Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Author Denise Vega Talks Mentor Texts

Author Denise Vega has been inspiring children's writers for many years through her blog and as a previous regional advisor for her SCBWI chapter in Colorado. I was blown away by her knowledge and experience prior to and when she spoke at my SCBWI chapter last spring. I knew that ReFoReMoers would want to learn from Denise's mentor text perspective, too. She writes everything from picture books to young adult and is on faculty at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Her newest picture book, If Your Monster Won't Go to Bed, is absolutely adorable and Zacharia O'hora's illustrations are vibrant and fun, as always.

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

Yes! All the time. I actually have a very specific process for using picture book mentor texts. First I look at the type of book I am writing—narrative (character with a goal/problem) or what I term “non-narrative” (any story that does not have a protagonist with a goal to achieve or problem to solve like Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd.) Once I have that, I look for books that are similar not only in type, but in tone—humorous, warm, silly, etc. Also, in a narrative, if my character has a growth arc, I look for books that have the same.

Once I’ve gotten 3-5 that feel right, I go through them in at least four different passes. In each pass, I’m looking at only one aspect. These are things I teach in my classes which helps keep me sharp too!

For narrative picture books, my main passes include (1) story structure and pacing, (2) character development, (3) the integration of text and pictures, and (4) language. With each pass, I’m asking questions such as:  When is the story problem/goal introduced (pass #1)? How does the character grow or change and where? (pass #2), How are the pictures telling part of story? And what is the text doing that the pictures aren’t? (pass #3) Is the language vibrant or plain and how is that serving the story? (pass #4)

For non-narrative picture books, I have similar passes except for during pass #1, I’m looking at any thematic structure in the words and/or pictures—what is the skeleton holding the piece together? Morning to night? Seasons? Small to big? Anything I see that shows me the integration between the parts and the whole and ties scenes or elements together.

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

I love this question! We are constantly evolving as writers and one of the things I’ve discovered reading picture books is that we never stop learning. Just the other day, in a picture book class I was teaching, one of the writers pointed out something in a mentor text I had read a dozen times. I was delighted to see the page in a new light, to learn something new. I am a writer who never stops learning. I teach, I take classes, I ask questions. And with picture books there are so many fabulous questions to explore! The example questions I provided above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the questions I ask during each of those passes. 

Reading picture books has also shown me that there are endless ways to tell a story and challenges me to think outside the box, push for the unique or twist ending, the unexpected in my character.

Finally, reading picture books reminds me that there’s an active listener involved, that I need to always remember the read-aloud factor. I participated in a story time recently and my dad attended. He commented later that he’d read If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed to himself and enjoyed it, but that it really “came alive” when I read it aloud to the kids, who were engaged and responding. That’s what we want to create as picture book writers—an enjoyable, shared experience!

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of

Yes! Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. I fell in love with this book when I first read it and loved how it had the “instructional/informational” angle I was going for in my book.

If you have not yet had a chance to read and research this gem, be sure to check it out as a summer read!  Then, tell us: Which mentor texts are helping you most with your current work in progress?

Denise Vega is the award-winning author of seven books from toddler to teen, including her newest picture book, If YourMonster Won't Go to Bed.  She is on faculty at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop as well as a Young Adult Faculty Mentor for the Regis University Mile High MFA in Creative Writing. She lives in Denver with her family, where she watches out for monsters and eats a lot of French fries and chocolate, but usually not together. Find out more about Denise, her books, and her idiosyncrasies at www.denisevega.com.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

THINK QUICK with Author, Judy Carey Nevin

Hi Judy!  I love how your book features the relationship between a father and child.    All of the THINK QUICK themes below appear in your book. Let’s see which way you lean. Remember, THINK QUICK!

On Daddies:

Best Friend or Teacher?
Me: Best friend 
Husband/Daddy: Teacher 

On showing affection:

Smooches or hugs?
Ooh--a tough one. Smooches, I think 
I like to get hugs from our daughter--she's a STRONG hugger.

On adventure:

Swings or Roller Coaster?
Swings, definitely swings 
I'm a chicken!

On imaginary play:

Monsters or Kangaroos?
Monsters--more fun making goofy faces and sounds (Kangaroos are kinda quiet.)

On stuffed animals:

Bunnies or Bears?
Bunnies (I like the ears)

On games:

Peek-a-boo or Duck Duck Goose?
Duck Duck Goose 

On bedtime:

Night-light or Pitch black?
Pitch black for me
Nigh-light for daughter 

On sleep:

Early Bird or Night Owl?
both! (yawn!) 

On books:

What Daddies Like or What Daddies Like?
Sneaky question! I like What Daddies Like! :-) 

Thank you Judy!  

Judy's inspiration for the book: 

This book started when our daughter came into our lives and I watched my husband read "aren't mommies great," "a mommy's hug is the best hug," and other lovey-dovey books written with no fathers in sight. My husband is a devoted father who has been besotted with our daughter from the moment he met her in the delivery room. It broke my heart to experience the complete lack of books--especially for very young children--depicting happy, loving interactions between fathers and their children. One day I overheard my husband playing with our infant daughter; he said, "Daddies like hugs too." I thought, "That's what I need to write," and the book was born. I am so pleased to hear from new fathers who say they're thankful to have a book to read with their babies--that is the most fulfilling part of seeing my book go out into the world. The book works for any dad in any situation--married dads, single/divorced dads, same-sex couple dads, widowed dads--they can all see themselves represented in the book, and that makes me so very happy. (P.S.--the illustrator added a surprise "spot the toy bunny" game throughout the book, which I LOVE!) 

Judy Carey Nevin is a mommy who likes seeing her daughter and husband play together.  She likes listening to their laughter and seeing their love for each other--AND eating the delicious blueberry pancakes they make almost every weekend.  Judy is the director of a library in Ohio.  She really likes her life with her family and their slightly neurotic dog.  What Daddies Like is her debut picture book.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

On the Punny Side of the Street Challenge

By Janie Reinart

Have you ever written a funny story? (Oops! Autocorrect.)

A puny story? (Autocorrect again.)

A punny story? Word play can make us laugh out loud.

Story, pictures, and bad grammar by Cece Bell

"I YAM a donkey," says the donkey to the Yam

"The proper way to say that is 'I AM a donkey.'"

"You is a donkey too?"

And so the wordplay begins while the story ends with a "dark and deeply funny ending."

A punny show and tell by Alan Katz

The teacher announces indoor recess.

Show and tell doesn't turn out like the teacher and class expected. 

The page turns show great timing.

"That stinks!" exclaimed Jimmy.
 The class gasped. (Page turn.)
"It's my pet skunk, Harry! He really stinks!"

"Aw,nuts!" said Susie. (Page turn.)
"Pecans, almonds, and walnuts. Yum!"

And then the principal come in. 

By Jeff Mack

 The story starts when a little boy asks his dad why he always reads him Mother Goose before he goes to sleep. 

"Well...it all started when I found a duck in the fridge," says the dad.

The mayhem continues with ducks all over the house. Then the ducks order out for pizza.  When asked ,"Who's going to pay for all of this?" 

The answer is simple.One of the ducks says," Put it on my bill."

Then the father as a boy invites sheep to get rid of the ducks, dogs to get rid of the sheep and so on.  He finally figures out an idea to get all the animals to get to sleep. Can you guess what it is? More puns ensue. 

by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen                                                                                                                               

One morning a fairy appeared. There is a lot of kissing going on in this story after the fairy delivers her message.

"Your Highness", she said bowing in front of Eldon. "I'm Fairy Miranda, here to help you break the spell."


"The Hog Prince Spell. When you kiss your true love, you will be changed into a prince."

Meanwhile, Miranda muttered,"Was it a hog prince or a dog prince? Or was it a frog prince...? And POOF she disappeared. 

Try your hand at writing a punny story. Remember seven days with out a pun makes one weak.

Tell us your favorite picture books with puns and word play in the comments.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Revealing ReFoReMo: Redux- Looking Back to Move Forward

This was my third year of meeting the ReFoReMo challenge, one that has changed for me every year. My debut year, I fretted about filling out forms and doing the challenge “correctly.” Last year I studied nonfiction texts and researched publishers. This year, ReFoReMo inspired me to write out of my comfort zone.

2015…I Was Green

Like most newbies, I was nervous about completing the challenge, finding mentor texts, and organizing my research. The question loomed…what am I supposed to do with this research anyway?  Here are my tips for neophytes:

  • If you can’t find specific texts, use other books by the author.
  • If you live in a remote area with limited library access, check Youtube for book trailers and read alouds with recording rights.
  • If you have ADD like I do, check the ReFoReMo research tools page for an easy-peasy graphic organizer that works for you.
  • If you don’t want to reinvent the wheel, ReFoReMo’s Facebook page includes a plethora of thematically organized files such as “Books in First Person,” “Texts with Bookish Themes.”

2016…A Leaner Machine

Ah, year two, and I knew much better what to do. I had my organizational tools from 2015 and customized the process to better fit my needs. In a serendipitous surprise, I noticed my reading log encompassed many Charlesbridge texts. I had a previously scheduled professional critique coming up with Charlesbridge editor Julie Bliven. Kismet!

This spurred me toward a serious study of biographies and narrative nonfiction covering 2012-2016. 

My story stack included these mentor texts:

I examined first and last lines, nonfiction structure, themes, language, and back matter for common elements that would inform my manuscript revision. I hoped to enhance my chances of making my biography a good fit for Charlesbridge.  My revision did garner some interest from Julie, and she complimented me on a strong, marketable topic and theme. ReFo fueled this successful step forward in my writing journey.

2017…Writing Queen

This year I read even more voraciously. I read books while eating breakfast; I consumed a steady diet of books that fed my desire to write. I binged on alphabet books, poetry, and classics like JAMBERRY. The urge to write new formats came from this year’s reading list. Several of my new drafts almost wrote themselves:

Reading made risky writing possible for me, and I can’t wait to see what happens during ReFoReMo 2018 in this great community that Carrie and Kirstine created for us all. We travel the “write” road together in a ReFoReMo world.

In another life, Kathy taught English and served as a K-12 school librarian. She writes humorous picture books, biographies, and stories that feature outlandish characters. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband Bob and silly Corgi, Wiley. You can check out her blog posts on the GROG blog and learn more about Kathy at http://www.kathyhalsey.com/.  

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Mentor Text Author Study: Kim Norman

By Keila Dawson

Kim Norman is a word wizard. She masters word play whether writing in rhyming verse or prose. Her writing is lyrical and her word combinations mimic musical sounds. 

Before she became an author, Kim was a graphic artist. She is also a thespian, a singer (with a beautiful voice I might add!) and songwriter. It’s no surprise with all her talents that she is very popular on the school visit circuit. Kids, teachers and librarians adore her presentations!

Kim is also a giver. In addition to guest posting for blogs, she started COOL SCHOOL VISITS, a website with loads of information to help other authors plan fun, interactive school visits. Authors can also request to be included on her AUTHOR VISITS BY STATE page. 

Although Kim preferred writing in rhyme, she read agents and editors didn't like rhyming stories so wrote her first book, JACK OF ALL TAILS, in prose. In this story, her main character is determined to be a successful part of the family business. They pretend to be animals and rent themselves out to pet loving people. But when the girl gets fired over and over she learns success is finding your own talents. 

Like the main character in this story, Kim stuck with her natural talents too - writing in rhyme!

These rhyming texts are great examples of the extent of her talent.

 Kim is a natural at using alliteration. 

 These books showcase her songwriting talents. 

Kim Norman's books are excellent mentor texts that highlight lyrical language combined with humorous, engaging child-centered stories. Her writing style invites kids to shout, "Read it again!" over and over. And they are really fun for adults to read aloud too.

Keila Dawson is a ReFoReMo Contributor. She’s hiked the rice terraces in the Philippines, climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan, and Mt. Sinai in Egypt. Keila finds adventures in picture books too. When she isn’t traveling, reading or digging in genealogical archives, Keila is writing and visiting schools. She enjoys sharing her love of Louisiana and world cultures with others. THE KING CAKE BABY, her debut picture book released in 2015, by Pelican Publishing Co., Inc.