Marcie Wessel's book, The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box: The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer, is engaging and informative. My 9 year old was mesmerized by the details Macie chose to include, the bright illustrations, and the metaphor of thinking outside the box. The book teaches not only about Ralph Baer, but also about how things are invented and created. We're thrilled to learn from Marcie about how she uses mentor texts in her writing!
Do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?
Absolutely! If you want to write picture books, you definitely need to read and study the genre! In my case, they also helped me come up with an idea and sell my manuscript.
Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box: The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer?
Yes, Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super Soaking Stream of Inventions (Charlesbridge), written by Chris Baron and illustrated by Don Tate and Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (Sterling), written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Katy Wu.
Initially, I bought Whoosh! for my son, who has always been a bit of a reluctant reader. He absolutely adored it and read it multiple times. The kid-friendly content and his enthusiasm inspired me to look into the history of other toys and games. Like many kids, my son loves video games. “Who invented video games?” I wondered. That question led me down the rabbit hole of research directly to Ralph Baer.
Whoosh! indirectly helped me discover my subject but Laurie Wallmark’s and Katy Wu’s Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (Sterling) helped me sell my manuscript.
I began working on The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box in the fall of 2016. I wrote numerous drafts and submitted the manuscript for critique at two SCBWI conferences. In the fall of 2017, my agent sent the manuscript out on submission. While we were waiting to hear back from editors, I read Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer (2017) and noticed that the book was a part of Sterling’s People Who Shaped Our World Series. People Who Shaped Our World? Ralph Baer certainly did that! My manuscript seemed like a great fit for Sterling’s list. With my agent’s blessing, I submitted to Sterling via mail. A few months later, it was picked out of the slush pile. By early 2018, I had an offer.
How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?
I’ve always been a reader but I’m still learning who I am as a writer. Now that I write, I try to read like a writer. That is, I try to identify what I love (or hate) about a book then figure out how the author elicited that emotion in me. It’s much easier to do with a picture book than a novel, though I try to do both.
What do you feel is the best way for picture book writers to utilize mentor texts?
That’s a really hard question because we read for many reasons. At the end of the day, I think the more you read, the better you’ll write. Read for enjoyment, yes, but we also need to read actively, critically, and intentionally. Really strive to understand how the words and pictures combine to create story. That’s picture book magic!
Marcie Wessels has always loved books. Some of her childhood favorites were WYNKEN, BLYNKEN AND NOD by Eugene W. Field, LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE by Bernard Waber, and the NUTSHELL LIBRARY by Maurice Sendak.
Marcie received a B.A. in English and Spanish from John Carroll University, a M.A. in Spanish from Bowling Green State University, and a Ph.D. in Latin American Literature from Tulane University.
In 2002, Marcie moved to San Diego, CA to teach Spanish language and literature at a local university. She left academia after the birth of her children. Now, she writes for kids.
Marcie is the author of THE BOY WHO THOUGHT OUTSIDE THE BOX (Sterling Publishing) and PIRATE’S LULLABY: MUTINY AT BEDTIME (Doubleday BFYR).
Since 2016, Marcie has co-hosted a Mother Daughter Book Club at her local library. She also likes to play games, especially board games like Scrabble. She is currently learning American Sign Language (ASL).