Guest blog post from Kate Messner, Over and Under the Pond author

When I was eleven, we moved from the center of my small town out to the country, and my world suddenly felt a lot bigger. The property was fifty-five acres, made up of apple orchards, pine woods, hills, and streams, and I remember the sense of freedom I felt when I’d set out on a sunny weekend afternoon with my notebook (and maybe a net and bucket, too). I remember running too fast down the hill that led to the little foot bridge, sitting on its weathered planks to write a poem or two, and then climbing down the muddy bank to the creek. There were crayfish down there. They darted away when you surprised them by lifting their rocks, and I was always amazed by how fast they could go with just a flick of a tail. I’d spend hours out there, turning over rocks, kicking pine cones through the sun-dappled woods, and then, finally, turning back through the newly plowed field toward home. To me, these walks felt like grand expeditions to rival those of any intrepid explorer, even though I was never more than half a mile from the house.

That summer after we moved, I learned that there’s magic in exploring a place so thoroughly, in looking so closely that your knees are muddy when you finally get home. That sense of wonder has continued to feed my writing as an adult, and in fact, it was a school field trip that led me to write my first picture book, OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW. I was on an Adirondack Mountains snowshoe trip, hiking through the woods with a dozen seventh graders, when we noticed a tiny set of tracks leading to a hole in the snow.


Over and Under the Pond hole in the snow

That led to a discussion of the subnivean zone–the secret world of tunnels and caves under the winter snow. In a few minutes, we continued on our way, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that invisible world beneath my snowshoes. What was I hiking over now? Might I be walking over the winter sleeping place of a queen bumblebee, or a chipmunk holed up for the winter? My very first (and very rough) draft of OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW was written on the way home that day, in bumpy school-busy handwriting on the back of the attendance paper. After many revisions and the addition of Christopher Silas Neal’s beautiful art, it was published by Chronicle Books.


Over and Under the Pond series: Over and Under the Snow


Chris and I went on to create two more titles in the series–UP IN THE GARDEN AND DOWN IN THE DIRT, and now, OVER AND UNDER THE POND, which is based on a canoe trip I took with a naturalist guide on a mountain pond in the Adirondacks.

Over and Under the Pond canoe trip
Over and Under the Pond book cover


This whole series, really, is fueled by wonder–something I love because I know that kids can capture that same sense of awe in their own writing.

Inspire Student Writing Through Field Trips

Field trips are a wonderful way to invite kids into that look-more-closely world of a writer. If your class is taking a big, scheduled field trip to a nature preserve or hiking spot, that’s wonderful. Make sure the kids bring notebooks, and invite them to wonder by taking time to stop and write. Ask them to record the sights and smells and sounds of the place–all the things we might not notice if we raced through too quickly. Ask them to imagine they’re photographers with fancy cameras and powerful zoom lenses. What do students see when they use their wide angle lens? What about when they zoom in to view a natural object more closely? How about closer still?

If your school doesn’t take any major field trips, you can invoke this sense of wonder in kids in simpler, less expensive ways. A short walk through the school yard or garden can be an invitation to wonder, too, when students are invited to take time and slow down to notice the natural world that’s happening right outside their school every day. When students are reluctant to write descriptively, try taking the notebooks outside. Nothing shakes them out of that blah feeling like a rush of fresh air. Let them get down on their bellies in the grass. (You notice things down there that you miss when you’re just passing through. Try it!) Invite them to talk about what they notice–and then, to write about it. When they get back to the classroom, share a picture book like OVER AND UNDER THE POND or UP IN THE GARDEN AND DOWN IN THE DIRT as a mentor text, and encourage students to evoke that same sense of wonder as they write about the natural world in their own lives.

So often, our kids’ writing experiences are about summarizing other people’s idea or scraping together facts from a text to support an idea, and while those are important skills, kids raised on a steady diet of this kind of writing are missing something important–the opportunity to slow down and observe the world like a writer. Taking mini field trips can be transformational for student writers. Suddenly, the world feels bigger and full of possibilities. Suddenly, there’s so much to wonder about–and a lot more to write about, too.