Meet your Teachers Write 2015 Guest Authors!

Teachers Write 2015 kicks off two weeks from Monday! (That’s July 6th, for those of you who are already on summer vacation and don’t know what day it is today.)

If you haven’t signed up yet, you can read all about Teachers Write 2015 here… or just go right to the sign-up form here.

Gae and Jo and Jen and I are all busy getting ready, and so are your other amazing guest authors for this summer! Here’s who you can expect to hear from in the weeks to come…

Phil Bildner

Melanie Crowder

Tracey Baptiste

Sarah Albee

Megan Frazer Blakemore

Linda Urban

Laurel Snyder

Liz Garton Scanlon

Elana K. Arnold

Christina Diaz-Gonzalez

Kim Baker

Kristen Kittscher

Anne Nesbet

Sarah Prineas

Steve Sheinkin

Heidi Schulz

Ammi-Joan Paquette

Elisabeth Dahl

Mike Jung

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Kekla Magoon 

Erin Dionne

 Please remember that Teachers Write is free and happens thanks to the grace and generosity of volunteers. We don’t charge anyone to participate, but we do ask that you purchase some books to read and share with your students – one book each from Kate, Jo, and Gae. Here are our latest titles:

 We also ask that you purchase at least one book from one of our guest authors above. Please check out their websites, get ready to learn from them, and share their work with your colleagues and students. We’ll be back July 6th to launch Teachers Write 2015 and start our summer of writing together!

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Announcing Teachers Write 2015!

Announcing Teachers Write 2015!

 Our fourth annual Teachers Write Online Summer Writing Camp will run from July 6th to August 2nd, 2015 – four weeks of daily writing lessons, prompts, opportunities to talk with favorite authors, and inspiration. It’s hosted right here, and we’re focusing on a one-month period this year because that’s when we’ve had the most participation in the past. Also, your feedback from last year suggests that you really need August to get back into full-time teaching mode.

Teachers Write is a free online summer writing camp, especially for teachers and librarians. It’s a chance to practice your own writing in a warm, supportive environment so that you can go back to your students with new ideas and (in many cases) a new sense of empathy for the courage involved in writing and sharing one’s work. We offer daily inspiration and assignments, including mini-lessons, writing prompts, and Q and A sessions with authors whose books you and your students love.

Our plans for Summer 2015 will be familiar to returning campers, but with some surprises, too. The inimitable Gae Polisner will be back with Friday Feedback, a chance to share your writing and get feedback. The amazing Jo Knowles will have your Monday Morning Warm-Ups each week. And teacher-writer Jennifer Vincent will be hosting Sunday reflection times again on her blog. Daily lessons & writing prompts will be on my blog, as always, and I’ll be sharing a list of amazing guest authors in a few weeks.

This summer, in addition to our usual guest author posts, I’ll be sharing an in-depth series on writing history and historical fiction. If you’d like to participate in that, you’ll want to pick up the first two books in my Ranger in Time historical chapter book series and read them before we begin on July 6th. They’re short and quick – and both are in paperback, so it’s just a $12 investment. The second book comes out in late June but can be pre-ordered now at your local bookstore or online, so you’ll still have time to read before we begin.

Ranger in Time -- Rescue on the Oregon TrailRANGER #2 Final Cover

 You’ll want to keep both books handy so you can mark them up & reference pages as I share the research techniques, organizational tools, writing, and revision strategies that went on behind the scenes. I’m using both as mentor texts because book one is set on the Oregon Trail, during a time period for which we have a great wealth of written primary source material, and book two is set in ancient Rome, a time for which we rely largely on archaeological evidence. I hope this will be a helpful series not only for those of you who write nonfiction or historical fiction but also for everyone who reads & teaches history with kids. The posts will stay up & available for you to share with student writers later on.

That’s a basic introduction of Teachers Write, but we know that you may have questions or be nervous about diving in to join us. Our wonderful Gae Polisner has put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions & answers on her blog with more information and encouragement. Especially encouragement. Gae is our head cheerleader around here.

So will you be joining us for Teachers Write this summer? We hope so! You can sign up here, any time between now and July 6th. Please follow us on Twitter (@KateMessner, @MentorTexts, @GaePol, & @JoKnowles) and join our Facebook group, too. Over the next three months, we’ll be busy getting ready for all of you to arrive at our virtual camp, so you’ll get lots of updates, including exciting news about this summer’s guest authors.

If you’d like to get warmed up now, you may want to pick up a copy of 59 REASONS TO WRITE, a collection of our writing prompts, mini-lessons, and Q and A sessions from the first two summers of Teachers Write.

59 Reasons to Write

And if you’d like to get to know your camp counselors a little better before we begin, the best way to do that is by picking up some of our books to read from your local bookstore or library.

Have a great end of your school year…and we’ll see you to kick off Teachers Write 2015 in July!



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Found: A February poem in photos


by Kate Messner (Copyright 2015)


My head was too noisy for stories today

The clang and clatter of email-invoice-taxes

Scared them all away.


So I went to the woods to find them.

They were skittish at first,

But after a while,

Morning thoughts slipped away

In the whisper-swish of skis,

And the song of chickadees in sumacs.

I ducked low through some brush

And a branch snatched my hat as I passed,

Dangled it, teasing, over the trail

(The old hemlocks think they’re so funny)


The stories laughed at that.

And I saw one lift its head

From behind a slab of buckled lake ice,

Lit impossible, lovely blue.

Another peeked out from the snowy trees.

And soon they were everywhere.

“I’ve missed you,” I told them.

“Let’s go home,” they said.

So we did.


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Thank you, Freeman-Kennedy School!

One of my last school visits of 2014 was at the wonderful Freeman-Kennedy School in Norfolk, MA. When I first arrived, I wasn’t sure about which door to use, but this sign was a great clue that I’d found my way…

These signs, it turned out, were all over the school. It’s tough not to feel welcome in a place like this!

After my morning presentations, Harper and Anthony interviewed me for their school’s morning show.  Here’s their video!

 And here’s a photo of me with super-librarian Sharon Lavallee, who coordinated the visit.


Thanks so much, Freeman-Kennedy School, for a great day of talking reading & writing!

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Bullet Journaling (Children’s author version!)

I’ve seen a lot of social media talk lately about the concept of bullet journals, an organizational tool I’ve been using since October.  It’s basically a monthly calendar, notebook, and daily to-do list all in one. If this is a new idea for you, you might want to watch the official bullet journal video here. Thanks to Gwenda Bond for linking to it this fall & getting me started.  Recently, some writer friends have asked me how I use my bullet journal, so here’s a glimpse inside the pages…

First things first… Here’s my notebook.

It’s a 5.75 x 8.25 inch Leuchtturm Medium Notebook with dots on the pages, and you can read more about it here. I love this notebook, but you don’t need it to bullet journal – any notebook will do.

As the video suggests, I make a two-page spread for each month, with scheduled events on the left and a list of tasks for the month on the right. Here’s October – you’ll note that some tasks are broken down into smaller pieces, which keeps me from getting overwhelmed (and allows me to check things off even when I’ve just taken a small move toward completing the task. Baby steps!)

Here’s November:

As tasks are completed, I check the box next to each one.  If a task doesn’t get done in that month, it gets an arrow, showing that it’s been moved to the next month. I thought I might finish my 7th WISH novel draft in November (a girl can dream) so I put that on the list but ended up moving it to December. Ranger #3 revisions didn’t happen in October or November because my editorial letter didn’t come until later on. But I totally got to check that off in December, too.

For each day of the month (most days, anyway) I make a separate entry with tasks & events for that day. I try to include everything that’s important to me – not only the work-related things that need to be done, but also my kids’ events, getting some exercise, and other things that I really want to do that day. Some – but not all of these things – are on the monthly task list, but others – phone calls, making spaghetti sauce for dinner – aren’t significant or long-term enough to warrant that, so they just pop in on the days when they come up.

Aside from the monthly and daily calendars, I have lots of other pages in the notebook that I use for story ideas, organizational charts, phone call note-taking, grocery lists, manuscript notes, lists, etc.

(I promise you, the above scribbles make perfect sense to me. They’re lines & ideas for a maybe-story that occurred to me while I was driving to a school visit this week. I pulled over, scribbled them down in my bullet journal, and continued on my way.)

One of the reasons I chose the notebook I did was because it has page numbers and a table of contents in the front. Whenever I add an entry (other than the daily to-do lists), I add it to the table of contents so it’s easy to find later.

One thing you’ll notice here is the serendipitous nature of the whole thing – story ideas live side by side with phone call notes, brainstorming charts, grocery lists, and jobs I need to do in my role as a skating club parent volunteer.

After three and a half months of bullet journaling, I’m pretty much hooked. I am a particularly task-oriented person, so this system makes me more productive and less likely to fritter away time on social media, which is great, but it also forces me to own what’s important to me each day. If it goes in the bullet journal, it matters, and I’ve found that I’m more likely to honor my exercise plans and small writing goals when I write them down here. I’ve always kept paper to-do lists, but this is different, somehow, in its permanence. Today’s list doesn’t get tossed in the trash tomorrow, and for some reason, that adds to my motivation to keep those commitments.

I know some other writers & other book industry friends are trying this out in the new year, and I’d love to hear how it’s going for you so far!

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New Books in 2015!

2015 will be my busiest book year ever, with seven new titles coming out!

I know…that’s a serious pile of books for just one year, but sometimes, things just work out that way. My new Ranger in Time series with Scholastic is on a two-books-a-year schedule, and two picture books that I wrote years ago are illustrated now and ready to meet the world. Add to that my 2015 novel, a new book for teachers and writers, and a calendar full of travel, and it’s going to be a pretty exciting year.

First on the calendar is RANGER IN TIME: RESCUE ON THE OREGON TRAIL, which releases January 6th in both hardcover and paperback, from Scholastic. This is the first in my new chapter book series, about a time-traveling search and rescue dog. His first mission is to help a family traveling west on the Oregon Trail in 1850.

School Library Journal featured Ranger in its Early Chapter Books to Cheer About feature: “This excellent story contains historical details, full-age illustrations, and enough action to keep even reluctant readers engaged. A wonderful author’s note at the end is full of quotes from authentic journals, factual information on search-and-rescue dogs, and suggestions for further reading. This is a stellar choice for readers just starting full-length chapter books and would be a hit with young history buffs and dog lovers as well.”

On January 13th, 59 REASONS TO WRITE comes out from Stenhouse. Officially, this is a book of mini-lessons, writing prompts, and inspiration for teacher-writers. But really…it’s for anyone who has always wanted to make more of a commitment to writing. You can preview this title here.

On January 27th, my new middle grade novel, ALL THE ANSWERS, comes out from Bloomsbury. It’s about an anxious 7th grader named Ava who finds a magic pencil that answers any question she asks. Almost. Booklist liked it —  “Although Ava is constantly worried, the novel’s tone remains bright and cheerful. Yes, there’s a magical pencil, but this remains an emotionally resonant portrait of a sweet girl whose struggles are firmly rooted in reality.” — and I hope you will, too.

I’ll be on tour for ALL THE ANSWERS from January 26th-February 6th – visiting schools and bookstores in Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Boston, Vermont, and Northern NY.  If you can’t make it to an event but would like to order personalized, signed copies of RANGER IN TIME or ALL THE ANSWERS, you can call The Bookstore Plus at 518-523-2950. I’ll be signing there on February 4th and will sign all pre-orders then.

In May, HOW TO READ A STORY comes out from Chronicle Books. It’s a playful celebration of the fine art of sharing a story aloud. This book has been a long time coming (I sold it back in 2011!), and I am so excited about how it turned out. Mark Siegel is responsible for the charming illustrations.

If you loved OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, you’ll be happy to know that illustrator Christopher Silas Neal and I have a follow-up title coming in March.

 UP IN THE GARDEN AND DOWN IN THE DIRT explores daily life in a vegetable garden, spending time with a grandmother and child weeding and watering as well as the earthworms and beetles working away down in the dirt, doing their own part to keep the garden growing.

Some of my 2013-2014 Scholastic titles are coming out in paperback this spring, including the last two Silver Jaguar Society Mysteries. HIDE AND SEEK comes out in paperback March 31st. MANHUNT and MARTY MCGUIRE HAS TOO MANY PETS will be out in paperback April 28th.

The second Ranger in Time book launches this spring, too.

RANGER IN TIME: DANGER IN ANCIENT ROME will be out June 30th. Also a simultaneous hardcover/paperback release, this book sends Ranger back to the days of gladiator fights at the Roman Colosseum.

I plan to spend my entire summer sitting beside Lake Champlain with a cool drink in my hand, recovering from all of these book releases. (Not really. I’ll also be writing and hopefully traveling to research a new project.)

Then, in the fall, TREE OF WONDER comes out from Chronicle. I don’t have a final cover yet, but here’ s a peek at the incredible art…

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 3.56.20 PM

This picture book, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani, celebrates biodiversity and math as it explores the multiplication of life in a single rainforest tree.

I’ll be visiting a number of schools, libraries, bookstores, and festivals throughout the year. You can find my appearance schedule here, and if you’re near one of the cities I’ll be visiting, I do hope you’ll come say hi and introduce yourself.

Happy 2015!

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Panel Presentations from #NCTE14

I had a wonderful, magical weekend learning with teacher, librarian, author, illustration, and publishing friends at the annual NCTE Convention in National Harbor.  I was part of two panels – one on how authors use mentor texts, and how students can use those strategies, too, and a second on children’s books with science and math. As promised, those are both uploaded to SlideShare now in case you were at one of our sessions & want to share with your students.


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My Schedule for NCTE 2014

I’ll be at the NCTE Annual Conference in National Harbor from Thursday to Saturday.  I’ll be speaking on Friday and Saturday as well as signing books at my publishers’ booths and Andersons. (Book-lover tip: That includes some sneaky advance reader copies of books that won’t be out until January!) Here’s my full schedule:

Friday – 2:30pm-3:45pm

Knowing Stories: How Published Authors and Student Writers Improve Their Craft Through The Use Of Mentor Texts – Gaylord National Resort | National Harbor 2

Description: What’s the best way to become a stronger writer? Read. Read like a writer, studying mentor texts to learn the craft. In this session, five trade book authors and a renowned teacher- blogger come together to share their mentor text stories, from the writing room to the classroom, exploring the power of texts to teach us. We’ll share not only strategies but also specific mentor texts for teaching everything from nonfiction to poetry to persuasion. Presenters: Kate Messner (Scholastic), Linda Urban (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Sarah Albee (Bloomsbury), Erin Dionne (Penguin), Varian Johnson (Scholastic), Laurel Snyder (Random House)

Friday 4:00-5:00pm

Scholastic Signing with Varian Johnson  Booth #812 

I’ll be signing advance reader copies of RANGER IN TIME: RESCUE ON THE OREGON TRAIL, the first title in my brand new chapter book series about a time traveling search & rescue dog, and Varian will be signing his awesome middle school mystery, THE GREAT GREEN HEIST.

RANGER #1 CoverRANGER #1 Cover

Friday 5:30-6:00pm

Anderson’s Bookstore Signing  Booth #153 (Signing MANHUNT from the Silver Jaguar Society Mysteries! This one is set in Boston and Paris.)


Saturday 9:30-12:15pm

Connecting Science & Math Concepts with Children’s and Young Adult Literature in a CCSS World – Gaylord National Resort | Woodrow Wilson A

Description: This session will bring together authors and illustrators of beautifully written and illustrated nonfiction and fiction children’s and young adult literature that features science and mathematics concepts and classroom teachers who have incorporated them into their teaching in deeply meaningful and informative ways.

Presenters: Jennifer Brown (Bank Street College of Education), Leslie Bulion (Peachtree Publishers), Jason Chin (Macmillan Children’s Books), Emily Jenkins (Random House), Kate Messner (Scholastic), Jon Scieszka, Melissa Stewart (Peachtree), Susan Stockdale (Peachtree)

Saturday 12:30-1:30

Bloomsbury Signing Booth #723

I’ll be signing  WAKE UP MISSING and advance reader copies of ALL THE ANSWERS, my newest MG novel (and my first with *magic*!!)


Saturday 3:30-4:00

Chronicle Signing Booth #629

I’ll be signing my Chronicle picture books here.


Hope to see some of you at the conference!

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Beautiful Beetles & Twinkie Pie

I read two amazing books this week – one that you can rush out and find at your bookstore or library right now, and one to put on your list for this winter. First, the right-now book…

Loree Griffin Burns is a friend and critique partner, so I’ve seen earlier versions of her new Scientists in the Field title, BEETLE BUSTERS: A ROGUE INSECT AND THE PEOPLE WHO TRACK IT.  First of all, don’t you love the phrase “rogue insect?” It immediately sets me up for a page turner of a mystery, and this book delivers in a big way. I’m always in awe of the way Loree manages to spin such a thoroughly researched work of nonfiction into a book that reads like a thriller, and this book is no exception.

BEETLE BUSTERS tells the story of an invasive species — the Asian Longhorn beetle — and the effect that its appearance has had trees and on the communities that love them. What I love most about this book, I think, is that it’s not just about insects but about people — the boy whose woods disappeared as a result of a beetle eradication effort, and the scientist who stayed out in an ice storm, desperate to learn more about the invaders.  This is a story of about beetles to be sure, and there’s no shortage of entomological details in the text. (Did you know that bug poop is called “frass?” Great, right?) But it’s also a story about geography and forests, scientists and communities, and the reality that sometimes there are no easy answers to the challenges that face our local ecosystems. Truly, don’t miss this one – Loree’s storytelling is smart and compelling, and Ellen Harasimowicz’s photographs are truly stunning. This book is out today, so get thee to your bookstore or library and ask for it.

You’ll have to hold off a bit for the other book I loved this week, but I promise it’s worth the wait.


THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE by Kat Yeh is the story of Gigi and Didi, two sisters who move from the south so Gigi can enroll in a fancy New York school, study, and fulfill her dead mama’s dreams to study the stars. It’s hard to say too much about this book without giving away its secrets, but I’ll tell you that it’s packed with smart, funny, fully-realized characters. Add a dash of mystery and a collection of quirky, mouth-watering recipes written in a real cook’s friendly voice, and it all adds up to a winner. This one comes out in February, but teacher-librarian friends who will be at NCTE may want to check for advance copies at the Little, Brown booth – I suspect they’ll be sharing a few here and there. Regardless, read this one when you can – it’s warm, wonderful, and perfect for readers who have enjoyed my books and those by Linda Urban, Laurel Snyder, and Cynthia Lord.

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Many Ways to Tell a Story: How Authors Choose a Narrative Voice

One of the things I love about the world of children’s writing is how passionate people are about their opinions and how excited most of us are to engage in lively, thoughtful discussions of craft. One of those conversations got started this week when a blogger at School Library Journal said this:

“While present tense will probably have no bearing on whether a book receives Newbery consideration, it is nevertheless bad writing, and 90% of the writers who use it can’t pull it off.”   ~Jonathan Hunt

He went on to list all the no-good, very-bad things about books written in present tense, especially first person present tense.

Now, if you’re not an English teacher or a writer or a particularly detail oriented reader, you probably don’t think about this when you’re reading. Most of us don’t pause mid-chapter to say, “By golly…this is first person present tense narration!” In fact, if the story is written well, we usually don’t notice at all.  If you’re not the sort of person who pays attention to such things, here’s a quick overview.

First person means a character in the story is telling the story, either in past or present tense.

1st person past: I leaned over to pet the dolphin, and it chomped down on my hand.*
1st person present: I lean over to pet the dolphin, and it chomps down on my hand.

Third person means an outside narrator is telling the story. So…

3rd person past: She leaned over to pet the dolphin, and it chomped down on her hand.
3rd person present: She leans over to pet the dolphin, and it chomps down on her hand.
*Yes, this happened. It was a lapse in judgement.

Anyway… there’s also the question of whether third person narration is omniscient (with a sort of  eye-in-the-sky storyteller, who knows everything and can see inside all the characters’ heads) or limited (where the story is in third person but you still experience it from a particular character’s point of view & don’t know what the others are thinking). And there’s also second person, but those are topics for another day.

Authors have lots of different reasons for choosing the narrative voice for a particular book. One story might work best in third person past tense, with an omniscient narrator, while another might be better told in first person. I tend to agree with Mr. Hunt that first person present tense, done poorly, can be particularly grating to a reader’s sensibilities.  But I also think it can be a powerful narrative voice in the hands of a talented writer. Here are just a few examples, some of which you’ve probably seen on awards and bestseller lists.



I asked Facebook friends to share some thoughts on first person, present tense point of view, and I think their responses offer a great, diverse, and thoughtful perspective on this topic.

When does first person present tense work well, and why might an author choose it? And what are some of your favorite books using this narrative voice?

WINTERGIRLS, I think. Everything is so heightened in that book, everything is about life in that exact moment just as the character perceives it. The character herself is really stripped of perspective, stripped of everything besides her present. I also think it’s simply necessary sometimes, in books so much about growth and change–narration that takes place AFTER the moment of realization and change can create some distance between narrator and subject, giving the narrator wisdom the character does not have, and thus depriving the reader of the chance to really experience that change with the reader. There’s so much artistry in first person present–you can use every aspect of the telling of the story to help convey the energy of the character journey.  

~Anne Ursu, author of BREADCRUMBS and THE REAL BOY


I had written Chained in the past tense at first, & Patricia Lee Gauch said during a critique at Chautauqua, “Something’s telling me you should write this in the present tense.” I tried it and it felt right, so switched it to a present tense novel. I think it offers a feeling of traveling in real time along with the characters.    

~Lynne Kelly Hoenig, author of CHAINED


I often choose first-person because that voice helps me to more effectively make an emotional connection with my reader, and I see that as a vital element of my work.   



Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead. It HAS to be in first person present tense or the whole thing would fall apart. There is the story that Georges is telling us — the story he is telling himself — and then there is the whole truth. The story is of him learning/admitting the truth, and told in the past tense it would lose all of its power. Well, not all of it’s power, because Rebecca Stead is amazing.

~Megan Frazer Blakemore, author of THE WATER CASTLE and THE SPYCATCHERS OF MAPLE HILL


HUNGER GAMES. That trilogy would instantly lose half its intensity if it were written in third person, so we weren’t so immediately in Katniss’s head and experiences, or if it were in past tense, which would mean that the action is over and completed and Katniss survived it all to tell it from a place of safety. First person present can be overused for sure, and used badly, but in it, we do not know what’s going to happen to our viewpoint character because s/he doesn’t know him/herself, and if you’re invested in the character, that is close to the highest-tension place you can be as a reader.

~Cheryl Klein, senior editor at Scholastic


In Jessica Spotswood’s excellent Cahill Witch Chronicles (starting with BORN WICKED), the present-tense narration works especially well to help readers experience the narrator’s relationships with her two sisters. If the books were written in past tense, the narrator would have more time to reflect and reconsider her powerful and not always kind reactions, and we’d lose a lot of the emotional intensity and honesty that forms the heart of the story. Additionally, a lot of tension in the series comes from the fact that we know one of the sisters (perhaps the narrator) is going to die, but neither we nor the narrator know which sister it will be. This tension can really only exist in a story told in the present tense.

~Caroline Carlson, author of THE VERY NEARLY HONORABLE LEAGUE OF PIRATES books


 I’m currently finishing up a middle-grade present tense book. I think it works in particular circumstances (and I’ve definitely used it before). In this case, the protagonist is stuck in an emergency situation for a period of 48 hours, so the present tense is for her present emergency, but during the crisis, she spends a lot of time in flashbacks. The use of present tense vs. past tense I think really anchors the story and differentiates the two layers, while also allowing me to heighten the urgency of the crisis.

~Karen Rivers, author of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ME


WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart. This story told from any other POV would not have had as much of an impact on me. Finding out what happens at the same time as Cadence was heart rending. I was an emotional wreck while reading it, and sad for days after.

~Wendy Watts Scalfaro, teacher-writer


 Nora and I just read Lions of Little Rock and The One and Only Ivan. If I recall, both were written in 1st person present. We loved both. We’re not critics of writing ability, but the tense used did not change how we enjoyed the stories. In fact, it wasn’t until I read your post that I even considered what tense the authors used.

~Art Graves, bookseller & dad


It’s often used in verse, and may particularly help explore layers of time when the subject is history. I agree with others re the sense of immediacy, which may be partly why Jacqueline Woodson chose it for brown girl dreaming and Marilyn Nelson for Carver and how i discovered poetry, inviting readers to be part of a particular time, looking back and ahead.



 I used it in Trauma Queen, which is about a tween girl’s terror of being mortified, at any given moment, by her performance artist mom. The first person present tense helped me convey a “Oh no–what will she do next?” urgency. I think it helped put the reader in my protagonist’s (often uncomfortable) shoes.

~Barbara Dee, author of TRAUMA QUEEN


I chose first person present tense for THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL because it felt right for this particular book. My novel is set in the 1920’s and about a subject that modern American kids would know little about: tuberculosis. My hope is that by making the choices that I did, it pulls the reader in close and the immediacy erases the nearly one hundred year time gap from 1922 until today.

~Shannon Hitchcock, author of THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL


We used it in the Sugar Plum Ballerina chapter books. I think it gives the books an immediacy that helps hook younger readers. As Barbara Dee said above, it seems to me to increase urgency.

~Deborah Underwood, author of THE QUIET BOOK and HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT


 My first two novels were in first/present and my next ones are in first/past. For my first book, Rules, present tense is just the way the words came. I didn’t even think about it. Kids often say about Rules that they felt like they were there with Catherine experiencing the story, not reading it. Both tenses have pluses and minuses, though. It’s more awkward to deal with the passage of time in present, since everything is “now.” Past can have more of a storytelling feel, but that also adds some distance. Readers do have preferences, but that doesn’t mean other choices aren’t valid. There are many ways to tell a story.

~Cynthia Lord, author of RULES, TOUCH BLUE, and HALF A CHANCE


I’m ending this post with Cindy’s comment because I love her last line.

There are many ways to tell a story.

I am always wary of writing advice presented in black and white terms. Stories are more complicated than that, and writing them requires a spirit of openness and exploration.  Good writers – whether they’re students or professionals – have always made choices about narrative voice thoughtfully, based on story, characters, and craft. No one’s personal preference presented as fact on a blog post should change that.

For more on craft and narrative voice, you should also check out Linda Urban’s brilliant blog post about points of view. It’s another thoughtful exploration of how and why an author makes that decision about voice.

Feel free to continue the conversation in comments – respectful, thoughtful discourse is always welcome here.

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