The mother of all book-signings!

Meet  43 children’s authors & illustrators!

Kindling Words Caravan
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Phoenix Books
Essex, VT

I’ll be there signing copies of Spitfire, and I’m bursting at the seams over the company I’ll be keeping. 
Here are some hints…


I have a bad habit with book festivals and book fairs.  I know that when I’m participating in one, I should spend the weeks leading up to it preparing my presentation and choosing my readings and things like that.  What I tend to do instead is get sidetracked by all the other authors participating and go on a reading binge.  My book festival conversations tend to go like this:

Husband:  What are you doing for the Rochester Children’s Book Festival?

Me: Did you see who’s going to be there??!  James Howe and Tedd Arnold and Michelle Knudsen!  Can you believe that?  E and I loved LIBRARY LION….

Husband: Yes, but…

Me: I hope I get to sit near Tedd Arnold. He has this new young adult book out…

Husband:  Is your presentation ready?

Me:  …and Vivian Van Velde is going to be there…and Coleen Paratore…

You get the idea. 

This Saturday, November 3 is the Rochester Children’s Book Festival, with an AMAZING lineup of children’s authors and illustrators.  I’m participating in the festival’s “Tween Time” showcase of historical fiction, and my kids have convinced me that I need to dress up as my main character again since it was such a hit in Burlington on Halloween.  I’m portraying Abigail Smith, an 18th century girl who disguises herself as a boy to fight in a Revolutionary War battle on Lake Champlain.  If you’re near Rochester, please drop by ‘Tween Time at 10:45. I’ll be there with my hardtack and my haversack, ready to share!

In a rare moment of planning ahead, I finished my presentation last week, so I’ve felt entitled to go on a reading binge of other festival authors’ books.  Here are a couple reviews….

I loved James Howe’s novel THE MISFITS, where a group of middle school outsiders challenges the school’s name-calling habit as a student council campaign platform.  Until last week, though, I hadn’t gotten around to reading the sequel, TOTALLY JOE.  This is a lighter look at what it’s like to be a gay kid in middle school.  Howe introduces readers to Joe Bunch through his main character’s “alphabiography,” a series of essays he has to write about his life, with each topic starting with a different letter of the alphabet (26 chapters, including one on the ubiquitous alphabet-book xylophone, for those keeping track).  Through the assignment, Joe tells the story of his first sort-of boyfriend, middle school bullies, his creative, supportive Aunt Pam, and his quest to be Totally Joe.  It’s honest and tough sometimes without losing its fun voice.  Howe has provided a particular gift in this novel – a book about being gay that’s age-appropriate for someone who’s still in middle school and not ready for some of the edgier titles that seem to abound in YA literature.

I also want to talk about RAT LIFE, Tedd Arnold’s first foray into young adult literature, which was so great that when I finished it, I trotted right over to nominate it for a Cybil Award in the YA Category.  (Nominations are open until November 21st, in case you haven’t nominated your favorites yet!) 

RAT LIFE is one of those books that made me laugh one minute and gasp in shock the next.  Its narrator, Todd, is a would-be writer growing up in Upstate NY in 1972.  In the first pages of the book, he hears about a body found in a river and meets a mysterious character who calls himself Rat.  Todd wonders if  Rat, an underaged recruit who’s just back from a tour of Vietnam, has something to do with that body in the river, and those suspicions mount throughout the novel, all the way to its dizzying climax.  I could go on and on about the humor, the interesting writing strategies Arnold employed, the gut-wrenching scene that almost made me stop reading but is so important to the book… but I’ll let you discover this one for yourself.  Don’t start reading until you have some time; you won’t want to take breaks.

Robert’s Snow…Meet Illustrator Shawna Tenney!

Today’s illustrator feature for the Robert’s Snow: For Cancer’s Cure Fundraiser is Shawna Tenney, an artist with a gift for whimsy and, as you’ll see in her snowflake, a child’s playfulness.

Blogger’s Note:  I’m a children’s author and a middle school English teacher, so my students are collaborating on our series of illustrator profiles. Today’s feature is courtesy of the Global Citizens in 3rd period English class.

Shawna Tenney has illustrated many books, such as Allie’s Bike, Treasure Island, Oliver Twist, A Very Strange Place, and In the Sun.


She first wanted to be a ballerina, but finding out it wasn’t made for her, she discovered writing and illustrating.  She now lives in Utah with her husband, Warren, and two daughters, Cassidy and Madeline, and don’t forget Bongo the Cat!


We interviewed Shawna Tenney.  Here are our questions and her answers:

First of all, please tell us about your snowflake. Where did the idea for the frog fairy come from?

Well, sometimes I don’t really know where my ideas come from.  I was looking at my snowflake, and all I could see was a big beehive hairdo and wings.  A fat frog lady hopped in there randomly.

Why did you join the Robert’s Snow fundraiser?

I found out about it on a friend’s blog, and really wanted to participate, mostly because my mom is a breast cancer survivor.  I was very excited to participate in a fund raiser for cancer research in which I could use my talents.   I dedicated my snowflake to my mom and my good friend Amber, an 11 year old who has leukemia.

Why do you like being an illustrator?

Wow, what is there not to like.  I can stay at home with my kids while I work and make my own schedule (although at times this can be a challenge).  I get paid for doing something I love to do.

How much practice does it take to be an illustrator? 

Well, I have a bachelor’s degree, so I have had as much schooling as most other professionals.  I have always loved drawing and have been doing it since I was very little.  It takes many hours to complete a painting.  First I have to get the sketch just right with a composition I am happy with.  Then I have to transfer that sketch onto a board.  Sometimes I do a color study on the computer to decide what colors I am going to use.  Then the painting itself takes many many hours.

How many paintings have you done?  Do you have a favorite?

Oh goodness, I have done countless paintings.  I have big bins full of old paintings.  I kind of stick to one style now, but I’ve gone through many different styles and mediums.  I think one of my favorite paintings right now is “The Queen of Sheep-baa.” 

I really like making animal characters and want to do many more, maybe even someday a book with some fun animal characters.

Where do you get your inspirations for paintings? Do you ever get ideas from your family?

I am inspired by many great artists and illustrators.  As for my ideas, I get those from many things including things I used to imagine as a child, and things that are going on with my family.  Sometimes my imagination comes up with things out of nowhere.  A lot of the time I am doing jobs for a client and they tell me what to draw (which is certainly not as fun).  I really like fairy tales.  I like to modernize them and make them silly.  In fact, I’m working on a whole new website based on silly fairy tales.  Come back and visit my website in a couple months to see what I mean.  My little three year old, Cassidy, is really into fairy tales, so some of the things she enjoys inspire me.  Some of the things she says and does give me ideas for stories that I would like to write and illustrate.  My husband also helps me think of ideas.  He is a graphic designer, so he helps critique my work and helps me improve things.
Do you feel like you have a particular style of illustrating, and if so, how would you describe it?

I feel like I have my own children’s storybook style.  I guess if I were to describe it, I would say, clean, detailed,colorful and whimsical with interesting angles and compositions (at least that’s what I’m shooting for. . .).

Which do you prefer to draw – fantasy pictures or realistic ones?

Definitely fantasy.  I love making up my own worlds where anything can happen.
What medium do you usually paint in?

Acrylic Paints.  I do some black and white work with charcoal pencils and micron pens.

Have you ever thought about writing your own book? What would it be about?

Yes, I’ve actually written a few of my own, but have never gotten a story good enough to send out.  I think I would enjoy writing a picture book about a crazy fairy tale or about animal characters.

Now the rapid-fire questions…things that kids (and adults who think like them) need to know!

What is your favorite painter or painting of all time, and why?

How can I pick one?  Well, one of my favorites would be John William Waterhouse.  His skin tones are beautiful and I love his style and the way he applied his paint.  His subject matter was usually fairy-talesque.   There are countless other painters and illustrators I greatly admire.  A current artist I love is James Christensen.  If you saw his work, you would probably know why.

Favorite book ever?

Oh goodness, I can’t just choose one.  I of course love the Harry Potter series.  One book I read recently that I thoroughly enjoyed is The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.  As for illustrated children’s books, there are too many to count, but my favorite author/illustrators are Dr. Seuss and Chris Van Allsburg.

Your favorite kind of pie?

Banana Cream Pie.   Mmmmmmmmm!

Favorite sport?

Well, sorry folks, I’m not much of a sports fan.  I do enjoy watching some sports.  Actually, I’m more into dance, if you can count that as a sport.  I was actually thinking of being a ballet teacher in my earlier years before I decided to become an illustrator.

Your website gives your name as Shawna J.C. Tenney. What does the JC stand for?

Shawna Jean Calder Tenney
Favorite animal?

Sea Lions

Favorite color?

I don’t think it is legal for an illustrator to choose just one favorite color.

We read about your cat on your website. How come you chose Bongo as his name?

We found Bongo in my parent in law’s window well.  He was a sweet little orange kitten.  My husband chose Bongo as his name and  it stuck.

Has your cat Bongo ever helped with a painting?  Or ruined a painting?

Bongo posed for the cat talking on the phone on my website, although he was very embarrassed to have to dress up like a girl.  Sometimes Bongo tries to bite my feet while I’m painting.  Sometimes he tries to jump up on my lap or drink my painting water.  One time he stepped in my pallet and walked over my painting.  That wasn’t the worst I’ve had though.  Cassidy who is now three has painted on several of my paintings that I had to get to clients.  Fortunately acrylics are forgiving and I was able to fix them.  Madeline, my one year old, hasn’t ruined any paintings. . .yet.

 Thanks, Shawna, for taking the time to visit with us, and thanks for giving your time and talents for the Robert’s Snow project!

Thank you!  It was really fun.  What a fun project for your classes to do!  Hope you’re all having a great year

Please be sure to check out Shawna’s snowflake and all of the amazing work at the Robert’s Snow Auction Site.

And…to be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Allie’s Bike and a print signed by Shawna Tenney, please post a comment below, mentioning one of your favorite snowflakes in the Robert’s Snow fundraiser.  You don’t have to have a blog to win, but be sure we have a way to get in touch with you.  A winner will be drawn in early December, after the auction.

More with Linda Urban…

Some of you have already had the pleasure of meeting the author of A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT on

‘s blog this week.  If you haven’t seen her interview, it’s terrific.  If you did see Kelly’s post, you can consider this your second date with Linda!   I’m doing a presentation on my upcoming historical novel SPITFIRE at this weekend’s Burlington Book Festival, and Linda’s talk on CROOKED is right afterwards in the same room, so I wanted to invite her here for a visit first.

Whether they’re adults or kids, people who love reading and writing always want to hear the story of how their favorite books came to be.  What was the inspiration for A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT and how did it grow into the middle grade novel it is today?

It started as a picture book.  I was telling author/illustrator David Small about my childhood fantasy of playing classical music on a grand piano and how my dad got seduced by the rhythm switches of a mall organ.  David said, “I can just see the illustrations for that!”  A few weeks later I wrote a picture book, but the voice and pacing were all wrong for a picture book. It wasn’t until two years later that I gave it a try as a novel.  That’s when the story took off.

Many of my blog readers are teachers of writing, and they’re always looking for ways to help kids with revision.  Would you share with us a few of your favorite revision strategies?

Nothing beats reading your work aloud.  That’s when you hear all the word repetition and discover the rhythm of the piece.  For me, writing is about capturing a sound, a voice, a mood.  I can’t be sure I’ve done that until I actually hear the work.

On to the fun stuff now….

Why Neil Diamond?

Many people think I picked “Forever in Blue Jeans” for some sort of cheese factor, but really it is a very sweet, very earnest song that fit Zoe’s story perfectly.  She has to see past the cheese of it, past the disappointment that her competition piece is not the perfect classical composition she had imagined herself playing, and come to love this simple, honest melody.  The lyrics underscore that. 

We live in such an ironic age, enamored of kitsch and edge.  People are made to feel foolish for feeling things with their whole hearts.  If there is anything that I can do to let kids know that it is okay to express what honestly matters to them, I’m all for it.  Hence, a little Neil Diamond.  

The desserts described in A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT sound perfectly delicious.  Are you a great dessert chef, a great dessert eater, neither, or both?

I bake some.  Cookies and breads mostly.  I have a lot of admiration for people who make beautiful desserts.  When you and I spend hours on our writing, part of us is thinking that maybe we’ll find a few words that will live on beyond us, bound in a book, available forever and ever and ever.  A pastry chef can put her heart into a cake – hours of work – and then the whole thing gets swallowed up and that is that.  You really have to care a great deal about making art when you know it is only going to last thirty minutes.

And your favorite dessert is…?

Apple pie.  Yum.

What books — for kids or adults — have you read and loved lately?

I just finished Elijah of Buxton, the latest historical by Christopher Paul Curtis.  What a genius that man is.  He starts by letting us meet Elijah at his most silly and, as his Mama would say “fra-gile”, falling for an elaborate story about “hoop snakes”, playing a practical joke, and getting one played on him in return.  It is hysterically funny and perfect for grabbing the attention of young readers.  In a few short pages you can’t help but know and love Elijah.  And then, slowly, and without losing humor or character, we are introduced into the deep and lasting horrors of slavery that have shaped the lives of the townspeople of Buxton.  The effect is devastating. You’ve got to read this book.

What can folks expect if they come to see you at the Burlington Book Festival this weekend?

I plan to read a little from A Crooked Kind of Perfect and talk with kids and grown-ups about writing, perfection, and getting over the fears that stop us from doing those things that really matter to us. 

If anyone LJ friends are in the area (or up for a road trip!), I know that Linda and I would both love to meet you.  Here’s the scoop on our presentations:

Burlington Book Festival
Waterfront Theatre, Burlington, VT

11:00 AM-12:00 PM


Join Kate Messner for a trip back in time to the American Revolution on Lake Champlain. Kate will read from her middle grade historical novel Spitfire, set during the Battle of Valcour Island in 1776, sign books and present an interactive multimedia slide show about the real 12-year-old who fought in the battle. Kids will be invited to taste the food and try on the clothes of an 18th century sailor, handle artifact replicas and design their own powder horns to take home.

Waterfront Theatre Black Box, 3rd Floor

12:30-1:30 PM


Linda will debut her new book for young readers (ages 8-12), A Crooked Kind of Perfect. Listen to excerpts and find out what it’s like to write and publish a novel for kids.

Waterfront Theatre Black Box, 3rd Floor

September is SPITFIRE Month!

I just got the final word from my editor that SPITFIRE will be available by the end of September!  To celebrate the release and the work of all of us who write for young people, I’m hosting a contest and spitfire-of-the-day feature on my blog…

spitfire: (n)  A fiery-tempered, passionate person

My middle grade historical novel is called SPITFIRE for two reasons.

1) On the bottom of Lake Champlain today rests the last remaining gunboat of Benedict Arnold’s Revolutionary War fleet.  It sank while American vessels were fleeing from the British during the Battle of Valcour Island in October of 1776.  Spitfire is the name of that boat and the setting for much of my novel.

2) My main character, Abigail Smith, is a 12-year-old girl who steals a leaky rowboat and runs away to join the American fleet on Lake Champlain.  She is brave, passionate, and more than a little impulsive – a spitfire if ever there was one.

On to the contest…

Are you a SPITFIRE?

The more writers I meet, the more convinced I am that you have to be a real spitfire to survive this career choice.  With that in mind, write a very short  (300 words or less) essay on what makes you a spitfire in your writing life or in some other way that’s entertaining to read about.  

OR… (I’m adding this at the request of modest writers who can’t possibly write about themselves that way)  write about your favorite spitfire character in a book — yours or someone else’s. 

 I’ll feature some of the essays on my blog in the days leading up to SPITFIRE’s release, along with an author photo and/or a picture of your latest book if you’re published.

Send entries with the subject line “SPITFIRE CONTEST” to kmessner at katemessner dot com (no spaces).  Please include:

-Your name
-A link to your website or blog if you have one
-Your essay pasted into the email, with permission to post on my blog
-A jpeg photo of you and/or your latest book attached if you’d like me to post it on my blog with your Spitfire Writer essay to promote your book

The deadline is September 25. Everyone who sends an essay will be entered in a drawing…and if you let people know about the contest on your website or blog and post a link to this page, I’ll enter you in the drawing twice.  Just drop me a comment letting me know you’ve done so.
A winner will be drawn at random from all entries, and that person will receive a signed copy of SPITFIRE, along with a box of Lake Champlain Chocolates.  Because everyone needs chocolate.  Being a spitfire is hard work.