Children's author Kate Messner, left, signs a book and has said that children have sometimes given her ideas for her books. Diego Cagara / Spotlight News
BETHLEHEM — Visiting award-winning children’s author Kate Messner asked an auditorium of Hamagrael Elementary School students on Wednesday, May 22 what they think is one thing that she always brings with her every day. Numerous raised eyebrows and some gasps exuded from the young audience as they briefly pondered the answer.
“Well, I would not be an author standing in front of you all now if it weren’t for my writer’s notebook. I don’t go anywhere without my writer’s notebook and that’s because you never know when you’re going to have an idea for a story,” she said, adding that she even brings it when she is driving off for a trip, taking a flight overseas, or sleeping at a hotel. “So, anytime I see something that is interesting or beautiful or funny or curious or weird, it goes into my notebook and it could turn into a book idea.”
Messner’s appearance at Hamagrael Elementary was the last of her author visits for the 2018-2019 school year throughout American schools and literacy festivals. “It’s one of the greatest things I love to do as a children’s author so that I have a chance to meet the readers for whom I write,” she said. “Kids also have great ideas for possible books I may write and we talk about the writing and illustrations they do too. It’s great to talk books with kids.”
Previously a broadcast news reporter and a middle-school English teacher, Messner, who lives up by Lake Champlain, became a full-time author and has written many multiple picture books, novels and chapter book series.
At Hamagrael, she mainly discussed her craft, as well as her “Ranger in Time” series (2015 – present) which chronicle the adventures of a time-traveling search and rescue dog; and “Breakout” (2018), inspired by how upstate New York communities feared when two inmates/murderers escaped the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora in June 2015 in real life.
Regarding “Ranger in Time,” she told the auditorium that she had to first do much research into time travel and world history to form the groundwork for each book. Dropping the vocabulary phrase “primary source” on the students, she said she physically traveled to access libraries, diary entries, journals, newspaper articles, photographs, and interview actual people, if applicable, as part of her research.
She explained her research process in that she would begin at a library before going online and then taking trips to places or countries to continue gathering information. For instance, in order to learn more about search and rescue dogs, she read training manuals and was even invited to a training session at Champlain Valley Canine Rescue where she could observe and help out.
Her “Ranger in Time” historical fiction series sees Ranger, a golden retriever which is the protagonist, time traveling to various time periods, witnessing historical events and visiting diverse locations around the world. These include Antarctica; the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; D-Day in Normandy, France in June 1944 during World War II; and the Titanic sinking in April 1912.
To gather research, Messner said she has traveled around the world to access documents and interview people familiar with the subject, having flown as far as Iceland for her Antarctica research, for example.
She revealed that her upcoming 10th and 11th “Ranger in Time” books would touch on the American Revolutionary War in New York and New Jersey, and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks respectively. The former is planned for a July release and the latter would be in January 2020. The auditorium echoed with audible gasps while she was speaking midway about Book 11 though, which surprised her.
“Ever since this series started four years ago, kids have been asking me to write about 9/11 because I think that’s something young people are very curious about,” Messner said. “I hadn’t thought about writing about it because this happened during my lifetime. To me, this is not historical fiction, this is something I remember really well because I was a young mom and my daughter was just a few weeks old when this happened.” She also noted that the students before her were not born when 9/11 happened “but I do have to thank kids for the idea to write that book.”
As a writer, she said that it is important to keep receiving inspiration from local and world topics, be open to one’s editor’s suggestions to improve one’s writing, take time to make writing revisions, not be afraid to start all over if needed, and continue bringing a writer’s notebook everywhere to jot observations or ideas down.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t know that being an author is a job they would give you. I think it’s really important to tell [students] what the writing process could be like and that people who make books are people who just love stories and sharing them,” she said. “As a writer, I follow my curiosity and that takes me to places which can help create more ideas.”
She concluded her visit by revealing that she had recently submitted the draft for her 12th “Ranger in Time” book which would focus on the Pearl Harbor attack during World War II. According to her website, she is scheduled to appear at more literacy conferences and several schools nationwide for the rest of the year, and speak at two international schools in Shanghai and Phnom Penh in 2020. For more information, www.katemessner.com.