Welcome, Charlotte! And congratulations on your newest picture book!
How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?
As we all know, picture books are subjective – what resonates with one person won’t necessarily resonate with the next. Reading countless picture books has allowed me to discover what types I enjoy (and equally important what I don’t) and therefore what kind of picture books I want to create and put out into the world.
How do you utilize picture books as mentor texts to learn more about craft?
Studying what made me laugh, cry, flip right back to the front page to read again, or even put down without finishing (guilty), helped me to figure out what and how to put into my own work.
Take for example Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson – I absolutely adore this book for so many reasons:
It is fun to read aloud
The rhyme is flawless
The storyline is engaging, funny, clever AND surprising
It is filled with heart
Studying this book helped me to realize…
- The way a book sounds when read aloud is extremely important to me. I want to make sure that my own writing flows and if possible, sings (even when not rhyming). This means really thinking about each and every word and how they sound when strung together and read aloud.
- I adore rhyming picture books and this book inspired me to take Renee LaTulippe's Lyrical Language Lab class to study rhyme and learn how to use meter to enhance my stories (no small challenge!).
- I want to write stories that entertain and surprise. This means pushing myself past the initial idea/word choices to the ones way in the back which aren’t as immediately obvious.
- That heart is the core of a book for me. I like books that have a takeaway/moment of connection and it is important to me to thread heart throughout my own work. This often means that before I begin writing a new story, I write the heart or my ‘why’ at the top of the document.
I also use mentor texts to study what has been done and how to bring my own unique voice/perspective and make sure it stands out in the marketplace.
Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of How to Return a Monster?
Absolutely. How to Return a Monster at its core is a story about sibling relationships.
While I was writing it, I read countless sibling stories including:
The New Small Person by Lauren Child
You were the First by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
Maple and Willow Together by Lori Nichols
What resonated with me most when reading these books was that they were filled with heart and I paid particular attention to how they evoke emotion.
I also wanted my book to be funny and have a loud voice and so I pulled out a few of my favorites to study and get inspiration from:
TEACH YOUR GIRAFEE TO SKI by Viviane Elbee, illustrated by Danni Gowdy
HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish
WHEN GRANDMA GIVES YOU A LEMON TREE by Jamie Deenihan, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha
How to Return a Monster is a humorous how to story about a child’s attempts to reverse course when a new baby joins the family. It is illustrated by Rea Zhai and published September 7, 2021 with Beaming Books.
After seeing all the wonderful mentor texts that you used to learn more about craft, I'm curious whether or not you used any of them as comps when you queried How to Return a Monster over two years ago? Would you mind sharing?
Here is the comp section of my query letter:
"Aimed at children ages 3 to 6, HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER is a 240-word picture book manuscript in the vein of Jean Reagan's HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA and Lauren Child's THE NEW SMALL PERSON, but with a post office and counting twist."
Such a bonus to learn from your query, too! I have no doubt that our readers will be motivated to review the mentor texts you suggested and then read your book! So much to learn! Thanks again for sharing your perspective, Charlotte.
CHARLOTTE OFFSAY was born in England, grew up in Boston, and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two small children. Through her work, Charlotte hopes to make children laugh, to inspire curiosity, and to create a magical world her readers can lose themselves in time and time again. She is the author of The Big Beach Cleanup (Albert Whitman 2021), How to Return a Monster (Beaming Books September 2021) and A Grandma’s Magic (Doubleday Books for Young Readers March 2022). Learn more about Charlotte's work at charlotteoffsay.com and follow her on Twitter at @coffsay and on Instagram at @picturebookrecommendations.