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:
Vivian, you are a font of tips! Congrats on creating yet another fabulous book!ReplyDelete
Hey, Jilanne - thank you so much for the kind words! Hope the tips will be helpful.Delete
great post! Thank you for sharing your mentor text secrets... and reminding us that reading is an essential part of our writing work.ReplyDelete
Glad you stopped by, Sue! And that's a great takeaway!Delete
Great advice! Thank you Vivian and congratulations on all of your success! :)ReplyDelete
Thanks for the good wishes, Elizabeth! I'm excited for this Invention book.Delete
What a great idea about the post it notes and the researching of the editor's books/interviews they are currently working on. Thank you for sharing these ideas.ReplyDelete
We have to thank Judy Cooper for that post it note idea, Virginia. And the editor research definitely helped me get a manuscript acquired.Delete
Thank you this interesting and useful post. From Here To There will be a wonderful mentor text!ReplyDelete
Honestly, Claire...I use From Here to There as a mentor text for my own new stories!Delete
Thank you for this inspiring interview Kirsti and Vivian! Vivian, thank you for the tips and mentor texts! You give all of us hope :)ReplyDelete
Yes - always have hope...every time I write a manuscript and send it to my agent and she sends it out on submission, that all important hope kicks in!Delete
Hooray, Vivian!! You're so inspiring and congrats on your well deserved success!ReplyDelete
Your kind words and good wishes are much appreciated, Maria! Hope all is well with you!Delete
Congratulations Vivian! Fantastic tips. I've used a favorite PB and read my WIP out loud as I turn the corresponding pages of the text. Next time I'll try the post it notes.ReplyDelete
Oh, I'm so glad you read your WIP aloud, Mary! And let me know how the post it note idea works for you.Delete
Thanks for sharing these tips and congrats on your newest book. Look forward to reading it.ReplyDelete
Glad you stopped by, Marty!Delete
Thank you Vivian! Great advice and such helpful tips. You truly are a light in the kidlitt communityReplyDelete
Vivian, thank you so much for sharing your mentor text tips and congratulations on your new book. I'm a huge fan of SOME WRITER: THE STORY OF E.B. WHITE and am eager to try your post-it note tip!ReplyDelete
I cannot wait to read this book, Vivian! This is going to be an excellent resource for kids (and adults alike) and I just know that it's written in a fun, fascinating sort of "Vivianesque" styleReplyDelete
Great suggestions! Thanks, Vivian, for sharing with us. Wonderful interview. Best wishes on your new book!ReplyDelete