SUGAR AND ICE hits the road (and I discuss parents in MG fiction!)

SUGAR AND ICE, my latest middle grade novel from Walker/Bloomsbury, comes out on December 7th, a week from today, and I’ll be visiting a whole bunch of blogs over the next few weeks, talking about everything from revision to research to skating schedules.  I hope you’ll visit some of the great bloggers hosting me to check out their home bases and read about some of the secrets behind SUGAR AND ICE.

Today, I’m at Laura Pauling’s blog to talk about parents in middle grade fiction (and you should also check out her previous post on the topic, called "Dead, Missing, or What?" which explores the tendency of authors to ditch the parents in stories for kids (something you actually don’t see in my books…I kind of buck the trend on that one.)  Enjoy!

Also…an invitation!
The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid is hosting a launch party from 3-5 pm on Saturday, December 11th.  If you can’t make it but would still like a signed, personalized copy, just give them a call at (518) 523-2950 by December 10th. They’ll take your order, have me sign your book after the event, and ship it out to you in plenty of time for the holidays.

Stars on Ice in Lake Placid

Our family partakes in many of the usual Thanksgiving traditions…pie, turkey, naps…and then there’s the figure skating. 

Almost every year, the touring skating show Stars on Ice launches its season Thanksgiving weekend in Lake Placid, and with a house full of skating fans, we’ve made it part of our holiday Saturday.  This year, it was extra-special spending a night at the Olympic Center, since that’s where most of my soon-to-be-released figure skating novel SUGAR AND ICE is set.  I kept looking around, thinking of my main character. "Oh! Claire would love that costume." or "Claire can do that jump!"

The show itself is always incredible, and this year was its 25th anniversary. 2010 Olympic Gold medalist Evan Lysacek was one of the headliners.

I enjoyed watching him skate…but more than that, I enjoyed the commentary of the older ladies who were sitting behind us. "He is SO handsome! Look at him!" they’d say, every time he appeared on the ice.

Jamie Salé and David Pelletier skated one song that was just amazing. This move made the skater-mom in me want to shout, "Be CAREFUL!"

And the group numbers were, as always, spectacular.

For more on the show, you can check out Lake Placid Skater’s blog review…and if you’d like to see the whole thing, it airs on NBC on January 22nd.

More Thankfulness: #NCTE10 and #ALAN10 Part II

Sunday at NCTE started bright and early with a morning run, which…left a little to be desired. When I got down to the hotel lobby in my running clothes and asked about trails nearby, the hotel person said, "Yes, we have a running path. You can run on the boardwalk around the lake."

I looked out the window. The lake was more of a pond. "How far is that path?"

".8 miles," she said.

"Is there a longer route around anywhere?"

"Sure," she said. "You can run around the lake several times."

So I did. And I learned that Disney begins pumping "It’s a Small World" music out of all the bushes at full blast at 7am. This may scar me for life. That and Mickey Mouse’s face imprinted on every bar of soap, which sounds cute but is actually creepy when you notice it in the shower.

Then it was time for the Scholastic Literary Brunch, where I found my name tag at a table a few seats away from the delightful Kirby Larson, whom I’d met at a different conference last year. "Kate," she said, gesturing to another woman a couple seats over from me. "do you know Lois Lowry?"

I am pretty sure some actual squeaks came out of my mouth before I was able to articulate that we hadn’t met, but that as a teacher, reader, and mom, I know and love her books very well. Here are some photos from the brunch.

Kirby Larson and Lois Lowry both read from their new DEAR AMERICA books with Scholastic; both sound like amazing additions to the series, which is being re-released.

Kirby is wearing a 40s-inspired outfit to go along with THE DIARY OF PIPER DAVIS, which takes place in a Washington community during the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

And Lois Lowry’s THE DIARY OF LYDIA AMELIA PIERCE takes place during the 1918 influenza pandemic.  I’m a huge fan of well-written historical fiction and just loved both of their readings.

Lisa Yee was up next…

…reading from her upcoming middle grade novel WARP SPEED, which sounds funny and poignant.  She read a passage that made me cry. Look for this one in March!

And here’s Derrick Barnes, reading from WE COULD BE BROTHERS. He told us that he started writing this as a book for African American boys, but it turned into so much more — a novel about social responsibility and brotherhood. His reading was stunning, and I can already think of four or five kids in my class who are going to love this book.

Pam Munoz Ryan read from THE DREAMER and also shared a bit from her charming upcoming picture book, TONY BALONEY, about a young penguin who’s the persecuted middle child in his family. She showed us some of the adorable illustrations by Edwin Fotheringham, and as I am easily distracted by shiny things, I completely forgot to take a picture. But the book looks funny and wonderful.

Sunday afternoon, I attended a fantastic session on reading workshop in the classroom with Franki Sibberson, Aimee Buckner, Mary Lee Hahn, and Donalyn Miller. Hahn talked about trusting the phases of reading workshop (and trusting your students), something that I am still thinking about and probably need to put in its own blog post one of these days.

Miller, who is the author of THE BOOK WHISPERER, one of my favorite books about teaching in a way that promotes reading, had great things to say about helping kids to plan their reading. She asked the audience, "How many of you know what you’re going to read next?"  Almost every hand went up, and Miller talked about how she encourages her students to plan their reading so there’s no lull for them in between books — such a powerful idea when it comes to building lifelong literacy.

Aimee Buckner shared a Post-It note strategy she uses with readers in her classroom (and if you know me, you know that I was bouncing in my seat by then because I LOVE sticky notes so much I should buy stock in the Post-It company.)  Students write notes while they’re reading and then sort them later on — into ideas they want to think about more, ideas for writing, and ideas that no longer make sense and can be tossed out. I loved this strategy, since I often have students mark passages with sticky notes, but then I never know quite what to do with all those slips of colorful paper after our discussions. Mostly they end up on the floor and sticking to my shoes later on.  So thanks, Aimee!

I couldn’t stay for all of Sibberson’s talk, but Elizabeth Rich posted a great overview on Teaching Now, her Education Week blog. 

Lest you think the conference was all work and no play, I did take time out for a rather spectacular hot fudge sundae with my Bloomsbury publishing sister, Jackie Dolamore, who wrote MAGIC UNDER GLASS and the forthcoming BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY (with mermaids!). Here’s a picture of Jackie and me at the Middle Mosaic.

My Twitter-teacher-friend Jennifer Ansbach (@jenansbach) came to the Middle Mosaic, too!  She told me she was already back at her hotel, but when someone tweeted that I was at the Mosaic, she hopped back on the shuttle to come say hi. (Thanks, Jennifer!)

More Twitter-teacher friends who came by the Bloomsbury/Walker booth – @jenniesmith @mindi_r@kelleemoye. Anyone who doesn’t believe in the power of social media to connect like-minded people has never been hugged by a Twitter friend in the middle of a busy convention floor. It was great to meet so many online friends in person!  I wish I’d been able to snap pictures of them all.  (Great to see you, too, @RdngTeach!)

Sunday evening brought the ALAN cocktail party, where authors & teachers got a chance to meet before the Monday-Tuesday conference.

 I met Gary Paulsen. (Gary Paulsen!!!!)

That’s me, Danette Haworth, Lisa Yee, and Ann Angel.

And here is Lisa on a chair, taking a picture of Peepy with the ALAN crew.

Lisa also posted a bazillion photos from NCTE/ALAN on her blog.  She asked everyone to balance Peepy on their heads. I saw this happen a dozen or more times and was amazed that no one questioned or even hesitated. We all dutifully and carefully balanced her stuffed Easter candy on our heads and posed for photos. I think this speaks to the power of Lisa’s charisma, and it makes me hope that she only uses her powers for good because seriously…imagine if she wanted to take over the world or something. Everyone would just say, "Okay!" and balance Peeps on their head, and follow her. Check out her blog…you’ll see what I mean.

Here’s the whole Walker/Bloomsbury crew with Mickey at the ALAN reception. From left to right, you’ll see Danette Haworth, me, Katie Fee, the mouse, Jessica Warman, Jackie Dolamore, and Beth Eller. (Note that Jackie and I strategically placed ourselves a bit away from Mickey, as we had recently discussed the whole Mickey-on-the-soap creepiness.)

Monday morning, I sat in on the ALAN sessions & got to hear great authors like Rebecca Stead, David Levithan, Rachel Cohn, and Darren Shan, and that afternoon, I presented a breakout panel on helping young writers discover their voices, along with David Macinnis Gill, Jo Knowles, and Chris Crowe.  Here’s David, our fearless leader, getting ready for the workshop.

Here are my fantastic panel-mates…

…and our fantastic audience.  It was so nice to see  ‘s face in the front row!

The panel went well, and I was thankful I spoke first so I could relax & learn from Jo, David, and Chris, all of whom shared great ideas that I’ll be able to use in my classroom after the Thanksgiving break.  After our panel, it was off to the airport (after a quick stop at FedEx to ship books home for my students. (Total cost of shipping? $78.49.  But when my kids see those books Monday morning, the looks on their faces will be priceless.)  And look what I saw on the way to the airport!

It actually turned into a much bigger double rainbow a few minutes later – just gorgeous!  Then it was time to say goodbye to Orlando and head home to get ready for Thanksgiving.  Thanks so much to everyone I met at NCTE/ALAN – old friends and new ones made the weekend so, so special. Hope everyone has a GREAT holiday!

Thankfulness, #NCTE10, and #ALAN10

I am home from the NCTE and ALAN conferences and pretty much bubbling over with thankfulness all around — for safe travels, new friends and old friends I had a chance to see in Orlando, new books for my classroom, and great ideas.

To top it all off, I got two great bits of book news today!

My soon-to-be-released novel SUGAR AND ICE, which comes out December 7th, is on the Winter Kids IndieNext List of recommendations from independent booksellers. My editor also emailed an amazing review that will be in the December issue of School Library Journal. So, so exciting!

On to the NCTE and ALAN magic now. (And note that when I say "magic," I’m talking about teachers, authors, and books — not Disney!)  The four day trip was such a whirlwind, I decided a photo essay was the best way to give a snapshot of my conference.

First, leaving home… and it was snowing Friday morning.

This is the machine that gives you your parking ticket at the Burlington Airport. Yes, it is wearing a coat. I went from that…

…to this.

Okay…so this view from the cab was about the only time I saw the outside of a convention center. But it was still pretty.

Friday afternoon, I had a chance to wander the exhibit hall for a little while before introducing a session with Wendy Mass & Danette Haworth. I was delighted to see so many friends — and friends’ books!

Here’s Mitali Perkins signing BAMBOO PEOPLE and RICKSHAW GIRL at Charlesbridge.

I found Jennifer Brown signing HATE LIST at Little, Brown. I’m looking forward to her new book, THE BITTER END.

And look~ Tammi Sauer’s good friend Bernadette was there!

Here’s Ilsa Bick and me. I’m smiling because I have a signed copy of her new book, DRAW THE DARK, which I fear I shall need to read with ALL the lights on!

I spotted books from two of my critique partners – Eric Luper’s SETH BAUMGARTNER’S LOVE MANIFESTO at the Harper Collins booth…

…and Loree Griffin Burns’ THE HIVE DETECTIVES at HMH.

Sara Lewis Holmes, the author of OPERATION YES, had a great idea at the conference.

She took photos of authors with this sign, to be uploaded to to show military kids that the nation supports them. You can go to the site and upload your picture if you’d like, too!

I also tracked down   – aka Teri Lesesne.  She signed my copy of READING LADDERS and gave me this: is a website and group of people speaking up against book challenges. They’re good people, doing important work for kids’ right to read – and I’m wearing my pin proudly.

Here’s Sharon Draper, signing one of my favorite 2010 books, OUT OF MY MIND.

This is the dauntless Beth Eller, Bloomsbury/Walker school & library publicist and one of my heroes, along with Katie Fee. They set up the booth, ran the signings, shuttled authors to events, and fed me when I was hungry. (Thank you, Beth & Katie! I am waving & throwing kisses.)

They also arranged a lovely authors & educators dinner that ended with this…

…as if I’d needed a reason to love them more.

On Saturday morning, I spoke on a panel about Skype author visits and then hustled back to the exhibit hall. Some friends stopped by my SUGAR AND ICE and GIANNA Z. signing at the booth, including one who was a big surprise!

This is Betsy Lynch, the teacher with whom I did my student teaching 15 years ago!  She lives and works in Florida now and came by to say hi.  Fellow teaching writer Cindy Faughnan came to give me a hug, too –

And so did my Twitter-teaching-book-recommending-writing friends Donalyn Miller and Paul Hankins.

Donalyn is the author of THE BOOK WHISPERER, an amazing teacher resource about getting kids excited to read.

And Paul is the Indiana teacher who runs the groundbreaking Raw Ink Online – a Ning where his high school students talk books among themselves and with YA authors.

When it was time to sign books, I got to sign with talented illustrator Leuyen Pham, who actually sketched each child for whom a book was being signed if there was a photograph available.  I could have sat there watching her draw with her Japanese brush pen for hours.

Isn’t she amazing?

I also got to spend some time at the Scholastic booth, signing advance reader copies of my new MARTY MCGUIRE chapter book, illustrated by Brian Floca and coming in May.

Sunday brought the Scholastic Literary Brunch, some terrific teacher time when I attended sessions and learned a ton, and the ALAN evening get-together.   I’ll share some more photos from the rest of the conference soon!

It’s a Fibonacci Day!!

I am just (literally minutes ago) back from NCTE and ALAN, which were amazing and inspiring, and I promise to post lots of pictures once I find my camera and sleep a bit.  But this post absolutely could not wait…because it’s about Fibonacci.  And as of midnight, today is 11/23 (1 1 2 3) — an official Fibonacci day!  If you’re confused, read on…

My main character in SUGAR AND ICE (coming Dec. 7, 2010)  is a math lover as well as a figure skater, and she’s working on a project on Fibonacci numbers in nature and life.  They fascinate her. They fascinate me, too (coincidentally enough), and they also fascinate Greg Pincus, a social media guy and author who has a Fibonacci book coming out with Arthur A. Levine Books down the road. Greg thought it might be fun for us to visit one another’s blogs and chat a little about Fibonacci.  Why today?  Here’s the explanation of Fibonacci numbers Claire gives her friend Tasanee in SUGAR AND ICE.

"Fibonacci. He was an old math guy who wrote about this sequence of numbers." Claire pulled a notebook out of her bag and flipped to her first page of notes. "Look."

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377…

"You start with zero and one, and then each number in the sequence is the sum of the two numbers before it. So zero plus one is one. Then one plus one is two. Two plus three is five. Then eight. Then twenty one. And so on."

(Claire goes on to explain that these numbers have special properties when you add them, and that they show up in nature and art.)

See why 11-23 was a good day for Greg and I to talk Fibonacci? I’ll let him pick up the story now…

I’ve always loved numbers and patterns much more than I loved hardcore, computational math, so when I first encountered the Fibonacci sequence in school, it stuck with me. It’s not that I used the sequence in my day-to-day student life, but for me there was an elegance… a simplicity… dare I say a poetry in the way the numbers worked together.

The Fibonacci sequence rarely factored into my adult life or my writing career as a screenwriter/poet either. But I never forget about it… and a few years back I had what I’d call a Reese’s moment: I combined the sequence with poetry and thought they tasted great together.

Many people had made that combo before me, I know, but I ended up focusing on a simple combination of the two: six line poems where the syllable count follows the Fibonacci sequence (lines of 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8 syllables for a total of 20 syllable poems). I called the poems Fibs and would often begin my writing day by creating a few.

The form is definitely not easy, but the restrictions helped me focus on the importance of word choice. Eventually, I decided to share the admittedly geeky form with folks via my blog ( to celebrate National Poetry Month. I invited others to create Fibs… and something entirely unexpected happened.

It turns out that the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio derived from it have stuck in a lot of people’s heads. Some people use Fibonacci often: musicians, actuaries, stock traders, and knitters among them. A lot of other people enjoyed mixing poetry with something else that sparked them. Fibs spread far and wide and fast.

Within two weeks of my original post, nearly 1,000 poems had been left in the comments of my blog, hundreds and hundreds of people worldwide were writing Fibs and posting them on their own sites, and the story of the viral spread of this odd poetic form had landed me in the New York Times (

A second unexpected thing happened, too: in large part because of the excitement, I got a book deal. I’m currently working on a novel – a novel!!!! – called The 14 Fabulous Fibs of Gregory K. for Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic) that includes Fibonacci, Fibs, and much more.

Despite my own excitement when I first discovered the sequence, I had never realized that if you look around, Fibonacci is everywhere. Not just visible in nature or in, say, the Twitter design ( but invisibly lurking somewhere in the back of a whole slew of brains, planted there by a teacher or a book or a random encounter with the sequence.  And frankly, I think that’s poetic, too.

Isn’t that awesome? I love Greg’s enthusiasm for this topic & can’t wait for his 14 FABULOUS FIBS book!

If you want to chat more about Fibonacci numbers (and read a short related excerpt of SUGAR AND ICE) head on over to Greg’s blog, GottaBook, later on for my guest post there.

Where to find me at #NCTE10

I’ll be leaving bright and early Friday morning for the National Council of Teachers of English conference, where I’ll be through Monday.  Here’s my schedule, in case you’ll be there, too, and would like to see one of my presentations, have a book signed, share your chocolate, or just say hello.

I’m wearing my teacher-hat on Friday, and I’ll be introducing two author friends who are speaking at 2:30 in the Acapulco Room — Wendy Mass and Danette Haworth. Both are brilliant writers and witty, wonderful people – I can’t wait to hear their talks.

On Saturday, I change gears and wear my author hat for a full day of presentations & book signing.


Virtual Author Visits Presentation
Coronado Ballroom S

Signing THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. and SUGAR AND ICE at Bloomsbury/Walker – Booth #813

Signing ARCs of MARTY MCGUIRE (my chapter book illustrated by Brian Floca!) at Scholastic – Booth #312

(Note: My agent noted that my first signing ends at 10:30, the same time the second one begins.  She suggested I wear roller skates.  I am hoping that NCTE has teleporting capabilities in the convention center. Or fireplaces with floo powder in each publisher’s booth.)

Middle Level Mosaic – Presentations & Author Speed Dating event
Coronado Ballroom L


ALAN cocktail party
Fiesta 6 Ballroom
(How could this not be fun? It is full of authors and teachers and is in the Fiesta  ballroom?!)


ALAN Breakout Session: The Perks of Being a Wallflower Writer
I’m on a panel with David Macinnis Gill, Jo Knowles, & Chris Crowe

Hope to see some of you in Orlando!

How To Make a Really Good Outline (for Jay)

Dear Jay-who-commented-on-my-blog-post-about-outlines-today,

I am guessing, based on your slightly frantic tone when you asked how to make a really good outline, that you have a homework assignment due soon that involves an outline. But you didn’t mention what the outline is for.  Is it for a short story? A persuasive essay? A book review?  What kind of outline you need kind of depends on what you’re writing.  For some projects like traditional research papers, a traditional outline might work best. Something like this:

I. Really Big Idea
     A. One idea about that big idea
           1. Detail or example to support idea A.
           2. Another one…   and so on.

Or it might be that some kind of a web would be better.  When I was working on one of my mysteries, I put the Star Spangled Banner in the  middle of an idea web and then created bubbles branching out from it, showing who was interested in the flag, who the suspects were, who the investigators were, what the clues were, etc. It gave me a visual picture of relationships to the flag that a traditional outline might have missed.

For other projects, I might not use an outline at all. 

But you probably have to use one, right?  Otherwise, you would have been writing instead of googling outlines.  Since I don’t know what you’re trying to write, I’m going to toss a bunch of planning tools at you in the hopes that you find the right one in the pile.  Fair enough?

These are all from the Read-Write-Think website from NCTE and IRA. It’s full of resources and is a great place to go when you need help with this kind of thing.

BioCube Organizer – For when you’re summarizing or writing a biography
Circle Plot Diagram – For when you’re writing or talking about a story with a circular structure
Compare & Contrast Map – Great for those compare-contrast essays
Essay Map – This one can be used for almost any essay.
Story Map – To get you thinking about & planning elements of a narrative – also good when you have to analyze a story.
Interactive Venn Diagram – Another tool for compare-contrast kinds of essays.
Persuasion Map – Great for persuasive essays.  Or when you want to convince your parents to let you have a friend over.
Note Taker – Helps you take notes for a research project & then organize them.

Good luck!

COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles

Another book we’ve enjoyed in the Messner house lately…

I absolutely loved COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles. Franny’s coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, is the best kind of historical fiction — firmly rooted in the feelings and details of a time period but with young characters that feel as real and modern as any kid next door. Mixed in with the novel’s main plot line are many images, cartoons, quotes, and sidebars that provide a greater context for the story, and these are fascinating.

I read COUNTDOWN as a before-bedtime read-aloud with my nine-year-old daughter, and we both found the documentary elements to be interesting (though if pressed, I’ll have to admit that we skipped a few of them when Franny’s story was getting really good!) I suspect we’ll return to those later on. In addition to being a great snapshot of that time in October 1962, COUNTDOWN is also a touching, funny story about changes and family, fear and friendship. Highly recommended – and I hope the documentary elements won’t cause people to overlook it as a read-aloud. It’s a great one!

Editing to add…   interviewed Deborah Wiles in her Author’s Tent blog series recently.  Here’s the link! (Thanks, Melodye!)

SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos

One of my teaching goals this year has been to promote nonfiction more actively to my classroom of 7th grade readers.  Last summer at ALA, I made it a point to have more nonfiction signed to my students for our classroom library, and I’ve been book-talking those titles more frequently as well. The latest book I’ll be recommending is just out this week from Clarion Books…

SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos is a fascinating and compelling work of narrative nonfiction that looks at the history of sugar, or rather, the history of the world as it was shaped by sugar. This work of narrative nonfiction starts out with two personal stories about the authors’ ancestors and the way sugar shaped their families’ journeys, but then the camera pulls back to reveal the truly remarkable impact the sweet stuff has had on the world, the spread of slavery, and the exchange of ideas about freedom that would ultimately put an end to it. Fascinating sidebars tell stories that don’t make it into history textbooks — like the one about Palmares, the 17th century Brazilian community of escaped sugar plantation slaves that flourished in the mountains beyond the fields of cane. Extensive back matter includes a timeline and an essay on the research & writing process that the authors used in creating this beautifully crafted book.

PLAIN KATE by Erin Bow

I am woefully behind in my book-blogging, but I finished this book over the weekend with a cup of tea clutched in my hand and the best kind of character-worry in my heart…dying to find out how it would all end.

I was lucky enough to hear Erin Bow read from PLAIN KATE at the Scholastic Literary Brunch last summer, and I was immediately hooked. Full of eerie fogs, bloodthirsty villagers, pale-faced witches, and powerful ghosts, this YA title lives on the dark side of fairy tale style novels. The main character, talented wood carver Plain Kate, is orphaned early on in the story and must find her way in the world, despite a witch who has stolen her shadow and thrown her under suspicion for witchcraft herself. Add to that mix the most charming talking cat you’ve ever met, and you’ve got a harrowing tale with a magical mix of laughter, tears, intrigue, and suspense. Highly recommended, especially for readers who are fans of magical YA fare like Julie Berry’s AMARANTH ENCHANTMENT, Elizabeth Bunce’s A CURSE DARK AS GOLD, and RJ Anderson’s FAIRY REBELS: SPELL HUNTER.

Note for my students… Before you ask, yes. I’ll bring my copy in for the classroom library tomorrow. 🙂