Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Digging for More: Tanya Konerman and Elizabeth Saba Make Research Work for Them

Mentor Text Reviews by Tanya Konerman and Elizabeth Saba

In search of ways to master word count in lyrical ways, I pulled out mentor texts from my “nonfiction idols.” Three from April Pulley Sayre gave me the inspiration I needed: Best in Snow, Raindrops Roll, and Full of Fall. These succinct, sensory-rich, and delightfully poetic picture books captured each of her concepts with flow and flair (not to mention, wonderful photography by Sayre herself). And most importantly for my revision struggles, they were still able to provide detailed information with word counts more in line with the industry standard. How? BACKMATTER! Sayre used the “story” part of the book to provide an overview and create a feeling about the subject matter, while offering additional scientific tidbits and facts to further learning and understanding in her backmatter (which is not included in word count for picture books).

As you write and revise, consider: Could backmatter help support your nonfiction story’s weight? Would readers benefit from a more lyrical approach to your subject matter? How can you offer an educational book that appeals to the senses?

Tanya Konerman is a bit obsessed with picture books, reading and studying 15 or more a week throughout the year. She currently writes them too. You can find her picture book reviews and some other cool stuff at www.tanyakonerman.wordpress.com.

A How To Book without the How To? Pick A Pine Tree written by Patricia Toht and illustrated by Jarvis is actually a ‘how to’ book. I love the way Patricia took a tradition, scooped up a plethora of experiences and items and then laid out the best parts of those in this book. Combined with the illustrations Pick a Pine Tree is a great mentor text for a jaunty joyful ‘how to’ book. As a writer, this mentor text shows that you do not need to have ‘how to’ in the title to be a ‘how to’ book. We can translate that to other genres. Do you need to say ‘true story’ in a title to indicate that it is nonfiction and so forth. I also took the time to type this book up to see if I could understand why the page turns and near rhymes were effective and not distracting. Because of the combination of text and pictures, readers will identify with at least two if not more experiences in this book making this a fun, satisfying read and read aloud. The illustrator does an excellent job enhancing the readers experience with the variety of characters and scenes throughout the book. Thanks Patricia for a wonderful book to read and to learn from.

Elizabeth Saba is a children’s book writer. She has an MFA Certificate in Children’s Literature from the Stonybrook Fellows Program. She is a literacy advocate, teaches reading and reads aloud to preschool children and 2nd grade students every Friday. Elizabeth is a member of SCBWI and 12 x 12.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Taking a Long View of History by Gail Hartman

Guest Post/Review By Gail Hartman

I happened to read Can I Touch Your Hair by Irene Latham and Charles Waters shortly after reading New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer. Both books are written from a first person point of view (in Can I Touch Your Hair, two first persons’ points of view). They tackle the tough topic of race in a way that children can relate. New Shoes is the story of Ella Mae buying new shoes with her mother in the 1950s. Living in the Jim Crow era, she experiences discrimination and finds a way to do something positive, treating other black community members with respect and dignity. The story in Can I Touch Your Hair? is set in today’s time. It is made up of alternating poems written by two fifth grade characters, a white girl and a black boy. They describe their experience of being paired to work on a class project. Slowly, these two characters form a friendship, coming to know, understand, and appreciate each other.

New Shoes lets us look at a bright spot in a dark era, and the courage and self-respect these black characters maintained for themselves. We get only a glimpse of the character Mr. Johnson’s, the white owner of the shoe store, fixed in time. I can imagine reading this to an older child today, and the child asking why the characters acted the way they did. Meyer provides an explanation in back matter. In Can I Touch Your Hair?, the black and white characters are given time to get to know each other and change their views. Revealing history and current events are written into a some of the poems. What is the difference between the two time periods that shaped both of these stories?

The teacher in me sees a wonderful opportunity to trace the sensitive subject of race in this country’s history through such picture books as Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco, New Shoes, The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, and bring it into today’s time with Can I Touch Your Hair?.

While there are stories about tough issues I would not write about because they are not my stories to write, the writer in me thinks it Is not necessary to shy away from stories about other tough issues. I need to explore them through a child’s point of view, with experiences today’s children can relate to, and to take a long view of history.

I’m Gail Hartman. Since second grade, I have wanted to be a writer. As a former special education teacher, I fell in love with picture books during a children’s literature course. My published books include For Strawberry Jam or Fireflies,  For Sand Castles or Seashells, As the Crow Flies, and As the Roadrunner Runs, all with Bradbury Press. After writing, I went back into education as a school librarian assistant and then again as a special education teacher, falling in love with many picture books and students along the way. I have now retired from teaching, and I am an overjoyed grandma! I am loving my return to reading, researching, and writing picture books. It thrills me when someone I meet has read one of my picture books, and they tell me that they loved it! As the Crow Flies is still in print after 27 years.