Friday, May 22, 2015

Is It an Animal, Vegetable or Early Chapter Book? by Kathy Halsey

Yes, it's an animal, Kathy's dog, Wiley Corgi!
Do you remember that old word game you used to play as a kid? Is it an animal, vegetable, or mineral? Lately I've played that game with my writing. I write what I think is a picture book, but my critique group pegs it as an early chapter book. My word count is PB, under 700 word easy-peasy; I only have 1-2 characters, and what I think is a fairly simple plot. I've read mentor texts, studied picture books, taken classes, devoted myself to the art of the picture book, and YET...
MAYBE IT'S A VEGETABLE??? Err, I mean, ah, early chapter book? 
I shook off my disappointment (I admit, it took awhile.) and began to explore a new niche for my writing. My plan is to expand the  major scenes from my picture book and beef up several characters. I will loosely base the structure on a new series from Scholastic, Branches. The titles appeal to grades 1-3 with a reading level of 2nd grade, depending on the specific title. There are 12 series so far and I've read/studied SAVING THE SUN DRAGON, Dragon Masters' series; and THE SCHOOL IS ALIVE, Eerie Elementary series. 

Scholastic's Branches sites states that "all Branches books are Common Core-ready" and include easy-to-read text, simple plot lines, plenty of context clues, purposeful illustrations (black & white) that aid in comprehension. The classroom guide gives a wealth of information for writers with sections on what kids like, what educators like, and a great series topic chart that covers theme Scholastic seeks. It's a blueprint to writing early chapter books!
Branches Series Topic Chart
For my manuscript, I've highlighted the themes I plan to use: mystery, friendship, problem solving, and inquiry. These theme also fit my "not-quite-a-picture-book" story. 

Next, I took my mentor text, THE SCHOOL IS ALIVE, and blocked out the important scenes in the first five chapters for structure. I noted these areas to scaffold my story:
1. Chapter length- 3-8 pages
2. Pithy chapter titles
3. Foreshadowing in every chapter
4. Characters names fit genre of scary tale - Sam Graves, Eerie Elementary
5. Cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter
6. Roughly 380 word/chapter and 64/page and a picture/spread. 



I also pulled a few other "iffy" picture book manuscripts from my desk drawer for early chapter book series potential. With these techniques, I am saving time and stories, too! No more "animal, vegetable, mineral' games for me.






33 comments:

  1. Kathy, thanks for the wonderful blog post. I too, am working on younger chapter books. (Love the Branches series). But I wasn't aware of the teachers guide - and chart. Thanks for sharing that.

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    1. Glad I could help, Cheryl. TY for reading and commenting.

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  2. Wow! A new genre to consider! Thanks, Kathy!

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  3. Great post Kathy. I'm in a similar situation - I'd like it to be pb but have been told it could be a chapter book.

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  4. Good work, Kathy! I am often in the "is it a pb" conundrum. You have given us a great model here! Best wishes as you complete and fine-tune your story!

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    1. Jane, try to recast one of yours, too. It helps to have options.

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  5. Great post, Kathy. I have a pb ms that I'm planning to elongate into an early chapter book. Just need time to do it.

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  6. I've mildly thought about doing the same thing to some of my not-so-picture-book-manuscripts. Thanks for the back work, it's giving me something else to seriously consider.

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    1. Hey, Juliana, glad to know i am not th sonly one to have this kind of ms.

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  7. It seems you've discovered a talent for the longer work--and you've mapped out some excellent strategies for capitalizing on that. I wish you much success! Nancy Sander's book Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Beginning Readers and Chapter Books will give you 379 pages of solid assistance. http://tinyurl.com/yes-chapters

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    1. Pat, I have read it and am in a FB group, Word by Word that discussed it.

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  8. I also feel the need to expand on a few of my picture books so this comes in as a handy dandy map. Wow, Kathy! Thanks for the smorgasbord of great suggestions!

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    1. I felt good to know they have 2 more eerie sin the works, too, Sue.

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  9. This post is a good one that give us lots of food for thought.

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    1. Ha- food for though - vegetables, Sherri!

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  10. Thank you, Kathy, for sharing excellent tips that just may work for some of my under construction manuscripts.

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  11. Great post, Kathy. I was told the same thing-try chapter book for your story. Your tips are most helpful-thank you :)

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    1. Charlotte, we all seem to get that advice from time to time, don't we?

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  12. Wonderful post, Kathy! Helpful information for many of us caught in the PB vs Chapter Book conundrum.

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  13. Awwwwwwesome! When I first started writing picture books (before I knew anything about what made a picture book a picture book), I wrote a trilogy of stories, each coming in at about 2,000 words. Then I started taking classes about writing picture books, got a critique from Melissa Manlove (suggested they were chapter books), and started comparing the two genres. Gotta love that aha! moment. But I haven't done anything with them since I'm focusing on picture books right now. I'll be using your suggestions when I do take those stories out of the drawer. Thanks, Kathy!

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    1. Yup, you just might have a series there, Jilanne.

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  14. Thanks for breaking this down, Kathy! Is that 380 words per chapter? And for how many chapters? Thanks!

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    1. Carrie, it is an average of 380 woods/chapter and 15 chapters.

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  15. Great post, Kathy! Thanks for mapping out a great strategy for those IFFY manuscripts. My summer is going to be spent sorting through mine and discovering their potential. Putting this post on my favorites bar for future reference along with our book by Nancy Sanders! :)

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  16. Oh, wow, Rene, I appreciate the compliment! I hate to let the work I put in on some of these manuscripts go to waste!

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  17. This is wonderful Kathy! Thanks for the great info. I just came up with an idea that may not be a PB so this will help me decide! :)

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  18. Thank you for sharing a wonderful strategy, Kathy! The timing is perfect for me. Off to get Branches' classroom guide!

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  19. Kathy, I can tell you are having fun with this project. It will show in your story & I hope to get your autograph on it some day. I love seeing your process & the smiley face with veggies is cute. Also, I think this is universal, all writers for young readers hear - our story/poem is more suited for a different genre/format. Everyone can benefit from this article.
    Brava!

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  20. What a great post, Kathy!!!! Wishing you the best. I love these Branches books!

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    1. Thank you for stopping by to read this. You are the master, Nancy, and i have your YES YOU CAN book which I read for the Word by Word FRB group.

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