Tuesday, February 28, 2017

ReFoReMo Day 2: Matthew Winner Obsesses Over Words

A story told entirely in a dialect of bug. A bear who identifies as a bunny. A concussed knight who struggles to recall the details of his own tale.

I am obsessed with language, and the way an author chooses to tell his or her story can make or break the whole thing for me. I think little of the choice to rhyme the text or not. It doesn’t matter to me if the main character tells the story or if the entire text is recounted through an all-knowing narrator. I don’t give word count a second thought. What matters most to me are the words so carefully selected to speak forth the story.

Here is a set of ten books that, for different reasons, each appeal to me for the language used to employ the story.

1. Cat Knit by Jacob Grant

Cat loves Girl. Girl brings home Yarn. Cat and Yarn become fast friends. Girl plays with Yarn. Yarn returns changed (into a sweater).

READ FOR: Sparse, matter-of-fact text gives insight to Cat’s perception of events.

2. Ooko by Esme Shapiro

A fox named Ooko seeks to be loved by a Debbie (Ooko’s word for all humans), but finds they might not be what he’s looking for after all.

READ FOR: The voice of the confident and naive narrator making names for all he observes.

3. Bunnybear by Andrea J. Loney; pictures by Carmen Saldaana

A bear identifies as a bunny and, after facing rejection from his peers, seeks company among other bunnies.

READ FOR:  The wordsmithing on character names (Bunnybear, Grizzlybun) and how much weight the name can carry.

4. Worm Loves Worm by J. J. Austrian; illustrated by Mike Curato

Worm loves worm, and so they decide they should be married. Their friends are worried about details, but details are only that when you love another.

READ FOR:  The slight change in the book’s chorus and how it gives insight into the change experienced by the supporting cast.

5. They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

A cat is observed by all whom it passes, each offering up a new perspective on the same subject.

READ FOR: The deceptively simple text and consistent, repeated structure of each stanza.

6. The Airport Book by Lisa Brown

A family travels to and through an airport on their way to a new destination.

READ FOR:  The descriptive, straight-forward language sets a tone that while the experience may be new, there are no surprises and nothing to be afraid of.

7. The Day I Became a Bird by Ingrid Chabbert; illustrated by Raul Nieto Guridi

A lovesick boy constructs a bird costume to impress the object of his affection.

READ FOR:  The sweet, heart-spoken language, both innocent and sincere, that hides nothing before the reader.

8. The Forgetful Knight by Michelle Robinson and Fred Blunt

An unreliable narrator struggles to recount the story of a knight who set out to challenge a dragon.

READ FOR:  The fast-moving, metered text that asks a lot of questions and responds with often unpredictable answers.

9. Don't Cross the Line! by Isabel Minhos Martins; illustrated by Bernardo Carvalho

By order of the general, a guard is tasked with not allowing any member of an ensemble cast to cross over the gutter of the book to the other side.

READ FOR: The dialogue of the crowd and the ways in which each unique voice contributes to the story.

10. Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

A group of bugs build a fort in the leaves of a growing flower, witnessing time pass and all of their labor returning to the earth.

READ FOR:  The story is told entirely through the dialogue of the characters, who, in turn, only speak in a bug language. How readers are able to understand the story is a testament to language itself.

Matthew is giving away a 30 minute Skype session on a topic of your choosing. Brainstorm story ideas. Critique a manuscript. Develop a personalized recommended reading list to support your ReFoReMo experience. You name it. To be eligible for the drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo, please comment on this post and strive to read mentor texts regularly.

Matthew Winner is an elementary library media specialist in Elkridge, Maryland. He is the co-founder and content director of All The Wonders, a children’s literature website and more, and host of the All The Wonders podcast. Matthew is the author of Asha Went Walking, a webcomic illustrated by Lorian Tu-Dean. Connect with Matthew on Twitter at @MatthewWinner or online at MatthewCWinner.com.

Monday, February 27, 2017

ReFoReMo Day 1: Marcie Flinchum Atkins Characterizes Strong Reader Engagement

Some picture books have kids on the edge of their seats watching, listening, and anticipating what's going to happen next. Sometimes their bottoms leave the seats because they have to stand up to tell you how they feel about a book. What makes those read-alouds stand out?

As a librarian, I sometimes read the same book to multiple grade levels. Parents have to reread some books dozens of times to their children. The book has to stand up to that many read-alouds. Can it keep a child’s interest? Can it keep the adult reader’s interest? Does it still have new things to discover each time it is read out loud? Is the text set up in such a way that the reader knows exactly how to read it?

Emotional Response
Many of these books are laugh out loud funny. I mean who can read “Yam-a-yam-a-ding-dong” from I Yam a Donkey without a burst of laughter? But the emotion evoked doesn’t always have to be humor. The reader might wonder in Du Iz Tak? Or have their heartstrings tugged in Be a Friend, or recognize the feeling of making a mistake about someone in Horrible Bear. They might see themselves in Stick and Stone, Penguin Problems, or in Be a Friend. The best books make the reader FEEL something.

Larger-than-Life Characters
Readers latch on to characters in stories. In all of these books, characters are larger-than-life. But that doesn't mean that they are all loud mouths. In Be a Friend, Dennis doesn't talk, but the reader sees him change as a character through his miming. Other characters react in loud ways. Nanette in Nanette's Baguette and Moose in I Love Cake both have meltdowns when they come to terms with what they've eaten. I Yam a Donkey has two characters that misunderstand each other in loud and silly ways, and the penguin in Penguin Problems has a lot of complaints.

Predictibility Mixed with Surprise
As I read these books with students, many of them couldn’t contain themselves. They’d shout out what they KNEW was going to happen. If the text and illustrations are peppered with tiny hints along the way, readers feel like they’ve been let in on a little secret. Shh! We Have a Plan sets up a pattern for readers to say, “I know what’s going to happen.” In Nanette’s Baguette, readers shouted, “Oh no, she’s not supposed to do that!” Many kids even knew that Donkey was going to eat the Yam in I Yam a Donkey several pages before it happened. Predictability with a little twist a book irresistible.
Respect The Reader
The best picture books offer layers for multiple ages of readers. Stick and Stone has a very low word count, but I’ve had a fifth grader read it and say, “Whoa, that’s deep!”
Du Iz Tak? has a made up language and Best Frints in the Whole Universe has made up words. Both give readers of all ages a puzzle to figure out. The reader has to make much of the meaning using the clues the author and illustrator have left for them.

As we write picture books or as we select picture books for students, do they have some of these elements? What other elements in picture books make them engaging for children?

Marcie is giving away two copies of her Mentor Texts for Writers eBook at the conclusion of ReFoReMo. To be eligible, be sure to comment on this post and strive to read mentor texts daily.

Marcie Flinchum Atkins has been an elementary educator for 19 years. She is currently a PYP/IB librarian in Falls Church, Virginia by day and writes books for children in the wee hours of the morning. She holds an M.A. and M.F.A. in Children's Literature from Hollins University. She blogs about mentor texts at: www.marcieatkins.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MarcieFAtkins and read her great mentor text, Ancient China, at a library near you!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Are You Ready for ReFoReMo 2017?

By Carrie Charley Brown & Kirsti Call

To share or not to share? It’s ReFoReMo time, so of course that answer is: SHARE! That’s why we’ve come together this month.  It’s all about the reading and research that goes into the craft of writing.  Learning how authors, illustrators, educators, and publishing professionals have successfully used picture books as mentor texts can help us try new things, too. We encourage you to rely on each other.

The following will help you navigate this experience with more success:

1.     A Library Card
As a picture book enthusiasts, we know how tempting it is to buy everything we read. (Of course, you are welcome to buy as many of the recommendations you desire.) But, the library’s online reserve system is super handy and your kids’ library cards can serve as great back-ups when you’ve maxed out yours. Then again, you might break out your pretzel-style legs and plop down to read in the children’s section of your local book store.

2.     Our Reading List
Just like any recommended reading list, it is subjective. You may find that some of the books have nothing to do with your writing style. You may disagree with a recommendation.  You may find some books recommended by multiple authors and even similar learning tips. Ultimately, you must decide what works for you.  You know the projects that you have on your table and we applaud your efforts to find a pile of picture books that will enhance each one.

We’ll be adding titles to our reading list as they come in from our presenters. You will find the list HERE.

3.     An Open Mind 
      This allows you to learn from new perspectives. 

      This is where you'll find education, recommendations, and new perspectives. Challenge posts run daily from February 27- March 31, 2017. After that, we resume our weekly schedule.

5.     A Pencil/Notebook or a Computer
Simply put, you’ll want a place to take notes. Visit our resource section to find additional ways to enhance note taking.

6.     Our Facebook Group
This will allow you to share what you discover as you read or locate hard to find books.

As with any large challenge, there is bound to be a few technical glitches. If you received this post in your email inbox, you did well! If you still don't see your name on the registration post, please give it some time. The system is catching up with itself. We can see a lot of names on the back side of the site, so breathe easy. Thank you for being patient with us. 

Get ready for a great month of learning!  ReFoReMo 2017 starts on February 27. Our schedule can be found here.

We’re happy to have you with us!