Through the many years that I have known and interacted online with Carrie Finison, she has always had a helpful, knowledgeable spirit. I am excited to learn more from her and feature her debut picture book, Dozens of Doughnuts, which released on July 21. I was lucky to read and critique early versions of this story, once in 2015 and then again in 2017. Notice the two year gap between critiques? There's proof in the pudding for ya! Patience and persistence pay off on the road to publication. We are lucky to catch a few wisdom doughnuts from Carrie today.
How do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?
I use picture books for both inspiration and guidance. Books by authors like Ame Dykman and Jesse Sima inspire me to push my plots and come up with surprising endings. Books by authors like Diana Murray, Kim Norman, and Karma Wilson challenge me to hone my rhyming skills. Books by authors like Laura Gehl, Beth Ferry, and Marcie Colleen delight me with their wordplay and make me think, “I wish I could write like that.” They give me something to strive for.
Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS?
I looked at MANY books while writing DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS. The two that stand out in my mind are BEAR SNORES ON by Karma Wilson and A VISITOR FOR BEAR by Bonny Becker. Both of these books are about bears who have unexpected – and perhaps somewhat unwelcome – visitors, and both solve the problem in a sweet way that reinforces the connections between the characters, as I wanted to do with the ending of my book. As I was writing DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS, I especially pictured in my mind the illustrations from BEAR SNORES ON, which is also about a bear and a passel of woodland animal friends. I hoped my book would have a similar cozy feel, visually, and tried to channel that feeling into my writing. At the same time, I wanted to make sure my book stood out from that story, so I made sure that all my animals were different! As a bonus, all of my animal characters, except for Topsy the opossum, are hibernators, which makes for a great launching point for teachers to talk about hibernation and how different animals cope with winter.
I also looked for books that included a math element. In DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS, each batch of 12 doughnuts is divided evenly by the factors of 12 – first 2 then 3, 4, and 6. I had read the book THE DOORBELL RANG by Pat Hutchins many years before but forgotten about it. I was delighted to discover it again during the drafting process as it holds many parallels to my book. It also led me to discover a trove of math-oriented picture books that I don’t think I would have known about otherwise.
How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?
I feel lucky that when I started writing picture books I had kids who were still in picture book age and I could read aloud to them. (They’re now 11 and 14, which tells you something about how long it can take to get published. But I digress.) It made me realize that what attracts me to a book is the language – rhyme, wordplay, puns, onomatopoeia, made up words, lyricality – to me, these are what make a book stand up and sing, and make me want to read it over and over again. And that’s the kind of book I strive to write, too.
What do you feel is the best way for picture book writers to utilize mentor texts?
In addition to general inspiration as I mentioned above, there are many other practical ways where I’ve found mentor texts helpful. They especially help when I’m struggling to come up with a satisfying ending, or to get to that ending in a satisfying way. When I have these kinds of plot problems, I look for other books with a similar structure and/or theme to see how those authors handled it. The trick is to find them, because books aren’t organized by theme in very many places. That’s why I’m so grateful for a resource like ReFoReMo. It helps with the legwork of seeking out mentor texts and helps me find books I might not have come across in my own searches. I love that we can all support each other and share some of the true picture book treasures that are out there waiting to be discovered.
Thank you so much for being here, Carrie, and congratulations on Dozens of Doughnuts!
Carrie Finison writes picture books with humor and heart, including DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS (2020) and the forthcoming books DON'T HUG DOUG (2021) and HURRY, LITTLE TORTOISE (2022). She lives in the Boston area with her family.