Tuesday, August 23, 2016

THINK QUICK with Author Lori Degman

Hi Lori! Congrats on the release of NORBERT’S BIG DREAM.  I love how this story encourages children to break out of preconceived roles and dream big. All of the THINK QUICK themes below appear in your book. Let’s see which way you lean.  Remember, THINK QUICK!

 Thanks for having me here, Carrie!  I loved all the questions!

On Pigs:
Preferred pets or farm friends?   

Farm friends.  Unfortunately, my town has an ordinance against pet pigs.

On Dreams:
Wish on a star or make them happen?    

Wish first – then make them happen.  As Katherine Paterson said: “A dream without a plan is just a wish.”

On Swimming:
Splash around or swim for life?    

Splash for my life.

On Goals:

Set them high or start small? 

Set them high.  As Norman Vincent Peale said: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.”

On Mud:
Embrace the goo or wash it off?

Definitely embrace the goo!  It may be messy but it’s fun!

On Conflict:
Press through or take a break?

I’m a classic procrastinator, so I’m apt to take a break!

On Friends:
Roll with one pack or splatter some muddy love to many?

I’m a people person, so I love having a lot of friends – but I also have a pack of very close friends. 

On Staying Motivated:
Reward your achievements or seek support?

I’d be nowhere without the support of my writer friends, and together we celebrate our achievements – big and small!  Whether it’s completing a story, submitting a manuscript or signing a contract!

On Training:
Push hard & fast or take baby steps?

I have short legs, so I’m forced to take baby steps J   Seriously, I tend to jump into things with both feet.

On Books:
Norbert’s Big Dream or Norbert’s Big Dream?

Norbert’s Big Dream!

Of course! And I agree!

Review (By Carrie Charley Brown):

Breaking out of the rhyming mold and into prose, Lori Degman shines in this character-driven story about a motivated pig with big dreams. Children will fall in love with Norbert's spirit. He's not afraid to follow his dreams and be different. As a bonus, the young reader will learn (without even realizing) that it's a pretty good idea to think things through when planning for a big goal. With winks at additional themes of friendship, staying motivated, and facing conflict, this story scores big on the teaching scale. (It's a great one for the beginning of any school year!) Illustrator Marco Bucci renders bright, colorful illustrations that make Norbert feel like a favorite cartoon television show. From cover to cover, Norbert's Big Dream is a work of art that children will adore.

Lori Degman is the award-winning author of three picture books. 1 Zany Zoo (Simon & Schuster, 2010) won the Cheerios New Author Contest and a small paperback version was including inside 2.2 million boxes of Cheerios.  1 Zany Zoo was on the inaugural Illinois Reads List and was nominated for the South Carolina School Picture book Award.  Cock-a-Doodle Oops! (Creston Books, 2014) was an International Literacy Association Honor Book.  Norbert’s Big Dream (Sleeping Bear Press, 2016) was released August 1, 2016.  She lives in a northern suburb of Chicago.  Learn more about her at Loridegman.com.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

August Mentor Text Check in and Challenge: Emotion

By Kirsti Call

What do your favorite picture books have in common?  Do they make you laugh?  Do you they make you cry? Chances are, your favorite picture books evoke some sort of feeling. Without emotion in stories, we don't want to re-read or even finish a book.  We revisit stories that resonate us and help us feel.

Here's the August Mentor Text Challenge:  Read at least 3 picture books that evoke emotion for you and ask these questions.

1. Why do I feel this emotion?
2. What words or events in the story evoke this emotion?
3. What amps up the emotion in this story?

Now read your manuscripts and ask yourself the same questions:

1. Why do I feel this emotion?
2. What words or events in the story evoke this emotion?
3. What amps up the emotion in this story?

There are so many books that use emotion to speak to our hearts.  Let's use them as mentor texts so our stories evoke emotion!

What books do you recommend as stellar mentor texts for emotion?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Author Josh Funk Talks Mentor Texts

By Kirsti Call

I first met Josh when he joined my on-line critique group 3 years ago.  His stories are playful, witty and fun for everyone to read. He's a great author to discuss mentor texts with!  And this month Josh celebrates the release of his newest book, Pirasaurs! 

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

​I read a lot of picture books. Whenever I go to the library, I grab every picture book in the 'new' section that I haven't read. Sometimes I'll spend an hour at a book store reading all the face out books (or anything with an interesting spine). Every once in a while, I'll walk up and down the stacks and pick a book or two at random with my eyes closed (take that, 'judge a book by it's cover' cliche!).

However, I don't consciously use any books specifically as mentor texts. It's more the accumulation of all the books I read that inform my writing.

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

Sometimes I read picture books with my children. Other times I read them alone. I'll often come across a book I like a lot and I'll read it with everyone in my family (including my cats) to see what they think. Sometimes I find a book I really don't like and also ask my whole family to read it to see if I'm crazy and wrong (the answers are usually and sometimes, respectively). In that case, I try to understand what it is that didn't click for me - and I'll try to avoid writing stories with those features.

Every once in a while I'll find a book I *love* so much that I have to share it with everyone. Immediately. I'll interrupt whatever you're doing to share it with you (this becomes a problem when people are using bathrooms).

This happened three times last year with ONE DAY, THE END by Rebecca Kai-Dotlich and illustrated by Fred Koehler, UNDER A PIG TREE by Margie Palatini and illustrated by Chuck Groenink, and BOATS FOR PAPA by Jessixa Bagley. In all three cases, I don't think I've gone and written any stories emulating those three styles, but they've all helped develop my attitude as a writer.

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, Pir​asaurs!​, and Dear Dragon (or any other upcoming books)?

Of course, there's IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts - a fabulously illustrated and gloriously clever rhyming picture book. It showed me that I could use advanced language in a book for children - like trestle, clods, Romanesque. That certainly encouraged me to get words like rappelled, legumes, and slathered into LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST.

Another all-time favorite picture book of mine is THE GARDENER by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small. I don't think I consciously thought about the fact that one of my favorites was written in epistolary format as I drafted DEAR DRAGON (which is also written in letter form), but it wouldn't surprise me if it played a part.

And while the final version of PIRASAURS! is very different, early drafts had more of a concept-driven feel in the vein of SHARK VS. TRAIN by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld.​

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

Mentor texts come in very handy when I'm feeling stuck. When I've drafted a story and sent it through critique groups, but something isn't quite clicking - that's when I search for mentor texts. Often times critique partners mention comparable titles when giving feedback. If someone says 'this story feels a bit like HAMPIRE! - I'll go find that book and see how Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen made that story work.​ Or maybe someone says it reminds them of SEAVER THE WEAVER and I realize that it's a little too close to Paul Czajak's text - so I need to change the direction up a bit.

And sometimes I find a book that I love so much that I wish I thought of the idea. It doesn't mean that I'll necessarily go out and try to write a story just like it. But every picture book I read informs and inspires the next manuscript I write.   

Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books - such as the Award-Winning LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling), PIRASAURS! (Scholastic), DEAR DRAGON (Viking/Penguin), LP&SFT: THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH (Sterling, 2017), IT'S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (Two Lions, 2017), and more.
Josh is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences.
Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts.

Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.

Find out more information about Josh at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Revealing ReFoReMo: Just the Right Inspiration, Liberally Applied with Lori Gravley

Lori Gravley was an active participant in ReFoRemo 2016 and we're happy to have her share her experience with us!  Welcome, Lori!

Guest post by Lori Gravley

My ReFoReMo journey began with promises I made to myself.  I committed to writing a poem a day in 2016.  I committed to writing a picture book a month.  Then, I committed to reading 1,000 picture books in the year.  That led me to ReFoReMo.

I joined ReFoReMo in March because it seemed like a great way to access a reading list beyond the new shelf and best book lists. And, I’d gotten a little tired.  By the end of February, I had run out of the driving inspiration to write poems that wakes me in the middle of the night or makes me pull over on the side of the road to write a line down. I needed something to inspire new ways of seeing my work and the world.

The wonderful list that Carrie and Kirsti sent out was just the inspiration I needed.  With list in hand at the end of February, I ordered books I’d never heard of.  Using the mentor text worksheet that I adapted from Romelle Broas, I started reading and taking notes on the books.

When Tammi Sauer talked about different structures on Day 5, it inspired a daily poem that became a picture book draft, a “How To” book draft. A draft I would not have written without  ReFoReMo and my practice of writing a poem a day.  ReFoReMo gave me the inspiration.  My poem-a-day promise gave me the motivation.  On day five, I checked off each item from my list.  Poem, done. Picture book, complete. Picture books, ten more books read.

Sure, I would have written a picture book draft in March, even without the reading challenges, but the picture book draft I produced has the potential to become a beautiful, highly marketable book.  It was a way to tell about something I’m passionate about in a new way.  Without the ReFoReMo and the exploration of new forms of picture book story telling, I would not have written it.

Some friends tell me that they could never be a writers.  For them, writing is a challenge not a joy.  Because I give myself appropriate challenges, writing becomes a joy.  It isn’t easy, but it is wonderful when the reading and writing worlds collide to make something new.  In my case, picture books full of possibility and (hopefully) responsive to the market’s current needs.

Challenge yourself to read and challenge yourself to write, then see how those worlds collide to form something wonderful.

Lori Gravley writes poems for adults and books for children.  You can find out more about her and her work at www.lorigravley.com.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

ReFoReMo Blog Break

by Kirsti Call

Happy Summer ReFoReMo family!  

We hope your days are filled with reading and writing and fun with your families.  We're taking a blog break for the month of July.  See you in August!

Researching Behind the Scenes with Author Maria Gianferrari and Editor Emily Feinberg

By Carrie Charley Brown
We were lucky to learn about crossing genres from author Maria Gianferrari during ReFoReMo 2016. With the release of her newest book, COYOTE MOON, she's back to give us the inside scoop on the research behind the book. And lucky us! She brought her editor, Emily Feinberg of Roaring Brook Press, along for the ride.

Carrie: You used such authentic, lyrical language, which really kept me in the story moment, Maria. What type of animal research did you need to be so accurate?  How about for setting?

Maria: Thanks, Carrie! I did a ton of research. I began with general books on coyotes and canines. I discovered a leading eastern coyote researcher, Dr. Jon Way, and I read his book, Suburban Howls as well as many of his scientific papers. Then I interviewed him and attended one of his lectures. I learned from him that eastern coyotes are coywolf hybrids, and are significantly larger than their western cousins. The eastern coyote is depicted in my story. He had also found orphaned coyote pups, who later went to live at a local zoo. Here’s a photo of one of them named Lupe.  Even though he’s lying down, it’s easy to see how large and wolf-like (and beautiful) he is! And then I read more books.
I also did field research scanning my neighborhood for signs of coyote presence since they’re so elusive: searching for scat, animal remains, and potential bedding sites. I once found a bunch of turkey feathers, so that inspired the climax scene in the story.  
The setting was modeled after my own suburban Massachusetts neighborhood where I had my first coyote encounter. I intentionally chose a suburban setting, since I wanted to show how coyotes are so intelligent and adaptable that they’re able to live side-by-side with humans.

Carrie: What was your main inspiration for writing this story?

Maria: A close encounter with a coyote in my old Massachusetts neighborhood. It was a cold winter’s night in January 2007. We had family visiting from Germany, and our one year old dog, Becca, still needed a late evening walk to get rid of extra energy. My husband, Niko, took her outside, but rather than heading upstairs to get ready for bed, something told me to look out the window. While Niko and Becca were strolling down the sidewalk, a coyote suddenly dashed through our yard and began to follow them! I yelled to Niko to come back, and he and Becca headed into our fenced backyard, and entered via our porch. I watched from inside as the coyote ran back and forth around our fence, and across the street to our neighbors’ yards sniffing and marking. Then, armed with a broom, I went outside. I walked down to the end of our sidewalk and stopped. The coyote stood diagonally across the street less than 20 feet away, under a utility pole so like the one Bagram featured on the cover. We stood there and just regarded each other. Then it gave a low growl, turned and trotted away from me. It sounds strange, but it felt like more of a spiritual encounter—I felt honored and blessed to have seen this majestic creature. Then my obsession with all-things coyote began.

Carrie: Did any mentor texts inspire you? 

Maria: I definitely had Nicola Davies’s lovely and lyrical Bat Loves the Night in mind when writing the many drafts of Coyote Moon. The language is lush and vivid; it’s also a night-time story with tension and drama and tenderness, so it inspired Coyote Moon in these ways. I absolutely love reading nature nonfiction and animal stories. Some of my other favorite nature nonfiction writers whose works have served as mentor texts are April Pulley Sayre, Melissa Stewart, Sandra Markle and Brenda Guiberson.

Carrie: What was your most memorable take-away from this project collaboration? 

Maria: How wonderful it is to be a part of a team, to have experienced the collaborative love and dedication it takes to make a picture book. Emily has been such a joy to work with! From our very first phone conversation, we connected over our love of canines. I’ll never forget how she used the word “atmospheric”—that was the kind of illustrator she wanted, and Bagram was the perfect match. When he joined the team, I was (and still am) so in awe of the atmosphere he was able to create! He rendered the coyote and other creatures with such dynamic precision—from the coyote’s and the rabbit’s fur, to the barbs of the turkey feathers, to the blades of grass and the bark on the tree—the intricate detail is just astounding! He really made the setting into a character too—I feel transported back to my old Massachusetts neighborhood, especially in this scene (coyote rabbit photo). It looks just like my old neighbor’s backyard!
I’m so happy and fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Emily, Bagram and the rest of the team at Roaring Brook. And lucky me—we’ll be doing another nonfiction book together on bobcats!

Carrie: Hi Emily! As an editor, what drew you to this project?

Emily Feinberg: I loved the simplicity of the text. It's not overwritten but there is such a clear sense of atmosphere. Just looking at the text,  I could see the whole book. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to present what I call the "kill spread" in which our protagonist, Coyote, finally secures dinner for her family (spoiler: a strutting turkey). How could we show this without showing blood or other gruesome (but natural) details? I loved thinking about that challenge while we were looking for an illustrator, and then once Bagram Ibatoulline entered the scene, the pieces started fitting together. Maria's gorgeous words and Bagram's breathtaking art work together so well. They're both such smart people and compliment each other's talents.

Carrie: What was your most memorable take-away from this project collaboration?

Emily: Honestly, just how easy it was working with both Maria and Bagram. They're both so professional, excellent problem-solvers, and insanely talented. It felt like all our visions for the book aligned, so that, of course, made it easier. Another thing I've noticed since the book was finished is that people really relate to this subject. That's a huge takeaway for me as an editor. It's all nice and good to be involved in making a beautiful book but to have the subject mean something to people is a whole other wonderful thing. As I learned from Maria, there are coyotes in 49/50 states, and it seems everyone has a "coyote in my neighborhood" story. 

Thank you both for sharing your time and viewpoints today! Maria is offering a giveaway of COYOTE MOON!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Goodreads review by Carrie Charley Brown:

Beautiful words and illustrations paint a very realistic scene that spans from the woods to the neighborhood. Every move that Mama Coyote makes is expressed with authentic, lyrical beauty; portraying her predatory instincts and quest to feed her hungry pups. The setting and the character unite in a feeling of mystery as Coyote's attempts fail and the tension builds. Bagram Ibatoulline's illustrations are so realistic that they are photoesque, further enhancing the genuine nature of the sneaky coyote and the food chain plight that is inevitable. The language chosen by author Maria Gianferrari proves that every word counts in a picture book, allowing readers to walk the night as a Coyote and truly internalize the experience. The Common Core ties run strong throughout the storyline and are further enhanced by back matter filled with Coyote Facts. 
After earning her master’s degrees in Children’s Literature and English Literature from Simmons College in Boston, Emily Feinberg joined the editorial team at Roaring Brook Press in 2011. She works mostly with picture book, middle grade and nonfiction titles. Coming up, she has Elisha Cooper’s Big Cat, Little Cat, a tender and beautifully illustrated picture book about life, loss, and cats, as well as Maria Gianferrari’s nonfiction picture books Coyote Moon (illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline) and Highway Hawks (illustrated by Brian Floca). In her free time, Emily enjoys hanging out with dogs.

Maria Gianferrari writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with dog, Becca as her muse. Maria’s debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, was released in July 2015 (HMH Books for Young Readers); a companion book, Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, was released in mid-June. Her debut nonfiction book, Coyote Moon, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, will be published by Roaring Brook Press in July and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. In October, Aladdin Books for Young Readers will publish another fiction title, Officer Katz & Houndini: A Tale of Two Tails, illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou. Maria has five more titles forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Boyds Mills Press and GP Putnam’s Sons. To learn more about Maria, visit her website: mariagianferrari.com and Facebook 

Don't forget to join her on the Coyote Blog tour:
  • FRI 7/15:                   Pragmatic Mom (+ 3 book giveaway)
  • FRI 7/22:                   Kidlit411


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

June Mentor Text Check in and Challenge: Conflict

By Kirsti Call

Have you ever felt like the resolution to a story came too easily?  We love to see our characters struggle to get what they want.  Without the tension or conflict, the story feels flat, unsatisfying and unresolved.

Here's the June Mentor Text Challenge:  Read at least 3 of your favorite character driven picture books, notice the conflict and ask yourself these questions:

1. How many failures does the MC suffer through?
2. How does each failure help the MC change or try other solutions?
3. How does the conflict lead to a satisfying resolution?

Now read your manuscripts and ask yourself the same questions:

1. How many failures does the MC suffer through?
2. How does each failure help the MC change or try other solutions?
3. How does the conflict lead to a satisfying resolution?

There are so many incredible character driven books that use conflict to make the story resonate with us.  Let's use them to help us write the very best conflict that we can!

What books do you recommend as stellar mentor texts for conflict?