by Kirsti Call
Mo Willems is a favorite at our house. We read his books over and over again and when we saw him speak years ago, even my 6 month old was mesmerized. Mo’s combination of text and illustration are magical. His picture books are funny, relatable to kids, and filled with the unexpected which makes them incredible mentor texts.
Humor: Mo’s books make us laugh. The sparse words and emotional illustrations in his Pigeon series provide hours of entertainment. I’ve read Pigeon Wants a Puppy hundreds of times and laughed each time. And believe it or not, Don’t Let The Pigeon Stay up Late, is the perfect bedtime story--just silly enough to get the giggles out and settle down for the night. Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus is so ridiculous and true to the feelings of a toddler that kids and adults don't mind reading it repeatedly.
Relatability: Mo’s characters resonate with kids. Just like Pigeon, kids want to drive, eat hot dogs, get puppies, stay up late! Many kids have special friends like Knuffle Bunny or alligator in Hooray for Amanda and her Alligator. And most kids want things that they don’t have like Pigeon in The Ducking gets a Cookie!?
Unexpected: Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, Leonardo the Terrible Monster, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, and Edwina,The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct each create a surprise from the moment you read the title. That is NOT a Good Idea! has a twist in the end that has kids begging to read the story again.
Whether you're writing funny, relatable or unexpected stories, Mo Willem's books are great mentor texts. What have you learned from his books?
By Kirsti Call
Amy Krouse Rosenthal has always been one of my favorite picture book authors. Her stories are clever and full of humor and heart. As a New York times bestselling author, Amy knows how to write books that people want to read repeatedly. Little Pea, Little Oink, and Little Hoot are the kinds of books we love to read over and over again at our house. In fact, Little Pea was a mentor text for my anthropomorphic story, The Raindrop Who Couldn’t Fall.
Amy’s 2015 books, I Wish You More, Friendshape, and Little Miss, Big Sis are evidence of her ability to write about things that matter in a way that kids understand. Amy’s use of anthropomorphism, wordplay, and the unexpected make her books great mentor text for any picture book writer.
Anthropomorphism: Amy does a wonderful job of making inanimate objects come alive. Exclamation Mark chronicles the life of an exclamation mark who doesn’t fit in until he figures out who he is. Spoon and Chopsticks’ messages are similar; you need to be ok with who you are, but also stick together.
Wordplay: Almost all of Amy’s books involve clever wordplay. I Scream Ice Cream is filled with homophones. The One Smart Cookie series is all about metaphors for life. Wumbers, and Alpha’s Bet are hilarious teaching books filled with fun puns and wordplay.
The Unexpected: Amy does a good job of turning the truth upside down. Little pea hates eating candy for dinner and loves spinach for dessert. Uni the Unicorn dreams of meeting a little girl although everyone knows little girls don’t exist. Little Oink is required to mess up his room before play time when all he longs to do is clean and organize. Little Hoot longs to sleep at night when owls are supposed to stay awake!
What Amy Krouse Rosenthal books have helped you in your writing journey? Which ones do you love to read?
by Kirsti Call
At my house, we read Creepy Carrots, by Aaron Reynolds all the time. Why do my kids enjoy it so much? How does Aaron succeed in making us laugh and feel a little scared at the same time? What makes me willing to read it over and over? Why do we make references to creepy carrots every time we see something orange?
Clearly, Aaron’s picture books make an impact and his versatility makes him a great author to study. Aaron’s use of humor, the unexpected, and lyrical language make his books incredible mentor texts to learn from.
Humor: Aaron masterfully writes stories that not only make us laugh, but also subtly teach. Superhero School is fun to read and yet definitely makes a point about the importance of math. Carnivores teaches about animals hilariously, in a way that makes us empathize with the carnivores even after they eat each other. Chicks and Salsa makes us laugh as the barnyard animals yearn for and learn how to make southwestern food. Pirates vs. Cowboys comical story shows us that we have something in common with everyone--even if it’s body odor!
The Unexpected: Aaron’s stories surprise us. In Creepy Carrots, the carrots get the best the bunny in the end. Buffalo Wings stars a rooster chef who wants to make buffalo wings, but doesn’t realize they are made of chicken! Aaron’s rhyming story, Snowbots, pairs two unlikely things, (snow and robots) into a wonderful rollicking story. Here Comes Destructosaurus! depicts a tantruming monster who really is just looking for his teddy bear. Nerdy Birdy surprises us with how nerds can sometimes be just as exclusive as the popular kids. (Carrie posted a think quick interview with Aaron about Nerdy Birdy, here).
Lyrical Language: In Metal Man, a welder makes sculptures out of junk and helps a young boy create something special. The words are lyrical and powerfully written with a message about creativity and being yourself. In Back of the Bus, the story of Rosa Parks is told from the point of view of a young boy who sits in the back of the bus while she sits in the front. His symbolism and lush language make this story moving and powerful. It’s the perfect way to being a discussion about racism with young children.
Whether you're writing humous or lyrical or serious stories, Aaron's books are great mentor texts. What have you learned from Aaron Reynold’s books?
by Carrie Charley Brown
When you think about author Mac Barnett's books, what are some words that come to mind? (Cue Music)
(If you’re peeking ahead before thinking this through, you haven't had enough fun. Go ahead...play the music. Just don’t blame me if the tune gets stuck in your head the rest of the day.)
Are you ready now? Did you say funny, fresh, and clever? If so, we’ve gathered some of the same gems from his work. And there’s so much more.
Mac Barnett- The Fresh Prince of Picture Books
How is it possible that a silly skunk book can stay on my mind so long after I read it? This book is following me, just like the skunk followed the man in the story! People, books, and problems have lasting impressions on us, too. It’s relatable. I admire how Mac brings deeper thinking into a simple, funny storyline. Fresh? Yes. Clever? Yes. Funny? Very! But it doesn’t stop with THE SKUNK.
Mac Barnett- Interactive Interplay Interrogator- (That’s a lot of “Ints”)
One of my favorite picture books of all time is CHLOE AND THE LION. Chloe’s plight to find loose change is interrupted by an arguing author and illustrator. The moment they step into the story, it turns fiction into metafiction, ordinary into fresh and clever, and sweet into laugh out loud. It also pokes fun at unnecessary illustration notes when illustrator Adam Rex turns the intended lion into a dragon. But it doesn’t stop with Chloe.
Mac Barnett- Dance Partner
We all know what happens in the game of Telephone…the message gets mixed up as it is passed from person to person.
Let’s use TELEPHONE as an example.
“Tell Peter: Hit Pop Flies and homers” turns into “Tell Peter: Prop planes are for fliers.” What bridges these two statements and why do they change the way they do? What we see in the first picture is a cardinal with a baseball bat whispering to a goose in a flight cap. Each character has distinct interests that change the way they interpret things. Relatable, huh? Whether or not Mac had this external plot in mind or he left that up to the illustrator, the fact remains that there was room for an incredible dance to take place. As Mac said in this interview, “If I finish a manuscript and it makes sense without illustrations, it's a failed text.”
InSAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE, the text/illustration dance is a tease. We see a giant diamond under the dirt below the boys as they discuss digging in a different direction. Our eyes dance between the text and illustrations, while we shout, “No! Don’t do it!” We root for the boys to find the diamonds and we can’t wait to turn the page to see what happens next.
“He spent every Royal Day admiring his Royal Reflection, and not doing much else. Which is why his kingdom was such a Royal Mess. King Duncan didn’t repair the roads. He built billboards instead.”
Let’s think about this in manuscript format. Can you envision what the picture might show? Perhaps not. But, when we see several huge billboards showing the King’s striking handsome figure, we get it. It’s all about the dance between text and art. Mac really gets that. As Mac said in this School Library Journal interview :“Writing a picture book is the art of finishing an unfinished thing.” It’s all about the dance.
Mac Barnett- Partner in Crime
Mac has teamed up with some legendary illustrators to create amazing stories. I’d say he has several dream teams. Adam Rex, Jon Scieszka, Jon Klassen, Dan Santat, Patrick McDonnell, and Kevin Cornell are just some of his awesome story partners.
Mac Barnett- Extra Yarn Lender
When we read Mac’s books, it’s like the endless supply of yarn Annabelle enjoys in EXTRA YARN. Mac just keeps on giving. I still need to get my hands on Mac’s brand new release, LEO: A GHOST STORY, as well as BILLY TWITTERS AND HIS BLUE WHALE PROBLEM. And of course, I look forward to the tales he has yet to spin.
In one month, I will have the honor of learning from Mac during the Picture Book Summit. You still have time to join me, as registration is open for a couple more weeks. Picture Book Summit happens on October 3, so in the meantime, grab Mac’s books at the library and start dissecting. If Mac can get President Taft out of the tub, he should be able to unstick your writer’s block, too.
Leave me a comment: What's your favorite Mac Barnett book? How has it helped you with in your writing?
by Carrie Charley Brown
Normally, when I attempt to reserve books on my library’s website, I usually find only a few of those books available. Sometimes none. Imagine my surprise to find ALL of the books I wanted by Andrea Davis Pinkney! Wow…Rare. So, what is it about her books that cause a library to stock them all? Besides incredible writing, I think it boils down to a big R: Relatability; for kids, parents, and educators alike.
Nonfiction picture books, especially biographies, have to be written masterfully to help young children stay engaged and relate to what is happening.
“Martin wasn’t old enough to be a preacher, but even as a boy, he had a big way of speaking. He learned this from watching his father address the congregation.” -MARTIN & MAHALIA HIS WORDS HER SONG
In just the right words, Andrea paints a picture of Martin as a young boy. We learn that he is motivated and perhaps brave, that he admires his father, has big shoes to fill and his own ideals. We also infer that he is expected to attend church regularly. Many children experience the same feelings and situations, whether they relate to other kids that are like this or they are that kid.
She also reveals a problem early on that people are emotionally connected to.
“But in the South, where Martin and Mahalia lived, Jim Crow laws made sure things were not free. These laws said: Black folks here. White folks there. That’s how life was for young Martin and Mahalia. Separate but nowhere near equal.” -MARTIN & MAHALIA HIS WORDS HER SONG
This causes a child to root for Martin and Mahalia to succeed. We care about what happens to them.
Andrea implements rhythmic repetitive language patterns to keep young children engaged.
“Martin spoke the gospel. Prayed the gospel. Sought the gospel. Taught the gospel.”
-MARTIN & MAHALIA HIS WORDS HER SONG
“Walked to work, we did. Walked to school, we did. Walked to church, we did. Yes we did, child. Yes we did.”
-BOYCOTT BLUES: HOW ROSA PARKS INSPIRED A NATION
“The students sat still and proud. And waited. And wanted. A doughnut and coffee, with cream on the side.”
-SIT-IN: HOW FOUR FRIENDS STOOD UP BY SITTING DOWN
This particular reference to a doughnut and coffee with cream on the side is repeated 6.5 times in the book. That SHOWS the main characters endurance and patience through standing up for what is right.
Andrea uses figurative language that rocks your emotions to the core.
“At first they were treated like the hole in the doughnut—invisible.”
-SIT-IN: HOW FOUR FRIENDS STOOD UP BY SITTING DOWN
“Mahalia’s voice was brass and butter.”
-MARTIN & MAHALIA HIS WORDS HER SONG
“She fled like tomorrow wasn’t ever gonna come.”
“Sojourner put one big-black-beautiful foot in front of the other and she stomped on the floorboards of ignorance that were underneath.”
-SOJOURNER TRUTH’S STEP-STOMP STRIDE, 2009
Andrea Davis Pinkney: PASSION PRINCESS
If a picture book is written well, its heart will shine through. We can feel Andrea’s passion pumping through our own veins. Her passion becomes ours. We leave as changed readers.
Andrea Davis Pinkney: DIVERSITY DIVA
Every character pictured in the fourteen books sprawled in front of me feature African American characters. Integrate those with other shelved books and we see the need to paint a better picture of our diverse world. It’s like giving children library cards that truly belong to them. All of them!
And the characters? A well-represented assembly of many different walks of life.
Andrea writes beyond the books mentioned here to also include fiction picture books, novels, narrative nonfiction, and anthologies. I feel blessed to be able to learn from her during the online Picture Book Summit this fall. I have learned so much already just from studying her books. I hope you will join me in this author study. If you missed the last study of Peter Brown's books, you can find it HERE. Hope to see you at Summit, too!
by Carrie Charley Brown
Do you know what it's like to walk a few hours in Peter Brown's shoes? I'd like to say I do. After all, Aaron Reynolds MADE me act and dress like Peter Brown during the 2014 NTX SCBWI Conference. Okay, so maybe that does not qualify me to REALLY walk in his shoes, but I have tried his picture books on for size, and they have taught me some valuable lessons about writing.
In preparation for the insight that Peter is bound to share at the first-ever online picture book conference, Picture Book Summit 2015, I decided to dig deeper with some intensive mentor text research. Would you like to join me? Let's examine the books he has both authored and illustrated, and see if we begin to grasp the it-factor he so boldly possesses.
Peter Brown: INTERPLAY COUNSELOR
Even in Peter's first releases, you will find perfect examples of leaving room for the illustration.
What you read in FLIGHT OF THE DODO's text (2005):
“Inventing a flying machine wasn’t easy, and the Waddlers tried one lousy idea… after another. But after months of slaving away, they finally came up with something they thought just might work. They called it the Dodo. The Waddlers said goodbye to the ground for the first time in their lives, and climbed in.”
What we actually see in the pictures:
The birds attempt to pump each other up with an air pump and try to launch into flight using ventilation fans. They create an invention that looks similar to a simplified hot air balloon. They pack their suitcases and prepare to take off.
Peter didn’t come right out and say, “They pumped each other up with hot air.” Just the hint of “one lousy idea after another” leaves lots of room for humorous illustrations. It MAKES the reader stop to take in the details of the illustrations. Art and words do si do for an unsquare dance that is outside of the box.
What you read in CHOWDER's text (2006):
“Chowder had always been different. His owners liked to think of him as quirky, but most people thought he was just plain weird.”
What we actually see in the picture:
Chowder the dog is sitting on the toilet seat doing his business.
Peter didn’t come right out and say, “Chowder was so different that he even used a toilet like humans do.” Peter's approach allows the reader to feel slightly more like a family member that can chuckle at Chowder's quirkiness, than an outsider thinking he is "just plain weird." Right then, we are vested in the story. We become part of it. Peter's interplay not only corralled the words and art, but us, too!
Peter Brown: MESSAGE MASTER
Peter builds on themes that kids really relate to, and he does it without shoving a lesson down their throats. The magic behind his method is linking us directly to a character’s heart and experience.
THE CURIOUS GARDEN (2009)-
Underlying Theme: When we care enough about something, we can prompt change.
Liam is a curious, thoughtful child who transforms a dull, gray city into a lush, cooperative environment. We relate to Liam's innocence and think, “If he can do it, so can I.” Liam’s efforts change the hearts of the characters around him. We see a community coming together before our eyes, not even realizing that we have become one of the team members, too.
YOU WILL BE MY FRIEND! (2011)-
Underlying Theme: When you are genuine, friendship will find you at just the right time.
Lucy is an eager, excitable bear who desires to make a new friend. Mom shows her support of Lucy’s goal, and then Lucy takes it upon herself to initiate contact and deal with her failed friendships throughout the rest of the story. Through Lucy’s words and actions, it is evident that Peter Brown had a real grasp on the social interactions of young children. The child reader will think, “That has happened to me!” Instant relatability turns into rereadability. Without realizing it, the rereading creates learning and confident kids who are ready to tackle the ups and downs of friendship on their own. Genius.
Peter Brown: CONCEPT KING
Peter excels at flipping ideas on their heads, which results in original concepts.
CHILDREN MAKE TERRIBLE PETS (2010)-
Peter doesn’t just write a book about a child wanting a pet. Instead, a bear wants to keep a child as a pet.
MR. TIGER GOES WILD (2013)-
Peter doesn’t just write about a child who wants to break out of the acceptable social standards. Instead, a humanized tiger desires to let lose and be a wild animal.
MY TEACHER IS A MONSTER (NO, I AM NOT.) (2014)-
Peter doesn’t just write about a mean teacher. Instead, the teacher is portrayed as an actual monster.
When an idea is turned inside out, the door is open for humor to waltz right in. Wouldn’t you like to learn from an interplay counselor, message master, and concept king? You can start by checking out Peter’s books. As you study, keep in mind that sometimes it takes 3-5 reads of a story to fully appreciate and grasp everything that is happening. Reading for research is a slow process of deep thinking and dissection. Enjoy the process, and when you are done, you might even consider joining me as an online attendee at the Picture Book Summit. I can't wait to learn directly from Peter, and I am so pumped that I can do that from the comfort of my own home.
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