Thankful Thursday: Boatloads of Bookish News!

Lots for me to be thankful for today…as both a writer and a reader. First the writer…

MARTY MCGUIRE comes out in just over two weeks, and that means reviews are starting to come in (eeek!). Happily, they’ve been of the delightful sort so far!

Messner gets all the details of third grade right: the social chasm between the girls who want to be like the older kids and the ones who are still little girls, the Mad Minutes for memorizing arithmetic facts, the silly classroom-control devices teachers use and the energy students of this age put into projects like class plays. Floca’s black-and-white sketches are filled with movement and emotion and are frequent enough to help new chapter-book readers keep up with this longer text. Believable and endearing characters in a realistic elementary-school setting will be just the thing for fans of Clementine and Ramona.

~from the Kirkus Review. Read the full review here.

And Scholastic Audio just sent me a great review of Cassandra Morris’s work on the audio book version of Marty!

Morris is terrific at portraying the characters — snooty girls, chummy boys, and patient adults — and her depiction of Marty’s transformation is especially elegant. Morris has the nuances and personalities of kids down pat as she shares subtle lessons about friendship and self-discovery with humor and grace.

~from the AudioFile Review

I love the way the narration turned out (I had listened to some audition audio files and was so happy when they got Cassandra for the job!) Scholastic Audio also gave me the go-ahead to share a sample of the audio book! Just click here to listen to the first eight minutes or so…

On to Kate-the-Reader now…and I’m thankful for two AMAZING books I read this week:

As much as I loved PENNY DREADFUL, I think this is my favorite Laurel Snyder book yet. Heartbreaking, hopeful, and full of magic, it’s the story of a girl whose life changes when the lights go out and her parents have one last argument before her mother loads the kids into the car and drives out of the state. When they land at her grandmother’s house in Georgia, Rebecca has to deal not only with her parents’ separation but also the angst of a sudden move, switching schools, and then…a magical breadbox that backfires? My heart ached for Rebecca, trying to navigate the stormy waters of a newly broken family while taking care of her little brother and dealing with questions of her own about who she wants to be at her new school. BIGGER THAN A BREADBOX is hard to explain – yes, it’s about a magic breadbox and divorce and seagulls and Bruce Springsteen and friends – but it’s one of those books that is somehow greater than the sum of its parts. Middle grade readers – especially those who have been through a parental separation – are going to read this one, love it, and hold it close for a good long time. (Due out this fall from Random House)

This book is totally different from BREADBOX and I loved it just as much, in a totally different way.

First a confession, though: I wasn’t much of a non-fiction reader growing up. I loved being swept up in stories. I loved the mystery, the drama, the tension of a great novel, whether it took place in a fantasy world or a town that felt just like mine. And when I thought about non-fiction, I generally thought of things like my junior high school social studies book, which was….fine, I guess…and even occasionally interesting, but certainly not something I’d read for fun.

But lately, I’ve turned into something of a non-fiction fanatic. The reason? Narrative non-fiction gems like those in the Scientists in the Field series. My love of this series started with Loree Griffin Burns’s TRACKING TRASH and THE HIVE DETECTIVES, and most recently, I devoured KAKAPO RESCUE: SAVING THE WORLD’S STRANGEST PARROT in a single breathless sitting.

This is the story of a small group of scientists, rangers, and volunteers on a life-or-death mission to save a species from extinction. When the book starts, there are fewer than ninety endangered Kakapos alive on a tiny, rugged island off mainland New Zealand. Fewer than ninety! And that means every bird, every egg, and every chick is beyond precious. Reading about the steps these scientists and volunteers take to keep them alive – and bring new birds into the world safely – is as thrilling and compelling as any novel I’ve ever read. Truly, this book has everything, joy and triumph and tragedy – even a funny, stalking, lovesick male parrot with an identity crisis. Highly recommended. (Available now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

So…your turn now.  Spring Break is next week, and I could use some book recommendations.  What are you thankful to have read recently??

Meet Cassandra Morris, the Voice of Marty McGuire!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that MARTY MCGUIRE is the first in my new chapter book series with Scholastic, launching this spring.

Marty’s a third grade girl who would rather catch frogs and crayfish in the pond than play dress up, so she’s mortified when her teacher casts her as the princess in the school play. After a special lesson in improvisation, Marty finds a way to make the part all her own and discovers that perhaps a princess in muddy sneakers can live happily ever after, after all.

This has been an incredibly fun project for me to work on for a number of reasons.  It’s my first series (yay!) and it’s illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Brian Floca (yay again!).  It’s also my first project to be produced as an audiobook.  A while back, Scholastic sent me audio files of some auditions for the voice talent, and we all agreed that voice actress Cassandra Morris was perfect to narrate as Marty.  She’s a veteran of the audiobook world and has worked on projects such as Gossip Girls, Pretty Little Liars, Nancy Drew, and The Magic School Bus.

The producer has promised me an audio file to share soon, but for now, he’s sent along some photos of the MARTY MCGUIRE audiobook recording in progress!

Cassandra, getting ready to read

MARTY MCGUIRE is due out May 1st, a simultaneous hardcover/paperback/audiobook launch.  I’ll be doing a Skype tour with elementary school classrooms in May as well as speaking and signing at the International Reading Association Convention in Orlando on May 10th. And I just got word that Marty and I will also be at the Hudson Children’s Book Festival on May 7th.  Hope to see some of you this spring!

MARTY MCGUIRE’S Illustrator (and a giveaway!)

Last spring, I was in line at my local coffee shop when my cell phone rang.  It was Anamika, the editor of my MARTY MCGUIRE chapter book series with Scholastic, and when I answered, she had three words for me.

"He said yes!"

I screamed.  And the whole coffee shop turned. One lady startled and spilled her tea. I apologized profusely, finished talking with Anamika, picked up my latte, and proceeded to my local SCBWI group meeting feeling as if I’d just swallowed fifteen canaries because I couldn’t tell anybody the news about the project’s illustrator just yet.

But now I can.  You probably already know him…

It’s Brian Floca, the author/illustrator of Sibert Honor books MOONSHOT and LIGHTSHIP and the illustrator of this year’s incredible BALLET FOR MARTHA: MAKING APPALACHIAN SPRING, which I just bought last week at Flying Pig Books, and it’s absolutely stunning.  I was a fan of Brian’s work long before his name rose to the top of our Marty illustrator wish-list, so I am just over-the-moon to share this news.

At one point while I was waiting for news, Editor Anamika emailed me: "He’s reading the manuscript this weekend!"  I cheered. Then I spent the entire weekend asking my husband, "What page do you think Brian is on now? How about now? Do you think he likes it?"

I am so very glad that he did. MARTY MCGUIRE, the first book in the series, comes out in May 2011.

I took my daughter to Brian’s ALA conference signing back in June, introduced myself,and snapped the photo you see up there.  I also bought a copy of MOONSHOT for Brian to sign as a giveaway on my blog for the day I was able to share the good news about Marty.

We’ll have a drawing next weekend, okay? To enter, just leave a comment by midnight Friday night. If you are under 13, please have an adult enter for you. On Saturday (10/9) I’ll draw a name – so be sure I have a way to get in touch with you if you’re not on LJ.

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My seven-year-old daughter had been waiting and waiting and WAITING to read the draft of my second MARTY MCGUIRE chapter book, so a few weeks ago, I printed it out for her.  She settled in next to the fireplace with the big folder of papers, and I started making dinner. Pretty soon, she appeared in the kitchen.

"Do you have a pen I can use?"

"For what?" I asked her.

"I just want to make some notes on here for you, okay?"

I gave her the pen…and the next day got back a manuscript that looked like this.

And the best part?   When I asked her what the E was for, she said, "You know, so you know those corrections are from me and not the person at Scholastic."  

I don’t save all the printed drafts of my books. But this is one I’ll be holding onto for a long, long time.

Now it feels real

I left home just after 4:30 yesterday morning to catch a train into Manhattan on one of the muggiest, steamiest days of the year. 

Whatever would possess me to leave the lake on such a day?

I had a noon lunch date and editorial meeting with my editor for Marty McGuire, Frog Princess.  I was an hour early because I fully expected to get lost  and end up wandering around Brooklyn when I changed trains on the subway.  I didn’t, though, which left me some time to explore the neighborhood and the Scholastic Store.  I’m sure the sales people thought I was a little crazy because I couldn’t stop smiling, looking at so many of my favorite books and imagining Marty among them in 2010.

I recognized my new editor as soon as she came into the lobby (Google Image Search is a many splendored thing).  She is as marvelous in person as I knew she’d be, and she has great ideas for how to make Marty a stronger, funnier story.  We agreed on all the most important issues — character development, plot elements, and dessert.

They called this gooey wonder S’mores.  It was a graham cracker with a brownie on top and a torched marshmallow on top of that.  That’s homemade chocolate malt ice cream on the side.  I traveled home high on sugar and book talk and arrived back on Lake Champlain well after midnight a very tired but very happy writer.

I can finally share the news!

Last month, I posted some photos after a family trip to Washington, DC.  But there was one I couldn’t share at the time.  

Okay, I guess I could have shared it with a caption that said “Here I am outside the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian.” 

But that would have led to comments like “Who’s on the phone?” and “Why do you look so awestruck and goofy?” 

And I would have had to give one of those cagey, secretive, I’m-not-allowed-to-tell-you-yet answers that frustrate blog readers so much.  So I kept quiet, mostly.  But agent-goddess literaticat says I can spill the beans now.  It was her on the phone, telling me about the news that hit Publishers Marketplace today.

June 21, 2008
Middle grade 
Kate Messner’s MARTY MCGUIRE, FROG PRINCESS, an illustrated chapter book about a second-grade tomboy who would much rather be a scientist than a floofy pink ballerina; she is cast as the reluctant lead princess in the class play, with wildly unexpected and comic results, to Kara LaReau at Scholastic, in a two-book deal, for publication in Summer 2010, by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

By the way, a bunch of my LiveJournal friends share the credit for this sale – I revised MARTY this past winter, under the encouragement of jbknowles‘ January Revision Club.  Thanks, Jo and friends, for the community cheers along the way.

As for my photo…if there were a caption, it would simply say “EEEEEEEE!!!!!!” 

After Jenn shared the news, I closed my phone.  Then I skipped the entire length of the National Mall.  I don’t think my feet have touched the ground since.

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