Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Vivian Kirkfield is a light in the kidlitt community. She's participated in ReFoReMo for years and now her books are flooding the shelves! Her newest release is From Here to There: Inventions that Changed the Way the World Moves, illustrated by Gilbert Ford. We're excited to welcome Vivian back on ReFoReMo to learn about how she uses mentor texts!
Vivian, do you utilize picture books as mentor texts? If so, how?
The advice given to me and the advice I give at conference presentations and school visits is to READ lots of picture books if that is what you want to write. I do utilize picture books as mentor texts because they help me see how other authors structured their stories. And especially with biographies, this can be really helpful. Do you tell the story from the life to death of the individual? Or do you snag a slice/event/moment in time to build your story around? Reading other books helps me decide which format would best suit my story and the information I have been able to gather.
I take note of opening lines, pacing, and how similes, metaphors, repetition, refrains are used…all the techniques in the picture book writing toolbox. Sometimes as I research and write, I forget to implement some of these – using mentor texts helps jog my memory.
Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of FROM HERE TO THERE?
The HMH editor, Ann Rider, suggested that I check out a few books in particular to help me visualize the format she wanted: Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh and Melissa Sweet – but Ann wanted full-length stories with a true picture book arc. And she suggested I look at Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet – to see the way the bibliography and source notes were set up.
In addition, I studied The Inventor’s Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford by Suzanne Slade; On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne; In The Bag: Margaret Knight Wraps It Up by Monica Kulling; Dorothea’s Eyes by Barb Rosenstock; Me, Jane by Patrick McDonnell; The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin…and so many others. I basically read dozens and dozens of picture book biographies…mostly current ones that had been recently published.
How has reading Picture Books helped you discover who you are as a writer?
What a great question, Kirsti! I’d say that reading Picture Books helped me discover what I loved and what I didn’t love about how a picture book story unfolded. I discovered that for me, the opening lines are key – I want to be invited in – and swept into another world – the world of the main character. I also discovered that, for me, a satisfying ending is one that almost always circles back to the beginning and echoes those opening lines. The third thing I discovered is that I love the element of three. If you ask my critique buddies, they will tell you that they can pick out one of my stories from a pile of manuscripts because I employ all of these when I write. But the amazing thing is that each story I write is completely unique…the nine biographies in From Here to There have totally different opening lines…totally different content…and totally different endings, even though they are similar in structure and energy. I hope other writers will find them helpful as mentor texts in the future…I know I will. 😊
What do you feel is the BEST way for picture book writers to utilize mentor texts?
The BEST way to utilize mentor texts? Whatever way works for you! Truly, we are all on the same path to publication, but our journeys will be different.
Two tips I’d like to share about specific ways to use mentor texts:
1. POST-IT NOTE PLACEMENT: A writer friend, Judy Cooper, uses this method and I think it is brilliant. She chooses a picture book that she loves. She writes out onto post-it notes the current manuscript she is working on – one note for each spread. Then she turns the pages of the book she loves and pastes a post-it on the corresponding spread…opening lines and so on, until she gets to the end. This can be really helpful in seeing how your own page turns line up with a story that has engaged your attention and your heart.
2. R&R RESEARCH: If you get an R&R (Revise and Resubmit) request from an editor, here’s a tip that helped me snag a book deal. Find out what other books the editor has worked on (I googled her and read many of the interviews she had done – in each interview, she mentioned one or two books she was editing at the time). Get copies and read them. Study how those authors structured their stories. Did they use quotes? Lyrical language? Humor? Lots of action? Then revise your manuscript accordingly. I think, when it comes to revision, we need to be flexible, while staying true to our vision of the story. And when it comes to mentor texts, I think I love them most because they show me that a story can be told in numerous ways and still be a great story.
Thank you, Vivian! We're so glad to learn from you!
Thanks so much for having me on ReFoReMo, Kirsti.
To connect with Vivian and learn more about her books:
Tuesday, January 5, 2021
As we open the road to a new year, we are excited to add a new team member to our blog team: Author/Librarian Kathy Halsey! She will conduct our ever-important author studies, while Keila Dawson focuses a new picture book lens on Perfect Pairs beginning in April. We are thrilled to have these new additions and we know that you will be, too.
A new year also means the ReFoReMo Challenge is just around the corner, taking place every March. We will reveal the talented list of presenters on February 2, followed by the reading list on February 9, and registration on February 16. We hope you will learn with us during our 7th-Annual ReFoReMo!
For now, please help us celebrate our very own Keila Dawson, as she releases her third picture book and shares her mentor text learning process.
~Carrie & Kirsti
I used mentor texts throughout the writing process for my nonfiction story OPENING THE ROAD:VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK. I read books with a similar subject matter to learn how authors approached their topics. I studied craft when struggling with something specific like point of view, beginnings, endings, finding a focus, what research to include and what to leave out. I looked at the structure of books in the same or similar genre and thought about why each choice was a good fit for the story. Mentor texts came in handy when I had multiple drafts and I couldn’t decide which to use.
Even with exhaustive research, I could only find one photo and a few articles about my subject, Victor Hugo Green, so early on the book had to be more than a biography. After finding enough information to draft a manuscript, my mentor text search began. A critique mentioned looking at mentor texts about people and their inventions.
WHOOSH! LONNIE JOHNSON’S SUPER-SOAKING STREAM OF INVENTIONS is about the inventor Lonnie Johnson, but it’s about his Super Soaker, too.
THE BOO BOOS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD is about the couple that accidentally invented the Band-Aid, but it’s also about the invention itself.
I joined a group of writers studying close third person POV and thought that would work in this manuscript because it brings the reader up close to what’s happening without using first person POV. I didn’t have dialogue, but I had access to words my character wrote.
I used mentor texts like MOUNTAIN CHEF: HOW ONE MAN LOST HIS GROCERIES, CHANGED HIS PLANS, AND HELPED COOK UP THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, ALABAMA SPITFIRE, and CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT: HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF to find examples of text in scenes that brought readers up close.
Then there was the matter of back matter. I read lots of author’s notes and studied the structure of back matter in books and what authors included.
What type served this story?
- Author’s note
- Quote sources
- Online sources
More back matter meant cutting text if the book was 32 pages. So I studied the book design of nonfiction books and biographies that were 32 and 40 pages. With the amount of research I had, I wanted to include an author’s note. Because the book spanned decades and history was part of the backdrop, including a timeline made sense. Because the book is nonfiction, I wanted a bibliography, too.
In early drafts, I used secondary text to include the history that took place during the timeframe of the story. So I looked at books that had those like MR. FERRIS AND HIS WHEEL. I didn’t end up using layers of text, but most of it ended up in the timeline.
And throughout this process I kept the same questions in mind whether reading my own work or the work of another author:
· What makes this story worth writing about?
· Why would this bio/topic make a compelling story for a young audience?
· What creates tension and keeps the reader turning the page?
· Why is the structure used a good fit for this story?
· What facts did the author include in the main text? Why?
· What facts did the author include in the author’s note?
· What parts are "telling" and what parts are "storytelling"?
· What parts bring readers up close?
· What writing techniques move the story forward?
· Where does the reader slow down and reflect?
· What am I learning about this subject or topic from the writing alone?
· What does the text project about the main character's traits?
· What does the reader take away from this story?
Mentor texts played an important role in my process for writing this story. Hopefully OPENING THE ROAD will help someone in crafting their story, too.
***GIVEAWAY Instructions below***
Keila V. Dawson 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, September 2020) and the forthcoming NO WORLD TOO BIG:YOUNG PEOPLE FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE also with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, spring 2023). She is the author of THE KING CAKE BABY, illustrated by Vernon Smith (Pelican Publishing 2015) and OPENING THE ROAD: VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Beaming Books, January 26, 2021). Dawson was born and grew up in New Orleans, has lived and worked in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Keila is giving away one copy of OPENING THE ROAD: VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK to one lucky winner who enters through the Rafflecopter. (US Only)