Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Mentor Text Talk with Author Lynne Marie

We're excited to celebrate the release of THE STAR IN THE CHRISTMAS PLAY with Lynne Marie! We know Lynne Marie from the 12x12 community, she's member of the ReFoReMo family, and she and I were Cybil's judges together last year. Welcome, Lynne Marie, and thank you for sharing how mentor texts have helped you in your writing journey!

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of THE STAR IN THE CHRISTMAS PLAY?

This is a good question -- I consider any and all picture books I read to be mentor texts, whether they show me what has been done before (as well as what HASN’T been done), but also what to do and not do in terms of successfully telling a story and/or utilizing particular literary devices.
With this manuscript, I had played around with it in my head and all the components, including the title, had come together before I started writing. The first thing I did was search for my title, The Star in the Christmas Play, on Amazon. If you take a look, you will see that there were basically no SIMILAR comp titles. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=The+Star+in+the+Christmas+Play

But of course, that did not mean my search for mentor texts was done! I read any and all Christmas books I could get my hands on, including these:

Source Books / Jabberwocky, 2016                         Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008

HarperCollins, 2005                                             Sleeping Bear Press, 2016

These are just a few -- there were oh, so many more! As a general rule, when I am focused on submitting a particular manuscript, I’ll read 50 to 100 mentor texts before I do. I’ll scribble down the subcategories (Ex., Christmas, Nativity Play, Self-Esteem, Savanna Animals, etc.) and keep ordering titles from the library until I exhaust all possibilities. I use both my library card and my daughter’s if I have to! If I can’t find a book that looks like a necessary comp at the library, I usually buy it.

Harper Collins, 2002           Orchard Books, 2001

My research showed me that my book was different and there weren’t any books like it. It was set against the backdrop of the Christmas holiday with its Nativity Play, but it was really about believing in yourself, not giving up and finding a way to shine despite any limitations. My research also showed me that there weren’t many publishers that might take on a book like this. I didn’t give up, but put it to the side. Then, in 2017 when I saw the Sparkhouse Family (now Beaming Books) Contest, I researched their catalog and knew that I had found the perfect home for this book. I submitted it for that contest. While my manuscript wasn’t the first place winner, they said that Raffi’s story had charmed the team so much that they still wanted to publish it!

How has reading Picture Books helped you discover who you are as a writer?
Reading picture books provides constant inspiration to me. I no longer truly believe that there’s nothing new under the sun as I have seen many authors find a way to take an old idea or concept and make it new and different by mashing, slanting, adding levels, looking at the story from a different perspective, writing outside the box, seizing inspiration from current events and using interesting literary devices.

I discovered that I want to play around with my ideas, try a variety of directions until one feels right and give the story a chance to find their own path. In particular, I discover I am able to write in diverse styles and types, as long as I keep writing and revisioning until I find a way to make it work.

What do you feel is the BEST way to for picture book writers to utilize mentor texts.

1. To see what has been done before.
2. To see what has not been done before (potential holes in the market that you might fill).
3. To experience other options in telling a story.
4. To inspire a new/different direction for my own story.
5. To see what works in a story (and learn from that).
6.     To see what doesn’t work in a particular story (and learn from that).
7. To see what types of books a publisher might publish, as well as what it already has published.
8. To inspire.
9. To recognize stories that draw out emotion, and those that don’t, and why.
10. To remember what it’s like to be a child and how important it is to relay
the story through the eyes of a child, in an accessible way.

Honestly, I am the biggest fan of mentor texts. I utilized the concept of mentor texts before it even had a
term (LOL). I credit the success of each and every sold manuscript to my study of mentor texts. I learned
from the Best -- Richard Peck, who said “read 100 books before you try your hand at writing one.” I
took that to heart, and I repeat it for each project that I focus on.
Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten - illustrated by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic, 2011), Hedgehog's 100th Day of School – illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic, January 2017), The Star of the Christmas Play -- illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Beaming Books, 10/16/2018), Moldilocks and the 3 Scares -- illustrated by David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Sterling, 2019)  and her first non-fiction picture book, Let’s Eat Around the World -- illustrated by Parwinder Singh (Beaming Books, 2019) and more forthcoming. She is also a freelance Editor and a Travel Agent. When she’s not cruising around the world or traveling to Disney World, Universal Studios and other fascinating places, she lives on a lake in South Florida with her daughter Kayla Michelle, son Kevin, a Schipperke named Anakin and several resident water birds.
You can learn more about her at www.LiterallyLynneMarie.com.
ON TWITTER: @Literally_Lynne
E-MAIL: LiterallyLynneMarie@gmail.com

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Mentor Text Author Study: Margarita Engle

Poetry is Margarita Engle’s specialty. She enchants readers with her picture books in verse and her novels-in-verse for middle grade and young adult readers.

Point of View

Margarita Engle presents two of her books about artists in first person point of view.

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian and Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist are told from the point of view of the artists themselves, allowing the artist to come to life and help the reader see what the artist saw.

Summer Birds is presented as a straight first-person narrative, while Sky Painter is told in a series of first-person poems.


In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, some of her lines are only one word long. These short lines cause us to pause and pick up the rhythm that Engle is trying to create with her words. All the Way to Havana also makes use of short lines—sometimes only 2-3 words long. This helps evoke mood in the book and makes it easy for the reader to catch onto the rhythm.

Engle uses a varying refrain in The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar. 

The onomatopoeia in All the Way to Havana gives the reader a sensory experience from “cara cara, cluck, cluck, cluck” to “pìo, pìo, pìo, pìo, pfffft.”

In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, she also uses powerful verbs such as rippled, rapped, pounded, which give an onomatopoeic effect. The verbs peep, croak, shriek do the same in Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist.

Orangutanka: A Story in Poems is a narrative is told through a series of linked tanka poems. A short form like tanka doesn’t leave room for anything but exacting word choice. In this case, Engle uses a superb lineup of verbs throughout such as: leaps, clings, swings, flips, dips, swoops, twirls, shake, clamber, smacks and more!

Her language is so rich, it performs double duty—providing musicality, supporting the work with strong verbs, and even using verbs that are onomatopoeic.


Even adjectives take on a unique quality in Engle’s work. In The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar, she uses the description, “whale-shaped moon.” Such specificity helps the reader form images with just a few short words.

In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, she uses descriptions like “wind-wavy palm trees” and “flower-bright park.” These are all descriptions that feel fresh instead of overused.

Every Word Counts

Making every word count is the hallmark of picture books. Engle’s picture books are no exception. Poetry also distills everything down to its essence.

Her word selection is so precise that we can see that every single word is carefully selected for its meaning but also for its placement on the page as poetry.

Thank you, Marcie, for giving us such an in-depth look at books by Margarita Engle.

Marcie Flinchum Atkins is an elementary school librarian by day who writes for children in the wee hours of the morning. She also muses about mentor texts at her websiteYou can follow her on Twitter @MarcieFAtkins and read about her #writerlife on Instagram at @marciefatkins.  

Thank you Marcie for an in-depth look at books by Margarita Engle.