TED 2012: Full Spectrum – Day 2 & Overwhelmed

There really aren’t words to describe how overwhelmingly amazing TED2012 has been so far, but I’ll try. Imagine a really super-amazing lecture — one that engages every bit of your mind and heart and leaves you thinking for weeks.

Now imagine five or six of those in a row, with maybe a bit of international music or multimedia dance mixed in. And then repeat that…four times a day.

It will truly take me weeks to process everything I saw and heard today alone, and today was just day one of four. As raw, unprocessed and bursting as my thoughts are right now, all I can share tonight is a sleepy montage from the day…a few photos and favorite quotes.

Here’s TED host Chris Anderson introducing the first session. Yesterday, at our speakers’ briefing, Chris was reminding us not to worry if other speakers’ talks are different from ours.  “Let a thousand experiments bloom. Be proud of what you’ve prepared and how you do it.”

Toy Story and WALL-E creator Andrew Stanton on the greatest commandment of storytelling: “Make me care.”

Seth Godin on creativity and the need for failure: “Innovation is just repeated failure until you come up with something that works.”

Gary Kovacs on web tracking: “With every click of the mouse, we are like Hansel and Gretel, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs through the digital woods.”

Billy Collins gave his talk today, showing some animated videos that have been created for his poems. When he was done speaking, TED host June Cohen came on stage, clearly delighted by Collins’ humor. “Poetry can be funny!”

“Yes,” Collins agreed. “Someone said once that I put the fun back in profundity.”

Other things I learned about today:  India, biological dark matter, Yosemite’s founder, a texting hotline, string theory, space archaeology, Pixar and storytelling, kinetic sculpture, doctors and checklists, transcendence, comebacks, and why the letter x represents the unknown.

In a word, amazing.

TED 2012: Full Spectrum – Day 1

Today was my first day at TED2012: Full Spectrum. Here’s what greeted me when I walked into the lobby of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center this morning for AV check and rehearsal.

Seeing your face on an enormous poster high over your head is both surreal and really funny.Once I stopped laughing, I went backstage for AV check, where the really nice TED tech people helped me run through my presentation to make sure everything was as it should be.  It was.

So they hooked up my microphone for rehearsal. We had a chance to rehearse on stage, which was great. Workers were putting finishing touches on the set while rehearsals went on.

This is what the theater looks like without 1500 people filling the seats…

Tomorrow morning, those seats will all be full as TED2012 gets underway. I’ve already had the opportunity to meet SO many amazing people — teachers from New Hampshire and Chicago, Bill Nye the Science Guy, a storyteller from the Bay Area, a co-founder of Prezi, a Google engineer… and the list goes on and on.

I’ll try to post again soon, but for now, I’ll leave you with a taste of what TED is all about. Tonight at dinner, I sat at a table with Jill Bolte Taylor, who gave this amazing TED Talk on the brain back in 2008.  Enjoy and wonder!


On my way to TED2012: Full Spectrum!

My notebook is packed. And my imagination…well, that’s always ready to go with me at a moment’s notice. This afternoon, I leave for Long Beach, California, where I’ll be speaking at the 2012 TED Conference, “Full Spectrum.”

My talk on imagination and world building will be part of Friday’s Session 11, called “The Classroom,” along with Bill Nye the Science Guy, New Hampshire Teacher of the Year Angie Miller, and Yale materials engineer Anissa Ramirez, among others.  You can see the full list of TED2012 speakers here. I’ll be signing EYE OF THE STORM (which comes out on Tuesday!) at the official TED bookstore after my Friday morning talk.

As always, the talks will be posted online, for free, in the weeks following the conference. TED has also arranged for a free live stream of Wednesday night’s Session 7 online. If you’re a TED Talk enthusiast like I am and want to experience part of the conference live, just check out the instructions and you can join us on Wednesday.

The TED team has a cool Pinterest board with behind-the-scenes photos of the 2012 conference. I discovered it this morning and found this photo right away.

I can already tell it’s going to be an amazing, amazing week. I’ll be tweeting photos when I can and will try to blog from Long Beach at least once, but mostly I’ll be soaking in ideas. See you when I get back!

Thanks, Chillicothe Schools!

I spent the better part of this week in a state I’d never visited until now, Missouri, talking with school kids about reading and writing, and signing books in Chillicothe.  It’s a small city in rural Missouri (“The City in the Country,” they call it) with just about the friendliest people you’ve ever met. Chillicothe is also the home of sliced bread, something they celebrate on one of the lovely murals that grace the downtown buildings.

Here’s a picture of me with the dynamo school librarian who organized this visit, Laurinda Davison.

Mrs. Davison runs an amazing library; the minute you walk in, you know that it’s all about getting books into kids’ hands. Chillicothe kids are huge Mark Twain readers, and many are reading their way through this year’s state finalists list, which includes The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.

Author visit mornings here start early — with a special breakfast and book signing for the Mark Twain and Marathon readers.  Mrs. Davison put on quite a spread, with home-baked egg casseroles and amazing cinnamon rolls.

Then it was time to talk books and writing. I gave five presentations over two days, talking with readers from Chillicothe Middle School, Central School, and nearby Chula, a smaller district that bused in its entire 5th-8th grade for one of my talks. The kids had terrific questions, and it was easy to see that many of them are not only great readers but talented writers, too.

Thanks, Chillicothe & Chula staff & students, for an amazing first visit to the state of Missouri. You couldn’t have made me feel more welcome.

I’m home for a couple days, and then it’s off to Long Beach for TED2012: Full Spectrum. Can’t wait!

The thing about tundra swans…

…is that spotting them at a distance one day is likely to send one out to the marsh early in the morning the next, in the hopes of getting a better look.

AuSable Point State Park in Peru, NY

Tundra Swans! And the Great Backyard Bird Count

Inspired by Loree Griffin Burns’s new book, CITIZEN SCIENTISTS, my daughter and I decided to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend. The simple directions and downloadable regional birds checklist online made it easy to get involved, even though we’re fairly beginning birders.  It was cold today, so we decided we’d watch for 15 minutes at one of our favorite natural spaces, Ausable Point State Park, not far from our house. Here’s where we decided to set up shop with our binoculars and camera…

By the time our fifteen minutes were up, our hands were numb (note to self: bring gloves next time!) and we’d counted 39 birds, including five different species.  That’s a relatively small number, but we went later in the day, and it was quieter than usual.  One of our species, though, was a rare find (and one I’ve been looking for at this spot!).

Those huge, bright white birds are the tundra swans that have been hanging around this marsh for a few weeks now, according to local birding experts. They normally winter far to the south, but because it’s been such a mild winter, and Lake Champlain isn’t frozen, they apparently decided this was a fine place to spend February.  We’re happy about that — and hoping for a closer look on our next trip.

In the mean time, we’ve reported our bird count for today:

29 common mergansers
3 tundra swans
4 Canada geese
1 herring gull
2 mallards

By the way, if you’re interested in the Great Backyard Bird Count, it runs through Monday, 2/21 – and you’ll find the information about how to count and report birds here.

Thankful Thursday: Looking for Tundra Swans

Today was full of lovely things…though not the exact lovely things I might have been expecting. I’m thankful for surprises like these…

I was hoping I might hear back on a manuscript that’s out– and while that didn’t happen, I did get the terrific news that my picture OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW is going to be published in Russia…

…and that EYE OF THE STORM will be on the Spring 2012 Kids’ IndieNext list — a selection of books recommended by indie booksellers.

The full list is available to preview online here,  and the fliers will be in indie bookstores later on. Indie bookstores have a special place in my heart, so this news made me extra happy.

I had four Skype visits today, including two longer presentations, so after a full morning of talking at my computer screen, I decided it was time to get a little fresh air.

I was hoping I might see the tundra swans that have been spotted recently at a state park not too far from my house. But alas…not only were the swans nowhere to be found, the wind was colder than I thought.

I paused by the lake just for a minute and raised my binoculars to watch some common mergansers offshore, when all of a sudden, the whole team took off into the air in a flutter of black and white. Weird, I thought…and was just about to lower my binoculars and head home when this guy came flying into view.

Bald eagles aren’t completely uncommon here in the winter (I actually looked out my window a couple weeks ago and spotted one from my couch) but no matter how many times I see them, I catch my breath.

Later on,  my daughter and I spotted this bird on my neighbor’s feeder.

It wasn’t as big or majestic as the eagle, but we thought it was striking with its suit of black and white.  We got out the field guide but were stumped for a while. It looked like a hairy woodpecker, but it didn’t have the red occipital patch. More careful reading led us to the answer.  It was a hairy woodpecker; only the males of the species have that red patch on their heads, so this one must have been a girl.

Tomorrow will be a long writing day with a quick break to go walking, looking for those tundra swans again. I may not run into them, but who knows what else might be out there?


Full disclosure: The author of this book, Loree Griffin Burns, is my friend and critique partner, and she fed me lunch in the middle of my pouring-rain drive through New England last fall. That said, I’d be singing this book’s praises even if Loree were a stranger who didn’t make great soup. I love this title for so many reasons it’s tough to know where to start.

There’s the gorgeous, outdoor photography by Ellen Harasimowicz…that perfect nonfiction voice that’s knowledgeable and fascinating but friendly, too… and opportunities for kids to get involve and extend the reading experience after the last page is turned.

But really, what I think CITIZEN SCIENTISTS does best is take science out of the realm of “hard stuff that grown-ups do” and brings it to a kid’s level, not through the usual kitchen counter experiments but through getting young people involved in actual scientific research projects. CITIZEN SCIENTISTS explains in vivid and stunning detail how kids can count birds and listen for frogs, tag butterflies, record data, and make a real, substantial difference in the world of science. And it does all of that in a storytelling voice that brings kids into the adventure right away.

Essential for readers who like to be outside (or kids you wish would leave the living room more often!) and for elementary and middle school classrooms & libraries, this is a beautiful book filled with gorgeous photographs, and loaded with resources to help kids get involved in real-life science in their own back yards.

Dear Kate Messner… Gems from my reader mail

I love letters from kids, and I always write back, but sometimes I forget to check my post office box for a little while, and things get backed up. Today was one of those days, so I came home with a pile of mail that made for a delightful afternoon.  Here are a few lines that made me smile:

I like to read your books, which are very good. I don’t know what your next book will be. Please let it be as good as the others.     ~Gage

I read The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. Are you married to a Zig?   ~Kayla

Why does Nonna have Alzheimer’s? I feel bad for her.          ~Austin

I really love your story. But did you know that you made Mrs. Good cry?    ~McKayla

Who inspires you to write your famous books?    ~Katie

Haylea sent me a letter and an author portrait that she drew. Can you see the resemblance?


I write stories for my friends to give to them, but first I copy them so I can have a copy.  What does it take to be an author?      ~Macey

You wrote a very good book. Will you write another book like it? If so, why or why not?              ~Jordan

I love all of your books. My teacher is fixing to read our class another book of yours, too.                ~Madison

Dear Mrs. Messner, I love your book called The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z….. P.S. If you aren’t married, I’m sorry that I said Mrs. instead of Ms.         ~Bryonna

Three wonderful (and full of wonder) nature books

Before I get to book-talking, thanks to everyone – teachers and librarians and booksellers, especially – who have shared OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW with readers & friends. It’s received some lovely accolades lately — named an ALSC Notable Children’s Book for 2012 and an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12 — and I’m so very thankful that this little book that started out with me wondering in the woods has found so many kindred spirits.  I know it’s been hard to find since the holidays, but the second printing should be available early this week. In the mean time… I thought I’d post about some new books that make me feel that out-in-the-woods sense of wonder.

“I always think of animal migrations as heading south,” my daughter wondered as we read this beautiful book together. And that, I think, is part of what makes NORTH: THE AMAZING STORY OF ARCTIC MIGRATION such a special book – all these animals, from the soaring snow geese to the regal caribou to the pointy-tusked, alien-looking narwhals, heading north, to a part of the world we so often think of as inhospitable. But in the summer sun, the Arctic is full of life and light – food and space to breed and raise young. This book tells the story of that migration, of the animals that swim, walk, and fly north when the days grow longer. Beautiful art work in soft blues and yellows captures that warmth and light, and some gorgeous, wordless spreads tell stories of their own. A lovely, lovely book – and one that would be great to pair with OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW for winter studies in the classroom.

This is a beautifully illustrated book that begins with a question on the title page. Through its conversational tone, CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER? introduces young readers to animals that have been lost to extinction over the years, animals that are in danger, and animals that are recovering, thanks in part to awareness. Without preaching, this gentle text inspires wonder and respect for the space and resources animals need and issues a quiet challenge not to stand by while more are lost. The art in this book is simply stunning – reminiscent of Audobon’s detailed work – and will make young readers want to know more about the animals that grace its pages.

This book would be a great anchor text for a research unit exploring animals in danger of extinction. It makes a perfect class read-aloud, and then students could branch off and read other titles (KAKAPO RESCUE and others in the Scientists in the Field series come to mind immediately) to extend their thinking.

Right now, I’m re-reading a book that I first read as a manuscript from one of my critique partners, Loree Griffin Burns.  It’s called CITIZEN SCIENTISTS: BE PART OF A SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD…

…and it’s even more remarkable than I remembered from the manuscript. I’ll do a proper write-up when I’ve finished basking in Ellen Harasimowicz’s eye-popping pictures and Loree’s engaging stories from the field, but for now, just know that it comes out February 14th.  Wrap it up with a butterfly net and a field guide or two for Valentine’s Day, and if you teach, know that this is one that belongs in every K-8 classroom & library. It’s a gorgeous, smart, and empowering book for kids.