ALA 2010 Part 4: Everything Else…

The American Library Association itself is so awesome that it’s easy to forget that there was a whole amazing city outside that convention center.  Thankfully, my kids reminded me, and so in between bookish things, we found time to tour the White House.

The East Room was my favorite, especially the painting of Washington that Dolly Madison smuggled out just before the British burned the White House in 1814.

We had dinner at Malaysia Kopitiam, which was inexpensive and incredibly tasty.

Before our flight Monday, we enjoyed a whirlwind morning on the National Mall…

…visited the Smithsonian Museum of American History….

…where we took a walk through the Star Spangled Banner exhibit…

…and the First Ladies exhibit.  Michelle Obama’s inaugural ball gown is on display there now, a new addition since our last visit a year ago.

We also took a quick walk through the Darwin exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, since the kids had chosen a couple evolution-themed books signed at ALA — THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE by Jacqueline Kelly for my eight-year-old daughter and CHARLES AND EMMA: THE DARWINS’ LEAP OF FAITH by Deb Heiligman for my almost-14-year-old son.  It was fun to see some of Darwin’s actual specimens on display!

There wasn’t nearly enough time at the Smithsonian (is it possible to EVER have enough time at the Smithsonian?) but we were hungry, and the Folk Life Festival was happening outside.

After a quick lunch, it was time to say goodbye to the museums and monuments (and the ducks in the reflecting pool) and catch our flight home after a wonderful, wonderful weekend at ALA.

ALA 2010 Part 3: The Newbery-Caldecott Banquet

Sunday night at ALA was the Newbery-Caldecott banquet, which I’ve heard referred to as the Oscars of children’s literature. (Personally, I think it’s way better.)  I was at Table #97 (it is a BIG room!) with the wonderful Walker/Bloomsbury folks and some terrific Texas librarians, including Mary Ann Bell, shown here with me and her Nancy Pearl action figure, who joined us for dinner.

The place setting with this year’s official program was so gorgeous it took my breath away.

Mary Ann’s Nancy Pearl action figure liked the program, too. Only a librarian would have the gumption to shush a lion like that.

The art is inspired by this year’s Caldecott Medal winner, THE LION AND THE MOUSE. Isn’t Jerry Pinkney just incredible?

His Caldecott acceptance speech was so moving. Pinkney described answering the phone on the morning of the announcement and waiting to hear the word "honor."  He’s won FIVE Caldecott Honors but never a Medal until this year…a moment he called "a powerful and stunning turn of the page." 

Rebecca Stead accepted this year’s Newbery Medal for a book that is simply one of my favorites of all time, WHEN YOU REACH ME.  Her speech was as warm and lovely as she is, and she paid tribute to the power of books in our lives, explaining how books kept her from being alone in her mind and let her read about people who had things she couldn’t have (like sisters…and dragons.)

The receiving line after the banquet was kind of like Mount Rushmore only with all these amazing faces from children’s literature (and also, you know, not made of stone). 

Consider this the ALA version of "Where’s Waldo?" Can you spot Rebecca in this photo?

See any familiar faces in this one?

It was a wonderful, wonderful celebration.

On top of all this literary goodness, we managed to sneak in some other Washington, D.C. fun. That’ll be my last ALA post, later on!

ALA 2010 Part 2: The Scholastic Literary Brunch

Sunday morning at ALA, I attended the Scholastic Literary Brunch, a lovely event where a handful of authors read from their books on the upcoming list. I was especially excited to go because Cindy Lord was reading from TOUCH BLUE, her second novel with Scholastic, about an island community in Maine that takes in foster children to try and save their school.  Like RULES, it’s full of real kids that you fall in love with — equal parts humor and heart and truth. It’s just wonderful, and Cindy is a friend, so we couldn’t wait to hear her read.

Cindy shared her story about reading at the brunch here on her blog; apparently she was a little thrown off because there was nowhere to set her book while she read, but the audience never would have known that.  She was wonderful.

Also on the lineup were Matthew Kirby, reading from his upcoming title, THE CLOCKWORK THREE, Erin Bow reading from her debut novel PLAIN KATE, Deb Wiles reading from COUNTDOWN, which I’m halfway through and loving, and Lucy Christopher reading from STOLEN.  All three did a fantastic job reading, and I’m excited to read these, too!  Here’s an only-slightly-blurry photo of Lucy…

I was so enthralled by the readings that I kept forgetting to take photos, so I missed Deb, Erin, and Matthew.  I totally meant to snap a photo of Blue Balliett reading from her latest mystery, but I was too busy watching my daughter bounce up and down in her chair with excitement as she listened to the description of THE DANGER BOX.  I did manage to get a picture after her reading, though.

As if all that weren’t enough, there were cupcakes, too. Cupcakes!!

They’re in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Scholastic imprint Chicken House and were as delicious as they were pretty. 

Even though this was just a three-day trip, it felt much longer because the days were so exciting and busy. Sunday night was the Newbery-Caldecott banquet, which was absolutely magical.  I’ll share some photos in another post later on!

ALA 2010 – Books and Authors Galore

I’m just back from a whirlwind three days at the American Library Association Conference, which was just amazing. This is my third ALA Convention, and I’ve come away from each one energized by the passion and enthusiasm of librarians. As someone who grew up on weekly trips to the library, I know that these people are truly shaping the future with the books they put in kids’ hands.  And once again, I left the convention feeling like our future is in very good hands, indeed.

After an early flight and a fantastic White House tour Saturday morning (thank you, Senator Gillibrand!) I headed to the Washington Convention Center exhibit hall to sign THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. and advance copies of SUGAR AND ICE at the Walker/Bloomsbury booth.  This is what it looked like heading down the escalators into the exhibit hall.  You could smell the books even from the top!

When I got to the Bloomsbury/Walker booth for my signing, there were already two girls there with their mom. One of them, Hannah, had read GIANNA Z. and wanted to be first in line for an ARC of SUGAR AND ICE, and really…I could have gone home happy right then.  The rest of the signing was busy enough that I forget to get any photos, but I want to say a big thank you to everyone who came! 

HUGE thanks to the Walker/Bloomsbury team, too. It was extra-special seeing everyone this weekend because I just signed up for two more novels with my editor, Mary Kate, including the MG dystopian book I’ve been working on and a second novel for middle grade readers. I couldn’t be more excited!  Here’s a picture of Beth Eller and Katie Fee, the amazing school/library publicists for Bloomsbury/Walker, in the booth.

My kids were with me, so we spent a lot of time this weekend just walking around checking out all the beautiful books.  We saw my Chronicle editor, Melissa, at their booth, and met a whole bunch of other authors signing around the floor.

Tanya Lee Stone was signing advance copies of her new nonfiction title with Penguin, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE.

Candace Fleming signs THE FABLED FOURTH GRADERS OF AESOP ELEMENTARY for my daughter.  She also signed a copy of THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM for my classroom.  I am on a mission to do more to promote nonfiction next school year. More on that later…

Here’s Deb Heiligman with the amazing CHARLES AND EMMA: THE DARWINS’ LEAP OF FAITH, and Jean Feiwel of Feiwel and Friends.

Here are Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney signing copies of SIT IN: HOW FOUR FRIENDS STOOD UP BY SITTING DOWN.

Here’s Jim Murphy, winner of this year’s Margaret Edwards Award…

…and Lynne Rae Perkins, signing CRISS CROSS and her new title, AS EASY AS FALLING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH.

Here are Amy Krouse Rosenthal and my daughter.  They are hiding behind DUCK! RABBIT! for some reason that I don’t remember now, but it made perfect sense at the time.

This is Libba Bray, signing books.  She still had a very, very long line to go when I snapped this shot!

Here’s Danielle Joseph with her new book INDIGO BLUES at the Flux booth…

…and M.T. Anderson signing his PALS IN PERIL series at Simon & Schuster.

Here’s Jacqueline Kelly, signing her Newbery Honor novel, THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE…

…and editor-author team Cheryl Klein and Gbemi Rhuday-Perkovich!

Still to come in a future post…the Scholastic Literary Brunch, the Newbery-Caldecott Banquet, and a whirlwind tour of the National Mall.

The Books They Loved Most

My 7th graders wrapped up their final week of English by making a list of their Top Ten Books read this school year. It was no easy task, since many of them have read more than fifty great books since September.  But they flipped through their reading letters and literature circles logs, negotiated with me ("How about if I list the whole series and that counts as one spot on the list, okay?"), and came up with a top ten.  I promised them I’d use those lists to come up with a Team Top Books Extravaganza, which they could take to the library and bookstore this summer, give to their grandmothers or anyone else who wanted to buy them a present, and generally use to guide their summer reading. 

Here’s how it works.  I gave a book one point for appearing on a top ten list or two points for appearing in the top three.  I should also say that certain books we read together are not on this list; I asked the kids to talk about their independent reading, so when you see great books like WHEN YOU REACH ME and others missing, that’s why. Here are the books my students included, listed in order of points received. Comments from me are in blue, because some of this list fascinated me and I have things to say.)

HUNGER GAMES & CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins  (30 points)
These were, hands down, the most popular titles in my room this year — the books that the kids said, "You HAVE to read this."  Loved equally by girls and boys.

WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson (25 points)
When I first read this book, I loved it but thought it would likely be too old for most of my 7th graders.  After seeing a few check it out of the library, though, I included it as a selection for literature circles.  The group of four girls and one boy who read WINTERGIRLS loved that book so passionately that they have been recommending it to anyone who will listen all spring. And they are not quiet kids. The result has been a big group of kids — mostly girls — who read it, loved it, and talked a lot with one another and with me about body image and mental health.  I’m thankful for this. 

ALABAMA MOON by: Watt Key (21 points)
Loved by boys and girls, this is one of those survival stories that I put into a lot of hands throughout the year.  The companion novel, DIRT ROAD HOME, is coming out in the fall and is excellent, according to two of my readers who devoured the ARC I brought home from IRA this spring.

You’ve heard of this one maybe?

CRACKER by: Cynthia Kadohata (13)
This is one of my go-to books for reluctant readers — a great story about a military dog and a young man in Vietnam.

CRANK by Ellen Hopkins (11)
This group of 7th graders reads up in terms of content more than any group I’ve ever taught, and Ellen Hopkins was one of their favorites. Two of my creative writing class kids are writing novels in verse of their own now, thanks to Ellen and Lisa Schroeder, who are their heroes.

Most kids have read this before they get to me; otherwise I suspect it would have gotten even more votes, as it’s one of their favorite series.

These books took the top two spots on two of my girls’ lists; they are dying for the third novel in the trilogy to come out!

RESCUE JOSH MCGUIRE by Ben Mikaelsen (9)
Another great survival story; this is one that my reluctant readers enjoyed.

Like Riordan’s series, I suspect this would have gotten more votes if we were doing all-time favorites instead of favorite books read this year. Most have already read Harry before they reach 7th grade.

TOUCHING SPIRIT BEAR by: Ben Michalson (8)
Another great, sometimes gory survival story that both boys and girls like a lot.

This didn’t make anyone’s top three, but a bunch of kids liked the fast-paced series enough to keep it in the top ten.

SWEETHEARTS by Sara Zarr (7)
This wasn’t a book that tons of kids read, but I think it was on the top ten list of every girl who picked it up. That made me smile; I loved it, too.

Many more books were listed on multiple top ten lists, and they’re grouped together below.  And yes, you’ll probably notice that some of these have managed to get a vote or two without having been released yet. I bring back ARCs from my conferences, and the kids love to help spread the word about them.


THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary Pearson ******

ALONG FOR THE RIDE by Sarah Dessen ******

BURNED by Ellen Hopkins ******

COPPER SUN – Sharon Draper ******

FEVER 1793- Laurie Halse Anderson ******

LIFE AS WE KNEW IT by Susan Pfeffer ******




LIFE AS WE KNEW IT TRILOGY – Susan Beth Pfeffer *****

NOTHING by Janne Teller *****

WAITING FOR NORMAL by Leslie Connor *****



BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver ****

CIRQUE DU FREAK SERIES  by Darren Shan ****

CODE ORANGE by: Caroline Cooney ****


NEED and CAPTIVATE by Carrie Jones ****

SCAT by Carl Hiassen ****

TRICKS by Ellen Hopkins ****

WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN’T KNOW series by Sonya Sones ****





CHASING BROOKLYN by Lisa Schroeder ***

CITY OF THE DEAD – Luke Perry ***

CLIQUE series – Lisi Harrison ***

DREAMLAND by Sarah Dessen ***

ELSEWHERE by Gabrielle Zevin ***



IDENTICAL by Ellen Hopkins ***

RIGHT BEHIND YOU- Gail Giles ***

SPEAK – Laurie Halse Anderson ***

TWILIGHT series ***

WINGS- Aprilynne Pike ***

WINNIE’S WAR by Jenny Moss ***



BASEBALL GREAT by Tim Green **

CENTER FIELD- Robert Lipsyte **

CHILD CALLED IT by Dave Peltzer **

CROSSING THE WIRE by Will Hobbs **

DIRT ROAD HOME by: Watt Key **

DUNE by Frank Herbert**

FABLEHAVEN BY Brandon Mull **

FIRST LIGHT by Rebecca Stead **

GLASS by Ellen Hopkins **

HATCHET by: Gary Paulson **

IMPOSSIBLE, by Nancy Werlin **

NUMBERS-Rachel Ward **


OPERATION YES – Sara Lewis Holmes **

PAPER TOWNS- John Green **


POINT BLANK by: Anthony Horowitz **

PURGE – Sarah Darer Littman **

REDWALL SERIES – Brian Jaques **

REVOLVER by: Marcus Sedgwick **


SUGAR AND ICE by Kate Messner**

SUNRISE OVER FALLUJAH – Walter Dean Myers **

THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak **

THE LOVELY BONES, by Alice Sebold **

Note: There were about a million books that were on one top ten list, and I’ll have to share these in another post because this one is already crazy-long.  But I hope it gives a sense for the huge variety of what 12 and 13 year old kids choose to read when they’re choosing for themselves.

A Letter to Next Year

The last assignment I ask my 7th graders to write in June is a letter to next year’s team.  "Write to the students who will be sitting in your seat in September," I tell them.  "Let them know what to expect in this class.  Tell them how they can have a successful year in 7th grade, how they can be happy and productive and have fun.  Tell them what to look forward to, and what you wish you had figured out sooner. And whatever else you want to tell them, too."

And so for 20 minutes, they write, heads down, scribbling furiously.  I collect the letters and combine their bits of advice into one big letter.  Then I print it out, fold it, and put it in my top desk drawer.

On the first day of school in September, I pull it out and read it to my new students.  They sit with their empty notebooks and listen to the words of the students who came before them, very seriously, as if these are the voices of ghosts rather than just the kids who have moved on to the next hallway.  It is one of my favorite traditions.

I spent part of today reading letters, which is a lovely break during finals week.  Here were some of the lines that made me smile…

You might think it’s a little scary entering 7th grade, but it’s not. Prepare for one of the best experiences of your life and one of the most rewarding.

One tip for good writing is revise, revise, revise!

Mrs. Messner is true to her promises, like when she says she’ll do cartwheels down the hall if everyone turns in a reading letter on time. She only does this on special occasions. (If she is wearing a skirt, she does the cartwheels the next day she’s wearing pants.)

You will come out of this year reading, whether you come into it that way or not.

Keep a sweatshirt in your locker. Sometimes the social studies room is cold.

If you get a chance, read NEED by Carrie Jones. Best book ever.  And read SONG OF THE SPARROW by Lisa Ann Sandell. It made me cry, but it is great.

Don’t tell Mrs. Messner you’ve read a book if you haven’t. Trust me. She has read like every book on the planet.

Try not to get yourself caught up in DRAMA. Life will just be better if you don’t.

In literature circles, if it is one of the choices, pick THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak!\

If you don’t like to read, that will change. In this English class, you CAN”T not want to read some of the books she talks about.  And you’re lucky because sometimes Mrs. Messner gets books before they’re published. It feels cool to read books that only a few hundred people in the world get to read at the time.


Don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions. I can honestly tell you that I have never read so many books in just one school year, all thanks to Mrs. Messner recommending them. She is good at that.

My very favorite line, though?  It’s from the student who called me a "book genie" as he explained how it felt like I could magically find him the right book every time. I may just have to have that one put on a bumper sticker.

Writing Retreat Opportunity

This is a friends-locked post on behalf of a couple writer pals who are looking for a roommate for a summer writing retreat in a few weeks.

A little background… Last summer, a handful of children’s writers got together at the Valcour Inn and Conference Center on Lake Champlain for a few days of quiet writing and not-so-quiet eating and talking about books and writing.  We’re doing it again this summer, and due to an unexpected health issue, one person has had to cancel.  Her two roommates are looking for a third person to share their triple room, which has three double beds, a private bathroom, and an entrance to a big second-floor porch overlooking the lake.

The retreat runs Sunday to Wednesday – July 11-14.  We get started around 2pm on Sunday and wrap up at about 3pm on Wednesday.  The total cost for the available spot would be $365 – including three nights lodging and all meals from dinner on Sunday through lunch on Wednesday.  The people who come are a friendly mix of serious writers, both published and unpublished, and it’s very unstructured, though we do have a few organized things like yoga one morning for those who want to practice and an evening reading of works in progress one night after dinner.

If you might be interested in that available spot and want more information, please drop me an email as soon as possible (kmessner at katemessner dot com). 

Saundra Mitchell, author of SHADOWED SUMMER, talks revision!

Remember that confession I made earlier this week?  About being downright addicted to revision?  Well, that applies not only to revising myself but also to hearing about other people’s processes. And today, I have a guest on the blog!  The talented Saundra Mitchell, author of SHADOWED SUMMER, shares her revision story, with a special offer for those of us who teach writing to kids.

DRESSING YOUR BOOK by Saundra Mitchell

I think it’s safe to say that most of us don’t get up in the morning, throw on some underwear, then go off to greet the day. So why should authors stop working when their story’s still in its skivvies?

No matter how carefully you plan, there’s still work to be done after the first draft. You can’t see the holes that need mending, and the spots that need more coverage until you’ve put down the first layer.

And sometimes, you can’t see the holes at all. Or you think that a particular bit looks fantastic- when somebody who isn’t color-blind points out that it doesn’t match. You also need time to reflect- anorange and green dress shirt sounded like a good idea at the time, but something less garish would have shown off the fine cut of the fabric.

Which is a hugely extended metaphor, but really: sending out an unedited first draft- whether to your teacher or to your editor- is same as going outside in your underwear. Technically, you’re clothed, but you’re not winning any points for class or style.

There’s a pervasive myth that talented people don’t have to edit. Maybe I’m not talented, but I need editing. I need notes from other people who
will tell me to get rid of the green and orange shirt, or that I need to add a nice blazer to get the full effect.

It wasn’t until the third, very last revision, of SHADOWED SUMMER, that I added the rest of one character’s story to the book. The book was
almost ready to be printed- but it wasn’t done! And I think the more willing we are to admit that talent doesn’t excuse us from hard work, the better all our writing will be.

To hammer home that point, if you’re a teacher or a librarian, I have an offer for you. Just send your mailing address to saundra AT saundramitchell DOT com, and I will send you a few pages from my working manuscript of SHADOWED SUMMER to share with your students.

These are the pages that my editor and copyeditor marked, so your students can see just how much work- big and small- goes into finishing a piece of writing. The offer lasts as long as I have pages left (it’s not a long book, so supplies are limited!) It’s a chance for your students to see a book in its underwear.

It’s not pretty- but it’s part of the process!

by Saundra Mitchell

In a town as small as Ondine,
every secret is a family secret.

In paperback June 8, 2010

Thankful Thursday: Summer Vacation, Books, and #ALA10

1. Today is the last day of regular classes before final exam week begins at my school.  My students will get their huge list of everyone’s Top Ten books read this school year (I’ll share it here later on, too!) and use it to make their own summer reading plans.

2. Look what came in the mail from the fantastic   yesterday!

Eric was kind enough to grab me a galley of Laurie Halse Anderson’s FORGE at BEA after I did just the tiniest bit of online whining.  My 7th graders read CHAINS together this spring, and tomorrow morning, I’ll share a chapter or two of FORGE aloud before we have our "final exam week activity," a Skype visit with .  Don’t you think that’s better than another test?

3. Last night, I hit the 50,000-word mark on my new book, the Upper Middle Grade Dystopian Weather Novel, or UMGDyWN for short (That’s pronounced UM-Goody-Win, in case you’re wondering).  Originally, I thought I’d be typing "The End" at 50K, but…um…no. Another five chapters ought to do it, though, so there is light at the end of the drafting tunnel, and there was some quiet happy-dancing on the sunporch when I hit that little milestone at around midnight.

And finally…

4. A week from Saturday, I’ll be heading to Washington, D.C. for the American Library Association Conference, along with my kids and my friend Stephanie, who used to babysit for our family and just got her first job at as a school librarian in Vermont. We’re all excited about what the weekend will bring.  Here’s my schedule:


2:30-3:30 – Signing THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. and ARCs of SUGAR AND ICE at the Walker/Bloomsbury booth.

Sunday morning, we’ll be attending the Scholastic Literary Brunch (I’m so excited I’ll get to hear   read from her wonderful, wonderful book TOUCH BLUE!)  and then that night, I’m joining the Walker/Bloomsbury folks for the Newbery/Caldecott banquet.

On Monday, we’ll have a few more hours to explore before it’s time to head home and get ready for our family Fourth of July celebration on the lake.

Will I see you at ALA? 

And either way, what are you thankful for this week?

New Book Project (and this one is for TEACHERS!)

Confession: I am addicted to revision.  

The addition of shiny new scenes.
The rearranging of chapters.
The satisfying chopping of dead-weight paragraphs.
The lingering over words.
The liberal sticking of Post-It Notes.

What’s not to love? Revision has always been my favorite part of the writing process, and if you read this blog, you know that I talk about revision all the time.

Even so, I was taken a little off guard when I got an email a few months ago from the very friendly acquisitions editor at Stenhouse Publishers, asking if I might want to write a book for teachers.

Well…I was awfully busy with my family and my teaching job and my other books I was writing, but…  Did you say it could it be a book about revision?  A book about teaching kids how to revise?

It could, she said.  In fact, that would be great.

Could I talk about how I revise my own books and how I use those experiences to help my students revise their work in my 7th grade classroom? And could we bring in other authors who write for middle grade readers and share their stories, too, as author mentors?  And could we give teachers lots of hands-on revision activities?  Stuff they can bring right into the classroom to help kids revise all different kinds of writing?

Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.

So I said yes. 

I don’t have a final title or publication date yet, but I was too excited not to share the news about this new project. I know that in some classrooms, "revision" amounts to correcting the spelling errors on a rough draft and then rewriting.  I understand that’s often a product of time constraints and test pressures, but I really believe that we can do better for our young writers.  I know there are lots of teachers out there who think so, too…teachers who want to help their kids revise in a more meaningful way, so they can create pieces that are detailed and vibrant, important and alive.  The kind of writing they can be proud of. 

I hope this book will help.

I’ll be working on it this summer, in between writing my books for kids and my usual hiking and ice-cream-eating.  If you are a teacher, I hope you’ll post comments with questions, things you might like to see included in a book about teaching revision. And if you’re one of my author friends who write for middle grade readers, I’d love it if you’d consider being one of our mentor authors in the book.  I’m putting together a list of interview questions about revision that I’ll pass along in an email soon.