Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Mentor Text Talk with Monica Kulling

Monica Kulling creates quality nonfiction and fiction picture books that have been impacting the market for years. After recognizing her past books in other ReFoReMo posts, we knew she would bring an enlightening perspective on writing that shouldn't be missed. One of her recently published picture books, RUBY'S HOPE, was recently announced as a 2019 CYBILS finalist! Congratulations, Monica!

How do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?

From the time I started writing for children I read picture books, hundreds and hundreds of picture books (and I still do!) to educate and inspire. Reading widely helped me figure out what type of story I wanted to tell and how I might go about telling it. Analyzing the best picture books (William Steig was a favorite) helped me learn what a writer can accomplish within the constraints of a 32-page text.
Reading mentor texts helped me internalize the prose rhythms used by other authors and to figure out which story arcs were the most successful.  

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of Ruby’s Hope?

My initial inspiration came in the form of a mentor image, Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother.”  I love photography and would often look at Lange’s work. One day I just began wondering how the plight of those hard depression years affected children, specifically, the older daughter in Lange’s iconic photograph.

The mentor text that informed and inspired my writing was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. His story of the Joad family and their journey from Oklahoma to California gave me a feel for the mood of those hardscrabble years and a sense of the time and place. I steeped myself Steinbeck’s story and it helped, I think, with authenticity.        

Before I began seriously writing my text, though, I did some market research and found two new picture books about Dorothea Lange—Barb Rosenstock’s Dorothea’s Eyes (2016) and Carole Boston Weatherford’s Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression (2017). Both are excellent, but both tell the story of the photographer not the photograph, so I was reassured that my approach was unique.

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

Writing a well-crafted picture book takes time and patience. It’s not as easy as it appears. You must be succinct and entertaining and illuminating in as few words as possible. It’s a tightrope walk that I’m still striving to perfect. Though it might take years to fully realize an idea, as it did in the case of Ruby’s Hope, reading the work of other picture book authors motivates me to continue when the going gets tough. 

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

Picture book writers should read a text and examine the story spread by spread. Note how the words are working, or not, with the illustrations. Studying the page breaks and spreads helps a writer know how many words can be devoted to the introduction, how many spreads are needed to build the story, and in the case of a picture book biography, how many pages can be spent on an author’s note. Reading mentor texts is a way to keep one’s own picture book writing vital.

Monica Kulling was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is the author of over fifty books for children including, the popular Great Idea series, stories of inventors. Her books have been selected for many honors, including Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “Once Upon A World Children’s Book Award,” the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction, and North Dakota Library Association’s Flicker Tail Award. Monica’s most recent picture books include Aunt Pearl, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher, Ruby’s Hope, illustrated by Sarah Dvojack, and Susan B. Anthony: Her Fight for Equal Rights, illustrated by Maike Plenzke. Monica Kulling lives in Toronto, Canada. 


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Wait a Minute Mr. Postman-monthly challenge

By Janie Reinart

I can't believe that 2016 marked the 30 year anniversary of the book, The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. This darling interactive book has removable letters from different fairy tale characters in addition to the story text. My youngest daughter remembers this book fondly. Can you guess what your challenge is? Get your pen ready to write a story using the epistolary formant.

By Troy Cummings
This adoption story is told through letters by the dog, himself. Arfy is homeless and approaches everyone on Butternut Street. The surprise ending is very satisfying.

Dear People at Yellow House, 
Woof! Can I be your dog? I am potty trained and have my own squeaky bone.
Also: I love to play! I see you have a cat, but I am willing to work with you.
Whoooooos a good dog? I am !!!
P.S. I know every house on Butternut Street, but I asked you first.

By Josh Funk

George and Blaise are pen pals, and they write letters to each other about everything. There’s just one thing that the two friends don’t know: George is a human, while Blaise is a dragon! What will happen when they finally meet?

Hello, students!
Our poetry and pen pal projects 
   this year are combined.
Upon your desks you'll see the pen pals
   that you've been assigned.
Please make sure the letters that you 
   write are all in rhyme.
Now open up your envelopes because
   it's pen pal time!

By Irene Latham

After she comes across a postcard, Agnes, a giant Pacific octopus, strikes up a correspondence with various other creatures below―and above―the waves. Readers will delight in this unlikely introduction to the octopus life cycle.

One day in the deep dark beneath the pier, an octopus found a large jar. She knew it would make the perfect home. But something was blocking her way. 

Dear Nobody,
Mom said I'm not allowed to call you a monster, even though that's what you are.So I'm writing it instead. MONSTER. Things were great until you came along.
Your nothing,

By Adam Rex

Ox is in love! A simple ox professes his love for the glamorous gazelle who thinks she doesn't like him. Or does she?

Dear Gazelle, 

For some time now I have wanted to write a letter to say how much I admire you. You are so graceful and fine. Even when you are running from tigers you are like a ballerina who is running from tigers. 

I think that what I am trying to say is that I love you.

So no matter if you are writing to a pet or a princess--see where the story leads you. I'm sure the Jolly Postman would be happy to deliver the mail. Happy writing. Be sure to mention your favorite story told in letters in the comments.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Mentor Text Talk with Vivian Kirkfield PLUS GIVEAWAY!

Vivian Kirkfield is one of the most genuine and supportive picture book authors that I know.  She's participated in ReFoReMo for years and now her books are flooding the shelves! Her newest release is Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, illustrated by Alleanna Harris.  We're excited to learn about how she uses mentor texts to write her beautiful books!

Do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?  If so, how? 
One of the first things I do when I set out to write a picture book story is to read similar books. I think you need to be aware of what the current marketplace is looking for. And it’s also helpful to see how other authors approach the topic. This is especially important if you are writing a nonfiction pb bio…you need to make sure that your story is going to have a different focus from anything else that is already out there.

This year, I utilized mentor texts in a new way and I want to share what I did because I think it might be helpful for other writers. We had submitted a nonfiction pb manuscript to an editor who loved it but she asked for a revise and resubmit…an R&R. I revised and we sent it back to her but it still wasn’t where it needed to be. The editor asked if I was willing to do more revision. I’m sure you know what my answer was. 😊 However, I wondered how I would figure out exactly what I needed to do…what was she really looking for? I googled the editor and read several interviews she had done – in each interview she mentioned picture books she was currently working on. Then I went to the library and took out those books. And read them. Cover to cover. Several times. I studied how each author opened the story – developed the characters – formatted the narrative – created a satisfying ending. I went back to my own story and revised using the knowledge I had gained from studying those other books. And guess what? The editor loved it – and acquired it!!! Stay tuned for more details as soon as that contract is signed. 😊

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD?

There were several mentor texts that inspired me and helped me as I created MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD. I originally wrote it in 2014, soon after I took a class in writing nonfiction pbs. These are the books I used in the beginning:
Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Munoz Ryan (1999)
When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan (2002)
Me, Jane by Patrick McDonnell (2011)

The first editor who loved VOICES could not get her publisher to acquire it. That was in 2015. In 2016, the same thing happened with a different editor. And then early in 2018, the Little Bee editor received the manuscript. By then I had revised it many times…and still, even though she fell in love with the manuscript, more revision was required. I used the following books to help me:
Martin and Mahalia by Andrea Davis Pickney (2011)
Sit-in by Andrea Davis Pickney (2013)
Brave Girl by Michelle Markel (2013)
Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh (2014)

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

What a great question! When I first started writing, I hadn’t yet found my voice…in fact, I didn’t really understand what editors meant when they commented that they ‘didn’t like the voice’. What is voice? It’s how you craft the words to create the mood or tone of the writing. And the more picture books I read (studying how those authors crafted their stories) and the more I wrote, the more I learned how to use words and various picture book writing techniques to establish the ‘voice’ in my manuscripts. Many of my critique buddies will tell you that they can pick out my manuscripts from a pile…I use the element of three, often have a refrain of some sort, try to use an ending that echoes the opening lines, and utilize lyrical language whenever I can.

Here’s a link to an article that talks a bit about voice in picture books https://www.darcypattison.com/writing/picture-books/voice-for-picture-books/

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

There are many ways to utilize picture books as mentor texts and I think the best way is the way that works for you. Here are a few ways I’ve tried:
·      Type out the entire story and observe where the page turns are, how the story is paced, how the author used language to enrich and flavor the text.
·      Read the story aloud and record yourself and listen back – observe the pacing, rhythm, flow of the words – do the opening lines hook you? Does the pacing keep you engaged? Does the ending satisfy? And WHY?
·      Create post-its for every page of your own manuscript and then place each post-it on the corresponding page of a favorite picture book that is the same genre as your story. See if your manuscript aligns with the opening/pacing/climax/ending. One of my critique buddies and kid-lit friends, Judy Cooper, shared this tip with me and I think it can be very helpful.

Kirsti, thank you so much for inviting me to share my thoughts about mentor texts! Using mentor texts has been an immense help to me throughout my writing journey and I’m grateful to you and Carrie Charley Brown for creating the ReFoReMo Challenge.

Thank you, Vivian!  I loved learning more about how you use mentor texts in your writing life! To win a critique from Vivivian or a copy of her book, comment on this post, specifying which prize you would like. If you share on facebook or twitter, you get another entry. Giveaway closes in one week.

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, banana-boat riding, and traveling around the world to hug kid-lit friends. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at national writers’ conferences. She blogs at Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords Writing Contest every March and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Writing Challenge every May. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found