Tuesday, July 17, 2018

THINK QUICK with Minh Le and Dan Santat

Hi Minh and Dan!  I love how DRAWN TOGETHER is such a perfect synergy of art and words.  That's why I wanted to get both of your thoughts for this THINK QUICK interview. 

On clever titles:
Double meaning or Puns?

Minh: Double meaning. TRIPLE meaning or more if I can manage it.

Dan: Double meaning. Puns sound cheap. 

On illustrations:
Traditional media or Digital?

Minh: Whatever the illustrator prefers. ;-)

Dan: Traditional. I like a tangible finished piece although I admit I'm a mostly a digital artist who is slowly reverting back to his traditional art roots.

On visting Grandparents:
Fun or Failure?

Minh: Is "both" an option? I loved visiting my grandparents but it also always left me feeling like I was inadequate... like I was failing to fully connect.

Dan: Failure in the moment but fun when you reflect back on those moments.

On relationships with Grandparents:
Close or Distant?

Minh: Close. Despite the language gap and sometimes physical distance, I still feel connected to my grandparents (even with those who have passed).

Dan: Distant, unfortunately. My grandmother on my mother's side was the only grandparent I ever met because all the others had passed away. I only got to be with her a handful of years.

On Silence:
Comfortable or Uncomfortable?

Minh: Comfortable. Of course there are uncomfortable silences (which is a big part of our book), but as someone who is more of an introvert, I am also very comfortable with silence.

Dan: Comfortable when you're supposed to be. The best comfort is when you can be silent and it feels right. 

On communication:
Art or Story?

Minh: Art. Which may seem odd since I'm the writer not the illustrator, but I prefer stories to take place mostly through the illustrations if possible (which is possible when you're lucky enough to work with the kind of artists that I have).

Dan: Both. They are inseparable to me.

On art:
Illustration or Fine Art?

Minh: Illustration. That's an easy one because as far as I'm concerned, illustration is the finest art.

Dan:Illustration. The word, and the practice has a bad wrap for not being a legitimate form of art, while on the other hand I feel fine art can sometimes be guilty of being nothing disguised as importance. My favorite art happens to be from old pulp novel covers.

On Collaboration:
Synergy or Frustration?

Minh: Synergy. To create a successful picture book, I think it's critical for the collaboration to be based on trust and mutual respect (also critical: having a great editor who can manage that collaborative process).

Dan: Synergy. It's like a relationship. You need to give a little, take a little, and be open to the other person's ideas. There's always a beautiful middle when both sides give it their best. You can't grow if you're not open to new ideas. 

On stories:
Connecting or Confusing

Minh: Connecting. Finding a way to connect with a reader (that mysterious stranger waiting in the future) is the whole point of making books.

Dan: Connecting if it is done right. If you're confusing the reader then you're message isn't clear.

On Culture:
Bonding or Separating?

Minh: Bonding. Whether it's connecting with someone because you share a culture, or sharing your culture with someone outside that experience, it's definitely something to bond over.

Dan:Should be bonding. To respect other cultures is definitely a bonding experience. I feel like things are separating between cultures, right now which is disheartening. We need to listen more and ESPECIALLY be more forgiving of one another. 

On Books:
Drawn Together or Drawn Together?

Minh: All of the above.

Review of DRAWN TOGETHER by Kirsti Call

"Right when I gave up on talking, My grandfather surprised me by revealing a world beyond words."

The title alone made me want to read this book. It beautifully demonstrates how a grandfather and grandson learn to connect when they can't understand each other's words. Dan Santat's stunning illustrations combine with Minh Le's sparse text to create an unforgettable story of love, tradition, culture and family. Somehow Dan manages to combine multiple styles of illustration seamlessly. And the idea of a child connecting with his grandfather through art is priceless. This is a story that will make you want to read and re-read in order to get all the nuances of the art and words. It will keep you thinking and evoke discussion about family traditions, relationships, art and story. 

Minh LĂȘ is the author of Let Me Finish! (an NPR Best Book of 2016) illustrated by Isabel Roxas and the upcoming Drawn Together illustrated by Caldecott medalist Dan Santat, both published by Disney-Hyperion. He is also writing Green Lantern: Legacy, a graphic novel for the new DC Comics middle grade imprint, DC Zoom. A member of the kidlit consortium The Niblings, Minh has written for a number of national publications, including the New York Times, HuffPost, and the Horn Book. He is currently serving as a judge for the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. Outside of spending time with his beautiful wife and sons, his favorite place to be is in the middle of a good book.

Dan Santat has illustrated over 80 books for children. He is also the author of several New York Times Best Selling and award winning titles such as After the Fall, Are We There Yet, Sidekicks, and the 2015 Caldecott Medal winning book, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two kids, and an assortment of pets. Visit him at www.dantat.com

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mentor Text Author Study: Loren Long

By Keila V. Dawson

From a young age, Loren Long loved to draw. In school, it was something he was really good at. And he wanted to grow up to be an artist. Even when he was diagnosed with colorblindness, Loren never let go of his dream. He majored in graphic design in college, went to art school, and became a #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator and author.
After a career illustrating greeting cards and magazine covers, he designed book covers. That led him to his career in picture book illustration. And ultimately paved the way to writing and illustrating picture books.
Loren is a storyteller. Watching him present at a book event or speak on a panel with other authors and illustrators is a real treat. He is funny, insightful, and inspirational. 
Here are a few reasons why his books are so popular.

Loren Long’s stories have a timeless quality and are cherished by children and adults alike. They have what many refer to as “heart”.
In Little TreeLong delivers emotion in every spread using pictures and or words. He doesn’t say the little tree is happy or has friends; kids see bright green leaves and other trees all around him. But fall comes and other trees drop their leaves except for Little Tree. He didn't say Little Tree is afraid of change. In every season, the art and the repeated refrain “Little Tree just hugged his leaves tight.” reveal that emotion.  

Long is well-known for creating the picture book series about an endearing character named Otis highlighting themes of friendship and kindness.  In each story in the series, Long uses events from farm life that easily translate to universal values kids are introduced to at home and in school.

Otis his first book in the series, Long’s young audience learns about where Otis lives and what’s important to him in the opening. 
“There was once a friendly little tractor. His name was Otis, and every day Otis and his farmer worked together taking care of the farm they called home. Otis liked to work.”
The child understands:
·       The character is a tractor.
·       The tractor’s name is Otis.
·       Otis is a friendly tractor.
·       Every day Otis and his farmer are together.
·       Together they took care of the farm.
·       The farm is home.
·       Otis liked to work.

When developing a character, it’s important to know what makes that character appealing. In an interview, Long said he developed the character first before creating the image. The traits of Otis are reflected through his sounds, actions, and reactions to situations and other characters. Let’s look at how Long shows us what he wants us to know about Otis. 
Why do kids care about Otis?
He’s friendly. Otis has big headlight eyes, a metal nose, cute smile, two big wheels in the back, and one in the front that helps him do things tractors do. His putt puff puttedy chuff helps a scared little calf drift off to sleep. His puttering purr reveals his gentle nature.  
What are some childlike qualities Otis has?
He loves to play and have fun! He chases rabbits, plays leapfrog over bales of hay and ring-around-the-rosy.
Why would a child remember Otis?
Otis is kind. In this story, he befriends a lonely calf. And children can relate to the idea of loneliness or at least empathize. They can relate to the sadness Otis feels when the farmer brought home a newer bigger tractor and Otis is sent to live behind the barn where “weeds began to cover his tires.” Kids will cheer when the calf gets into trouble and Otis comes to the rescue. Because that’s what we teach kids what friends do and Otis is a special friend.

Long establishes the character qualities of Otis the first book. In each book thereafter, when Otis is faced with a new conflict, he stays true to himself. 

In Otis and the Tornado, Long introduces a bull who snorts, snarls, huffs, glares, and flares his nostrils. This character is not gentle and everyone is afraid of him. But when Otis learns the bull could be in danger, he stays true to his character and takes a big risk to help the bull. And in the end, Otis makes a new friend.
In this story Long reveals something new about Otis. He is not only brave, but he is courageous too. Otis is brave when he acts without fear to save the calf; he is courageous when he acts despite fear of the bull and the tornado.

In Otis and the Kittens, An Otis Christmas, and Otis and the Puppy Long continues to explore the character trait of selflessness by putting Otis in danger before saving others.

Long’s supporting characters; the lonely calf, big scary bull, and an impulsive puppy also serve a purpose. They all have traits that lead to making choices so Otis can jump into action and become the character he is supposed to be.  
Find more books in the Otis the Tractor series here

So writers, if you are creating a character that is kind, considerate and caring, you want them to be like Otis. If you have a dream of becoming a picture book writer and wonder if you have the talent, persistence, and perseverance, be like Loren.

Illustrated picture books by Loren Long

Other resources:

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Happy Independence Day!

As you assemble your words this week, 
may peace and love be at the heart of them all! 

Enjoy your families!

See you next week!

Your Reading for Research Team

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The End is in the Beginning

By Keila V. Dawson

 What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.” T. S. Eliot

In a narrative nonfiction biography, writers inform readers about the real life of a person. Just as in a narrative, the character’s goal is revealed; something they want to get, solve, find, achieve, etc. But a goal alone is not enough. Real events and facts that make up the plot are not enough. A writer must show their young audience why the person they chose to write about matters. That's done through storytelling, using a narrative arc

In beginnings, readers must understand the story problem or conflict. My January 2018 post Where to Begin addresses that.

The middle is about how the character reacts to that conflict and or their circumstances. Stakes are raised, choices are made, and the conflict increases. Facts are included that pertain only to the story being told. Extraneous information, unrelated but important facts end up in the back matter.

In WRITING PICTURE BOOKS, Ann Whitford Paul teaches us how to focus a narrative story in fiction by writing a story question. This applies to narrative nonfiction too. The story question should be related to the character’s goal. Paul instructs us to connect every scene to that story question. 

In endings, the story must resolve the conflict presented in the beginning and answer the story question.

Satisfying endings in narrative nonfiction can:


In looking at the mentor texts below, readers can formulate the story question from each beginning. Which type of ending mentioned above did each author use?


In Charlie Takes His ShotHow Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf, Charlie's dream is to play golf in the PGA tour but black players aren't allowed to play in white clubs or in white sporting events.

Will Charlie be able to overcome discrimination play in the PGA tour?

Author: Nancy Churnin
Illustrator: John Joven
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company, 2018

In Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber, Mary loved sports and wanted to become a sports reporter but her own mother, and others in the early to mid 20th century didn’t think a woman should work in that field. 

Will Mary convince people she can do the job and become a sports reporter?

Author: Sue Macy
Illustrator: C. F. Payne
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2016


In Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation, Sylvia did not want to return to school. “Sylvia,” said her mother, “¿No sabes que por eso luchamos?” “Don’t you know that is why we fought?”

The story question is literally in the text. Sylvia and readers learn the answer.

Author/illustrator:  Duncan Tonatiuh
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams. 2014

In Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu YeboahEmmanuel wants to work like everyone else but he was born with only one strong leg in a country where someone with a physical disability is expected to become a beggar. 

Will Emmanuel become the person he believes himself to be? 

Author: Laurie Ann Thompson
Illustrator: Sean Qualls
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015

Although Home is a concept book about the different types of homes where animals and people live, the author was still able to create an ending that is emotionally satisfying.

In what home does a ______ belong?

Author/illustrator: Carson Ellis
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2015

In Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles, while searching for a problem to solve for a school project, a girl discovers baby loggerhead sea turtles die when they get lost on their way to the ocean during nesting season.

Will the girl save the sea turtles?

Authors: Philippe Cousteau, Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrator: Meilo So 
Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2016

In One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, Isatou finds plastic bags cluttering her village are an eyesore and learns they are a danger to the livestock too. 

Isatou is one person, can she make a difference and declutter her village?

Author: Miranda Paul
Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon
Publisher: Millbrook Press, 2015

Whether you are a pantster or a plotter, look for the end of your story in the beginning. 

I hope you share some of your favorite story endings and why the story questions and answers matter to you. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Writer's Best Friend...Monthly Challenge

By Janie Reinart
Embed from Getty Images


Alligator, hedgehog, anteater bear,
Rattlesnake, buffalo, anaconda, hare.
Bullfrog, woodchuck, wolverine, goose,
Whippoorwill, chipmunk, jackal, moose.
Mud turtle, whale, glowworm, bat,
Salamander, snail and Maltese cat.
Polecat, dog, wild otter, rat,
Pelican, hog, dodo, and bat.
House rat, toe rat, white deer, doe,
Chickadee, peacock, bobolink, crow.

Your challenge this month is to write about a pet. To help you get started, let's look at this book,

Charlotte and the Rock by Stephen W. Martin.

Or perhaps you would consider a pet bee.


Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos by Monica Brown is a playful biography "considering how Frida embodied characteristics of each of her beloved pets" (two monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a black cat, and a fawn.)

                    " Frida had a parrot named Bomnito. Like her parrot, Frida was colorful. "

This book, The Day We Lost Pet by Chuck Young is an endearing story. The language grabbed me.  The Kirkus Review says, "From the opening pages, with lines like “we were piles of skin laundry blending into a world of pales and fogs,” debut author Young transports readers into a world somehow familiar and simultaneously unlike any they have ever experienced."

                  "You loved Pet. And she went everywhere with you. You breathed each other's air. 
                       Some of her went into you and some of you went into her. I'm sure of it."

When I was little, I used to pretend that the little furry flowers on pussy willows were alive. What pet are you going to write about? Share your ideas in the comments. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Talking Mentor Texts with Jen Betton

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of Hedgehog Needs a Hug (or any other upcoming books)?

Yes! I’d gotten to a point in my manuscript where the basic text on each page was there, but it needed a lot of polishing. My agent told me to work on showing emotion, without telling it. For example, an early draft of the story said “Hedgehog woke up feeling blue.” It later became “When Hedgehog awoke in his cozy nest, he felt down in the snout and droopy in the prickles.” As an author-illustrator I had to find the right balance between showing the emotion in the images and showing it in the text, and I tend to rely too heavily on the images, when sometimes a few additional words can make a big difference.

I looked closely at three books to learn more about emotive writing: Bear Has a Story to Tell, City Dog, Country Frog, and A Visitor for Bear. Each book taught me something different:

Bear Has A Story to Tell written by Phillip Stead and illustrated by Erin SteadHe sat up straight and cleared his throat. He puffed out his chest, and with all of his friends listening… Bear could not remember his story. "It was such a good story," he said, hanging his head. – Bear Has a Story to Tell

Bear Has a Story To Tell uses descriptions of physical posture to signal how the character feels. While some of this can be shown in the illustrations, these descriptions add a layer that might not otherwise come across.

City Dog Country Frog: written by Mo Willems and Illustrated by Jon J. Muth

Country Frog took a deep breath. "I am a tired frog," replied Country Frog. "Maybe we can play remember-ing games." City dog and Country Frog sat together on the rock. – City Dog, Country Frog

The emotive language in this book is so subtle – and it’s a story about death. There were just a few descriptions like, “taking a deep breath,” or “he sighed”. Otherwise it involved word choice of using words like remember, tired, or together to imply the impending separation.

A Visitor for Bear written by Bonny Becker and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

Verbs used in this story: Wailed, Roared, Ventured, Commanded, Rumbled, Murmured, Blubbered, Sniffled, Exclaimed, Cried, Agreed. All these words have so much more emotion than simply using “said.”

It is often much easier for me to see a problem in my text than it is for me to know how to fix it. But these mentor texts gave me a handle on techniques I could use to add emotional depth to the manuscript. There is a scene where Hedgehog approaches Turtle to ask for a hug, and Turtle is asleep. In my original manuscript there was no real text, just “Zzzzzzzz”. That became:

“Hedgehog trudged over to Turtle’s sun soaked resting spot. “Turtle?”
“Nevermind,” Hedgehog sighed, and he shuffled away.

Hedgehog Needs a Hug © Jen Betton

What do you feel is the BEST way for picture book writers to utilize mentor texts?
I think there are two ways I approach mentor texts: general and specific, and I think both are beneficial. General: I often pick up picture books I’ve seen online or at random and just read – this helps me 1) be aware of the current market, 2) have a subconscious feel for the type and structure of story that works, and 3) is just fun. Specific: often I have a problem that I’m actively working on – like using emotional language. And so I’ll go hunting for books that showcase that skill, and I’ll study the words in more depth. These books I’ll type out – copy the entire manuscript – because it’s easier for me to concentrate on the words that way. You can’t go wrong immersing yourself in picture books!

Jen Betton loves to draw and write stories for kids! In Kindergarten she got into trouble for drawing presents on a picture of Santa, and has been illustrating ever since. Her picture books include, HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, her debut as an author-illustrator, published with Penguin-Putnam, and TWILIGHT CHANT, written by Holly Thompson, published with Clarion. She lives in Dallas with her family, and you can see more of her work at www.jenbetton.com