Wednesday, March 7, 2018

ReFoReMo Day 5: Patricia Toht Explores How to "How to"


I’m a poet at heart, so it isn’t surprising that my picture books have grown from my poetry. But what did surprise me was the realization that three (of four) are basically “how to” books!

What is a “how to” book?
• It is NOT usually character-driven. While it contains characters, they are not richly developed.
• Its storyline is situational and the text follows a progression and/or consequences.
• It has an arc, but not the traditional climb-the-mountain-with-three-attempts-at-solving-a-problem story arc.
• Its title may start with the words “How to…” “If you…” or “When you…” Or it may have none of these words at all.

For example, my book PICK A PINE TREE might easily be titled HOW TO MAKE A CHRISTMAS TREE. It begins with selecting a plain pine tree, and it culminates with the transformation into a Christmas tree.

When exploring “how to” books, I pay close attention to the authors’ use of:
• Concise text
• Specific word choice
• Page turns
• Humor or heartstrings or both

Here are some great examples:




Can you “how to”? Please do!


Patrica is giving away a copy of her book, Pick a Pine Tree! To be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must comment on each post, be registered, and consistently read picture books throughout the challenge.



Patricia Toht is a poet, picture book author, and school library associate. She once owned a children's bookstore called Never Never Land, before turning a love of books into a love of writing. She is the author of ALL ABOARD THE LONDON BUS, illustrated by Sam Usher, and PICK A PINE TREE, illustrated by Jarvis. She has two upcoming books: DRESS LIKE A GIRL, illustrated by Lorian Tu-Dean (March 2019), and PICK A PUMPKIN, illustrated by Jarvis (July 2019). Find her online at www.patriciatoht.com or @PatriciaToht on Twitter.

228 comments:

  1. Thank you for the wonderful recommendations!

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  2. Interesting, three out of four. This must just be the way your mind works. And it's also interesting that what one would consider a "how-to" book can tug at your heartstrings. Humor isn't surprising since there are so many creative ways to use irony or to generate laughter from illustrations. I'm going in search of heart-string-tugging "How-tos," starting with the ones you have shown. Thanks for the post!

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  3. I love "how to" books because the format just oozes humor.

    Another great voice in this segment is Jean Ready. Her books, How to Babysit a Grandpa, How to Babysit a Grandma, and How to Catch Santa are all super funny.

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    1. Those books were so cute, J.D. Silverwood! Another great 'how to' book list!

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    2. Great mentor texts for how-to, J.D.!

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    3. Oops, I meant Jean REAGAN!!!! Oh, the perils relying upon middle-aged memory.

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  4. Thank you, Patricia. It's so helpful to explore various pb structures like this one! I like the fact that "How To" stories can be made out of both fiction and non-fiction material.

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  5. An interesting selection of examples for this topic!

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  6. Great selections to explore "How To" stories. I like Jean Ready's books, too. I also like Jodi Moore's "When A Dragon Moves In" books.

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  7. I love how to books! How to Read a Story is a reading lesson (I taught reading) in a very attractive package. I loved how the author wove a story into it. If a T-Rex Came to Your Birthday Party rings true. I'm off to look for your books, Patricia. Thanks for this fun post.

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  8. This is one of my favorite styles in picture books, and I'm guessing it's because it's so easy to incorporate humor (which I try to do as much as possible). Thanks for reminding me!

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  9. The book selection is so helpful terms of highlighting the range of how to books. One not mentioned here that I love and that my KG students use as a mentor text when making their own how-to books is Walk On by Marla Frazee.

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  10. Thank you so much, Patricia. This is a great post and a great selection of research books.

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  11. Looking forward to reading these selections. Another HOW TO I like is How to Babysit a Grandpa.

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  12. I love these how to books. Excellent post and structural ideas. Amazing what can be done with How To! Thank you👍

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  13. How to books usually are some of the funniest picture books out there. I wish I could personally learn “how to” write them myself 🤔 😂

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  14. I love how-to books! Another recent one is How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green.

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    1. Thanks for letting me know about this one, Andrea. Time for a library run!

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  15. Thank you for some great book recommendations! I'm stuck in a black hole and looking for a way out. Like you, many of my stories begin as poems.

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  16. Great Post! Thank you for the 'how to" guide for researching this type of picture book.

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  17. Hi Patricia, this is my second post. Hope it goes through. Thanks for this post! I never thought of picture books as "how to's," but that's just what some of them are. You learn something new everyday, lol.

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  18. This past Christmas season, my copy of PICK A PINE TREE proudly sat next to our own pine tree waiting for the next pair of hands, big or small, to pick it up and read an enjoyable tale. This posting has an interesting group of HOW Tos.

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  19. I enjoyed reading PICK A PINE TREE! Your PB is a great mentor text for those writing a rhyming how-to.

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  20. Thank you for your post. It makes sense that it isn't character driven, but has an arc even if it isn't a traditional arc.

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  21. I thoroughly enjoyed this selection of mentor texts and can't wait to pursue my ideas for "how to" books. Thank you, Patricia, for breaking down the components of a "how to" book!

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  22. I love your books. I got PICK A PINE TREE at the library and bought ALL ABOARD THE LONDON BUS. Nice selection of "how to' books! Thanks for this post.

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    1. Thank you, Tracy. I'm actually working on edits for PICK A PUMPKIN this week. (But I have to wait until next year for its release!)

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  23. Ooh, good post. I particularly like the point, "text follows a progression and/or consequences." I've been struggling with my throughlines, and this gives me another way of looking at it.

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  24. Thank you for an excellent post. I've not attempted to write a book of this kind but I so enjoy them. Studying them made me appreciate this approach even more!

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  25. You're inspiring both as a poet and as someone who writes "non-traditional" picture books. I'm excited to check out the books you mentioned that I haven't read yet. Thanks, Patricia!

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  26. How-to books are fun to read, especially the ones that hit the heart and humor sweet spot. Great post and reading selection. Thanks, Patricia!

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  27. Thank you for sharing on how to write a "how to"!

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  28. Page turns certainly seem critical to keep these types of stories moving along. Thanks for your post-I'm excited to read your book. Congratulations!

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  29. How to books are a blast--to read and write. Especially love CARING FOR YOUR LION and HOW TO READ A STORY. Thanks for the awesome mentor texts:>)

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  30. It was interesting to read these all at one sitting and compare the different structures. Thinking of other books in this category I came up with the “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” series, “Robo-Sauce”, and “Dragons Love Tacos”.

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    1. Laura Numeroff's books are an iconic example, Serena.

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  31. How-tos can be so fun to read and are some of my favorites. Thanks for these suggestions to use at mentor texts, Patricia.

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  32. Thanks for these great shares. I've got my own "how-to" text I've been working on so these are very helpful.

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  33. I never really thought about how to books in this manner. Thanks for the enlightening post.

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  34. Thanks, Patricia. It might be fun to try my hand at one of these.

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  35. Patty, I think it may be your educator/librarian mind that draws you to the "how-to" format. I think the format is really fun. Great recommendations.

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    1. I do like to tell people what to do, Kathy! :D

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  36. "How to" books are some of my favorites! Thanks for helping us take a deeper look at them today! Enjoyed reading off of this list!

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  37. Enlightening observations on How To books! I'll have to try one. :) Thanks, Patty!

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  38. "How to" offers such promise of fun -- I especially enjoy "Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle" by Chris Raschka as a how-to. Thanks, Patricia!

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    1. Another one for me to check out! Thanks, Val.

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  39. I'm working on one of these right now so thanks for this post! And if I can judge your book by it's gorgeous cover it's gonna be great! I'm a sucker for tree books too. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you, Brianna. The illustrator is Jarvis and his illustrations are lovely.

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  41. I never realized how many how-to picture books I’ve read over the years without thinking to put them in their own category. I feel inspired to try writing my own how-to. Thanks for the great selections. I look forward to reading PICK A PINE TREE. I love Christmas trees!

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  42. Great post and timely for me. LOVED your book by the way and shortlisted it for Cybils :)

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    1. Oh, that's fun to hear, Lynne! Thanks!

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  43. I'm looking forward to reading this list of "how to" books. Your "Pick a Pine Tree" book looks BEAUTIFUL!!! I can't wait to read it!

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  44. Thank you for your thoughts, Patricia!

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  45. Thank you for the wonderful recommendations, Patricia! I look forward to reading Pick a Pine Tree! :)

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  46. Love how-to books. These look wonderful!

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  47. Thanks for the How To on How To books! I would love to try my hand at one of these!

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  48. I'll be on the lookout for these and other "how to" books now. Thanks, Patricia. Your book looks lovely!

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  49. Great list, Patricia. I remember How to Be A Rock Star from a prior ReFoReMo. I think kids like how-to books. I still have one to read, but enjoyed all of them.

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  50. I'm from a nonfiction writing background (tons of how-to/service pieces for magazines), so this format really appeals to me.

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  51. Enjoyed reading and rereading the how-to books on this list. Thanks for the reminding me of 'situational' texts.

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  52. So interesting... I don't think I would have ever thought of some of these as "how to" books... I think of "How to" as being non-fiction and bland and not really a PB category at all. I just read "What to do with a Box" and "If you plant a seed" and to me both read like short, sweet, beautiful poems -- I would never have thought of them as "how to" books. I probably would have called them "concept" books, but I see now what you mean.... Thank you for expanding my understanding... It certainly expands the field of possibilities for us writers!

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  53. These books were great picks! I love learning how to do things, and now am fully prepared in case my next pet delivery turns out to be a lion.

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    1. Haha! If your next pet turns out to be a lion, Sue, I think Tammi Sauer would love to babysit it...

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  54. I love "how-to" books, Patricia. You shared some great examples, another one that I absolutely love is "How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth". So cute and fun! Thanks.

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  55. I love the 'how to' book format. Thanks for some wonderful examples to explore. Pick A Tree loves lovely- I can't wait to see it.

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  56. Thanks, Patricia, for shining a light on this book form, and giving us some tips on "how to"!

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  57. I LOVED all of the books! Thank you so much for this wonderful post.

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  58. Deeper Meaning Books--From the beginning of CARING FOR YOUR LION it reminded me of the idea of getting something different than you wanted or expected--and it ending up to be just wanted you needed. Loved WHAT TO DO WITH A BOX!

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  59. Thanks for suggesting new titles I haven’t looked at before. My family loves these types of books and my kids are getting excited about the pile I have set out for today’s ReFoReMo assignment :)

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  60. I love the book IF YOU PLANT A SEED. It tells such an important lesson is a fun way for kids.

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  61. Love this post, Patricia! Thanks for the fantastic suggestions too!

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  62. I love the fun how-to books and look forward to reading yours, Patricia. I have a draft I am working on but can't quite build the ending. Thanks this helps.

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  63. Thank you for a helpful post and great selections! Good to be reminded how versatile this format is. My library has ordered Pick a Pine Tree- I'm 4th in line- and I look forward to your other books!

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  64. I loved today's theme of How To Books - it has given inspiration to explore this further. Thank you

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  65. This has been a common format in my critique groups lately. Thank you for the great post and book suggestions!

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  66. Hmmm. I hadn't considered the character aspect of How-To books. At first, I didn't agree, but now I'm wondering. Need to revisit some books. Thanks!

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  67. How did I miss that you owned a book store! I knew I liked you, your books and this post.Thanks.

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    1. It was quite a few years (and many gray hairs) ago!

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  68. I especially loved the humor of CARING FOR YOUR LION! So fun!

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  69. Thank you for the great "how to" book recommendations Patricia. This is a wonderful post. :)

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  70. I do have a couple of ideas for "how to" books. Thanks for the mentor text recommendations!

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  71. Thank you, one of my favorite type of pb's

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  72. I've always enjoyed reading these types of How-To books, but never really analyzed them. You might have an idea for the beginning and the end, but that middle must be very engaging. Not easy.

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    1. That's so true, Barbara - no mundane middles!

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  73. Thank you for this post! I had an epiphany while reading it.

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  74. Love these How-To book suggestions. Thank you!

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  75. Alice Carty FulgioneMarch 7, 2018 at 12:48 PM

    Thanks so much for your helpful hints on what to look for when reading "How To" books!

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  76. Thank you so much, Patricia. Excellent post!

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  77. Thank you, Patricia, for these terrific examples of "how to" books. I'm enjoying each and every one :) Feeling the humor and thinking new ideas.

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  78. Caring For Your Lion is one of our favorites! I thought If You Plant a Seed was also extraordinary, so sparse and powerful. And just read How to Read a Story, thanks for the post!

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  79. Thank you, Patricia, for such great choices! They all demonstrate so well every one of the points you listed for evaluation. How To Read A Story, What To Do With A Box, and If You Plant A Seed all show powerfully how to use a purposely-"underdeveloped" character effectively, as well as the different type of arc in these books. Most helpful! Becky Loescher

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  80. Thank you, Patricia. I enjoyed your post!

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  81. Thank you for the mentor text suggestions as well as the "How To book tips."

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  82. Great advice for how to read these books. Thanks for a wonderful post.

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  83. Great advice for how to read these books. Thanks for a wonderful post.

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  84. Thank you for these selections. I particularly loved the surprise take-home message of "If You Plant a A Seed" and Kadir Nelson's beautiful oil paintings.

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  85. Great book recommendations. Thank you, Patricia!

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  86. Patty! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and some delightful picture book picks.

    Suzy Leopold

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  87. Thank you for your post! I also read You Don't Want a Unicorn! (Ame Dyckman, Liz Climo). I paid particular attention to the page-turning...I noticed a lot of word art in several of these books...very enjoyable and fun for kids to read!

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    1. What a fun book that is! I'm glad you mentioned it. Thanks, Karen.

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  88. Kate Messner did such a nice job with How to Read A Story -- I'm sure it's helped lots of new readers.

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  89. I love processes - how to books can be both fun and instructive.

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  90. Love these examples! Jean Reagan has some fun “how to’s” as well. How to babysit a Grandpa is one of our favorites. Thanks for a great post!!

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  91. Thank you for this great advice.

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  92. These How To books were great! such diverse topics in the same way. How to Read a Story is brilliant to get kids to read on their own and What to do With a Box is so cute. Although I think Caring for Your Lion is definitely the most fun! Who wouldn't want a pet lion after that :)

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  93. Loved How to Read a Story! and the illustrations in If You Plant a Seed.

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  94. Thanks for the advice and great examples.

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  95. Thanks for sharing your book love, and I wish you much success with all your titles.

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  96. Great contemporary examples! Thanks, Patricia!

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  97. Thanks for this great list. I just love How To books! Another one is How to Teach Your Buffalo to Play Drums. I'm looking forward to reading your books, Patricia!

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    1. Not familiar with this one, Bethany. Another book to add to my reading list. Hooray!

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  98. This is such a helpful way to approach a PB manuscript. It helps me think of my stories in another way. Thanks!

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  99. I loved all these books. Thank you for recommending them!

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  100. I love how-to books. They're always so creative. Plan to dig into these titles, as well as your Pick A Pine. Thanks for highlighting these books, Patricia.

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  101. Since humor is the most common genre for the how-to picture books, it will be fun to explore using other genres ( for lack of better word). Thoughtful post, thank you for sharing it with us Patricia. :)

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  102. Thanks Patricia! I love this: "...but not the traditional climb-the-mountain-with-three-attempts-at-solving-a-problem story arc." Looking forward to reading these when they come in at the library!

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  103. This is so helpful and encouraging to try something new in my writing.

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  104. Thanks for the great post and recommendations. I particularly love IF YOU PLANT A SEED. I really love the cover of PICK A PINE TREE:)

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  105. Great post, Patty! One bonus of writing books in the "How-To" format is that you get the educational hook of having a book that can be used in the classroom to reinforce sequencing and cause/effect concepts...

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    1. Great points, Michelle! I can definitely see these books being used to talk about sequencing and cause/effect.

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  106. Thank you for your post. I had decided my next pb would be a how to, but was confused about arc with that. Thanks for reinforcing that they are different. Loved Yolen's "Box" book. I wish I could do rhyme as well as she does.

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  107. Thanks for the examples of yet another great structure to build a book on.

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  108. Looking forward to reading your "how to" recommendations! Thanks for sharing.

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  109. I enjoyed reading this collection of 'How to..." books. Absolutely adored How to Read a Story and wish it had been published while I was still teaching second grade. What to do With a Box reminded me of my grands spending hours playing with the box from our new stove. Watching their creativity was such fun!Thanks for a great post.

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  110. How-to books are SUCH A GREAT format for kids, who are our biggest, yet littlest life learners. I LOVE THEM TOO! They certainly help adults learn how to be open to doing things differently. In the end, we're ALL learners! It's a WONDERFUL way for kids and parents/adults to learn together!

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  111. Thank you for giving me a new way to look at an old manuscript that I feared was bordering on episodic. T-Rex was just the mentor book I needed. I still haven't found 2 of the other titles--but I will keep looking.

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  112. I've been wanting to do a "how to," that builds in outlandishness. These mentor texts will help a lot. Thanks!

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  113. Thank you for helping me to look at how-to books through a new lens. The comments about other how-to books and how to use these books in the classroom were helpful, too. My favorite book today was If You Plant a Seed. So simple, yet profound. I plan to add it to my read-aloud list for first grade opening.

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  114. I LOVED Plant a Seed, with its transition from a how-to-book to the theme of kindness. Thanks so much for introducing me to it!

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  115. Thank you for helping me to look at how-to books through a new lens. The comments about other how-to books and how to use these books in the classroom were helpful, too. My favorite book today was If You Plant a Seed. So simple, yet profound. I plan to add it to my read-aloud list for first grade opening.

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  116. My favorite was HOW TO READ A BOOK. What a great idea for a book, and it makes a great resource for anyone who works with maturing readers.

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  117. This type of how-to books tend to be among my son's favorites so thank you for sharing your thoughts, as well as some new fun ones for me to share with him.

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  118. Thank you, all, for your kind comments. Good luck with your reading, writing, and revising this month!

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  119. Patricia, thank you for introducing me to some new “how to” picture books. I agree with Rhonda Sprau’s comment about the book, If You Plant a Seed, “So simple, yet profound.” If I was still teaching, I would definitely read this book near the beginning of the school year. These are all great books to use in the classroom with various age levels!

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  120. Who doesn't love to Pick a Pine Tree and transform it into a Christmas tree? Lovely.

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  121. THese are all really great books. When Your Lion Needs a Bath comes to mind as well

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  122. What a great category...thanks for sharing!

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  123. Perfect explanation of how-to books! Thank you! (I also love Pick a Pine Tree! Fun book!)

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  124. Just exactly what I needed! Thanks!

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  125. Such a variety of how-to books! Thanks for the introduction. All were new to me.

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  126. Thank you for the excellent explanation of "how to" books, Patricia. I look forward to reading DRESS LIKE A GIRL and PICK A PUMPKIN!

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  127. Yes. Clear. Concise. Like you hope instructions would always be. Thanks for your insight!

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  128. This will make me look at some books differently now.

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  129. I was able to borrow Caring for your Lion, and really enjoyed the humour. I bought your lovely Pick a Pine Tree and enjoyed the transformation of the tree to something else. Beautiful book and it works so well. (I'm not eligible being not from US)

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    1. Glad you're enjoying these books, Kaye!

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  130. Thank you Patricia for these titles. I love how this format lends itself to funny and/or heartfelt. Each showed how the concise text and illustrations provides lots more for the reader to feel and experience.

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  131. I’ve always wanted to write a how-to book!
    Thank you for some great examples in this post!

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  132. I'm going to use your post to revisit some of my shaky How To manuscripts. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on using different language such as pick, if, etc. Carole Calladine

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  133. CARING FOR YOUR LION--when you get what you didn't ask for or expect and you end up learning from it or loving it. Sometimes the how-to isn't what the title suggests!

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  134. Just goes to show what can come from a simple idea. EVERY kid loves a good box! And I loved how in How to tell a story, the way it goes through the exact steps kids go through when they are learning to read. Perfect for my 1st grader daughters. I also really enjoyed the sweet turn on an important lesson in If you plant a seed.
    Thanks Patricia! Great reading!

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  135. I always enjoy How-to books and am drawn to writing them. I enjoyed how IF YOU PLANT A SEED uses three full spreads of illustrations in the middle, without text, to tell its story. The spread of all the birds staring at the reader, standing in for the rabbit and mouse, is very powerful!

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  136. I love "how to..." books. These are great examples.

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  137. Thanks Patricia! Great post with excellent examples. I love a good how-to! Looking forward to your upcoming books!

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  138. Thank you. I'm going to re-read the book selection with concise text, specific word choice, page turns, and humor &heartstrings in mind. Your post is very helpful.

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  139. How-to books are so fun, and I love how all of these manages a different feel and voice within the genre. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  140. What a fun post on discovering the mold of your story!
    Jenna feldman

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  141. I haven't explored or even considered writing a 'How To' before. But now, after IF YOU PLAN A SEED, I'm feeling inspired. The use of literal seeds to encourage that we reap what we sow was wonderfully done.

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  142. These were such fun! I started off with "How to Read a Story" as that seemed most appropriate :) Such a clever book without bearing down on the "how to" angle. And I fell in love with "How to Plant a Seed"--not only is the writing lyrical but the imagery is positively magical! Definite rereads

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  143. Such a great and fun list! I'm working on a How To now and got a perfect comp from your suggestions.

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  144. Thanks to this great study I saw an idea for a How To book in the veterinarians office today!

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  145. Thanks, Patricia. This is really helpful information to know as I study see texts. I've read some "How - To's" but not thought much about their unique characteristics before.

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  146. Thank you for your ideas and fun list of How To Books!

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  147. Something for my bucket List. Maybe - "How to Make Your Bucket List"

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  148. I love that How to Read a Story. It’s great for teaching kids reading strategies.

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  149. Love these books. I ve read most and enjoyed if you plant a seed and if a Tyrannasaurus Rex CrShes your birthday party. Both use humor as well.

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  150. Thanks for the awesome book suggestions! I'm still on the new side to the field and hadn't really considered looking at "how to" books as a PB genre. They're so fun! Also, love your breakdown of the storytelling techniques, so helpful. If You Plant A Seed says so much with so few words, just amazing!

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  151. Thanks for your post. Haven't thought much about considering "How-to" books, but maybe now I will!

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  152. I loved your book selections--several of which were new to me. IF A T-REX CRASHES YOUR BIRTHDAY PARTY is a new favorite. Thanks for the encouragement to try a "how to." I'll definitely give it a go!

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  153. I really enjoyed this post! How to books are so fun to read. It is great to study them and see how the author puts everything together. Thanks for sharing. You had great examples.

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  154. Thanks Patrica! I appreciate the list of points to consider when reading "how to" books.

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  155. Thank you. Great examples.

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  156. These are some of my absolute favorites! Thank you for teaching us more about how they're crafted.

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  157. Love 'how to' books! IF YOU PLANT A SEED is so simple and yet so powerful

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  158. I loved these books! Thanks for outlining some of the "rules" so clearly and concisely. Very helpful!

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  159. Thank you, Patricia, for great examples of "how to" books. These are so fun.

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  160. I'm late to the party, but really loved Caring for Your Lion and What To Do With Your Box. I write primarily nonfiction, and this got me thinking about ways to incorporate more fun into nf through the use of a how-to format. Thanks for the post!

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  161. This is a great list of mentor texts! Thanks for highlighting the important components of "how-to" books.

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  162. Love this post and the books for my reading list.

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  163. I could have used these books when I was still in the classroom teaching language arts! Thanks for the mentor texts!

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  164. This is a type of story I haven't tried to write yet--but I will now!

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  166. I hadn't identified these types of picture books. Had trouble finding them. Will be on the lookout for them.

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  167. Want to know how to gain wisdom about writing a great "how to..." story? Read Patricia's awesome post! There's a joy in these mentor texts, and I really appreciated reading the insights shared. Many thanks indeed!

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  168. so many great "how to" books, and this is a wonderful list, as well. I look forward to reading you book- what a gorgeous cover!

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  169. Thanks for the insight....and because of this post, the ideas are starting to flow out of me at an alarming rate! Thanks, Patricia

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