Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review of Ninja Baby

Ninja Baby, by David Zeltser and Diana Goode is a funny book with engaging characters and emotional illustrations. Nina the ninja baby comes out of the womb doing ninja kicks and "obliterating" her applesauce. Nina is an independent toddler who is later flummoxed by the arrival of a new Kung Fu master, her little brother. How does he stay so focused and keep the attention of the parents so well? Nina's feelings as an older sister are beautifully portrayed in this zany, clever, and perfect read-aloud! 

There are several laugh-out-loud moments in this book that are perfectly balanced with the heart of the story. The twist ending leaves you wanting to know more about Nina, her brother, and their mysterious parents. 

What ninja books have you read recently?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Squeeze Play Challenge

By Janie Reinart

Embed from Getty Images

We should treat language like play dough when we write...When we use our imaginations and play with words, it's exciting to see the shape...that emerges.
~ Margriet Ruurs

Remember how relaxing it felt to squeeze play dough or clay through your fingers and to make whatever came to mind?

By Dev Petty

Dev Petty took that idea and made a story about two balls of clay that can become anything! And they get a little crazy when the artist is not around.

"So...are you new here?"
"Me too."
"What do you think is going to happen?"
"Probably something WONDERFUL."

By Mirra Ginsburg

Mirra Ginsburg retells the story of Clay Boy from Russian folklore. Grandpa found a piece of clay and formed it into a boy. As soon as the boy is dried, the clay boy is very, very hungry.

"I am here! I am hungry!"
Grandma gave him milk.
Grandpa gave him bread.
In a wink, the clay boy gluped it all down and cried,
"More! I want more!"

By Byrd Baylor

The lyrical language in this book considers the lives of an ancient people whose pieces of pottery are found in the Southwest.

Women then
must have 
to the earth
as they took
its clay.
They must have 
sung special songs
for shaping the bowl,
for polishing it,
for baking it
so it would be
strong enough
to last
long after
that tribe
was gone...

Your challenge: squeeze clay or play dough and let your mind wander. Make little characters and move them around. Relax and play. Did something wonderful happen?
Did an idea emerge?
Have fun. Post your squeeze in the comments.

Embed from Getty Images

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Author Corey Rosen Schwartz Talks Mentor Texts

Picture book author Corey Rosen Schwartz writes incredible read-alouds that make you laugh and think at the same time. Her rollicking rhymes and fractured fairy tales make for the perfect combination of action and story. My kids and I have loved and enjoyed not only her ninja books (The Three Ninja Pigs, Ninja Red Riding Hood, Hensel and Gretal, Ninja Chicks), but also her many other stories. We can't wait to read her upcoming book, Twinderella!

Not only is Corey an incredible writer, but she is also incredibly kind and helpful in the kidlit community. I'm thrilled to talk to her about mentor texts on ReFoReMo!

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

Yes, while I was writing Twinderella (back in 2010), I did some research to see what other Cinderella tales were out there. I read Cinder-Elly by Frances Minters, Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella by Susan Lowell, and Prince Cinders by Babette Cole. But the one that really resonated with me was Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson. This was the only other tale that had two main characters, the famous Cinderella and her neighbor Cinder Edna. I studied it to see how the author drew contrast between the two, so that I could make sure I established clear differences between Cinderella and her twin sister, Twinderella.

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

Well, there is definitely a part of me that is afraid to read books with similarities to my manuscript for fear that I will accidentally "borrow" from them. It turns out that there is a play called Twinderella in which Cinderella has a twin brother! I'm sort of glad I didn't know that at the time I was writing my manuscript. It never even occurred to me to give her a brother and had I read about that, I may have been influenced. But that being said, I do think it is important to read as many books as possible and to study our craft. I think we each need to figure out what works best for us. In this particular case, I am pretty sure I showed a draft to my agent who gave me feedback that the twins were not distinct enough, and it was at that point that I looked to other versions. So, I guess mentor texts work best for me in the revision stage rather than in drafting or pre-writing stages.

Thank you, Corey!  And ReFoReMo family, what mentor texts are inspiring you right now?

Corey Rosen Schwartz is the author of many rhyming picture books, including THE THREE NINJA PIGS and NINJA RED RIDING HOOD.  She lives in Warren, NJ with her two kids and her better half.  Corey hopes to one day have grand-twins. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Mentor Text Author Study: Deborah Underwood

New York Times bestselling author Deborah Underwood didn’t always write children’s books. She wrote greeting cards, screenplays, worked as a typist, and a street musician. Perhaps it’s no coincidence Underwood created a main character with so many different occupational interests in her Here Comes Cat series.

A look inside her books explains why Underwood's stories are so well loved. 

Character Development, Escalation, Resolution

Cat is a lovable, grumpy childlike protagonist. Those of us who share our lives with a fickle feline friend are especially amused by how well Underwood captures a cat’s distinctive personality. The idea of giving Cat a sign with pictures to communicate with the narrator is unique and hilarious. The resolution in each story not only makes readers laugh, but beg to know more of what Cat will do next. The latest in this series, Here Comes Teacher Cat, releases next month. 

Character, Conflict, Obstacles 

In a story, the author creates a character and gives them a problem to overcome.  Obstacles are thrown in to create tension. The right mix makes a story meaningful to a child. In A Balloon for Isabel, a porcupine + balloons in school = trouble

In Underwood’s latest release Super Saurus Saves Kindergarten, a new student + first day in kindergarten = anxiety  

Concept Books, Emotional Resonance, Re-readability

When a quiet book sells in market overflowing with non-quiet books, and it becomes a New York Times bestseller, there has to be something extra special about it. In The Quiet Book, Underwood and illustrator Renata Liwska tap into all the feels. In this book, you can find all kinds of quiet that evoke emotion, from serious to funny, and for all ages such as “Lollipop quiet”, Right before you yell “SURPRISE!” quiet,” “Best friends don’t need to talk quiet”, “What flashlight? quiet” .

The Loud Book and The Christmas Quiet Book that followed are also packed with a range of emotions. 

Bad Bye, Good Bye takes the reader on an emotional journey with a child who is moving to another town. "Bad truck/Bad guy", "Bad wave/Bad bye"

Theme, Rhyme, Word Choice

Interstellar Cinderella is an old fairy tale retold into a new modern fairy tale. This Cinderella is decisive and determined and a heroine. Well done! Underwood created fun words like zoombroom, and godrobot for her story set in space. Good Night, Baddies is a bedtime story. Through gentle lyrical rhyme Underwood explores the softer side of baddies, villains from numerous folk and fairy tales, after a day of causing mayhem. "Sun dips down; the day has gone. / Witches, wolves, and giants yawn. / Queen and dragon, troll and gnome: / tired baddies head for home." 

In addition to fiction picture books, Underwood writes non-fiction books, content for educational publishers, chapter books, and has published articles, poems, and stories in magazines such as National Geographic, Pockets, Ladybug and Spider.

When looking for mentor texts to study, there's a lot for writers to learn from Deborah Underwood's diverse and extensive body of work.

Happy reading!