Well, we generally take care of finding an illustrator," he said.

"Can she send you something and you can see what you think?"

Happily, they thought good things, and Mom’s art appears on the covers of both Spitfire and my new book, Champlain and the Silent One.  My mom has always been a terrifically talented artist but didn’t often make time for her own art when she was teaching and taking care of four kids as we grew up.  I’m not only in awe of her talent now; I’m proud of the time and work she’s put into her painting, and sharing the creative process with her has been an absolute joy. 

You can see some of her latest work on her blog – she’s gailschirmer  – and if you live in Rochester or the Finger Lakes, I hope you’ll stop by to say hello to us this weekend!  From 2-4 pm on Saturday, we’ll be at the Pat Rini Rohrer Gallery, where Mom is one of the featured artists this month. It’s at 71 South Main St. in Canandaigua.

And one more thankfulness… I’m glad so many of you have stopped by to enter my drawing for a signed copy of Champlain and the Silent One. If you haven’t entered and would like to, click here for the details.

Some emails are even better than chocolate

If you know me at all, you know how I feel about chocolate, but seriously…this note from a local teacher just made my whole week.

Dear Kate,

I just picked up 45 copies of your new book – it looks to be exactly what I needed to help commemorate the Quad. 

I am only a few pages in and I am so impressed with the voice in which you tell this young boy’s story. 

I’ll be finishing it tonight, even though I have papers to grade…

Thank you, Miss Miller!  I just did a major happy-dance right at my computer.

In other news, don’t forget that you have a chance to win a signed copy of Champlain and the Silent One this week (just one copy…not 45…but still…).  Just check out this post and leave a comment by midnight EST this Friday to be entered in the drawing!

Contest Time!

His tribe calls him Silent One. He hasn’t spoken since his uncle died fighting the Iroquois. But in the winter of 1609, a new language echoes through the north woods. Samuel de Champlain and his Frenchmen speak of friendship and promise to help the Innu people fight their enemies. This time, Silent One must join the war party, journey far from home, and find his voice to save his brother and his own spirit.

"Kate Messner’s sense of American history and human nature is as strong as her clear, evocative prose. Her multicultural cast of characters truly comes alive in this wonderful little novel that gives one of the best pictures I’ve yet seen of that period of early contact."
                                          –Joseph Bruchac, Storyteller and Writer

My main character, Silent One, is silent for a reason; he had a vision and gave a warning that was ignored, resulting in his uncle’s death.  He felt like his voice didn’t matter.  Why use it?

But it does matter.  For all of us.

So here’s how to enter the contest.

Election Day provides us with an opportunity to to speak in a way that matters profoundly.  Promise you’ll speak by voting on November 4th. Leave a comment here, saying so, and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a signed copy of Champlain and the Silent One. If you mention this contest on your blog or website and link back here, I’ll enter you twice. Just send me an email (kmessner at katemessner dot com) with the link and let me know.

If you’re not old enough to vote, you can still enter.   Talk with a parent or friend who is planning to vote, and make arrangements to go with someone on Election Day to see what it’s like.  Leave a comment that tells me you’ll be someone’s voting buddy, and promise to vote when you turn eighteen.  And then do it.  (I’ll do everything in my power to track you down and reclaim your prize if you don’t.)

Now the small print stuff…

Due to shipping costs, you must live in the Continental United States to win.   If you’re not registered on Live Journal, please remember to leave your name (if you’re under 18, please leave a first name only to protect your privacy) so that you can be entered in the drawing. It’s hard to mail books to Anonymous.

The deadline to enter the contest is this Friday, September 26th at midnight EST — right after the Presidential candidates’ first debate.  I’ll announce the winner on my blog on Monday, September 29th.

Almost Autumn

In honor of the first day of fall tomorrow, I’m sharing a few photos from today’s hike up Mount Jo in the Adirondacks.

We decided to climb, even though it was drizzling when we got to the trailhead.

This is the view from the summit — not exactly what we’d had in mind, but pretty in a hazy, climbing-into-a-cloud sort of way.  If it were clear, you’d see a  handful of the High Peaks and Heart Lake beyond the trees.

E noticed this little guy on the trail and moved him to safety so he didn’t get squashed.

And this one is for blog readers who live where the leaves don’t change color, or where they haven’t changed just yet. 

A branch full of maple leaves to launch you into autumn. Have a terrific week!

Friday Five

1.  I just finished reading an ARC of Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass and am now determined to see a total solar eclipse before I die. (Funny how a free book can end up costing thousands in travel expenses, huh? But I digress…)   I’ll post a more detailed review later, but for now, know that I loved it, and it’s one you’ll want to look for when it comes out next month.

2. Currently, I’m reading the first book in Scholastic’s 39 Clues series, Rick Riordan’s The Maze of Bones.  My 12-year-old read it in a day and loved it but was surprised that it wasn’t more like Rick’s Percy Jackson series.  I’m halfway through Maze of Bones, enjoying the historical references to Benjamin Franklin as well as the diverse settings.  I’m interested to see how the whole book, trading card, online game component works out.  Has anyone else read this?  Thoughts?

3. It’s always interesting to me how people end up at my website.  The counter that keeps track of visits to my site also shows me how people found their way there, what terms they typed into a search engine, for example.  This one is my all-time favorite. Someone googled…

"love life of Samuel de Champlain"

…and ended up at my site.  (Don’t tell my husband!)

4. There was a haze of ice fog over Lake Champlain today — the first of many cold fall mornings I’ll wake to see those cold weather "ghosts" over the water.

5.  Who wants to win a copy of Champlain and the Silent One?  I’ll be announcing a contest on Monday, so be sure to stop by!  All you have to do to be entered is promise to use your voice in November.  More to come…

Weekend Time Travel

For some reason, everyone in the Champlain Valley decided that last weekend would be the perfect time for a big festival, so I ended up with three book events packed into two days.  It made for a crazy-busy weekend, but a fun and fascinating one, too.

My first stop was the Battle of Plattsburgh Celebration, where I read from Champlain and the Silent One and signed books at the festival tent.

Afterwards, I had some time to walk around and enjoy the battle reenactment.  Where else can you pack a picnic and watch a 19th century naval battle without worrying about rogue cannonballs?

I also loved the "Plucky Rooster Contest," sponsored by the celebration committee.  Legend has it that during the 1814 Battle of Plattsburgh, a British cannonball blasted into a chicken coop on board the American ship called the Saratoga.  The rooster inside that coop, instead of fluttering off all frightened, supposedly jumped up onto the cannon and flapped his wings in defiance.  To honor his cock-a-doodle-memory, festival organizers invite folks to design their own "plucky roosters"  made of anything they choose.  This one won second place in the contest but was my personal favorite.

There’s something about a rooster with dreadlocks that you just have to love…

From Plattsburgh, it was on to Crown Point for the Festival of Nations celebration, where I gave a presentation and then sang Happy Birthday to the Crown Point Light, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary as a lighthouse.  There were sparklers and cupcakes, too, which made this author very happy.  

Sunday was the Burlington Book Festival, where my camera ran out of batteries right after my husband took this picture of me outfitting a young recruit for the Continental Navy.

Otherwise, I’d have many more photos, since my daughter and I stuck around to enjoy a whole day’s worth of kids’ programming.  You’ll have to imagine pictures of Tanya Lee Stone talking about her new book Sandy’s Circus, Harry Bliss scribbling pictures with kids from the audience, and Katherine Paterson giving a fantastic dramatic reading of her work. 

The presentations were fantastic. I loved seeing LJ friends wordsrmylife  and cfaughnan . And when I stepped outside…the icing on the cake (actually the ice cream on the cake), I found the Ben & Jerry’s truck giving out free samples of their new flavors. 

Books + writer friends + ice cream full of little chocolate peace signs = a perfect, perfect day.

Champlain and the Silent One is here!

Look what the UPS guy brought this week! 

He looked at me a little funny when I hugged him. Do you suppose most people don’t do that?

Champlain and the Silent One
, my historical novel about an Innu boy who travels with Samuel de Champlain on his 1609 voyage to encounter the Iroquois, is officially out and actually available now.  Here’s the back cover copy:

His tribe calls him Silent One. He hasn’t spoken since his uncle died fighting the Iroquois. But in the winter of 1609, a new language echoes through the north woods. Samuel de Champlain and his Frenchmen speak of friendship and promise to help the Innu people fight their enemies. This time, Silent One must join the war party, journey far from home, and find his voice to save his brother and his own spirit.

"Kate Messner’s sense of American history and human nature is as strong as her clear, evocative prose. Her multicultural cast of characters truly comes alive in this wonderful little novel that gives one of the best pictures I’ve yet seen of that period of early contact."
                                                                                             –Joseph Bruchac, Storyteller and Writer

I’ll be signing books at three different festivals in Northern NY and Vermont this weekend:

Battle of Plattsburgh Celebration
Saturday, September 13
12:30-12:50 (right before the battle!)
Kids Area outside City Hall

Crown Point Historic Site Festival of Nations
Saturday, September 13
Presentation from 6:45-7:30pm

Burlington Book Festival
Sunday, September 14
Presentation from 11:00-12:00
Lake & College Performing Arts Center
(and tanyaleestone presents at 12:30, in the next room over!)

And here’s the rest of my September/October schedule:

Canandaigua, NY
Saturday, September 27
Book signing from 2-4
(and artwork by my made-of-awesome mom, Gail Smith Schirmer!)
Pat Rini Rohrer Gallery, South Main St.

Plattsburgh, NY – Borders Books & Music
Saturday, October 4
Educators Weekend Book Signing 12-4

Shelburne, VT – Flying Pig Bookstore
Saturday, October 18
Presentation & Signing – 11-12

…and for teachers, I’ll also be presenting two workshops, serving on an authors’ panel, and signing at the NYS English Council Conference in Albany on Thursday, October 23. 

If you’re near any of those places, I’d love it if you’d stop by so I can give you one of my shiny new bookmarks and say hello!