After Irene: A small-town Adirondack library needs your help

Quick How-to-Help Info: Several libraries have lost their entire children’s sections due to flooding in Hurricane Irene, and we’re teaming up with independent bookstores to help them rebuild. Want to help?  Either send a check to the library OR call the bookstores. They’ll help you choose a book based on the library’s needs and will store it for them until they’re ready, or you can donate to a gift card for the library.

To help the West Hartford Public Library in Vermont
Send a check to:
West Hartford Public Library
P.O. Box 26
West Hartford, VT 05084
Contact local independent bookseller The Norwich Bookstore at 802-649-1114. to purchase books and/or contribute to a library gift card.
To help Wells Memorial Library in Upper Jay, NY

Send a check to:
Wells Memorial Library
P.O. Box 57
Upper Jay, NY 12987
Contact local independent bookseller The Bookstore Plus at 518-523-2950 to purchase books and/or contribute to a library gift card. Authors & Illustrators may also donate signed books & original art for an October fundraiser. Click here for details.
Thanks SO much to all who have already donated. The response has been amazing, and the library’s story has spread to NPR’s All Things Considered, GalleyCat, and too many blogs, Facebook pages, & Twitter feeds to count. Truly…thank you.
Now the story that prompted this blog post…


My heart just about broke on an afternoon drive today.

I’d gone with my meteorologist husband to take photographs of flood damage in Essex County, just to our south. Roads were washed out, bridges closed or in pieces, familiar sights to anyone who’s seen news coverage coming out of Vermont this week.  But these tiny towns along Adirondack rivers haven’t gotten much media attention.

“Go on up ahead,” one town supervisor told us from his pickup. “You need to see Upper Jay. It’s awful.”

We made our way through roads that were down to one lane, and took detours when there was no road.

“I hope the library fared okay,” I told my husband as we drove. The Wells Memorial Library is small, but it’s charming and has a ton of heart. One of my first-ever author events happened at this library, a cozy, casual reading sponsored by the Adirondack Center for Writing. I remember watching kids coming in to choose books, right before the event started.  You can tell when kids feel at home in a place, when they know it’s truly their library, and these kids did.

But as we got closer to the library today, we saw more and more scenes like this.

The AuSable River,  so peaceful today, had turned into a raging flood when Irene passed through over the weekend. See the mark in the middle of the zero on this speed limit sign?

That’s how high the water came.

As we drove around a bend in the road today, my husband slowed down. “Whoa…look at all the stuff in front of that house.”

But it wasn’t a house. It was the library.

They lost virtually their entire children’s collection. All of the picture books.

“They were all on the lower shelves,” library director Karen Rappaport explained, “so the kids could reach them.”

She looked at the heap of books in the yard, then out toward the river, quiet in the background today, and shook her head. “We’ve just never seen anything like this.”

She let us walk through the building to see just how devastating the flood waters had been. Old books and documents from the library’s special collections were spread out on tables to dry.

An attempt to save what could be saved…

But so much couldn’t.

At one point during our visit, a small cheer rose up from a corner of the library. Karen had discovered five dry picture books, high on a cart, waiting to be reshelved. “Look!” she showed me. “Paddington.”

This part of the Adirondacks isn’t a wealthy area, and many families are dealing with devastating losses of their own right now.  So often, the library is a refuge for families in times like this, so it’s sad to think of this community’s kids not having books to read.

Paddington is a start. And I’m sending a set of all my kids’ books to be part of the library’s new collection.

Would you like to help, too?  Here’s how we can rebuild the children’s collection of a small Adirondack library…

Editing to add… I spoke with a member of the library’s board of trustees, and while limited dry storage space is available for new book donations from publishers, they are getting worried about space, so unless you’re a publisher or author, please don’t send additional boxes of books to the library. Instead, consider donating in one of these ways…

1. Send a monetary donation. Checks may be made payable to the Wells Memorial Library and sent here:

Wells Memorial Library
P.O. Box 57
Upper Jay, NY 12987

2. The Bookstore Plus, a terrific independent bookstore in nearby Lake Placid, NY, has set up two options for folks who want to donate books:

1. Call The Bookstore Plus at (518) 523-2950, and a bookseller will help you choose a book to purchase, based on the library’s needs. They’ll keep track of what’s already been purchased. These books will be collected and stored, and when the library is ready, we’ll deliver them all at once. You can also order online.

2. The bookstore is also setting up a “virtual gift card” for the library.  You can call and let them know you’d like to give $20 or any amount.  They’ll charge your credit card and add that money to the library’s gift card for the purchase of books later on.


Authors & illustrators: The Bookstore Plus is organizing a fundraiser for October, and they hope to include a silent auction of signed books and original art by children’s book illustrators. If you would like to help by donating a signed book or original artwork, check out this link for more information.


Children’s Book Editors & Publishers: If you’re cleaning out the shelves of new children’s books in your office & would like to send a care package, it would be most welcome. Please send it to the library address above if using USPS, or for UPS, to this address:

Wells Memorial Library
12230 State Route 9N
Upper Jay, NY 12987


Thanks in advance to anyone who’s able to help!

One more thing…I suspect that Upper Jay and West Hartford are  not the only community libraries that lost much of their children’s collections when Irene came through.  If you know of others, and you have specific information from the library about how people can help, please feel free to comment and share that information. I’d be happy to add to this list so that  people interested in rebuilding community libraries throughout the flooded areas can learn how to help.


Vermont librarian Jessamyn West has a website where she’s posting lots of information about how to help Vermont libraries in need after Irene.  Please check it out and help if you can.

The Schoharie Free Library suffered flooding as well; once plans are underway to replace lost books, I’ll share information about how to help here, too.

Polly-Alida Farrington has shared a blog post with more information on NY libraries that were affected and how you can help.

And finally, thank you SO much for donating and sharing this and spreading the word. Libraries are the hearts of their communities, and these communities really needs their libraries back.

Created in the Path of Irene: Links

As a writer who’s also a science lover, I’ve always been fascinated by severe weather. I wrote a book about storms…and while my husband, a meteorologist, worked a 21-hour shift during Hurricane Irene, I spent the day and night watching the storm sweep through the region where I live, leaving behind damage of truly epic proportions, especially in Southern Vermont. I wrote about it, to make sense of everything, because that’s what I do. I know I’m not alone in that, which is why I thought it might be good for us to have a place to share art that was created in the storm’s path.

Before Hurricane Irene hit, I posted this invitation for those in Irene’s path to write or draw or otherwise create art during the storm, and to share it online as a communal art-making experience.

Created in the Path of Irene: Links

(I’ll be adding to this list as I receive links. If you’d like to be included, just leave me a comment or email with the link. This round-up is one that includes kids’ work, so please make sure submissions are appropriate for teachers to share in classrooms. Thanks!)

“What the Storm Brought” by Kate Messner  (Lake Champlain – Plattsburgh, NY)  Here’s the poem I wrote with the last of my laptop battery as Irene was pulling out of the Champlain Valley late Sunday night.

Katie Davis, author of Little Chicken’s Big Day, shares a series of poems & videos from her vacation spot in Madison, CT

“Irene” by Diane Mayr, the author of Run, Turkey, Run! writte 8/28/11, early afternoon in Salem, NH.

Late August leaves in mid-
life ripped by winds, their
purpose unfulfilled. Trees
face autumn malnourished,
undressed, totally assailable,
yet with a thirst fully quenched.

“Talking Wind,” a poem by Steve Vernon, an author & storyteller from Halifax, Nova Scotia

“Storm Season” by LiveJournal’s ysabetwordsmith, a poem set in the science fantasy shared-world of Torn World.

“Irene Weekend,” some hurricane reflections from Katia Raina, a YA author, former journalist, and freelance writer – from Manahawkin, New Jersey, on the Jersey Shore.

“Lights’ Out Soup” a short story by Katherine Quimby Johnson, a Vermont writer & teacher at Champlain College. One of her fall classes is “Writing About Food.”

Jo Knowles, author of PEARL and other YA novels, lives in Woodstock, VT, one of the hardest hit areas. She kept a journal of the storm from beginning to end. Here’s her amazing account, with photos & videos.

Paul Acampora, author of RACHEL SPINELLI PUNCHED ME IN THE FACE, reflects on Irene’s wrath and a newspaper delivery guy’s tenacity in Allentown, PA.

“Three for Irene,” three short storm poems from Cape Cod, MA graphic designer and children’s writer/illustrator Jim Hill.

“Hurricane Poem” and “Hurricane Dreams” from Lee Thomson of Northampton, MA.

“Forgive Me, Irene,” a short story from Jamesville-Dewitt middle school teacher Andy Starowicz, Syracuse, NY

All of this hurricane writing and art is shared freely by the folks who created it, but please respect the ownership of the work, and if you like it, by all means, link to it – but please don’t copy and paste.

Feel free to link to this round-up page, and if you’d like to make a donation to the Vermont/New Hampshire Valley Red Cross, that would be absolutely great. Just click on the link below.

What the Storm Brought

The sky is scrubbed clean and blue today, and I’m at my favorite coffee shop writing (also drinking their coffee and using their electricity, both of which are hard to come by at my house… thanks, Koffee Kat!).  Other than the power outage and a few downed trees, my neighborhood was mostly spared by Hurricane Irene, but my heart is breaking for friends in Southern VT, where historic covered bridges were washed away and whole villages are flooded or isolated by washed-out roads. Here’s hoping for brighter skies and rebuilding…


What the Storm Brought

Kate Messner © 2011


We watched Irene creep up the coast,

And so we knew

She was coming to steal things away.

Sunshine and almost-ripe tomatoes,

Open windows, electricity, and peace of mind.


She sucked at our riverbanks

Lapping greedy gulps of mud,

Gobbling asphalt like candy

Until the spans above the water

Gave way.

She swallowed them whole.

Except the old covered bridges

Weathered timbers aged like fine cheese.

These delicacies

She carried along on her waves

And savored them, splinter by rail.


But the storm brought something too

Something more than water in the basement,

Confetti showers of flying leaves,

And bouquets of pine needles

Arranged in the window screens.


She brought a neighbor to the door

“Just to make sure everything’s okay.”

And did I need him to clean out the gutters?

He was wearing one of those mesh water shoes;

The other foot was bare.

But he was smiling.

Ready to climb ladders in the wind

That way if we needed him.


She brought a chill to the sun room,

And that brought the girl,

Still in pajamas,

With a blanket and her book

And mine,

to my side.


And just before she left for the night,

She brought a chess game by candlelight-

The boy won in a dozen moves,

And then built a toaster.

“Here,” he said. “Try it out.”

Battery-operated, it warmed our bread

On a delicate net of nichrome wires

Until it was lightly browned

With only a slight metallic aftertaste.


We laughed.

And nothing I’ve eaten in the dark

With waves pounding the beach

And wind raging in the trees

Has ever tasted so fine.


(Those lines above were for my poet friends. Here, now, for the engineers, is the toaster. It actually works pretty well.)

Created in the Path of Irene…An Invitation

Hey, writers & illustrators!

Yes…I mean you…whether you are ten years old or thirty-seven or eighty. Whether you are published and award-winning and best-selling or whether you just like writing poems or drawing sketches in your notebook sometimes…

Many of us are about to have a shared experience, in the form of a big storm that’s barreling up the East Coast.

First of all,  stay safe. FEMA has a page with lots of tips and safety information.

Second…would you like to be part of a collaborative writing experience? This storm is poised to affect millions of us, all up and down the East Coast.  So here’s the invitation part…

Write or draw something as the storm passes through.  Maybe by flashlight or candlelight while the power is out…maybe in between trips downstairs to bail out the basement. And then, let’s gather all that writing and art together to see what people created  as Hurricane Irene passed through.

A little background… I’m a bit of a weather geek. I’m married to a meteorologist, so it’s not uncommon for cold fronts and funnel clouds to be dinner conversation at our house.  And I wrote a book about storms;

So I’ll be writing this weekend.  On my laptop, as long as the battery lasts, and then if the power goes out, I’ll be scribbling in my notebook.

Want to join me?  Here’s what I’m thinking…

  1. Create something – a poem, a description, a short story, a dialogue, a song, a comic, a sculpture, a drawing, a scarf, a piece of jewelry, a quick scene for a movie, a dance,  a collage…whatever you want. Create it while you’re waiting for the storm or in the middle of the storm, or after the storm has passed.  (If you’re not in the path of Irene, that’s okay…you can write about what you see on the news or hear from relatives & friends.)
  2. Please keep your creations appropriate for audiences of all ages. (Obviously, you’re free to create whatever you want – but I want to make sure the posts that I share here are appropriate for teachers K-12 to share in classrooms. Thanks!)
  3. Share what you created  on your blog or your Facebook page or Google+ or wherever you share things online.  If it’s art, you can share a photo. If you’re a kid, you can ask your teacher or librarian or a parent to share it for you. If you don’t have a blog or another place online to share writing, just come back here and paste what you wrote into a comment, and I’ll share it for you.
  4. Include your city & state, plus the date and time you created the work.
  5. Come back to this post and leave a comment with a link to what you shared. Also, let me know who you are (i.e. author of XYZ series, 5th grader in Quincy, Massachusetts, Librarian in the Outer Banks) Names are optional.
  6. Next week, after the storm has passed, I’ll create a big post with links to all of our work that was “Created in the Path of Irene.”  It’ll be kind of like a Hurricane Irene Online Museum.

Author/illustrator friends…when you post your storm writing & art, you may want to include a quick bio and information about your books; some folks who come to see your storm creations may not be familiar with your other work.

And everyone… please feel free to share this invitation far and wide – and teachers, I’d love it if you’d extend the invitation to your students, too!  It would be great to see what younger writers come up with, and I think it would be really cool for kids to see their hurricane reflections shared alongside those of published authors.

Thankful Thursday

Thunderstorms today, but thankfulness, too.

Lake Champlain is pretending it’s the ocean this morning, waves crashing on the shore, licking at the rowboat pulled up on the rocks.  Pretty soon, my daughter and I will head to Vermont to meet up with writer-friends for some plotting on a secret bookish-readerish project. It’s going to be a fun ferry ride, for sure.  If you don’t know how it works on a day like this, you might be tempted to walk right up to the railing to see the waves…and that would be fine until the boat turned just a bit…and said waves came sloshing over the bow of the boat.  (“Oh, yay!” daughter said, looking out at the lake this morning. “This will be a PERFECT day to watch the tourists get splashed when they get out of their cars!)

Thunderstorms notwithstanding, it’s been a lovely summer on Lake Champlain, full of boat rides and swimming, shouting kids and book-reading on  the porch. More than a few rainbows, too.

Hope your Thursday is a colorful one!

When Life Gives You Lemons… My review in the NY Times

My first picture book, SEA  MONSTER’S FIRST DAY, is reviewed in the New York Times this weekend, by none other than celebrity reviewer Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket of Series of Unfortunate Events fame.

My 10-year-old daughter’s reaction?   “Mom! Lemony Snicket READ your book?!”

We’re big Snicket fans at the Messner house. My daughter is constantly reading on our car trips, and frequently calls up from the back seat, “Turn down the radio! You have to hear this part,” and then shares a page or two of classic Snicket snark.

So it wasn’t entirely surprising when Handler’s review of Sea Monster was…well…a little lemony.

But still…the New York Times? Pretty cool stuff.

The fact that Sea Monster’s First Day is my best-selling book and seems to be connecting with its intended audience makes a slightly sour review much easier to take.  Who knows? Maybe Ernest the Sea Monster will send Mr. Snicket a thank you note. 🙂

Recent Reading: Lost Girls, Found Girls, & Aging Punk Rockers

Summer is for reading, and I’m happy to report I’ve read some amazing books lately.  Here’s a quick rundown of some favorites…

BETWEEN by Jessica Warman

There’s not much more dramatic than a main character who discovers her own body, lifeless and floating next to the family’s boat the morning after a party, in the very first chapter. So begins Jessica Warman’s BETWEEN, a young adult novel about the death and life-after-death of Liz Valchar, a pretty and privileged teenager who finds that even after she dies, she has a lot to learn. Part ghost story, part thriller, part romance, and part mystery, this is a page turner of a novel that was pretty much impossible for me to put down. What impressed me the most is that the main character, for all of her rich-girl flaws, turned out to be incredibly likable. In fact, the whole book is peopled with characters who are far, far from perfect but managed to find their way into my heart all the same.

I’ve heard this book compared to THE LOVELY BONES, and it’s similar in that it’s narrated from beyond the grave, but I felt like the writing in BETWEEN was stronger, and there were so many more layers. Fans of Lauren Oliver’s BEFORE I FALL will enjoy this one, and high school teachers and librarians should take note that while it’s a title that will pull in reluctant readers, BETWEEN would also be a great choice for literature circle discussions. The characters are so multifaceted, and there’s much to talk about here, from choices and consequences to friendships and forgiveness. Highly recommended for high school readers – and a lot of middle school kids who read up are going to love it, too. Teachers of younger students should just be sure to read first; it’s probably one you’ll only recommend to those more mature middle school kids who have already crossed the bridge from MG into YA.

HIDDEN by Helen Frost

The premise of this book should hook kids right from the start: When one girl is accidentally abducted when her mother’s car is stolen, the daughter of the car thief, a child the same age, quietly helps her by bringing her food while she’s hiding in the family’s garage. Years later, those same girls meet at summer camp, recognize one another, and come face to face (literally) with the past that connects them.

Written in verse, with two unique voices and an unusual format twist, this is a quick read that’s emotional, compelling, and beautifully crafted. The white space of the format and high-interest hook make it a great choice for reluctant readers and avid readers alike. Highly recommended.



This book is brilliant. When a friend recommended it and I read on the back that it’s about “aging punk rockers,” I have to admit, I was skeptical. But Egan sucked me in with a stunning first chapter and didn’t let go. And really, the book isn’t about aging punk rockers at all. It’s about how hard it is to be a person – and how beautiful it is, too.

A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD is a sweeping story that manages to time travel, jump continents, switch narrator and point-of-view with every chapter, and even change structures along the way (one chapter’s a magazine article; one is written in PowerPoint slides). It sounds bizarre, but it works in a way that’s beautiful, haunting, and real. The characters — and there are a lot of them (I did some flipping around to remember who everybody was and how they were related) are achingly, imperfectly real. I really recommend this one, but give yourself some time to read it so you can savor the language and stop to think along the way. You’ll want to do that.

What about you? What have you been reading & loving this summer? Anything I absolutely must add to my list?

Cabins in the Woods: A Visit to the Highlights Foundation Retreat

The folks at the Highlights Foundation invited me down for a visit last week, to see the beautiful property where the Founders Workshops take place and to visit with the writers who were there on retreat with author/editor extraordinaire Carolyn Yoder. The drive through New York’s Southern Tier and the Delaware River Valley to the Poconos was beautiful – so many great small spots along the way. Like the Masonville General Store…

…and Butterfields Cafe.

If you’re ever hungry in Deposit, NY…Butterfields is a tiny, charming place with all organic produce and poultry.

Once we arrived in Honesdale, Miss Annie, one of the Highlights interns, welcomed us at the foundation’s offices in Honesdale and took us on a tour that included this office mascot, Giggy.

(It’s actually a model a model of a Giganotosaurus Skull that was used in a promotion a while back)

We got to see some fun sample crafts that Highlights creates to be photographed for all of their craft features in the magazine…

…and the piles of children’s writing and artwork submissions being considered for the kids’ pages.

My daughter was delighted when the Highlights folks pulled out the September 2009 issue in which her mermaid poem appeared. She was tickled to know that her original poem is living in a giant creativity warehouse in Ohio, where all the other past submissions are stored.

We got to see the very first issue of Highlights from 1946.

Some of the features made us smile.

It was great fun to see how the style of the magazine and the depiction of kids and parents (moms especially!) has changed over the years.  And then it was off to Boyds Mills to the retreat property.

It’s easy to see why the Highlights Foundation Workshops draw people from all over the country. It’s a remote and beautiful place to write and learn.

Thanks, Highlights family, for a lovely visit to your corner of the world.

You come, too… A Hike to Copperas Pond

I have a book due at the end of August, so much of this summer has been spent covered in Post-It Notes in my writing room or holed up in coffee shops. (I’m the one muttering to myself at the laptop over in the corner.)  But today was a hike-to-the-pond day.

I wore what my family affectionately calls my “funny toe shoes” hiking for the first time. It worked out well – and was, as the ads promise, the next best thing to being barefoot. This is a good thing, as I’m not overly fond of shoes in July and August.

Copperas Pond, just outside of Lake Placid in the Adirondacks, is one of my family’s favorite summer hiking & swimming spots.  There’s just enough of a climb to keep casual swimmers away. There are big jumping rocks with deep water below them. There are flat rocks for sunning — and this view to take in from the shore…

And there are frogs. Oh, are there ever frogs. In every stage of development.

This pond was one of the inspirations for MARTY MCGUIRE. Marty, a third grader who loves science and nature, would love it here, and every time we come, I think of her. It’s a perfect spot for girls who love frogs…and authors who write about them, too.

Real Revision: A MILLION MILES FROM BOSTON with Karen Day

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that my first book for teachers, REAL REVISION: AUTHORS’ STRATEGIES TO SHARE WITH STUDENT WRITERS, was released from Stenhouse this summer. I’m celebrating with a series of author interviews on the topic of real revision…the nitty gritty, make-the-book-better strategies that some of my favorite authors use when they’re revising a project. Today, I’m following up with one of the authors featured in the book, Karen Day.

First…a little about Karen’s latest book, A MILLION MILES FROM BOSTON…

Sometimes, kids who read my novels write to me and ask what else I think they’d like – so I’ve started keeping a list of other books – stories about regular kids that feel right for 5th, 6th, and 7th graders who haven’t made that leap to older young adult titles. Karen Day’s A MILLION MILES FROM BOSTON is one of those books.

Lucy’s excited about spending the summer before middle school at her family’s cottage in Maine…until she gets there and realizes things are going to be different this summer. There’s a new family (including the most annoying boy in her school at home), new plans for the community’s Big House, and worst of all…a new woman in her dad’s life, and this one looks like she’s going to be around a while. It makes Lucy long for her mom, who died when she was six…and makes her wish things could go back to the way they were. But sometimes, getting older means looking at things a little differently, seeing the other side, and Lucy’s summer in Maine, “a million miles from Boston,” helps her do just that. This is a lovely, fun, and heartfelt book full of beautifully drawn characters that I think young readers are going to love as much as I did.

Karen talked about her revision process for this book in REAL REVISION, but I asked her if she’d elaborate a bit more, and share some additional details of her process. Here’s what she had to say:

Once I have a rough draft (which to me is the most difficult aspect of writing), I always breathe a bit deeper. For me, revision is where the real work begins. And the fun. Over the years I’ve worked hard at developing my revision process. Sometimes I add to it or take away. Mostly it stays the same from book to book.

By far my favorite revision strategy is one that I learned at a NESCBWI conference 10 years ago. This is it: I tear apart the novel and look at it in pieces. First, I make a list of the threads and themes (I like to write with lots of themes). For example, one of the threads in A MILLION MILES FROM BOSTON is Lucy and the camp she runs. One of the themes is that people can “see” the same event but “view” it differently. Once I’ve made a list – which might add up to a dozen – I’ll take the very first thread or theme and follow it – and only it! – from beginning to end. This way I can tell if I’ve repeated myself and/or I’m not moving the narrative forward. Then I go back and follow the next thread or theme. This process can take months, and it’s a bit unnerving because you’re constantly looking at your novel in such a narrow way. But after this process when I read straight through, I’m always amazed at how well it works!

Thanks, Karen! (Reading this made me smile because Lucy’s camp was one of my favorite parts of the book – it made me want to open a summer camp of my own!)

If you love realistic middle grade novels and haven’t read A MILLION MILES FROM BOSTON yet, it’s one you’ll definitely want to add to your to-read list!