Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Mentor Text Talk with Kristen Schroeder

I had the pleasure of critiquing Kristen Schroeder's work five years ago. Even then, it was quite apparent that she knew how to tickle the funny bone and was eager to learn more about the craft of writing. I am thrilled to celebrate her debut picture book Alien Tomato, and excited to help you learn from her perspective. Thank you, Kristen, for sharing your experience with us!

How do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?

I think it’s incredibly important to keep up-to-date on what is being published in the picture book market currently. I browse bookstores and checkout books from my library on a regular basis. Reading in the genre feeds my creativity. When I start a new draft, I search to see if anything similar has already been published. This can be based on the topic or the format.

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of Alien Tomato?
When I first had the idea for ALIEN TOMATO, I shared it with my critique partner, author Jamie LB Deenihan. She suggested a book called THE GREAT FUZZ FRENZY by Janet Stevens about a tennis ball falling into a prairie dog town. The premise of this book was somewhat similar but the themes were different, so reading this book helped me solidify my idea. I also researched picture books that relied heavily on dialogue because that was my vision for ALIEN TOMATO. I used ReFoReMo as a resource, and found a post dated March 4th, 2016 titled Linda Ashman Talks Dialogue

She provided some excellent examples of mentor texts in that post, such as I DON'T WANT TO BE A FROG, by Dev Petty, CHEETAH CAN'T LOSE by Bob Shea and THAT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA by Mo Willems. Reading these books helped me push forward with my idea for the manuscript. And just a side note, I did get some rejections from editors saying ALIEN TOMATO relied too heavily on dialogue in their opinion.

How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?
Participating in ReFoReMo has been a great way to broaden my picture book knowledge. Humorous picture books were always my favorites to write and read. Over the years, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for non-fiction, wordless and lyrical picture books. In 2019, I started writing a book that was outside of my wheelhouse. It included some rhyme, alliteration, days of the week and it looked like nothing I had ever written before. I shared it with my critique group, revised a few times, and then sent it to my agent, Christa Heschke. I remember emailing her, “I wrote this thing…it’s a departure for me…is it a concept book? What is this?” Christa and her assistant, Daniele Hunter, helped me polish it up further until it was ready for submission. To my great surprise, I was offered a contract with Random House Studio. SO MUCH SNOW comes out in Fall 2022. Reading widely helped me have the courage to try something new, and I’m so glad I did!

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

As I mentioned above, when you have a new idea or a first draft, start looking for mentor texts. They can help you define what you want your story to be and what you don’t want it to be. And, if you feel like trying something new, definitely reach for mentor texts to give you a shot of courage.

Kristen Schroeder's debut picture book ALIEN TOMATO, will be released on July 14th from Page Street Kids. In addition to writing, Kristen runs her own business based in Australia, where she lived for eleven years. She and her family now reside in her home state of Minnesota. Her second picture book, FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY, is coming out in early 2022 with EK Books and SO MUCH SNOW will be published with Random House Studio in fall 2022. 


  1. Kristen, so happy for you and your picture book successes!

  2. Thank you, Kristen, for sharing these funny mentor texts. Congratulations on your forthcoming books. I will be anxious to read them.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Kristen, and I wish you and your book much success!