Congratulations, Highgate Students!

Last year, I had an author visit with students at Highgate Elementary School in Vermont, and the kids told me all about the project they were working on — a book called Lake Champlain, A to Z, Past & Present.  They were in the research stages when we met to share writing stories, and they knew that there would be a whole lot of writing, revision, and editing ahead of them.

Fast forward now to a couple weeks ago, when I received an invitation in the mail.  The Highgate kids were planning a big celebration of the publication of their finished book!  I was scheduled to be away at a conference on that day, but thanks to the magic of Skype and some tech-savvy teachers, I was able to be a virtual guest so I could congratulate the kids on their accomplishment, author to author.  Their librarian also sent me a digital copy of the book, which is just gorgeous.  Here’s a sampling, shared with permission.

Pretty fantastic, huh?  I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more from these authors.

Congratulations, Highgate Elementary students, on a job so very well done!

“What do you call that thing?” A revision story…

The Tiny Glass Tub Vial Jar : Why Revision Takes So Long

Picture the scene: I’m sitting in my writing room one recent afternoon, on deadline with the final revision for my 2012 Walker/Bloomsbury dystopian novel, EYE OF THE STORM.  And I’m staring at this line:

She pulls out a tiny round tub filled with some kind of fluid.

Next to the word “tub,” my editor has scribbled, “Tube?”

My editor obviously isn’t there with me, but that does not stop me from talking to her.  “No, Mary Kate…it’s not a tube, really. If I say that, people are going to picture a test tube, especially because they’re in a lab, and that’s not what this is. Know what I mean?”

Invisible Mary Kate does not answer.  So I keep talking.

“I said tub because this is like one of those little tubs of lip balm…the kind you use when Chapstick isn’t strong enough because your lips are really, super-chapped and you need something, like, medicinal. And it comes in this little blue tub. At least, mine does. That’s the kind of tub I mean here, only this one’s glass and you can see through it.  Okay?”

Again, there is no answer. But I know it’s not okay.  Because if Mary Kate saw the word “tub” and immediately thought I meant “tube,” then at least some readers are going to make that leap, too.  So what do I call that darn container?

Does it really matter that much? Yes.  It does.  Because this little tub/tube/vessel contains something that’s going to be the key to my main character’s success in getting what she needs. It’s a sneaky thing. And she needs to conceal the vial/jar/container/thing in her pocket through some tense situations during which she will fear discovery and feel it poking into her hip bone. It needs to be this exact size and shape that I am thinking of.

I turn to Twitter for help.

“You know the shallow little round type of container for lip balm or maybe contact lenses? What would you call that?”

A flood of friends reply. Tube? Vial? Carrying case? Compact? Pot?

Lip balm comes in jars or tins, depending on what the container is made of, says one Twitter friend.

I consider all of this.  Then I write:

She pulls out a shallow glass jar filled with some kind of fluid. It’s shaped like the tiny container where Mom used to keep her contact lenses before she got her eyes fixed. 

Risha lowers the tissue into it.  “Don’t take it out until you need it.”


One page down.  232 to go…


In other EYE OF THE STORM news, I got to see a very early cover sketch this week, and it’s pretty amazing.  I adored both of my covers for THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. and SUGAR AND ICE, but because this book is so different and darker, the team at Walker/Bloomsbury wanted a different look for the cover, and they found an artist I think is a perfect match for this story — Vincent Chong, who has done some cover art for Ray Bradbury and Stephen King books. I can’t share the cover sketch because it’s a long way from finished, but you can peek at Chong’s online portfolio here.

Lake Champlain on a -17 degree morning

There is no school today. The temperature is -17…the wind chill -31.  Inside the house today, there will be reading aloud (we just finished Ellen Potter’s THE KNEEBONE BOY over breakfast, and wow! What an ending!)  There will be hot chocolate and Scrabble and chicken chili and some writing time. 

Outside, there is a very, very cold lake. I stepped onto the back deck just long enough to snap a couple photos of the frozen morning.

Stay warm!

Plattsburgh & Burlington Author Events This Week

For folks in the Plattburgh, NY – Burlington, VT region, I have a couple weeknight book events this week and would love to see you!

A Novel Evening for Literacy
Thursday, January 20
7:00 pm
Koffee Kat – 104 Margaret St. Plattsburgh

I’ll be reading from SUGAR AND ICE and giving a talk, along with local author Bonnie Shimko (THE PRIVATE THOUGHTS OF AMELIA E. RYE, FSG 2010) at this event, which is a fund raiser for Literacy Volunteers of Clinton County. Admission is a donation of $10 for adults, $5 for students, or $15 per family.  It should be a fun evening, and Koffee Kat makes a mighty good mocha latte.

"Teachers Who Write and Writers Who Teach"
Educator Appreciation Days Event
Friday, January 21
4:30-5:30 pm
Barnes and Noble – Dorset Street, South Burlington

On Friday after school at the South Burlington Barnes and Noble, I’ll be reading from SUGAR AND ICE and giving a special presentation for educators called "Teachers Who Write and Writers Who Teach" about how teaching & writing lives can inspire one another. It’s part of Educators Appreciation Days, so educators also receive a 25% discount on books at the event.

Hope to see some of you Thursday or Friday!

What I Learned from Rapunzel: A revision story

One of the things I’ve learned about revising a manuscript is that no matter how tight the deadline, I can’t just lock myself in a room and revise 24-7. Much of my rethinking happens away from the keyboard. Leaving my desk provides me with different lenses through which I can view the story — and often makes me consider ideas that wouldn’t have arrived had I stay put to wait for them.

So last weekend, I took my daughter and her friend to see TANGLED.  For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s the Rapunzel story, spun into a swashbuckling Disney musical. Here are the notes I took out of the theater and back to my desk, along with a few leftover Junior Mints:

  • Why are people evil?  They have reasons – seeds planted early that grow until they burst.
  • Chase scenes are awesome. So are secrets, surprises,  unexpected discoveries, and treachery.
  • Trying over and over and over – and failing over and over – makes success sweeter.
  • Sometimes, friends are enemies, and enemies are friends.
  • A ticking clocks increase tension.
  • Tense, action-packed stories stories need humor, too.
  • The best heroines need to have doubts and fears as well as courage.
  • Take advantage of the power of slow-motion. When the horse was about to bite Rapunzel’s hair so she couldn’t get away, the scene shifted into slow motion (literally) so that there was a longer period of wondering. Will she make it?   Do my tense scenes need to be slowed down to enhance suspense?
  • We love characters who make mistakes in life & find redemption.
  • Villains often destroy themselves.

What does all this have to do with my story? Love ’em or hate ’em, you have to admit that the folks at Disney have figured out how to keep kids’ attention, and as writers, we can take those big ideas — ticking clocks, flawed heroines — and use them to reflect on magic in our own stories. 

One last reminder that may help with antagonists…

Thugs in taverns have dreams, too.

“What Happened to Your Book Today” A Poem for after the ALA Awards

In San Diego today, the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced just as I was having my lunch break on the East Coast, so I was able to gobble up every honor and award announcement along with my leftover chicken. I was so happy to see some of my favorite titles from 2010 honored and delighted that some less trumpeted books took away awards, too.

But I know today is also a tough day for some author/illustrator friends who might have been hoping for phone calls that didn’t come. Somehow, I tend to not get as wrapped up in all this as some.  I think it’s because I’ve always celebrated today as a teacher and reader that the author-stress doesn’t kick in as much as it might.  But either way…there are many more books worth celebrating today than just those with the new stickers.

Your book may not have won an award today…but some other pretty amazing things happened.

What Happened to Your Book Today

Somewhere, a child laughed

on that page where you made a joke.

Somewhere, she wiped away a tear,

Just when you thought she might.


Somewhere, your book was passed

from one hand to another in a hallway

busy with clanging lockers,

with whispered words,

“You have got to read this.”

And a scribbled note:

O.M.G. SO good.

Give it back when ur done.


It’s looking a little more love-worn lately,

rougher around the edges than it did on release day.

There are dog eared pages and Gatorade stains.

Someone smeared maple syrup on the cover

because she read all through breakfast.

Pages 125 and 126 are stuck fast with peanut butter

Because Chapter 10 was even more delicious

than lunch.


Somewhere, tiny hands held up your book

And a little voice begged, “Again!”

Somewhere, the answer came,

A grown-up sigh…and a smile…

And the fourteenth read-aloud of the morning.

That same book. Again.

Your book.


Somewhere, a kid who has never read a whole book on his own

(Really. Not even one.)

picked up yours and turned a page.

And then another.

And then one more.

And it was pretty cool, turns out.

He brought it back – huge smile on his face –

(and I mean huge)

And asked for another one.

And he read that, too.


Somewhere, a teenager who thought she was alone

Opened your pages and discovered she’s not.

And somewhere, somebody who thought about giving up

will keep on trying,

keep on hoping.

Because of that book you wrote.


Somewhere tonight – listen closely and you’ll hear–

A child will turn the last page of that book,

That book you wrote,

and sigh.

Can you hear it?

It’s the sound of a story being held close

Right before a young voice says,

“It feels like this was written just for me.”


And it was.

Note from Kate: If you love this poem & want to share it on your own blog, website, or Facebook wall, please do not copy and paste the text. Instead, please include a short quote or just the title and then share the rest of the poem by providing a link to my original post here – that way, you can share with your own readers and honor the copyright, too. Here’s the URL:

Many thanks for practicing good digital citizenship!

Recommendations for Rebecca

I got a terrific email from a young reader today:

Hi Kate,

I am an ABSOLUTE number 1 fan of your book, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. I was wondering if there are any other books like that you know of? They don’t have to be yours, just books that you would recommend. I am more of a school story girl… I don’t like violence or spookiness, but I also don’t like really girly stuff about princesses or fairies. I know, I am very picky. Just keep in mind that that means your book is JUST right! I am 11 in about 3 weeks, so my reading level is just like your book T.B.F.O.G.Z. (figure it out!) Can you save me? I love to read, but I just don’t know what to read!

Reply soon,


I love-love-loved this letter, and of course, I am making a list for her.  Here’s what I have so far:

RULES and TOUCH BLUE by Cynthia Lord
THE HARD KIND OF PROMISE by Gina Willner-Pardo
11 BIRTHDAYS by Wendy Mass
OPERATION YES by Sara Lewis Holmes
ANYTHING BUT TYPICAL by Nora Raleigh Baskin
PENNY DREADFUL by Laurel Snyder
WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead

What else would you recommend?

“Little Girl, Big Pond…” The Washington Post reviews SUGAR AND ICE!

While battling Beltway traffic to get to the soccer/piano/ballet activity du jour, do you fantasize about a simpler existence for your children? In a snow-dusted small town, perhaps, with cow-pond skating and pancake suppers?

So begins today’s Washington Post review of SUGAR AND ICE, which my editor had told me was coming…but I didn’t know how lovely it would be!   The full review is here.

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

The last book I read over the holiday break was an e-galley of Gary Schmidt’s OKAY FOR NOW, a fantastic and (is it possible?) even stronger follow-up to THE WEDNESDAY WARS. It’s a companion book, rather than a sequel, since this one is told through the eyes of Holling Hoodhood’s classmate, 14-year-old Doug Swieteck as his family moves to a stupid new town where he has no friends and where everyone seems intent on judging him based on the reputation of his scofflaw older brother. The voice in this book is laugh-out-loud funny, pitch-perfect teen boy, and rings true in all the best ways. I love-love-love the characters that populate these pages, from Doug himself to the stern librarian who begrudingly lets him in every Saturday to ogle the Audobon prints upstairs, to the scary old writer-lady on the delivery route he runs for the local store. (I love that she calls him only "Skinny Delivery Boy" even after they strike up what constitutes an honest-to-goodness friendship.)

Like the WEDNESDAY WARS, the humor in this book makes the poignant scenes even more powerful, and there’s no shortage of them when Doug’s older brother returns from Vietnam seriously hurt and facing all the community attitudes that met returning veterans in that era. OKAY FOR NOW made me laugh and cry, sometimes on the very same page, a sure way for a book to win my heart.  Due out in April from Clarion.

Skaters & Sea Monsters: Some bookish surprises!

I went back to school today after a lovely, lazy vacation to find the new Scholastic Book Clubs flyer in my mailbox, and look what was inside!

SUGAR AND ICE is a featured title in the January ARROW Book Club, along with THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z.  This made me smile for a few reasons. First, I’m excited that my new book is available to kids at such an affordable price, especially since the regular paperback edition doesn’t come out until December.  And second…I was happy to see my friend Cindy Lord’s wonderful books, TOUCH BLUE and RULES, featured in the same section.  It’s funny how happy that made me…kind of like showing up for a big dinner party full of strangers and finding out you’re seated right next to a friend.

There was a surprise in my mailbox at home recently, too.

A very early hardcover copy of my first-ever picture book, SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY. It’s illustrated by Andy Rash, who brought my imaginary monster to life in a more perfect way than I could have imagined.  This book comes out in July from Chronicle Books, but if any of you will be at the International Reading Association Conference in May, I’m told you’ll get a sneak peak, as I’ll be signing some early copies there.