Get Inspired Mondays, Writing

Thinking Like a Kid (and Like a Sea Monster!) — Guest Post by Author Kate Messner

It’s time for another Get Inspired Monday! — a series created to help you dig into your week and find inspiration in unexpected places.

Today’s post comes to you from award-winning children’s author, Kate Messner. Kate is a class act — not only because she’s a fabulously talented (and prolific) writer, but she’s also quick to offer support and encouragement to other writers and educators in the community.

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Thinking Like a Kid (and Like a Sea Monster!)

By, Kate Messner

Children’s Author, Kate Messner

After three days full of presentations, book signings, and lovely author-educator dinners at the International Reading Association Convention, I made one last stop before heading to the airport to go home – a K-6 elementary school in Orlando, where I gave my first presentation to the K-2 students.  After my talk about my new Marty McGuire chapter book series with Scholastic and my upcoming picture books with Chronicle, SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY and OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, a bright-eyed first grader had a fantastic question.

“Do you have to think like a kid when you write your books?  And is it hard?”

Her question made me smile, because my answer to the first question is absolutely yes. And the answer to the second?  Definitely no.

It’s not hard at all for me to think like a kid because…well…the eight-year-old Kate inside me is still very much hanging around.  I write about catching frogs and getting muddy, about playing in the snow, tracking animals, and imagining playful sea monsters taking on the neighborhood fish in a game of Marco Polo because I still love all those things, just as much as I did when I was little.

That’s really at the heart of writer’s inspiration for me…thinking like the kid I was…and like the kid I still am inside.

We live right on the western shore of Lake Champlain, and several years ago, on a calm glassy-surface kind of evening, my son called me to the living room window.

“Mom, what’s that?”

I looked out and saw a long, serpent-shaped, bumpy-on-top….something in the water. It wasn’t a log; it was swimming and leaving a wake.  Sometimes it would submerge a bit and come to the surface again.  And it was moving in a curving sort of way, as if it were long…and snake-like.

“Well….that’s….that’s…”

I watched a little more.

“That’s probably a…”

It wasn’t a fish. Or a log.

“I think that’s….I think it’s what people must be seeing when they say they saw Champ.”

Champ is Lake Champlain’s legendary monster, who made his first historical appearance in Samuel de Champlain’s 17th century journals and has been resurfacing every few years, it seems, ever since, with various sightings around the lake.

We went outside and watched for five or ten minutes until whatever it was went under the water and didn’t come back.  The following week, we saw the same thing.  This time, there were two of them, and they stayed, swimming back and forth in front of the house, for almost 20 minutes before they disappeared.

This was five or six years ago, and we haven’t seen anything like it since, though we look every day. I don’t know what it was, but the truth is…I love that we saw something.  I love the mystery and the maybes, and it’s in those kinds of maybes that I find my inspiration for writing stories.

What if it was the lake monster?  What must Champ’s life be like down there?  Is there only one of him (or her!) or are there more?  And what do the fish think of something so large and prehistoric?

A whole lot of questioning and wondering and playful imagining along those lines led to this:

SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY is my very first picture book. It’s about a sea monster’s first day in a new school….of fish! It’s illustrated by Andy Rash and published by Chronicle Books, and comes out in June.  And every time I see that cover, I smile and remember those two nights out by the lake.

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Kate Messner is the author of The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, winner of the 2010 E.B. White Read-Aloud Medal, as well as Sugar and Ice, the Marty McGuire chapter book series, Sea Monster’s First Day, and Over and Under the Snow (Fall 2011). Kate is also a National Board Certified middle school English teacher, and the author of REAL REVISION: AUTHORS’ STRATEGIES TO SHARE WITH STUDENT WRITERS. She lives on Lake Champlain with her family and loves spending time outside, whether it’s kayaking in the summer or skating on the frozen lake when the temperatures drop. Learn more at her website: http://www.katemessner.com. You can also read her blog, or follow her on Twitter.

30 thoughts on “Thinking Like a Kid (and Like a Sea Monster!) — Guest Post by Author Kate Messner”

  1. Thank you for sharing this story, Kate! I’ve never heard of Champ, and I love that this tale has been around for so long, and that you’re now a part of keeping it alive. 🙂

    My eight-year-old self is also still very much present in my life and writing. Especially the part which was/is so curious. Like you say…”I love the mystery and the maybes, and it’s in those kinds of maybes that I find my inspiration for writing stories.”

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  2. Wow — wish I could have seen what you saw! And, now I’m curious…what was the inspiration for OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW? (Perhaps, the Abominable Snowman 😉 ?)

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    1. Actually, the inspiration for OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW was a snowshoe field trip I took with my 7th grade students in the Adirondacks. I wrote the first draft on the back of an attendance sheet on the bus ride home!

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  3. This is a great reminder to try and write from a different perspective. My reasons for wanting to write have changed over the years but I still remember the young version of me who loved to read and wanted to write to create magic in the world around me.

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    1. I love that you talk about tapping into that young reader, as well as the young writer (and thinker) inside. I think I always try to write the kinds of books I would have liked to read as a kid, too!

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  4. See? That WAS inspiring. Hit the nail on the proverbial head. Plus, gave me an idea…recurring weekly blog topics. Was running out of fresh subjects and titles. (Nearly resorted to “You Have Won the Australian Lottery!”)

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  5. I love the playfulness and lightheartedness of this post — so great! My favorite line is “I love the mystery and the maybes, and it’s in those kinds of maybes that I find my inspiration for writing stories.” My stories always begin with a “what if”, and then I add lots more “what ifs” as I go along. I’ve been doing that for as long as I can remember, and I love that my kids ask the same kinds of questions — all the time. I know they will love reading Sea Monster’s First Day.

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  6. Truly inspired, Amanda and Kate! I love the idea that even as we age, as writers we still tap into that instinct for imagination and fantasy. That doesn’t go away. And imparting that to our kids is a gift, to be sure.

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