Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Books That Ask a Question- Monthly Challenge

By Janie Reinart

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     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 


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Author Tina Cho Talks Mentor Texts

I met Tina Cho about five years ago through the 12 x 12 online picture book community. We share common ground as educators and picture book writers. As an active member of the ReFoReMo Community, using mentor texts has helped Tina learn a lot about great writing. We are pleased to reveal more about how that process supported her debut picture book, Rice from Heaven. Thanks for joining us today, Tina, and congratulations on your new release!

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of Rice from Heaven?
YES! My agent sent out an earlier draft of Rice from Heaven to a few editors, and they came back pretty much with the same comments—They loved the story line, but the writing needed work. So, my agent suggested that I make the story more dreamy and lyrical. Well, how does a writer do that? I’m not a poet, and so I took to storming through the Internet in search of mentor texts and ANYTHING about writing a lyrical picture book.
The first mentor text I used was Red Kite, Blue Kite by Ji-li Jiang, Disney Hyperion 2013. The first page reads:
"I love to fly kites. But not from the ground. My city is crowded, and the streets are skinny. Baba and I fly our kites from the tippy-top of our triangle roof. We are above but still under, neither here nor there. We are free, like the kites."
From this book, I learned about using comparison (metaphor & similes) and using an image theme throughout the book.

Next, I read many blog posts about lyrical texts, even one from ReFoReMo here.
Many of the blog posts about writing lyrical texts had one mentor text in common: JANE YOLEN’S OWL MOON. Can you believe in all my years of teaching and raising my own two children, I had never read this book?! And here I was in South Korea, and I didn’t have access to it. So, I checked You Tube. Yep, someone had a video reading of the book. You won’t believe what I did. I watched it so slowly, stopping every few words, and typed up the whole book!
I learned that it was written in free verse with illustrative, descriptive words, some repetition, with a refrain, lots of emotion, alliteration, simile, metaphor, and written in first person point of view.

So I rewrote my original draft to a more lyrical, dreamy draft. You can see some drastic differences:
From draft #11:  “Yoori loves rice. A bowl of rice with her egg at breakfast, rice and soup for lunch, and rice with vegetables and meat for supper. When her teacher said that some children had one meal a day or nothing, Yoori was shocked and sad.”
From draft #17 that sold: “Out of the city, across a bridge, to an island blanketed with rice fields, Appa and I ride. We reach a place where mountains become a wall. A wall so high, no one dares to climb. Beyond that wall and across the sea, live children just like me, except they do not have food to eat. North Korea is a gigantic empty rice bowl with a government that does nothing to help its people. Appa grew up there. Starving, he escaped down here to the south. I am a little grain of rice. How can I help?”
How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer? 
Since I’ve been an elementary teacher for many years, I’ve read many, many picture books. I’ve discovered what kinds I lean toward—funny, those with heart, and picture book biographies. So those are the kinds of stories I’m trying to write as well.
What do you feel is the BEST way for picture book writers to utilize mentor texts?
For me, I utilize mentor texts the most when I’m stuck and need help as I described above with lyrical texts. Then I search for books in the genre and format I’m trying to write in. I read as many as I can and take notes on the author’s strategies and craft. I did this with nonfiction picture book biographies, and my latest, novels in verse.
Thank you so much for talking mentor texts with us today, Tina! As a school library media specialist, I appreciate Rice From Heaven's themes of human need, serving others, working together, and standing up for what is right. These are the qualities we strive to implement at my school and I appreciate how prayer is woven into the story's fabric. The frequent use of metaphor and simile deepen the point of view and compassion felt throughout the story.  Keum Jin Song's illustrations beautifully highlight emotion and teamwork, and the back matter provides relevant Korean history, creating a research springboard for students. 
Tina Cho is the author of three picture books-- Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (Little Bee Books/Bonnier Publishing August 2018), Korean Celebrations (forthcoming Tuttle 2019) and Breakfast with Jesus (forthcoming Harvest House 2020). Although she grew up and taught in the United States, she currently lives in South Korea with her husband and two children while teaching at an international school.