Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Digging for Gold Challenge

By Janie Reinart

Nikki Grimes has done it again. Her new book, One Last Word, finds inspiration from poets of the Harlem Renaissance.  

The form Nikki Grimes used to create her latest book is called the Golden Shovel. To start, you need a line from a story, poem, or words in a song. The words are so striking, that you have to reread, sing, or write them down.  

  • Take a "striking" line
  • This line becomes the end words in your new story idea or poem
  • Write the words in the right margin in order. These words become your ending words.
  • Give credit to the poet, author, lyricist who originally wrote the line

I read the story, My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison. The line that made me tear up was

My new idea using the golden shovel.

Crystal Butterfly

The glasswing flutters and
her stained glass beauty camouflages her.
No need for clothes
when you are
mystery to birds, so little.
One with the light, you are clearly snuggish.

Your challenge is to find a striking line. Use your golden shovel.  Please share your new creations in the commentsHappy digging.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Mentor Text Author Study: Susanna Hill

Susanna Hill believes in the magic of storytelling. Her stories are magical because they are meaningful to children. In her books, she builds worlds where her young audiences come to laugh, to learn, to satisfy a curiosity, or seek comfort in times of uncertainty. 

Growing up, Susanna always wanted to be a writer but once considered becoming a fire fighter. She’s published over a dozen books, won multiple literary awards, and have numerous titles translated into French, Dutch, German, Japanese, and coming soon - Chinese. Susanna’s books are written in prose and rhyme. Her body of work includes novelty books for ages 2-5, picture books for ages 4-8, and an easy reader for ages 6-9. Susanna is also a well-known blogger and writing teacher.

An author is often asked where their ideas come from. The topics and themes reflected in Susanna’s stories are often drawn from her own childhood and life raising five children. The research conducted on topics she writes about appears in some of her books as nonfiction back matter.    

What to look for in her books:

Story structure - These books are examples of how to structure informational board books for very young children ages 2-5 and picture books for ages 4-7:                                                  

THE HOUSE THAT MACK BUILT (Preschool Pop-Ups), FREIGHT TRAIN TRIP! A Lift-The-Flap Adventure and AIRPLANE FLIGHT! A Lift-The-Flap Adventure are novelty board books with interactive components written in rhyme.

THE ROAD THAT TRUCKS BUILT is a clever adaptation of the nursery rhyme, “The House That Jack Built” that explains how roads are built and what vehicles are used to build them. This picture book has an interactive spinning wheel cover design. (releases July 25, 2017)

Escalation - These books are examples of classic story arc loaded with tension.

PUNXSUTAWNEY PHYLLIS and APRIL FOOL,PHYLLIS! are character-driven books with a strong confident female protagonist and detail oriented plots. Perfect for Groundhog Day and April Fools’ Day, both include curriculum based nonfiction back matter for extended study at home or school.

Problem - In these books find clearly stated & universal problems kids face in early childhood.

CAN'T SLEEP WITHOUT SHEEP and NOT YET, ROSE are stories that address two common childhood dilemmas - falling asleep and the anxiety associated with becoming an older sibling.

Structure & Problem - These books show how choosing the right structure with a universal problem can open the door to the creation of a series.                                          

WHEN YOUR LION NEEDS A BATH and WHEN YOUR ELEPHANT HAS THE SNIFFLES are part of Susanna’s WHEN YOUR board book series. Written in prose, both books take a humorous approach to helping kids cope with common early childhood experiences they often object to…dealing with illness and bathtime. 

In addition to writing for children, Susanna built a successful author platform that reaches out to librarians, teachers, parents, and other writers.

On Mondays, look for her weekly advice column, Oh Susanna! where she answers questions posted to her blog about reading, writing, and teaching writing.

On Wednesdays, look for Would You Read It? when writers send in pitches on
their works-in-progress for input from Susanna and her followers. Each month or so a pitch is selected by popular vote then read and edited by an actual editor
On Fridays, bloggers link their book reviews to her weekly Perfect Picture Book Friday page. She feathers hundreds of picture books on her site categorized by theme.

Making Picture Book Magic is a 4-week online writing course Susanna teaches to introduce and reinforce the foundations of picture book writing.
      The Valentiny Writing Contest is held the 2nd week of February
      Halloweensie Writing Contest is held the last week of October
      Holiday Writing Contest is held the 1st or 2nd week of December

It’s been a pleasure to be included in Susanna’s When Your Books Go On A Blog Tour for her three 2017 summer releases and study her craft. Check out the schedule on her blog to read other posts on her virtual tour. While there, take a look at Susanna’s website and all she has to offer. 

Read her books and let me know the ones that resonate and why. I believe you will find her stories are filled with magic and are excellent mentor texts to study.

Keila Dawson is a ReFoReMo Contributor. She’s hiked the rice terraces in the Philippines, climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan, and Mt. Sinai in Egypt. Keila finds adventures in picture books too. When she isn’t traveling, reading or digging in genealogical archives, she’s writing and visiting schools. Keila enjoys sharing her love of Louisiana and world cultures. Her debut picture book, THE KING CAKE BABY, released in 2015, by Pelican Publishing Co., Inc.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy 4th of July!

Happy summer to our entire ReFoReMo family!

Now that summer is in full swing, it's time to think about books for the fall! The Teacher's Pet, by Anica Mrose Rissi, and Zachariah Ohora and Fall is for School by Robert Neubecker are both incredible back to school books.  

The Teacher's Pet will evoke discussion about science experiments gone awry, and what really happens in the classroom.  The idea of an inappropriate classroom pet is hilarious. This book is filled with surprises in the text and the colorful illustrations enhance the fun of the story. The title is a clever word play that makes perfect sense, yet will make parents chuckle. I especially love the diverse cast of children, animals, and of course, the oblivious adult. I love how the kids are the characters in the book that understand the truth of the situation and know how to deal with it, whereas the teacher is absolutley clueless. People of every age will love this rollicking read aloud.

Fall is for School does a great job of showing a conversation between a sister who is excited about school, and a brother who is not! Periodically, the rhyming text is appropriately interrupted by the brother which adds to the humor of the story. For example: 

Recess is for playing games:
We'll run and jump and climb!
Let's go right now and join the fun.
You really must not whine!


The illustrations are darling, using a fall palette that helps us get excited for the upcoming school year.   The endpapers feature a tree at different seasons, and different colored texts show us who is talking.  As the sister eventually gets her brother excited about school, the illustrations show the kids' imaginations coming to life.  

This story will resonate with all types of children and learners and may even help the un-enthusiastic kids laugh about their trepidation, and process how they're feeling.   

Each of these stories is a great way to get excited about and prepared for a new school year!

What are you favorite back to school books?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

THINK QUICK with Author Tara Lazar

Hi Tara!  Congrats on the release of 7 Ate 9! Your stories always make me laugh and I particularly like the clever wordplay in this book and how it encourages kids to think about numbers in creative ways.  

On puns:

Can’t live with them or can’t live without them?

I'm supposed to answer with a pun, aren't I?

On numbers:

Problem solvers or problem makers?

For me, numbers have always been a problem. And then, they go mixing letters inWhat does "e" mean anyway? I was absent that day in seventh grade.

On letters:

A-ok or wordy?

Who doesn't love letters...? They make words, which make sentences, which make stories, which are my favorite!

On Private I’s:

Necessary or extraneous?

Necessary. Who else is going to put two and two together?

On Film Noirs:

Watch them or avoid them?

Love them. "Double Indemnity" is a favorite.

On math:

Love it or Leave it?

Honestly, glad I got to leave it. Can you imagine Tara Lazar the accountant? Not a job that lends itself to creativity...

On vacations:

Local or foreign?

Sailing the seven seas sounds delightful.

On twist endings:

Shocking or Satisfying?

Ahhhhhhhh. (That's a satisfied sigh.)

On mysteries:

Frustrating or Intriguing?

Page-turners--so a little bit of both is necessary.

On books:

7 Ate 9 or 7 Ate 9?

I think you know the answer to this one.

Yes, yes I do!

Review by Kirsti Call

I love all of Tara Lazar's quirky, clever books and this is no exception. I love how Tara takes this common joke and turns it into an incredibly clever story with engaging characters and a fast paced plot. Every spread has multiple puns and witty wordplay. The film noir illustrations enhance the already super fun storyline. This is a story that I've read to all of my children ages 6-15 and each of them chose to re-read it by themselves just to re-live the puns and find new secrets in the illustrations. I highly recommend this rollicking story!

Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that everyone will want to visit.
Her picture books available now are:
Tara is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.
Her last name rhymes with “bazaar”—you can listen to Tara pronounce her name on TeachingBooks.net. She’s not Tara Laser-beam (although that would be awesome).

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Creep Crawly Challenge

                                         By Janie Reinart

Creepy crawlies are kid favorites. Just listen to this rendition of The Itsy-bitsy Spider.  Have you tried writing about a bug, spider, or other insect?

By Bethany Barton

Bethany is author/illustrator and the text is full of humor. Her amazing art starts on the end pages. 

"I'm gonna try really hard to like this spider right here. Maybe if I study him for a while...
I think it's working
AHHHHHH!! It's moving!!
Squish it!!
Squish it!!
Squish it!!
That didn't work out. 
But next time will be better."

By Carson Ellis

How about a new buggie language? My five year old grandson loves to make up the conversation when he "reads" the story.  Every time I look at the artwork, I find something new. There is a spider in this story too!

"Du iz tak?
Ma ebadow unk plonk.
Du kimma plonk?
Ma nazoot."

By Sheri Mabry Bestor

This story starts with the gorgeous end pages. Layered text adds more information about this insect. Onomatopoeia in different fonts adds to the fun of the story. Did you know that some species of waking stick are able to change color with light or temperature?


"Tiny eggs fall to the ground, like a slow rain on an autumn day. Leaves float on the breeze and hide the eggs. The woods are covered in a blanket of white. Underground, buried deep, the eggs are safe."

Your challenge is to write a story, fiction or nonfiction, about a creepy-crawly. You might just learn to love them. Leave your favorite buggy books in the comments.

Here is another idea to get you going.

My bright color warns-I taste terrible.
My black spots fade with age.
Don't call me mister!
Who Am I?

Did you guess?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Revealing ReFoReMo with Jilanne Hoffmann

The Picture Book Marathon

When I first started writing picture books, I thought I had put in my 10,000 hours. Little did I know that an MFA in Creative Writing for adults and being a published journalist for 20+ years would take me only so far in the picture book marathon.

It took a year or so to figure out that I was still far, far from the finish line. I knew how to write. I just didn’t know how to write picture books. My first efforts ranged between 1200-1500 words and were deemed more appropriate for an older crowd. My education in the art of the picture book was lacking. Sure, I had fallen in love with the form when I read to my son, but I had never studied what made them unique in the literary world.

So I enrolled in online picture book writing courses, became a member of SCBWI and attended conferences, joined 12x12, and discovered ReFoReMo.

I began to study picture books. I read the ReFoReMo guest posts written by agents, editors, and authors. What books did they love and why? What picture books did published authors read when they needed specific guidance or inspiration?

I’ve read hundreds of picture books. I mean I REALLY read them. I studied each page and how the story moved from one page to the next. What happened in between the page turns? I studied the text and illustrations. I analyzed how they added different, complementary elements to the reading experience. I pondered why a character tugged at my heart. And I focused on why I wanted to read certain books again and again and again.

Are you having trouble with characterization? Check out these picture books with unforgettable characters.

If you can’t plot to save your soul, take a lesson from these stellar page-turners.

Or maybe your prose plods along like a metronome set at 20 beats per minute? Take a look at some picture books that keep readers turning the pages and guessing what’s going to happen next, all while changing up the pacing.

If you don’t know diddly squat about poetic techniques and how they can enhance your tale, immerse yourself in picture books that are playful and inventive in their use of language, whether lyrical, humorous, or rhyming.

Now that I’ve been through year three of ReFoReMo, I can finally say that I’ve put in my 10,000 hours in the picture book marathon. And while I may not have crossed the finish line, yet, I feel far more certain that I will do so. It is only a matter of time.

While everyone’s marathon may follow a slightly different course, we’re all running in the same direction. We want to give children a very specific kind of gift, one that will lift them up with imagination, give them knowledge about their world, and build bridges of understanding. It is a gift that can make a profound difference in children’s lives.

Good luck to all who take on this exquisite journey, this labor of love—again and again. There may be no other work that is more thrilling or satisfying.

Jilanne Hoffmann has read at Listen to Your Mother - San Francisco, is an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, received an honorable mention in a Literary Death Match bookmark competition judged by Daniel Handler, and is a co-producer of Kidquake, the elementary school version of Litquake, San Francisco's premier literary festival. She often features her favorite picture books for Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays at www.jilannehoffmann.com.