We're always on the look-out for stellar mentor texts. When we find a great one, our first thoughts are not focused on what the author learned from other mentor texts. Mentor Text Talk allows us to peek into the author's mentor text research behind their stories. Today, we get a glimpse into Annie Silvestro's process. Her stories have tons of heart and are therefore mentor texts, as well. With a huge amount of publication success in a short period of time, she's doing something incredibly right! We are lucky to learn from her.
I go back to my treasured picture book collection both for inspiration and to re-read in the hopes of internalizing some of the elements that I love so dearly, whether it be the humor and heart, the beauty of the language, the cadence of the read-aloud, or just the structure on the whole. Any time I read a picture book, I learn something.
Your stories are true testaments to that. Did any particular mentor texts inspire you in the creation of your newest book?
I didn’t use a particular text specifically when working on BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB GOES TO SCHOOL. Both that story and BUTTERFLIES ON THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL are about those nervous moments when you’re starting something new, and also about how having a friend and being a friend can really make a difference.
I am a big fan of friendship stories (pretty much all my books have a friendship theme!), especially ones that combine those elements of humor and heart. Beth Ferry’s STICK AND STONE is a classic example of a perfect friendship book. The GEORGE AND MARTHA books by James Marshall are my favorites. CORDUROY by Don Freeman is one I’ve loved since I was a child. I could go on and on about all the books that inspire me…
How does your mentor text research changed from book to book?
I really use mentor texts more in a big-picture way so that typically carries from book to book. If I’m ever stuck with something I’m writing, I either go back to my collection and immerse myself in it, or go to the library or bookstore to get inspiration. Sometimes you just need to step back from frustration and remember why you are writing in the first place.
How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?
Sometimes reading mentor texts shows you what you could be, and also what you are not – which can be just as important. There are amazing books and ideas out there that I know I could never have tackled. But I’m happy someone else has! For example, I don’t write rhyming picture books, but reading those aloud are great examples of how important rhythm can be even in non-rhyming texts. Plus, I always love a little internal rhyme in my stories now and again.
What do you feel is the best way for picture book writers to utilize mentor texts?
I think each person has to approach it the way he or she feels most comfortable. I know some people study certain texts and try to write in that specific style as an exercise and a way to learn craft. Early on, I remember typing up the text from a few of my favorite published books to see how they paged out, how many words they were, and to get a feel for how they looked in a manuscript form. Now, I just try to saturate myself in the beauty and hope that something sticks! It’s so important to read a ton of picture books even just to come up with a through-line of what speaks to you and what doesn’t. What is it about a certain book that makes you love it so much? Or even hate it? Those can be key questions that help guide you and help you to become a stronger writer.
Annie Silvestro is a lover of books who can often be found shuffling piles of them around so she has a place to sit or someplace to put her teacup.
She is the author of BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB GOES TO SCHOOL, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss, BUTTERFLIES ON THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, illustrated by Dream Chen, THE CHRISTMAS TREE WHO LOVED TRAINS, illustrated by Paola Zakimi, MICE SKATING, illustrated by Teagan White, and BUNNY'S BOOK CLUB, named a Kids' Indie Next List Pick, an Amazon best book of the year for 2017, and a 2018 pick for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Annie lives with her family by the beach in New Jersey. Visit Annie online at www.anniesilvestro.com or on Twitter and Instagram @anniesilvestro