Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Mentor Text Talk with Illustrator Julie Rowan-Zoch

If you peek inside Julie Rowan-Zoch's portfolio, you'll see that she creates precise characters, each with its own identity and unique personality. You can see the heart of each character on the page! LOUiS is no exception.

I learned this about Julie way back in 2013. After I posted about my daughter on Facebook, Julie was inspired to create her as a character, too.  Today, we are lucky to learn from Julie's illustration perspective, and celebrate the October release of LOUiS, written by Tom Lichtenheld, and preciously illustrated by Julie. 

How do you utilize picture books as mentor texts (in relation to illustration?)

I read a lot of picture books, and collect many (mostly in paperback), for illustration inspiration as well as for writing. But also because I am a bookseller. I use them for themed story times, and I review just about any F&Gs sent to the store. So although I may not seek out picture books for the creation of a specific dummy, I am storing and utilizing visual information through picture books all the time. 

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you while researching and creating the artwork for LOUIS by Tom Lichtenheld? 

Though I may not have sought out specific books, I did look at the line work in the books of many illustrators whose work I admire, like STANDING IN FOR LINCOLN GREEN, by David MacIntosh and NEVILLE, illustrated by G.Brian Karas. 

But as I was just starting work on LOUiS, I was asked to give a talk for a local museum fundraiser during a Charles M. Schultz exhibit. In preparation for the presentation, I realized how very much I had been influenced through the artwork in The Peanuts and the Pogo books. My father had a number of them in a very reachable spot on a bookshelf in our home (we had bookshelves in every room, even the garage - but none in the bathroom!). I examined the changes in Schultz's style over the years which forced me to look at my own work more intensely. And I am sure there are those who will be able to see the influence on LOUiS!

How has reading/studying art in picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer? 

To articulate 'how' studying the art (and writing!) has helped feels intimidating! My mind's eye wants to put it in a pie chart, but clearly it's more of a Venn diagram of things that are still useful in my approach in creating PBs. The three big circles would be Studying PBs, Critiquing, and Writing. But each circle has elements that at times weigh more than others. When I first started trying to learn I read even more PBs than I mentioned in the reply to the first question! For three years (at least) I read 100 PBs a week. I actually attempted to start with the 'A' section in the library, but immediately realized I'd never manage due to circulation! I did spend a lot of time on the floor deciding which to bring home for a closer look though! At home I would make 3 piles based on the covers: 1) these I will really like, 2) these could be pretty good, and 3) these are probably so-so. I enjoyed finding out how very wrong I was in my original assessments! I may not have answered the question as asked, but I do believe the all the time I invested early on paid off, and I've not stopped, just slowed down my efforts!

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

I would not attempt speak for others. Finding what is comfortable and doable for oneself is "best".

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers is offering a copy of this book as a giveaway! Please enter below:  (US only)

Author, illustrator, bookseller, and activist: Julie Rowan-Zoch grew up collecting freckles and chasing hermit crabs in NY, and spent years slicing rich breads in Germany before waking up to 300 days of blue Colorado skies. If she doesn’t answer the door, look in the garden! Julie is on Twitter @JulieRowanZoch, Instagram @JulieRowanZoch and her blog

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

ReFoReMo Mini-Monthly Writing Challenge: Parodies--Bunnies, and Mummies, and Goons

By Janie Reinart


Trick or Treat! This post is a blast from the past---three years ago---with some new additions.

Treat yourself to writing a parody. parody is a humorous imitation of an 

original classic--a song, poem, or story.

1. Song


                                                                   By Kim Norman

The fabulous Kim Norman wrote this treat of a story from the old camp song, "The Ants Go Marching".

Check out Kim's interview with the spectacular Tammi Sauer.

2.  Poem

By Karen Jo Shapiro

Karen Jo Shapiro rewrites John Masefield's poem "

"I must go down to the beach again, where there's water, sand, and sky,

And all I ask is my red toy boat with a string to pull it by…," 

John Masefield's Sea-Fever  

"I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;"

3.  Story

                                                               By Margaret Wise Brown

"If you run away," said his mother, "I will run after you. For you are my little bunny."

"If you run after me," said the little bunny, "I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you."

"If you become a fish in a trout stream," said his mother, "I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you."

Change one word in the title and run with it. Change the first line just enough to make 

it recognizable. Check out this petrifying parody. 

By Michael Rex

"If you run away," said Mother Mummy, "I will get you! For you are my rotten little mummy."

"If you try to get me," said the little mummy, "I will turn into a serpent that lurks at the bottom of the sea."

"If you turn into a serpent," said Mother Mummy, "I will become a sea monster that will wrap around you and never let go."

Ready for another spooky take on a famous story. Keep the same rhyme and rhythm as the 


By Margaret Wise Brown

"In the great green room
There was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of--

The cow jumping over the moon
And there were three little bears sitting on chairs"

There's that one word title change again.

                                                             By Michael Rex

"In the cold gray tomb
There was a gravestone
And a black lagoon
And a picture of --

Martians taking over the moon
And there were three little mummies rubbing their tummies"

"In an old house in Paris
That was covered in vines
Lived twelve little girls
in two straight lines.

In two straight lines
They broke their bread
And brushed their teeth
And went to bed."

This time also look at the pen name of this monstrous parody of Madeline.

                                                 By Ludworst Bemonster

"In a creepy old castle
all covered with spines
lived twelve ugly monsters
in two crooked lines

In two crooked lines,
they bonked their heads
pulled out their teeth
and wet their beds."

Here is your challenge. Write a parody. Share your parodies with us in the comments.

1. Select a song, poem, or story.

2. Change the first line just enough to make it recognizable. 

3. Keep the same rhyme and rhythm as the original.

4. Have fun playing with words. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

THINK QUICK with Sandra Sutter

Hi Sandra! Congrats on the release of STAN'S FRIGHTFUL HALLOWEEN! We are thrilled to celebrate with you today! I love the themes of persistence and friendship in this book.  And of course it's the perfect read for Halloween! All of the THINK QUICK themes below appear in your book.  Let’s see which way you lean.  Remember, THINK QUICK!

On Halloween: 

Best holiday or worst holiday? 

One of the best (but admittedly, it isn't my favorite). 

On Werewolves: 

Fascinating or Scary? 

Scary. Except for Stan, of course! Who can resist that adorable face? 

On Halloween parties:

Essential or superfluous? 

Essential. I loved Halloween parties at school and think every child who enjoys such frightful fun should experience one! 

On Surprise Parties:

Delightful or dreadful? 

Delightful. I am a good secret-keeper! 

On trick or treating:

Tricks or Treats? 

Treats, although a well-played, a non-harmful trick is always appreciated.

On falling:

Happens all the time or rarely happens? 

All - the - time. I've fallen off of a sidewalk. Twice. 

On persistence:

All the time or some of the time? 

All the time, especially in the publishing world. 

On friendship:

Many friends or a few good friends? 

A few good friends, but I love to meet new ones. 

On puns:

Frightfully funny or just plain frightful? 

Frightfully funny! Can you tell I'm not one for scary movies?

On books:


This is such a tough choice. But if I have to choose one, it's going to be STAN'S FRIGHTFUL HALLOWEEN! 

Thank you, Sandra! 

Sandra is the author of THE REAL FARMER IN THE DELL (Spork, 2019), a modern, gender-bending take on the popular children's song, and STAN’S FRIGHTFUL HALLOWEEN (Spork, 2020), a spookily fun story of a clumsy, but determined young werewolf. She is a member of SCBWI, 12x12, and is an assistant with the Children’s Book Academy. When not writing, Sandra is a mountain-biking mom and jewelry-making hobbyist with a knack for finding life's silver linings. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Mentor Text Author Study: Revisiting Margarita Engle

 by Keila V. Dawson

Margarita Engle is an award-winning author of poetry and prose. Engle’s quest to learn more about her Cuban heritage and history led her to discover figures she’s written about in her books.

Marcie Atkins wrote a 2018 ReFoReMo Mentor Text Author Study about Engle. Today, we’ll look at her most recent picture book, DANCING HANDS:  HOW TERESA CARREÑO PLAYED THE PIANO FOR PRESIDENT LINCOLN illustrated by Rafael López and winner of the 2020 Pura Belpre Illustrator Award. 



When Teresa was a little girl in Venezuela, Mamá sang lullabies to let her happy hands dance across all the beautiful dark and light keys of the piano.

In this one line, the reader learns a lot about the main character. She lives in Venezuela, played the piano with “happy hands” while her mother sang, tells us music is important to her family. And the illustration shows her father standing close as her hands dance across the piano keys. Engle chose the word dance to describe how her hands move so we can imagine what they looked like.


Engle uses lyrical language and figurative language to tell the story of Teresa who had to flee Venezuela as a child because of war,  moved to the U.S. and soon after, her newly adopted country was at war, too.

“happy hands dance across all the beautiful dark and light keys of the piano”

"clouds that bucked and kicked across the wild sky like angry mules"

“notes that rose, swayed, rippled, and dipped like a bird in a blue sky above a green forest.”

STORY FOCUS: A Moment In Time

Teresa struggled to fit into her new life in the U.S. When she felt sad, she played her piano. When she felt happy, she played the piano. She became famous and played in many places. President Lincoln heard about the Piano Girl and invited her to the White House. She knew Lincoln was grieving over the loss of his son, and the lingering Civil War, so she wanted to bring him some joy, if only for a moment.

The colorful illustrations by López depict various moods of joy and despair as Engle explores what was happening during Teresa’s childhood.

It is a perfect pick to study and celebrate Latino and Hispanic Heritage Month.