Tuesday, December 4, 2018

5 Cybils Award Nominated Picture Books with Humor and Heart

Required reading?  There’s nothing better.  That’s why I love the Reading for Research challenge. That's why I love Cybil’s judging.  And reading is my “why” for writing too.

As we approach the holidays, I thought I’d share 5 of my favorite funny books of 2018. Each of these books have the perfect combination of humor and heart.   

Rot, The Cutest in the World, by Ben Clanton hilariously shows that beauty is in the eye of the potato....ahem, I mean beholder.

Misunderstood Shark, by Ame Dyckman and Scott Magoon surprises us while demonstrating that anyone can be misunderstood. 

Stegothesaurus, by Bridget Heos and T.L. Macbeth takes a simple story and turns it on it's head, proving that differences make life more interesting.

Sterling, Best Dog Ever, by Aidan Cassie, uses puns and wordplay not only to make us laugh, but also to demonstrate that being loved doesn't depend on fulfilling others' expectations of us. 

We Don't Eat Our Classmates, by Ryan T. Higgins made me laugh out loud with it's hilarious and heartwarming premise of a dinosaur's first day of school jitters. 

 What are your favorite books with humor and heart?

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Lessons from a New Librarian

By Carrie Charley Brown

Part of my job as a school library media specialist is to order new books that enhance our collection. In order to do that effectively, I have to know what we already have, what we lack, and what we need. As a writer, do you take inventory of your mentor text deficiencies? As we approach the end of another year, it's a good time to assess what you read, or didn't read, and how that informs your writing. By questioning yourself, you'll take an inside look first before consulting the experts.

Your Year in Books
What did you read this year? Which mentor texts provided the best models?

Identify Your Gaps
Did you avoid certain types of mentor texts? Why? How could you grow as a writer by approaching new territory? What does your writing lack?

Fill Your Needs
As a librarian, I base our greatest needs on what others recommend. That starts with the students. I am constantly asking kids about what they are reading and what they like, and in turn, I encourage them to do the same. Who are your book people? Are you sharing your thoughts about what you read with your critique group?

Consulting the experts will help you select high quality texts for your needs. Teachers are on the front lines. Do you know what they are using in their classrooms and why they like certain texts? Thinking about this aspect can bring value to what you write. Librarians can shed light on what their teachers use. They can refer you to the resources that they consult before ordering.

In her post, My Reading Process, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, shares the resources that she consults regularly to keep up with her library and her own writing. I consult many of the same newsletters and print resources that she uses, and also refer to the award lists on the American Library Association website.

I look to a very busy reader-librarian-writer-podcaster, Matthew Winner, for his monthly picture book recaps.

Colby Sharp brings a unique educator point of view through his vlogs which are filled with intrinsic motivation for reading.

By assessing your year in mentor texts, you'll set new reading goals and get much more out of the resources that you consult. Your ReFoReMo community will be there to discuss texts and offer recommendations along the way. What are your goals?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Food For Thought-Monthly Challenge

By Janie Reinart
Embed from Getty Images

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, 
but the parent of all the others.

We celebrate Thanksgiving with gratitude for the bounty in our lives. What 

could be more fun than writing a story about food. This is your chance.

Pat Zietlow Miller's book, Sharing the Bread, journey's back to a time gone 

by. A family prepares a Thanksgiving feast together.

"We will share the risen bread.

Our made-with-love Thanksgiving spread.

Grateful to be warm and fed.

We will share the bread."

Applesauce Day by Lisa Amstutz tells the story of another family's tradition of 

making applesauce in the same pot that has been in their family for generations.

I spy the big pot on the counter right away.

"Hooray!" I say. "It's Applesauce Day!"

  Hannah cheers.

Ezra bangs his spoon.

Check out this delicious story about friendship.

Time to make the doughnuts. Pat Miller tells the true story of Captain Gregory in 

The Hole Story of the Doughnut.

Few remember the master mariner

Hanson Crockett Gregory, though

he was bold and brave and bright.

But the pastry he invented more than

166 years ago is eaten by doughnut

lovers everywhere. This is his story.

Wishing you all many blessings for a Happy Thanksgiving. Share with us in 

the comments your favorite books about food. Happy writing.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Mentor Text Talk with Author Lynne Marie

We're excited to celebrate the release of THE STAR IN THE CHRISTMAS PLAY with Lynne Marie! We know Lynne Marie from the 12x12 community, she's member of the ReFoReMo family, and she and I were Cybil's judges together last year. Welcome, Lynne Marie, and thank you for sharing how mentor texts have helped you in your writing journey!

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of THE STAR IN THE CHRISTMAS PLAY?

This is a good question -- I consider any and all picture books I read to be mentor texts, whether they show me what has been done before (as well as what HASN’T been done), but also what to do and not do in terms of successfully telling a story and/or utilizing particular literary devices.
With this manuscript, I had played around with it in my head and all the components, including the title, had come together before I started writing. The first thing I did was search for my title, The Star in the Christmas Play, on Amazon. If you take a look, you will see that there were basically no SIMILAR comp titles. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=The+Star+in+the+Christmas+Play

But of course, that did not mean my search for mentor texts was done! I read any and all Christmas books I could get my hands on, including these:

Source Books / Jabberwocky, 2016                         Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008

HarperCollins, 2005                                             Sleeping Bear Press, 2016

These are just a few -- there were oh, so many more! As a general rule, when I am focused on submitting a particular manuscript, I’ll read 50 to 100 mentor texts before I do. I’ll scribble down the subcategories (Ex., Christmas, Nativity Play, Self-Esteem, Savanna Animals, etc.) and keep ordering titles from the library until I exhaust all possibilities. I use both my library card and my daughter’s if I have to! If I can’t find a book that looks like a necessary comp at the library, I usually buy it.

Harper Collins, 2002           Orchard Books, 2001

My research showed me that my book was different and there weren’t any books like it. It was set against the backdrop of the Christmas holiday with its Nativity Play, but it was really about believing in yourself, not giving up and finding a way to shine despite any limitations. My research also showed me that there weren’t many publishers that might take on a book like this. I didn’t give up, but put it to the side. Then, in 2017 when I saw the Sparkhouse Family (now Beaming Books) Contest, I researched their catalog and knew that I had found the perfect home for this book. I submitted it for that contest. While my manuscript wasn’t the first place winner, they said that Raffi’s story had charmed the team so much that they still wanted to publish it!

How has reading Picture Books helped you discover who you are as a writer?
Reading picture books provides constant inspiration to me. I no longer truly believe that there’s nothing new under the sun as I have seen many authors find a way to take an old idea or concept and make it new and different by mashing, slanting, adding levels, looking at the story from a different perspective, writing outside the box, seizing inspiration from current events and using interesting literary devices.

I discovered that I want to play around with my ideas, try a variety of directions until one feels right and give the story a chance to find their own path. In particular, I discover I am able to write in diverse styles and types, as long as I keep writing and revisioning until I find a way to make it work.

What do you feel is the BEST way to for picture book writers to utilize mentor texts.

1. To see what has been done before.
2. To see what has not been done before (potential holes in the market that you might fill).
3. To experience other options in telling a story.
4. To inspire a new/different direction for my own story.
5. To see what works in a story (and learn from that).
6.     To see what doesn’t work in a particular story (and learn from that).
7. To see what types of books a publisher might publish, as well as what it already has published.
8. To inspire.
9. To recognize stories that draw out emotion, and those that don’t, and why.
10. To remember what it’s like to be a child and how important it is to relay
the story through the eyes of a child, in an accessible way.

Honestly, I am the biggest fan of mentor texts. I utilized the concept of mentor texts before it even had a
term (LOL). I credit the success of each and every sold manuscript to my study of mentor texts. I learned
from the Best -- Richard Peck, who said “read 100 books before you try your hand at writing one.” I
took that to heart, and I repeat it for each project that I focus on.
Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten - illustrated by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic, 2011), Hedgehog's 100th Day of School – illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic, January 2017), The Star of the Christmas Play -- illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Beaming Books, 10/16/2018), Moldilocks and the 3 Scares -- illustrated by David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Sterling, 2019)  and her first non-fiction picture book, Let’s Eat Around the World -- illustrated by Parwinder Singh (Beaming Books, 2019) and more forthcoming. She is also a freelance Editor and a Travel Agent. When she’s not cruising around the world or traveling to Disney World, Universal Studios and other fascinating places, she lives on a lake in South Florida with her daughter Kayla Michelle, son Kevin, a Schipperke named Anakin and several resident water birds.
You can learn more about her at www.LiterallyLynneMarie.com.
ON TWITTER: @Literally_Lynne
E-MAIL: LiterallyLynneMarie@gmail.com

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Mentor Text Author Study: Margarita Engle

Poetry is Margarita Engle’s specialty. She enchants readers with her picture books in verse and her novels-in-verse for middle grade and young adult readers.

Point of View

Margarita Engle presents two of her books about artists in first person point of view.

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian and Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist are told from the point of view of the artists themselves, allowing the artist to come to life and help the reader see what the artist saw.

Summer Birds is presented as a straight first-person narrative, while Sky Painter is told in a series of first-person poems.


In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, some of her lines are only one word long. These short lines cause us to pause and pick up the rhythm that Engle is trying to create with her words. All the Way to Havana also makes use of short lines—sometimes only 2-3 words long. This helps evoke mood in the book and makes it easy for the reader to catch onto the rhythm.

Engle uses a varying refrain in The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar. 

The onomatopoeia in All the Way to Havana gives the reader a sensory experience from “cara cara, cluck, cluck, cluck” to “pìo, pìo, pìo, pìo, pfffft.”

In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, she also uses powerful verbs such as rippled, rapped, pounded, which give an onomatopoeic effect. The verbs peep, croak, shriek do the same in Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist.

Orangutanka: A Story in Poems is a narrative is told through a series of linked tanka poems. A short form like tanka doesn’t leave room for anything but exacting word choice. In this case, Engle uses a superb lineup of verbs throughout such as: leaps, clings, swings, flips, dips, swoops, twirls, shake, clamber, smacks and more!

Her language is so rich, it performs double duty—providing musicality, supporting the work with strong verbs, and even using verbs that are onomatopoeic.


Even adjectives take on a unique quality in Engle’s work. In The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar, she uses the description, “whale-shaped moon.” Such specificity helps the reader form images with just a few short words.

In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, she uses descriptions like “wind-wavy palm trees” and “flower-bright park.” These are all descriptions that feel fresh instead of overused.

Every Word Counts

Making every word count is the hallmark of picture books. Engle’s picture books are no exception. Poetry also distills everything down to its essence.

Her word selection is so precise that we can see that every single word is carefully selected for its meaning but also for its placement on the page as poetry.

Thank you, Marcie, for giving us such an in-depth look at books by Margarita Engle.

Marcie Flinchum Atkins is an elementary school librarian by day who writes for children in the wee hours of the morning. She also muses about mentor texts at her websiteYou can follow her on Twitter @MarcieFAtkins and read about her #writerlife on Instagram at @marciefatkins.  

Thank you Marcie for an in-depth look at books by Margarita Engle.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Finding Good Comp Titles

By Cindy Williams Schrauben

In May of 2018, I wrote a post for ReFoReMo entitled, WHY COMP? It was a broad overview of the What? When? And Why? Of comps - or comparison titles - for your picture books. You can read it here: http://www.reforemo.com/2018/05/why-comp.html

The following is a more indepth look at Where to find good comp titles for your manuscript.

Your first task is to decide what aspect of your book you would like to highlight by finding a comp. It could be the format, the characters (anthropomorphic animals, for example), the audience, tone, or voice. Most likely, though, you will choose to use the subject matter or theme to define your book. So, for this post, that is the example I will use.

Let’s say, for instance, that you have written a manuscript in which the main character is starting school.  So, your target comp is manuscripts published in the past 3 years with a back to school theme. As a quick review you are looking for books that… were recently published, had successful sales (while not blockbuster hits), have the same target audience, and are clearly similar in theme..

My first strategy is searching online mainly because of accessibility. It seems easy, but you can go down that rabbit hole and not find your way out for awhile, so be strategic. There are a number of option online, but here are a few:

Online sellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble have various internal search functions and lists that can assist you in this task. First, search that “subject matter or theme” BUT be sure you are searching within your own target audience. You wouldn’t want to use a comp that isn’t in your genre. For example, a back to school chapter book would not be a good comp for your picture book. The image below shows my search on Amazon.com. First, under children’s books, I searched “back to school picture books” and found over seven hundred options. I weeded out books of poems, how-to format books, and books with perennial favorite characters and eventually chose SECOND GRADE HOLD-OUT by Audrey Vernick and Matthew Cordell to begin my search. While I might not use this title in the end, it is a good place to start. Scrolling to the bottom of the page I found lists of books with clarifiers such as…

                        Inspired by your views…
                        Frequently bought together …
                        Products related to this item…
                        Customers who bought this item also bought….

And this is the entrance to the rabbit hole. Ready… go!

Another good search option is Goodreads - this site has various places to look such as “new releases.” The Listopia feature includes categories of books you might never imagine.  One example is… Picture books Hans Solo would like. How crazy is that? Start scrolling and ask yourself, “would my manuscript fit into this list?” If so, you might find some good comps there.

Although the rabbit hole is deep, I love Pinterest for searching comps. Like the other examples, you can plug your theme into the search bar and find a plethora of options. The search will provide you with individual titles as well as lists compiled by other Pinterest users - let someone else do the work for you, right?! You can also click through to various websites that review books - these folks know their stuff.

If you find a title, but aren’t sure how good the fit is, check out book trailers on YouTube. But, please don’t use a comp unless you have read it - just don’t.
And, of course, general search engines such as Google and Yahoo can avail you of options as well.
And, don’t forget the ReFoReMo website and facebook lists. Although, we list mentor texts, the categories often overlap. (More on this in my first post.)

Lastly - but so very important - use your Librarian or Bookseller. Their level of expertise  is invaluable. 

Happy hunting!