Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Author Study: Revisiting Lesléa Newman

Last June, I wrote a mentor text author study featuring poet, author, and activist Lesléa Newman. At the end of that post was the cover of what was to be her forthcoming book, Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail, illustrated by Susan Gal. Since my library is closed because of the pandemic, I do not have access to a body of work from another author to feature this month. So I looked at what makes Newman’s latest work worthy of study.


Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail uses a poetic parallel sentence structure to tell the story of a boy and a kitten. Inside, a young boy takes part in a Seder, outside a stray kitten follows a similar ritual. 


Early on Newman engages playful language using the homophone tale and tail in the title. The alternating couplets create a sense of connectedness between the parallel story lines.

Inside, candles glowed.
Outside, stars twinkled.

Inside, the boy drank grape juice.
Outside, the kitten lapped at a puddle.


Using a Seder as the setting allows Newman to show how a family celebrates Passover. Two stories unfold through the point of view of a young boy and a stray kitten. Inside, children follow the boy and experience what happens during a Seder. Outside that same night children witness the kitten as it mirrors the boy's actions in its own way.  And in the ending, when the characters and story interconnect, it is welcoming.

The story is sweet and endearing and the artwork represents a festive night inside in comparison and contrast to the mood and atmosphere outside.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

ReFoReMo Mini-Monthly Writing Challenge: Comfort And Joy

By Janie Reinart

"Good books, like good friends, are few and chosen; the more select, the more enjoyable."
~ by Louisa May Alcott 

Books lift our spirits, bring us joy, and comfort us in times of trouble. Favorite stories are like good friends. These book friends are there when we need them. The challenge this month is to find your favorite picture book and use it as a mentor text to write a story that lifts your spirits. 

I would like to share some of my favorite book friends with you. My first selection is a Hoot & Olive Story. 

Brave Enough for Two by Jonathan D. Voss is a story of a loving friendship between a little girl and her beloved stuffie. Olive likes her adventures in books, while Hoot likes the rollicking kind outdoors. Olive isn't sure if she's brave enough for the activities Hoot has picked. But when her dearest friend gets hurt, Olive discovers not only is she brave, she is brave enough for two. 

"One day Hoot said, "I've made something special for you. But it could be a small bit scary and a slightly bigger bit adventurous."

"You know I don't like adventures," said Olive. "I'm not brave like you."

By Jo Empson

My second selection Rabbityness by Jo Empson was nominated for 8 awards. An interview with the author said, "Jo is never happier than when she is swept away in storytelling - in all its aspects - whether it be writing, illustrating or just reading a favorite picture book (which she still does every night!)." 

Rabbit enjoys doing rabbity things, and un-rabbity things! Rabbit suddenly disappears. No one knows where he has gone. His friends are desolate. But, as it turns out, Rabbit has left behind some very special gifts for them, to help them discover their own unrabbity talents! 

"Rabbit also liked doing unrabbity things.He liked painting...and making music.
 It made him so happy, all the other rabbits caught his happiness. He filled the woods with color and music."

By Cynthia Rylant

My last selection is The Dreamer by Cynthia Rylant. This creation story imagines God as a young artist all alone quietly making what he imagines. My favorite lines are:

"He moved among these living creatures and--like all young artists--felt such joy and love for his creation that he thought he might explode with happiness. He wanted to tell someone what he had done, to show someone his beautiful heavens and earth and water and grass and moving creatures, and he looked 
all around him but the world was empty of anyone who might listen and understand. Someone with ears to hear and eyes to see. Someone who was 
an artist as wellSo he worked all night long. And by morning he had made a new artist in his own image...The world began filling up with artists...The first young artist, still a dreamer, has always called them his children."

I invite you to the challenge. Find your favorite picture book and write a story that lifts your spirits. Heed the advice of my book friends:

Be brave enough.

Help others catch your happiness. Fill the woods with color, music, and your words.

Dream. Feel joy and love for your creations. Remember who's child you are.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Reading for Research 2020 Challenge Reflections

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.   Twyla Tharp

                                                              Photo courtesy of Author Cynthia Harmony

There is no underestimating the many challenges everyone has faced this month. Nor can we, as picture book lovers, underestimate the power of our community or books.  

In today’s post, ReFoReMo challenge participants share how this year’s challenge helped them cope during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Thanks once again to you and your guests for the daily gifts of wisdom and inspiration! With so much off track, the daily focus for reading helped brighten these weeks. I aim to keep this habit going, with some new favorites to re-read until libraries open again.  – Lisa Billa

Honestly, Reforemo saved me in so many ways this month. 1) I had a HUGE stack of books to read with my kids during our new homeschool setup. 2) The stories filled my emotional well with their depth and beauty. 3) It was something to look forward to each day. SO, not only did I learn a lot, but it helped me in other ways as well. Thank you. –Laurie Carmody

I began this month full of enthusiasm but leave it struggling to research or even read some days. Your guest bloggers have made this a much happier month and even though I didn't read consistently, this community always gives hope, friendship, and new ways to think about our work. – Kathy Halsey

Thank you so much to all the writers who shared their favorite mentor texts. I didn't get to read all of them due to the situation we are living in right now, but they are on my TBR list. ReFoReMo gave me something to look forward to each day! ReFoReMo gave me something to look forward to each day! – Linda Kulp Trout 

And we thank you, all the participants and guest posters, for being here for each other now and always.

Stay healthy everyone!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

ReFoReMo 2020 Prize Winners

Without our generous presenters every year, we would not have access to a ReFoReMo education with varied perspectives. What a treat it was to grow through our presenters’ eyes! So many of them shared even more by donating additional prizes, and we are so grateful. A bit of good news is always welcome in uncertain times like this. Thanks again to our presenters for donating their time, expertise, and energy, as well as these extra prizes!

Announcing the winners of their gifts:  

Marcie F. Atkins’ Book Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature: Deb McGarvey 
15 Min. Video Consult with Kirsti Call/Carrie Charley Brown:  Angie Calabrese 

Skype w Author/Librarian Matthew Winner: Andrea Mack

Heidi E. Y. Stemple’s Book Eek, You Reek! LouAnn Silva

Fifteen min Consultation with Literary Advocate/ Professor Susannah Richards: Sarah Meade

Five Idea Consult with Editor Courtney Fahy: Jodie Finney

TBA Book from Agent Rachel Orr: Cheryl Johnson

Rajani LaRocca’s Seven Golden Rings: Joanna Pastro

Manuscript Critique w Rajani LaRocca: Angie Quantrell

Gina Perry’s Now? Not Yet!: Charlotte Offsay

Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively from Janie Reinart: Melissa Stoller

NonRhyming PB critique (or 20 min SKYPE for educators) from Michelle Cusolito: Kelly Carey

ARC of Gaia Cornwall’s The Unicorn Came to Dinner: Tanya Konerman

Gaia Cornwall’s Jabari Salta (Spanish version): Susan Twiggs

Sarah Lynne Reul’s NERP!: Elizabeth Curry

Keila Dawson’s King Cake Baby: Sarah Roggio

Skype visit w Emma Otheguy: Ellen Beier

Jannie Ho’s Tummy Time Animal Parade and The Little Engine’s Easter Egg Hunt: Barbara Rappaport Senenman

Jeanette Bradley’s WHEN THE BABIES CAME TO STAY: Terri Sabol

Anika Aldamuy Denise PLANTING STORIES: Kyle McBride

Marcie Colleen’s The Bear’s Garden: David McMullin

Our ReFoReMo contributors will continue to celebrate the joy of reading in their weekly posts this April. We hope that you’ll continue to benefit from mentor texts with us. We’ll also be back to our routine blog schedule in May, digging deep into author studies, interviews, and mini-ReFoReMo Challenges. Read on!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

ReFoReMo Day 22: ReFoReMo 2020 Rafflecopters

By Carrie Charley Brown and Kirsti Call

Illustration by Lori Nawyn

The beauty of Reading for Research Month is that you can experience it at your own pace and revisit it whenever you want or need to. You can also personalize it to your own writing needs and make it last all year long.  Of course, our ReFoReMo blog goes on all year long, too, studying mentor texts through author studies, mini-ReFoReMo thematic challenges, THINK QUICK interviews, and Mentor Text Talks with focused perspectives from varied authors. Our hope is that our blog keeps you accountable and focused all year.

As our ReFoReMo 2020 comes to a close, we consider ourselves lucky to have learned from so many professional perspectives. Without these giving creatives, ReFoReMo simply would not be the same. We are so thankful!

If you registered for ReFoReMo 2020 by March 2 and you learned from us this year, you are welcome to enter the Rafflecopter below. We use one drawing to keep it simple; you will enter one time only. This will put you into a pool from which all prizes are drawn. The drawing will be open until this Friday, April 3 and prize winners announced on Tuesday, April 7.

We are ALL prize winners, though! We think the education gained from ReFoReMo is a enlightening!

What has helped you most during ReFoReMo 2020? 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, March 30, 2020

ReFoReMo Day 21: Reading for Research in Abnormal Times

by Founders Kirsti Call and Carrie Charley Brown

It’s been quite a month of unexpected changes. We are all experiencing this pandemic from different angles. We think about our ReFoReMo community every day and we hope everyone is healthy.

Kirsti: After two weeks of pressing pause on my life, I’m realizing that it’s okay that I’m not as productive as I’d like to be. There’s nothing like having five kids home to put a damper on writing. And getting interrupted every five minutes doesn’t help. Now may not be the time to write or revise my first novel.  But it is the time to read and enjoy novels that other people have written. And it is the time to savor the magical moments of this forced family time. Plus, reading ReFoReMo books every morning with my youngest feels sacred.

Carrie: At the beginning of the year, I moved my picture books to my classroom. The collection that I relied on as a writer everyday was… gone. When I sat down to write, something was missing from my reading for research routine. With schools closing, and instruction happening from home now, I recently moved my entire picture book collection back to my comfort zone. Ahhh... I can breathe again! Even though teaching days are now filled with nonstop customer service and data entry, I am still able to connect with my students through Zoom story times. We are simply letting go of anxieties through story. Take this opportunity to enjoy your personal collections every day with no pressure to write, unless you are able. 

Tomorrow, we will open the Rafflecopters to registered participants. We realize that your research might have been interrupted by unexpected happenings. That is okay. We’re so happy we spent this month together. Reading and researching has been one way to de-stress. We are also incredibly thankful for our guest educators and our fellow ReFoReMo teammates. Best wishes continuing your reading routine all year long!

How are you reading in these abnormal times? 

Carrie Charley Brown and Kirsti Call

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