Tuesday, March 20, 2018

ReFoReMo Day 14: Jen Betton Copies to Learn


I often write out the text of a book in order to force myself to pay close attention to what the author is doing, and I'll also storyboard the book to see how the illustrator handled pacing and composition! Here are some books I love to learn from:

Interplay of text and illustration: 
Flashlight Night by Matt Forrest Esenwine and Fred Koehler
Before Morning by Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes

Both of these books have a lot of unspoken narrative – the illustrators did an amazing job interpreting and adding to the story. The text for each one is a poem, with a lovely lyrical use of words. 





Keeping it simple: 

This House, Once
 by Deborah Freedman
This is a beautiful, calming story. Each piece of the house is described with simple and evocative similes, "This door was once a colossal oak tree about three hugs around."






Emotive language:
Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip Stead and Erin Stead
This story was really helpful to look at when I was working on polishing the language in my debut picture book, Hedgehog Needs a Hug. There are a lot of subtle language elements in Bear Has a Story to Tell. For example: posture descriptions which imply Bear’s emotional state. Bear "sat up straight... puffed out his chest... hanging his head."




Pacing:  
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, by Michelle Cuevas and Erin Stead
The character’s desire for a letter doesn’t come up until page 16-17, and the mystery bottle doesn’t appear till 18-19. The page breaks slows the beginning down, making us focus on the Uncorker’s unusual job and its importance.


Jen is giving away one signed Twilight Chant (U.S. Postal only). To be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must comment on each post, be registered, and consistently read picture books throughout the challenge.
Jen Betton is a children's book author-illustrator. She wrote and illustrated HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, published with Penguin-Putnam, and she illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT, written by Holly Thompson, published with Clarion. Find her at www.jenbetton.com, and on Twitter at @jenbetton. 


170 comments:

  1. I love the Uncorker of Ocean Bottles. I need to read it again. Beautiful, lyrical books here. Thank you for sharing them with us. I love the idea of unspoken narrative, and often struggle to decide how much to allude to and how much to leave to the imagination of the illustrator. I think it's important for the author to leave the clues. Such a fine balance.

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  2. Jen, I love the way you've brought out elements of beloved books I thought I knew inside out and backwards. Always more to learn & discover. THANK YOU!

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  3. Thank you Jen for sharing those beautiful stories with us. They are great mentor texts to learn from.

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  4. Thank you for sharing these beautiful books and how you learn from them. I love the way the illustrations and text work together in Before Morning.

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  5. More great mentor books to learn and grow! Thank you! Very good post Jen!

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  6. These are wonderful mentor texts to learn from. It's also a really great practice to write out text from picture books to better understand how and why the author chose the words they did.

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  7. It can be tedious sometimes, but typing out the text of a picture book can be really helpful. Your book selection is wonderful.

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  8. Thanks for sharing. I've studied and treasure the works of Philip Stead and Erin Stead.

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  9. Excellent post Jen! This is a fun learning tool, especially during revision time and I'm stuck; copying a mentor text has helped me pinpoint what needs fixing in my story.

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  10. Thank you for your selection of mentor texts. I often struggle with what to leave to the illustrator (point 1, Flashlight Night (a wonderful lyrical text) and what to include in the text "Bear sat up straight... puffed out his chest... hanging his head." (Bear has a story to tell).

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  11. Love this list, Jen. I was familiar with two of them, and with the help of youtube reader, I got to "read" the rest. We can learn a lot from each book.

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  12. Jen, thank you for sharing how you employed these texts to help you in your craft. Congrats on your debut, too.

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  13. Thank you for sharing these wonderful mentor text examples, I particularly love the Bear has a Story to Tell.

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  14. Great idea to type out texts and illo notations. I rarely do it, and yet it's ALWAYS insightful. Thanks for the reminder, and the great books.

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  15. I too thought about writing out the text of BEFORE MORMING to get the full effect of the text.

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  16. I love how you've described these books. I'm going to take a closer look.

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  17. FLASHLIGHT NIGHT is wonderful and invite the reader in to a magical world. Thank you for sharing these texts Jen!

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  18. Thanks for the lovely post about the power of subtlety. I appreciate the books you reference for us to look at.
    Jenna feldman

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  19. Rebecca Gardyn LevingtonMarch 20, 2018 at 8:31 AM

    I also like to type out books to learn from them... its such a great way to really SEE how the author crafted his/her story. Thank you for all these great mentor texts to check out!

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  20. What a beautiful selection of books--thanks! (I type out books, too, and storyboard them.)

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  21. I am always surprised what I find when I type out the text. It seems funny to do when I have the glossy text in front of me but once it is on that plain white paper it seems I can analyze it a bit better. Thanks for your post! This House, Once is coming in today for me at the library.

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  22. I do the same thing to learn from picture books. It makes a huge difference in how much I get out of them. I especially love two of the books you mention: This House, Once and Before Morning.

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  23. Wonderful tips for PB writers. Thank you. Love these books.

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  24. A wonderful selection of books! Thank you for your selections and your thoughts!

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  25. Thanks for sharing titles and technique!

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  26. I loved the lyrical language in today's pb picks. Thank you, . To borrow from "The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles," each of these books held "the treasure of a clam-hugged pearl."

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  27. I fell in love with "This House, Once" the moment I saw the cover, and "Flashlight Night" is amazing. All great texts to study, Jen!

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  28. LOL. I have a pile of books on my desk to the same thing with! These all sound so unusual.

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  29. Beautiful stories and a great habit to start! Thank you!

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  30. Thank you for sharing these great examples!

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  31. Thanks for these scrumptious book suggestions and how best to learn from them, Jen!

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  32. I've been typing out books lately too, and it really does help! Thanks for these!

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  33. This is a wonderful group of books. Thanks, Jen. I will definitely try your suggestions.

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  34. Great post - great books as mentor texts.

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  35. I've just recently started printing out text to study. It really is a helpful process. Thanks for the great book list!

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  36. Thanks for this list of mentor texts. I have typed up texts before, but find I can do it and not be paying attention. I will have to try writing by hand. Thanks for the ideas.

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    1. Oh me too, I try to do it when I can just focus on the story (which can be tough to find that quiet space!), and then sit and think about what stood out to me while I was doing it. It's so easy to go on auto-pilot!

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  37. I type out mentor texts as well. It really helps to give me a look under the hood and get a better understanding of how the story is constructed!

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  38. Thanks for this list of books, Jen. I have read and reviewed Before Morning, and you're right, the illustrations are amazing and help to tell the complete story of the narrator's secret wish. Can't wait to read the other books on your list!

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  39. Thanks for sharing your technique with us,Jen. Great list of books!

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  40. Thanks for sharing what's special about each of these books! I found one on your list that's a perfect comp for a friend!

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  41. I also type out mentor texts and find it extremely beneficial. Great list of books! Thank you, Jen!!

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  42. Thanks for a wonderful post that gave me some insights into books I had already read!

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  43. This is a gold mine! Thanks for sharing!

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  44. I loved this post, thank you, Jen! I love the idea of storyboarding the book to see how the illustrator has done his job—it’s genius! I’ll have to try that to visualize how it works, I’m excited to see it all working together. Thank you!

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    1. Yes, it takes a bit longer than typing, so I do it less, but I find I notice all sorts of interesting choices about pacing and composition that way!

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  45. Thanks for your ideas about approaching these books. I read them yesterday before I had your post and was struggling to find a commonality. But now that I've read your post it all makes sense and I learned something from each of them.

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  46. Was at an SCBWI Conference this weekend and we were looking at examples of stories typed out. Think that I will take some mentor texts and will storyboard them and then compare to the storyboards of mine. Thanks for the great advice.

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  47. Thanks for this list, Jen. These are all wonderful books to dissect.

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  48. This House, Once is such a fabulous find. Thank you for sharing your list of great mentor texts.

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  49. I do the re-type too. Then I mark it all up with colors for various things like conflict, transitions, etc. And pacing is fascinating - thanks for mentioning how you've found that. It's amazing how much more I notice as I type it up. Just goes to show how much is really involved in a picture book and how necessary it is to re-read to get the full power of what's going on! Thanks for sharing these!

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    1. Oooh, I haven't tried color coding - that would be interesting! Yes, it's amazing how much more I notice when I force myself to slow down and type or draw it out!

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  50. Simple texts with extraordinary illustrations.

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  51. These are great examples to study, thanks for sharing!

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  52. A great exercise to figure out what authors are doing. I must do this more! And Bear Has a Story to Tell is one of my favorites!

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  53. Before Morning conjured up so much anticipation, with little text and fabulous art. A great book to study! I'm anxious to read the others I'm not familiar with and study the form you shed light on for us today. Thank you for your insight.

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    1. Before morning is a gem! I hope you enjoy the other books, too!

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  54. Wow! What a dedicated way to study picture books. I want to try this when time allows.

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  55. Thank you, Jen, for these mentor text titles which are amazing studies.

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  56. I loved Before Morning. I'll go back and pay closer attention to the interplay of text and illustrations. Thank you.

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  57. I often write out text or storyboard picture books - it is a good way to deconstruct and study them. I really loved these books, especially Bear and his story (and forgetting it!) and the Uncorker.

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  58. Great suggestions and mentor texts. I have never studied picture books in that manner and am eager to see how it goes. Thank you!

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  59. I really enjoyed BEFORE MORNING and THIS HOUSE, ONCE! Thanks for sharing your insights into how these books are mentor texts for you. (Hoping to make the book signing for TWILIGHT CHANT this Friday!)

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    1. Woohoo! That would be lovely to see you there!

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  60. I love the Author's Note for Before Morning. What a beautiful invitation!

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  61. Thanks for pointing out these books and what you like about them, Jen. I particularly like Before Morning and Bear Has a Story to Tell.

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  62. Thanks for this list of beautiful books, Jen; we already have a few on our bookshelves at home. I've always appreciated how BEAR HAS A STORY TO TELL teaches about so many things: repetition, the power of a story, humor, pacing, evocative language (as you highlighted), and the powerful themes of kindness and friendship and overcoming frustration. Beth Krommes' illustrations in BEFORE MORNING are gorgeous, as they always are; we also love her illustrations in SWIRL BY SWIRL and THE HOUSE IN THE NIGHT.

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  63. Thanks for the reminder to copy text and to also look at storyboarding. Takes time and effort, but so worth it.
    Great books to study. Thanks , Jen.

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  64. Great choices for mentor texts. I love BEFORE MORNING and FLASHLIGHT NIGHT. Thanks, Jen.

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  65. I love how each book does one thing particularly well.

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  66. Each of these has some very special characteristics. Bear Has A Story to Tell - love that one. Thank you for your time.

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  67. thank you, great examples, and so good to find different lessons from each!

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  68. Jen, thank you for sharing how you often write out the text of a book in order to force yourself to pay close attention to what the author is doing. This is a very meaningful exercise! I love the books you chose as mentor texts. As I was reading reviews about these books, I came across the site: theclassroombookshelf.com.
    The book, Before Morning, was being reviewed and several articles were presented with extension activities related to this book.
    All of the books you recommended would be great mentor texts for students of all ages.

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  69. Thank you for this idea! What a great way to get into the meat of the content and understand the reasons behind the author's choices. I will definitely try this technique. I think striking the balance between what you offer the reader and what gets alluded to is always a challenge.Thanks again!

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  70. Love these examples, Jen. My critique partners and I share all the mentor texts we type up, so it's not so tedious a job and we all benefit. Thanks!

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  71. Alice Carty FulgioneMarch 20, 2018 at 2:32 PM

    "Flashlight Lights" & "Bear Has A Story To Tell" were my favs. I especially loved the BEAR character because he truly was a main character that readers will want to root for.

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  72. These are some of my favorite books for the month! Thanks, Jen!

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  73. Thank you for sharing this list! I love, love, love "Bear Has a Story to Tell." I love how his friends helped him near the end so he could tell his story. What a great example of making someone feel worthwhile!

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  74. Before Morning is one of my favorite books with its evocative language and the separate story it tells in the illustrations. I also love books by the Steads, the marriage between language and pictures is marvelous. Uncorked of Ocean bottles is an unusual book that reminds me of Ireland each time I read it. Thanks for reminding me of these evocative books.

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  75. Such simple books with such profound stories to tell. Thank you, Jen!

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  76. Thanks, Jen, for sharing these beautiful mentor texts with us. I especially love the lyrical language of Joyce Sidman's BEFORE MORNING.

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    1. The text is stunning, isn't it. I was blown away by its beauty and brevity. And then of course the illustrations and the story in them...

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  77. Although I frequently copy down the text, I never thought to storyboard it. What a good idea. Your first two mentor texts are very short. I wonder if they had any illustrator notes or if the illustrator added it all on their own. Also I enjoyed the emotive language reference. I didn't think about that in my first reading. I would love someone to explain the pacing of the "Uncorker." I often hear that the problem should be stated upfront in the first few pages. In this, instead, there is a lot of explanation of what the Uncorker does. However, I liked the descriptive words she uses. But on the other hand, sometimes I wonder how they (the author, editor, etc.) decide to keep details in. Like on the first page, in the description of the home it says "with only one tree for shade." I wonder why that was left in.

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  78. Wonderful recommendations, all of these. I never copy down book texts but you have convinced me that I should. Thank you, Jen!

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  79. Thanks for the reminder about typing out books. I haven't done that in a while. I will try that this week again. Thanks.

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  80. Thanks Jen, these are beautiful books.

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  81. These sound like great selections, can't wait to sit down and read them tonight. Thank you for your post.

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  82. I'm looking forward to reading these book for the teachings you mention. Thanks

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  83. Looking forward to reading these great examples! Thanks!

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  84. Thanks Jen, That's a lot of work to go through to see what is making the story so good.
    Thanks for the new reading suggestions.

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  85. Thanks, Jen. Love the Steads and hadn't read this one!

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  86. Thanks for the mentor titles, Jen. I've written the text as well to help with pacing and composition

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  87. I hadn't read any of these books, and ended up loving them all! They were fantastic mentor texts to learn from. Thank you Jen for this post!

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  88. These are all new titles for me, Jen. Can't wait to learn from them. Thank you for your tips.

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  89. Jen: I LOVE the idea of writing out the words of a book, as well as storyboarding the illustrations. What better way to learn from The Masters could there possibly be than TRULY delving into the text, illustrations, pacing, language, etc.!?!?!!!! THANK YOU for these inspirational books to learn from!

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  90. What a wonderful selection of books. They were all completely new to me. Particularly loved This House Once and the Uncorker of Ocean Bottles

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  91. Excellent and beautiful examples and such a helpful post, thanks so much!

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  92. Beautiful books, thank you! And I just started copying down the text from some mentor texts, page by page. It has been helpful to see the breakdown.

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  93. really interesting suggestions and observations, Jen! I, too, have used copying text at times to really understand what appealed to me in a book. Can't wait to get started on these books.

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  94. Thank you for sharing about writing out mentor texts. I also enjoyed the emotive language in Bear Tells a Story.

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  95. Bear Has a Story to Tell was new to me, and one of those books that made me tear up and immediately re-read. Loved the suggestion of writing these out.

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  96. A beautiful selection of books rich with many levels of lessons...all great studies. I love each one, like to copy the text and note pacing and how to create effective, artful "unspoken narrative." Becky Loescher

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  97. Thank you for the suggestions to write out the text of a picture book and to create a storyboard. The books you’ve chosen are beautiful examples of lyrical, quiet stories—my favorite kind.

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  98. Thanks, Jen, for recommending these superb mentor texts. They are wonderful in so many ways and will help me learn as I analyze them. Before Morning is exquisite! So much to see! All are heartwarming and special.

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  99. These are beautiful books. Thank you for the suggestions!

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  100. I so enjoy Flashlight night. The text and illustrations are amazing. I wonder at the vision the editor must have for a book with such little text--I know Matt did not include art notes. I think it is a great example of how each--author and illustrator--can bring so much to the table and it is important, as writers, to give the illustrator room.

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  101. These are great mentor texts - thank you!

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  102. Thank you so much for this list. I've had a couple of questions on one of my current manuscripts and found answers to both in these mentor texts. Grateful!

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  103. Thank you for the mentor suggestions. I enjoy the process of copying mentor texts. It helps me feel the book. I hope that makes sense.

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  104. I fell in love with BEAR HAS A STORY TO TELL and THE UNCORKER OF OCEAN BOTTLES. These really spoke to me. The pace, the tone, the message. Thank you for introducing me and my two girls to them!

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  105. I just finished reading Bear has a story to tell. I had not heard about this book before and it is wonderful! I understand why it is a great mentor text. Can't wait to get the others tomorrow. Thanks for the post!

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  106. Thanks for the reminder of how valuable it is to type out the texts and create dummies.
    The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles was a new book for me and now a new favorite!

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  107. Such wonderful choices for our mentor texts! Thank you Jen! When I see a picture book with illustrations that add so much to the story, I sometimes wonder how much of those ideas were written into the first drafts of the story, and removed once illustrations were being developed. Boy, do I wish I was also an illustrator!

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  108. This is such a great reminder of how mentor texts, in their very structure of pages, and through the delineation of lines and breaks and wordless spreads can serve our drafting process. Sometimes, when we're stuck, it can be the best thing to stop writing and simply read! I've been forgetting to do that lately, and as I work on multiple revisions, I think I'll make some time this week to study the spacing of some mentor texts. :)

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  109. Yes, I love to copy text and study pacing as well. Thanks for this book list.

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  110. What helpful information! I haven't been doing the deeper analysis described in this post, but now I'm converted! It sounds like a wonderful way to learn more about the craft. Many thanks for sharing!

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  111. I appreciated the execution of the circular loop. I've not attempted this technique. All of these books were new to me. Thank you.

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  112. Yes! That's something I do too. I copy or type our the text of picture books. Helps you to take a deeper look and break it down.

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  113. Great books- Flashlight Night still on hold at the library, but planning on typing up these others. I do type up mentor books, but rarely storyboard them. I think that is a smart thing I should do. Thanks!

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  114. These are such beautiful books. I love what the illustrator did with Flashlight Night. Perfection! Thanks, Jen.

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  115. Thank you for this great list of books, and for sharing your thoughts.

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  116. Love the idea of splitting the words and pictures apart and studying them separately.

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  117. Thank you for this wonderful list and the advice on digging deeper into how these texts are constructed. I found some new favorites to add to my list!

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  118. Thanks for the lovely book selections. I especially enjoyed THIS HOUSE, ONCE and BEFORE MORNING. I have reserved other books by the author/poets of these books. I am also going to try to write an invocation, as suggested by Joyce Sidman.

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  119. Writing the text out by hand is a genius idea! Thanks for the suggestion. Loved all the books too. Writing a book as an invocation is amazing, loved BEFORE MORNING. Also, loved bear in BEAR HAS A STORY TO TELL.

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  120. Thanks for sharing your mentor texts. And also the reminder that typing out the text of a published work can be helpful as well as honing in on what these authors did best so we can make our own writing stronger.

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  121. Wow. Reforemo always introduces us to great new books, but these were all ones I actually hadn't ever heard of and found spectacular! Amazing learning tools,indeed. The way the flashlight illuminated imagination while the darkness showed the dual reality = brilliant! And the way Bear's story came full circle- endearing. Before Mornings' art combined w the concise poetic words also made for such a wonderful book, which I coincidentally read during New Jersey's 4th nor'easter this year!

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  122. Thanks for all your book selections. My grandson and I had a great time together reading Flashlight Night and discussing the illustrations. And yes, writing out a text and storyboarding are very helpful ways to learn!

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  123. Thanks for this great post! I do that too! Type out the text from pbs - it's great to have a reference later on, to look back on how things were phrased or how plot was unfolded. Never thought of doing a storyboard also, what a great idea! Thanks for these book suggestions, this is a terrific list.

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  124. These are wonderful mentor texts to learn from. It's also a really great practice to write out text from picture books to better understand how and why the author chose the words they did. Thank you for your post.

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  125. This is something I need to do more of. The other day I did a similar exercise by "updating" an older book. It helped me see the story structure, and also was good practice in tightening language.

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  126. Jen, I also copy, and sometimes color code, when studying a mentor text. Thank you for describing some of the strengths of each of your selections. This is a wonderful post!

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  127. Great post and suggestions. Thank you!

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  128. I can't wait to read the three that I haven't seen yet. Looks like I'll have more favorites!

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  129. I loved this post! It reminded me of how I started writing with mentor texts. Those books and their authors were my teachers, and I'm glad to find a few new ones! Thanks!

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  130. Such an interesting post, Jen! Thanks!

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  131. Typing out the text and storyboarding the illustrations can be a powerful tool. The harmony between the text and the illustrations becomes more apparent. Thanks, Jen!

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  132. As many have commented, I, too, find typing the text of published picture book and creating a story board supports my writing. Thank you, Jen.

    Suzy Leopold

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  134. These books had some incredible elements. I loved the opening line of Flashlight Night: "Flashlight opens up the night." It put a heavy emphasis on the flashlight by not starting with "The." The illustrator was so creative to have the light of the flashlight show their imagination (inspired by the books they're reading), while the dark areas show that they're still in the treehouse. Another line I loved was from Before Morning: "Let the air turn to feathers, the earth turn to sugar, and all that is heavy turn light." Such eloquent writing, not to mention the scratchboard art was incredible. In The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles I truly loved the premise of the story as well as certain gems in its text, like "loneliness as sharp as fish scales," and "for a letter can hold the treasure of a clam-hugged pearl." The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles was a bit quirky, which made me so drawn to it. It definitely stood out from the other texts... maybe because while an uncorker of ocean bottles is fiction, it's still within the realm of reality. Certainly his feelings of loneliness, and by the end, companionship were set in reality. I also learned a lot from these texts.

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  135. These all are wonderful books. Thank you for the inspiration.

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  136. Great post, Jen! I'm excited about both your books! #Epic18

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  137. Thanks for the reading list, Jen.

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  138. One of my favourite lists. The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles was just beautiful!

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  139. Thank you, Jen. Typing the text is very informative. You gave us some wonderful books to study.

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  140. Typing up Picture Book Skeletons is a secret to success. Glad the secret's out.

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  141. Beautiful...lyrically and visually. Thanks!

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  142. I learn so much more when I type out text and study it independently. It's like seeing the blueprint! These are all beautiful books!

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  143. Great list of books! I'm always surprised by the new insights I gain when I write out the text of books.

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  144. Thank you for this marvelous selection. I especially loved Before Morning, the book took me to a different place. It has such a wonderful feel. I too type out text... It gives me a visceral feel of the magic!

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  145. WoW - Flashlight Night blew me away.

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  146. Thanks for the great post and mentor text ideas!!

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  147. I also copy book texts to help me look closer at the language and the progression of story.
    I loved all of these! Now I have more to type out! This House gave me the inspiration to write the story I've had in mind for years. Thanks for the thoughtful choices.

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  148. We thoroughly enjoyed these texts, especially those that involve the Steads! My husband and I are an author-illustrator team and read these together to examine the relationship between the text and illustrations.

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  149. I also learn a lot by really studying each page. I often recreate illustrations to try to figure them out. Erin Stead is one of my favorites.

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  150. Fascinating habit in writing out others texts as an exercise! Thanks Jen for such a thoughtful post!
    I actually read "Flashlight Night" twice just to really focus on how much was added through illustration. I really loved the contrast between reality and imagination, darkness and light. STUNNING book!

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  151. This has been my favorite list of mentor texts so far. The books you've picked are memorable because of their unusual qualities. Thank you for introducing me to them.

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  152. Thank you Jen for sharing these books and showing us how you used the text and illustrations to help you with your craft. That helps a lot. Also, Congratulations on Twilight Chant, it looks beautiful.

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  153. I loved the illustrations in "Before Morning." It's something that both child and adult can look at again & again, creating their own stories with each spread. I also loved "Uncorker," not only the beauty of the language & words, but the feelings conveyed through the illustrations. The Uncorker was strong, and tired, and brave, and sad...I just wanted to have him stand tall (and he finally did!)Overall my favorite was Bear because page after page, I just wanted to hear this kind-hearted giant's tale.

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  154. FLASHLIGHT NIGHT looks amazing. Thanks for the tips about storyboarding. I struggle with pacing.

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  155. I love picture books that have the text and illustrations feeding off each other. Thanks for the mentor text suggestions!

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  156. Thanks for the suggestions! Waiting on all of them from the library. :)

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  157. Excellent selections. I love seeing the interactions between text and illustrations. Thank-you!

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  158. Text and pictures - It is what it is all about !

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  159. I often type out the text to books to see what the author has done. I shouldn't neglect the illustrations just because I'm not an illustrator.

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  160. Wow! Thank you for all of the terrific book recommendations.

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  161. I never thought of storyboarding a mentor text. Thank you for the idea.

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