Posts Tagged ‘Kate Messner’

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

Every summer I look forward to Kate Messner’s Teachers Write virtual writing camp. The first week is this week. Kate invites us to go outside and reflect on a time when we felt fully whole. I went outside and ended up weeding a flower bed. It wasn’t too hot, and for a minute, it wasn’t raining. I had a “clunker” line from Linda Mitchell to work with. “August was long of light.” There was a time when we didn’t start school in August, and it felt like summer would go on and on.

Mississippi Heat Wave

August was long of light
in a Mississippi heat wave that summer of ‘72.
On the path to Purple Creek,
my flip-flops kept the stickers away
and mosquitos preferred Missy’s freckle-juice.
Covered in Off and Coppertone, we’d hold hands
to cross the waterfall, tip-toe trickle over a concrete slab.
On the other side was an endless pine forest. We’d walk
the path of dirt bikes, side-stepping ruts in the muddy red clay.
Avoiding under-the-bridge where the smoking kids hung out,
we’d wander to the stables, pick out a favorite horse, pretend they were ours.
Endless summer days
stretched out like a Gulf Coast beach
burned our tender noses,
streaked our blonde hair,
became a backdrop to childhood memories.

Margaret Simon, draft
Pine forest in Mississippi, photo by Margaret Simon

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I have followed Kate Messner for years and have many of her wonderful books for middle grade readers. Kate is a real person, as well as an author-hero, who lives on Lake Champlain. Too cold for my southern blood, but she posted photos on her Instagram recently of ice flowers. Kate wrote a blog post about this phenomenon on her website here.

Natural beauty that comes with scientific facts fascinates and inspires me. I tend to dive into googling and wonder. Here is an interesting article from American Scientist. There seems to be controversy or conversation, rather, about what to call this amazing phenomenon. Frost flowers, frost weed, or frost plant, these winter blooms are sure to inspire some small poems.

Lake Champlain Sunrise, Photo by Kate Messner
Ice flowers by Kate Messner

(I tried a zeno poem today with the syllable pattern of 8,4,2,1,4,2,1,4,2,1 with all one syllables rhyming.)

Displayed on a black lake blanket
diamond blossoms
beauty hidden
golden morning

Margaret Simon, draft

Leave a small poem in the comments. Be sure to connect with other writers by leaving comments on their poems.

Kate celebrated World Read Aloud Day today with a video of amazing authors reading from their books. Click here to find the video on her website.

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts


When I think of crafting in digital literacy, I think of those literary elements that make writing sing as well as design elements that give a project more meaning and audience appeal.  This week we worked on both aspects.

I read aloud two of Kate Messner’s picture books, Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt.  Both of these books lead students on a journey of discovery about plants and animals.  We learned about the subnivean layer in the snow and which animals hibernate and which ones remain active in tunnels below.



Following the reading, we read the facts about the animals in the back of the book. We also looked back at Kate’s craft moves. On a few pages the words are spread out and down the page to show action in the words themselves. She also used alliteration and imagery and figurative language. The craft moves of a real author are ours to take and play with.

My students turned to old favorite PowerPoint, while a few tried out Emaze. Madison found an Emaze background with an ocean, the ecosystem she had chosen to write about. Jacob and Noah used the drawing tools in PowerPoint to illustrate their pages. I showed them how to group the pieces together and move them with animation. So cool to watch a fish that you made out of the shape tool actually move in the water.

Emaze has a variety of backgrounds for different ecosystems.

Emaze has a variety of backgrounds for different ecosystems.

Lynzee chose the bayou for her ecosystem to study. She didn’t know about the nutria, so we talked about them and looked up information. When I turned back to see what she had written, I was pleased to see such clever craft moves.



Nutrias scrabble, skitter, scratch away the dirt as they search for the root of a forgotten summer plant to feast on when they are rare.

Andrew's slide features the wildebeests of the African savanna with a connection to the ancient boabab trees.

Andrew’s slide features the wildebeests of the African savanna with a connection to the ancient boabab trees.

Andrew decided to research the African savanna. As he was researching, he found out about the plight of elephants from poaching. He decided he wanted to do something about it. This week he will present his findings to his classmates and try to raise funds to adopt an orphaned elephant. I suggested we make a poster out of the baby elephant picture I took this summer in Africa. He loved the idea. He will sell the poster at a profit. (Much discussion about how profit works.)


As a teacher of language arts, I feel drawn to the craft moves authors make. They become mentor texts for my students, but then my students amaze me with their own use of craft. They become authors (and difference makers) themselves in this digital world.

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My favorite writing teacher, Tara is rounding up today at A Teaching Life.

My favorite writing teacher, Tara is rounding up today at A Teaching Life.

Last Saturday I celebrated that my Teachers Write reflection was published in Kate Messner’s new book for writers, 59 Reasons to Write. On Tuesday, I showed the book with my name in the index to my students. Matthew exclaimed, “Mrs. Simon, you are in the index of a book that is written about your passion! I can only dream about being in the index of a book about magic.”

After I glowed in their attention and admiration, we thumbed through to find an activity to do. We tried Kate’s Three-Column Brainstorming activity. I was amazed that all of us, myself included, got good ideas for new fiction stories.

So here it is the eve of Poetry Friday, and I need an idea to write about. Kate to the rescue once again. She suggests using a poem she wrote, Sometimes on a Mountain in April, as a mentor text. So here is my attempt.

Sometimes on the bayou in January,
rain falls all day
soaking the dry leaves,
softening the hard earth
while softly whispering promises
of resurrection.

Sometimes on the bayou in January,
temperatures drop twenty degrees
reminding the cats’ coat to thicken,
the cardinals to find nests,
and mothers to pull on fleece.

Sometimes on the bayou in January,
bare cypress trees scarcely sway
reminding me to slow down,
take shelter,
drink warm tea.

Sometimes on the bayou in January
light hides behind grey,
the owl hoots before sunset,
shadows disappear
and I watch
for a poem hiding there.

–Margaret Simon

Through the screen door

Through the screen door

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

Tweet from Michelle Haseltine

Tweet from Michelle Haseltine

I love Twitter Love. Nothing better than having colleagues/blogging friends recognize, honor, and celebrate you. And without you even knowing it! I was traveling yesterday. Presently, I’m in Atlanta for a friend’s son’s wedding. At the end of the long day, I checked my Twitter alerts. Were they really talking about me? I had to read the Tweets again.
Twitter love

Then this morning I received an email from Stenhouse offering a free preview of Kate Messner’s new book, 59 Reasons to Write. It took a while to thumb to page 198, but there I was. I had written a mock letter to myself as a reflection of Teachers Write camp. I must have sent it to Kate, but I have no recollection of that.

So today, I celebrate Kate Messner, Teachers Write, and Twitter Love. If you haven’t done it yet, order 50 Reasons today. You don’t need any more reasons.

59 reasons

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Find more Poetry Friday at Buffy's Blog.

Find more Poetry Friday at Buffy’s Blog.


My students have been working on book talks this week. Some of them wrote poems about their books. Tyler reviewed Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner. He wrote the following poem as an acrostic with the word storm. One student’s response, “I like how you included the theme in your poem.”

Saving lives from disaster
Taking risks
Only to see a surprising face
Revenge is never the answer
More and more problems appearing


A Maze Me

Kielan reviewed Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry book A Maze Me. Kielan said she selected the background and theme of her Animoto because it reflected the dreamy tone of the poem “Necklace.” This is the kind of poem that stays with you. “Can Monday be a porch?”

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Join the Poetry Friday round-up at Jone's site: Check it Out.

Join the Poetry Friday round-up at Jone’s site: Check it Out.

Revision? Ugh! If you are a writer, revision is a necessary evil. Maybe not evil, but definitely necessary. If I am going to urge my students to revise, I must experience it myself.

I have a copy of Kate Messner’s Real Revision in my stack of professional books for the summer. It’s already dog-eared, written in, and sticky-noted. Each chapter ends with a section “Meet Mentor Author…” I decided for this post that I would take one piece of advice and apply it to an old draft of a poem. However, when I got started, I went in a different direction.

I’ve “met” Jeannine Atkins through Poetry Friday. Her exercise in Real Revision begins, “Try It: Jeannine Atkins tries to use concrete nouns- specific, precise words- and verbs that really suggest action.”

I pulled out my poem “Singing the Blues” that I wrote in a wordlab setting. I liked it but felt that it needed work. Jeannine’s exercise helped me attack the challenge, but once I started pinpointing precise words, I also made other changes. This is a good lesson for my work with students. A revision strategy such as this one by Jeannine can be a starting point, but I also should encourage other changes. Jump in with finding precise words, then move on to confirming the theme, changing the order, or adding in senses, metaphor, etc. Revision can be endless. We should teach our students that it can also be fun and satisfying when your writing takes shape and looks like a bird that may fly.

My brother, the performer, Hunter Gibson

My brother, the performer, Hunter Gibson

Find Hunter’s music on the web here.

Singing the Blues

My mother sang blues in rhythm with her cleaning,
mopped on out to the shade of the oak tree
to cool off and cool down. That Mississippi sun
shone like Jupiter on a summer night.

We played with fire.

The front yard burned.
Smoke rose to the gods,
Chatty Cathy and a set of Lincoln Logs—ashes.
Mom cried when she saw her begonias
seared like sausage on a stick.

I buried my Barbies in the flowerbed, knelt
beside the snake of Eden—I am a sinner.
I Guess that’s Why They Call it the Blues
echoes from the microphone.

Brother now plays the keyboard,
sways his Elton John head
above the noise of a crowded bar.
Does he remember?

We were only children, for God’s sake!
What did we know about heat and rage then?
Our phoenix rose long ago.

–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

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