Thursday, March 9, 2017

March Is Blowing Books My Way With ReFoReMo: Tips & Takeaways - by Kathy Halsey

March blew in like a lion here in central Ohio, blustery and chilly. I love March because it's time again to immerse myself in stacks of picture books for the ReFoReMo challenge. This is my third year for reading with my mind tuned towards writing as I read. Today I'll share a few books from week 1 and tips for customizing the reading challenge to work for your needs as a writer. 


Tips for Making the Challenge YOURS
1. I survey the weekly lists before I check them out from the library with my mind on my current WIPs and needs. Last year I had a critique with a Charlesbridge editor in April. I focused on NF books with that imprint in mind and developed a list of commonalities from the mentor texts I read.  I then used the list to see how to tweak my manuscript. 
2. Find themes or genre types that fit your voice, and read those. People tell me that I know "funny," so I focused my reading toward humor this first week of ReFoReMo.
3. Can't find a particular text? Look to youtube for hard-to-find books and hear them read aloud as they were meant to be.
4. Include genres or types of books that you don't usually peruse. I steer clear of rhyming books since I don't rhyme. However, I am reading rhyming texts to see what I can learn.
5. Don't ignore the "classics" or older texts. As a rule, I read titles from the last five years, however I almost passed up JAMBERRY by Bruce Degan, which inspired me to play with words and create my own jam.
6. Lucky you, since it's March here's one last lucky tip! Make your reading do double duty. I'm using mentor texts to write this post, to share in a class I'm teaching with othe librarians, and for my presentation at the Virginia Hamilton Conference on Multicultural Literature. 


Writing Takeaways from Mentor Texts
1. UNICORN THINKS HE'S PRETTY GREAT by Bob Shea, Disney/Hyperion, 2013: Even though as writers we're cautioned not to use "being" verbs, I noticed many of these verbs peppering our lists from week one. From UNICORN, "Things are a lot different around here since that Unicorn moved in. I thought I was pretty cool when I rode my bike to school." (first 2 page spread) The ending also includes such verbs: "You know something, Unicorn? I had a feeling we’d be friends.” My takeaway: do what serves the story.

2. BARK GEORGE! by Jules Feiffer – Harper Collins, 1999: Even though this is an older title, the page turns are great! "George’s mother said: 'Bark, George.' George went: 'Meow.' " Feiffer sets up the conflict in a spread and a half. That is masterful. I also noted the intentional use of repetition that triggers young readers' anticipation. " 'No, George," said George’s mother. 'Cats go meow. Dogs go arf. Now bark, George.' George went: 'Quack-quack.' " Reread this classic for a great set up and hilarious ending, that is implied not stated.  
3. RHYMING DUST BUNNIES by Jan Thomas beach lane books, 2009: Again, the writer finds a simple, repeated concept. We have 4 main characters, three with rhyming names and one that doesn't - Ed, Ned, and Ted, and Bob. The reader know who will and won't rhyme quickly. They also learn that the character that doesn't "fit" actually knows more than the others by the story's end. My other takeaway is that a character arc can be simple (Bob is annoying, then the hero.)
4. VAMPIRINIA BALLERINA by Anne Marie Pace, Disney/Hyperion. 2012: Look for an interesting twist on picture book tropes. Lots of ballerina books, only one vampirina. The story also reads like a "how-to" book. Just the right amount of word play to increase the humor in this book.
5. JAMBERRY by Bruce Degan, HarperCollins, 1983: This title was probably the oldest I've read, but oh the joy to read it aloud! Bruce delivers delicious word play make this book one-of-a-kind. Short rhymes, great rhythm, and made-up words make for fun: " One berry, two  berry, pick me a blueberry. Haberry, shoeberry, in my canoe berry. (Very similar to the fun Mo Willems has in mentor text NANETTE'S BAGETTE.)

What mentor texts are blowing your way these days? What are your writer takeaways? I'd love to hear from you! Happy Reading and Writing! Lucky us, it's March!

18 comments:

  1. Exactly as we intended it to be....customizable and habit forming for yourself. Thanks for the mention, Kathy, and glad to hear that it is working for you!

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    1. TY, Carrie, for coming by to read this.

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  2. Kathy, what a thoughtful and helpful post. You have done your homework.

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    1. TY, Sherri, always a close reader and my editor! Hugs.

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  3. Great post, Kathy.

    One book that I love for its beautiful, poetic wording is: Maria Gianferarri's "Coyote Moon". Even when coyote needs to hunt/eat, a rather rough reality, the text isn't scary or gross.It doesn't avoid the truth but rather presents in a way the kids can accept. Take away: don't avoid difficult-to-write passages. It can be done. Just find the proper wording. I also love the poetics of "Water is Water by Miranda Paul (but, too be honest, I simply love anything that Maria or Miranda write.)

    For nonfiction biography, I like Nancy Churnin's "The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game. Though his disability obviously plays a role in the story, she wins us over hearts by putting the focus on his passion for the game. Takeaway: your MC's struggle isn't necessarily the main hook. Look for the heart of a story.

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    1. I, too, am enamored w/Maria's work and I love everything Miranda does. Likewise, I have navy's book in my own library. We have good taste. TY for the takeaways.

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  4. I love this post, Kathy. I'm so glad you're using ReFoReMo to improve your writing and customizing it to work for you! Yay!

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    1. TY, Kirsti, for reading this. Love ReFo.

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  5. Great advice, Kathy! And thanks for the kind words about CM, Linda (or should I say "Danke") You, too, Kathy :). You both made my day! Cheers!! :)

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    1. You are one of the folks I see as a guiding star for what I want in a career. I am grateful you read my post!

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  6. ReFoReMo - I always learn new things. Looking at Jamberry again, seeing new ways of playing with language! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I was amazed at what that book gave me, Sue.

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  7. Participating in ReFoReMo always helps me to grow as a writer. Disecting and studying recently published books provides me with new knowledge. As writers we can't overlook previously published books. There are many fine nuggets within these titles.

    Just like you, Kathy, I find inspiration from these "oldies but goodies" titles. My list includes MY LUCKY DAY by Keiko Kasza, THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith and LOTTIE'S NEW BEACH TOWEL by Petra Mathers.

    Let's all carry on this month with Carrie.
    ~Suzy

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  8. Yes, we Carrie on! I picked up LOTTIE'S BEACH TOWEL, too. So cute.

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  9. Thank you, Kathy, for the dive into great mentor texts. I have read so many books recently and I'd like to add THE TRUE STORY OF THE THREE LITTLE PIGS by Jon Scieszka and I YAM A DONKEY by Cece Bell. They are belly shaking humor :)

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  10. I know 3 Pigs so well. Charlotte. It is genius. I AM DONKEY is my personal fav this year.

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  11. Appreciations, Kathy. Great titles to learn from. I especially am keen about page turns. And I LOVE Vampirina Ballerina & was able to influence our library system to order it, which should mean, the series, too.

    These are all valuable tips.

    Plus, if you don't have the multicultural p.b. NF title SHE SANG PROMISE, about a Native American girl born in the 1920s who overcame a difficult childhood living outdoors in South Florida to become a university press author, a presenter at the Smithsonian AND the first woman elected leader of her Tribe, fb message me or send an email with your postal address.

    JGAoffice at gmail dot com.

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  12. Whoa, what a gift! I would be honored and I want an autograph!!!

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