Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Best Mentor Texts of 2016

Whew!  We did it.  As a Reading for Research Family, we read read hundreds of books in 2016! The big challenge in March got us into the mentor text mode and every month the mini challenges helped us hone our picture book reading and writing skills. 

We asked the ReFoReMo Facebook group which mentor texts taught them the most about great picture book writing as a whole and why?  Here's the list of 2016 books the group responded with. 

For poetry:  
What to do With a Box, by Jane Yolen and Chris Sheban

For non-fiction narratives: 
The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin and Jez Tuya 
The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller and  Vincent X. Kirsch 
Seven and a Half Tons of Steel by Janet Nolan and Thomas Gonzalez 
On the Farm at the Market by G. Brian Karas 
Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari and Bagram Ibatoulline


For tight writing and humor: 
Mary had a little Glam, by Tami Sauer and Vanessa Brantley Newton 
I Love Cake!:Starring Rabbit Porcupine and Moose by Tammi Sauer and Angie Rozelaar 
Horrible Bear! by Ame Dyckman

 For friendship and emotional resonance:
Ida Always by Caron Levis 
Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson

For diversity: 
A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts and Hyewon Yum

For unique point of view
A Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank's Window by Jeff Gottesfeld.

For literary appeal and illustrations: 
The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers 

Thank you to the ReFoReMo Facebookers that contributed to this list!

What picture books did you use as mentor texts this year and why?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Ushering in the Third Annual ReFoReMo Challenge

It won't be long before the third annual Reading for Research Month challenge registration opens on February 15. We are working hard to complete our list of inspirational author-educators and will soon reveal our all-star calendar. March will be a busy beneficial time of year for you!

What we can tell you now is this:

You will learn from editors, agents, authors, illustrators, librarians, and educators. You will receive mentor text feedback from 24 different viewpoints and up to 125 mentor text recommendations! You won't be disappointed with your new found knowledge!

Picture book writers, as well as students and teachers, will benefit from challenge participation.

In case you missed some of the mini challenge topics in 2016, we have conveniently listed them for you here. Feel free to take advantage of this research before we usher in a new year of mentor text perspectives and research:

April Challenge: Endings
May Challenge: Comparing Texts
June Challenge: Conflict
August Challenge: Emotion
September Challenge: Favorite Books
October Challenge: CYBILS Books
November Challenge: Feeding your Soul

And of course, you can experience what you missed of the 1st and 2nd annual ReFoReMo challenges, as well: 2015 and 2016.
We are excited for ReFoReMo 2017! Are you?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

THINK QUICK with Author Tara Lazar

Hi Tara! I love your stories, and Normal Norman.  I love how this helps children understand how wonderful it is to be unique.  All of the THINK QUICK themes below appear in your book. Let’s see which way you lean. Remember, THINK QUICK!

On Junior Scientist Narrators:

Normal or Abnormal?


On Food:

Pizza or Bananas?

PIZZA. With Bananas Foster for dessert.

On stuffed animals:

Mr. Scruffles or Teddy Bear?

Mr. Scruffles.

On Pet names:

Wovey dovey or Pumpkin?

What, no Scruffle-di-poo?

On Animals:

Ape or Snake?

ANYTHING but a snake.

On Transportation:

Dual-rocket Jet Packs or Deep Sea Submersibles!

Jet pack submersibles.

On Disasters:

Cry and Give up or Cry and Persevere?

Cry and persevere. A common activity here.

On Normal Hobbies:

Music or Dancing?

Can't have dancing without music!

On Talking Purple Apes:

Ordinary or Extraordinary?


On Books:

Normal Norman or Normal Norman?

After this highly scientific survey, I think you can make an educated guess.

Thank you Tara!

Review by Kirsti Call

I adore this book! I find myself drawn to stories where being different is not only ok, but celebrated. Tara Lazar does an incredible job with Normal Norman. It's an extraordinary book filled with quirky humor, bright and lovely illustrations and a message of how powerful it is to be an individual. My kids and I love this book at our house and highly recommend it!

Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that everyone will want to visit. 

Her debut THE MONSTORE released in June 2013, with I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK and LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD following in 2015. NORMAL NORMAN made his entrance in March 2016 and you can stay up WAY PAST BEDTIME in April 2017. If you know the answer to "Why was 6 afraid of 7?" then you'll love her book 7 ATE 9, coming from Disney*Hyperion in June 2017.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

November Mentor Text Challenge: Buy Hyacinths and Feed Your Soul

By Janie Reinart
“If I had but two loaves of bread,
I would sell one and buy hyacinths,
for they would feed my soul.”

We need beauty in our lives. I am attracted to the beauty of words and images in a picture book. You’ve been there. You read a phrase, stop, and read the words again. Or stare at a picture on the page that makes you smile.

When that happens, I use these books as mentor texts. I end up purchasing “these books that feed my soul”. Here are a few of my favorites.

MOONDAY by Adam Rex

The moon follows a little boy home and stays in his back yard. The pictures glow.

“From Dad’s shoulders, I brushed the moon with my fingertips.”
“Morning had missed us. In darkness, the town awoke...”
“Hushed they shuffled through slush and dozed off at stoplights.”
“ Then I started a yawn that swayed up the block…and followed me home.”
“The tide came in, smooth and thin, and settled underneath our moon.”

Notice all the soft sounds matching the mood of the story.


In 1861, three escaped slaves made their way to a Union held fort and were granted protection.

“May moon gleams bright as Colonel’s buttons. Three slip out unseen.”
”Weathered skiff bobs in rustling rushes.”
“Oars dip, no sound, silver ripples.  Steal away now, away.”
“Glinting waves slap rotting wood. Whispers, low and shivery.”
“And still they come, in patches and tatters.”
“ Tears rain down and shouts rise up…”

The free verse story uses many poetic devices.

TOYS MEET SNOW by Emily Jenkins

Three toy friends suit up for the first snowfall.  The most practical toy, Plastic (red rubber ball) changes her outlook to a more poetic viewpoint. The story and pictures are charming and humorous.

“A snowflake is a tiny ballerina, says StingRay.
“No, it’s just really tiny frozen water,” says Plastic. “I read that too.”
A sunset: “It’s strawberry syrup pouring over the world to make it sweet before nightfall,” explains StringRay.
“I’m a strawberry –syrup sun in the snow!” cries Plastic.

The ending is perfect. “And yes, the world is sweet.”

This book starts with beauty in the end papers and is filled with quotes from Helen Keller throughout the book. The watercolor pictures match the vibrancy of the words.

When Annie Sullivan pumped water into Helen’s hand and spelled W-A-T-E-R, the quote from Helen is “That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, and set it free.”

“Annie took Helen walking in the forest, jumping in the salty ocean…sailing  in a boat.” Helen’s quote for the page, ”Our little boat swirled in the billows, only to be driven down with angry howl and hiss. Our hearts beat fast.”

The story focuses on what Helen could do.

Here is your challenge.

Start a special notebook to collect beautiful words and phrases.

Add sketches, magazine/catalogue pictures, and photos.

Identify the type of lyrical language that is used.

Share with us the beauty of your favorite picture books that feed your soul. 

Janie Reinart has worn many hats--educator, author, theater major, professional puppeteer, interactive musical storyteller, a clown hat in a hospital’s gentle clowning ministry, and a poet's beret at an inner city school helping children find their voice. She lives in Ohio with her husband. She's always up for a game, hopscotch, or dress-up. Ask her thirteen grandchildren.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Author Kat Yeh Talks Mentor Texts

I was first introduced to Kat Yeh's work when I read her debut novel in January of 2015. I loved her voice! So when I saw that she had a new picture book coming out in December 2016, with an adorable title like The Friend Ship, I knew I wanted to have her on the blog.  Then I saw the art and fell head over heels in love. What a team!

Welcome, Kat! Do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?  -If so, how?

Several years ago, at an agency retreat, a YA writer talked to me about how impressed she was by people who were able to write picture books. "I could never do it," she said. I knew exactly what she meant. I've often felt this same way —even though I have two picture books already published and now, The Friend Ship.

The thing about picture books is that you have very few words to tell your story and connect with your reader.  A well done picture book takes you on an entire journey and leaves you satisfied at the end. I love using picture books as mentor texts. I love going through a pile from the library and then reading and rereading the ones that work in that perfectly indescribable way. I think about the rhythm of the words.  Whether or not I was drawn in by the first page. How I respond to the ending. I don't think there is a formula for how to use mentor texts. At least not for me. I look for elements that pull an emotional response from me. And then use that inspiration to write.

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

I think that discovering yourself as a writer is something that happens over a lifetime. Every experience you have, all the art you've seen and all the books you've read— all of these things are part of your ever evolving self. Reading picture books influence how I want to say things and how I see them. And because they will forever be associated with reading to my children, they're also part of my heart and memory. I never look at a wonderful picture book and want to copy it or try to Be The Next _________. But I think to myself, "I'd love to write something that makes the reader feel how this book makes me feel."

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of your picture book, The Friend Ship?

The idea for The Friend Ship sat for years in my idea folder as just a title, until one day, I knew the story I wanted to tell. There wasn't a specific mentor text for The Friend Ship, but I did spend a lot of time, reading piles of really beautiful picture books, just immersing in well told stories, so that when I did write I would hold my own work up to a certain level.

I loved your novel, The Truth About Twinkie Pie! How does your novel preparation differ from that of your picture books?

Thanks so much! Novels and picture books are obviously so very different, but for me,  they really start in similar ways. Simply put, I need to feel the heart of my story. Whether it is going to be 32 pages or 332 pages, I have trouble writing unless I know that part. So far, I've published three picture books and two novels (the second novel is in final edits now!) and the process for each has been completely and utterly different. Except for that one thing.  And I know that sounds mushy, but it's true. Once I know the heart of a story, it doesn't matter what my process is, I will do whatever that story needs.

Kat Yeh grew up reading, doodling, and scribbling in Westtown, Pennsylvania. She worked as a copywriter for many years in advertising and sports marketing, while writing poems and children's books in the wee hours of the night. She currently lives on Long Island where she spends any non-writing time being outside as much as possible and exploring all the bay and harbor beaches with her family.  

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Mentor Text Author Study: Philip C. Stead

By Keila V. Dawson
Friendship is the most popular topic in picture books written for ages 4-8. During those years kids are beginning to learn how to make friends, how to keep friends, and how to be a friend.  Philip Stead books allow readers to experience the meaning of friendship. His quiet stories are not overwhelmed with action or plot and deliver powerful messages about friendship, kindness and empathy.
Stead’s characters are endearing. A story may engage the reader in a common dilemma, a complex problem, or an adventure. Whether whimsical, imaginative, or comforting, I find Stead’s stories inspirational.
Friends are caring
This is a heartwarming story about caring for one another. When a zookeeper wakes with the sniffles and can’t go to work, the animals he cares for take care of him.

Friends are helpful & patient
Bear wants to tell one more story to his animal friends. Each friend he meets is busy preparing for winter so the gentle Bear helps them instead.

Friends are real or imaginary or unexpected
A determined Sadie wants to deliver an elephant to her Great-Aunt Josephine who “lives almost completely alone and can really use the company.” But that would take too many stamps! So Sadie goes on an adventure to deliver the elephant herself.

Vernon the toad finds a new friend, a bird, that doesn’t speak. Vernon worries that the bird is silent because he misses his home. That makes Vernon determined to help Bird find where he belongs.

A friendly woolly mammoth, Samson, meets a little red bird who wants his flowers for her sad mouse friend. Samson wonders what it's like to have a friend. He fell asleep, woke during a blizzard and worried about the little bird so Samson searches for her and finds friends too.

Friendships are comforting
Peter moves to a new home in the dark, scary woods across from a bridge. When he can’t sleep, Peter makes Lenny from pillows and blankets to guard the bridge. He worries about Lenny being all alone in the woods so he makes him a friend, Lucy. Together, they discover his new home isn’t so scary or lonely and he even meets a girl who lives next door.

Friends are everywhere
A brave little bird, Ruby, introduces herself to every animal she meets, eager to learn about others while trying to make friends. Despite rejection, Rudy persists until she meets a bird who leads her to a flock with a name just like hers.
In addition to Stead's stellar storytelling, his artwork transports readers into the world his characters inhabit, captures their moods, and shows what's in their hearts.  I believe there will always be a place and need for books where friendship, kindness, and empathy are central themes.
What books have you read about friendship that tugs at your heartstrings?

Keila Dawson is the author of THE KING CAKE BABY (Pelican Publishing Co., January 2015). She was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. Keila has lived and worked in the Philippines, Japan, Egypt, and on both coasts in the US as a teacher, school administrator, and educational consultant. She has published in LA Créole Genealogy Research Journal, and Among Worlds Magazine – Interaction International. Outside of writing, Keila enjoys travel, tennis, genealogical research and sharing her love of Louisiana culture.