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?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Author Kelly Light Talks Mentor Texts

By Kirsti Call

My children and I adore Kelly Light and her book,  Louise Loves Art.  We not only have read the book over and over, we also sing along to Emily Arrow's Louis Loves Art song in the car. So it was thrilling news to hear that today,  Louis and Andie: The Art of Friendship is  released! Congrats, Kelly!  

Thanks for being here, Kelly.  Do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?  -If so, how? 

I spent years sitting in book stores and libraries, pouring over piles of picture books. I don’t use mentor texts as much now. I write straight from my imagination and my heart. The books I read now are mostly made by friends or are the ones that make my jaw hit the floor. I am always inspired by the work of fellow creators. The world of picture books is an endless source for artistic inspiration. 

There is not only less time to read a lot of books with all of my deadlines, there is also a time…after the long period of study...to make books and to get quiet and block out the rest of the world and go inward and hear your own voice.

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

Brevity is not only the soul of wit, it is the soul of a picture book. To learn the balance of picture and word, one must read as many picture books as it takes. I write in pictures. I write in storyboards. I draw hundreds of little pictures before I choose just the right words and only the fewest words that the pictures need.  

3. Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of Louise Loves Art and Louise and Andie: The Art of Friendship? (or any other upcoming books)

With Louise and Andie, I focused so much more on the idea of building upon the first and growing the series. I needed to open up Louise’s world and I need to continually do that. I looked through some of the character driven series that exist already but mostly, I looked at recurring Sunday funny page strips like Dennis the Menace by Hank Ketcham. I wanted the episodic feel of that strip. The returning back to Louise’s house and bedroom and world, like we just left. I would get that every Sunday in the funny pages.

My mentors come from cartoons and comics, not just from picture books. 

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

I believe you should study what you love deeply as a forensic artist. I narrow it down to the books and the book makers that really make an indelible mark on me. Then, I will book map their books. I break down the page layout in basic shapes, I try to see how they create a page turn. I not only count the words, I compare each image to the words on the page and see how the two interact. Why so many words? Why so few? 

I pay particular attention to pacing. I try to find the beats. I mark all of this down in little thumbnails in a sketchbook.

Then, when it’s time to make my own book? I never look at it.

I’ve done the study. It should be in my head. It will influence what comes out of my pencil but I don’t want it in the forefront of my mind. I want to have a library in my mind to reference and inform my work that is built on a foundation of the work I love most in my favorite genres of art. I also hope that all of my influences mix together and are poured out through a filter - of my own.

About Lousie and Andie: The Art of Friendship
Louise loves art more than anything.
Imagine her delight when a new neighbor, Andie moves in... and she loves art too!
It's the best day ever!
But liking the same thing doesn't always mean you agree on it. Can they overcome their creative differences?

Kelly Light lives in New York but grew up down the shore in New Jersey surrounded by giant pink dinosaurs, cotton candy colors, and Skee-Ball sounds. She was schooled on Saturday-morning cartoons and Sunday funny pages. She picked up a pencil, started drawing, and never stopped.

Kelly is the author/Illustrator of the Louise series. Louise Loves Art and Louise and Andie, The Art of Friendship (6/14/16) are the first two books in the series. Upcoming books are Louise and the Lucky Pencil (2017) and The Smiley Family Album (2018). Kelly has also illustrated Elvis and the Underdogs and Elvis and the Underdogs: Secrets, Secret Service, and Room Service by Jenny Lee, and The Quirks series by Erin Soderbergh.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Revealing ReFoReMo Call for Submissions

We are so impressed with the hard work you have put into ReFoReMo.  Congratulations on your success! Your experiences need to be shared.  The Revealing ReFoReMo series is open to ReFoReMo participants who are interested in sharing the glory of mentor texts, research methods, specific revelations, or anything else related to your ReFoReMo experience. Submissions should be 600 words or less (including your 50 word or less bio) and attached as a .doc or .docx. For examples of past Revealing ReFoReMo posts, please feel free to scroll through many here or check out Chana Stiefel's post here on the new blog.

If your submission is chosen, you will also be asked for a jpeg headshot and any other .jpeg images and links you would like to feature.  To be considered for online publication at the ReFoReMo blog, please send your submission to Carrie or Kirsti.  We are excited to feature your experiences!