Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Mentor Text Talk with Author Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Marcie Flinchum Atkins is not new to our ReFoReMo blog or the kidlit community. Not only has she been a resident educator for the ReFoReMo challenge since its inception, she muses about with mentor texts on her own blog for writers, as a teacher-librarian, and as a permanent part of her own writing process. We consider Marcie to be among the top mentor text experts for picture book writing and are excited about the release of her newest nonfiction picture book, Wait Rest Pause: Dormancy in Nature. We are very lucky to learn from her again today!  

How do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?

I spend a lot of time reading picture books. I read widely. When I find books that have that special something, I study them a little bit deeper.

I type up the text. This helps me see the text without the illustrations and really helps me see it as a manuscript.

I create spreadsheets. If I want to study historical fiction texts, for example, I’ll make a long list of books and order them from the public library. I make a list of things I want to look at in each book. Then I study them one by one and enter the different components on a Google Sheet. I wrote about this process in this blog post

I try techniques out. If I find a particularly effective opening or ending or bit of description, I’ll try it out with my story or my information. Sometimes it helps lead me in a new direction.

Did any particular mentor texts inspire you in the creation of Wait Rest Pause?

Yes! When I look back on the timeline of Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature, I wrote the first draft in the spring of 2015. During that same time, I wrote this post about books that I’d used with my students and that inspired me to try my hand at second person POV.

Recently, I found this note where I first jotted down the idea for my book and sample lines.

How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?

I’ve always been a reader. I also realized from a very young age that I wanted to be a writer. The thing I love best about reading is that it always pushes me to be a better writer. If I’m experiencing writer’s block, I read. Reading stacks and stacks of picture books (or poetry or longer forms of fiction and nonfiction) fills my well. Then I can find my way to the words again. 

What do you feel is the best way for PB writers to utilize mentor texts?

I think picture book writers should be reading a LOT--hundreds of picture books a year. It’s hard to write picture books if you only read really old books or very few books. It’s important to read a lot. As you read, you’ll start to sift. What books are not for you? Put those aside. What books do you really connect with? Those are the ones that you will want to study using some of the above techniques.

It’s also really worthwhile to just look for one targeted thing. Get a stack of picture books and study only the first lines. Or analyze only the endings. Write out the plots of various books. Focus on word choice. With each stack you bring home from the library, really take notice of one particular thing.

I also recommend keeping notes for potential comp titles. In my stack of 25 books per week, I might find a book or two that could work as a comp title for a manuscript I’m working on. I make a note of it in my files. Not just the title, but the author, the publishing house, the publication year, and the editor (if I can find it). These notes will be useful when putting a list of comp titles together at submission.

As a classroom teacher, I spent a lot of time breaking down mentor texts with young writers. I use them with teen writers at writing camp. But I practice what I preach. Studying the work of other writers means that you have the ultimate teachers right at your local library. Make use of their expertise.

Marcie Flinchum Atkins is a teacher-librarian by day and a children’s book writer in the wee hours of the morning. She holds an M.A. and M.F.A. in Children’s Literature from Hollins University. 

Her newest book, Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature released on September 3 with Millbrook Press. (To order a signed copy, visit Marcie’s local indie bookstore One More Page Books.) 

 Marcie muses about mentor texts and making time to write at www.marcieatkins.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MarcieFAtkins and read about her #writerlife on Instagram @marciefatkins

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Light That Governs the Night--Monthly Challenge

By Janie Reinart

Our ancestors were drawn to the luminous orb like a moth to a flame. The mystery and magic of the light that governs the night fascinates us still. Get your moon shoes on and take the jump. Your challenge is to write about the moon.

Night’s shadow fingers
Reaching across expanses
Barely hold the moon.
~Janie Reinart

Behold the moon. In the Japanese Kamakura era (1185-1333 AD), Buddhism influenced art and literature. Moon gazing parties were held in gardens to read and write poetry about the moon.

Husking rice?
a child squints up?
to view the moon.
~Matsuo Basho

Consider creating a Moon Journal to record poems, scientific observations, sketch pictures, or write about dreams.Your journal will hold your discoveries and be a place for surprises.

Now let's explore picture books about the moon. 

By Jennifer Rustgi

The moon connects us to people and places. This story takes us to the seven continents, marks the phases of the moon, and has references in the back matter. The art work shows the little girl in silhouette. 

"Come along on an enchanted adventure around the world with a young girl and her faithful companion, the Moon.

Hey there, Moon. There you are again. I wonder why do you follow me?"

By Susanna Leonard Hill
Moon longs for a friend and has been waiting for someone to visit. The back matter has bonus educational pages about the moon mission!

"The moon was the queen of the night. She was so bright that everything she touched glowed with silver light. 

But after many, many years had passed, she was lonely.

'If only someone would visit me.' she said."

By Joyce Lapin

Birthday parties are the best--on the moon. This book combines fun and facts about outer space.

" How amazing would it be to have your birthday party on the moon? 

Of course, everyone would want to come. Not just because it is the moon--but who wouldn't want to ride to a party in a rocket?

You'll get to fly 40 times faster than a plane. And for the most of the trip you'll also get to...


So what are you waiting for? Go gaze at the moon and write. 

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, 

you'll land among the stars.”

~ Norman Vincent Peale

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

THINK QUICK with Corey Rosen Schwartz

Hi Corey! 

Congratulations on the release of TWO TOUGH TRUCKS next Tuesday! I love how this story shows that our differences help us connect with each other.  

All of the THINK QUICK themes below appear in your book.  Let’s see which way you lean.  Remember, THINK QUICK!

On trucks:
Fun to drive or terrified of driving them?


On friendship:
Many acquaintances or a few close friends?

A few close friends.

On Opposites attract:
True or false?


On Personality type:
Extrovert or Introvert?

Extrovert turned introvert

On State of Mind:
Anxious or Calm?

Anxious (I'd lie on this one, but you know me too well :)

On Learning:
Jump right in or Ease into it?

Jump right tin!

On complaining:
All the time or Never?

Um, often? (Gosh, I sound like such a curmudgeon. How do I have any friends at all?)

On writing rhyme:
A fun puzzle or a difficult challenge?

A super fun challenging puzzle!

On vehicle books:
Love them or leave them?

Love them!

On Two Tough Trucks:
Two Tough Trucks or Two Tough Trucks

Two Tough Trucks.

Kirsti's Review of TWO TOUGH TRUCKS

"Good grief, grumbled Mac. "My partner's a drag."
"That hotshot," said Rig. "He sure loves to brag."

TWO TOUGH TRUCKS is a story of teamwork and friendship despite differences.  This story is filled emotive illustrations, clever rhymes and two likable trucks.  I love how this story demonstrates how our different talents and characteristics can help us connect with others. Mac and Rig are opposites and that's what helps them work together in the end.  My son picked this book up as soon as he saw it, drawn in by the bright colors and topic!  It was a hit. This is a fantastic read aloud---I highly recommend it.

Corey is the author of THE THREE NINJA PIGS and several other rhyming picture books and fractured fairy tales. Corey has no formal ninja training, but she sure can kick butt in Scrabble. She lives with three Knuckleheads in Warren, NJ.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Mentor Text Author Study: David Michael Slater

David Michael Slater is a word whiz. When he isn’t teaching school aged tweens and teens, he’s writing picture books, chapter books, and books for the tween, teen, and adult market. This post looks at his books written for his youngest fans.


Puns, idioms, wordplay, oh my!


On the very first page of Battle of the Books, Jeff Ebbeler (Illustrator), Slater introduces a mystery novel and Paige, a romance novel both new to the library. The mystery book approaches Paige and says, “Wait till everyone checks you out!” On the next page a book dressed with tweed hat and pipe tells the newcomers, “I’m afraid this library is all booked up” and the reader knows this book will be filled with wordplay.

When One forgets how to count past six in Seven Ate Nine,
Zachary Trover (Illustrator), Seven bullies her and Nine comes to her defense. The other numbers start to argue. “They could be very negative numbers.” One takes off to be alone and saw Seven eat Nine. “Seven ate Nine” One screamed, but the other numbers ignore her until they meet the same fate.



Besides fun wordplay, kids take away important messages from Slater’s stories filled with humor and emotion.


Cheese Louise! Steve Cowden, (Illustrator).
Everyone deals with problems because “nobody is perfect.”

Jacques & Spock, Debbie Tilley (Illustrator).
When two sock brothers who are rarely "a foot away from each other" are separated they find each other again because "together is better".


Slater writes from a child’s point of view masterfully using imagination


How would a young nonreader treat a book?  In The Boy & the Book: [a wordless story], Bob Kolar (Illustrator), Slater’s character drags, tears, and tosses his favorite book at the library like a toy. Each time the boy returns the battered book hides from him. How does the character need to change, so he interacts appropriately with the book? He must learn what books are for.

In The Ring Bear: A Rascally Wedding Adventure, S. G. Brooks, (Illustrator), a young
boy with an active imagination has a close relationship with his single parent mother. He becomes anxious after hearing the news she is engaged. When his soon to be stepdad asks him to be the ring bearer at the ceremony, he hears ring bear and decides becoming a rascally bear is exactly what could put a stop to this marriage. The bear acts out up to the wedding day until his stepdad comforts him and he changes back to a boy.

More picture books by David Michael Slater:




Slater’s books are wonderful mentor texts to study how he uses language, theme, and character arc to write books that appeal to audiences of all ages.