Last year, one of the most popular books at our spring book fair was Kate Messner’s Ranger in Time: Rescue on the Oregon Trail:

image from Scholastic (click to visit)

When I say popular, I mean we sold out of this book on the first day, restocked, sold out again, restocked again, and sold out of the second restock by Thursday afternoon (when it was too late for any more restock orders). Plus, several more kids ordered the book online during or after the fair because they couldn’t wait to get their hands on it!

So when I found out Scholastic was offering Ranger in Time Skype visits with Kate Messner, I knew our students would be excited. Nabbing one of these visits from Scholastic’s School Resource Catalog was kind of like trying to snag concert tickets before they sell out. The visits were released into the online catalog at exactly noon and I had this one in my cart before 12:01. They sold out in just a few minutes!

Scholastic bundles their author Skype visits with some awesome goodies: along with booking the Skype visit, our order included 100 copies of the first book in the series, autographed nameplates, and Ranger in Time bookmarks! I ordered extras of all these items so that we would have enough for all of our 2nd and 3rd grade students (plus a few copies for each teacher’s classroom library).

In the weeks before the visits, I made sure all the kids and teachers in 2nd and 3rd grades got copies of the book so they could read as much as they could before the visit. Several kids told me they read the whole book in just a day or two! And at least one teacher has been reading the book aloud to her class.

In the library, I showed students the book trailer from last year’s book fair video and also read them a little bit of the book in the week before the visit so that, whether they had time to finish the book or not, they’d be familiar with the story.

While in-person author visits are an amazing and irreplaceable experience, I do love that apps like Skype and Google Hangouts can close long distances and bring far-away authors to us without any 17-hour drives and expensive airfare and hotel stays. I showed the kids this map so they’d understand the distance we’d be closing during our Skype:

Thanks, Google Maps!
Thanks, Google Maps!

When we talked about the expenses of long-distance travel, one of my 3rd grade students offered to let Kate Messner stay at her house! 🙂

We also brainstormed LOTS of questions for Kate Messner. We talk about what kinds of questions it would make sense to ask an author–for example, asking about her favorite pizza toppings might be interesting but not so relevant, but questions about her writing would be great.

Here’s what the kids came up with (click any image to view it larger):

As you can see, they were VERY curious! 🙂

We also talked about how some of our questions might get answered during the presentation (so we wouldn’t need to ask those), and how there might not be time for all of us to ask all of our questions (and that would be okay, too).

Yesterday, I made sure each teacher had some questions neatly printed on index cards to give students so they would be easy for kids to remember and share after the presentation.

This morning, the kids were absolutely abuzz with excitement as they came in for the Skype. It was pretty crowded on the rug with all seven 2nd and 3rd grade homerooms in the library! But when the notification came that Kate’s call was coming in, everyone got silent. The kids were so ready!

During the visit, Kate told us about what inspired her to write the Ranger in Time series, how she planned and researched the story, what kind of revisions she made along the way (it was a lot!), and the overall process of turning notes into drafts into a manuscript and, finally, a real book. She even showed us actual pages from her notes and manuscripts so we could see her plans and the changes she made!

There's Kate Messner! The SMART Board made it easy for everyone to see and hear her.
There’s Kate Messner! The SMART Board made it easy for everyone to see and hear.

Many of the kids’ questions were answered during the presentation, but she also gave us time for some Q&A at the end. Despite some technical difficulties (our mic didn’t pick up the kids’ voices very well), we did get to ask her questions about why she became a writer, how she got published, what her favorite thing is about being an author, whether Ranger will ever travel forward in time, and whether Ranger will ever have his own TV show, movie, or video game.

At the very end, Kate revealed to us her plans for books 3-6 in the Ranger series (so cool!) before she signed off. She also asked how many kids were going to go write their own stories now–and almost every single hand went up. 🙂

As the call ended, there was an audible “Awwwww.” I think our 2nd and 3rd graders would’ve talked to her all day if we’d had time!

We thoroughly enjoyed our Skype experience with Kate Messner, and the kids can’t wait to get their hands on book two, Danger in Ancient Rome, at our book fair in October.

Thanks, Kate Messner, for taking time out of your morning to visit us!

Our enthralled audience of 2nd and 3rd graders!
Our enthralled audience of 2nd and 3rd graders!