Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Finding and Using Mentor Texts to Improve your Writing

  

I just read my first pile of books as a Cybils judge this year.  I spent over an hour reading the above books to my 8 year old son.  I read until my throat hurt, taking note of the books he liked, and the books I liked.  I marveled at our difference in taste.  I noticed the pacing, the page turns, the plot and the word choice.  I payed attention to when my mind wandered or when I was completely surprised.  

Carrie Charley Brown founded the Reading for Research challenge because of her experience as a Cybils judge.  Reading many stellar and NOT so stellar books in a short period of time made her realize that other writers would also benefit from extracting story elements and analyzing their impact.  

After 4 years of Cybils judging, I have 5 questions that I like to ask when analyzing mentor texts. This also helps me improve my own stories.

1. What makes this book compelling?  
2. How does the first page catch my attention?
3. What makes this book fresh and unique?
4. What makes the ending satisfying and surprising, yet inevitable?
5. How can I infuse my own stories with these qualities?

The Cybils Award is still open for nominations!  Please nominate 2018 mentor texts for the award!  I can't wait to read them!  

Which 2018 picture books do you feel pack the model mentor punch? 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Mentor Text Author Study: Duncan Tonatiuh


Duncan Tonatiuh (tone - ah - TEE – you) is a multiple award-winning author and illustrator. His awards include the Pura Belpré Medal, the Sibert Medal, and the New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book Award.

Tonatiuh is Mexican and American. His stories are about Mexico, it's people, history, and culture.



STORY STRUCTURE

Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin is written in an epistolary structure using the correspondence between two cousins, Carlitos and Charles. Carlitos lives in rural Mexico and Charles lives in an urban city in the U.S. Scenes explore the details of each cousin’s life in their respective hometowns. The boys describe things they do, see, hear, and eat in their everyday lives revealing the differences and similarities between the two cultures. 

A different font is used to show which part of the letter is from which cousin. As in the title, Spanish words are interspersed throughout the book. And a glossary is included in the backmatter.

The figurative language Tonatiuh uses in the letter from Charlie helps Carlitos understand what life in a big city is like.

“At night all the lights from the city look like starts from the sky.”

“The subway is like a long, metal snake and it travels through tunnels underground.”



In Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation Tonatiuh tells the story of how a family fought for the right to equal education. The opening, written from the point of view of the child protagonist Sylvia, pulls the reader in right away by starting with the end of the story.
“I don’t want to go to that school anymore. The kids are mean.”
  “Sylvia,” said her mother. “¿No sabes que por eso luchamos?” “Don’t you know that is why we fought?”

FOCUS ON PEOPLE, ART, AND HISTORY


In Diego Rivera: His World and Ours, a nonfiction biography, Tonatiuh chronicles the life of the famous Mexican painter Diego Rivera. From Rivera’s mural art, children learn about the culture and history of Mexico. Tonatuih invites readers to make a connection about today using art to tell their own stories following Rivera’s example.

“…if he were alive today, what would he paint?”



Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México, is a nonfiction story that explores dance through the life of the famous Mexican dancer Amalia Hernández. She studied different forms of dance from around the world until creating folkloric ballets incorporating traditional folkore danzas from around different regions of Mexico with modern dance. 

FOLKTALES
In The Princess and the Warrior Tonatiuh introduces Mexican culture through a “Once upon a time…” story and retells the Mexican Aztec legend of two volcanoes, Iztaccíhuatl andPopocatépetl, to a young audience. Using a classic picture book plot and Nahuatl words, the language of the Aztecs, Tonatiuh reveals, in the end, it is an origin story.

LITERARY DEVICE – ALLEGORY


Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant's Tale is an example of an allegorical picture book. Read about that literary device here and here. The story is about a rabbit named Pancho, his family, and a coyote. But it’s really about undocumented workers coming to the United States. And why people from Mexico risk traveling with coyotes, the people who smuggle them across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Once spring the rains did not come and the crops could not grow. So Papá Rabbit, Señor Rooster, Señor Ram and other animals from the rancho set out north to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields. There they could earn money for their families.”

BACKMATTER
Tonatiuh includes extensive back matter in his nonfiction books. With numbered pages, his books are great mentor texts to use as models of plot, backmatter content, and book design.



Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras is about the artist José Guadalupe Posada best known today for Mexico’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) artwork. Tonatiuh includes an author’s note, glossary, bibliography, art credits, places where the reader can find Posada’s art, and an index. 

As we celebrate Latino/Hispanic Heritage this month, the body of work by Tonatiuh is an important reminder of the many contributions made to the world by people of Mexico. Books by Tonatiuh are great models to study how to deliver interesting stories packed with information and extended learning content about a culture to young readers.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Mentor Text Talk with Author Rita Lorraine Hubbard


It's such a great joy to celebrate success with writers that we have come to know through online groups. Rita Lorraine Hubbard is a member of our ReFoReMo community, among many other common writing groups. When I saw the cover reveal for this book, I could not wait to get my hands on it. Hammering for Freedom releases today! 


Happy Book Birthday, Rita! Do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?  If so, how? 

I most certainly do!  Sometimes (actually, more times than I like to admit) I get stuck on a manuscript and need an example text to nudge me back into action. For example, I’m currently working on a manuscript where the MC is very young – possibly even pre-verbal, if I can manage it.  First I visited ReFoReMo and asked for mentor recommendations, then I compiled a list of books to check out from the library. The books provided great examples of how different authors handled stories told by very young MC’s. I was able to study how the art worked closely with the text to tell a smooth and often very funny story.  In one book, the MC didn’t tell the story, he “thought” it. I really appreciated the possibilities this particular book offered for me in terms of what I could do with my own story. In another especially delightful book called Mine! (by Shutta Crum) the MC (a toddler who hasn’t yet mastered the art of sharing) utters one word throughout the story: Mine!  It  was hilarious…and gave me hope for my own story.

Again, through those and other examples, I was better able to envision possibilities for my own story. I haven’t completed my manuscript yet; I’m still experimenting, but at least I have great examples of the different ways I (or the MC) can tell the story.

How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?

They have helped me discover how much I love history—and art. There’s nothing better than a well-written historical pb that uses breathtaking illustrations to help tell a story.  They have also helped me discover that I enjoy a range of genres. I love humorous pb’s, and collect them as often as I collect the more serious biographies.

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of
Hammering for Freedom?

Three picture books come to mind. By the way, I read and reviewed these books long before my own book began to take its final shape and make its way to publication. These books had elements I never forgot, and I quickly reached for them once I began to shape and sculpt my own book.

I was looking for books that dealt with unsung heroes; books that skillfully squeezed lives that stretched on for decades into 32 brief pages; books that made things that happened long ago seem new and exciting and worth investing the time it took to read them. I found what I was looking for in these books:

1. It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw, Don Tate

This lovely book is the story of an enslaved man who lived a very long life. After freedom comes, his wife dies and his children scatter across the country, and he ends up alone and living inside his memories. I loved how the prose emphasized his stark loneliness and his memories of what home had been like so long ago.

2.  Love Twelve Miles Long, Glenda Armand

This biography captured the loneliness of little Frederick Douglass who had been separated from his mother by 12 long miles. I thought Ms. Armand prose and artist Colin Bootman’s illustrations captured Frederick’s yearning and strength he didn’t know he had, to perfection. This was what I wanted to portray in Hammering for Freedom: I wanted to show that sheer determination and the belief that he and his family could be free if only his strength held out were the driving forces that kept Bill slinging that hammer.

3.  Lift Your Light a Little Higher, Heather Henson

The story of Stephen Bishop, an enslaved man consigned to guiding visitors through Mammoth Cave. It took courage to learn the dark and dangerous secrets of Mammoth Cave,  including “an impassible chasm called the Bottomless Pit” where he could have drowned or met some other equally tragic misfortune in the cave, but instead he used courage and wit to make his life a little better.

Thank you so much for sharing your mentor text perspective with us, Rita, and congratulations!


Rita Lorraine Hubbard is the author  HAMMERING FOR FREEDOM, the story of enslaved blacksmith William Lewis who rented himself from his “owner” and spent the next 25 years earning money to free himself and his family members. The book is published by Lee and Low and debuts on September 25, 2018. Hubbard has also penned a number of nonfiction books for young adults, and runs the children's book review site Picture Book Depot, and the historical site The Black History Channel. Hubbard lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You can find her on Facebook and also online at ritahubbard.com.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Books That Ask a Question- Monthly Challenge


By Janie Reinart

Embed from Getty Images



     Children never stop asking questions. They have a sense of wonder and curiosity. Can 

you guess how many questions a child asks in a day?  Use the question and answer format 

in a story to hook your reader. 







     Look at the surprising way each poetic element is used in a question in Pablo Neruda’s 

Book of Questions (El libro de preguntas)translated by William O’Daly.




                          What did the tree learn of the earth
                          to confide to the sky?
                          At whom is the rice grinning
                          with its infinite white teeth?
                          Who’s the magnolia kidding
                          with its lemon’s aroma?
                          In the sky over Colombia
                          is there a collector of clouds?
                          How do the seasons discover
                          it’s time to change shirts?



      The poem, Dreamland by Carole Boston Weatherford uses questions to tell the story.




        Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino, has a very unique format. Each rhymed question

is a riddle with the answers hitting the page turns.











     Tracy Nelson Maurer used the question and answer format in her book, John Deere,
That's Who!

"Who moved to Illinois, where farmers were struggling to plow through the thick, rich soil 
they called gumbo? Who tinkered and tweaked and tested until he invented a steel plow that 
sliced into the prairie easy as you please? Long before the first tractor, who changed 
farming forever? John Deere, that’s who!"




     The author, Nancy Patz saw the hat on display in the Jewish Historical Museum in 

Amsterdam. The reflective poem is a tribute to this unknown woman's life.


"What was she like? Did she lie awake in the morning and watch  the way I did today,  as 

dawn brushed light through the sky?"





     Ready for some silly questions?  Corinne Demas gives fun facts in the question and answer

format in her book, Do Doodlebugs Doodle?


"Do bed bugs wear pajamas? 

Do dragonflies breathe fire? 

Do stink bugs take baths?" 



So what do you think? Are you ready to try?  What questions will your story ask and 

answer? 

I'm curious. Let us know in the comments below.  Happy writing.


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Poe Won't Go, a Fabulous Mentor Text


On a day like today, I'm grateful for every picture book that highlights kindness. Poe Won't Go arrives in stores on October 16th and I can't wait for the world to read it! 
I adore both Kelly DiPucchio and Zachariah Ohora, and wow! Poe Won't Go's hysterical story will resonate with everyone!

No matter how many tactics or techniques the townspeople use on Poe the elephant, he won't leave.  

"As the day wore on, the townspeople grew more clever.  They brought in mice...and magnets...and motivational speakers. Copters...and cranes...and clowns with horn squeakers. But there wasn't a pastor or a plow in town who knew how to get Poe to go."

Filled with hilarious attempts to move Poe and illustrations that enhance the humor, this book is the kind of book kids will want to read over and over again.  And the solution?  A kid who is willing to listen.  Poe is the kind of elephant a kid will root for and that's what reading is all about. 

What makes Poe Won't Go work?

The Rule of Three.  
Kelly DiPucchio uses the rule of 3 throughout the book. For example: "People begged.  And booed.  And bribed."  and "Horns honked.  People yelled from their cars.  A policeman wrote his a ticket."

A Repeated Phrase  
In this case: "But Poe wouldn't go."  is repeated and slightly varied throughout the book. It's a perfect line for kids to repeat with the reader.

Playful language
'"We do not tolerate parked pachyderms in Princkly Valley!" She proclaimed.'

Perfect Marriage of Text and Illustrations 
"Seriously?  Catch me if you can, POE! The townspeople were fresh out of ideas.  And Poe?  Well...you know." (illustration of a rollerskating girl in a peanut costume!)

You'll have to check out the book to really appreciate this one!

An Unexpected Ending
Something for you to look forward to when you read it...





Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Mentor Text Author Study: Dev Petty


Before Dev Petty became an author, she worked as a visual effects artist in the film industry. After taking a class in writing she uncovered another talent, writing stories. Petty merged her knowledge of the visual arts with her sense of humor to create humorous picture books.

One day she had an idea to write a funny story about a frog, all in dialogue. The result is the four-book series about a little frog that has one existential crisis after another. These stories are fun for children and the adults helping them as they struggle to answer the big questions about life.


STORY - THE BIG PICTURE:
Every writer knows a story is more than a beginning, middle, and an end. A story needs a main character with a conflict. The little frog is both. In each book, adults will recognize those “moment of life” conversations they’ve had with children. When adults often offer children information to satisfy their curiosity, often the gaps in their knowledge, awareness, and experience result in some pretty funny encounters.

The story in I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG, is about little frog’s identity crisis. In the scene below his father explains why he can’t be an owl. But the little frog persists with his list of reasons why he doesn’t like being a frog.

                            
POINT OF VIEW
As the main character, each story unfolds from the little frog’s point of view. The witty writing takes readers inside the head of the main character and into the depths of how very young children think. Words in bold letters and different colors emphasize important points made by each character. The speech bubbles make the conversation easy to follow.

In the opening scene from I DON’T WANT TO BE BIGillustrated by Mike Boldt, the little frog refuses to eat because he doesn’t want to be big. The story that follows is about this one idea. He doesn't want to change because little frog likes his life as it is. His father and friends help him understand how life does and doesn’t change when growing physically big.


FICTION + HUMOR + NONFICTION ELEMENTS
Amphibians and other animals may not talk, but in Petty’s stories, they deliver factual information about animal nature in a fun way. Boldt’s illustrations add to the visual humor. With the father and other supporting characters, a comedy skit unfolds in each scene. The banter is delightful.

In this scene from THERE’S NOTHING TO DO, illustrated by Mike Boldt, the bored little frog seeks advice from his friends but they aren’t giving him any satisfying suggestions.

Ba-dum-bum-Tshhh!
The fourth book in this series is I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SLEEP, illustrated by Mike Boldt, releases on October 16, 2018.

In this story, the little frog learns the harsh reality of amphibian life. Coldblooded animals like him miss out on all the winter fun because of something called hibernation. So little frog convinces his non-hibernating friends to help him with his dilemma. Petty delivers a fun twist in the end that won’t disappoint her fans.

The dialogue below shows the little frog's reaction to learning something he doesn’t understand but knows it doesn’t fit with his plans.

Owl: “Oh, sorry. You don’t get to have fun in the winter.”
Little frog: “Why not?”
Owl: “Frogs hibernate.”
Little frog: “I don’t know what that means, but I don’t like it.”

UNIQUE CHARACTERS & CREATIVE CONCEPT
CLAYMATES, illustrated by photographic illustrator Lauren Eldridge, is about a friendship that develops between two pieces of clay, one brown, one gray. Petty and Eldridge combine the art of storytelling with the medium of photography and clay sculpture in this creative endeavor.


When an artist leaves the studio after shaping one piece of clay into a wolf and the other into an owl, hilarity ensues! This is one clever concept that meets any definition of quirky. The two friends engage in boundless creativity until…

The mediums used by Eldridge add unique visual humor to the all-dialogue narrative written by Petty.


If writing humor, telling a story through dialogue, and or developing stories using a unique creative concept is on your bucket list, I highly recommend you study books by Dev Petty. Her characters are well developed using sparse text and she delivers pure comedy gold. 

Follow Dev on Twitter @DEVPETTY