Beyond the Usual Author Event: Kate Messner

Elizabeth Bluemle -- October 17th, 2011

Kate Messner is an author’s author. She cares about craft, she reads voraciously, she’s generous with resources and information and encouragement toward her peers, both published and not yet published.

Kate is also a booksellers’ author. She puts her money where her mouth is, supporting the bookstores who support her books by shopping there and recommending those stores to her friends and family.

And most importantly, Kate is a readers’ author. She’s a marvelous and versatile storyteller, has an unerring sense of what will appeal to her child readers, and loves language without being precious or self-conscious about it.

Kate was planning to come to the Flying Pig to celebrate her new picture book, Over and Under the Snow,  just out from Chronicle. I looove this book. It does for kids what Bernd Heinrich’s Winter World does for adults: provides a window into the fascinating way animals survive the snowy months. Here, a father and child cross-country ski through the woods, noticing evidence of the critters near them. (Pair this with Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr’s gorgeous Owl Moon; customers will be unable to resist them.)

Over and Under the Snow is a soft and lovely book, with lyrical language and beautiful earth-tone-palette paintings by Christopher Silas Neal. There’s something delightful about the physical book itself: it’s  a little bit surprisingly tall—suiting the ‘over/under’ subject matter—with a delicious matte cover that feels good in the hands. And the text is so satisfying, both simple and poetic. Plain in the best sense. “Over the snow, a deer has crossed our path. Deep hoof prints punch through the crust, up the hill, under a tree. An oval of melted snow tells the story of a good night’s sleep.” Each word is well chosen and just right. After the story is a helpful and appealing Author’s Note, which gives more detailed information about how each animal mentioned survives the winter, along with suggested further reading for kids, parents and teachers.

When we started discussing Kate’s upcoming author visit to the Flying Pig, she had a wonderful idea. “What if,” she suggested, “after the kids’ storytime and puppet show, I did a free picture-book writing workshop for adults and mature kids?” She then expanded the idea. “You know, you could have a whole series of these free workshops, if other authors are willing to do them.”

It was a brilliant brainstorm, especially as a way to draw people to events with authors who aren’t yet household names, but are fantastic presenters with a lot to offer. Fellow author (and former events guru for Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena) Linda Urban was having coffee with us during this discussion, and she added some terrific thoughts and suggestions. Thanks to Kate and Linda and some really good iced lattes, the Flying Pig “Words With Wings” writing workshop series was born. The basic format was to be this: a half-hour author event for the kids, followed by (and this is flexible) a two-hour workshop for adults.

So I made a flyer, and Kate shared it with her mailing list, and we shared it in the store and sent it out with our email blasts, and lo and behold, more than a dozen people signed up for the post-author-event workshop — on a Saturday afternoon during peak leaf season time on Columbus Day weekend. That was more than a dozen people who weren’t already attending the storytime portion of the author visit.

Kate also suggested some wonderful wording for the flyer: “Note: Our WORDS WITH WINGS: WRITING BOOKS FOR (AND WITH) KIDS series of workshops will be offered at no charge. Similar workshops are often priced at $100 or more per person, so if you can, we’d ask that you support our authors and illustrators and the bookstore by purchasing one or more signed books to keep for yourself, give as gifts, or donate to a classroom or library. Your support will allow us to continue this free workshop series in the future.” Thoughtful, true, and a useful message to share with the appreciative attendees.

The event itself was fantastic. The kids loved the puppet show and Kate’s books (she also read her cute Sea Monster’s First Day to them). And the writing workshop? It was a perfect introduction to the art of writing picture books, packed with helpful information and great ideas. The attendees left inspired and grateful to both Kate and the store. “When’s the next workshop?” someone asked eagerly on the way out. “I can’t wait!”

For bricks-and-mortar stores looking to communicate the value of what we offer to our communities, it’s wonderful to have author allies like Kate.

12 thoughts on “Beyond the Usual Author Event: Kate Messner

  1. Dianna Winget

    This is such a great idea, Kate, I just may steal it. My debut middle grade, A Smidgen of Sky, will be out next fall from Harcourt and I’ve been having fun brainstorming future events such as the one you describe. By the way I really enjoyed The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. In fact, it was recommended to me by an editor as I was working through the first revision of my book.
    Thanks again.

  2. puddlelib

    Thank you for hosting this. Kate was informative, inspiring, and left us with great advice. This book is beautiful and poetic. Her new book on revision is also good for all writers.

  3. Mark Shulman

    I couldn’t agree more. Kate Messner is an author’s author. Actually, she’s everyone’s idea of a great author — publisher, bookseller, parent, child. In not too many years, Kate has burst out of the gate with fantastic book after fantastic book. She’s not limited in genre, or style. And I can attest to her generosity with others in the field. Thank you for a wonderful post to spread the word.

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