Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Mentor Text Talk with Author Kristin L. Gray

We're excited for Kristin L. Gray's debut picture book, KOALA IS NOT A BEAR! The story is delightful and we're excited to feature you on ReFoReMo, Kristin!  

How do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?

I study the author’s pacing and page turns. For fiction, I like to see how they leave room for the illustrator. Often, the artist completes a thought in hilarious and surprising ways! For nonfiction, I pore over picture book bios to see what pieces and themes of an individual’s life the author chose to highlight. What is the universal thread and kid-appeal? I also examine back matter. Lots of good nuggets can be found there. 

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of KOALA IS NOT A BEAR?

No texts per se, but authors, sure: Ame Dyckman, Tammi Sauer, Sergio Ruzzier, Dev Petty, 
and more.

How has reading Picture Books helped you discover who you are as a writer?

Goodness, I’ve been reading picture books for eighteen years. (My oldest just graduated high school.) Picture books are what I set out to write when I really got serious about writing as a career. It took me a little longer than most. My novel, Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge, was the first project picked up. But studying picture books—their plot, their wit, their economy of language—certainly helped shape all of my writing. To be a picture book writer, you must write clearly and succinctly while still engaging the reader. You have a handful of words to tell a compelling story.

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

In whatever way works best for them! I always read mentor texts aloud. I will read them over and over again, until the rhythm seeps in. (My dogs are great listeners, by the way.) Sometimes, I even type the text out in spreads. This helps me visualize the pacing, and I can take what I’ve learned and liked to my next project and make it my own.

Thanks so much for having me!

We're glad to learn from your mentor text journey, Kristin!

Kristin L. Gray is the author of Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge, a 2018 Bank Street Best Children’s Book. She lives in Arkansas with her family, two dogs, and alert bearded dragon, who is clearly NOT a dragon as he has never once breathed fire. Koala Is Not A Bear is her first picture book. Visit her at kristinlgray.com. 


  1. Loved the interview. Great advice!

  2. Great interview! Congratulations! It is so important to read mentor texts. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great interview and I appreciate learning how Kristin uses mentor texts. Feel I need to get back typing out mentor texts. TY, Kirsti.

  4. Important information. Thank you, Kristin

  5. I love your advice of reading the picture books over and over until the rhythm sinks in. Great interview. Thanks for sharing!

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