Tuesday, August 3, 2021

THINK QUICK with Kirsti Call and Corey Rosen Schwartz

We've come to Day 7, the last of our Goodbye ReFoReMo Celebration, and we have some exciting news. The spirit of ReFoReMo will March On through a new free challenge coordinated by author and editor Lynne Marie! In true ReFoReMo fashion it will take place every March and celebrate the education that mentor texts provide. You will find details about the March On Challenge at this link as they unfold. We are thrilled to pass the baton to Lynne! (And we might even see you there...wink, wink!)

But now, it is time to say goodbye to ReFoReMo. And what better way to go out than to THINK QUICK with my ReFoReMo partner, Kirsti Call? She has a brand new book coming out in October with author Corey Rosen Schwartz.  So, here they are...let's welcome them!

Hi Corey and Kirsti! 

Congratulations on your upcoming October release of Cold Turkey! I love the way this book celebrates compassion, giving, and gratefulness with doses of humor, too! All of the THINK QUICK themes and events below appear in your book. Let’s see which way you lean. 

Remember… THINK QUICK!

On Helping Others:

Help yourself or others first?

Kirsti and Corey: If I were Turkey, I’d help others first.

On Giving:

Give everything you have or in moderation?

Kirsti: Again, if I were Turkey, I’d give everything.
Corey: Depends on who I’m giving to.

On Compassion:
Put yourself in their shoes or wear the shoes?

Kirsti and Corey: Give them more shoes?

On Being Cold:
Cover your head or feet first?

Kirsti: I always like to plunge headfirst—so hats are essential.
Corey: My feet! Always sleep in socks, even in the summer.

On Quitting:
Cold turkey or a little at a time?

Kirsti and Corey: Cold turkey, definitely.

On Farm Animals:
Turkeys or cows?

Kirsti: Both are mooovelous!
Corey: Cows. No moo-stake about it.

On Friends:
Treat others how you like to be treated or how they like to be treated?

Kirsti and Corey: Both.

On Winter Weather:
Bring extra layers or just bundle up?

Kirsti: I’m always c-c-cold, so I always b-b-bundle up.
Corey: Bring lots of extra layers so I can share if necessary.

On Teamwork:
Every little bit counts or equal shares?

Kirsti: If we were talking about food, I’d try not to gobble more than my equal share. But, for teamwork, every little bit counts!
Corey: Every little bit counts.

On Books: (wink, wink)
Cold Turkey or Cold Turkey?

Both: C-c-cold Turkey!

Carrie’s Review of Cold Turkey
This catchy title delves beyond the expected! Featuring super cold barnyard buddies who warm up to one very giving turkey, perfect rhyme, and udderly humorous illustrations (a cow with an udder-scarf? I’m sold!), this story is sure to prompt kids to beg for the reread. And it S-S-SUPER f-f-fun to read aloud, whether your c-c-cold or not!

Kirsti Call co-hosts the PICTURE BOOK LOOK podcast and co-runs ReFoReMo. She’s a critique ninja and elf for 12×12, a blogger for Writers’ Rumpus, and a Rate Your Story judge. She’s judged the CYBILS award for fiction picture books since 2015. She's a therapist trained life coach for creatives and she's the author of MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD (Little Bee), COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD TURKEY (Little Brown) which release on October 12th! Kirstine has an MSW from Boston College and is represented by Charlotte Wenger at Prospect Agency.


Corey Rosen Schwartz is the author of The Three Ninja Pigs, Ninja Red Riding Hood, and many other rhyming picture books.  Corey hates the c-c-cold and spends winters c-c-curled up with a good book.  She lives in New Jersey but dreams of one day moving to the Caribbean. 


Web site: www.coreyrosenschwartz.com

Twitter: @CoreyPBNinja

With that, the ReFoReMo blog and challenge says its final goodbye! 

Keep writing reviews, analyzing mentor texts, and writing what makes your heart happy!

Love always,

Carrie Charley Brown & Kirsti Call

Monday, August 2, 2021

Mentor Text Talk with Susan Hughes

Hello Susan! Congratulations on your electric year in publishing, and thanks for chatting with us about mentor texts today!

How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?

Reading picture books, especially the most recent ones, is so freeing! I’ve always liked to try different things creatively, playing with different structures and forms, trying out different concepts or ways of storytelling, but I used to sometimes worry that I should be trying to follow conventional forms and fit into established templates. Now, I read and explore the incredible expanding range of voices, writing styles, and themes in today’s picture books. I see the publishing world opening up to so many more possibilities—welcoming them! My reading encourages me to take more creative risks. I feel even more inspired as a writer to ask more of myself!  


How do you utilize picture books as mentor texts to learn more about craft?


Sometimes, after reading a picture book that I really admire—whether because of its economy of expression, its lyricism, its unique structure or form, its particular subject matter—I’ll type it out and save it so I can come back to it again—to just the words alone. I find it powerful to read the words of a picture book isolated, without the art, as a reminder of what words alone can and must do, of their power. And also, to refresh my understanding of how much they also must rely on accompanying art to achieve their full lift-off as a story. I’ll sometimes add comments below the text, reminding myself what initially drew me to it and, if I can, explaining how the writer achieved this or why. I’ll return to these texts for inspiration when I’m struggling with specific issues in a manuscript I’m writing.


I also find it helpful to read picture books aloud, or to close my eyes and listen to someone else reading aloud, whether in person or, more commonly these days, someone reading via an online video. The physical experience of hearing the story read aloud shows us why so many of Hearing the words of a story spoken aloud, the pause for the page turn, the story being resumed … Hearing the cadence and flow of the story, the dialogue … Hearing the effect of a gathering of many words, and the effect of the sprinkling of very few words … the craft elements we read about or use are important, shows us how they are effective in supporting the storyline.  


Copying out texts, listening to stories read aloud, and, of course, reading the actual picture books themselves are ways of experiencing the various elements of stories using different senses. My hope is that what I learned and absorbed from these experiences help me craft and shape my own stories, both as something akin to “muscle memory” and by helping me make thoughtful decisions along the way. 


Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of your picture books?

I am fortunate to have had four picture books published this year! My picture book Carmen and the House That Gaudí Built (Owl Kids Books, 2021) is fiction but is based on, and includes, some real facts and people, including the famous architect, Antoni Gaudí. While playing with possibilities for this story and revising its many drafts, I found it helpful to read picture books which feature a real (famous) person meeting a mostly-invented child character, for example, The Magical Garden of Claude Monet by Laurence Anholt.

When my story, Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality (Kids Can, 2021), was contracted, I learned the publisher planned to include it in their series, Citizen Kids. So I read several of the wonderful books in that series to get a sense of how my story might be positioned alongside them, for example Monica Kulling’s On Our Way to Oyster Bay and Jude Isabella’s The Red Bicycle.

While researching for my first two books in The Science of How series (Kids Can), Sounds All Around and Lights Day and Night, I read many picture books but only fiction, rather than non-fiction. I read during my writing and revising process to help me try to achieve and maintain an accessible and friendly narrative style.  


Susan Hughes is a writer, editor, and story coach, specializing in working with writers of children’s and YA manuscripts. She is the author of many children’s books, both fiction and non-fiction, from board books and picture books to chapter books, MG, YA, and graphic novels too. Her most recent picture books are Sounds All Around: The Science of How Sound Works, illustrated by Ellen Rooney (Kids Can, 2021) and Lights Day and Night: The Science of How Light Works, illustrated by Ellen Rooney (Kids Can, 2021); Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality, illustrated by Nicole Miles (Kids Can, 2021); and Carmen and the House that Gaudi Built, illustrated by Marianne Ferrer (Owl Kids, 2021). She lives in a house with a red door in Toronto, Canada. You can learn more about Susan at www.susanhughes.ca or on twitter and Instagram.


Sunday, August 1, 2021

Mentor Text Talk with Charlotte Offsay

After recently celebrating her debut in March, Charlotte Offsay is already celebrating her second picture book! How To Return a Monster hits shelves in early September! And she has a third coming in the spring! With so many books deals is such a short period of time, I knew we had to learn from her mentor text perspective.

Welcome, Charlotte! And congratulations on your newest picture book!

How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?

As we all know, picture books are subjective – what resonates with one person won’t necessarily resonate with the next. Reading countless picture books has allowed me to discover what types I enjoy (and equally important what I don’t) and therefore what kind of picture books I want to create and put out into the world.


How do you utilize picture books as mentor texts to learn more about craft?


Studying what made me laugh, cry, flip right back to the front page to read again, or even put down without finishing (guilty), helped me to figure out what and how to put into my own work.

Take for example Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson – I absolutely adore this book for so many reasons:

It is fun to read aloud

The rhyme is flawless

The storyline is engaging, funny, clever AND surprising

It is filled with heart


Studying this book helped me to realize…

  • The way a book sounds when read aloud is extremely important to me. I want to make sure that my own writing flows and if possible, sings (even when not rhyming). This means really thinking about each and every word and how they sound when strung together and read aloud.
  • I adore rhyming picture books and this book inspired me to take Renee LaTulippe's Lyrical Language Lab class to study rhyme and learn how to use meter to enhance my stories (no small challenge!).
  • I want to write stories that entertain and surprise. This means pushing myself past the initial idea/word choices to the ones way in the back which aren’t as immediately obvious.
  • That heart is the core of a book for me. I like books that have a takeaway/moment of connection and it is important to me to thread heart throughout my own work. This often means that before I begin writing a new story, I write the heart or my ‘why’ at the top of the document.

I also use mentor texts to study what has been done and how to bring my own unique voice/perspective and make sure it stands out in the marketplace.


Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of How to Return a Monster?


Absolutely. How to Return a Monster at its core is a story about sibling relationships.


While I was writing it, I read countless sibling stories including:

The New Small Person by Lauren Child

You were the First by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

Maple and Willow Together by Lori Nichols

What resonated with me most when reading these books was that they were filled with heart and I paid particular attention to how they evoke emotion.

I also wanted my book to be funny and have a loud voice and so I pulled out a few of my favorites to study and get inspiration from:

TEACH YOUR GIRAFEE TO SKI by Viviane Elbee, illustrated by Danni Gowdy

HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish

WHEN GRANDMA GIVES YOU A LEMON TREE by Jamie Deenihan, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha

How to Return a Monster is a humorous how to story about a child’s attempts to reverse course when a new baby joins the family. It is illustrated by Rea Zhai and published September 7, 2021 with Beaming Books.

After seeing all the wonderful mentor texts that you used to learn more about craft, I'm curious whether or not you used any of them as comps when you queried How to Return a Monster over two years ago? Would you mind sharing?

Here is the comp section of my query letter:

"Aimed at children ages 3 to 6, HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER is a 240-word picture book manuscript in the vein of Jean Reagan's HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA and Lauren Child's THE NEW SMALL PERSON, but with a post office and counting twist."

Such a bonus to learn from your query, too! I have no doubt that our readers will be motivated to review the mentor texts you suggested and then read your book! So much to learn! Thanks again for sharing your perspective, Charlotte. 

CHARLOTTE OFFSAY was born in England, grew up in Boston, and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two small children. Through her work, Charlotte hopes to make children laugh, to inspire curiosity, and to create a magical world her readers can lose themselves in time and time again. She is the author of The Big Beach Cleanup (Albert Whitman 2021), How to Return a Monster (Beaming Books September 2021) and A Grandma’s Magic (Doubleday Books for Young Readers March 2022). Learn more about Charlotte's work at charlotteoffsay.com and follow her on Twitter at @coffsay and on Instagram at @picturebookrecommendations.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Mentor Text Talk with Christine Van Zandt


A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS, by Christine Van Zandt, illustrated by Harry Briggs is hilarious and informative. I love the puns, idioms and playful voice. So I'm excited to learn from Christine in this mentor text talk.

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

Yes! Whenever I have a new idea I’m working on, I seek out previously published picture books to see what’s already been done. The Los Angeles Public Library is my go-to source. I’ll also buy the books I want to keep on hand to read again or use as reference sources for my nonfiction manuscripts.

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS?

I research even when writing fiction. For my ~1,500-word, 48-page nonfiction picture book, A Brief History of Underwear, the three main mentor texts were Underwear: What We Wear Under There (2,682-word, 32-page picture book, Holiday House, 2008), The Revealing Story of Underwear (2,413-word, 64-page early reader, Usborne, 2006), and How Underwear Got Under There: A Brief History (~4,000-word, 48-page middle-grade book, Dutton, 2007).


How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?

Picture books have evolved so much—it wasn’t so long ago that we didn’t even have children’s books in all these categories such as board book, picture book, chapter book, and on up through YA. In college, I specialized in children’s literature and it was fascinating seeing how picture books have changed in regard to content, the role of art, and word count.

When I first began writing picture books, I kept hearing that picture book writers should read 1,000 picture books to become fluent writers. That number floored me back then, now, several thousand books later, I totally get it: we need the breadth and depth to hone our craft.

Reading widely has helped me discover which books resonate with me so I could then think about why. It also keeps me atop of the many creative formats in which stories are told. When I see something that grabs my attention, such as dual narrative, I want to try it!


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

I rely on Goodreads as a place to track, sort, and rate what I’ve read. Since I have many manuscripts underway at the same time, after I’ve set one aside for a while, I use Goodreads as a source to review the mentor texts for that picture book idea.

Once I have mentor texts for a project, I feel they are best utilized as a gauge of what’s been published. I consider how to make my manuscript different, approaching from a new angle or in a fresh way that hasn’t been done before.

I also track Publisher’s Weekly and Publisher’s Marketplace to find books with possibly similar stories that are making their way through the publication process.

Christine Van Zandt hasn’t found fossilized underwear, but loves digging up ideas that make great books for kids.


She’s a literary editor and lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family and a monarch butterfly sanctuary. Visit her online at christinevanzandt.com.

Friday, July 30, 2021

ReFoReMo Mini-Monthly Writing Challenge: Mud in Your Eye

By Janie Reinart

                                                           International Mud Day Celebrations

Did you know there is an International Mud Day? Mud Day celebrations happen all over the world connecting children to the Earth so they discover the messy joy of playing in the mud. 

My sister and I would play in the mud. We would take big leafy weeds and roll them filled with mud pretending to make cabbage rolls. We’d knock on the door and present them to my mom. Your challenge is to play in the mud and make a story.

                                         By Robert Munsch         Art by Dusan Petricic

Watch out for the mean old mud puddle that hides and jumps out at you when you least expect it. How will Jule Ann clean up and be rid of that sneaky pest?

"Jule Ann's mother brought her clean new clothes. Jule Ann put on a clean new shirt and buttoned it up the front. She put on clean new pants and buttoned them up the front. Then she walked outside and sat down under the apple tree.


Unfortunately, hiding up in the apple tree, there was a mud puddle. It saw Jule Ann sitting there and it jumped right on her head. She got completely all over muddy. Even her ears were full of mud.


Jule Ann ran inside yelling,” Mommy, Mommy a mud puddle jumped on me.”


Her mother picked her up, took off her clothes, and threw her into a tub of water."

                                         By April Graney               Art by Alida Massari

In this picture book based on a true story, Ben and his American family have been overrun by possessions and always want more. When the family travels to Kenya and visit the marvelous mud house where George and his mother live they discover a place where possessions are few but joy and harmony abound. 


"On the edge of a lush mountain in Kenya said a marvelous mud house where George and his mother lived. What made this mud house marvelous was the marvelous things that happened there. Each morning as the sun flooded the great Rift Valley below, George searched the terraced garden for corn, mangoes, and potatoes, while Mama George milked the goat. Then they loaded their baskets on their backs and began their long walk down, down, down, one side their mountain and up, up, up the side of the next mountain."


                                         By Janie Reinart             Art by Morgan Taylor

I would like to add my mud story, When Water Makes Mud: A Story of Refugee Children dedicated to the 200,000 children at the Bidibidi Settlement in Uganda. I was inspired by the children and the complexity of the invented toys they made from found objects using their imagination and critical thinking skills. Children without toys—yet children who play. Play is the work of a child. Their hope becomes our hope. The universal themes of play, hope, and dreams inspired my story. Publisher's profits are being donated to UNICEF.

                                            By Annette Schottenfeld Art by Folasade Adeshida

Inspired by a true event, a portion of this book's proceeds will be donated to Water.org, an organization which empowers families around the world with access to safe water and sanitation.  On a scorching day in Zimbabwe, October 2016, a white rhino bull named Mark was unable to eat or drink when a discarded tire became stuck on his snout and horn. Shona words—one of the most widely spoken of 16 languages in Zimbabwe, are used in the story.

"Obi, stared at the dried up watering hole.

The little rhino asks, 

“Do you know where I might find some mud? 
There’s nothing like a cool, ooey, gooey, mud bath…
Rufaro, Tenda and Moyo counted to three - motsi, piri, tatu –“

Thank you to the ReFoReMo team: Carrie and Kirsti, Keila, Cindy and Kathy and all of you beautiful writers in our family. It takes a village to write. Keep at it. Remember why we write--to make that writer/reader connection--heart to heart.  Metaphors be with you. ❤️

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Perfectly Paired Picture Books- “Belonging, Individuality, and Consent”

 By Keila V. Dawson

Today’s post looks at diversity and inclusion in books that address important topics such as belonging, individuality, and consent. In these books, authors acknowledge difference exists and there are many types of diversity. Readers can learn about diversity by exploring their own identities and those of others, too. However, diversity alone is not enough.  Books in this post are wonderful examples of diversity and inclusion. They show what diversity looks like and how to coexist so all feel respected and valued.

Fitting in vs. Belonging

Humor and cultural traditions help children learn about how individuals try to fit in when what they really desire is to feel they truly belong.

My School Stinks! By Becky Scharnhorst, Julia Patton

All Are Welcome By Alexandra Penfold, Janina Edwards

Individuality and Self-Esteem

Lyrical text, rhyme, and puns help children celebrate individuality.

Except When They Don't By Laura Gehl and Joshua Heinsz

Bodies Are Cool By Tyler Feder

Boundaries and Consent

Characters in this pair use their voices to speak out about their likes and dislikes.

Don't Hug Doug: (He Doesn't Like It) By Carrie Finison and Daniel Wiseman 

Don't Touch My Hair! By Sharee Miller

Some final thoughts...

Kudos to Carrie and Kirsti for the countless hours spent managing this blog and running the annual Reading For Research Month event the past seven years. I hope my posts have helped others as much as studying books and writing about them has helped me grow as a writer.

Writing can be a lonely endeavor and I am forever grateful to Carrie and Kristi for welcoming me into this corner of the kidlit community.

It's been an honor working with Team ReFoReMo.

Happy reading!


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Goodbye ReFoReMo & Jose Cruz Busts Out a Treasure Map

Dearest ReFoReMo Community,

After devoting our hearts and time to serving the writing community for 7.5 years, we are retiring the Reading for Research Challenge and blog. ReFoReMo was born with the goal to help others develop mentor text study habits and see them from multiple perspectives. We’re proud of our contribution, but more importantly we’re proud of you, our ReFoReMo community! We know how many writers love the challenge and rely on it for inspiration and accountability every March. Our hope is that you will continue those habits on your own now. We plan to do the same, giving our own writing more time and attention. Our Facebook Group will always be there when you want to discuss mentor texts or ask for recommendations. Our website(s) will stay put, too, so that you can go back in time and access the education for years to come. 

As a celebration of our time together, we’re featuring our last seven posts over the next seven days in memory of seven years. We hope you’ll celebrate with us!

We encourage you to leave your favorite ReFoReMo memories in the comments and also in the Facebook group. We love you!


Carrie & Kirsti

And now, a special reflection from one enthusiastic ReFoReMo participant, Jose Cruz:

My first ReFoReMo was a game changer.

While I fancied myself an accomplished literary explorer, the list of assigned readings made one thing clear: I was walking in circles. My reading orbited solely around my own interests and experiences. Without realizing it, my manuscripts were restricted and unchallenged.

But with ReFoReMo as my map, I unearthed treasures during that first challenge which led me to even greater mentor text riches over the years. Let’s unroll the parchment and follow the dotted lines to three of my favorite discoveries.



led me to…


As an author, my inclination is to go big and bold, to tickle the funny bone rather than tug on the heartstrings. These two softly spoken texts revealed the value of slowing down and taking note of smaller moments, from road trips to family gatherings. They also pull off two impressive feats of tone. First, both books center on emotional upheaval, yet they ground the reader in the harmony of the characters’ close relationships. Second, the authors maintain a delicate and unhurried voice, yet the action still possess a forward momentum that compels the reader to reach the end of the journey. These mentor texts are particularly instructional when I want to write a manuscript that’s more lyrical in its prose but still captivating in its arc.

Multiple Hooks


led me to…


When you’re starting out as a PB author, like I am, it’s easy to assume that your manuscript is only telling one story. False! In fact, the more messages our manuscripts communicate, the better our chances of creating stories with depth. Writers wanting to master multiple hooks should look no further than this PB bio combo. They provide factual details regarding the lives of their unsung protagonists in addition to fascinating information on their respective subject areas, geology and sports. And both tell moving stories of perseverance. Add all those hooks together (hidden figure biography + new subject area info + persistence message) and you have a package irresistible to readers (and publishers).  I use these texts as a checklist whenever I want to ensure that my manuscripts are hooking readers in different ways.

Ensemble Casts

THANK YOU, OMU by Oge Mora

led me to…

OUR LITTLE KITCHEN by Jillian Tamaki

I’m a bit of a loner by nature, so my manuscripts tend to revolve around individual characters making their way through a conflict. This pair of colorful texts opened my mind to the endearment of community narratives. Both authors utilize a bright, playful tone that ensures the hustle and bustle of the ensemble cast moving through their busy landscapes remains upbeat. Characters are drawn with quick, broad strokes that impart personality without bogging down the word count. Community narratives have become increasingly popular; writers wanting to try something different from the standard Hero’s Journey should seek out this dynamic duo.

By expanding my reading horizons, I expanded my writing horizons. Now, I look at my manuscripts more critically with a fuller understanding of what's possible in picture book writing.

We all face those deep, dark, and uncertain picture book waters. What will your treasure map look like?

You may be surprised where it will lead you. 

Jose Cruz is a children’s librarian and author living in Southwest Florida. When he isn’t playing with puppets, doing silly dances, and acting out stories at home, he does those same things at work. You can follow him at https://hauntedcruz.wordpress.com/ and on Twitter @hauntedcruz.