Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How to Find Picture Book Mentor Texts ~ by Patricia Toht

I recently reached out to my GROG buddies to help me brainstorm about picture book topics for upcoming posts. I had already covered: 

The GROG hive mind came up with many suggestions, but one buzzed to the top --

How do you find picture book mentor texts?

• The most important thing you can do is to build your own reference guide. Read! Read! Read! When you find elements that are done particularly well in certain books, WRITE THOSE TITLES DOWN! I have a notebook just for this purpose, and it lists a different topic every few pages (e.g. humor, quirky characters, fractured fairy tales, minimal words, lyrical language, etc.) Soon you will have your own amazing reference guide at hand.

A recent stack of rhyming books
that I checked out of my library.

• Enlist the help of your librarian and/or bookseller. These folks are walking, talking versions of the above-mentioned reference guide.
Love your local bookseller!

• Use Google to sleuth for mentor texts. Narrow down the topic you are interested in and type key words into the search box, connecting them with the plus sign (e.g. picture book + cats + humor). You may soon discover that there are several wonderful websites with collected lists of picture books by topic. 

(mine the collective minds kids' book nerds)

Pragmatic Mom 
(great lists from Mia Wenjen)

(check the Classroom Ideas Archives)

(select Children's Books and Authors/Themed Booklists)

(Marcie blogs about mentor texts and how to use them.)

• Poke around Pinterest. Many Pinterest pages have collections of picture books by theme.

• Don't forget Twitter! The recent hashtag #nf10for10 on February 10 focused on nonfiction titles. Here is an example from an elementary school librarian outside of Boston.

• Sign yourself up for a month of mentor texts. ReFoReMo, Reading for Research Month happens every March. Throughout the month, guest posters focus on a particular aspect or theme of picture books and provide a handful of recent titles for further research on these aspects/themes. 
I will be joining the fun on March 7th when I look at "How To" picture books. You can find out more about ReFoReMo here.

I hope this helps you get started on the path to finding picture book mentor texts. 

Do you have questions? Tips you'd like to share? Please include them in the comments below.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Annette Pimentel on Scaffolding the Past for Young Readers

our guest author, Annette Pimentel
by Sue Heavenrich, with Annette Pimentel

Last fall I reviewed Annette Pimentel's book, Mountain Chef, a wild tale of a cook in the Sierra mountains. I loved the story and the extensive back matter, and was amazed at how Annette did her magic. She graciously accepted our invitation to write a guest post for the GROG. And now I'll turn it over to...

Annette Pimentel

In the picture book biographies I write, I need to accurately recreate yesterday’s world for my young readers. Only when kids understand how things used to be can they see how a true-life hero transformed society. So, in every book I face the challenge of building a scaffold of knowledge about the past to support my reader’s understanding.

First, I need to decide what is important for my reader to understand. I think about assumptions kids make about their world—that girls and boys both play sports, for example. I try to figure out what essential elements of the world I’m writing about kids won’t already be familiar with.
Once I know what gaps I need to fill, it’s time to build that scaffold.
I’ve learned important scaffolding skills from mentor texts. Here are strategies that ensure kids get the background knowledge they need.

If only I could just stop everything and give kids the background they need! Usually that would be death to a story but occasionally it actually works.
Freedom in Congo Square depicts the joyful Sunday music and dance of enslaved people in New Orleans. But with a topic like that, there is the danger that young readers will fail to understand that those were stolen moments within a life of oppression. So before the book even starts, a Foreword tackles the issue of slavery.

Lines, Bars and Circles: How William Playfair Invented Graphs tells the story of a thinker who emerged during the Industrial Revolution. Rather than try to explain the significance of the Industrial Revolution within the story, the information is placed in a sidebar. The reader can drop out of the story for a moment, read, the information, then get back to the story with the knowledge she needs.

Handily, you can often build your scaffolding as you describe your main character since the information your reader needs probably relates to that main character’s passions and desires.

Martin’s Dream Day gives kids information about the state of civil rights in the US in 1963 by explaining Martin Luther King’s convictions:
Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in equality. For everyone—not just a few. He wanted all people to have the full rights of citizenship. That meant the right to vote, to go to school, and to get a job. In the 1960s, African Americans did not have these basic rights.

I used the same strategy in Mountain Chef. I needed to explain to kids the ugly realities facing Chinese Americans after the passage of racist laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, so I described how my hero ended up in his job as a gourmet trail cook:
Bosses paid Chinese workers less than white workers….Most people with Chinese names ended up cooking in restaurants or washing clothes in laundries. Tie Sing, though, had…dreams as big as the country he loved. Cramped shacks weren’t for him.

One great way to scaffold kids’ understanding of the past is to start with something that they will assume they know, and then describe how it was different in the time period you’re writing about.
Karl, Get Out of the Garden is a biography of Karl Linnaeus, who set up the system of animal and plant classifications that we still use today. How do you get kids to imagine a world where there simply aren’t consistent names for plants and animals? Here, it’s done by talking about a plant that every kid knows.
Doctors, gardeners, farmers—everybody!—argued about the names of plants. Dandelions might be called blowball, swine’s snout, or yellow daisy—depending on which town you lived in.
In Girl Running I knew that my soccer-playing girl readers were going to have to imagine a world very different from their own to understand the magnitude of Bobbi Gibb’s accomplishment in breaking the Boston Marathon’s gender barrier. So I start the book in a familiar environment: school.
Bobbi Gibb must wear a skirt to school because she is a girl. She is not allowed to run on the school’s track team. Because those are the rules—and rules are rules.

As young readers dive into more and more nonfiction, their understanding of the world becomes broader, richer, and more nuanced. But that growing understanding depends on the almost-invisible, but carefully-built scaffolds of knowledge constructed within the nonfiction they read.

Thanks you so much, Annette, for filling our writer's tool box with more strategies we can all use. 
Annette Bay Pimentel wrote Girl Running and  Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook up the National Park Service, the 2017 Carter G. Woodson Award winner. Every Wednesday she writes about recently-published nonfiction picture books at You can also find her on Twitter at @AnnettePimentel She is represented by Andrea Brown Literary.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Life of a Writer--Keeping Track of Your Ideas ~By Suzy Leopold

Another outstanding writing event took place during the month of January. I’m quite certain many of you participated in Storystorm with Tara Lazar. As always, there were excellent posts for writers to learn and grow from.
Storystorm 2018
Now, what are your plans for the ideas you generated and wrote down?

Ideas are what keep a writer moving forward. Whether you have too many ideas or not enough, keeping track of ideas in an organized fashion will support you and your writing goals. Putting them altogether in one place becomes a depository of ideas.

Perhaps you jotted down tidbits on scraps of paper, scribbled on a receipt, note cards, or even a paper napkin. Better yet, you may have typed your thoughts into a document on your computer. Did you write your inspiring *light bulb* ideas in a journal?  You’re ahead of the game if you kept your ideas in one place. Whatever tool you used, be affirmed in knowing you are moving in the right direction.

If you need some organization for your ideas, it’s time. It is time to gather all of your incredible ideas and keep them in one place. 

The human brain can’t possibly remember them all. Perhaps you are like me . . . I can’t remember most ideas since they seem to disappear into thin air as fast as they appear.

Created by Suzy
Any type or size of journal will work. Composition notebooks work best for me. Gather all of the odds and ends and pieces of paper you used to jot down your thoughts: Post-it® notes, index cards, your scribble scrabbles, receipts, and envelopes, etc. There is no need to rewrite your many ideas. Use a glue stick to adhere your collection of bits and pieces of paper inside a notebook.
Recording and tracking your ideas, are excellent organizational tools for a writer. Your ideas are ready and handy for when you need them. Over time you can refer to each one and expand on the idea as you develop it further. Are some of the shiny ideas standing out more than others? Perhaps some ideas are demanding, "Write me!"

As you weed through what you scribed during the Storystorm challenge, consider each idea thoughtfully. Carefully examine each idea and whittle down the list. Evaluate and determine which ideas have a strong picture book potential.

What makes a good idea? That's a challenging question. While no idea is ever wasted, a writer needs to consider the shiny ideas first. You need to weed through each one. Which ideas do you want to consider developing further? 

Here's my list of suggestions:

1. Choose an idea and write a pitch or a tweet.
2. Set a timer for 30 minutes and write a sloppy copy.
3. Brainstorm a few ideas with a critique partner.
4. Draft an outline to see where the idea takes you.
5. Select an idea and create a character map.
6. Ask yourself questions. Does the idea lend itself to a clear theme?
7. Do you feel you can expand on the catchy title idea? 
8. Search on Amazon. Do you see another writer who wrote about your idea? Don't be discouraged. Set out to write a story with a new spin, told in a way that only your can do. 
9. Write a draft, followed by several rewrites. From there take time to reconfigure and reconsider before sharing your manuscript with a critique partner or group. 
10. Finally, ask yourself, "Am I passionate about this idea?" Then you must write it.

After you have organized your Storystorm ideas in your Notebook of Ideas and prioritized which ideas have a strong potential to become manuscripts, keep on going. 

The journal can be used for future ideas throughout the year— an ongoing list to inspire you. 

Hang onto your inspiration. Create a depository of writing ideas.

Share in the comments below your suggestions for keeping track of your writing ideas.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Meet Natalie Rompella, Author of Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners ~ by Eileen Meyer

TAKE FIVE interview and Giveaway 

Natalie talks sled-dog racing, fresh-baked cookies, middle school and more!

Welcome to my first TAKE FIVE interview on the GROG Blog. I hope that you’ll take five minutes to meet the wonderful children’s author, Natalie Rompella, and learn more about her new MG novel, COOKIE CUTTERS AND SLED RUNNERS. If you post a comment in the next week, you’ll be entered in a drawing to receive a free copy of Natalie’s book (shipping limited to US postal addresses).

Eileen: What was the inspiration behind your new middle grade novel, COOKIE CUTTERS AND SLED RUNNERS?    
Natalie: My new love of sled dog racing. I had finished writing a book on sports that began in the U.S. and just learned about it. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. My character formed herself. I didn’t plan on writing about someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder—that organically happened. As for it taking place in middle school: this was one of my favorite times of my life. I loved sixth grade. I also adore teaching middle graders.

Eileen:  Tell us more about the recipes in the book. Where did they come from? Do you love to bake?
Natalie: I love baking. I started when I was young. My friend, Kate, and I would bake together. The first recipe in the book is based on the Sprinkle-Cake Cookies we came up with in grade school. And the Pad Thai Tuna recipe is one I used to make in high school -- a tuna and peanut butter sandwich. (Yes, it may sound awful, but it’s really good!) I still love baking and altering recipes. It’s fun to see what happens if you tweak something just so.

Eileen: How did you research two important, but very different themes in the novel – obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and sled dog racing?
Natalie: Call it cheating if you wish, but I had done research on both of these topics previously; so part of the research was done and already in my brain. However, writing fiction and non-fiction requires different research. I found this especially true with the sled dog racing. Because the sport was so foreign to me, I wasn’t familiar with the jargon. I joined a Facebook group and made friends with mushers. It was through mushers that I learned the sport vs. from books. 1. There aren’t that many books about the sport; 2. I wanted authentic dialogue from my character who raced and owned sled dogs. Oh, and I also attended sled dog races—both ones in the Midwest (as portrayed in the book) and the Iditarod in Alaska. With the OCD, I had already done research, but I also live with OCD, so many of the character’s thoughts came from what I’ve experienced.

Eileen: Share something surprising that people don’t know about you.
Natalie: I am an insect fanatic. I’ve had pet cicadas, katydids, hissing cockroaches, and praying mantids. Or, for those who already know about my insect obsession, you may not know I was absolutely petrified of insects growing up.

Eileen: Where can readers and fans find you on social media?
Natalie: Connect with me here --

Thank you, Natalie! We’ll announce one lucky winner who’ll receive a complimentary copy of her new book. Post a comment by following the Rafflecopter link below to be eligible for the drawing!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Multicultural Children's Book Day ~ by Christy Mihaly

The fifth annual Multicultural Children's Book Day is Saturday, January 27. MCBD aims to raise awareness of books for kids that celebrate diversity, and to get those books into more homes, classrooms and libraries. Hundreds of reviewers will be posting about hundreds of books. Wowza!

There's additional information at the end of this post about the MCBD Twitter party and other elements of the celebration. Why not join in the fun? And follow along on social media at: #ReadYourWorld.

This is my fourth year participating in MCBD, and I received FOUR exciting books to review. Big thanks to the MCBD sponsors! 

Picture Window Books, an imprint of Capstone Publishers, published the first two books on today's list. Pedro the Great, written by Fran Manushkin and illustrated by Tammy Lyon, is fun and engaging. This is the team that created the Katie Woo series, and the Pedro easy reader series follows the everyday adventures of the multicultural gang of buddies familiar to Katie Woo readers.  In Pedro the Great, you'll find humor and imagination, pirates, sharks, and ninjas. Pedro also displays some smart thinking to solve an engineering problem and build the tallest tower of cups. Highly recommended for readers K-2 (96 pages, paperback).

For the next level up (grades 2-4), Ailsa Wild has written a fast-paced family story in an urban setting, featuring a plucky heroine named Squishy (real name, Sita). Squishy Taylor and the Bonus Sisters, with illustrations by Ben Wood, was first published in Australia. It takes place soon after Squishy's mother has moved away for a temporary but long-term work assignment, causing Squishy to move in with her father's new family. Squishy's relationship with her twin stepsisters at first involves the silent treatment and mean tricks, but soon an enigmatic young fugitive in their apartment building's garage brings the three girls together to solve a mystery. Squishy gets to know her stepsisters better and realizes the twins are, in fact, her "bonus sisters." This well-written book should keep young readers riveted. (128 pages; I reviewed the paperback edition.)

The next couple of selections are picture books. Dream A Rainbow, written by Carlotta Penn, PhD, and beautifully illustrated by Joelle Avelino, was published last month by Daydreamers Press, a multicultural education company. The young protagonist of the story follows a rainbow into a colorful, imaginative dream with friendly animals in the eye-catching landscape of Ethiopia. 
In a personal note, the author explains that her book was inspired by her experience as the mother of a "rainbow baby," a daughter born after an earlier miscarriage. This story, building on the rainbow metaphor about happiness after heartbreak, came to her during the pregnancy that resulted in her daughter's birth. Penn says she's a dedicated daydreamer who wants to encourage her child and others to dream big dreams. (28 pages, soft cover.)

And last but surely not least, Willie: Does it Matter? is the creation of Rhyme Timean enterprise founded by "three grandmothers." The rhyming text by Debora Emmert (a.k.a. Nonna Debora) explores which personal characteristics matter, and which don't. 

Willie begins asking diverse friends and neighbors whether his hair color, height, or other physical features matter to them, and they tell him: "No." But when he inquires about character traits such as honesty and loyalty, he gets a different answer. His friends agree that how you treat other people is important. The illustrations by Bonnie Murray bring a cheery whimsy to this story about what qualities we value in our friends. (24 pages, soft cover; e-book.) 

One of the great things about Multicultural Children's Book Day is that it helps the creators of diverse, nontraditionally published books to connect with new readers. If you're intrigued, visit their websites to find out more, and happy reading, all!

I received complimentary copies of these books for review from MCBD sponsors, and I'll be donating them to my local elementary school. And now, a word from (and about) the MCBD sponsors:
Multicultural Children’s Book Day was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. 

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board.

2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors
BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal BoweGokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press

2018 Author Sponsors
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.  Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party!
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers:

Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: