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