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?”
“Zzzzzzz”
“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




33 comments:

  1. These are great examples of showing emotion. Thanks, Jen!

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    1. Thanks Tina! So glad they were helpful!

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  2. This is such a great post! Thanks for sharing, Jen. Congratulations on Hedgehog Needs a Hug! Can't wait to read it.

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    1. Thank you Rita! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

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  3. What a beautiful book. Congrats! And thanks for sharing some of your process with us.

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  4. Thanks for joining us on ReFoReMo, Jen!!!! ADORE your book!

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    1. Yay!!!! Thank you for having me - such a great resource!! So pleased to be able to contribute to it.

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  5. This mentor text post is easy to understand and packed full of good examples to work from in our own writing.

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    1. Thanks Sherri! I'm glad the examples were helpful!

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  6. What a sweet premise. And I always struggle showing emotion through words too. You have great examples. It is interesting that an author/illustrator goes through this. I always figured if I was an illustrator (which I'm not) I could just draw it, so I'm surprised that's not the case. I love the droopy prickles. You nailed it. And the hat is precious. Can't wait to read your book. Thanks for the insights.

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    1. I know, I always think I can just show it in the pictures!!! But it makes it sooo much better when I add emotion to the words, too! Glad you enjoyed the examples.

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  7. Super choices, here, for emotion. My fave is CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG. I adore that book. Yours looks fabulous, too. Ty for a great mentor lesson and congrats on HEDGEHOG.

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    1. Isn't CITY DOG such a sweet book - totally made me tear up the first time! And thank you!

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  8. Really helpful post, Jen! Thanks!

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  9. Thank you, Jen, for sharing your insight and mentor texts that helped you create the emotion in your new book. I'm looking forward to reading it :)

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    1. Thanks Charlotte! I hope you enjoy the book!

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  10. Great post! I love that you showed exactly how mentor texts guided the revisions of your own PB!

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    1. Couldn't have done it without mentor texts!

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  11. Great post... huge fan of all your mentor text choices and will go reread as I am just crafting some emotive text now!

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    1. I love these books - hope they help you too!

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  12. Love that you provided us with the mentor texts you used, Jen...and told us what each provided. It was really eye-opening to read about the words that were used instead of 'said'...I can't tell you how many times I've heard pros instruct us to use only 'said' and 'ask' as speech tags. But obviously, other verbs can sometimes be used with great effect! THANK YOU!!!

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    1. Yay! Glad it was helpful! Yes, reading A VISITOR FOR BEAR is such a manual of alternatives for "said"!!

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  13. Wow this is amazingly helpful with a ms I am working on. Thank you so much!

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  14. Excellent post Jen. Love your examples and explanations.

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  15. Such a great read, Jen - thank you! And your book looks and sounds beautiful! That image of Hedgehog with his paws on his head is delicious. :)

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    1. Thank you Emma - glad you like it! And that picture is one of my favorites from the book.

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  16. Excellent examples! Your sharing brought to mind a project I'm working on. Someone suggested I take OUT similar words used in your examples. Glad that I decided to ignore that suggestion! Thank you!

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  17. Thanks for these great examples, Jen. They really show how altering text makes such a difference. Especially the turtle scene.

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  18. It's fascinating that as an author-illustrator, you lean heavily on your images to tell the story, vs the text itself. Alas, my stick figures are pretty un-emotive :)I'll definitely check out the books you mentioned above, too. Can't wait to read Hedgehog!

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