Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Mentor Text Talk with Keila Dawson, Jeanette Bradley, and Lindsay Metcalf

We're thrilled to have our very own Keila Dawson talk to us about how she used mentor texts for the book, NO VOICE TOO SMALL: Fourteen Young Americans Making History.  She is joined by her co-editors, Jeannette Bradley (who also illustrated the book!) and Lindsay Metcalf.  All three of these kidlit stars serve the children's book community--thank you for sharing your insights, Keila, Jeanette, and Lindsay! 

Do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?  If so, how?


Lindsay: Absolutely! When I read a book that really sings, I type it out. Then I can get a feel for the pieces that add up to a book that really resonates with me. Is it the point of view? The page turns? The use of metaphors? The very sentence structure or other poetic devices? Then I can play around with using a similar structure or devices in my own work.


Jeanette: Yes, I study picture books as both art and writing mentor texts.  Like Lindsay, I sometime type out the text of a book that I think works really well - a technique I learned from my first ReFoReMo! I have been sketching from the masters since I was 10, but it never occurred to me to do a similar technique with writing before then.  I mark pagination in my typed text to help me study the pacing and use of page turns.


Keila: It’s unanimous! Picking apart a well-written book inspires me. Whether it’s the approach to a tough topic, a fresh approach to an evergreen topic, the story structure, or literary techniques used, I want to study the parts I think are well done.


Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of NVTS?


Lindsay: I remember taking inspiration from...



by Susan Hood, illustrated by various artists (HarperCollins, 2018)


by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Roaring Brook, 2015)

by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger (Philomel, 2017)


Jeanette: I took inspiration from:


STICK AND STONE by Beth Ferry  (Author), Tom Lichtenheld  (Illustrator) (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015)  Tom Lichtenheld’s use of color paper and pastels in this book years ago, in which he plays with the paper color as both foreground and background, inspired me when I first saw it years ago. I love drawing that way, but had never found a book that worked with that technique.

       FRY BREAD: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard  (Author), Juana Martinez-Neal  (Illustrator)  Once again, the use of toned paper in this book is brilliant. And the backmatter adds multiple layers of richness to the text.

       LITTLE LEADERS: Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (December 5, 2017). This book is so unique, with Vashti Harrison’s sweet, childlike portraits of famous Black women. While my portraits are much more realistic and show the young activists engaged in their activism, I always come back to this book to study the power of simplicity, of editing out inessentials, and focusing on heart in picture book illustration.


Keila: I took inspiration from:

SHAKING THINGS UP: 14 YOUNG WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD  by Susan Hood, et al., HarperCollins (January 23, 2018). This book features fourteen different revolutionary, inspirational women. And a different female author and illustrator wrote about each of them. And I thought we had a lot of moving parts!


WE RISE, WE RESIST, WE RAISE OUR VOICES edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, Crown Books for Young Readers (September 4, 2018). The buzz about this book came as we put together our proposal. This book, targeted for a middle grade audience, is also an anthology of poems, letters, and personal essays by well-known children’s book creatives and written to empower youth

·       SHE PERSISTED: 13 AMERICAN WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger.  Philomel Books (May 30, 2017),

This book includes biographies of diverse female leaders from the past and present. Besides the illustration, each subject has a quote that shows how she persisted to reach her goal.


How has reading Picture Books helped you discover who you are as a writer/illustrator?


Lindsay: It helps me better understand the concepts I love to read, so I can better choose which story ideas to pursue. If I’m not writing for myself first — and for the little girl I once was — then I’m always in danger of losing interest in the project. Given that each project takes years to develop, you have to have passion for your own stories.


Jeanette: I wasn’t a writer or an illustrator before I started reading picture books with my first baby. I was working in fair housing/fair lending policy. Reading picture books as an adult brought me back to my first encounter with art, which was picture book illustrations and comics, and rekindled my love.  I went back to school to learn children’s book illustration.


Keila: As a former teacher, I read picture books to my students all the time. And continued to do so when I became a parent. I have witnessed the power of story. It is undeniable. And to see how children respond to books can be enlightening. We can look to the diverse books movement to see exactly that stories are important, for representation, inclusion, and to allow readers to experience a world or point of view that may differ from their own.


What do you feel is the BEST way for picture book creators to utilize mentor texts?


Lindsay: By typing them out, marking the spreads, and getting a feel for the text as it appears on a blank page, without illustrations. I didn’t realize until quite a bit later that the main text is only a small piece of what writers can take away from a published book. Type out the dedication. Type out the flap copy, which is its own art form. And be sure to look for the logline on the copyright page to see how the publisher boils down the themes into a sentence or two. You won’t need to know how to write a dedication or flap copy until you have a book contract, but practicing writing loglines will help tremendously in focusing your stories and preparing your pitch for conferences as well as Twitter contests.


Jeanette: In addition to the above, I try to read as many of the picture books related to my WIP as possible - even older ones - and take extensive notes on what I feel works and what is lacking in the current literature. I’m fortunate to live in a state that, while small, has an excellent statewide library system, so I can get almost everything through interlibrary loan.


Keila: Whenever I read a book that resonates with me, I want to figure out why. Where am I getting the information that makes me laugh, wonder, expect? Is it the text or the art? I will re-read and note those parts in the book. Having worked closely with Jeanette, I am getting a better feel for how art and text work together depending on each scene. They each have jobs to do, and studying that relationship in a picture book is very helpful.


Lindsay H. Metcalf is a journalist and author of nonfiction picture books: Beatrix Potter, Scientist, illustrated by Junyi Wu (Albert Whitman & Company, 2020); Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices (Calkins Creek, November 2020); and No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, a poetry anthology co-edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, 2020). Lindsay lives in north-central Kansas, not far from the farm where she grew up, with her husband, two sons, and a variety of pets.


Website: lindsayhmetcalf.com

Twitter: @lindsayhmetcalf

Instagram: @lindsayhmetcalf

Pinterest: pinterest.com/lindsayhmetcalf/

Flipgrid: No Voice Too Small Book Club

Keila V. Dawson
 worked as a community organizer, teacher, school administrator, educational consultant, and advocate for children with special needs before she became a children’s book author. She is co-editor of No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, along with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, 2020), she is the author of The King Cake Baby illustrated by Vernon Smith, (Pelican Publishing, January 2020) and  the forthcoming Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Beaming Books, January 26, 2021). Dawson is a New Orleans native and has lived and worked in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Website: www.keiladawson.com

Twitter: @keila_dawson

Instagram: @keilavdawson 

Pinterest: pinterest.com/keiladawson/

Flipgrid: No Voice Too Small Book Club


 once worked for fair housing organizations, but now she writes and draws for kids. In addition to co-editing and illustrating No Voice Too Small, she is the author and illustrator of Love, Mama and the illustrator of When the Babies Came to Stay. Jeanette lives in Rhode Island with her wife and kids. www.jeanettebradley.com



Website: www.jeanettebradley.com

Twitter: @JeanetteBradley

Instagram: @jea_bradley

Flipgrid: No Voice Too Small Book Club

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

ReFoReMo Mini-Monthly Writing Challenge: Color my World

 By Janie reinart

Color affects us--lifts our mood, gives us energy, calms our mind. Your challenge as we move  

into autumn is to write a story about color. Share the beauty of orange sunsets, crystal blue 

skies, and red birds at the feeder in our colorful world.

Arree Chung is the author/illustrator of Mixed and other picture books.  He is the creator and teacher of 

the fascinating and educational Storyteller Academy. (I am a member.) 

"All the colors were living in harmony―until one day, a Red says "Reds are the best!" and starts color 

kerfuffle. When the colors decide to separate, is there anything that can change their minds?" The story is 

about love, acceptance and unity.

"In the beginning, there were three colors . . .



and Blues.

Reds were the loudest.  La La La La La.

Yellows were the brightest."

And blues were the coolest."

By Roseanne Thong

Younger children will be delighted to learn their colors with a hint of Asian culture in Red is a Dragon :

A Book of Colors. A little girl finds a rainbow of colors in her everyday life.

"Red is a dragon

Red is a drum

Red are the firecrackers--

here they come!"

By Hena Khan

"With breathtaking illustrations and informative text, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A 

Muslim Book of Colors magnificently captures the world of Islam, celebrating its beauty and 

traditions for even the youngest readers." (From the book jacket.)

"Red is the rug

Dad kneels on to pray, 

facing toward Mecca,

five times a day.

Blue is the hijab

Mom likes to wear.

It's  the scarf she uses to cover her hair."

By Joyce Sidman

From the Booklist review, "The changing seasons have been the subject of many a picture 

book, but this one has a particularly unique take on the topic. Each season is explored in terms 

of how it encompasses colors. In the spring, “Red sings / from treetops . . . / each note dropping 

/ like a cherry / into my ear.” Green “peeks from buds,” and yellow “slips goldfinches their spring 


In winter ...

green waits 

in the hearts of trees,


the earth



"Try to be a rainbow in" someone's cloud."

~Maya Angelou 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Mentor Text Author Study: Revisiting Tim McCanna

 By Keila V. Dawson

Last year I looked at books written by Tim McCanna in an author study and wrote about how his words flow so effortlessly across the page in perfect rhythm and rhyme. And how his storytelling engages young audiences through fun word play.  

In his latest release, DINOSONG, illustrated by Richard Smythe, McCanna's young audience follows prehistoric dinosaurs on an adventure-filled day.

McCanna uses onomatopoeia to make the text active and engaging. And the sparse text, accompanied by bright, playful illustrations, adds a visual narrative to complete the storytelling. There are many books about dinosaurs and McCanna finds a fresh approach to the topic for kids who love them.


What a fun read aloud!

 IN A GARDEN, illustrated by Aimée Sicuro, follows a year in the life of a community garden. 

This book includes all life  the different plants, insects, and people that help the garden grow. Stunning illustrations zoom in and out to highlight change. The story is a wonderful example of story structure that comes full circle using the cycle of life in the natural and human worlds. And it has such a clever ending!


"In the earth

a single seed

sits beside a millipede."


"Blooms of every shape and size

 call to bees and butterflies."


"Time goes by  

and by

and then...”


 life returns 

to start


Once again, Tim McCanna shows off his mastery of lyrical storytelling with sparse text and precise word choice that keeps younger readers engaged on every page.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

THINK QUICK with Kirsti Call and Corey Rosen Schwartz

Hi Kirsti and Corey! Happy Book Birthday to Mootilda’s Bad Mood! We are thrilled to celebrate with you today! I love the themes of perseverance and emotional regulation that run through your story. All of the THINK QUICK themes below appear in your book.  Let’s see which way you lean.  Remember, THINK QUICK!

On Bad Moods:
Ignore or Embrace?

Kirsti: Embracing a bad mood and accepting it is my favorite way to turn my frown upside down.

Corey: Embrace by yelling, “I’m in a bad mooooooooooood!”

On Cows:
Personally experienced or loved them from afar?

Kirsti: My grandfather grew up on a dairy farm and filled my mind with many mooovelous cow facts.

Corey:  When my son was little, he was obsessed with farms.  If I didn’t take him, he’d have a cow!

On Mistakes:
Brush them off or take them to heart?

Kirsti: I prefer to learn from them and then moooooove on.

Corey:  Everyone makes moo-stakes.

On Parental Encouragement:
Helicopter or Free-Range?

Kirsti: I’m more of a middle of the pasture parent.

Corey:   Free-range.

On Failure:
Jump right back in or take a break?

Kirsti: I’m a fan of getting right back on the cow.

Corey:  Depends on my mood.

On Support Groups/Friends:
Cow-miserate together or handle things alone?

Kirsti: Cow-miserating is the best.

Corey:  Easy one.  Cow-miserate!

On Belly Flops:
The worst or laughable?

Kirsti: Cow-tastrohic!

Corey:  Ca-lamb-itous!

On Laughter:
The best medicine or a temporary bandage?

Kirsti: Laughter cures all ills!

Corey:  Best medicine ever!

On Trying New Things:
Never too late to learn or stick with what you do best?

Kirsti: It’s never too late to learn.

Corey:  Never too late!

On Books:
Mootilda’s Bad Mood or Mootilda’s Bad Mood?

Kirsti: Mootilda, of course!

Corey:   Over the moon for everyone to meet Mootilda!

Thank you for sharing with us, ladies! It's so wonderful to celebrate with one of our own!  

For a closer look at Mootilda, enjoy my review! You can also learn more about Kirsti, Corey, and Mootilda on their blog tour:

August 17   The Story Behind the Story

August 19   Grog

August 24    Kidlit Oasis

August 28    deborahkalb.com

September 1 ReFoReMo

September 1 Picture Book Look Podcast

September 2  Future Bookworms

September 4  Perfect Picture Book Friday 

September 10  https://www.nancychurnin.com/

September 12 Will Writer For Cookies

September 15  Writer’s Rumpus

September 25 Mining for the Heart

Kirsti Call is the co-coordinator of ReFoReMo. She reads, reviews, revises and critiques every day as a 12x12 elf, a blogger for Writers' Rumpus, and a member of critique groups. She's judged the CYBILS award for fiction picture books since 2015. Kirsti's picture book, MOOTILITA'S BAD MOOD (Little Bee) debuts fall 2020.  COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD TURKEY (Little Brown) release in 2021. Kirsti is represented by Emma Sector at Prospect Agency.

@kirsticall (instagram)
Kirstine Erekson Call (facebook)
@kirsticall (Twitter)

Corey Rosen Schwartz is the author of THE THREE NINJA PIGS and several other rhyming picture books and fractured fairy tales. Corey has no formal ninja training, but she sure can kick butt in Scrabble. She lives with three Knuckleheads in Warren, NJ.

Twitter: @CoreyPBNinja