Inspiration and education are often where you find it -- anywhere! Often it's a place least expected. And that is the theory behind my sometimes broad, sometimes focused use of mentor texts. From what I hear, there are writers that are still not using mentor texts in the process of getting a manuscript ready for submission. I do think reading mentor text is essential to writing and publication success, so I thought I would share how I use my Mentor Text pile with you.
My pile is huge. As I explained, I put, as you will see, specific mentor text on my list, and then every title I come across. Features on Writing and Illustrating, KidLit 411, KidLit TV, book lists, best seller lists and/or featured online at my local library's website. If it's newly released, of interests or sounds like a good comp book for a book I am writinga, I put it in my list!
This first book, I added for a few reasons. I write fractured fairy tales and love that genre. I have Moldilocks and the 3 Scares coming out Fall, 2019, and I would love to have another fractured fairy tale follow it. I also travel a lot to the Caribbean and Jamaica. In fact, I came across this title when searching for books on Jamaica, although it is not specifically mentioned within.
by Patricia Storace
Illustrated by Raul Colon
Jump at the Sun, Hyperion, 2007
JACKET COPY: Stolen away from her parents on her first birthday by Madame Fate, an island sorceress, beautiful Sugar Cane grows up in a tower overlooking the sea. With only a pet green monkey named Calloo for company, Sugar Cane is lonely -- her only consolation is her love for music. Often she stands at her window and sings, imagining that the echo of her voice is someone answering her. Then, one night, someone does hear her; but can this young many with a gift for creating songs break the spell of Madame Fate and help Sugar Cane set herself free?
MY NOTES: Reading this provided much food for thought. First, this was told more like a traditional fairy tale and likely came in around 1,000 plus words. In the 11 years since it has been published, word counts have been trimmed down con-siderably due to children reading at younger ages and it wouldn't be good to use quite the same style. But still, it was captivating and brilliant! While the story's structure, for the most part, was similar, the author inserted delicious details in every place imaginable, not only giving it Caribbean flavor, but another level. It focused on music, instruments, singing and dancing -- another unique level. It provided insight that Jump at the Sun is dedicated to celebrating African American culture. Something keep in mind when submitting there.
ALLIE ALL ALONG by Sarah Lynne Reul
Sterling Children's Books, 2018
JACKET COPY: When Allie's crayon breaks, she stomps, crashes and throws a tantrum, a fuss and a fit. Her big brother wants to help her feel better. Will punching a pillow, squeezing a toy, or breathing deep breaths help Allie let go of her angry feelings, one layer at a time?
MY NOTES: My book, Moldilocks and the 3 Scares, is being published by Sterling. Obviously, I would love to be able to publish another book with them. Of course, and reading their books informs my familiarity with their list. One thing that stood out right away from this book was the playful language. Also, there were very few words on each page, but what words there were, were vivid and evoked illustrations. This was a little unusual in that the main character didn't actively solve her own problem, but it did have a nice message about helping others when they most need it.
JUAN BOBO GOES TO WORK
Retold by Maris Montes
Illustrated by Joe Cepeda
JACKET COPY: What can you do with a boy who tries to do things right but only leaves disaster in his wake?
Laugh--that's what! Readers everywhere will love to laugh at the hilarious antics of the ever-blundering Juan Bobo, Puerto Rico's most celebrated folk character.
In this rollicking Juan Bobo tale, our hero sets out to find work at the farm and the grocery. Although the tasks are simple and the directions couldn't be clearer, he always finds a way to bungle things up as only a character whose name means "Simple John" could!
MY NOTES: This book proved pleasingly silly and entertaining and full of lessons in a non-preachy way. Cultural flavor and words were sprinkled throughout which set it apart from other similar tales from different cultures. I had a few reasons for reading this one -- I am going to Puerto Rico in a few weeks and wanted to see a glimpse of what kind of folklore they had which I might look out for. In addition, I want to have read at least 50 various culture tales to inform my writing my own culture tale from one of the places I have recently visited.
STORIES FROM THE CARIBBEAN
By Petronella Breinburg
Illustrated by Syrah Arnold and Tina Barber
RSVP - Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publishers, 2000
MY NOTES: While reading this did spark the idea to make a compilation of Malagasy-themed original folktales that I have created AND did certainly give me a nice idea of folk tales from many different cultures, I found it a bit choppy and disconnected and some of the endings not quite satisfying. I do think it portrays a very dated form of storytelling. I did enjoy the backstories of the tales, though and found an origin tale that I may be interested in telling with my own spin in a picture book one day.
THE ROUGH PATCH by Brian Lies
HarperCollins/Greewillow Books, 2018
JACKET COPY: Evan and his dog do everything together. They play and read and eat. But mostly you will find them tending to Evan's extraordinary garden, where flowers and other good things flourish and reach the sky.
But friends don't stay friends forever, and when Evan loses his, he destroys the place that meant the most to them, and creates something to match his mood. Something ugly and twisted, sad and stubborn, ragged and rough -- and he likes it that way. Until one day...
NOTES: To be honest, I didn't even know what this was about, even after reading the summary. I knew it was recently published, and I have always been a fan of Brian Lies' work. But surprisingly it was an new and unusual take on a topic that I am writing about with a friend -- the death of a pet. So it's a great comp book / mentor text for that story, as well as a well-done and satisfying story.
I JUST ATE MY FRIEND by Heidi McKinnon, 2017
Simon and Schuster
JACKET COPY: I just ate my friend. He was a good friend. But now he is gone. Would you be my friend? A hilarious story about the search for friendship and belonging - and maybe a little bit about the importance of impulse control -- from a new talent.
I guess the theme of this subversive books is "what goes around comes around," much like UGLY FISH by Kara Lareau. I do write subversive books, so this is a good comp to see what's out there in that subgenre.
LA CUCARACHA MARTINA: A Caribbean Folktale
Retold and Illustrated by David Moreton
JACKET FLAP: La Cucaracha Martina doesn't like life in the big city. The loud city sounds hurt her tiny ears and keep her awake at night.
Determined to find the source of the one beautiful noise she has heard only a few times, Martina takes the town! On street upon street, the very little cockroach creates ever so big a stir. One after another, animals come to catch a glimpse of this ravishing roach. Soon, marriage proposals fly and love is in the air.
Dog barks...WOOF! WOOF! And Pig huffs...OINK! OINK! But none of their noises will do. Who will win the heart of this most extraordinary cucarachita.
MY NOTES: More fodder for my stable of fables. This was a nice example of bringing something more to a tale, as it not only was a story of persistence, it featured fun animal sounds for children to call out during reading. Definitely a great example of making a story appealing to a little one.
DEAR SUBSTITUTE by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick
Pictures by Caldecott Medalist Christ Raschka
Disney / Hyperion, 2018
JACKET FLAP: This is not how today was supposed to go. Where's Mrs. Giordano, and why is this substitute mixing everything up.
MY NOTES: Scholastic is holding a manuscript I wrote about a substitute teacher, so as always, it's good to know what else is out there, and who published it and when. I thought this was clever and like how they developed a narrative arc and satisfying ending.
So as you can see, there's something to get out of anything and everything you read. Hopefully I will have more, and different examples tomorrow, as I have another stack of books that need to go back to the library (I take books out on both MY library card and my daughters).
TIP: Reading mentor texts proves to be a fabulous way to learn about what type of books a publisher publishes, as well as what books it has published!
Feel free to check my website www.LiterallyLynneMarie.com for updates. You can also follow my blog www.literallylynnemarie.blogspot.com or find me on social media:
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P.S. Please keep an eye out for the release of my next two picture books, LET'S EAT! MEALTIMES AROUND THE WORLD (Beaming Books, Fall 2019) and MOLDILOCKS AND THE 3 SCARES (Sterling, Fall 2019).