Teachers Write! An Update

So… Remember a couple days ago when I said, “Hey! Let’s have a virtual summer writing camp for teachers & librarians!” and posted all about it here?  I figured maybe a dozen of you would sign up, and we’d have a cozy little summer writing workshop.

As of this morning, we are at 350 participants and still growing. Which is AWESOME.  But it means that instead of a cozy little summer writing workshop, we are going to have a big, huge, full-of-energy-and-amazing writing community. I don’t want to close it to new members because clearly, there was a huge need for this, and I want every teacher and librarian who wants to be involved to have this opportunity. But I am going to ask for your help with a few things if you’re participating.

1. Could you please add yourself to the Google doc I created to keep track of participants?  Just click the link, scroll to the bottom of the list (you may need to click “Table” and “Add Row” if they’re full). Then fill in whatever information you’re comfortable sharing.  If you don’t have Twitter or a blog, that’s absolutely fine, and you can leave that blank.  I started doing this but quickly realized it was going to take ten million hours. This is only a slight exaggeration. Later, you’ll all be able to use this to follow one another’s blogs & Twitter feeds, and maybe even set up some critique groups.

2. Be active participants this summer. That means replying to one another’s comments and sharing and generally making sure that the community is a healthy and supportive one whether I’m around chatting, too, or book-traveling or locked up in a room working on a writing deadline.

3. Be open-minded and patient.  This project has quickly grown more enormous than I could have imagined it would be, and it’s going to be one glorious whopper of an experiment. Let’s all enjoy the ride.

If you’re not on board yet but want to join us, click here to read all the details & sign up. Writing camp begins next week!

Announcing “Teachers Write!” A Virtual Summer Writing Camp for Teachers & Librarians

Teachers Write! is an online virtual summer writing camp for teachers and librarians who understand how important it is for people teaching writing to walk the walk. If you’re a teacher or librarian who would love to work on your own writing, we’d love to have you join us.

Here’s how it all works:

Location: www.katemessner.com/blog (Post Category: TeachersWrite) New posts will be shared each weekday morning, and you can check in whenever it’s convenient.

Dates: June 4th– August 10th


Schedule is kind of an ugly word for summer, isn’t it? So let’s call this the plan-of-the-day instead. Feel free to participate in whatever floats your boat and skip the rest.

Mini-Lesson Mondays: Mondays will feature a mini-lesson on writing craft or logistics (how to make time has been a big question already!). I’ll share a workshop-style lesson with ideas, tips, and examples, and then there will be something to work on during the week. Or not. You can also just bookmark it for later. It’s summer, after all.

Tuesday Quick-Write: Tuesdays will feature a writing prompt that can be used to brainstorm new ideas or deepen your thinking on the project you’re working on now.

Wednesday Q and A: Ever wished you could just pick an author’s brain about how they do it?  Each Wednesday, we’ll have a post where anyone can ask questions about writing .  I’ll answer, along with an awesome panel of  author friends who come to visit.

Thursday Quick-Write: Like Tuesdays, Thursdays will feature a writing prompt that can be used to brainstorm new ideas or deepen your thinking on the project you’re working on now.

Friday Writing Happy Hour: Fridays will feature virtual lemonade and time to share anything you’d like – progress for the week, links to projects you’re proud of, snippets of writing that you like or want feedback on.  Author Gae Polisner will also be hosting a Feedback Friday on her blog, so feel free to stop by there as well to share your work & offer feedback to others.

Sunday Check-In – Weekends are for recharging, spending time with family and friends…and that includes online writing friends, too!  Amazing teacher-writer Jen Vincent is having a weekend get-together on her blog, Teach Mentor Texts.  Jen will be hosting an online writing group there. Each Sunday, she’ll be sharing reflections on her journey as a teacher who writes and encouraging others along the way. Think of it as a support group for writers, and head over there on Sundays to talk about goals, progress, struggles, and more.

Beyond these daily posts, you can expect the occasional surprise along the way – guest posts and some book giveaways for your classroom libraries, because teachers & librarians who write are worth celebrating.

Teachers Write! Virtual Summer Writing Camp Q and A

Who can join?

This writing camp is for teachers and librarians who work with kids of any age in any capacity. I’d ask that the Q and A and feedback requests be limited to them and the published authors who agree to help out, so the people who are working with kids get plenty of attention when it comes to mentoring and feedback.  If you’re not a teacher or librarian, you’re  still more than welcome to follow the posts and do the writing.

What does it cost?

 It’s free. If you’re a teacher or librarian who’s found this, you’ve probably put a lot of my books in a lot of kids’ hands already, or nominated them for state award lists, or reviewed them online, or purchased copies for your library.  I’m thankful for all of those things– and this seemed like a fun way to say so. The guest authors you’ll meet along the way are volunteering their time for the same reasons — because we appreciate teachers & librarians and value the work that you do.

Umm…I followed a link on Twitter and ended up here. Who are you, exactly?

Oh, hi! I’m Kate. I write books for kids of all ages, and I wrote a book about revision for teachers. I was a middle school English teacher for a long time and will never really get that out of my system.  You can explore my website links  to learn more. I’m visiting Mr. Schu’s Watch.Connect.Read.  blog today for an interview about my upcoming mystery for kids.  Mr. Schu and 4th grade teacher Colby Sharp recently chose my MARTY MCGUIRE books for their Twitter book club; you can read about that at SharpRead. I’m also guest-blogging about my love affair with encyclopedias at the Nerdy Book Club today. My favorite things are my family, being outside, reading, writing, and chocolate. All that should help you decide if you’d like to hang out here for the summer or not. I’m friendly, I promise.

What if I’m brand new at this whole writing thing?

Then the Teachers Write! Virtual Summer Writing Camp is especially for you. Welcome. You don’t need a license or a creative writing degree or permission from anyone to be a writer. All you need is the desire to write. Beginners and experienced writers are all welcome. Don’t worry… you can go at your own pace and only share what you want to share.  If you’re happier lurking as a stealth writing camp member, that’s okay, too.

So will you respond to our questions and give us feedback?

Yes. But be patient with me, okay? I have two big writing deadlines and some book travel this summer and marshmallows to roast, too, so it may take me a while for me to approve and reply to all the comments sometimes. The good news is that this camp can run quite nicely even if I’m away. Daily posts will be scheduled, and all of you can cheer one another on and provide feedback. Our guest authors will be around to help with that, too.

What if I can’t start until later? And what if I’ll be on vacation the last week of July?

That’s fine. Sign up. Join us when you can. Take breaks whenever you like. We’ll keep your lemonade cold while you’re away.

How do I sign up?

Added on 6/2: I was originally having people sign up via comments…but at this point, I need to stop approving all those comments and get back to working on our camp agenda!  You are welcome to sign up for camp at ANY time during the summer, though. Even if I don’t get a chance to welcome you personally, please know that I’m thrilled to have you join us.

To sign up, please click here to visit the current Google sign-up doc and leave your name, where you teach and what you teach, and your online contact info (Twitter, blogs, etc.) Thanks!!

If you tweet about writing camp along the way, please use the hashtag #TeachersWrite to help facilitate the conversation on Twitter.

If you’re on Facebook, you may also want to join the TeachersWrite! group there so you can connect with other members & receive notifications. Just go here & click on the “Join Group” button on the top right of the page. It may take me a day or so to approve your membership, but then you’ll be able to see all the members & links.

Hey… Why do you want all that information?  Are you going to stalk me?

No. Your name & role are to help me figure out who’s participating as a teacher/librarian and how to tailor the workshops.  I’d love to know where (generally) you work because occasionally when I travel for conferences, I have time to sneak in a local school visit, and I’d like to be able to let you know about that if I’m in your part of the world.  Items 3-4 are to make it easier for Teachers Write! Summer Writing Campers to connect and stay connected for writing support and critique groups if you so choose.  I’m going to share a list of participants on the blog so you can find one another easily.  If you don’t want your name/info shared here, you can email it to me instead (kmessner at kate messner dot com).  I do hope you’ll consider connecting with one another, though, because there’s so much value in being part of a writing community.

Either way, I promise not to use any of this information to stalk you.  And if I do, I will be wearing a big floppy hat and those glasses with the fake nose & mustache, so you’ll never know it’s me anyway.

Got Questions?

Fire away – and if you know you’d like to join us, go ahead and leave  your name & info in the comments. Watch for an exciting list of Teachers Write! guest authors soon, and next week, we’ll roll up our sleeves and get writing!

Note: 1st-time commenters on this blog need to be approved, so don’t worry if your question or sign-up comment doesn’t appear right away. I promise to get to them all by the end of the day.

Skype Author Visit Book Signings

I do a lot of Skype author visits with classrooms and libraries around the U.S. and beyond, and while it’s not quite the same as an in-person author visit, I love that I get to meet so many more kids than I otherwise might. This spring, I tried an experiment to make my Skype author visits a little closer to the in-person variety — by offering classes the opportunity to order personalized, signed books from one of my local independent booksellers after the visit. It was a great success and something I’ll be doing again in the fall.

Here’s how it worked:

First, I approached Marc and Sarah at The Bookstore Plus, my nearest indie bookseller, with the idea. Would they be game to work with me to get signed books to kids who had met me via Skype?  They would! (Indie booksellers are awesome that way.) We figured out the best way to set it up, double-checked prices for the order form, and talked over all the details of how much advance notice they’d need for orders, etc. Everything about how it would work.

I have a standard email that I send teachers and librarians who inquire about my Skype author visits. To book a visit, I ask them to respond to a list of questions – about what kind of visit they’d like (Q and A or longer presentation), the age & number of students in the group, what they’ve read, the organizer’s Skype username, and a contact phone number in case there are technical difficulties that day.  I added one last question to that list: Would you like your students to have the opportunity to order signed books after our visit? If so, I’ll send along an order form.

Passing out order forms isn’t a requirement for my Skype visits — just an option — but many teachers and librarians took advantage of that opportunity for their kids.  I emailed an order form for them to print and send home to families. Mine looks like this:



After our Skype visit, the teacher collects money (checks made out to the bookstore) and order forms and calls the bookstore to let them know an order is on the way. That allows the bookstore to order copies of books if there aren’t enough in stock. The bookstore shoots me an email to let me know they’ll be getting an order in a few days, and I schedule a time to visit to sign books. (Sadly, my nearest indie bookseller is an hour from my home; those of you with indies nearby are so lucky!)

Meanwhile, at the bookstore, the order forms and money arrive, and someone (thank you, Cherise!) gets the books ready by slipping the order form (which includes the kid’s name and how the book should be signed) into the appropriate book. It goes into a box until I come to sign.  I bring my pens, and the order form tells me how each book is to be personalized.  Most often, a post-Skype book signing only takes 15-20 minutes, though last weekend, there were three boxes of books waiting for me, so my husband took the kids for ice cream while I signed for about an hour.

I put the books back in the boxes as I sign, so once I’m done, they’re organized, still matched with their order forms, and ready to be mailed to the school. The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid offers free shipping on orders over $50, and pretty much all the school-Skype orders qualify for that, so it works out well for everyone. The kids get their signed books at school, just the way they’d get a Scholastic Book Clubs order that arrives to the classroom. A great local bookstore sells some books that might otherwise have been ordered online or not at all, and I’m happy knowing that my stories are making it into more readers’ hands.

This system may not work for every author or every indie bookseller, but if you’re a writer who does Skype visits, it may be worth asking about and considering. Got questions? Fire away in the comments and I’m happy to answer if I can.

And finally…the UPS guy arrived this week with something too exciting not to share. For next fall’s visits, I’ll have one more title on the order form…

My editor at Scholastic sent along the first final copies of CAPTURE THE FLAG, my July 2012 mystery about the heist of the original Star-Spangled Banner from the Smithsonian and the three kids with a mysterious connection who race all over a snowed-in airport trying to track down the thieves.  I’m excited about this one – and there’s a sneak preview of the first two chapters online now if you’d like to start reading a little early.

If you’d like your very own signed copy, The Bookstore Plus can help you out, too. I’ll be signing CAPTURE THE FLAG there on July 2nd, and they’re happy to take orders over the phone (518-523-2950) in advance.

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous

HOW THEY CROAKED. written by Georgia Bragg and illustrated by Kevin O’Malley,  isn’t your typical nonfiction, in topic or in tone.

With a voice that’s frank, funny, and far lighter than its morbid topic,  Bragg delivers what’s promised in the book’s subtitle — The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous — and provides detailed, often delightfully gross stories about the way nineteen of history’s famous figures met their demises.

Included in the list are notables like King Tut, Charles Darwin,  Albert Einstein, and Christopher Columbus, whose shipboard illnesses are described in detail, along with an explanation of how everybody went to the bathroom over the side of the ship, wiped with a rope, and “got poop germs on their hands.” Kevin O’Malley’s  illustrations are perfect for the very informal tone of the text, and there are charmingly grotesque sidebars on everything from bloodletting to mummy eyeballs to scurvy, making this a perfect choice for reluctant readers.

GHOST BUDDY: ZERO TO HERO by Henry Winkler & Lin Oliver

“Is it me, or is this ghost talking like the Fonz from Happy Days?” I wondered, the whole time I was reading GHOST BUDDY: ZERO TO HERO. When I spent a little time with Henry Winkler at a Scholastic dinner during the International Reading Association Convention recently, he assured me that I wasn’t imagining things.  In fact, when he and his co-author Lin Oliver were working on the book, Winkler says, he spent much of his time walking around the room talking in his Fonzie voice, channeling one of television’s most famous cool guys to create a great, fun voice for his super-cool ghost. As a total writing-process geek, I was delighted with this tidbit of information and loved the book all the more for it.

GHOST BUDDY: ZERO TO HERO  is about a kid who moves into a new house in a new neighborhood and discovers all the usual challenges waiting for him — being the new kid at school, facing a bully, finding his way around, and… a ghost living in his closet.  At first, the uber-cool ghost doesn’t have much patience for uncool Billy, but the kid gets under his skin after a while, and before long, they’re as close as two friends living in different dimensions can be. Mix in a little baseball, and you’ve got a delightful, funny book. This is a quick read with loads of appeal for readers in grades 2-5 and great potential to hook those reluctant boy readers in older grades, too.  Book two in the series, GHOST BUDDY: MIND IF I READ YOUR MIND, shares a book-birthday with my upcoming mystery, CAPTURE THE FLAG – both will be available July 1st.


When I’m speaking with another author at an event, I always try to read his or her work ahead of time if I can; it’s always more fun for me to meet fellow writers when I’m familiar with their work. So earlier this spring, when I saw on my IRA schedule that I was speaking at an event with James Dashner, I requested an ARC of A MUTINY IN TIME, the first in his INFINITY RING series with Scholastic.  I was expecting a quick, entertaining read. Like THE 39 CLUES, this series has an online video game component, and I’m not much of a fan of video games, but I really fell in love with this book.

The premise is great; two kids discover a way-cool device that allows them to time travel at the same time they learn that they’re the only ones who can go back to fix “breaks” that have altered the course of history. First stop: the voyage of Columbus.  It’s easy for a packaged series to rely on fast-paced action and the occasional explosion in place of solid plot and character development, but this book does a great job creating the world that its main characters inhabit (a world that’s been altered by those “Breaks,” and boy is it fun to discover the changes!). But don’t worry…there are plenty of explosions, too. Action fans won’t be disappointed.

A MUTINY IN TIME has great ties to the Age of Exploration and Columbus and should be a fun read-aloud to share for classes studying that period. Pair it with the Columbus chapter in Georgia Bragg’s HOW THEY CROAKED: THE AWFUL ENDS OF THE AWFULLY FAMOUS if you really want to gross out your students with details of life on board the ships.  (More on that book soon!) This book will also make a great jumping off point for student writing projects that ask “What If…”  If one thing in history changed, what difference would it make in our world today? Fun stuff, thoughtful, and great interdisciplinary connections.

INFINITY RING will grab reluctant readers & action fans, for sure, and I’ve heard that the video game is pretty amazing for kids who love to play online. But make no mistake; there’s more than a flashy video-game tie-in here, and this one will be well worth a read when it’s released in September.

The Words we Choose: Definition of a Prank

This blog isn’t a place where I talk about politics.  And that’s not what I want to talk about today.

 I want to talk about the language we use and the message it sends.

 Specifically, I want to talk about the use of the word “prank” to describe what presidential candidate Mitt Romney is accused of doing to a classmate at his prep school years ago.  The news, splashed all over the Washington Post website today and spread far and wide online, quotes several of Romney’s former classmates in describing an alleged attack on a student who was different.

Note the use of the words “prank” and “prankster.”

According to the story, the kid who was victimized had returned from spring break with his hair dyed blond and hanging over one eye. The sources claim that Romney said, “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” Later, the sources say, Romney took a pair of scissors and led a gang of kids to find the boy with the blond hair, then held him down and cut his hair while he screamed for help.

Romney said in an interview today he doesn’t remember that incident. I wasn’t there, and I don’t know if that’s true, if it ever happened, or if the story will have an impact on Romney’s campaign.

What I do know is this: The act described in that news report is not a prank.

I’ve played pranks. I’m the person who put the sign on the copy machine at school one April Fools Day a few years back, announcing that it had been reprogrammed to be voice-activated and that copies should be made with a loud, clear request: “20 COPIES, PLEASE, DOUBLED SIDED!”  Would-be copiers were advised to try again, more loudly, if it didn’t work the first time, and not to forget the “please,” as the machine would not function without it.  The secretaries in the office were laughing all day.

The word prank implies fun. It implies innocent and harmless. It implies that nobody gets hurt.  We desperately need to stop using that word to describe acts of cruelty that target vulnerable kids. Doing so excuses the inexcusable and offers our kids of today a license to bully without repercussions.

Nobody wants to be a bully. Ask any kid, “Is it okay to be a bully? Do you like people who are mean?”  They’ll say no. But pranks…ah, pranks are another story.  And if the line between the two is all hazy and gray – even when the adults talk about it, even when the Washington Post writes about it – well, maybe shoving the short kid into a locker or targeting that guy with the weird hair is okay.

It’s only a prank, after all.

No. It’s not.

Choose a better word. Cruelty. bullying, and assault are a few that come to mind.  But please stop calling it a prank.  Continuing to do so is irresponsible and dangerous. And whatever our politics are, we owe our kids better than that.

How Maurice Sendak taught me to roar

I can’t imagine there’s a children’s author or illustrator, or really anyone who loves children’s books, whose eyes didn’t tear up yesterday upon the news of Maurice Sendak’s death.  Sendak’s wild, brave imagination has had a huge influence of the world of picture books and the world of children. CNN’s sister site, HLN-TV asked me if I’d share some reflections on that for an op-ed piece, and I happily agreed.

Photo from HLN-TV

Here’s how it starts…

Maurice Sendak “taught me to roar”

I was a good kid growing up. I didn’t break rules much, didn’t act out, and aside from the occasional muddy sneaker tracks on the carpet, didn’t cause my parents a whole lot of grief.

I was raised in a family where people were mostly pretty happy with one another. You weren’t supposed to yell. You weren’t supposed to get mad at people you loved. If you did, you kept it to yourself. You certainly weren’t supposed to throw things around the house or bare you teeth at your parents in a menacing way.

Which is why Where the Wild Things Are was such a gift…

Read the full piece at HLN-TV.

People all over the world are remembering Sendak today. I loved this tribute in the New York Times.

Did you blog about Sendak’s influence and gifts?  What’s your favorite Sendak book? Whether you’re old or young, please feel free to share links to your posts or your own Sendak story memories in the comments. I’d love to read them.

SEE YOU AT HARRY’S is out today!

I’ve long been a fan of Jo Knowles’ YA novels, so a few months ago, when Candlewick offered me an early peek at SEE YOU AT HARRY’S, her first title for ages 10 and up, I jumped at the opportunity. Jo is a writer-friend and one of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever met. I knew I’d probably like it, but I still wasn’t fully prepared for the quiet power of this story.

Set in a small-town ice cream parlor, SEE YOU AT HARRY’S is about family and friends, grief and acceptance, healing and love and hope. It’s hard to give too much of a summary without spoilers. Here’s what the GoodReads blurb has to say:

Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she’s not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn’t know he’s gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there’s Charlie: three years old, a “surprise” baby, the center of everyone’s world. He’s devoted to Fern, but he’s annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s calm and positive best friend, there’d be nowhere to turn. Ran’s mantra, “All will be well,” is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it’s true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same

And here’s what I have to say:

SEE YOU AT HARRY’S, simply put, is amazing. I can’t remember ever reading a story with more heart.  It made me laugh and cry in equal turns and is one of the most beautiful, moving books I’ve ever read. It’s out today and not to be missed. Read it with a full box of Kleenex and people you love nearby.

Supermoon: A poem in photos

Supermoon: A Poem in Photos
by Kate Messner, copyright 2012
It looked a little bigger
(14% if you ask the scientists)
And 30% brighter, too,
But the real power
Of last night’s moon
Was the way it made us stop
And pay attention.
We waited all through dinner
For it to edge up over the mountains.
When it finally did,
You almost knocked over your water glass.
“Come out! It’s here!”
We crowded the porch
To watch its slow, brightening rise.
We left our phones inside
And stood
While the moon climbed to show itself
And balanced on the rim of the world.


We thought it might roll away,
But no.
It rose and rose.
And we stayed,
Breathing cool lake air together
Until that moon burned bright
High in the indigo sky.

Super moon, indeed.