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)