Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Mentor Text Talk with Author Lynne Marie

We're excited to celebrate the release of THE STAR IN THE CHRISTMAS PLAY with Lynne Marie! We know Lynne Marie from the 12x12 community, she's member of the ReFoReMo family, and she and I were Cybil's judges together last year. Welcome, Lynne Marie, and thank you for sharing how mentor texts have helped you in your writing journey!

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of THE STAR IN THE CHRISTMAS PLAY?

This is a good question -- I consider any and all picture books I read to be mentor texts, whether they show me what has been done before (as well as what HASN’T been done), but also what to do and not do in terms of successfully telling a story and/or utilizing particular literary devices.
With this manuscript, I had played around with it in my head and all the components, including the title, had come together before I started writing. The first thing I did was search for my title, The Star in the Christmas Play, on Amazon. If you take a look, you will see that there were basically no SIMILAR comp titles. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=The+Star+in+the+Christmas+Play

But of course, that did not mean my search for mentor texts was done! I read any and all Christmas books I could get my hands on, including these:

Source Books / Jabberwocky, 2016                         Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008

HarperCollins, 2005                                             Sleeping Bear Press, 2016

These are just a few -- there were oh, so many more! As a general rule, when I am focused on submitting a particular manuscript, I’ll read 50 to 100 mentor texts before I do. I’ll scribble down the subcategories (Ex., Christmas, Nativity Play, Self-Esteem, Savanna Animals, etc.) and keep ordering titles from the library until I exhaust all possibilities. I use both my library card and my daughter’s if I have to! If I can’t find a book that looks like a necessary comp at the library, I usually buy it.

Harper Collins, 2002           Orchard Books, 2001

My research showed me that my book was different and there weren’t any books like it. It was set against the backdrop of the Christmas holiday with its Nativity Play, but it was really about believing in yourself, not giving up and finding a way to shine despite any limitations. My research also showed me that there weren’t many publishers that might take on a book like this. I didn’t give up, but put it to the side. Then, in 2017 when I saw the Sparkhouse Family (now Beaming Books) Contest, I researched their catalog and knew that I had found the perfect home for this book. I submitted it for that contest. While my manuscript wasn’t the first place winner, they said that Raffi’s story had charmed the team so much that they still wanted to publish it!

How has reading Picture Books helped you discover who you are as a writer?
Reading picture books provides constant inspiration to me. I no longer truly believe that there’s nothing new under the sun as I have seen many authors find a way to take an old idea or concept and make it new and different by mashing, slanting, adding levels, looking at the story from a different perspective, writing outside the box, seizing inspiration from current events and using interesting literary devices.

I discovered that I want to play around with my ideas, try a variety of directions until one feels right and give the story a chance to find their own path. In particular, I discover I am able to write in diverse styles and types, as long as I keep writing and revisioning until I find a way to make it work.

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

1. To see what has been done before.
2. To see what has not been done before (potential holes in the market that you might fill).
3. To experience other options in telling a story.
4. To inspire a new/different direction for my own story.
5. To see what works in a story (and learn from that).
6.     To see what doesn’t work in a particular story (and learn from that).
7. To see what types of books a publisher might publish, as well as what it already has published.
8. To inspire.
9. To recognize stories that draw out emotion, and those that don’t, and why.
10. To remember what it’s like to be a child and how important it is to relay
the story through the eyes of a child, in an accessible way.

Honestly, I am the biggest fan of mentor texts. I utilized the concept of mentor texts before it even had a
term (LOL). I credit the success of each and every sold manuscript to my study of mentor texts. I learned
from the Best -- Richard Peck, who said “read 100 books before you try your hand at writing one.” I
took that to heart, and I repeat it for each project that I focus on.
Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten - illustrated by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic, 2011), Hedgehog's 100th Day of School – illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic, January 2017), The Star of the Christmas Play -- illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Beaming Books, 10/16/2018), Moldilocks and the 3 Scares -- illustrated by David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Sterling, 2019)  and her first non-fiction picture book, Let’s Eat Around the World -- illustrated by Parwinder Singh (Beaming Books, 2019) and more forthcoming. She is also a freelance Editor and a Travel Agent. When she’s not cruising around the world or traveling to Disney World, Universal Studios and other fascinating places, she lives on a lake in South Florida with her daughter Kayla Michelle, son Kevin, a Schipperke named Anakin and several resident water birds.
You can learn more about her at www.LiterallyLynneMarie.com.
ON TWITTER: @Literally_Lynne
E-MAIL: LiterallyLynneMarie@gmail.com

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Mentor Text Author Study: Margarita Engle

Poetry is Margarita Engle’s specialty. She enchants readers with her picture books in verse and her novels-in-verse for middle grade and young adult readers.

Point of View

Margarita Engle presents two of her books about artists in first person point of view.

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian and Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist are told from the point of view of the artists themselves, allowing the artist to come to life and help the reader see what the artist saw.

Summer Birds is presented as a straight first-person narrative, while Sky Painter is told in a series of first-person poems.


In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, some of her lines are only one word long. These short lines cause us to pause and pick up the rhythm that Engle is trying to create with her words. All the Way to Havana also makes use of short lines—sometimes only 2-3 words long. This helps evoke mood in the book and makes it easy for the reader to catch onto the rhythm.

Engle uses a varying refrain in The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar. 

The onomatopoeia in All the Way to Havana gives the reader a sensory experience from “cara cara, cluck, cluck, cluck” to “pìo, pìo, pìo, pìo, pfffft.”

In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, she also uses powerful verbs such as rippled, rapped, pounded, which give an onomatopoeic effect. The verbs peep, croak, shriek do the same in Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist.

Orangutanka: A Story in Poems is a narrative is told through a series of linked tanka poems. A short form like tanka doesn’t leave room for anything but exacting word choice. In this case, Engle uses a superb lineup of verbs throughout such as: leaps, clings, swings, flips, dips, swoops, twirls, shake, clamber, smacks and more!

Her language is so rich, it performs double duty—providing musicality, supporting the work with strong verbs, and even using verbs that are onomatopoeic.


Even adjectives take on a unique quality in Engle’s work. In The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar, she uses the description, “whale-shaped moon.” Such specificity helps the reader form images with just a few short words.

In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, she uses descriptions like “wind-wavy palm trees” and “flower-bright park.” These are all descriptions that feel fresh instead of overused.

Every Word Counts

Making every word count is the hallmark of picture books. Engle’s picture books are no exception. Poetry also distills everything down to its essence.

Her word selection is so precise that we can see that every single word is carefully selected for its meaning but also for its placement on the page as poetry.

Thank you, Marcie, for giving us such an in-depth look at books by Margarita Engle.

Marcie Flinchum Atkins is an elementary school librarian by day who writes for children in the wee hours of the morning. She also muses about mentor texts at her websiteYou can follow her on Twitter @MarcieFAtkins and read about her #writerlife on Instagram at @marciefatkins.  

Thank you Marcie for an in-depth look at books by Margarita Engle.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Finding Good Comp Titles

By Cindy Williams Schrauben

In May of 2018, I wrote a post for ReFoReMo entitled, WHY COMP? It was a broad overview of the What? When? And Why? Of comps - or comparison titles - for your picture books. You can read it here: http://www.reforemo.com/2018/05/why-comp.html

The following is a more indepth look at Where to find good comp titles for your manuscript.

Your first task is to decide what aspect of your book you would like to highlight by finding a comp. It could be the format, the characters (anthropomorphic animals, for example), the audience, tone, or voice. Most likely, though, you will choose to use the subject matter or theme to define your book. So, for this post, that is the example I will use.

Let’s say, for instance, that you have written a manuscript in which the main character is starting school.  So, your target comp is manuscripts published in the past 3 years with a back to school theme. As a quick review you are looking for books that… were recently published, had successful sales (while not blockbuster hits), have the same target audience, and are clearly similar in theme..

My first strategy is searching online mainly because of accessibility. It seems easy, but you can go down that rabbit hole and not find your way out for awhile, so be strategic. There are a number of option online, but here are a few:

Online sellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble have various internal search functions and lists that can assist you in this task. First, search that “subject matter or theme” BUT be sure you are searching within your own target audience. You wouldn’t want to use a comp that isn’t in your genre. For example, a back to school chapter book would not be a good comp for your picture book. The image below shows my search on Amazon.com. First, under children’s books, I searched “back to school picture books” and found over seven hundred options. I weeded out books of poems, how-to format books, and books with perennial favorite characters and eventually chose SECOND GRADE HOLD-OUT by Audrey Vernick and Matthew Cordell to begin my search. While I might not use this title in the end, it is a good place to start. Scrolling to the bottom of the page I found lists of books with clarifiers such as…

                        Inspired by your views…
                        Frequently bought together …
                        Products related to this item…
                        Customers who bought this item also bought….

And this is the entrance to the rabbit hole. Ready… go!

Another good search option is Goodreads - this site has various places to look such as “new releases.” The Listopia feature includes categories of books you might never imagine.  One example is… Picture books Hans Solo would like. How crazy is that? Start scrolling and ask yourself, “would my manuscript fit into this list?” If so, you might find some good comps there.

Although the rabbit hole is deep, I love Pinterest for searching comps. Like the other examples, you can plug your theme into the search bar and find a plethora of options. The search will provide you with individual titles as well as lists compiled by other Pinterest users - let someone else do the work for you, right?! You can also click through to various websites that review books - these folks know their stuff.

If you find a title, but aren’t sure how good the fit is, check out book trailers on YouTube. But, please don’t use a comp unless you have read it - just don’t.
And, of course, general search engines such as Google and Yahoo can avail you of options as well.
And, don’t forget the ReFoReMo website and facebook lists. Although, we list mentor texts, the categories often overlap. (More on this in my first post.)

Lastly - but so very important - use your Librarian or Bookseller. Their level of expertise  is invaluable. 

Happy hunting!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

THINK QUICK Interview with Author Alice Faye Duncan

Hi Alice! Congrats on your new picture book, MEMPHIS, MARTIN, AND THE MOUNTAINTOP, and your Kirkus starred review!

Our country needs this book right now, as well as a united front to stand up for what is fair for all people. All of the THINK QUICK themes below appear in your book.  Let’s see which way you lean.  Remember, THINK QUICK!

On Standing Up for What is Right:

Speak alone or speak united?

Speak UNITED…Books frequently show Dr. King as a singular force of tenacity and strength. He was courageous. However, as a writer for young readers, I am committed to revealing a Dr. King, who was an effective leader because he marched in accord with an army of determined men, women and children.  The success of the American Civil Rights Movement and the Memphis Strike was due to united forces that included many racial identities and people of various religious beliefs. Specifically, the Memphis Strike of 1968 was a successful protest bolstered by Dr. King and a community of poor Black laborers.  Write alone, perhaps.  Raise your voice with others.  

On the Child’s Present-Day Protest Role:
Partner with purpose or stay home?

Partner with PURPOSE…Young readers should snatch a page from Dr. King’s playbook.  He helped to integrate city buses in Alabama, when he aligned himself with the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) founded by Jo Ann Robinson. Dr. King helped to lead a successful “March on Washington,” when he partnered with labor leader, A. Philip Randolph.  And when he heard Marian Wright Edelman describe the plight of Black laborers earning starvation pay in Mississippi, Dr. King partnered with her during his last stand for justice—The Poor People’s Campaign. Dr. King seldom initiated a protest. Most times he was the galvanizing force. He would join the ranks of others, while his keen articulation on a matter and his voice served like a wind that propelled the protest forward. Partner with people and get it done.

On Approaching Stubborn Leadership:
Calm discussion or demonstration?

I say DEMONSTRATE...The squeaking wheel gets the grease.  Show UP!  Speak OUT! March ON!

On Singing:
With purpose or from the heart?

PURPOSE AND HEART…The two cannot be separated. If you are singing with purpose, it is from the heart. No matter what—SING. Throughout the American Civil Rights Movement and during the Memphis Sanitation Strike, participants sang in protest rallies to keep themselves encouraged. A freedom song, a spiritual, or a gospel hymn—each one can serve as a balm in trying times. Introduce young readers to music by Fannie Lou Hamer, Bernice Reagon and the Albany Singers, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Nina Simone, and don’t forget the Staple Singers. Music inspires forward motion.

On Trouble:
No trouble too difficult to overcome or chart a new course?

Chart a NEW COURSE…Visionaries pave a new road that leads to freedom and justice for all. On the day he was killed in Memphis, Dr. King had BIG plans. He was headed for Washington to propose an economic Bill of Rights for America.  He was seeking a living wage for all Americans.  His vision was beyond race and religion in 1968. He saw a new America in his dream. It was one where every adult would earn a decent wage and no American child would be subjected to poverty, substandard housing or an inferior education. While his plan was revolutionary, it was not impossible. A new army of visionaries must make it so.  

On Literacy:
Read a lot or read what you can?

Read A LOT...This is my advice to young readers. Choose the books you want to read.  Read all the time.  Read aloud to your pet gerbil. Read aloud to your grandmother.  Learn to love the sound of your voice reciting a poem. Sit alone in silence and learn to love the sound of turning pages.  Learn to love words and reading—just like you love potato chips, pizza and Pronto Pups from the county fair. Reading A LOT of everything will fill your heart with wonderment, serve you wisdom, and make you ready to rally for justice.   

On Justice:
Persist or practice patience?

PERSIST…Here again is my advice to young people. Adults own calcified hearts and often deem a child as naïve or foolish, when they disagree with that child’s opinion. To the child I say—hold on to your ideals of justice and freedom.  Do not be swayed by any adult, who promotes the hatred and fear of others. Always follow the still small voice that guides your righteous thinking.   

On Sacrifice:
Commit ‘til the end or one day at a time?

Commit until THE END…Memphis sanitation workers gave us this example.  When Dr. King was murdered on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, 1,300 Black laborers did not stop the strike.  With broken hearts, the men marched until they received a pay increase with the promise of safe work conditions.  Dreamers don’t quit until dreams come true.

On Books:
Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop OR Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop?

MEMPHIS, MARTIN AND THE MOUNTAINTOP! While WILLIE JEROME was my very first picture book, the book went out of print in 1998. The spirit of my writing remains the same, but my facility with words is refined. They say the latest book is always the greatest book. I hope you will agree!

Alice Faye Duncan writes picture books. HONEY BABY SUGAR CHILD is a mother's love song to her baby. MEMPHIS, MARTIN AND THE MOUNTAINTOP is a lyrical combination of poetry and prose that explores Dr. King's assassination and his last stand for justice.12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN TENNESSEE is a child's travel guide. Two cousins in ugly holiday sweaters visit famous landmarks throughout the state. A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS will debut in January 2019. It is the first picture book biography to explore the life and times of Pulitzer Prize poet—Gwendolyn Brooks. And do you know the name, Pinkney? Alice's book, JUST LIKE A MAMA, will make its debut on Mother's Day (2019). The illustrator is Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. Her grand father is Caldecott illustrator, Jerry Pinkney. Get ready to be charmed with impressive images and a lyrical text. Alice Faye Duncan lives in Memphis.