Showing posts with label point of view. Show all posts
Showing posts with label point of view. Show all posts

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, November 6, 2018

Mentor Text Author Study: Margarita Engle

Poetry is Margarita Engle’s specialty. She enchants readers with her picture books in verse and her novels-in-verse for middle grade and young adult readers.

Point of View

Margarita Engle presents two of her books about artists in first person point of view.

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian and Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist are told from the point of view of the artists themselves, allowing the artist to come to life and help the reader see what the artist saw.

Summer Birds is presented as a straight first-person narrative, while Sky Painter is told in a series of first-person poems.


In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, some of her lines are only one word long. These short lines cause us to pause and pick up the rhythm that Engle is trying to create with her words. All the Way to Havana also makes use of short lines—sometimes only 2-3 words long. This helps evoke mood in the book and makes it easy for the reader to catch onto the rhythm.

Engle uses a varying refrain in The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar. 

The onomatopoeia in All the Way to Havana gives the reader a sensory experience from “cara cara, cluck, cluck, cluck” to “pìo, pìo, pìo, pìo, pfffft.”

In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, she also uses powerful verbs such as rippled, rapped, pounded, which give an onomatopoeic effect. The verbs peep, croak, shriek do the same in Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist.

Orangutanka: A Story in Poems is a narrative is told through a series of linked tanka poems. A short form like tanka doesn’t leave room for anything but exacting word choice. In this case, Engle uses a superb lineup of verbs throughout such as: leaps, clings, swings, flips, dips, swoops, twirls, shake, clamber, smacks and more!

Her language is so rich, it performs double duty—providing musicality, supporting the work with strong verbs, and even using verbs that are onomatopoeic.


Even adjectives take on a unique quality in Engle’s work. In The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar, she uses the description, “whale-shaped moon.” Such specificity helps the reader form images with just a few short words.

In Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, she uses descriptions like “wind-wavy palm trees” and “flower-bright park.” These are all descriptions that feel fresh instead of overused.

Every Word Counts

Making every word count is the hallmark of picture books. Engle’s picture books are no exception. Poetry also distills everything down to its essence.

Her word selection is so precise that we can see that every single word is carefully selected for its meaning but also for its placement on the page as poetry.

Thank you, Marcie, for giving us such an in-depth look at books by Margarita Engle.

Marcie Flinchum Atkins is an elementary school librarian by day who writes for children in the wee hours of the morning. She also muses about mentor texts at her websiteYou can follow her on Twitter @MarcieFAtkins and read about her #writerlife on Instagram at @marciefatkins.  

Thank you Marcie for an in-depth look at books by Margarita Engle.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Mentor Text Author Study: Dev Petty

Before Dev Petty became an author, she worked as a visual effects artist in the film industry. After taking a class in writing she uncovered another talent, writing stories. Petty merged her knowledge of the visual arts with her sense of humor to create humorous picture books.

One day she had an idea to write a funny story about a frog, all in dialogue. The result is the four-book series about a little frog that has one existential crisis after another. These stories are fun for children and the adults helping them as they struggle to answer the big questions about life.

Every writer knows a story is more than a beginning, middle, and an end. A story needs a main character with a conflict. The little frog is both. In each book, adults will recognize those “moment of life” conversations they’ve had with children. When adults often offer children information to satisfy their curiosity, often the gaps in their knowledge, awareness, and experience result in some pretty funny encounters.

The story in I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG, is about little frog’s identity crisis. In the scene below his father explains why he can’t be an owl. But the little frog persists with his list of reasons why he doesn’t like being a frog.

As the main character, each story unfolds from the little frog’s point of view. The witty writing takes readers inside the head of the main character and into the depths of how very young children think. Words in bold letters and different colors emphasize important points made by each character. The speech bubbles make the conversation easy to follow.

In the opening scene from I DON’T WANT TO BE BIGillustrated by Mike Boldt, the little frog refuses to eat because he doesn’t want to be big. The story that follows is about this one idea. He doesn't want to change because little frog likes his life as it is. His father and friends help him understand how life does and doesn’t change when growing physically big.

Amphibians and other animals may not talk, but in Petty’s stories, they deliver factual information about animal nature in a fun way. Boldt’s illustrations add to the visual humor. With the father and other supporting characters, a comedy skit unfolds in each scene. The banter is delightful.

In this scene from THERE’S NOTHING TO DO, illustrated by Mike Boldt, the bored little frog seeks advice from his friends but they aren’t giving him any satisfying suggestions.

The fourth book in this series is I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SLEEP, illustrated by Mike Boldt, releases on October 16, 2018.

In this story, the little frog learns the harsh reality of amphibian life. Coldblooded animals like him miss out on all the winter fun because of something called hibernation. So little frog convinces his non-hibernating friends to help him with his dilemma. Petty delivers a fun twist in the end that won’t disappoint her fans.

The dialogue below shows the little frog's reaction to learning something he doesn’t understand but knows it doesn’t fit with his plans.

Owl: “Oh, sorry. You don’t get to have fun in the winter.”
Little frog: “Why not?”
Owl: “Frogs hibernate.”
Little frog: “I don’t know what that means, but I don’t like it.”

CLAYMATES, illustrated by photographic illustrator Lauren Eldridge, is about a friendship that develops between two pieces of clay, one brown, one gray. Petty and Eldridge combine the art of storytelling with the medium of photography and clay sculpture in this creative endeavor.

When an artist leaves the studio after shaping one piece of clay into a wolf and the other into an owl, hilarity ensues! This is one clever concept that meets any definition of quirky. The two friends engage in boundless creativity until…

The mediums used by Eldridge add unique visual humor to the all-dialogue narrative written by Petty.

If writing humor, telling a story through dialogue, and or developing stories using a unique creative concept is on your bucket list, I highly recommend you study books by Dev Petty. Her characters are well developed using sparse text and she delivers pure comedy gold. 

Follow Dev on Twitter @DEVPETTY