Friday, March 17, 2017

ReFoReMo Day 17: Katey Howes Digs Deep

By Katey Howes

When I started work on GRANDMOTHER THORN, I knew more about writing clinical notes than picture books.  I knew that the theme I wanted to convey –  that sometimes we try too hard, expect too much, attempt to exert more control than is necessary over the world around us – was a tricky one. Who tells a kid “stop trying so hard?” And yet, my own life and those around me showed me that many people, young and old, needed that message.

To understand how others had successfully condensed philosophical concepts into child-friendly packages, I hit the library. Here are a few books that guided my steps:

      INFINITY AND ME by Kate Hosford, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska (Carolrhoda Books, 2012) A concept so large, it’s impossible to wrap your mind around it, but Hosford and Swiatkowska make infinity – in all its mathematical, magical glory – relatable to children. 

   






     
     
      ZEN SOCKS by Jon Muth (Scholastic, 2015) All of Jon Muth’s Zen books, as well as his picture book version of Tolstoy’s The Three Questions, are object lessons in reinterpreting deep subjects for children.





      MEMOIRS OF A GOLDFISH by Devin Scillian, illustrated by Tim Bowers (Sleeping Bear Press, 2010) This witty narrative in the fish’s voice tackles topics of loneliness and watching what you wish for with heart and humor.






      A PERFECTLY MESSED UP STORY by Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2014) My favorite of McDonnell’s (consistently terrific) books, this one helps kids understand that they needn’t be perfect, and that messes and mistakes often lead to wonderful results.






GIVE AND TAKE by Chris Raschka (Atheneum, 2014) A new fable that feels every bit a classic, with clever messages about our impulses, gratitude, and compromise.




Katey is generously offering a picture book manuscript critique OR query letter critique. To be eligible, you must comment on this post and strive to read mentor texts regularly.

Katey Howes is an author, literacy advocate, and fun mother. She’s a team member at All the Wonders and founding member of Picture the Books – a gallery of debut picture book talent. Katey has two picture books releasing this year, GRANDMOTHER THORN (August 2017, Ripple Grove Press) and MAGNOLIA MUDD AND THE SUPER JUMPTASTIC LAUNCHER DELUXE (November 2017, Sterling.) Find her online at www.kateyhowes.com or @kateywrites on Twitter.

218 comments:

  1. I loved "Infinity and Me," "Memoirs of a Goldfish," and "A Perfectly Messed Up Story." You summed up the messages so well, and deftly wove a common thread among these books, observing how expertly they can wrap up abstract or grand concepts for little minds. "Infinity" was particularly well-timed for my 5 year old; I liked sharing those explanations with her. Haven't gotten my hands on "Give and Take" yet, but I hope to!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with our group, and for recommending these texts for our research!

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    1. SO glad you enjoyed the books - and shared them with your daughter. Reading with kids is always my favorite way to find out what "works."

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  2. I can't wait to read these books! Deep subjects for young minds - difficult to figure out. I love your approach of using these mentor texts. Thank you for sharing with us!

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    1. And thank you for reading! Enjoy the deep thoughts!

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  3. Congrats on Magnolia Mudd! I knew it was going to be a winner, even in the early drafts. :)

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    1. Thank you, Jen! Magnolia never would have made it where she is without great writer-friends like you!!

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  4. Many of my favourite picture books are the ones that dig deep! Infinity and Me is a really fun one - and thank you for the list of others to check out too!

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoy the list - happy reading!

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  5. Can't wait to check out these recommendations, which are all new to me! Thanks, Katey!

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    1. I hope you enjoy and connect with them. All the best!

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  6. Oh this makes me want to write a modern day fable for children. Also I have just finished reading the Tao of Pooh I didn't realise Pooh bear was so zen.

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    1. Absolutely! I love that mellow Pooh Bear!

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  7. I am looking forward to studying Memoirs of a Goldfish. Thank you for a great list of mentors with bi topics.

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    1. You're very welcome. Enjoy the books!

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  8. Thanks for the recommends, Katey! I'm really looking forward to Grandmother Thorn!

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    1. That's so kind of you, Katelyn! All the best.

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  9. It's so important for children to know that they don't have to be perfect and that learning can happen through all experiences. The mentor texts you recommend are helpful reminders that picture books can truly support growth for children learning their way in life. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. And thank YOU for understanding that! The children in your life are lucky that you do!

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  10. These will be great books to learn from -- for me and my students. Thanks for putting this list together!

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    1. You're so welcome, Andrea. I am glad to hear you'll be sharing the books with your students!

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  11. I think books like these are great (and important) for both kids and adults alike. I look forward to reading your additions to this list.

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  12. Katey, so psyched to read GRANDMOTHER THORN and MAGNOLIA MUDD sound alike fun. Kids need books about more complex, difficult topics. TY for this list. Hope we see each other at NESCBWI17 this spring.

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    1. Kathy, you are such a tireless cheerleader for writers! Thank you for your enthusiasm. I won't be in NE this year (since I spent my conference budget on NYSCBWI this year) but know we'll connect again soon.

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  13. Gotta check these out! Can't wait for your books!

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    1. Thanks, Chana! The feeling is mutual!

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  14. I love these complex subjects tackled for kids. A great list of mentor texts! Thanks, Kathy!

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    1. Thank you, Sherry! I love when adults recognize that kids are very much capable of handling tough topics.

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  15. Congratulations on your upcoming book releases! I will definitely need to grab a hold of these mentor texts! Memoirs of a Goldfish is of particular interest as I want to dig into combining heart and humor in my own writing.

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    1. Thank you so much! It's very exciting (and nerve-wracking) to be releasing my book babies into the world. Good luck infusing yours with heart and humor.

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  16. Thanks so much. Great mentors. Loved Memoirs and Infinity especially.

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    1. I often find the most amazing books coming from smaller publishers. Carolrhoda and Sleeping Bear constantly impress me!

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  17. Katey, Thanks for sharing. I like the titles of your upcoming picture books. And I need to read MEMOIRS OF A GOLDFISH.

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  18. Your post feels spot on and contemporary. Thank you.

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    1. What a lovely compliment! Thank you, Jenna!

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  19. I am so intrigued by these book selections. I never thought to look for these themes in picture books. Thanks for opening my mind to new possibilities.

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    1. You're very welcome. It's lovely to know that I'm helping writers discover new possibilities!

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  20. What an interesting group of mentor text. Memoirs was especially delightful with its twist at the end. So many great examples of how to tackle complex concepts and make them accessible to children.

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  21. I enjoyed digging deep with your title suggestions. Thank you Katey!

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    1. You're so welcome. Glad you enjoyed the selections.

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  22. Thanks for this great list of books and your insights into how you use mentor texts. Off to do more reading!

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    1. You can never read too many picture books! Enjoy!

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  23. Thanks for the reminder that kids can handle deep subjects if writers present them in reader-friendly ways.

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    1. You're absolutely welcome. I really appreciate authors who don't underestimate kids!

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  24. Interesting! Thank you for this list of pbs that discuss deep philosophical subjects in kid-like ways!

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    1. You're welcome! Thanks for reading with us!

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    1. I'm glad it's helpful for you, Ree! Enjoy.

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  26. I've already read Zen Socks and Memories of a Goldfish, but will have to check out the others on your list. Thanks for a great post!

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    1. You're so welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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  27. I had no idea there were so many "deep" topics in recent picture books. My library has four of them, so I'm going to spend a very philosophical morning reading! Thanks.

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    1. That sounds like a perfect morning. (As long as there's a hot beverage, too!)

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  28. Thank you for sharing your mentor list! I just reserved these at my library. Thanks!

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    1. I know you're going to love them - these are some incredible books!

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  29. Katey, thank you for opening me up to several new books and ideas.

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  30. Katey - Really nice picks -- and a great teaser: can't wait to see GRANDMOTHER THORN!!

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  31. Thanks for sharing these wonderful mentor texts that convey "philosophical concepts into child-friendly packages." You are so right, it is tricky...but these picture books definitely show the way.

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    1. It's nice, too, that each book takes a different strategy to do this. There are so many possibilities for us as writers and illustrators!

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  32. Katey, your message is spot on about showing children, messes happen and perfection is not a thing really. They need to be reminded of that to keep them focused on the important parts of life. Thank you for this insightful post. Looking forward to your book releases this year!!!!

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    1. Thank you so much, Traci! I'm glad that message resonates with you - and the children in your life are very lucky it does, too.

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  33. Children are needing books with depth as well as dinosaurs in underwear. Thank you for reminding us.

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    1. But a deep book WITH underwear dinos - that would be gold!

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  34. I just loved these books! Goldfish memoir! who woulda thunk? And Zen Socks...I have some in my drawer somewhere, I'm sure of it. But when I try to find them they aren't there. Maybe I have Schrodinger socks instead.

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    1. LOL! Clearly, you've got the humor side of things down pat! So glad you enjoyed the books (and kept your feet mellow and cozy!)

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  35. Looking forward to reading all of these, especially Grandmother Thorn! Thanks for sharing these titles.

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    1. Now that is such a sweet thing to say. Thank YOU. I'm glad you enjoyed the mentor texts.

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  36. Haven't read these titles yet, but looking forward to getting my hands on them. Enjoy the launch!

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    1. Thank you, Nadine! It's getting pretty exciting.

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  37. Hi Katey, thanks for this great post! I read Memoirs of a Goldfish and couldn't agree more that this was the perfect way to convey loneliness and a need for "community"--even when you're feeling a bit claustrophobic. Off to read Infinity and Me. :)

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    1. Memoirs is just so clever! I think you'll enjoy the other books, too. Thanks for participating!

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  38. Fun and eclectic group of books!

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    1. Eclectic is a great word for it! I am always amazed at the range of ways picture book creators get their message delivered. So many possibilities!

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  39. Thanks for the recommendations. A Perfectly Messed Up Story has been on my to read list for awhile now. Glad to have finally gotten to it! Thank you for your post.

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    1. My daughter's art teacher actually turned me on to that book - and several others like Beautiful Oops!

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  40. I loved Memoirs of a Goldfish & I'm looking forward to reading your other suggestions. Thanks for the post! - Alice Fulgione

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  41. Lots of great books here. Though I must admit I found the art in Give and Take - which I'd never read before - a little creepy on some pages...

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    1. I can certainly see that! I do like the risks illustrators take, though.

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  42. I need to get my hands on these books and look deep. Thanks, Katey, for the important advice.

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    1. You're so welcome. These really showed me that kids can handle so much more than we give them credit for!

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  43. Thank you so much for your suggestions on very BROAD topics. I look forward to reading these. Best of luck with your books debuting this year.

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    1. Thanks so much! It's an exciting year!

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  44. More inspiring books to check out and dig deep, thanks!

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  45. Nice, thanks for sharing these books!

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  46. Thank you for the post and these suggestions! Attempting to tackle philosophical issues in a kid-friendly way has been on my mind for a while, so this post is very relevant for me right now!

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  47. Great post, Katey! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on mentor texts that handle philosophical concepts through child-friendly packages.

    I can’t wait to read Grandmother Thorn, Memoirs of a Goldfish, and Zen Socks


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    1. Thanks you so much! I'm glad to share some inspiring reads.

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  48. Really enjoyed "A Perfectly Messed Up Story" and "Zen Socks," can't wait to read the rest!

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  49. Wonderful mentor texts to read. Thanks for an insightful post.

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  50. Thanks for the recommendations, Katey! I know some of those books but not all so will check those out asap. I enjoyed learning about your approach to writing a story with a unique message. And I'm excited to read your books when they come out!

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    1. That's so nice of you to say. I hope you enjoy all the books!

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  51. A fantastic subject. I look forward to tracking down Memories of a Goldfish. Shaun Tan is also an expert at tackling BIG ideas (The Red Tree, The Arrival, and more), if anyone hasn't discovered him yet.

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  52. That's for sharing. I loved Memories of a Goldfish!

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  53. Thank you, Katey. I am looking forward to reading these mentor texts, as they all sound wonderful, especially Memoirs of a Goldfish and Give and Take. I'm also very much looking forward to reading Grandmother Thorn!

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  54. Glad you shared a fun books with great message. Can't wait to read "Memoirs of a Goldfish."

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  55. Thank you for the recommendations Katey. I think children are much better at grasping complex ideas than we sometimes give them credit for. Being able to explain these concepts to a child might be the best test of our own understanding.

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  56. Thank you for introducing me to a few "new to me" books. I look forward to learning from them!

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  57. Thank you, Katey, for your list of mentor books that helped you, too:>

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  58. Hi Katey! Thanks for your list - love the Memoirs of a Goldfish as well.

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  59. Just so ridiculously excited for Grandmother Thorn and love this impressive list of mentor texts!

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  60. Except for Give and Take, these books are all new to me! Thank you for your notes and encouragement to tackle deeply.

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  61. Honoring children's ability to tackle deep topics is critical to great children's literature. It is also essential to growing mature children. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and this valuable list of mentor texts.

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  62. Deep and thought provoking! Thank you, Katey.

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  63. This post made me sit up and take notice! I tend toward the philosophical...and feel these concepts are most assuredly within the grasp of the children. I hope that someday, soon, I will be in the Picture the Book group with you, Katey!

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  64. Wonderful choice of mentor texts. Thank you, Katey!

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  65. Congrats, Katey, on your upcoming books! Thank you for these mentor texts that capture philosophical concepts in a child relatable way. I have read some of them and look forward to tackling the others on the list.

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  66. Can't wait to read these examples! Thank you for the post, Katey!

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  67. Thank you for your post Katey. Can't wait to read these books!

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  68. I LOVE the power of picture books to both entertain and inform. The best of the bunch are subtle with message and big on story. Thanks for sharing!

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  69. Katey,
    I could really use a critique right now so my fingers are crossed. infinity and Me with its haunting illustrations was an outstanding read. Making hard concepts child-friendly is a challenging task and these authors did it beautifully.thanks for the book recommendations.

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  70. Memoirs of a Goldfish was such a clever tale! I see mistakes as learning opportunities and can't wait to read A Perfectly Messed-Up Story. It is good to know that this book is available to help kids learn that making mistakes can turn into growth.

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  71. They might be Giants (yes, the rock band) has a children's math album with a song about infinity. At age 4 my daughter got fascinated by the concept of infinity and would ask us endless questions about it. My experience is that big concepts can be explained to little children but it takes a lot of care in the explaining.

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  72. Thank you for sharing these stories. This idea of sharing big concepts in picture books is something I think about a lot. These books are really helpful.

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  73. Thanks, Katy! I didn't realize until now that packaging bigger-picture, philosophical concepts for kids is something that shows up most often in my work too. Can't wait to read your recommendations.

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  74. I think the answer to your question 'who tells a kid to stop trying so hard' is a realist. There are many times one should just 'let it go'. Many times, I think we just need to readjust our goals into manageable achievements. We'd be a lot happier with who we are and what we have. IMHO :)

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  75. Thanks for the timely post. The Perfectly Messed-Up Story is going to help me with a manuscript I'm working on. I'm always drawn to stories with meaningful messages subtly given. I'm so glad to know about these! Thanks much, Katey!

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  76. All of these are beautiful books! As our son begins the application process for high school (yes, in San Francisco you have to apply to high school whether it's public or private), I'm thinking it will be good for him (and us) to read Grandmother Thorn. Thank you for writing it. But I can't wait to read both!

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  77. Thanks, Katey for this list of mentor texts. They're all new to me - can't wait to read them. Looking forward to reading Grandmother Thorn and Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe

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  78. Can't wait to read these new books, especially the one called INFINITY AND ME.

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  79. Thanks for sharing your mentor texts, Katey! I haven't read most of these yet. Also, can't wait to read YOUR books, too!

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  80. I've reached for "INFINITY AND ME" a number of times as a mentor text - very rich. Must look for the Rashcka book next - thank for the rec!

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  81. Your recommendations look like great books to study. Thanks for your post and best of luck with your new books.

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  82. Oooo! Five books mentioned, none of which I've read! You deserve a prize, Katey, but will a thank you do? I want to read all of them because teaching an important lesson in a PB is fraught with traps, but when done well, they are so satisfying.

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  83. Ah Katey, Memoirs of a Goldfish was amazing!! Thank you for putting such a fun list together.

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  84. Looking forward to studying these selections- Lots to learn from the way the concepts are approached! Also looking forward to your new books! Congratulations and thanks for this post!

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  85. Thanks for the mentor texts that show how to teach kids about deep concepts in a relatable way. Congratulations on your upcoming books, too!

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  86. Great insight - thanks for the mentor texts.

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  87. Thanks, Katie, for your picture book wisdom!

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  88. Thanks for this insightful post, Katey, and this great list of philosophical mentor texts. I just read Zen Socks for the first time and loved it, especially the importance of patience when you're trying to master something (like PB writing!). I look forward to reading Grandmother Thorn and I'm intrigued by its theme.

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  89. KATEY: THANK YOU for the inspiration to DIG DEEP, and providing such WONDERFUL examples to show us the way! I CAN'T WAIT to read Grandmother Thorne! The cover art itself has already enchanted me! THANK YOU! And THANK YOU for your WONDERFUL websites to help inspire even more ways to DIG DEEP and DEEPER STILL!!!

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  90. Thanks for the great picture book recommendations. My son and I look forward to reading them.

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  91. Can't wait to dig into these books! Thank you for your wise words.

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  92. I look forward to reading, a rereading, your suggested picture books. I, too, have struggled with how to channel concepts into stories for young children & I have high hopes that these texts will help as I write & revise. Thank you!

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  93. Thanks for the recommendations, Katey. I'm looking forward to reading Grandmother Thorn!

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  94. Thank you for these suggestions. I loved reading them especially Memoires of a Goldfish. I have been thinking a lot about the structure of that one and how it ebbs and flows. There is certainly a strong voice. I loved the banter in the bowl as captured by the fish. The illustrations were well-suited to the text. Thanks again Katey!

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  95. Great suggested reading! Two are new to me so I have to get them on my hold list at the library. Thank you!

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  96. Katey, thank you for these inspirations. Read Give and Take, A Perfectly Messed up Story and Zen Socks and was so pleasantly surprised by all three. Such wonderful messages in all. Thank you!

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  97. Read mentor texts regularly? I think my house is gonna sink from the weight of all our books! Thanks for your list - more to add to the pile! :-)

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  98. Wonderful mentor texts. Thanks for your insights, Katey!

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  99. Thank you for the suggestions. These certainly do tackle philosophical concepts in child friendly ways! I read Memoirs of a Goldfish to my son tonight and we both really loved it!

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  100. As someone who is attempting to tackle a few huge and serious issues in the picture book format, I really appreciate adding these titles to my growing list of mentor texts. Thanks for the insight!

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  101. I love those deep and needed subjects. Thanks for sharing these books.

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  102. Thank you for this insightful list of mentor texts. They were a treat to read.
    Susan

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  103. Thanks, Kathy. I'm really excited to "dive deep." This is one of the challenges I face sometimes in my picture book writing and I'm going to really study these.

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  104. Hi Katey. Thanks for the recommendations. Some of Jon Muth's work is in my local library. I love his modern-day Haiku beautifully presented by his panda, Koo and gorgeous illustrations. He is a master in both poetic and visual creations.

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  105. These look like great recommendations, thank you! I look forward to reading them, as they definitely are in line with some of the books I'm working on now.

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  106. When I read the introductory paragraph, I knew this was going to be an awesome post. Katey didn't let me down. Taking big concepts and breaking them down to something children can understand/relate to isn't easy. Thanks for highlighting a few books that are perfect examples of how it can be done.

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  107. Hi Katey - thanks for showing us how mentor texts illuminated your writing journey. I am so excited to read your two books releasing this year! Congratulations!

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  108. I can't wait to delve into more of these books. Many thanks!

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  109. I love the concept of a book being a mentor. As someone who loves to research - sometimes research is a too welcome diversion from actually writing - it's also good to have a mentor: wise, experienced, helpful, and at least one step ahead of me on whatever path I'm taking.

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  110. Thanks for sharing, can't wait to read your suggested texts!

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  111. Sharing this with a friend who I think might find it helpful!

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  112. Thanks for the book recommendations.

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  113. These are great recommendations. Thank you for pointing out books that make complex topics easy to understand for kids.

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  114. Thanks for the great recommendations, Katey. I'm very interested in philosophy and approaching it through children's books is extra interesting.

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  115. What great books to read for the hard topics -- Thanks for these books now on my reading list Katey!

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  116. I agree with the comment in the stream..."so intrigued by these book selections. I never thought to look for these themes in picture books. Thanks for opening my mind to new possibilities." Can't wait to settle down into reading them.

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  117. Such an important message! I know growing up, and maybe even still today, I try "too" hard at times. Thanks for sharing these titles.

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  118. Infinity and Me had me with its cover alone (plus I have a son who loves anything having to do with math/numbers). These were just perfectly lovely.

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  119. A fantastic collection of mentor texts! I particularly enjoyed Memoirs of a Goldfish, and am now going to go clear out the Devin Scillian shelf and see what other memoirs he's captured! Liz Tipping

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  120. YES!! Condensing big concepts down to kid-size is exactly where my interests lie. I very much look forward to reading your forthcoming books! Thank you for the list!

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  121. Hm, I've only read the messed up one. I'll have to check out the others. Thanks!

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  122. I have avoided topics that seemed too complicated, but maybe some of those ideas are worth a second look.

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  123. Thanks for the suggestions!

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  124. Thank you so much for sharing! These books would be interesting to such a wide range of ages! These books will challenge me to tackle deeper concepts!

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  125. Wonderful list. You picked some of my favorites. Can't wait to read Grandmother Thorn! Congrats! :)

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  126. Thank you for your title suggestions. This is definitely an area where mentor texts will be valuable resources.

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  127. Interesting book choices--several are new to me. I am intrigued by the message in your upcoming book, Grandmother Thorn. Can't wait to read it!

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  128. Katie, I love the books you've included in your post! I haven't read a few of them so I can't wait to get my hands on them as soon as possible. Congratulations on your upcoming books!

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  129. One of the advantages of coming late to commenting is that I get a chance to scroll through all of the comments...how lovely to see so many friends...all intent on learning as much as they can so they can write the best stories for children! Thanks for a great post, Katey...a couple of books I have not yet read, so that is good! And I'm so excited for BOTH of your upcoming books!

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  130. Hi, Katey! Thanks for you wisdom and eclectic suggestions-I'm off to research some more!

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  131. Of course, now I want to know more about Grandmother Thorn! (My first reaction was the character from the comics, Bone, but after looking it up, I'm even more intrigued!) I love complex stories for young minds. Thanks for sharing your suggestions!

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  132. This was a very useful post, Katey. I love that you're trying to tell big, important stories. I can't wait to read GRANDMOTHER THORN. It's exciting to watch your success!!!

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  133. When McDonnell writes "This is Louie's story" and Louie lies down underneath that, defeated, and says "Who Cares", I lost it. I mean, how hysterically adorable? "Who Cares?!" he says! haha. This one tickled me, and thank you for introducing it! This was a great text to explore because it was so light and funny and even interactive, but with such a heavy, strong, important message: Life can be messy, but that's OK! Messy can be what makes it interesting. I enjoyed this one, and I enjoyed today's post. Hard topics we can dig deep into, and what the best way would be to share these with children.

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  134. Loved these books but what I found interesting and enlightening was that they are all illustrated totally differently. So many points to ponder from there. Great learning lesson.

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  135. Thank you for the wonderful suggestions.

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  136. Thanks for these great mentor texts. And thanks for making me think differently about how I approach a story and conflict. This will definitely have a positive impact on my writing. Cindy.

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  137. Love this list of mentor texts with big ideas- thanks!

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  138. Great ideas! And great prize. Thanks so much!

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  139. A great list Katey! Congrats on the new releases!

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  140. What an interesting list of books. Thanks

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  141. Hitting the library to read your suggested mentor texts and hoping I can learn from published authors how to "not try so hard." 😃 Thanks for the encouragement.

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  142. I'm a math PhD, and I was very impressed with Infinity and Me.

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  143. Thank you Katey! Can't wait to read these books!

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  144. A great message in the Memoirs of a Goldfish, but also a hilarious little book. Thanks for sharing this list, Katey!

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  145. Great mentor book suggestions. Big topics that help adults too because they are presented in a clear format. I cannot wait to read Memoirs of a Goldfish.

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