#NY14SCBWI Plot Intensive Handouts

I’m speaking at the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City this weekend, participating in a Plot Intensive workshop today & then giving a keynote on Sunday morning. It’s already been a magical trip. This morning’s sessions at the Plot Intensive were great. Here’s editor/author Jill Santopolo reading a picture book as an example of plot structure.

 photo 1(14)

One of the handouts I’d created for my presentation, “Inventing the Tools We Need,” didn’t make it into the packet for attendees, so I wanted to share it as a download here, along with the original handout. Just click to download & they’ll open in MS Word!

Kate’s Plot Intensive Handout

Kate’s Big-Picture Story Chart

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Arctic Visitor

If you have any interest in birds…or Harry Potter and Hedwig…or just unexpected beauty, you’ve probably heard about the irruption of snowy owls in areas south of their usual Arctic habitat this winter.  I’ve been hoping to see one, and for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been haunting bird watching websites, paying attention to reported sightings, and dragging my family out on owl-searching drives (all of which turned out to be wild goose chases.)

Today, I had plans to meet my friend Linda for lunch in Vermont and decided to take the long way home so I could drive through Addison, where a number of snowy owls had been spotted this week. I knew it was a long shot. If you’ve read Jane Yolen’s OWL MOON, you know all too well that sometimes there’s an owl, and sometimes there isn’t. But I was hoping…and then I spotted something that made my heart jump.

A snowy owl – a female, based on what I’ve read from experienced bird watchers who’ve spotted her -was perched in a tree just off the road.  I watched her for about half an hour. She was mostly still but obviously hunting. Twice, she flew from the tree over the fields. Once, she plunged into some weeds but came up empty and returned to her spot.

She was stunning. And I’m so glad I took the long way home.

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Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

All eyes may be on Sochi for the Winter Olympics this week, but next month, the great race happens in Alaska when the Iditerod begins. Kids are fascinated by this race – from its historic roots in Balto’s story to the modern tales of dogsled teams, and there’s a great new book out today that captures all the excitement of being a musher.

While not an Iditerod tale per se, Terry Lynn Johnson’s ICE DOGS is the story of 14-year-old Victoria Secord, a dog sledder who loses her way in the Alaska wilderness and must survive the elements, along with a mysterious boy who turns up in the woods.  ICE DOGS is a serious page turner, one of those perfect hot-chocolate-by-the-fireplace reads. It’s a book for dog lovers, to be sure, but also a riveting  survival story, perfect for middle school and high school readers who love Gary Paulsen and are ready for something a little older.  Pair it with Paulsen’s memoir for adult and older YA readers, WINTERDANCE: THE FINE MADNESS OF RUNNING THE IDITEROD, in high school classrooms and literature circles for some great discussions.

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Bookish News on a Tuesday

The American Library Association Youth Media Awards are always a big deal at our house, and yesterday, my daughter was off from school, so we settled at the kitchen table with our breakfast to watch the live webcast. We cheered for a lot of books – but one in particular brought us to our feet (and may have woken up the later sleepers…)

Brian Floca’s LOCOMOTIVE won the 2014 Caldecott Medal!

We’ve been fan’s of Brian’s nonfiction picture books for years, and he’s also the illustrator of my Marty McGuire chapter book series with Scholastic. Speaking of that…the third book in the series, MARTY MCGUIRE HAS TOO MANY PETS,  is out today!

Marty McGuire really has her hands full this time — with a lazy boa, a hyper hamster, and a potty-mouthed parrot! Is her pet sitting business about to go OUT of business?

After visiting a sanctuary for retired lab chimpanzees, Marty wants to follow in the footsteps of her idol Jane Goodall and help with their care. But “adopting a chimp” is expensive, so Marty and her third-grade pals hatch a plan to raise money by holding a talent show at school and opening a pet-sitting business in Marty’s basement. It turns out that each pet has a personality of its own, and wrangling them is much harder than Marty expected. How will Marty keep her latest great idea from going to the dogs?

Ask for MARTY MCGUIRE HAS TOO MANY PETS at your favorite local bookstore, or use IndieBound to find a great, independent bookstore near you.

Marty is sharing a book-birthday today with some friends’ new books…

Laurel Snyder’s SEVEN STORIES UP is a magical blend of family, time travel, humor, and history – the story of a girl who goes back in time in an old Baltimore hotel and discovers her own grandmother living there as a young girl. I had the chance to read this book as an ARC and loved it to pieces. It’s full of humor and heart and really makes you think about how people come to be the way they are and the impact that our interactions with one another – even small ones – have on a person’s life.

And Jarrett Krosoczka’s new book LUNCH LADY AND THE SCHOOLWIDE SCUFFLE is also out today. It’s the latest in Jarrett’s hilarious Lunch Lady graphic novel series – perfect for graphic novel fans, reluctant readers, and really…anyone who has ever experienced life in a school cafeteria.

Happy Reading!

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Bodies & Bookstores: An Open Letter to Russell Banks

Dear Mr. Banks:

I enjoyed your recent interview with The New York Times. I learned that we share a penchant for poetry, travel books, South Florida, and volcanoes, and that we both call Northern New York home, at least for part of the year. Actually…that’s why I’m writing.

When the Times asked about your favorite bookstores and libraries, you responded:

Six months a year I live in Miami Beach, a five-minute walk from Mitchell Kaplan’s Books & Books on Lincoln Road, where I can buy a book and start reading it over a lingering al fresco lunch and every now and then look up and peruse the passing SoBe parade of perfectly honed and tanned human bodies and tiny dogs. The other six months I live in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York where the nearest full-service bookstore is in Saratoga Springs, 100 miles to the south, and honed bodies and small dogs are nowhere to be seen. That’s when I rely on Amazon.com.

This answer has me worried that you may be missing out on some of the greatest things about living in the Adirondacks. Have you ever been to Lake Placid during the IRONMAN or the half marathon? I can’t speak to the population of small dogs in town for those events, but I promise you’ll find honed bodies in abundance. Lake Placid is also the training ground for hundreds of Olympic level athletes. They, too, are seriously honed.

When you mentioned that your “nearest full-service bookstore” is 100 miles away in Saratoga Springs, were you talking about the fabulous Northshire Bookstore? You’re right about one thing — Northshire is fantastic. But it’s not your nearest full-service bookstore.

The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid is practically in your backyard. It’s independent and family-run, and its owners, Marc and Sarah Galvin, are incredibly supportive of local authors. I’ve seen your books on display there, right up front. In fact, I’m pretty sure The Bookstore Plus supplied the books for your reading at the Paul Smiths Visitors Interpretive Center a couple years ago.

Remember when one of our local libraries was absolutely ravaged by flooding during Tropical Storm Irene?


The Bookstore Plus hosted a major fundraiser and benefit auction to put books back on the shelves. It’s truly an amazing independent bookstore, and if you haven’t spent time there, you’re missing out.

So here’s a thought… If I were you, I’d stick with Mitchell Kaplan’s in Miami Beach for the next couple months (It’s really, really cold here this week), but once you come north this summer, perhaps you’ll consider taking a break from Amazon to visit The Bookstore Plus. It’s right on Main Street – the one with the green and white awning.

Inside, you’ll find some of the friendliest booksellers around and a great variety of books, including many of yours. There’s even a restaurant nearby with a porch, where you can sit and read your new books and watch all those Ironman-honed bodies pass by.



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The making of a TED-Ed video

Through a crazy series of events, I had the gift of being a speaker at TED2012 as part of a session called “The Classroom,” which also included incredible people like NH Teacher of the Year Angie Miller, science teacher extraordinaire Aaron Reedy, Rafe Esquith, Bill Nye the Science Guy, sex educator and author Al Vernacchio, storyteller Awele Makeba, and STEM advocate/materials scientist Ainissa Ramirez, whose claim to fame was not only her great talk but also that she used a blow torch on the TED stage.

The TED Conference was an amazing experience, and you can read a summary of my talk on on world building on the TED blog.

Photo by James Duncan Davidson and courtesy of the TED blog

The video of my talk hasn’t been uploaded to TED’s website yet, but back in the fall of 2012, the folks at TED-Ed contacted me with an  idea. Would I be interested in adapting my talk on world building so that it could be animated as a TED-Ed lesson for use in the classroom?  I agreed to give it a try, and we spent the next year going back and forth, sharing drafts and revisions and ideas. The TED-Ed team is serious about putting out videos that rack up lots of views, so they actually have a team of screen writers who work with educators to include “key terms” for searches in many of the videos. It was a fascinating process.

Finally, this winter, we wrapped up revisions and animator Avi Ofer took over, creating a storyboard to show how he planned to bring the lesson to life with images. I recorded the narration, and once it was approved, Avi finished the animation. This is the result:


One of the most interesting things about all of this has been the reaction from viewers. The video has gone a bit viral since it was posted, with more than 700,000 views in about a week. I love that so many people are interested in the concept, and their comments about how they’re using the video – writing novels and screenplays, developing video games, and creating backgrounds for role playing games – have been so interesting to read. I love that about the internet…the way we share something with a particular purpose in mind, but then people end up seeing other value and sharing it with those circles as well.

If you know someone with a great lesson to share on TED-ED, or if you’d like to nominate yourself, check out the details here.

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Skype with an Author on World Read Aloud Day 2014!

 Hi there! If you’re new to this blog, I’m Kate Messner, and I write books like these:

I also read lots of books, and reading aloud is one of my favorite things in the world. When I was a kid, I was the one forever waving my hand to volunteer to read to the class, and still, I’ll pretty much read to anyone who will listen.

For the past few years, I’ve helped out with LitWorld’s World Read Aloud Day by pulling together a list of author volunteers who would like to spend part of the day Skyping with classrooms around the world to share the joy of reading aloud. World Read Aloud Day 2014 is March 5th.

The authors listed below have  volunteered their time to read aloud to classrooms and libraries all over the world. These aren’t long, fancy presentations; a typical one might go like this:

  • 1-2 minutes: Author introduces himself or herself and talks a little about his or her books.
  • 3-5 minutes: Author reads aloud a short picture book, or a short excerpt from a chapter book/novel
  • 5-10  minutes: Author answers some questions from students about reading/writing
  • 1-2 minutes: Author book-talks a couple books he or she loves (but didn’t write!) as recommendations for the kids

If you’d like to have an author visit your classroom or library for World Read Aloud Day, here’s how to do it:

  • Check out the list of volunteering authors below and visit their websites to see which ones might be a good fit for your students.
  • Contact the author directly by clicking on the link to his or her website and finding a contact form or email.  Please be sure to provide the following information in your request:
    • Your name and what grade(s) you work with
    • Your city and time zone (this is important for scheduling!)
    • Possible times to Skype on March 5th. Please note authors’ availability and time zones. Adjust accordingly if yours is different!
    • Your Skype username and a phone number where you can be reached on that day
  • Please understand that authors are people, too, and have schedules and families just like you, so not all authors will be available at all times. It may take a few tries before you find someone whose books and schedule fit with yours. If I learn that someone’s schedule for the day is full, I’ll put a line through his or her name – that means the author’s schedule is full, and no more visits are available.  (Authors, please let me know that if you can!)

World Read Aloud Day – Skyping Author Volunteers for March 5, 2014

Authors are listed along with publishers, available times, and the age groups for which they write.  (PB=picture books, MG=middle grades, YA=young adult, etc.)

 Anne Marie Pace
9am-2pm EST
JoAnn Early Macken
Disney-Hyperion, Candlewick Press, Holiday House
11 a.m.-2 p.m. CST
Laurel Snyder
Random House Books for Young Readers
8 am- 2pm EST
Erica S. Perl
Random House/Abrams/Scholastic
Elementary/Middle School
10am-2pm EST
Tricia Springstubb
10-2 EST
Julia DeVillers
Simon&Schuster, Penguin
Elementary/Middle School 
9a-11:30 am and 12:30-3 pm EST
Joy Preble
Soho Press & Balzer and Bray
Jr. High – High School
10 AM – 2PM CST
Erin Soderberg / Erin Downing
Bloomsbury / Simon & Schuster
Elementary / Middle School
10am-3pm CST
Donna Gephart
Delacorte Press/Random House
Elementary/Middle School
10am-3pm EST
Sarah Albee
(Numerous publishers)
Elementary/Middle School
10am-3pm EST
Nikki Loftin
Older Elementary (Third Grade & up)
10am-2pm CST
Monica Carnesi
9 am – 2 pm EST
Lisa Schroeder
7:30-9:30 PST; 10:30-12:00 PST
Kristen Kittscher
Harper Children’s
Elementary & Middle School
11am-6pm EST
David Macinnis Gill
YA/older MS EST
9am-2pm EST
Kami Kinard
Scholastic Press
Upper Elementary/Middle School
9am-2pm EST
Bob Shea
10am-2pm EST
Frances Bonney Jenner  
Irie Books
Middle School  
MST  8am-3pm 
Laura Purdie Salas
Clarion and Millbrook
10am-1pm CST
Kimberley Griffiths Little
Elementary/Middle School 
1pm-4pm Mountain
Kate Messner
9-10:30 am EST
Jennifer Fosberry
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
10am-1pm PST
Barbara O’Connor
Elementary School (Gr 4,5 optimum)
12-1:30 EST
Patrice Lyle
Leap Books
Middle School
Most times, CST
Kim Baker
Roaring Brook Press
Macmillan Elementary
Middle School 
9am-2pm PST
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
Disney-Hyperion, Two Lions, Abrams, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster
Melissa Guion
10am – 2pm EST
Jody Feldman
Elementary/Middle School
9am-3pm CST
Amy Goldman Koss
Dial Books for Young Readers
Elementary / Middle School
10:00am – 2:00pm Pacific Time
Liz Garton Scanlon
Beach Lane Books/S&S/HarperCollins/Bloomsbury
10-1 CST
Ammi-Joan Paquette
Random House/Walker/Candlewick/Clarion
Elementary/Middle School
9-2 EST
Happy reading, everyone!

“World Read Aloud Day is about taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another, and creates a community of readers advocating for every child’s right to a safe education and access to books and technology.”              ~from the LitWorld website

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Happy 2014!

I just went to look for a past event photo on my blog and realized that I haven’t posted in weeks so thought I’d send out a quick update. I have been busy revising my January 2015 novel with Bloomsbury, a magical middle grade story about a girl who finds a magic pencil, and that’s been great fun – but also a terrific challenge. Magic can be tricky sometimes, with all its rules and twists.  I’m sure you’ll hear from me more frequently again once it’s all worked out.

I’ve been watching Lake Champlain freeze – and thaw – and freeze again, which has led to some spectacularly chilly views.



If you’d rather be looking at pictures of warmer weather, there’s a new book in the world that you won’t want to miss.

I’ve been enjoying the text for HANDLE WITH CARE: AN UNUSUAL BUTTERFLY JOURNEY & ogling its gorgeous photos for a while because author Loree Griffin Burns is one of my critique partners. But friendship aside, it’s a stunning book. Teacher-friends…if life cycles are part of your curriculum, this is the most unique, gorgeous take on the topic you’ll ever see.

What else have I been up to? Reading and watching movies and playing card games and laughing with family over the kids’ school vacation. I’ve also been catching up on the email and regular mail that piles up when I’m locked in my writing room revising, so if I owe you a note, it’ll be on the way soon.  I’m happy to say that all of my reader mail is currently answered – a bigger feat than usual because an enormous pile of mail from my post office box got misplaced last year, leaving me with a newly-found pile the size of Mount Everest on my desk for most of the fall season. Accept my apologies, please, if you were one of the people who waited far too long for a reply.

Letters from kids always contain some gems, and this batch included some great student artwork. Sometimes, when kids write to me, they illustrate scenes from my book or even draw their own author photos, and those letters are always fun to open. This author drawing in a recent letter might be my all-time favorite, though.


Actually, if you look closely, you might see that I am, in fact, a unicorn. I am feeling very special indeed.

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Special Delivery: Why Amazon’s Big Drone Hullabaloo was a Failure of Journalism (and how we can do better)

If you read this blog, it’s probably because you know me as a children’s author, but for seven years out of college, I worked in local television news. My undergraduate degree is from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, and in my years there, we talked a lot about what makes a news story — and what doesn’t.  Amazon’s big 60 Minutes reveal about plans to deliver products to your door via drone wouldn’t have made the cut.

How come? Because there’s a difference between a legitimate news story and a publicity stunt. One way to tell the difference is to ask good, intelligent questions about what you’re being told and shown, no matter how shiny those things may be.

Make no mistake – I’m a huge fan of technology in all its latest greatest forms. I desperately want to try out those Google glasses. I’m about to send a kid off to college to study engineering – heck, I loaned him my van for two days so he could chase an electronics-laden weather balloon into the Massachusetts woods. And I’ve ordered things from Amazon. But when Amazon trotted out its “delivery drone” prototype,  I wished the 60 Minutes people had asked some better questions. Here’s how that conversation might have gone…

Question: Wow…that’s pretty cool. But isn’t it illegal to fly drones in lots of places? Say, close to airports and in heavily populated areas like those to which you’d be delivering?
Answer: Why yes…yes, it is. And we have no reason to believe that’s going to change soon.
Question: Those propellers on your delivery guy look kind of sharp and dangerous, too. Any worries that could be a problem?
Answer: Well…yes. Drones aren’t toys. They’re aircraft, and like other kinds of aircraft with whirling, spinning metal blades, they’re dangerous and can slice up human flesh quite nicely. We’re…uh…going to have to think on that one.
Question: What’s to keep people from running off with your drones and repurposing them for their own nefarious plans?
Answer: Nothing. We expect people will have a lot of fun taking them apart.
Question: Won’t that get expensive for you? And what about the drones that crash and break things or hurt people? There could be lawsuits. And I also read that drones are awful in wind. Isn’t it windy sometimes in places you deliver?
Answer: We hope it will never be windy when we need to deliver things.
Question: So given all that, are you really working on this as a serious thing, or did you just want us to talk about you right before Cyber Monday?
Answer: Hey, do you want to see our warehouse? It is bigger than a lot of football fields…come on!


None of this is to say that drones aren’t pretty cool. They are.

But you know what’s even cooler? Walking into an independent bookstore that smells like paper books and maybe hot chocolate, too. Finding a real live person behind the counter (she’ll probably be wearing a Santa hat). Telling her about your dad who loves old coins and baseball, or your kid who likes to take apart your toaster to build things, or your best friend whose favorite thing in the world is butterflies…and having that fellow book lover find the perfect, just-right book for the person you love.

Shop local. Shop small. Give books.

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Authors Wanted (to help celebrate World Read Aloud Day!)

World Read Aloud Day 2014 is just three months away. Do you have plans yet?

For the past couple years, I’ve helped out with LitWorld’s World Read Aloud Day by pulling together a list of author volunteers who would like to spend part of the day Skyping with classrooms around the world to share the joy of reading aloud. World Read Aloud Day 2014 is March 5th, and I’d love to do this again, to help interested authors, teachers, and librarians connect.

A suggested World Read Aloud Day Skype visit goes like this…

  • 1-2 minutes: Author introduces himself or herself and talks a little about his or her books.
  • 3-5 minutes: Author reads aloud a short picture book, or a short excerpt from a chapter book/novel
  • 5-10 minutes: Author answers some questions from students about reading/writing
  • 1-2 minutes: Author book-talks a couple books he or she loves (but didn’t write!) as recommendations for the kids

Sound like fun? If  you’re the author of a traditionally published* book and you’d like to volunteer to do some 10-15 minute Skype visits with classes on March 5, 2013, please send me an email via the contact form on my website (you can get there by clicking on the little envelope on the right side of the screen).  Deadline: January 1st, please, so people can plan.

  • Put WORLD READ ALOUD DAY VOLUNTEER in the subject line
  • Include the following information in the body of your email:
    • Your name
    • Your publisher
    • What ages your books fit best (Elementary, Middle School, or High School)
    • What time zone you live in (EST, CST, etc. This is important for scheduling!)
    • Hours you’ll be available for Skype visits on March 5, 2013 (10am-2pm EST, for example)
    • Your website (and email if your website doesn’t have contact information)

So a sample email from an author volunteer will look like this:

Kate Messner
Elementary/Middle School
11am-2pm EST

Please use this exact format; it will make it easy for me to copy & paste your entry to the blog post, and then I will love you forever.

I’ll pull all the author volunteer information together in a blog post for early January and share with teachers & librarians who want to Skype with read-aloud authors on March 5th.  Teachers & librarians will contact authors directly to request visits.  If you’re on the list for a while and then realize your schedule for the day is full, it will be helpful if you email me to let me know that so that I can cross you off and you don’t keep getting requests.

*I’m limiting this volunteer round-up to traditionally published authors who write children’s and YA books. That’s not because I have anything against self-publishing or ebooks — it’s simply to limit the scope of the project so it doesn’t overwhelm me. If someone else would like to create a similar list of self-published and/or ebook author volunteers, I’ll happily link to it here.  Thanks for understanding!

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