Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Mentor Text Author Study: Cece Bell

Newbery Honor–winning author-illustrator Cece Bell is well known for her graphic novel El Deafo, the autobiographical book about living with her hearing loss from childhood. In this post, I look at Bell’s picture books and how she uses imagination and more to connect with a younger audience.


Bell’s very own handmade toy inspired her book about Sock Monkey.

The other characters in the series, Blue Pig, Froggie, Miss Bunn, and Sock Buddy are based on real handmade stuffed toys too. This is such a fun and clever story idea because kids love their toys and bring them to life in imaginative play all the time.

The opening in each book introduces the main character, the inciting incident, and the story problem – everything needed for a young audience to pay attention and want to know what's going to happen next.

The first book in the series, Sock Monkey Goes to Hollywood: A Star is Bathed(reprinted as Sock Monkey Takes a Bath in 2015), Bell introduces Sock Monkey, a famous toy actor, who receives a special delivery. On the next page readers feel his joy when he’s nominated for an award and invited to the award ceremony.


They experience a very different emotion when it’s revealed that the “invitation made him gasp.” On the invitation the illustration shows -  “Nominees MUST be Clean.”  And from that opening, readers want to know, will Sock Monkey clean up so he can go to Hollywood?

In Sock Monkey Boogie Woogie: A Friend Is Made, the character, inciting incident, and problem all appear on the very first page.

Sock Monkey, the famous toy actor, was going to the Big Celebrity Dance, and he just couldn’t wait.
But there was one problem. He needed a dance partner.

From that opening, a young audience will want to know if Sock Monkey will find a dance partner so he can go to the Big Celebrity Dance.
This is a fun series that shows how Bell uses few words in each opening so young children get invested in her character's journey right away.


Bell’s unique storytelling addresses universal themes such as kindness, generosity, friendship, loneliness, perception, and perseverance through quirky characters.


Can an enormous bee who wears a wig help kids understand that it’s okay to “bee” yourself? That’s exactly the message Bell delivers in Bee-Wigged

Jerry Bee loved people.
But people did not love Jerry Bee.
For one thing, he was a bee.
For another, he was the most enormous bee… 

Can a very tiny, itty bitty dog looking for itty bitty things to make a bone he carved into a cozy home help kids realize it's possible for someone itty bitty to find their place in a great big world?


What makes Bell’s I Yam A Donkey! so laugh out loud funny?

Juxtaposition: Putting two things together that don’t normally go together like a donkey and a yam!

Misunderstandings and conflict: Yam is constantly correcting Donkey’s poor use of grammar as they fight over the proper way to speak.

Wordplay: And what sets off this “who’s on first” comedy routine is Donkey's misuse of yam to Yam, “I yam a Donkey.”

“What did you say? I yam a donkey”?
The proper way to say that is I am a donkey.

A great twist: The ending and moral of this story is surprising and hilarious!

“If you is going to be eaten, good grammar don't matter.”

Bell's new book that releases on November 26th You Loves Ewe also features Donkey and Yam and introduces a new character, Ewe. Grammar-challenged Donkey finds it difficult to understand the concept of homonyms as explained by Yam.

Dig deep into the picture books by Cece Bell to study how she uses imagination, quirky characters, humor, and more to address universal themes while adding emotion to every page. And you'll laugh out loud too! 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Community Comp Effort: ReFoReMo Lists Can Help and So Can You!

By Cindy Schrauben

One of my roles on the ReFoReMo team is to connect mentor texts to comp titles. If this is your first experience with comp titles, you might enjoy learning more about the What? Where? Why? and How? of comping in my previous posts: Why Comp?Finding Good Comp TitlesUsing ReFoReMo to Find Comps, and Using Comp Titles in Your Query.

Today, I'd like to dig a little deeper. Although many of you are already familiar with the mentor text lists in our Facebook group, I have received some questions regarding their use - and even a few individuals that didn’t know they existed. So, I am going to give you a crash course.

On a computer, access to the “lists” as we call them, can be found in the left margin of our ReFoReMo Facebook group. (If you are not yet a member, you must request to join the group and be admitted before you can access them.) The link is titled: Files.  On a mobile device, you will see a button with the same title below our members’ photos.

After clicking on Files you will see the following (mobile device will appear different).

Here are a couple tips -

If you click on NAME, the list of documents will appear in alphabetical order by title. This is especially helpful in finding comp titles.

If you prefer to see the documents listed in order of upload or revision date, click on MODIFIED (the default setting). This is helpful if you want to view the lists that were edited recently.

Today we will use a pitch to identify key-words that will lead you to the appropriate lists.  Let’s start with this recent release from Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, illustrated by Hilary Leung.

In reading the jacket copy for Two ToughTrucks I found the following words or themes:  Trucks, First Day of School, Friends, Getting Along, and some Onomatopoeias. If I was searching for comp titles for this manuscript, these words would prompt me to look at the following ReFoReMo lists:

+      Character Transformation/ Growth (getting along)       
+      Fear (because, first day of school, right?)
+      Friendships/Relationships
+      Onomatopoeias
+      School

Though not explicitly mentioned in the pitch (or jacket copy), the following lists are relevant, as well.
+      Rhymers
+      Inanimate Objects as Main Characters
+      Identity (because one truck is less confident)

There are additional lists that you could investigate, as well. For instance, lists that identify age range, point of view, and format.

Next… Let’s take a quick look at Future Astronaut by Lori Alexander, illustrated by Allison Black.

This adorable board book would prompt me to look at the following lists.
+      Board Books
+      Non-Fiction/ Fiction with Non-fiction Components
+      Relatable Main Characters

In doing so, I have chosen the following two comps for Future Astronaut:
+      I Want to be an Astronaut or a Stuntman, or a Spy, or a Fighter Pilot by Ruby Brown and Alisa Coburn
+      Nerdy Babies - Space by Emmy Kastner

Both of these books have non-fiction components, the subject matter of space, are board books, and have the same audience.

Now it’s your turn. Read Two Tough Trucks and Future Astronaut, or access one of your current pitches or mentor texts. Look through the lists, and see what comps you can come up with. Share your ideas in the comments below. I think you will be amazed how much you learn from the experience.

These lists exist for all of us. Our entire community contributes to them. It’s also a great way to build your comp identification skills. When you identify a text as a stellar mentor, add it to a list or two. Look for the “edit” feature when you pull up a list. Did you recently ask for recommendations in our group? Take those recs, and add them now. Together, we are more.