Tuesday, January 19, 2021

ReFoReMo Mini-Monthly Writing Challenge: How to be a Ninja Writer

By Janie Reinart
If we ever needed to be a ninja writer--the time is now in the new year because ninjas have courage and overcome obstacles. This challenge is from a few years ago. A ninja writer is highly skilled. They are silent and strong in mind. A true ninja writer can overcome all obstacles. Have courage ninja writer. Against all odds and form rejections, a ninja writer must believe in their ability and rebound fast on the keyboard. A ninja writer must master the element of surprise on the mission to be published. I was enlightened and selected my words for this intro by sneaking into this master storyteller's book--NINJA by Arree Chung.
A ninja writer is one who endures many years of practicing their art. They exaggerate setting and characters in their story like NINJA BABY by David Zeltser. “When Nina was born, the doctor gently thumped her bottom to make sure she was breathing. Nina karate chopped her right back.” My favorite line is when the parents bring home a baby brother aka Kung Fu Master. "What's your secret?" she asked him. He just looked at her. It was like listening to the wind in the bamboo.
Kiya! Get ready for a chance to get empowered not devoured by reading HENSEL AND GRETEL NINJA CHICKS by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez. This punny story is a fractured fairy tale. My favorite line: The fox said, " Surrender? No way, chicken tender! Your cheep little threats are absurd!" From then on the chicks made it their mission to rescue, protect, and defend.
Now you are ready ninja writer. Use your mystical powers, follow a strict diet (of chocolate and perhaps wine) and go to work in your dojo. 1. Select a character type or combine two: eg. ninja, ballerina, pirate, baby. 2. Read picture books about your character type. 3. Make a word bank of terms from the picture books you read. 4. Brainstorm story ideas. Don't forget to karate kick in a surprise ending. 5. Play and practice your ninja writing skills. What obstacles are you overcoming in your writing? Sayonara!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Mentor Text Talk with VIvian Kirkfield


Vivian Kirkfield is a light in the kidlitt community. She's participated in ReFoReMo for years and now her books are flooding the shelves! Her newest release is From Here to There: Inventions that Changed the Way the World Moves, illustrated by Gilbert Ford. We're excited to welcome Vivian back on ReFoReMo to learn about how she uses mentor texts!

Vivian, do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?  If so, how? 


The advice given to me and the advice I give at conference presentations and school visits is to READ lots of picture books if that is what you want to write. I do utilize picture books as mentor texts because they help me see how other authors structured their stories. And especially with biographies, this can be really helpful. Do you tell the story from the life to death of the individual? Or do you snag a slice/event/moment in time to build your story around? Reading other books helps me decide which format would best suit my story and the information I have been able to gather.


I take note of opening lines, pacing, and how similes, metaphors, repetition, refrains are used…all the techniques in the picture book writing toolbox. Sometimes as I research and write, I forget to implement some of these – using mentor texts helps jog my memory.

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of FROM HERE TO THERE?


The HMH editor, Ann Rider, suggested that I check out a few books in particular to help me visualize the format she wanted: Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh and Melissa Sweet – but Ann wanted full-length stories with a true picture book arc. And she suggested I look at Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet – to see the way the bibliography and source notes were set up.


In addition, I studied The Inventor’s Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford by Suzanne Slade; On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne; In The Bag: Margaret Knight Wraps It Up by Monica Kulling; Dorothea’s Eyes by Barb Rosenstock; Me, Jane by Patrick McDonnell; The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin…and so many others. I basically read dozens and dozens of picture book biographies…mostly current ones that had been recently published.

How has reading Picture Books helped you discover who you are as a writer?


What a great question, Kirsti! I’d say that reading Picture Books helped me discover what I loved and what I didn’t love about how a picture book story unfolded. I discovered that for me, the opening lines are key – I want to be invited in – and swept into another world – the world of the main character. I also discovered that, for me, a satisfying ending is one that almost always circles back to the beginning and echoes those opening lines. The third thing I discovered is that I love the element of three. If you ask my critique buddies, they will tell you that they can pick out one of my stories from a pile of manuscripts because I employ all of these when I write. But the amazing thing is that each story I write is completely unique…the nine biographies in From Here to There have totally different opening lines…totally different content…and totally different endings, even though they are similar in structure and energy. I hope other writers will find them helpful as mentor texts in the future…I know I will. 😊



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


The BEST way to utilize mentor texts? Whatever way works for you! Truly, we are all on the same path to publication, but our journeys will be different.


Two tips I’d like to share about specific ways to use mentor texts:

1. POST-IT NOTE PLACEMENT: A writer friend, Judy Cooper, uses this method and I think it is brilliant. She chooses a picture book that she loves. She writes out onto post-it notes the current manuscript she is working on – one note for each spread. Then she turns the pages of the book she loves and pastes a post-it on the corresponding spread…opening lines and so on, until she gets to the end. This can be really helpful in seeing how your own page turns line up with a story that has engaged your attention and your heart.

2. R&R RESEARCH: If you get an R&R (Revise and Resubmit) request from an editor, here’s a tip that helped me snag a book deal. Find out what other books the editor has worked on (I googled her and read many of the interviews she had done – in each interview, she mentioned one or two books she was editing at the time). Get copies and read them. Study how those authors structured their stories. Did they use quotes? Lyrical language? Humor? Lots of action? Then revise your manuscript accordingly. I think, when it comes to revision, we need to be flexible, while staying true to our vision of the story. And when it comes to mentor texts, I think I love them most because they show me that a story can be told in numerous ways and still be a great story.

Thank you, Vivian! We're so glad to learn from you!

Thanks so much for having me on ReFoReMo, Kirsti.

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, and visiting kidlit friends all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the picturesque town of Bedford, New Hampshire. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. Her nonfiction narratives bring history alive for young readers and her picture books have garnered starred reviews and accolades including the Silver Eureka, Social Studies Notable Trade Book, and Junior Library Guild Selection.

To connect with Vivian and learn more about her books:

Website: www.viviankirkfield.com

Facebook www.facebook.com/viviankirkfield

Twitter: www.twitter.com/viviankirkfield

Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/viviankirkfield

Instagram: www.instagram.com/viviankirkfield



Tuesday, January 5, 2021


As we open the road to a new year, we are excited to add a new team member to our blog team: Author/Librarian Kathy Halsey! She will conduct our ever-important author studies, while Keila Dawson focuses a new picture book lens on Perfect Pairs beginning in April. We are thrilled to have these new additions and we know that you will be, too.   

A new year also means the ReFoReMo Challenge is just around the corner, taking place every March. We will reveal the talented list of presenters on February 2, followed by the reading list on February 9, and registration on February 16. We hope you will learn with us during our 7th-Annual ReFoReMo!  

For now, please help us celebrate our very own Keila Dawson, as she releases her third picture book and shares her mentor text learning process.   

~Carrie & Kirsti 

I used mentor texts throughout the writing process for my nonfiction story OPENING THE ROAD:VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK. I read books with a similar subject matter to learn how authors approached their topics. I studied craft when struggling with something specific like point of view, beginnings, endings, finding a focus, what research to include and what to leave out. I looked at the structure of books in the same or similar genre and thought about why each choice was a good fit for the story. Mentor texts came in handy when I had multiple drafts and I couldn’t decide which to use.

Even with exhaustive research, I could only find one photo and a few articles about my subject, Victor Hugo Green, so early on the book had to be more than a biography. After finding enough information to draft a manuscript, my mentor text search began. A critique mentioned looking at mentor texts about people and their inventions.

WHOOSH! LONNIE JOHNSON’S SUPER-SOAKING STREAM OF INVENTIONS is about the inventor Lonnie Johnson, but it’s about his Super Soaker, too.

THE BOO BOOS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD is about the couple that accidentally invented the Band-Aid, but it’s also about the invention itself.


I joined a group of writers studying close third person POV and thought that would work in this manuscript because it brings the reader up close to what’s happening without using first person POV. I didn’t have dialogue, but I had access to words my character wrote.



Then there was the matter of back matter. I read lots of author’s notes and studied the structure of back matter in books and what authors included.

What type served this story?

  •     Author’s note
  •     Timeline
  •     Bibliography
  •     Quote sources
  •     Online sources
  •     Acknowledgments

More back matter meant cutting text if the book was 32 pages. So I studied the book design of nonfiction books and biographies that were 32 and 40 pages. With the amount of research I had, I wanted to include an author’s note. Because the book spanned decades and history was part of the backdrop, including a timeline made sense. Because the book is nonfiction, I wanted a bibliography, too.

In early drafts, I used secondary text to include the history that took place during the timeframe of the story. So I looked at books that had those like MR. FERRIS AND HIS WHEEL. I didn’t end up using layers of text, but most of it ended up in the timeline.

And throughout this process I kept the same questions in mind whether reading my own work or the work of another author:

· What makes this story worth writing about?

· Why would this bio/topic make a compelling story for a young audience?

· What creates tension and keeps the reader turning the page?

· Why is the structure used a good fit for this story?

· What facts did the author include in the main text? Why?

· What facts did the author include in the author’s note?

· What parts are "telling" and what parts are "storytelling"? 

· What parts bring readers up close?

· What writing techniques move the story forward?

· Where does the reader slow down and reflect?

· What am I learning about this subject or topic from the writing alone?

· What does the text project about the main character's traits? 

· What does the reader take away from this story?

Mentor texts played an important role in my process for writing this story. Hopefully OPENING THE ROAD will help someone in crafting their story, too.

***GIVEAWAY Instructions below***


Keila V. Dawson is co-editor of NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY, along with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley, (Charlesbridge, September 2020) and the forthcoming NO WORLD TOO BIG:YOUNG PEOPLE FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE also with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, spring 2023). She is the author of THE KING CAKE BABY, illustrated by Vernon Smith (Pelican Publishing 2015) and OPENING THE ROAD: VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Beaming Books, January 26, 2021). Dawson was born and grew up in New Orleans, has lived and worked in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. Find her on Twitter, Instagram,  Pinterest, or her website.


Keila is giving away one copy of OPENING THE ROAD: VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK to one lucky winner who enters through the Rafflecopter. (US Only)

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

ReFoReMo's Best Mentor Texts of the Year 2020

Our Reading for Research team is dedicated to learning craft from the best writing and illustrating in the current picture book market. The texts we choose as honorees every year are mentor models in many ways. Picture books published between December 11, 2019- December 7, 2020 were eligible for the awards this year.

Congratulations to the authors, illustrators and publishers chosen for the Reading for Research Best Mentor Texts of 2020!  

Carrie Charley Brown's Honoree


Author: Rita Lorraine Hubbard

Illustrator: Oge Mora

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade, January 7, 2020

The Oldest Student paints the perfect picture book mentor text right from the opening. We are invested in young Mary Walker’s life and well-being as she envisions freedom floating free on the breeze like a swallow. She works hard as a slave from the time she is a child and sets a goal to learn to read once she is free. When a character and goal are built with such strength, page-turns become a natural desire for the reader. Empathy transfers to the reader’s heart making them reflect on their own real-world life experience compared to Mary’s.  

As Mary grows older, we are continually reminded of her desire to read, while also learning the conditions she faces which make it impossible for her to achieve it. The perfect recipe for building tension and heart! Through all of the illustrations, we see continued symbolism of Mary’s unachieved goal: cut-off sentences and partial words hidden in the scenery. Mary refuses to give up her goal and begins learning to read at age 114. The once cut-off words and sentences found in the illustrations change to squiggles at the point of her commitment, and are finally shown as part of Mary’s clothing once she learns to read. She is clothed in her goal! The symbolism is masterful. 

A growth mind-set theme of “You’re never too old to learn” brews successfully under the story. Never once does it overpower the character, heart, or plot. As we trudge through this pandemic, it may feel like we may never return to life as we once knew it. Children going to school, businesses open, personal goals taking flight. Just like Mary, conditions may not be right for us to achieve personal goals. Let’s keep our goals in our hearts as we embrace Mary’s spirit and commitment.

Kirsti Call's Honoree


Author: DJ Corchin

Illustrator: Dan Dougherty

Publisher: Sourcebooks, August 2020

“She had a great idea.  At least she thought she did.  That’s when she got her first “no.” It was heavy. It was hard to carry.  And it kinda hurt.”

This story is about persistence and not letting the word NO keep you from following your dreams.  It’s a great reminder to think outside the box, get constructive criticism, allow others to help, and collect all of your No’s in order to create a YES!

I love how the illustrations in this story provide a visual portrayal of how heavy NOs can feel.  They start out colorless and end up colorful for the very last spread when each and every one of the thousand NO’s creates an enormous YES.

“There were just so many NO’s.  She needed more and more people to help.

But soon, something interesting happened.

She began to get curious about what her idea might end up looking like. In fact, it became fun for  everyone to add more NO’s and see how the idea might change and grow.”

The combination of text and illustrations is a powerful reminder for how we can take negativity and turn it into something positive.

Janie Reinart's Honoree


Author: Julie Fogliano

Illustrator: Jillian Tamaki

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers March 3, 2020


My Best Friend is all silliness and sweetness. In 362 words, Julie Fogliano reminds us of the pure joy of making a friend. The heart of this book is uplifting and playful. This story captures the giddy “big feelings” of innocent preschoolers who instantly know and love one another, even before they know each other’s name. Just like a preschooler’s writing, the text has little punctuation or capitalization.


“i have a new friend

 and her hair is black

and it shines

and it shines

 and she always laughs at everything”

“she is so smart

and when

i say la la la

she says

la la la”


The preschool voice is whimsical and switches from first to second person seamlessly.


“did you know that when you have

a best friend it is really fun

when you are hiding?”

Before the title page is a close up of the narrator staring at you, the reader. Turn the page  and the narrator is looking at her new best friend. The last illustration is of our narrator looking back to see if you are still watching her. The art and text of this story celebrates best friends.

Keila Dawson's Honoree


Author: Leslea Newman

Illustrator: Susan Gal

Publisher: Charlesbridge, January 28, 2020

In thinking about how terribly divided our country is at the moment makes me think of how the parallel structure works in a book. Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail focuses on Newman’s religious identity, family, and friendship. Self-identity is important to understanding how we see ourselves fit in a society and how society sees us. The themes of family and friendship are universal to all identities.


A parallel structure tells two different stories, side by side, from different points of view. But the stories intersect at some point. This story uses a parallel sentence structure to compare a boy’s experiences at a Seder and a cat that is outdoors. Parallel illustrations also show contrasting story lines that connect to one another.


Inside, candles glowed.

Outside, stars twinkled.

Inside, the boy drank grape juice.

Outside, the kitten lapped at a puddle.

In the end, it is finding where our stories intersect that resonate with the events of today. Although our experiences are different, it’s important that we focus on our connection as we are all a part of the same country and share the same Earth.

Cindy Shrauben's Honoree


Author: Shannon Anderson

Illustrator: Jake Souva

Publisher: Free Spirit Publishing, August 24, 2020


Now, more than ever, I feel the need to inspire children (and adults for that matter) to believe in themselves. Y IS FOR YET empowers the reader by example. The alphabet structure provides a straightforward framework that is valuable in a number of ways:

      It is very clear-cut -- C is for CHALLENGES -- how is this boy challenging himself?

      It lends itself to prediction strategies -- what growth mindset strategy might come next?

      It helps the reader remember the important points -- A is for Ability, B is for Brain, etc.

“Dd: When you are DETERMINED you are committed to accomplishing something, even if it’s difficult.”


Because this structure does not follow a storyline, the illustrator is able to include a diverse group of characters. It features 26 different children, in 26 different scenarios, succeeding in 26 different ways. This allows more children to envision themselves exhibiting a growth mindset. 

Congratulations again to all of the honorees! As our blog settles into our winter break, consider taking time to reserve these at your local library. It may renew your spirit and fill you with hope, as well as mentor text motivation for the new year. We will return in January, with more mentor text inspiration and the 7th-annual ReFoReMo on the horizon. From our families to yours, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Three Types of Picture Books Editors Really Love

What do editors want? As writers we find this question perplexing. We puzzle over our manuscripts and study mentor texts.  

I read hundreds of fiction picture books every year as a Cybils judge.This reading helps me better understand what editors really want. 

Here are three types of fiction picture books books that are trending in 2020...

1. Diverse
Reading these diverse picture books is an evocative way to learn about different cultures and beliefs. 

2. Social Emotional Books
These social emotional books are especially useful for kindling discussions and process pandemic-induced challenges.  

3. Educational and Issue Driven
These engaging and informative books make curious children want to learn more, and we can all use that now that remote learning is the norm. 

What diverse, social emotional, educational/issue driven books do you love?