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Writers are Readers

14 Mar

I believe I’ve said this more than once on my blog and elsewhere, writers are readers. One cannot write without reading. Yesterday, as part of ReFoReMo (Reading For Research Month) Alayne Kay Christian suggested four questions a writer should consider when analyzing mentor texts. These questions help you dig deeper than what the story is about (setting, characters, plot, conflict, resolution). These questions ask you examine the structure of the story including the opening sentences, page turns, unanswered questions, and story ending.

Mentor texts do not have to be classic stories, they can be, and should be, newer stories as well. I like to read new publications to find out what’s trending in picture books today. So, in addition to the stack of books recommended each day this month as part of ReFoReMo, I also have a continually growing stack of new books (recently published) to read from my library. I request books as soon as I hear about them and wait patiently until they are acquired by my library system. My holds shelf is bending from the weight of them! So this weekend, I took a few hours to dig into the stack with Alayne’s four questions in mind. Here are a few of my findings. Most of these books have more than one aspect which qualify it as a mentoring text, I only chose one for each title. I hope you’ll find them helpful as well.

Anticipatory Opening Sentences

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Always Remember

written by Cece Meng

illustrated by Jago

Philomel Books, February 2016

Opening page: “In the end, on his very last day, Old Turtle swam his last swim and took his last breath. With his life complete, the gentle waves took him away. By dawn, everyone who knew Old Turtle knew he was gone.”

1st Spread: The sun sets over the ocean as Old Turtle’s friends watch the day end.

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Teeny Tiny Toady

written by Jill Esbaum

illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi

Sterling Children’s Books, March 2016

Opening page: “Teeny! Help!”

1st Spread: A large toad is begin lifted off the ground by a huge hand. A little toad looks up in horror as her mother is carried away.

Tantalizing Page Turns

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A Friend for Mole

written and illustrated by Nancy Armo

Peachtree Publishers, March 2016

A story of an unlikely friendship between Mole who is afraid of the daylight and Wolf who is afraid of the dark.

Examples of tantalizing page turns: The illustrations show the footsteps of many animals running above Mole’s underground home. He wonders what is going on and goes up to investigate. (The reader also wonders.) Once out of his home he realizes this was a bad idea. (The reader worries about what might happen to Mole.) Mole panics and falls down. He stays hidden under a bush and falls asleep. But when he wakes up he hears a noise. He hopes it’s nothing scary. (The reader sees two eyes peering at Mole in the darkness, and hopes it’s nothing scary too.)

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Oops Pounce Quick Run! An Alphabet Caper

written and illustrated by Mike Twohy

Balzer & Bray, February 2016

The nearly wordless story of an epic chase is told entirely in alphabetical order with only one word per page. Trying to figure out the next word and what will happen next will delight young and old readers alike.

Compelling Unanswered Questions

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Dario and the Whale

written by Cheryl Lawton Malone

illustrated by Bistra Masseva

Albert Whitman & Company, March 2016

Dario moves north from Brazil to Cape Cod with his mother in the spring. He speaks very little English. Will he make friends with the children who live there? Can he make friends with a whale calf who is migrating south with his mother? What will happen when the whale has to migrate?

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Punk Skunks

written by Trisha Speed Shaskan

illustrated by Stephen Shaskan

HarperCollins, February 2016

When Buzz and Kit have an argument about what song to write next, they try to go it alone. Will they be able to rock on without each other? Will anyone dig their new sounds? Will the punk skunks get back together again, or will their music stink?

Satisfying Endings

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Emma and Julia Love Ballet

written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Scholastic Press, February 2016

A parallel story about two ballerinas who have the same daily routines but whose lives do not intersect until the younger ballerina attends a performance one night with her family and the two meet backstage after the show.

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The Sleepy Songbird

written and illustrated by Suzanne Barton

Bloomsbury USA, February 2016

Peep has trouble waking up early in the morning to greet the dawn with the Dawn Chorus. He struggles with this until one evening when he learns that he is a nightingale! Now he sings with his new friends.

 

 

Bridging the Generations

14 Nov

When writing for children, especially picture books, we need to remember the adult as well. We’ve often heard, it’s the adults who are the gatekeepers to children’s literature. Will they read this book repeatedly? Will they purchase this book? Today I want to add one more, Will they find themselves in this book? Today I did just that.

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Little Tree is a book about holding on and letting go. It’s a book about facing an unknown future. It’s a book about growing up.

It’s written for children. It’s written for adults. I’ll bet, it’s written for you.

For a summary of the story and suggested activities for Little Tree look HERE.

I met Loren Long, author and illustrator of Little Tree this morning. He was kind and giving with his audience. He shared his story of a little tree with us. It’s a story of watching his firstborn embark on his school career. Not once, but twice. He retold how frightening those experiences were for him as a parent watching his son go off to kindergarten… and then to college. And, we got to meet his son the college student and inspiration for the story, and see what a wonderful relationship they have and watch them work together on a piece of art for the bookstore.

 

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Here’s a picture of Loren sharing my favorite page:

“As his last leaf floated to the ground, for the first time Little Tree felt the harsh cold of winter.”

The artwork is stunning. And the text reminds me that when you finally let go of something that’s been holding you back, it can be cold and scary. But in the end, you know you that in order to grow… you must first let go.

Think back to the times it was hard for your little ones to let go… let go of their binky, let go of diapers, let go of their afternoon naps, let go of your hand in the school parking lot. It was a cold and scary time for them. You were there to dry their tears, give them comfort, help them through it.

And think of the times it was hard for you to let go and watch them grow. I think about the times when they fell and scraped their knees, when they boarded their first school bus, when they wanted to be dropped off at the mall without me, when they got their hearts broken for the first time, when they moved out of town. It really did feel like a harsh cold winter. I thought my heart was dying. But each time they came back to me taller and stronger… more of who they were and less of who I was. And it felt good.

See, what I mean about writing across generations? Loren Long has done that beautifully. I hope you pick up a copy for yourselves and feel the splendor of letting go as a wonderful thing.

 

 

 

Participation Badge v Prizes

5 Nov

Have you grabbed your Official Picture Book Idea Month Participant badge yet?

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Find Out More Here and Here.

 

This is my third year participating, and I can’t say enough about it! Every year I come away with more ideas and more inspiration to keep going. I’ve settled into a rhythm that works for me and I’m happy say I’m on target for completing the challenge again this year.

There are no first, second, or third prizes. There are no honorable mentions. Everyone participates on the honor system. The prizes come to all who participate in the form of inspiration and picture book ideas. Of course there’s always a chance you’ll win one of the random drawing prizes… fingers crossed, these prizes are awesome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to School

3 Aug

It’s that time of year again. Kids and teachers are getting ready for another year of learning and growing together.  The nervousness mingles with the excitement. backtoschool1

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has a fun little writing prompt for this month: In 50 words or less, give us a first impression of your character’s new teacher.

And so I present to you, a 47 word story. Enjoy!

Dragon Lady

A nervous hiccup escaped my lips.

Dragon Lady whipped around.

A second hiccup erupted followed by a warm blast of shame.

Her red painted claw pointed at me.

“Lesson One,” she growled.

The third hiccup exploded in flames.

“You have earned the first star of the year.”

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March Madness

31 Mar

March has a bipolar reputation to say the least, with her “In like a lion, Out like a Lamb” famed celebrity status among the months of the year. Believe me, I for one am thrilled to finally see the Spring Lamb frolic in my neighborhood. Although I must admit, the last few hours of March have been hectic in their own way. With the deadlines for the SCBWI Work-In-Progress grants and the Rate Your Story Writing Contest today, I was furiously revising, editing, and submitting until well into the morning hours last night. So, yes… welcome little lamb!

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Then, of course there are the competitions to claim the coveted titles. Oh, did you think I meant basketball? No, I meant the coveted picture book titles! This month, in addition to updating my new BOOKS ALIVE! page with recently published picture books and follow-up activities for kids (See the tab at the top of the page to find some terrific 2015 titles.) I have also been working on a writing challenge to use picture books as mentor texts for my own writing. Carrie Charley Brown has organized the wonderful ReFoReMo, Read For Research Month challenge. She invited 30 wonderful writers and published authors to share a little piece of their insight to writing and recommendations for reading. As participants, our challenge was to read and respond to every daily post and to use the recommended reading list as a jumping off point for our own research. We discussed such topics as plot, pacing, point of view, rhyme, beginnings and endings, hooks, illustrations, humor, and diversity… just to name a few. 2015-03-31 11.08.52Here’s a pile of the books I haven’t even gotten to yet this month. (Thank you, Cincinnati Public Library.) See all the little orange tabs? Those indicate the new releases this month. If you check back with me in a few weeks, many of those should be posted under the BOOKS ALIVE! tab.  So, although I count myself as a winner, with the duly presented Winner’s Badge of Honor, you can see that my research is NOT over! I plan on reading and studying great picture books for a very long time. Join me, won’t you? 9437785

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