Showing posts with label story structure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label story structure. 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 7, 2017

Mentor Text Study: Barbara Rosenstock

Why do you write children’s books? It’s pretty clear Barbara Rosenstock does because she loves history and people. Two perfect interests for someone who writes picture book biographies. Whether writing about historical figures from the past or modern figures from more recent times, Rosenstock brings the stories of her characters to life for her young audience through her writing. She’s a multiple award winning author. Her book, The Noisy Paint Box, with illustrator Mary GrandPré, is a 2015 Caldecott Honor book.

Narrative Nonfiction vs. Historical Fiction

Narrative nonfiction uses a classic plot structure and storytelling techniques - a beginning, middle and end; a story arc, scenes, dialogue - all based on accurate, verifiable evidence. It is possible to use creative storytelling to tell a true story.

Historical fiction uses the author’s imagination to invent or reinvent characters, scenes and dialogue to tell a fictional story based on real people, a true event or time period.

In Fearless: The Story of Racing Legend Louise Smith, Rosenstock brings to readers a little known part of American race car history, the story of the first competitive female race car driver. Rev up your engines! This story is action packed and inspirational for free spirited, daring girls who follow their dreams.

The Noisy Paint Box is the story of the Russian abstract artist Vasya Kandinsky. The events are true, but the dialogue is imagined by the author. It paints a story with words that speak to our senses.

The Heartbeat of a Story

In addition to the bones of a story – a beginning, middle, and end – a picture book biography must also have a heartbeat. The story is, after all, about a person. And it’s important for the biographer to know how a young audience will connect to their subject’s life, experiences and or achievements to the larger human condition. The answer to this question is vital: Why does this person’s contribution to the world matter? Rosenstock's books are great examples to show how she focused her writing to do just that. For example:

In 1814 the British burned the Washington D.C. capitol and Thomas Jefferson’s books from his personal library rebuilt the Library of Congress.

“Thomas Jefferson learned to read. And then, he never stopped.” - Thomas Jefferson Builds A Library 

President Teddy Roosevelt left Washington D. C. to go camping in Yosemite with California naturalist John Muir. That trip inspired the campaign to protect and preserve the nation’s wilderness through the establishment of our National Parks.  

“Teedie and Johnnie didn’t have much in common – but they shared a love of the outdoors. They both loved a good story, too. And that was enough to change America.”- The Camping Trip That Changed America 

In one interview, Rosenstock talks about the struggle to find the focus of her story about Dorothea Lange. Although she felt Dorothea was an interesting character, she couldn’t find the hook for kids. Then she listened to an interview where Lange talked about ‘seeing’ and it clicked.

Rosenstock realized the focus should be about  " unseen little girl who observes the world and using a camera, creates art with her eyes and heart. Will there ever be another Dorothea Lange? No. But are there children on the planet today whose unique way of seeing could someday create art that helps others? Yes. Yes. Yes.” - Barbara Rosenstock

“Dorothea opens her grey-green eyes. They are special eyes. They see what others miss…” - Dorothea’s Eyes 

See Barbara Rosenstock’ s YouTube Channel book trailers for more about how she hooks readers so they long to learn more about the people she writes about.


Picture book biographies are typically written as birth to death stories or are focused on a key event in the subject’s life.

In Vincent Can’t Sleep, Rosenstock used lyrical language and imagery, to tell the life story of Vincent Van Gogh and his insomnia to show how he created his art.

Ben Franklin’s Big Splash: The Mostly True Story of His First Invention is the fictionalized story of a young Benjamin Franklin. His curiosity about why fish swim better than humans led to Ben's first invention, fins. That experience inspired a lifelong passion in Franklin. 

Back Matter

Back matter differs from book to book and adds in-depth historically and or culturally relevant context to a story. It allows writers to include interesting information important to a person’s life that doesn’t fit in the narrative arc of a 32 or 40 page book.

The extensive back matter in Streak: How Joe DiMaggioBecame America’s Hero, takes up all 4 pages on 2 spreads. It includes an author’s note, statistics, source notes for quotations, newspaper headlines, a bibliography, articles, websites, and additional sources and acknowledgments. The amount of information provided is a testament to the exhaustive research Rosenstock conducted to write this story.

Rosenstock found the inspiration for her books when reading an obituary in the dentist office, on a research trip for another book idea, and from one line in a book about the Bible. In her SCBWI artist statement she wrote, By writing and presenting on true events, historical people and reverberations through history, I hope to give children and their parents or teachers a sense of their importance to the world’s story as well as to inspire the future. History is important. Our individual stories make up history.

Barbara Rosenstock's books are a must read for anyone interested in writing a picture book biography.

Author's note: More about Barb

! She was born on April Fools’ Day.
! As a child she felt 2 was a soft, baby number, 4 was insanely organized   
     and 6 was just plain mean and nasty.
! She’s published with Mary GrandPré, illustrator of the Harry Potter books.
! She likes animals, has two poodles and hundreds of poodle figurines.
! Her favorite dessert is vanilla bean ice cream with fresh strawberries
! She worked in advertising and education before becoming a writer. 

Happy reading research!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Mentor Text Author Study: Susanna Hill

Susanna Hill believes in the magic of storytelling. Her stories are magical because they are meaningful to children. In her books, she builds worlds where her young audiences come to laugh, to learn, to satisfy a curiosity, or seek comfort in times of uncertainty. 

Growing up, Susanna always wanted to be a writer but once considered becoming a fire fighter. She’s published over a dozen books, won multiple literary awards, and have numerous titles translated into French, Dutch, German, Japanese, and coming soon - Chinese. Susanna’s books are written in prose and rhyme. Her body of work includes novelty books for ages 2-5, picture books for ages 4-8, and an easy reader for ages 6-9. Susanna is also a well-known blogger and writing teacher.

An author is often asked where their ideas come from. The topics and themes reflected in Susanna’s stories are often drawn from her own childhood and life raising five children. The research conducted on topics she writes about appears in some of her books as nonfiction back matter.    

What to look for in her books:

Story structure - These books are examples of how to structure informational board books for very young children ages 2-5 and picture books for ages 4-7:                                                  

THE HOUSE THAT MACK BUILT (Preschool Pop-Ups), FREIGHT TRAIN TRIP! A Lift-The-Flap Adventure and AIRPLANE FLIGHT! A Lift-The-Flap Adventure are novelty board books with interactive components written in rhyme.

THE ROAD THAT TRUCKS BUILT is a clever adaptation of the nursery rhyme, “The House That Jack Built” that explains how roads are built and what vehicles are used to build them. This picture book has an interactive spinning wheel cover design. (releases July 25, 2017)

Escalation - These books are examples of classic story arc loaded with tension.

PUNXSUTAWNEY PHYLLIS and APRIL FOOL,PHYLLIS! are character-driven books with a strong confident female protagonist and detail oriented plots. Perfect for Groundhog Day and April Fools’ Day, both include curriculum based nonfiction back matter for extended study at home or school.

Problem - In these books find clearly stated & universal problems kids face in early childhood.

CAN'T SLEEP WITHOUT SHEEP and NOT YET, ROSE are stories that address two common childhood dilemmas - falling asleep and the anxiety associated with becoming an older sibling.

Structure & Problem - These books show how choosing the right structure with a universal problem can open the door to the creation of a series.                                          

WHEN YOUR LION NEEDS A BATH and WHEN YOUR ELEPHANT HAS THE SNIFFLES are part of Susanna’s WHEN YOUR board book series. Written in prose, both books take a humorous approach to helping kids cope with common early childhood experiences they often object to…dealing with illness and bathtime. 

In addition to writing for children, Susanna built a successful author platform that reaches out to librarians, teachers, parents, and other writers.

On Mondays, look for her weekly advice column, Oh Susanna! where she answers questions posted to her blog about reading, writing, and teaching writing.

On Wednesdays, look for Would You Read It? when writers send in pitches on
their works-in-progress for input from Susanna and her followers. Each month or so a pitch is selected by popular vote then read and edited by an actual editor
On Fridays, bloggers link their book reviews to her weekly Perfect Picture Book Friday page. She feathers hundreds of picture books on her site categorized by theme.

Making Picture Book Magic is a 4-week online writing course Susanna teaches to introduce and reinforce the foundations of picture book writing.
      The Valentiny Writing Contest is held the 2nd week of February
      Halloweensie Writing Contest is held the last week of October
      Holiday Writing Contest is held the 1st or 2nd week of December

It’s been a pleasure to be included in Susanna’s When Your Books Go On A Blog Tour for her three 2017 summer releases and study her craft. Check out the schedule on her blog to read other posts on her virtual tour. While there, take a look at Susanna’s website and all she has to offer. 

Read her books and let me know the ones that resonate and why. I believe you will find her stories are filled with magic and are excellent mentor texts to study.

Keila Dawson is a ReFoReMo Contributor. She’s hiked the rice terraces in the Philippines, climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan, and Mt. Sinai in Egypt. Keila finds adventures in picture books too. When she isn’t traveling, reading or digging in genealogical archives, she’s writing and visiting schools. Keila enjoys sharing her love of Louisiana and world cultures. Her debut picture book, THE KING CAKE BABY, released in 2015, by Pelican Publishing Co., Inc.