A while back, I challenged myself to write picture books using structures and approaches I’ve never used before. Oh, the horror! The stress! The excitement!
I said see you later to my beloved Classic Picture Book Structure (MC has a problem, MC faces obstacles of escalating difficulty, MC encounters black moment, MC figures out how to solve the problem and grows/changes by the story’s end). This wasn’t easy. That structure had served me well in many of my books including Mostly Monsterly and Princess in Training. Still. I wanted to push myself creatively.
So You Want to Be a Rock Star by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Kirstie Edmunds
How to Babysit a Grandpa by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish
The more books I read and analyzed, the more I realized that this structure did not involve a list of bland, disjointed steps for accomplishing a task. Nope. Nope. Nope. These steps (along with the art) needed to tell a real deal story. There needed to be a beginning, middle, and end. There needed to be characters, conflict, plot, setting…. There needed to be opportunities for readers to feel something.
What To Do If an Elephant Stands on Your Foot by Michelle Robinson, illustrated by Peter Reynolds
I Dare You Not to Yawn by Helen Boudreau, illustrated by Serg Bloch
The Younger Brother’s Survival Guide written and illustrated by Lisa Kopelke
I also noticed that many of these books were written in second person.
Armed with this information, I knew what to include in my how-to manuscript.I just, um, needed a good idea.
For me, that is always the very hardest part of the writing process. I thought and I thought and I thought. Nothing.
I thought some more. More nothing.
Then one day, I was in PetSmart with my son. He want-want-wanted a pet dwarf hamster. The two of us were looking at the hamsters. He was filled with elation. I was filled with dread. And I noticed something. Next to the aquariums packed with hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, and mice was a rack of Pet Care Guides. Hmm!
I had a good idea!
I decided to write an outrageous, over-the-top pet care guide.
Caring for Your Lion sold to Sterling at auction. Thank you, PetSmart.
I worked really hard to make Caring for Your Lion irresistible. But here’s the thing. I never would have been able to create it if I hadn’t read and studied those mentor texts. Mentor texts help writers make good things great.
For those of you interested in writing a manuscript using the How-To…Structure, I wanted to include some additional mentor texts that have come out since I sold my book.
How to Read a Story by Kate Messner, illustrated by Mark Siegel
How to Behave at a Tea Party by Madelyn Rosenberg, illustrated by Heather Ross
A Beginner's Guide to Bearspotting by Michelle Robinson, illustrated by David Roberts
What better way to celebrate ReFoReMo than with some CAKE?! Tammi is giving away a signed, first edition copy of her soon-to-be-released I LOVE CAKE: STARRING RABBIT, PORCUPINE, AND MOOSE (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, May 3) to one lucky duck. To be eligible for this prize, you must be fully registered, comment on every post, read daily, and keep a record of your progress.
Tammi Sauer is a former teacher and library media specialist. She has sold 25 picture books to major publishing houses—Bloomsbury, Disney*Hyperion, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. In addition to winning awards, her books have gone on to do great things. Mostly Monsterly was selected for the Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories program. Me Want Pet! was recently released in French which makes her feel extra fancy. And Nugget and Fang, along with Tammi herself, was featured on the Spring 2015 Scholastic Book Fair DVD which was shared with millions of students. Her newest book, I Love Cake!: Starring Rabbit, Porcupine, and Moose (HarperCollins), is available May 3, 2016.