soup of the day: sugar and ice by kate messner!

“The pace of the music picked up as she gathered speed, and everything left her except the feel of the cold air on her face, her blades on the ice, her movements in time to the music.” ~ Kate Messner, Sugar and Ice

It’s time to put on our sparkly skirts, lace up our skates, and do a triple toe loop and a couple of flying spins to celebrate the official release today of Kate Messner’s brand new middle grade novel, Sugar and Ice (Walker, 2010)!!

Last year, Kate gave us The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z (Walker, 2009), which won the E.B. White Read Aloud Award, definitely enhanced my appreciation for autumn leaves, and got me hooked on  introduced me to a delicious distraction called Nonna’s Funeral Cookies (nom nom).

And now, with Sugar and Ice, we have a small town maple farm, the fascinating world of competitive figure skating, a bit of beekeeping, a Thai restaurant, a Fibonacci school project, a cast of interesting, fully-realized, believable characters, and a highly palatable menu of enticing edibles: hot chocolate, corn chowder, egg salad and turkey sandwiches, pad thai, pizza, PopTarts, and *wait for it* — blueberry pancakes!


Ricotta Hotcakes (recipe here) from michelle une-deux senses/flickr.

Mmmmmmmmmmm. Tall stack dripping with melted butter and maple syrup. Want. (You will soon want, too. Trust me.)

Seventh grader Claire Boucher leads a busy life helping out on her family’s maple farm and coaching kids at a nearby community rink. She loves skating on the frozen cow pond and looks forward each year to performing in the local Maple Show, never dreaming that one day a Russian skating coach would be impressed enough with her skills and natural talent to offer her a summer scholarship at the Lake Placid Olympic Center.  

Old sugarhouse, Parker Family Maple Farm.

The Parker Family Maple Farm, which offers pancake breakfasts and horse-drawn carriage rides during sugaring season, provided much of the inspiration for the setting of Claire’s story.

Claire is terrified of competitive skating and is apprehensive about training with such an elite group, but she’s got her family’s full support and cannot ignore the chance of a lifetime. It’s a big learning curve for Claire as she struggles with Coach Groschev’s dictates and demands, mean girls who undermine her confidence and sabotage her efforts, and ever-growing doubts about her abilities and rightful place in the program.

Lake Placid Olympic Center by inflamersix66/flickr.

How will she meet these new challenges as well as maintain the “old life” she had before all this happened? She misses spending time with her best friend Natalie, and she’s got a big math project to work on, not to mention all the travel time to and from Lake Placid.

I was taken with Claire right away; she’s likeable and accessible with relatable flaws, and it was interesting to see how she learned to prioritize and ultimately make choices that were right for her. Messner, a middle school English teacher, captures tween voices and social dynamics perfectly, focusing on some of the challenges they commonly face: how to balance academics with athletics, how to navigate the tricky world of pre-established cliques and allegiances, and with particular regard to sports, how to develop/strengthen the mental and emotional chops necessary in order to compete successfully.


Sugar on Snow by Scott Simpson/flickr.

There is so much to love about Sugar and Ice: its ability to fully engage the reader from the get-go, the crisp prose and well-crafted scenes laced with just the right balance of technical skating info and emotional resonance, the beautiful interweaving of plot elements that keeps the narrative humming along with an added touch of mystery and innocent romance. The well defined contrasts — cow pond vs. Olympic skating arena, Claire’s cozy small town life vs. her new life dominated by a grueling training schedule, and skating for fun vs. skating to win — all provide great opportunities for examining internal and external conflicts in this well-structured, solidly researched, tightly written, artfully layered story.


Sugar and Ice will likely become a favorite with the intended readership, fans of skating or not. Educators and librarians will especially appreciate the nod to literacy in the character of Claire’s new friend Tasanee. Math freaks will love the Fibonacci connection to skating. And everyone will want more pancakes, so pass the maple syrup!

Now, please join me in congratulating Kate. Grab a big spoon because the alphabet soup kitchen helpers are serving today’s soup in their version of a sap bucket. Imagine being outdoors on a wintry day and discovering a bucket full of warm soup nailed to a tree! Slurp loudly and eat hearty. Let’s all thank Kate for writing this fabulous book!

Today’s Special: Tomato Spiral (a Boucher bisque seasoned with a touch of maple, pine, and North Country grit).

Just because we love Kate’s new book so much, we’re also offering a side of corn chowder, which was mentioned a couple of times in the story:


And because cold weather really piques the appetite, how about some pad thai, courtesy of Tasanee’s family’s restaurant?


Yes, yes, we have dessert — one of Kate’s favorites, chocolate cake:

ulterior epicure/flickr

and help yourself to some snowflake cookies.


We have to have more pancakes,


and a nice cup of hot chocolate to chase everything down.


Wow! I must say how impressed I am with your ginormous appetite! Better work off all the food you ate today by skating over, IMMEDIATELY, to your local indie, or click through to your fave online bookseller to score your very own copy of Sugar and Ice (you’ll probably want to get several more for holiday gifts). If you go to a bricks and mortar store, wear something blue (Kate’s fave color), sprinkle on a few sequins, and impress the cashier with a few spins before sharing the magic word: PANCAKES. You will definitely make friends; other customers will follow you home and ask to see your double salchow. ☺

We love you, Kate. Happy Pub Day!!


SUGAR AND ICE by Kate Messner
published by Walker/Bloomsbury, December 2010
Fiction for ages 8-12, 288 pp.
Cool themes: figure skating, friendship, competition, math, maple sugaring, social dynamics, families, North Country/Adirondacks

Junior Library Guild Selection
Amazon Best Books of December 2010
Fuse #8 100 Magnificent Books of 2010 List
2010 Winter Indie Kids Next List
Rave Reviews from SLJ, Kirkus, Booklist

♥ Learn more at Kate’s official website and LiveJournal blog.

Sugar and Ice Facebook Fan Page.

♥ Cool guest post about the fibonacci connection at GottaBook.

♥ Online Reviews: Fuse #8 (SLJ), Writing. For. Real., Writing and Ruminating.

Sugar and Ice Blog Tour: These guest posts and interviews offer interesting backstory about Sugar and Ice, as well as general insight into Kate’s creative process. (Keep checking Kate’s blog for future stops on the tour):

“Parents in Middle Grade Fiction” (Laura Paling)

“Sense of Place in Fiction” (Janni Lee Simner)

“Research Process” (Stacked)

“Student Athletes and Literacy” (Rasco from RIF)

“Reluctant Writers” (Jo Knowles)

“Figure Skating Research and Inspiration” (Ice Mom)

“Writing and Revision” (Reading Zone)

“Kate’s Creative Space” (Jennifer Bertman)

“Winter Inspiration” (Terry Lynn Johnson)

“Questions with Jill and her students” (The O.W.L.)

“Coffee Break Tuesday Interview” (Debbi Michiko Florence)

♥ Official Launch Party at The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid, Saturday, December 11, 3-5 p.m. Signed, personalized copies may be ordered by calling (518) 523-2950 by December 10th. These can be shipped to you in time for Christmas!

♥ This post is brought to you by Friends and Fibonacci!


*Fibonacci cones from Krypto’s flickr photostream.

Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

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