By Caron Levis
When it comes to mentor texts, I gobble what I love first and ask WHAT I dug about the book and HOW it does it, later. Lately, I’ve looked to books I love to help me face some writerly fears.
Fear: I am afraid of writing non-fiction. Also, SPIDERS.
Enter, I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton
WHAT: Combines educational information with an emotional experience in an incredibly engaging book.
1.) Meets her reader where they are by first meeting herself where she is—read the bio.
2.) Creates a clear, engaging objective of Liking Spiders/Not Squashing Spiders for her protagonist (1st person narrator.)
3) Invites reader interaction by breaking the 4th wall, using humor, and with fabulous page-turns.
Fear: Picture book biography/ historical non-fiction
Enter, The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson & Vanessa Newton
WHAT: Shows that every kid has what it takes; keeps the world’s complexity.
HOW: The personal traits that led Hendricks to protest were ones many kids have: she can’t sit still, she observes unfairness in the world, and she wants to be able to do any and everything she wants in life. Readers discover they too have the material to become an asset to world. Newton’s illustration on the last page allows a true triumph while keeping the messy, complex, danger, and unfinished work of the world in the room.
Fear: Being told my idea is too “quiet”
Enter (slowly,) Sparky by Jenny Offill & Chris Appelhans
WHAT: Makes a story out of stillness.
HOW: Offhill creates two problems, one for the protagonist, and one she discovers isn’t hers afterall. She uses contrast to create endearing humor, and gives a last line melts my heart every time…slowly.
Fear: My new book’s coming out, but SOOO many great books exist already, what if…?
Enter And Two Boys Booed by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
WHAT: Gives the reader a visceral emotional experience.
1.) uses a cumulative tale, which builds, just as nervous thoughts do.
2.) Invites the reader to spot the truth with subtle key phrases like “I wasn’t one bit scared,” “lucky blue boots,” and a well placed “but.”
3.) Plays with words to capture the comedic beauty of nerves.
4.) Let’s the worst thing happen—AND the best thing too.
5.) Pairs with Sophie Blackall. Look closely.
After facing my fears sometimes I just need a hug.
Enter HUG MACHINE by Scott C. Campbell.
WHAT: Turns an affectionate gesture into a story.
HOW: He raises the sweetness stakes (ahem, porcupine, whale) with simplicity, humor, and aww.
Caron is giving away an advanced copy of May I Have A Word? illustrated by Andy Rash, which will be released May 23rd 2017. To be eligible for the drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo, please leave a comment on this post and strive to read mentor texts regularly.
Caron Levis is the author of the picture book Ida, Always (Atheneum) illustrated by Charles Santoso, which the New York Times Book Review calls, "an example of children's books at their best." Please note her first book, Stuck with the Blooz (HMH) took ten years and 12 rejections before it got published. Forthcoming titles include May I Have A Word? ill. Andy Rash, (Macmillan, 2017,) Stop That Yawn! ill. LeUyen Pham (Atheneum, 2018); Mama’s Work Shoes, ill Vanessa Newtown (Abrams 2019.) Caron has an LMSW, MFA, and is an adjunct professor/advisor for The New School's Writing for Children/YA MFA program. She enjoys using acting and writing to teach social, emotional, and literacy skills to students of all ages through her author workshops. Visit her at www.caronlevis.com