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: