Tuesday, August 25, 2020


By Cindy Williams Schrauben 

I recently posted a poll on our Facebook page. The vast majority of you responded that you could use help in finding mentor texts that share the same story structure as your own work. I will, therefore, use our lists (HERE) to give you a few examples of how you might go about that.


First, let me give you an idea what I mean by ‘story structure.’ There are a numerous ways to go about telling a story. Some of them include:



Linear (days of the week, hours, months, seasons, etc.)

Refrains (although this is a writing ‘technique’, it is often described as a structure, as well)



Journey (goal to completion or solving a problem)

Progression (alphabet, numbers, etc.)


Let’s look at MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD by our own Kirsti Call and Corey Rosen Schwartz (illustrated by Claudia Ranucci  -- release date: 9-1-20). Identifying story structure is, of course, easy to see in retrospect, but let’s pretend we are the authors starting with a concept. That concept could be in the form of a main character (a grouchy animal), a problem (her mood), a phrase (I’m in a bad mood), etc. From here, it is helpful to access our ReFoReMo files and find mentor texts that share this general concept. For Mootilda, I would identify the following story structures: Journey, Circular and Refrains. Since, we already have files for Refrains (HERE) and Circular Plots (HERE) we will concentrate on those.


Because Mootilda’s refrain is so integral to the story, we should look for other PBs that also use them for tension, mood, and personal growth. THE BAD SEED by Jory John and Pete Oswald fits that bill. Not only does this story use refrains, Mootilda and the Seed share a similar bad attitude and journey. Choosing a mentor text with a similar tone starts you off in the right direction. For me, a mentor text can accomplish a great deal by helping me ‘visualize’ the tone of the story. I think this mentor text would have been helpful in a variety of ways.

On the flip side, although BEAR SNORES ON (by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman) also includes refrains, I wouldn’t use it as a mentor text for Mootilda because the tone, audience, and voice are much different. It’s a balancing act.


Rosen Schwartz and Call have also used a circular structure for this story (which works beautifully with the refrain). Mootilda starts her day claiming, “I’m in a bad mood”. Her growth throughout the story enables her to address the ‘“I’m in a bad mood’ twist at the end. You’ll have to read this charmer to see what I mean.


In our document entitled Circular Plots, you will find, IF YOU EVER WANT TO BRING AN ALLIGATOR TO SCHOOL, DON’T by Elise Parsley. This begins and ends with the statement ‘Your teacher does not want you to bring an alligator to schools.’ Although it circles back in a different way than MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD, it has other similarities that might inform the authors. For example, they both feature silly antics by animal main characters. The initial ‘problem’ continues to drive the point across and accelerate the tension, and I would argue that one detail  (Magnolia’s name on the board) could be seen as a refrain of sorts, as well.


So, when choosing mentor texts, don’t forget to use our files and read, read, read. Each story has multiple avenues to explore and the choice isn’t always simple, but the process is always enlightening.



Tuesday, August 18, 2020

ReFoReMo Mini-Monthly Writing Challenge: Birds of a Feather

The birdies have been leaving me little gifts of feathers on my morning walks. That gave me the 

idea for this month's challenge. You guessed it. Write a story about a feather.

By Farhana Zia

Farhana Zia is the author of Lali's Feather and comments about writing her book in this 

interview with Peachtree Publishing. Lali finds a feather in the field. Is little feather lost? Lali sets 

out to find it a home. When no one wants the little feather, Lali decides to keep it. Using her 

imagination cause the other birds to realize the value of the little feather. 

"Lali found a feather in the field. 

Whose feather? 

She did not know. 

It was a sweet feather, though.

Oo ma! Was little feather lost? 

Lali set out to find feather a home.


By Rachel Noble

Rachel Noble wrote Finn's Feather after the loss of her son. In an interview, Rachel said, "

think Finn’s Feather looks at grief in an innocent and tender way, but I also love that it looks at 

broader themes such as empathy and resilience–all children can benefit from Finn’s story."

Finn knows his brother is gone. But he also knows that Hamish sent the beautiful white feather

on his doorstep.Finn runs to shows his mother the feather from Hamish, but she only gives him a

big hug. In school, Finn’s teacher responds similarly. Why isn’t anyone as excited as he is?

Finn sits quietly, cradling the beautiful, amazing feather. “Why did Hamish give it to you?” asks

his friend, Lucas. “Maybe he wanted to say hi?” wonders Finn. “Maybe,” Lucas says, “Hamish

wanted you to have fun with it.”

By Mem Fox

"Long ago and far away, in a rambling garden beside a clear blue lake, two flocks of birds began

 to fear each other because of their differences. The fear grew, and soon the birds became

 enemies, hoarding great quantities of weapons to protect themselves--until panic struck and 

the chance for peace seemed lost forever."

"In a rambling garden, long ago and far away, there lived a pride of magnificent peacocks.

Nearby, in the rushes and reeds of a clear blue lake, dwelt a flock of elegant swans."

Take a walk to get ready for this challenge.  Who knows, you might find your own feather to 

write about.  Let your imagination fly away.  Happy writing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

THINK QUICK with Josh Funk

Hi Josh! Yay for SHORT AND SWEET! I love how the adventures of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast continue in this 4th book that focuses on friendship and forgiveness.  

All of the THINK QUICK themes below appear in your book. Let’s see which way you lean. Remember, THINK QUICK!

On Breakfast foods:
Cereal or waffles?
My brain says cereal but my heart says waffles.

On pastries:
French toast or Pancakes?
I can't decide. That's like asking me to pick my favorite child.

On youth serums:
Essential or superfluous?

On friendship:
Many acquaintances or few close friends?
Many acquaintances.

On adventure:
Love it or leave it?
Loave it. 

On forgiveness:
Immediate or it takes a few days?
I wish it was immediate, but it takes a few days.

On Mistakes:
Apologize or ignore?
Definitely apologize.

On Failure:
Try again or take a break?
Try again. Try again. Try again. Take a break. Try again.

On Sequels:
Better than the original or they just keep coming?
Better and better.

On Books:
Short and Sweet or Short and Sweet?
Long and savory.

About Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast: SHORT & SWEET.

Josh Funk is a software engineer and the author of books like the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, the It's Not a Fairy Tale series, the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series, the A Story of Patience & Fortitude series, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, Albie Newton, and more. For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook at @joshfunkbooks.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Mentor Text Author Study: Revisiting Kevin Henkes

Kevin Henkes is the winner of the 2020 Children’s Literature Legacy Award that honors an author or illustrator published in the United States, whose books have made a significant and lasting contribution to literature for children. A few years ago, I wrote a mentor text author study featuring his books. Today I’ll look at a few picture books published since then.

His picture book series, When Spring Comes, In the Middle of Fall, Winter Is Here and Summer Song, illustrated by Laura Dronzek, introduces the seasons to a very young audience. In each book children explore and the outdoors and experience what each season brings through text and pictures.

Henkes invites kids to observe their surroundings. The sparse poetic text is filled with imagery, repetition, and alliteration. 

Before the Spring comes,

The trees look like black sticks against the sky.

…the sky is mostly gray

and the air is chilly,

…and the apples are like ornaments…


 Winter is here

  It’s everywhere.

  It’s falling from the sky.

If you slow down and think about it, you can feel the Summer Song.

It’s warm

and then hot

and then hotter.


Picture books by Henkes are stellar examples of how to capture wonder in words for a young audience.