It Starts With Wonder | Guest blog post from Kate Messner

It Starts With Wonder

by Kate Messner 

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This series started on a school field trip. I taught seventh grade English for fifteen years, as part of a wonderful interdisciplinary team. Every winter, we used to take our students on a snowshoe field trip in the nearby Adirondack Mountains to look for animal tracks and other signs of life in the winter woods. On one of those field trips, we saw this.

Hole in snow
Photograph by Loree Griffin Burns

It was just a little hole in the snow, with some tiny tracks leading up to it. The naturalist guiding us could have walked right on past. But instead, she stopped our group and said, “Oh! Everyone gather around and look at this!” When we were all circled around, she pointed down and said breathlessly, “Do you know what this means?” She paused. Then she whispered. “This means that we’ve had a visitor from…the subnivean zone!”

We stood in hushed silence for a moment until someone said, “What’s that?” And our guide explained that the subnivean zone is the fancy phrase used to describe the secret network of tunnels and tiny caves that exist under the winter snow. All the smallest forest animals knew about it, she told us, and they’d go down there to be a little warmer, a little safer from predators. And then we continued on down the path.

But the rest of the day, as I padded through the woods on my snowshoes, I couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d said. We’d been hiking for three or four miles…and all that time, there’d been a secret invisible world going on down there, under the snow? I asked a lot more questions. We talked more about the different animals who make their winter homes under the snow and the creatures who find their way through the woods above. And when I got back to the school bus, after I took attendance and made sure we hadn’t left any seventh graders out in the woods, I started writing. I didn’t even have a notebook with me that day – my first draft of Over and Under the Snow was written on the back of the attendance list for the field trip, in bumpy, school-bus handwriting. But it couldn’t wait, because I was fuelled by wonder that afternoon.

That’s what we do as writers of children’s books – we wonder. We stop everyone in their tracks. We slow down the day for a few minutes to say, “Look at this! Look more closely… Isn’t it amazing?” And that’s how I know when I have a story idea with the staying power to grow into a picture book. If I’m feeling that sense of awe at how things work, how things are, how amazing this part of our natural world is, then kids are likely to feel that way, too.

After Over and Under the Snow was published and doing well in the world, Chronicle asked illustrator Christopher Silas Neal and I if there might be another hidden world we’d like to explore. We emailed back and forth a bit, talking about the things that made us wonder. And we discovered that we both loved our vegetable gardens. Not just the weeding and tomato-eating part of gardening…but the wondering part. We’re both parents who love getting down on our bellies to look more closely at the critters that inhabit our gardens, and that was the wonder that sparked our second book together, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt.

Our third book together, Over and Under the Pond, starts in that same place – with a familiar setting and a desire to slow down for a closer look. When I was getting ready to work on this book, I went back to the setting of Over and Under the Snow – the trails of the Paul Smiths Visitors Interpretive Center in the Adirondacks – but in a different season. The pond that had been covered with ice and snow in January felt like an entirely different place in July — a green, lush, buzzing ecosystem, just waiting to be explored. So I scheduled one of the centre’s guided canoe trips and spent a day paddling through the reeds. We marvelled at the tiny water striders skating on the pond’s surface, stared up at woodpecker scars on a tall tree by the water, and gasped as an American Bittern fluttered up from the grass.

Over the pond
Photograph by Loree Griffin Burns

There were families along on the trip, and I watched them, too. With their phones turned off and tucked away in waterproof bags, they paddled through the quiet together, whispering about the minnows and wondering what might live in that hollow log on shore. Slowing down in places like this feeds us in important ways. As a writer, I walked away from my canoe at the end of the day full of ideas, full of images and poetry and fresh air. I was ready to hit the library, finish my research, and get to work on Over and Under the Pond. But maybe even more important than that, spending time in the quiet of a cold snowy trail or a warm mountain pond reminds us to slow down. To look. Listen. And wonder. That’s my biggest hope for these books – that they’ll bring families together on the couch for a cozy story and then outdoors to wonder, too.


Over and Under the Pond is out now, order your copy today.

#FiveYearsOfBooks | Top Five Books for 8-12 Year Olds

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Celebrating five years of reading with our Top 5 Middle Grade books! Share your favourite with #FiveYearsOfBooks.
The Strange Case of Origami Yoga
Tom Angleberger Amulet Books

This gem of a book is one of the best introductions to a series we have ever read. In The Strange Case of Origami Yoda we meet Dwight and his uncannily intelligent finger puppet, Origami Yoda. We can’t recommend Tom Angleberger’s unique and funny series highly enough.

In this funny, uncannily wise portrait of the dynamics of a sixth-grade class and of the greatness that sometimes comes in unlikely packages, Dwight, a loser, talks to his classmates via an origami finger puppet of Yoda. If that weren’t strange enough, the puppet is uncannily wise and prescient. Origami Yoda predicts the date of a pop quiz, guesses who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and saves a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, he assembles the case file that forms this novel.

NERDS
Book One: National Espionage, Rescue and Defense Society
Michael Buckley, illustrated by Ethen Beavers
Amulet Books

Espionage, superheros, evil villains and a group of misfits…Michael Buckley’s middle grade series N.E.R.D.S, a veteran of our Children’s list, is a favourite in the A&CB office and beyond.

In the first book in the projected five-book series, five unpopular students run a spy network from inside their elementary school. Each of the kids is a complete social misfit with his or her own unique nerdy burden to bear. With the help of cutting-edge science, the kids’ afflictions are enhanced and become incredible abilities. Working as a team, they are the latest members of the National Espionage, Rescue and Defense Society, or N.E.R.D.S., which battles an array of James Bond-style villains each with an evil plan more diabolical than the last. Dr. Jigsaw, the villain in Book One, wants to use a giant tractor beam to pull all the continents back together. What’s a few million lives versus a completed puzzle?

The Popularity Papers Book One
Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang
Amy Ignatow
Amulet Books

The unique style of The Popularity Papers has made it a hit with young readers everywhere. Julie and Lydia deserve have a special place in our hearts and on our Top 5 Middle Grade Reads list.

This scrapbook-style novel charts the friendship of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang as they embark on a quest to study the behaviours and tastes of the ‘popular’ girls so they can join their ranks in Secondary school. They scheme together to invent their first crushes, go to great lengths to obtain a mobile phone, and save each other from major embarrassment. When Lydia starts to become friends with the “popular” girls she’s forced to choose between them and Julie. The Popularity Papers figures in the centre of an epic Secondary school power struggle. Their story is genuinely funny and good-hearted with a wealth of funny details. As they write their own story, their friendship evolves in touching and relatable ways.

The Sisters Grimm Book One
Book One: The Fairy Tale Detectives
Michael Buckley, illustrated by Peter Ferguson
Amulet Books

Our Top 5 Middle Grade Reads wouldn’t be complete without Michael Buckley’s Sisters Grimm series. This unique take on classic fairy tales has us returning to Sabrina & Daphne’s story again and again.

Orphaned sisters Sabrina and Daphne are sent to live with their mysterious grandmother, Relda Grimm, who lives in a town in rural New York State that experiences an extraordinary number of unexplained and unusual crimes. As it turns out, the two girls are the descendants of the Brothers Grimm, whose famous book of fairy tales is actually a history book. Snow White, the Three Little Pigs and countless other fairy-tale folk are all neighbours of Granny Grimm in a secret community of Everafters. It’s the Grimm family’s legacy to keep the Everafters in line and Sabrina and Daphne are the family’s newest detectives. In this first book in the series, the girls are pitted against a giant who has been rampaging through town. But who set the giant loose in the first place? Was it Mayor Charming, formerly Prince Charming, who has plans to get his kingdom back? The Three Not-So-Little Pigs? Or a giant-killer named Jack, currently working at a Big & Tall store?

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor
Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Brian Biggs
Amulet Books

Last but my no means least, out final pick in our Top 5 Middle Grade reads is the one and only FRANK EINSTEIN!

“I never thought I could read about the Hadron Collider and smile so all credit to Jon Scieszka for writing an accessible story about science…and I can’t wait for the second instalment of Frank’s adventures.” We Love This Book

Frank Einstein loves to tinker, build and take things apart. He loves to observe, hypothesise, experiment and invent. Frank Einstein is a kid genius who loves figuring out how the world works by creating household contraptions that are part science, part imagination and definitely unusual. After an uneventful experiment with a garage-lab artificially intelligent RoboBug, a lightning storm and a flash of electricity, Frank’s inventions—the robots Klink and Klank—suddenly come to life. Not exactly the ideal lab partners, the wise-cracking Klink and the overly expressive Klank are a help nonetheless as Frank attempts to perfect his Dark Energy Drive . . . that is until Frank’s arch nemesis, T. Edison, steals Klink and Klank for his evil doomsday plan! With the help of his friends, Frank sets out to rescue the robots and stop T. Edison from carrying out his twisted plans! Using real science and drawing inspiration from the classic pulp stories of Tom Swift, Jon Scieszka has created a unique world of adventure and science fiction.

Merry Christmas from Abrams and Chronicle Books

We hope your day is filled with festive fun and charm.

We wanted to share our own festive cheer with a glance at the 1914 Christmas Truce, that started on Christmas Eve 100 years ago, through John Hendrix’s book Shooting At The Stars.

9781419711756

Shooting at the Stars is the moving story of a young British soldier on the front lines during World War I in 1914, writing a letter home to his mother describing his unforgettable Christmas Eve.

Pages-from-ShootingattheStars_INT

Despite fierce fighting from both sides, both German and Allied soldiers ceased firing and came together on the battle field to celebrate the holiday. They sang Christmas carols, exchanged gifts and played football. But as the sun began to rise, they returned to their separate trenches and waited for the battle to begin again.

Pages-from-ShootingattheStars_INT-2

Interweaving beautiful illustrations with hand-lettered text, author and illustrator John Hendrix tells a story that celebrates the humanity and kindness that can persist even during the darkest periods of our history.

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Very Merry Christmas one and all.

Merry Christmas from Abrams and Chronicle Books

We hope your day is filled with festive fun and charm.

We wanted to share our own festive cheer with a glance at the 1914 Christmas Truce, that started on Christmas Eve 100 years ago, through John Hendrix’s book Shooting At The Stars.

9781419711756

Shooting at the Stars is the moving story of a young British soldier on the front lines during World War I in 1914, writing a letter home to his mother describing his unforgettable Christmas Eve.

Pages-from-ShootingattheStars_INT

Despite fierce fighting from both sides, both German and Allied soldiers ceased firing and came together on the battle field to celebrate the holiday. They sang Christmas carols, exchanged gifts and played football. But as the sun began to rise, they returned to their separate trenches and waited for the battle to begin again.

Pages-from-ShootingattheStars_INT-2

Interweaving beautiful illustrations with hand-lettered text, author and illustrator John Hendrix tells a story that celebrates the humanity and kindness that can persist even during the darkest periods of our history.

Pages-from-ShootingattheStars_INT-3

Very Merry Christmas one and all.