Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Mentor Text Author Study: Barb Rosenstock

By Kathy Halsey

In 2017, Keila V. Dawson examined many of Barb Rosenstock’s mentor texts HERE. Barb's most recent narrative nonfiction biographies share focused telling of one hundred percent real facts that usually answer an important question or an emotional truth. For each story she looks for the “so what?” factor, perfect structure to shape the narrative, and employs poetics techniques fiction writers use.

In Leave It to Abigail!:The Revolutionary Life of Abigail Adams(2020), the “so what” factor is actually the title which become the refrain. In Colonial times when girls and woman were confined to certain behaviors, Abigail took on any task. She did it all: read, speak up, tend a farm, edit John’s papers, homeschool her children, and care for Revolutionary War soldiers in her house. Abigail’s independent spirit is highlighted via vivid verbs. Barb’s narrative nonfiction runs on verbs. The ending spotlights twelve diverse, independent women and encourages today’s girls to surprise the world like Abigail.



Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere (2018)answers the important question set up in the beginning by both main characters: What did the deep ocean look like? The structure is a dual narrative of Otis and Will’s childhood with the connected refrain “down, down, into deep” woven throughout the story. Repetition continues as they descend with a dramatically slower pace. Barb’s short phrasing 100 all the way to 800 feet is punctuated with staccato directions: “400 feet. Stop. Colder. Breathe in. 500 feet. Stop. Darker. Breathe out.” Tension and anticipation are created by minimal words, until finally, a gatefold wordless spread of the ocean! Saying the most with the least number of words is the goal for the reader to feel breathless and in-scene. (Structure provides readers’ emotion.)





With Blue Grass Boy: The Story of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass (2018), and Prairie Boy: Frank Lloyd Wright Turns the Heartland into a Home (2019), being in-scene via setting and precise word choice evoke theme, tone, and a time period readers may not know.

Setting, character, and Bill Monroe’s problem as a boy are set up in two pages with a page turn. Bill is youngest, “the runt,” his eyes cross, he’s bullied but his sharp ear for sound and music shaped his life. Vocabulary that evokes music and Appalachian roots, create a sense of place and mood: “hightailed it, cheerful jigs, sundown jamboree, harmonies that echoed through the hollows.”


Frank Llyod Wright’s environment comes to life through lyrical language in the opening spread as we feel the Wisconsin prairie replete with “brush-footed butterflies, oval milkweed seeds, six-sided honeycombs, and triangular -faced badgers.” Wright’s obsession with natural and geometric shapes that help define his architecture jump out. Purposeful questions draw us into the life of a curious boy. When Frank’s family moves from home, five times in seven years, color words share his’s feelings: “gray skies, gray houses, gray people.” Throughout the biography, Rosenstock shares and re-echoes the shapes that keep Frank company and inspired him throughout his life to create buildings that fit America’s open spaces.


Structure, simplicity, the “so what?” factor, and storytelling make narrative nonfiction “un-putdown-able.” Which mentor texts have modeled these elements for you?

18 comments:

  1. Thanks, Carrie! Mentor texts, indeed! So much to examine and emulate in these bios. Barb Rosenstock is a master! I cannot wait to re-examine her work. I always learn valuable lessons.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh! And a big THANK YOU to Kathy Halsey!!!

      Delete
    2. I love how barb plays with words and repetition. TY, Carmella for reading this.

      Delete
  2. Barb Rosenstock's books are the best mentor texts! Her books are beautiful on many levels. Thank you Carrie, Kirsti, and Kathy for highlighting Barb.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Arlene, I'm in deep study with Bluegrass Boy and Prairie Boy for a WIP. TY for sharing your thoughts and reading my post.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for this mentor text list. I am starting to examine non-fiction narrative for a project I want to try.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good for you, Celeste, and good luck on your project. Ty fro stopping by!

      Delete
  4. Have got a hold on this one. Thanks for posting.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I just put Barb's Name in for any other books - I need all the mentoring I can get. Thank you Kathy Halsey for your comment on my experience with rounding up a couple of teenage cows. Hoping I can get a traumatic finger injury fixed so I can get back to work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Virginia, you are welcome. In the meantime, get your "read on" with Barb's stuff.

      Delete
  6. Thank you, Kathy, for this study into the work of Barb Rosenstock. There can never be too many studies into mentor texts. Most recently, I used FLYING DEEP: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Subversive Alvin by Michelle Cusolito. I'm extremely grateful to ReFoReMo folks and all the terrific posts shared with us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Charlotte, since we are CPs, I know how well your studies have informed your stories. U are a master at applying mentor texts.

      Delete
  7. Replies
    1. Thanks, Hilary, they are great. Barber had 18 books out.



      Delete
  8. I checked out 3 of Barb's biographies last week to study. Thanks for your insight, too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ty, Tina, for reading my post. I am curious what books did u check out?

      Delete
  9. Great post … and helpful as I’m currently revising back matter for my bio.
    And I love Barb’s bios. I read every single one!!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Great mentor texts! Thanks, Kathy!

    ReplyDelete