Friday, March 27, 2020

ReFoReMo Day 20: Author Marcie Colleen Plants Story Seeds




My newest book, The Bear’s Garden was inspired by the real-life Brooklyn Bear’s Community Garden in my former neighborhood in New York City. The name always puzzled me—I mean, we didn’t have bears wandering around Brooklyn last I checked!

Come to find out, the garden was named for a teddy bear that was found in the weeds when the workers began to create a garden in the abandoned lot. Of course, immediately I started thinking of that little bear. How did he get there? Did he belong to anyone? Was he placed there on purpose?

The Bear’s Garden is my imaginative story about how the teddy bear came to be in those weeds.

While the real-life story was the main inspiration, I turned to many other picture books, as well. I always seek out mentor texts to assist in writing my own. It’s an essential part of my process to see what is already published and explore how my book can stand apart.

 The Curious Garden by Peter Brown is perhaps the most known picture book about an urban community garden. I, of course, started there. My story would be a similar community beautification project, but I had a little stuffed bear to include in the effort.









Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael Lopez is based on a true story from my current city of San Diego, California. It is a fictionalized account like The Bear’s Garden. In it a young girl dreams of color in the drab city and assists a muralist in transforming the walls of her neighborhood into vibrant works of art. Two aspects of this story stood out to me: the young female who led the effort and the way the community worked together.



The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small is about a young girl who moves to the gray city and gradually transforms her rooftop into a bursting garden. I loved this idea of transformation, but as a city girl, I was starting to take offense at the stance that the city is ugly and colorless. The girl in my story would find beauty everywhere: in an oil-slicked puddle, the pop of color from a pavement-defying weed, or graffiti-ed walls.





Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith is a wordless picture book. I loved it’s very observant young girl who finds beauty in the wildflowers growing through the cracks in the sidewalk. However, I was a bit appalled that she picked the flowers! I knew my protagonist would notice small things that others miss, but that in a true respect for beauty, would help cultivate it into something that could be enjoyed not killed.




Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold is a beautiful love letter to life in the city. Most of the books I found were about beautifying a dull, gray city, I wanted to have my book be a celebration of urban life. It would be a character, maybe in need of help, but wonderful in its own right.








Lastly, I struggled with the ending of The Bear’s Garden. My words were falling short. I felt the best way to show the growth of the garden and the building of community was through visuals. So, inspired by my favorite ending of any picture book ever—Me Jane by Patrick McDonnell—I decided to keep the text super sparse and allow the illustration to complete the beautiful journey. I wanted those last two page turns to be reflective and powerful. Alison Oliver delivered quite nicely.



The Bear’s Garden is sprouting up on bookshelves everywhere this week. I hope maybe its story will plant a seed for your own.



Marcie is giving away a signed copy of The Bear's Garden to one lucky winner! To be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must be registered by March 2, comment on each post, consistently read mentor texts, and enter the Rafflecopter drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo.



Marcie is the award-winning picture book author of Penguinaut! (illustrated by Emma Yarlett) and Love, Triangle (illustrated by Bob Shea), as well as the Super Happy Party Bears chapter book series. She teaches Writing Children’s Picture Books for the University of California at San Diego both online and on campus, and runs her own Study Hall conducting a month-long online critique group dedicated to the crafting picture books. Find out more about how you can study with Marcie at thisismarciecolleen.com and @MarcieColleen1

113 comments:

  1. Loved your description of the birth and growth of your story. Great mentor texts! Thank you.

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  2. Hi Marcie!!!
    I love your inspiration for The Bear's Garden and how you described using these mentor texts. I'll be at the online book launch for your book. Thank you!!!

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  3. Hi Marcie!!!
    I love your inspiration for The Bear's Garden and how you described using these mentor texts. I'll be at the online book launch for your book. Thank you!!!

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  4. I found your explanation of how you used mentor texts to help in writing your own book helpful, Marcie. These mentor texts sound like great helps in your writing journey. I am eager to read your book, The Bear's Garden. Terrific post!

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  5. Thank you for sharing your journey. These mentor texts are amazing. Sidewalk Flowers took my breath away...

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  6. Marcie, it’s so interesting to learn about the mentor texts you used to write The Bear’s Garden. Me ... Jane is one of my favorite picture books. I was glad you had some oldies but goodies, too! I look forward to reading your book.

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  7. Thank you for the gift of sharing your thoughts, ideas and process of your writing journey. I learned a lot.

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  8. It's so helpful to learn about your thought process in selecting mentor texts for your new book. Thank you, Marcie.

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  9. Marcie, Thank you! This is the first time that I’ve had an author actually explained how they used certain mentor texts to help with their book. I don’t think I will look at reforemo the same again!

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  10. Thank you for sharing your process of using mentor texts. Your discovery of how the bear garden got its name and how you were inspired to write about the little bear is intriguing.

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  11. It's so helpful to hear about your process of using mentor texts and how they helped you figure out what you wanted-and did not want-your book to convey. I admit not having noticed that many of these books assume cities are inherently ugly. Your comments on this made me immediately think of EXTRA YARN, also about a place that is dull and dreary before Annabelle transforms it, but in this case it was not a big city, but a small town. I never noticed how rare that combination might be in a picture book. The added bonus of these reads is that they are a particularly hopeful set which I appreciate reading in this not-so-hopeful time. I pre-ordered Bear's Garden awhile ago. Maybe it will arrive next week!

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  12. I really love how you explained exactly what you looked at in each mentor text. Thank you.

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  13. Marcie, finding beauty in nature is a balm to us all during these hard times. I enjoyed seeing how you found mentor text for THE BEAR'S GARDEN, but distinguished how yours would be different.

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  14. Thank you for the deep dive into the comparison and contrast of each text. I I like how you looked critically at how your text was different.

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  15. Thank you for the terrific text examples and insightful post on how you used each. Very helpful. Congratulations on THE BEAR'S GARDEN. I look forward to reading it.

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  16. Wonderful list. Thank you so much and look forward to reading your new book!

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  17. Wonderful mentor texts, Colleen! Thank you for the recommendations. I look forward to reading your newest book.

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  18. Thanks for showing us how mentor texts helped with your newest book. It sounds delightful.

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  19. Thanks for sharing how you use mentor texts. Can’t wait to read the Bear’s Garden!

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  20. Thank you for sharing! Can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Bear's Garden!

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  21. I very much appreciate the practical advice, letting us experience your process developing THE BEAR'S GARDEN using mentor texts. Thank you!

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  22. Marcie, I LOVE garden books. These are all great examples. I can't wait to read your new book. Best wishes!

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  23. Thanks for highlighting mentor texts and how you used them in creating The Bear's Garden. I sounds so wonderful and I'm looking forward to reading it!

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  24. Marcie, you are ALWAYS an inspiration (just looking at your picture can do it for me). This is an approach for a particular story I'd never considered (duh!). It has lifted me up a few needed notches! Thank you!

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  25. Thank you for sharing your mentor picture book journey in writing The Bear's Garden. This was a very helpful post in the use of mentor texts and in introducing a wide sample of wonderful picture books.

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  26. Thank you, Marcie, for explaining clearly how you used mentor texts to enrich the writing of your newest picture book, THE BEAR’S GARDEN. I loved the way you shared your thoughts about each book. It was also interesting to hear how you were inspired to write this book, finding out the backstory of a city garden...discovering that workers had found a stuffed bear in the weeds when they were cleaning up an abandoned lot for a city garden. I am currently working on a picture book inspired by true events. Your post is one I will review as I search for good mentor texts for my book.
    Congratulations on your new book’s debut and your success as a picture book author.

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  27. Very interesting insight into your use of mentor texts for this specific project. Thanks! I look forward to reading your new book!

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  28. MARCIE: THANK YOU for sharing the "planting process" for helping your book idea to grow! The way you wrote it allowed me to see your in-depth process--how you REALLY got "digging" into other texts, in order to enrich your own book's planting. BEAUTIFUL!!! By doing so (especially through your observations of each book), you have planted NUMEROUS other seeds to help our own book ideas to GROW. THANK YOU!!!

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  29. Community gardens should inspire all of us. Thanks for sharing your experience with one.

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  30. Such lovely mentor texts, Marcie! I've already used ME...JANE as a read-aloud for my remote students and MAYBE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL is another favorite! Thank you!

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  31. Together let’s plant more seeds of hope.

    Thank you, Marcie.

    Suzy Leopold

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  32. Thanks for sharing how your writing process is supported by mentor texts.

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  33. Love garden books. Will get to the ones I haven't read when the library reopens.

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  34. Lovely way to weave these stellar texts into your own vision. Cannot wait to read BEAR'S GARDEN!

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  35. Thanks Marcie for the list of mentor texts! I have my own gardening book so these will help in my revision!

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  36. Congrats on your newest book, The Bear's Garden, Marcie! Thanks for sharing your journey in how you used mentor texts to inspire your writing. I look forward to reading your new book, as well as the ones on this list, as soon as the library reopens. [Posted by LouAnn Silva]

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  37. Great post, Marcie! Thank you for giving us a peek at how you used each of these mentor texts in the writing of "The Bear’s Garden." I loved "The Gardener" and "The Curious Garden" and have them on my wish list along with "The Bear’s Garden."

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  38. Thanks for sharing your process of using mentor texts! Looking forward to reading The Bear's Garden, as well as the books you mentioned.

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  39. Thank you for sharing the way you used mentor texts for inspiration and to set your book apart. Your examples are wonderful, and I can't wait to read yor book!

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  40. Thanks for a great post, Marcie! All of these books are very special in there own way!

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  41. Marcie, thank you for these detailed reviews of so many wonderful stories and how they influenced you. I loved these choices!

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  42. Hi, Marcie. I'm a bit behind on reading this month. But your list includes PBs I know well.

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  43. Looking forward to reading your new book. I also wanted to write about a certain type of garden I've wandered past only to find out it's actually illegal. LOL! So writing a picture book about that is a no-no, but I've come up with a different angle.

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  44. Thanks Marcie, these are lovely examples.

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  45. Congratulations, Marcie! Thanks for providing this helpful and detailed account of how you used mentor texts as you created your story. I can't wait to read The Bear's Garden!

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  46. Thank you for these mentor texts, Marcie! I read all the mentor texts I could find on knights for a story I'm writing. As a city dweller myself, I also appreciate the love letter that is Tar Beach!

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  47. Thank you for the list...I love garden stories!

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  48. Hi Marcie. I appreciate the way you explained how you used each of the mentor texts. Very helpful.

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  49. Thanks Marcie! I have The Bear's Garden on reserve--once libraries open! I loved the detailed description of how you used mentor texts, as well as what makes your story different.

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  50. Great examples, Marci! Thanks. Looking forward to reading The Bear's Garden.

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  51. Marcie-Thank you for sharing the depth of your mentor texts to find the right path for your story. I look forward to reading your new book. Congratulations :)

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  52. Thanks for sharing the mentor texts used to create your beautiful picture book, THE BEAR'S GARDEN. Great post!

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  53. Thank you for this post! I'm looking forward to reading the books that are new to me.

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  54. Thank you, Marcie, for sharing the inspiration behind your latest picture book & the mentor texts that helped you write this bear's story.

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  55. Thank you for the post today and the books to check out as mentor texts.

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  56. It was really useful to see how mentor texts inspired your story. The Bear's Garden has been added to my list of books to read!

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  57. Thanks for a helpful peek at how your story grew into a book that stands out! I can't wait to read The Bear's Garden.

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  58. Thanks for your suggestions for books and why they were important to look at. Getting them now is difficult but some can be viewed online.

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  59. What a fresh perspective! I love that you appreciate the city's beauty even before an 'improvement' is to take place. Great examples of how to use mentor texts.

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  60. Thanks, Marcie, for taking us backstage to see the mentor texts that helped you with your story. It was great to learn about the particular help each gave.

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  61. Thanks for the book recs, Marcie, and congrats on your book launch!

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  62. Thank you for showing your process of dissecting mentor texts to help create our own story. I liked how you pointed out elements from these books that you liked, but also elements you did not like. This post was very helpful.
    -Ashley Congdon

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  63. Thanks for a look at your process.

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  64. Here are two links to interesting views of Tar Beach read by author Faith Ringgold - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9RKJleFdBU
    Maybe Something Beautiful is read on Epic, I think, by its author F. Isabel Campoy. It's a video - very well told.

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  65. Thank you for walking us through your use of mentor texts.

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  66. How did you find your useful mentor texts?

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  67. These books are so inspiring during this difficult time - I am not in the city, but I can appreciate your perspective, having lived in several major cities in the past. Your critiques are exceptionally informative, thank you.

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  68. Great mentor texts. I love all the different approaches to flowers.

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  69. Marcie, thank you for your insights of the books. Wordless books, as "Sidewalk Flowers", I feel become the white space of conversation/text. It was nice to have the books to hold, read, and enjoy on your list.

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  70. Thank you for describing how you used mentor texts to write your story. I look forward to reading these books.

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  71. very validating to hear your use of plenty of mentor texts as my book stack grows taller and taller

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  72. Hi, Marcie! Thanks for letting us see your thought process as you studied these mentor texts for THE BEAR'S GARDEN. Exploring ways to make our books stand apart from what's already out there is such a critical step.

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  73. Thank you, Marcie!!! I love this post!

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  74. I really appreciated this study in mentor texts, and the fact that you did not let the age of the book constrain you. It was a delight to re-read some old friends from this list!

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  75. Thank you for sharing your process with us and how you used mentor texts to help write your story. It gave me ideas for helping me write stories I’m stuck on.

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  76. Thank you for this inspiring post. And thank you for sharing how you used mentor texts to help fine-tune the character, theme and other elements of your book. Congratulations!

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  77. Congrats in your new book! And thanks for the mentor text recommendations.

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  78. Thank you, Marcie, for your perfect springtime post. I love all the garden-related mentor texts and especially how they inspired different aspects of your own community garden book. Can't wait to read it!

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  79. It was quite enlightening to understand the process you used when examining mentor texts and applying what you gleaned to your own work. I appreciated that very much. I used to read The Gardener to my students for a variety of reasons. I will look forward to reading your new book. Thanks!

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  80. Very insightful to hear your thoughts on your mentor texts with your manuscript in mind. I can't wait to read The Bear's Garden!

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  81. Thanks for walking us through your thought process while creating The Bear's Garden. I, too, think the city has its own beautiful aspects, but I love seeing nature and city mixed into a beautiful palette.

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  82. Marcie, I loved hearing about how you used a pool of mentor texts, each with their own way to contribute to shaping the vision for your own book. Thanks for sharing!

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  83. Thank you so much! We hear a lot about using mentor texts, but having your thoughts along with the texts is so helpful! I know all but one of these books and am looking forward to reading 'The Bear's Garden'.

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  84. I found a bear in the gutter once and a stuffed turtle left in an airport and always wondered about the children who lost them. I'm glad you wrote a story about the bear found in the garden and I can't wait to read it.
    Also - Rafael Lopez came to our community and helped us make a mural - it was one of the highlights of my past year.

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  85. Congratulations on Bear's Garden and thanks for the recommendations and the post.

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  86. Thank you. This was such a helpful post explaining how the mentor texts helped you and how you got your inspiration for The Bear's Garden. Congratulations too!

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  87. I need to follow your path with these mentor texts and how you used each one for Bear's Gardne. Thank you.

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  88. I'm such a big fan of The Gardener. Looking forward to studying these other texts as well!

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  89. Marcie, you chose fantastic mentor texts. It was interesting to see how each offered an insight into elements of your newest book. Congrats on that.

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  90. I lovely list of garden books to get us ready for spring! Thanks!

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  91. I love how you use mentor texts when working on your own work. Thank you for taking us on a journey with you in your own work. Congratulations on your new book!

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  92. I’m intrigued and surprised by who much the mentor texts inform your writing. I love how you look for what you want to avoid as well as what you want to achieve. Thank you for sharing,

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  93. Thank you for explaining how you used each mentor text

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  94. Thanks for showing how you used your mentor texts. Also, ME JANE is one of my favorite stories!

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  95. Thank you for these! Loved The Curious Garden, and Me Jane has been a favorite for a while. Very helpful examples of how you used them each as mentor texts.

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  96. Thank you, Marcie, for sharing these beautiful books.

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  97. I loved The Gardner and the form it took in letters. Thank you for your selections.

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  98. i'm a gardener and have read Me Jane and Maybe something Beautiful. I enjoyed them both. I'll look for your book, Marcie as soon as the libraries open up!

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  99. Thanks. The use of mentor texts to develop my stories is something I keep working on.

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  100. I really appreciated all the different styles of illustration in this selection - thank you!

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  101. Mentor books are so important when creating. I am so glad you choose these, they are fabulous. Thank you!

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  102. Thank you for sharing your process and showing us how mentor texts informed your writing and creating of The Bear's Garden.

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  103. thanks for sharing your own personal mentor texts for your own personal project! interesting analyzation of each and how you applied it to your work.

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  104. Loved this, Marcie. Sidewalk Flowers is a personal favourite of mine. Congrats on The Bear's Garden!

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  105. Marcie, I look forward to planting myself down with BEAR'S GARDEN once I'm able to find a copy in the library or local indie bookstore....Loved this multi-perspective post on a not-so-ordinary theme.

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  106. It's always amazing watching a book grow! It can be such a long way, but then, finally, the story starts to open up. :-)

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  107. Thanks, Marci for taking us through your mentor text journey for THE BEAR'S GARDEN I'm excited to read it too!

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  108. I love how one seed can grow into a whole story! Thank you Marci for your encouragement!

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  109. Thank you so much for taking us through your process of reading these mentor texts for Bear's Garden. Fascinating to see what you gleaned from each one.

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  110. These are a great selection of Springtime reads, inspiring not only my craft but also for me to get out & garden! And I agree, Marcie, not all the colors in a city are drab, dirty or glum. Quite the opposite in fact!

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