Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Comp Titles for Nonfiction

I have done a number of posts regarding comp titles, most of which also apply to non-fiction picture books, but have yet to specifically address this niche. I will preface this by saying I do NOT write non-fiction… so… I would love your input in the comments below. If you have not read my previous posts on comp titles, you can find them here:

Why Comp?

Finding comp titles for your Non-fiction manuscript is very similar to the process for fiction picture books, but I think you may be faced with some extra challenges including fewer options. Additionally, many new PBs which have a great deal of factual information, are not strictly non-fiction, but a hybrid of some type. Does that mean you can only use comps that are exactly the same in structure, subject matter, point of view, etc? Not necessarily. If you can justify your comparison -- go for it.

I am not going to go into all of the different types of non-fiction picture books -- that would be a blog post of it’s own (and one I am not qualified to write). However, I would suggest that you ask yourself the following questions before embarking on a search for comps:

What is the STRUCTURE or FORMAT of my picture book? 
(Ex: Biography, Creative or Narrative Non-Fiction, Poetry, Diary, etc.)

These two picture books are both biographical, but take liberties with the storyline.

What is the point of view of your manuscript?

Both of these picture books are told by a non-human main character who shares his own facts along the way (in a humorous manner).

Does your picture book address STEM topics?

These two picture books approach STEM topics in different ways, particularly structure. Although they are fiction, they inform STEM topics in developmentally appropriate (kid-friendly) ways.

What is the subject matter of your picture book? 

These two picture books include information about actual space missions.

So, when looking for comp titles for your picture books, dig deep - your answer could be buried. And remember, never comp unless you’ve read it. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Mentor Text Talk with Kristen Schroeder

I had the pleasure of critiquing Kristen Schroeder's work five years ago. Even then, it was quite apparent that she knew how to tickle the funny bone and was eager to learn more about the craft of writing. I am thrilled to celebrate her debut picture book Alien Tomato, and excited to help you learn from her perspective. Thank you, Kristen, for sharing your experience with us!

How do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?

I think it’s incredibly important to keep up-to-date on what is being published in the picture book market currently. I browse bookstores and checkout books from my library on a regular basis. Reading in the genre feeds my creativity. When I start a new draft, I search to see if anything similar has already been published. This can be based on the topic or the format.

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of Alien Tomato?
When I first had the idea for ALIEN TOMATO, I shared it with my critique partner, author Jamie LB Deenihan. She suggested a book called THE GREAT FUZZ FRENZY by Janet Stevens about a tennis ball falling into a prairie dog town. The premise of this book was somewhat similar but the themes were different, so reading this book helped me solidify my idea. I also researched picture books that relied heavily on dialogue because that was my vision for ALIEN TOMATO. I used ReFoReMo as a resource, and found a post dated March 4th, 2016 titled Linda Ashman Talks Dialogue

She provided some excellent examples of mentor texts in that post, such as I DON'T WANT TO BE A FROG, by Dev Petty, CHEETAH CAN'T LOSE by Bob Shea and THAT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA by Mo Willems. Reading these books helped me push forward with my idea for the manuscript. And just a side note, I did get some rejections from editors saying ALIEN TOMATO relied too heavily on dialogue in their opinion.

How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?
Participating in ReFoReMo has been a great way to broaden my picture book knowledge. Humorous picture books were always my favorites to write and read. Over the years, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for non-fiction, wordless and lyrical picture books. In 2019, I started writing a book that was outside of my wheelhouse. It included some rhyme, alliteration, days of the week and it looked like nothing I had ever written before. I shared it with my critique group, revised a few times, and then sent it to my agent, Christa Heschke. I remember emailing her, “I wrote this thing…it’s a departure for me…is it a concept book? What is this?” Christa and her assistant, Daniele Hunter, helped me polish it up further until it was ready for submission. To my great surprise, I was offered a contract with Random House Studio. SO MUCH SNOW comes out in Fall 2022. Reading widely helped me have the courage to try something new, and I’m so glad I did!

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

As I mentioned above, when you have a new idea or a first draft, start looking for mentor texts. They can help you define what you want your story to be and what you don’t want it to be. And, if you feel like trying something new, definitely reach for mentor texts to give you a shot of courage.

Kristen Schroeder's debut picture book ALIEN TOMATO, will be released on July 14th from Page Street Kids. In addition to writing, Kristen runs her own business based in Australia, where she lived for eleven years. She and her family now reside in her home state of Minnesota. Her second picture book, FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY, is coming out in early 2022 with EK Books and SO MUCH SNOW will be published with Random House Studio in fall 2022. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

ReFoReMo Mini-Monthly Writing Challenge: Extraordinary Women in the World

By Janie Reinart

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.
                                                                       ~Maya Angelou

My last stack of books from the library before it closed due to the pandemic were women's biographies.  It is inspirational to see how each of these women used their ordinary lives not merely to survive, but to thrive.  Your challenge is to research and write about an extraordinary women.

By Bethany Hegedus

In Rise!, Bethany Hegedus shows us a lyrical look at Maya as a child, as a freedom fighter with Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. and finally as a poet of the people. 

"Outside, Maya is quiet. 
Inside, words make music.
Mays memorizes the rhythm,
sways the exquisite dance,
the twisting, turning
conga line language
that pulses across the page."

By Vivian Kirkfield

Just like Ella Kate, Sarah Goode had dreams. She wants her freedom, she wants a family, she wants a successful business. Sarah invents a cupboard bed and is one of the first African American women to receive a patent. Vivian Kirkfield brings this story to life.

"Before the Civil War, Sarah obeyed her owner. 
          Hurry up.
          Eyes down.
          Don't speak. 

Slave were property--like a cow or plow or
the cotton that grew in the master's fields."

By Laurie Wallmark

Dubbed "The Most Beautiful Woman in theWorld,"international movie star, Heddy Lamar preferred  working on inventions. Hedy helped develop a technology called frequency hopping--a ground breaking technology that helps prevent hacking in today's cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices.

"Hedy Lamar led a double life. The public knew her as a glamorous movie star, famous throughout the world. But in private, Hedy was a brilliant inventor, a fact known only to her closest friends."

Find a woman with a passion for changing the world and use your style to write about their life. Make it your mission to accept the challenge. You might even find someone in your family tree.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

THINK QUICK with Ruth Spiro

Hi Ruth! 

Congratulations on the release of your BABY LOVES THE FIVE SENSES series! I love how these stories combine simple text with expressive illustrations to explain complex science in a simple and engaging way.  

All of the THINK QUICK themes below appear in your book.  Let’s see which way you lean.  Remember, THINK QUICK!

On science:
Exciting or boring?

BORING! (At least, that’s what I thought when I was a kid. But once I discovered that science explains so many things we see around us every day, now I think it’s EXCITING!)

On biology:
Simple or complex?

Both! This is a trick question - Did you know food wouldn’t TASTE as good without your sense of SMELL? (It’s in the book!)

On taste:
Sweet or salty?

Sweet! I couldn’t imagine life without chocolate.

On smell:
Bread or flowers?

Bread. While I appreciate the smell of flowers, allergies sometimes make them difficult to enjoy.

On touch:
Soft or hard?

I’m a “softie."

On touch:
Dry or wet?

Wet. I love a day at the beach!

On touch:
Hot or cold?

Hot. (See my answer above!)

On babies:
Adorable or tolerable?


On books:
Baby Loves the Five Senses or Baby Loves the Five Senses?

Baby Loves ALL of the Five Senses!

Thank you, Ruth!

Kirsti's Review of Baby Love the Five Senses: Touch!

"How does Baby feel that something is
hard or soft?
wet or dry?
cold or warm?
He touches it"

I love Ruth Spiro's FIVE SENSES series. Expressive illustrations combine with simple text that explains the science in a concrete easy to understand and engaging way. TOUCH! describes how baby touches and feels laundry. I love how each of these books combines fun with teaching in a way that begs to be re-read!

Ruth Spiro is the author of the Baby Loves Science board book series, published by Charlesbridge. There are fifteen current and forthcoming titles including Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering, Baby Loves Coding and Baby Loves Gravity. This spring she continued her signature style of introducing complex subjects to little listeners with Baby Loves Political Science: Democracy!, a new series perfect for this election year and beyond.
Ruth’s STEM-themed picture book series, Made by Maxine (Dial), is about an inspiring young Maker who knows that with enough effort, imagination and recyclables, it’s possible to invent anything. Made by Maxine sold at auction as a three-book series, the second book will be published in Spring 2021.
A frequent speaker at schools and conferences, Ruth’s previous presentations include the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Colorado Book & Arts Festival, Maker Faire Milwaukee, National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the World Science Festival. Ruth hopes her books inspire kids to observe the world, ask questions, and when it comes to their futures, DREAM BIG!





My books on Indiebound:

My books on Amazon:

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Mentor Text Author Study: Revisiting Kim Norman

A while ago, I wrote a mentor text author study featuring author and word wizard Kim Norman

Because of the attention given to informational books of late, I looked at Norman's Give Me Back My Bones, illustrated by Bob Kolar.

Informational Picture Books vs Non-Fiction Picture Books

All nonfiction picture books are informational, but not all informational picture books are nonfiction.

The information presented in non-fiction, even if called creative non-fiction or narrative non-fiction, should be factual and sourced. Since we have yet to prove the dead can speak, the speaking skeleton character in Give Me Back My Bones makes this a work of fiction. Norman used the character to create a fun story. And a clever way to provide factual content. Any nonfiction story, based on true events or people or facts, do not have made-up characters or dialogue or facts. 

Accuracy of content and authority of sources are two important factors when writing non-fiction. These are important to writing fictional informational books too, but it’s acceptable to add imagined content to create a more engaging story to deliver content. And that is what Norman does in her book about a pirate who wants his bones back scattered on the bottom of the sea.

Help me find my head bone,
my pillowed-on-the-bed bone,
the pirate's flag-of-dread bone---
I'm scouting out my skull.

Purpose of Informational Picture Books

It’s a common belief that although the intent of an informational book is to inform, the story comes first. Any facts or concepts included support the elements of the story. Hence, the character’s journey is key, and along the way the audience learns something. Give Me Back My Bones informs a young audience about bones framed in the story about a pirate skeleton which makes learning anatomy memorable.

And in the fun way Norman presented some sophisticated scientific vocabulary -scapula, mandible, femur - through story. The illustrations also help aid comprehension.

"Who can spot my shoulder blade,
my shrugging jacket-holder blade,
my shiver-when-I'm-colder blade?
Oh, scapula, come back!"

Norman’s clever, cumulative tale is filled with playful language and rhyme which makes Give Me Back My Bones a rollicking read aloud!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Mentor Text Talk with Gabi Snyder

It's always wonderful to see one of our fellow kid-litters succeed! Today we not only celebrate Gabi Snyder's debut picture book, Two Dogs on a Trike, but we learn exactly how mentor texts helped strengthen Gabi's craft.  Her first book received a starred review! By following her model, your mentor text explorations will truly help you, too!
Thank you, Gabi, for sharing your experience with us today!

How do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?
One of my favorite ways to use mentor texts is to identify the emotion or tone I want a story to convey and then analyze how other picture books have managed to convey that emotion or tone. For instance, my second picture book, LISTEN (S&S/Wiseman, 2021), begins with the overwhelming noise of a busy morning. It then draws the reader in by encouraging listening to quieter and quieter sounds. It’s about tuning in to nature, to others, to yourself.
When I was drafting and then revising this story in which sound is so integral, I knew I’d want to use onomatopoeia. So I took a look at picture books that make excellent use of onomatopoeia, like Tim McCanna and Richard Smythe’s WATERSONG, in which the text consists entirely of onomatopoeia. Much of the action is conveyed through the illustrations. The words Tim chooses masterfully evoke the rising sounds of an approaching rainstorm. For example, the first spread reads, “Drip. Drop. Plip. Plop.” The text is simple, but musical and evocative.
In LISTEN, I also wanted to convey a sense of wonder. So I looked for picture books that evoke or model the wonder that comes from paying close attention. WINDOWS (written by Julia Denos and illustrated by E.B. Goodale), an ode to an evening walk and what you might see and feel on that walk, does this beautifully. In that book, a sense of wonder is evoked through use of lyrical language and specific imagery. For example, one spread reads, “You might pass a cat or an early raccoon taking a bath in squares of yellow light.” I find this text lovely and vivid; yet it’s also spare enough to leave plenty of room for the illustrator to add to the story.

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE?
Yes! While the dog versus cat dynamic that plays out in TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE was inspired in part by my pets, it was also inspired by one of my favorite books from childhood—GO, DOG. GO! by P.D. Eastman. I must’ve read that book hundreds of times. So while my debut picture book is very different than GO, DOG. GO!, the silly dogs and sense of movement and fun in TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE are, in part, an homage to the P.D. Eastman classic.
Revisiting old favorites and thinking through what it was about those stories that enthralled your child self can be a helpful exercise. 

How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?
I studied writing in graduate school but was focused on writing fiction for adults at that time. It was only years later, reading daily with my kids, that I rediscovered my love for picture books. There’s something magical about this art form in which the words and pictures combine to make a whole that’s so much bigger than the two parts.

Once I decided to try my hand at picture books, I started reading picture books not only as a mother, but also as a writer. I started paying more attention to which books resonated with my kids, which resonated with me, and which resonated with both. As picture book writers, we want to delight our child readers; but it’s lovely when we can delight the adults who read the stories, too!

Like many writers, I often check out huge stacks of books from my local library. I add books to my TBR list when I read a review that sparks my interest, when a critique partner recommends something that may inspire or inform something I’m drafting, or when I’m looking for books on a particular topic or theme. Overall, as I’m reading through picture books, I’m tuning in to which books move or surprise me, which books I want to read again and again. Seeing which books resonate with me helps inform the type of books that I want to write.

I love poignant, lyrical picture books that move me in some way, stories that might be described as having a lot of “heart.” I also love funny picture books – books that are straight-up silly and also darker, more subversive texts. So, as I picture book writer, I like trying my hand at both lyrical texts and funny texts!

What do you feel is the best way for picture book writers to utilize mentor texts? 
There are so many ways to utilize mentor texts and writers can discover their favorites through experimentation. I find it super helpful to use mentor texts when grappling with a particular problem with a picture book manuscript. If I know the story arc needs strengthening, then it’s helpful to look at books that have stellar arcs. If the beginning needs more oomph, then I read the first spreads of several picture books I love. I ask, how did those first pages pull me into the story? Or maybe my ending doesn’t quite work. Again, I read a bunch of strong endings and analyze why they work so well. Often this exercise sparks a new idea!

Past ReFoReMo posts are a goldmine of mentor texts examples. Want examples of how a strong beginning and ending can bookend a nonfiction text? Check out this post from Marcie Flinchum Atkins, or maybe you’d like to see how master picture book writer Tammi Sauer used mentor texts when she set herself the task of writing a book using the “how to” structure. Or maybe you want to see examples of picture books that incorporate mathematical concepts? Check out this post by Rajani La Rocca: . Chances are, if you Google “reforemo” and key words regarding the story problem you’re trying to solve, you’ll come up with a post that will help!

Also, it’s worth noting that mentor texts and comp titles are not the same. Please see this fabulous post by Tara Luebbe for an explanation of the difference.  (Short answer: “A mentor text is all about craft…A comp title is all about sales.”) After you’ve written and polished your manuscript, you can use ReFoReMo lists to help you find comp titles (that will help you sell your manuscript). See this great post from Cindy Williams Schrauben to learn how. 

Thanks for featuring me and TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE on the ReFoReMo blog. Happy reading!

Thanks for modeling the mentor text process with us, Gabi! We wish you the best!
Reader. Writer. Lover of chocolate. Gabi’s debut picture book, TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, is out now (May 2020) from Abrams Appleseed. Her second picture book, LISTEN, will be out in spring 2021 from Simon & Schuster/Wiseman. Gabi lives in Oregon with her family, including one daredevil dog and the cat who keeps everyone in line. She blogs about perfect picture books at https://gabisnyder.com/blog/

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

ReFoReMo Mini-Monthly Writing Challenge: Writing Stories About Words

By Janie Reinart

... I loved only words: I would raise up cathedrals of words 
beneath the blue gaze of the word sky
I would build for thousands of years.
~Jean-Paul Sartre

We love our words. We build stories word by word. But have you ever written a story about words? That is your challenge. Build a story about words beneath the blue gaze of the word sky. 

By Jen Bryant

One of my favorite picture books is A River of Words. This biography about poet 
William Carlos Williams tells how Willie's words gave him freedom and peace. The end pages are full of his poetry.

"Like the other boys in Rutherford, New Jersey, Willie Williams loved to play baseball and to race his friends up and down the street. But when the other boys went inside, Willie stayed outside. Climbing over the fence in his back yard, he wandered alone through the woods and fields."

By Peter H. Reynolds
This story sounds like all of us who keep word journals. This story is a "celebration of finding your own words -- and the impact you can have when you share them with the world."

"Some collect bugs. Others collect baseball cards. Some people collect comic books. 
And Jerome? What did he collect? Jerome collected words."

By Melanie Florence

What would happen if someone stole your words? When a little girl comes home from school and asks her grandpa how to say a word in his Cree language, he is sad because he doesn't remember the words. He tells her his words were stolen from him. The grandfather then tells the tale of being taken to a residential school when he was a boy.  

"She came home from school today. Skipping and dancing. Humming a song under her breath. Clutching a dream catcher she had made from odds and ends. Bits of string. Plastic beads. And brightly colored feathers. Her glossy braids danced against her shoulders. Swaying with her. Black as a raven's wing."

By Rebeca Van Dyke

Lexi is a strong cowgirl. She protects baby letters as they grow. And ties shorter words together to make longer words. She herds words into sentences and corrals them to tell a story. Then letters start disappearing. The "D" disappears from her bandana leaving Lexi with a banana.  

"Lexi was the best wrangler west of the Mississippi, and everyone knew it. She wore a tall hat, fancy boots, and a bandana."

From nonfiction biographies to dictionaries, have fun building stories about words. Did you notice all the mentor texts have WORD in their titles? Raise up your own cathedral and build your stories... for a thousand years.