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

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, 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 and on Twitter @hauntedcruz.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

THINK QUICK with Author Katie Frawley

Hi Katie! Congratulations on your recent release of Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places! I love the way this book celebrates different routines and lifestyles. And honestly, it’s just so much fun! All of the THINK QUICK themes and events below appear in your book. Let’s see which way you lean. Remember… THINK QUICK!

On Changes:

Blow caution to the wind or proceed with caution?

Proceed with caution!

I know that’s the boring nerd answer, but I am a naturally risk-averse person. That’s the fun of being a writer. I can put my characters in ALL SORTS of ridiculous situations I would assiduously avoid in real life.


On Adventures:

Jump in with two feet or dip a toe in first?

Two feet!

I know that contradicts my previous answer, but that was on the subject of CHANGES (which seem like long term propositions). ADVENTURES, on the other hand, are meant to be enjoyed full tilt! (Am I being too literal and weird with these answers? HA!)


On Community-Based Online Platforms:

Try them all or stick with recommendations?

Try them all!

I’d actually like to qualify that response by saying FIND WHAT FITS. I am a big believer that online platforms and social media should serve YOU rather than you serving them. If Twitter or Facebook or Snap-tok, or tik-house, or WHATEVER is a net negative in your life…drop it. I am still learning to set boundaries that are most beneficial for me. I actually really enjoy Twitter as long as I stick to the wonderful #WritingCommunity and #KidLit folks. If I get sucked into the Twitter cesspool of ugliness, it’s not healthy for my brain. Find what works and SET LIMITS!


On Cannonballs:

Make a big splash or make big waves?

Oooooh. I like this one. BIG WAVES!

I remember going to a water park called Atlantis when I was a kid. They had a biiiiiiig wave pool. I sat in that thing in my inner tube the whole darn time. I can still feel the lift and dip of the waves. Loved it.


On Guests:

Give them the royal treatment or teach them the routine?

I’m going to fall somewhere in between on this.

I don’t think you should completely upend your life for out-of-towners, but a few choice experiences (a nice dinner, a great cultural attraction, a little-known gem in your town) should be tossed into the mix.


On Trying New Things:

Be like Mikey…take a taste or feed it to the cat?

HA! Definitely taste! I love trying new foods. And I’ve passed down my enthusiasm for different fare to my kiddos. They are GREAT about trying new foods. I tell them, they have to try, but they don’t have to swallow. I think that takes out some of the scariness of tasting things. What do I care if they spit a bite of sushi into my hand? They might just end up loving it! (And for the record, my kids do indeed like sushi!)


On Getting in Trouble:

Make more or make a change?

Make a change.

Here I go again with my risk-averse nature. I’m a believer that happiness is a choice. That’s part of the idea behind my book. You can choose to be dissatisfied with your life, or you can choose to love it! If your choices are making your life harder, make different choices.


On Being Homesick:

Live in the past or live in the present?

Present! Always present!

Your home will be there waiting for you. It’s not going anywhere. So if you are lucky enough to be on an adventure in a new place, try to soak it up!


On Friends:

Make room for more or stick to your circles?

I’m a “stick to your circles” gal. Like many writers, I am an introvert, so social situations are extremely draining for me. I have a small circle of friends, and that’s enough for me. But I WILL say we should always make room for kindness. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone who crosses your path, but there’s always room for kindness.


On Books: (wink, wink)

Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places or Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places?

Oh. Hmmm. This is a tough one. I think…IT’S A TIE!!!

Tabitha And Fritz Trade Places AND Tabitha And Fritz Trade Places!!!!!


Carrie’s Review of Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to experience life in someone else’s shoes, then Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places is the story for you! While reading, I thought of past movies and TV shows, and even life experiences such as foreign exchange students meet Wife Swap (TV) meets Freaky Friday or Big (movies.)  But I love how Katie chose to feature animals instead of humans! Kitty-cat pet Tabitha trades places with jungle elephant Fritz! How fun is that? The underlying message and theme is infused so seamlessly that kids will not realize at all that they are walking in someone else’s shoes, too. Who knows? They might even decide to try something new or see someone else’s culture through new eyes. That’s just a bonus! Character and entertainment come first here in both the story and illustrations, which feature lots of hidden details and an exciting color palette. It’s really a perfect marriage of art and words! 

Katie Frawley studied English at the University of Florida (GO GATORS!) and earned a Master’s degree in British and American literature from Florida Atlantic University. Before having children, she had the distinct honor of teaching English to rowdy teenagers. When not banging away on the keyboard, Katie can be found testing new recipes with her miniature sous chefs, shooing iguanas away from her garden, or reading picture books to a captive audience on the couch. Katie lives in South Florida with her husband and five children. Follow her website and on Twitter @KatieFrawley1.

Need some fire under your writing-butt? Katie created the Fire-Butt Challenge with Michal Babay!

Need a critique? Katie does that, too! 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

ReFoReMo Mini-Monthly Writing Challenge: Don't Be Chicken!

 By Janie Reinart

                                                 Check out Chicken Dance by Tammi Sauer

My baby sister is twelve years younger than I am. When I first got married, we gave her a chicken from my husband's classroom.  That chicken followed my sister around like a dog. If you turned over rocks, that chicken would grab the worms. That chicken was also a watch chicken.  

One night, when my brother was in high school, he came in past his curfew. My dad was a very light sleeper. My brother managed to turn the lights off on his car, coast down the driveway, and tiptoe into the house. He was almost home free. That chicken was in a terrarium in the dining room. You guessed it. The watch chicken had a lot to say like in the book, Chick Chat. That chicken alerted the whole house when my brother came home. Don't be chicken, your challenge is to write a story about these birds. 

                                                                 Chick Chat by Janie Bynum

                                                                                  By Atinuke

Lami is the best chicken catcher, until the day she chases a chicken up the baobab tree, and reaches too far   . . .ow! How can she catch chickens with an ankle that that looks like an "angry lizard"? Nana Nadia encourages Lami to use her problem solving skills. "Quick thinking is more important than quick running." This story celebrates Nigerian village life.  

"This is Lami.

Lami loves chickens.

Luckily, Lami lives in a compound...

with lots and lots of chickens.

Catch'am Lami!Catch'am!"

shouts brother Bilal.

                                                                          By Jane Kurtz

"Urban backyard chickens go on a madcap tour of the city in this rhyming romp. . . the narrative bounces off the tongue. The marker-bright illustrations are frenetic and filled with humorous details."--Kirkus Reviews

Information in the back matter contains fun facts about chickens. 

"Chickens breaking loose. 

Chicken's on the lam.

Zipping from the yard

as quickly as they can."

Don't forget the classic folk tale of The Little Red Hen! The hen keeps asking the duck, a cat, and the dog for help planting some wheat. When she get no takers, she does everything herself including eating the bread. Share your favorite chicken stories in the comments. 

I won't make a peep. Start scratching out your story. Good luck.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Mentor Text Talk with Authors Corinne Demas and Artemis Roehrig

I first met Artemis Roehrig at Jane Yolen's Picture Book Boot Camp.  I love how she writes with her mom, Corinne Demas.  Their engaging and informative series is laugh out loud funny.  Do Doodle Bugs Doodle?  and Do Jellyfish Eat Peanut Butter are books you'll want to read and re-read.  I'm excited to learn about their mentor text process.

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

Corinne: In my seminar, Writing Literature for Children, at Mount Holyoke College, I used mentor texts that offered examples for each week’s new assignment. At the start of the semester my students brought in their favorite picture book from childhood. We talked about the ways each picture book had engaged them when they were little, and why it still resonated for them now they were adults.  What makes a book memorable? What gives it staying power? My students came from all over the world, and some of their choices were books I’d never heard of before, but they did share some common elements: characters kids could identify with, subject matter that touched on the joys and/or dilemmas of childhood, plots that held their interest, and humor. What characterized all of them, and seems like the most important aspect of a children’s book, is that they sustained their magic even after many readings.

The picture book that I treasured as a child and read aloud to my class at the beginning of the year is the mentor text I often return to: Margaret Wise Brown’s, The Golden Egg.  Published in 1947, it’s remarkably timeless. What I love about this story is the emotional credibility of the characters, a bunny and a duck.  Suspense is created artfully, and the mirror image structure allows young readers to delight in the predictability and the satisfying resolution. Brown captures children’s ability to get to the core of things and not worry about leaving big questions unanswered. “Where did you come from?” asks the bunny, and the newly-hatched duck answers, “Never mind that . . . Here I am.” One of Brown’s great achievements is an ending that is sweet without being cloying “So the bunny and the duck were friends And no one was ever alone again.”  

Kirsti: Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of DO JELLY FISH LIKE PEANUT BUTTER?

Artemis: When I worked as an environmental educator, I always chose books related to whatever topics we were covering that day (either nonfiction or informational fiction). The most important things for me are whether a book is fun to read out loud, and whether it can get kids excited about a topic and inspire them to learn more about it. The books I kept reaching for again and again were the ones that, in addition to good cadence, had opportunities for audience participation or had appeal for multiple age groups. So many of these books inspired me when I wrote Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter? Amazing Sea Creature Facts and the books that came before it: Does A Fiddler Crab Fiddle? And Do Doodlebugs Doodle? Amazing Insect Facts.


One of my absolute favorite books to read out loud is Water is Water by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin.  This not only has a beautiful lyrical text, but the placement of the page turns and the rhyming allows kids to guess (and yell out) what comes next. Oh and you almost accidentally learn all about the water cycle along the way! Feathers Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs by Lisa Kahn Schnell, illustrated by Alan Marks and A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long are all great because the layered text enables different readings for different age groups.

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

Corinne: I’m always rediscovering myself as a writer, both as I read new books and as I re-read old favorites. There are books I read as a child, then read to my children, and now read to my grandchildren, and at every stage I’ve learned new things that I’ve incorporated (both consciously  and unconsciously) in my own work. I keep marveling at the boundless creative energy of the picture book writing community, and sampling all the exciting new picture books coming out encourages me to take on projects that are unlike any I’ve done before.    

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

Corinne: One of the best way for picture book writers to utilize mentor texts is to hear them read aloud. Listen to the text on its own (without looking at the illustrations) and analyze how the narrative works on the ear. Think about the pacing and sentence length and the texture of the prose or poetry, including all those literary goodies:  repetition, alliteration, assonance, rhythm, and rhyme.  Then look at the actual book and think about the way the text inspired the illustrations, what energizes the plot (or plot substitute), and what propels the page turns.   

Artemis: You should have hundreds of mentor texts! And definitely think of mentor texts as guides rather than rules. I’ve often seen people looking for overly specific books to use as mentor texts, for instance “a rhyming book about a lizard who likes cooking tacos”. Different texts can inspire your voice, your structure, and your topics. So instead, look for rhyming books, and books about lizards, and books about tacos. And if you can actually find a mentor text that is a rhyming book about a lizard cooking tacos then it’s probably time to revise your story and create something more unique!

Kirsti: Thank you Corinne and Artemis!  You've given us lots of wisdom about mentor texts!

Corinne Demas is the award-winning author of thirty-five books for children and adults. Her numerous picture books include Saying Goodbye to Lulu, The Littlest Matryoshka, The Disappearing Island, Pirates Go to School, and Always in Trouble.  Her newest picture book, The Perfect Tree, will be published by Cameron Kids in 2022. She is a professor Emerita of English at Mount Holyoke College and a fiction editor of The Massachusetts Review. She lives in Western Massachusetts and on Cape Cod, and her memoir Eleven Stories High, Growing Up in Stuyvesant Town describes her New York City childhood.

Visit her at


Corinne Demas
  and Artemis Roehrig are the co-authors of

Are Pirates Polite?, The Grumpy Pirate, Does a Fiddler Crab Fiddle?, Do Doodlebugs Doodle? Amazing Insect Facts,  and Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter? Amazing Sea Creature Facts


Artemis Roehrig is the author of Storey Publishing’s Tattoos That Teach series and the co-host (with Rajani LaRocca) of the podcast STEM Women in KidLit

When she isn’t writing or podcasting, Artemis works as an entomology technician for the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts and plays the violin with her community theater. She lives with her family in Western Massachusetts. 

Visit her at