Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What I’m Reading Now: Books #11-20

It’s day 11 of ReFoReMo (Reading For Research Month), and the fourth day of researching and reading picture books. I can already sense my perspective on PBs changing. I’m beginning to notice and narrow in on aspects of these books that I might have skipped over before. When the month is finished, I’ll link the books by some of these qualities I’m connecting with.

For now, here are a few of the connections I’m discovering while I’m reading: (I’ll add or modify as the challenge continues)
  1. There are specific publishers that print the books I love. (These will go on a special list for potential queries.)
  2. I’m drawn to themes of history, nature, and biography.
  3. I’m not funny. I admire those who are. They make me laugh loudly in libraries.
  4. I LOVE repetition and suspense. (And kiddos do too!)
  5. ….to be continued...

My ReFoReMo Resources and Booklist continued:

11. PRETTY MINNIE IN PARIS by Danielle Steel. Illustrations by Kristi Valiant. 2014/Doubleday Books for Young Readers
(Picture Book/Fiction/3rd POV/Dogs-Fashion-Careers-Companionship)

WHY: I met Kristi Valiant at a writer’s retreat last summer. She was beaming as she showed us the images that were to become this book. She is such a talented artist! I had to snatch this book up to read!

WHAT: I love the feel of Paris and fashion that this story centers around. It’s obvious that Ms. Steel is familiar with both. Recently, another ReFoReMo post asked about adult MCs. I think this story is a good example how what might seem at first like an adult story becomes a child’s by putting the story through their eyes.

HOW: Because I simply adore fashion and the entire world that surrounds fashion runways, I can see this book used as a mentor text for seeing the world through a child’s eyes. I want to go somewhere I frequent regularly and journal my experience from a different level. It might mean that I have to make my knotty knees bend so I can sit on the floor and watch the action around me. I’m considering places like the zoo, museums, the bus stop, the lunch room...any place that I’ve forgotten what it is like from my “child-self” view.

12. I DIDN’T DO IT by Patricia MacLachlan & Emily MacLachlan Charest. Illustrations by Katy Schneider. Katherine Tegen Books
(Picture Books/Fiction/1st POV/Prose/Pets-companionship-relationships)

WHY: Patricia MacLachlan is on my top 5 authors that I admire in MG fiction. I love seeing what she does in other genres!

WHAT: I was first drawn to the book, ONCE I ATE A PIE, when I read through it at our book fair and realized that each of the poems match the breeds of dogs I have had throughout my lifetime to a tee! This second collection, I DIDN’T DO IT, builds on the pet-shaming trend on social media at the moment and I love how each poem introduces a “rule” that’s been broken then reinforces how each of the dogs want to be “good puppies”.

HOW: Poems can be fun and tough to write. These books are great as mentor text because they really show how a collection of individual poems/stories fit together and can create an overall story arc.

13. CLEMENTE! by Willie Perdomo. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. 2010/Henry Holt
(Creative NF PB/1st POV/Goals-dreams-Roberto Clemente)

WHY: I use NF picture books of famous baseball players and civil rights leaders with my 7th grade Literature classes around the month of February. Although I’m not a huge baseball fan, I know that most of my students are. I picked this one up as a mentor text, but also with intent to incorporate it into my unit.

WHAT: At first, I had assumed this book would be a straight-forward biography. It isn’t. The story is told in 1st POV from the eyes of a young boy who is also named Clemente. He’s frustrated but learns how the name represents the hopes and dreams his parents and other have for not only the boy, but also all other immigrant families and children. By using 1st POV, Willie Perdomo really brought this story home for me by highlighting the heart and soul of fans and explains clearly why Roberto Clemente wasn’t just a ball player.

HOW: There are portions of the story that follow a light rhyme scheme; other parts are more traditional narrative structure. This book is one that a writer could use as a mentor text by dissecting where these changes take place and why Willie Perdomo made these choices. (Think: Pacing tools)

14. ABE LINCOLN CROSSES A CREEK by Deborah Hopkinson. Illustrated by John Hendrix. 2008/Schwartz & Wade Books
(Creative NF/PB/Breaking the 4th Wall (You)/Abraham Lincoln-friendships-what if?)

WHY: Abraham Lincoln books are abundant on the bookshelves so what makes this one special? This one stands out for two reasons: 1. John Hendrix is an amazing artist. 2. The minute you thumb through the text, it’s evident that this is NOT your average story about Abraham Lincoln. And then Deborah’s story has caught you and coaxes you in so that you will want to read more…

WHAT: The author begins by explaining that this story may or may not be true. That’s catchy and inviting right there! As the story progresses, Deborah invites us to make assumptions and predict how the story would conclude if the story happened differently than the way she’s presenting it. With so many “what if’s”, the reader is thoroughly engaged and curious. I love this!

HOW: A great writing prompt would be to take a well known situation or legend and “what if” the entire darn thing. I’m sure everyone knows a few good local legends that have grains of truth in them… what if…

15. TO DARE MIGHTY THINGS by Doreen Rappaport. Illustrated by C.F. Payne. 2013/Disney/Hyperion Books
(NF/PB/3rd POV/Theodore Roosevelt-biography-overcoming challenges)

WHY: I love history. I love Teddy Roosevelt (I blame my HS History teacher and that book report.) Doreen Rappaport and C.F. Payne are creating magical books. This is one of them.

WHAT: Again, back to the conversation about “adult” characters… at some point, the older reader expects to learn that T.Roosevelt became president. But to “enter” the book, Deborah starts where the reader is. Teddy is a compulsive reader, curious and active but also sickly. He must convince others and overcome obstacles to follow his dreams. At midpoint in the book, Roosevelt is an adult, but those child-like characteristics remain.

HOW: I think this book demonstrates well how to take the themes and characteristics from a child’s view and translate them into the same character as an adult. Like all good stories, analyzing who your MC is at the beginning and how the have grown or changed by the end is an important step. If you are writing biography or creative nonfiction, it might be beneficial to chart these characteristics and see if the changes are too drastically different or not dramatically different enough.

16. MACK MADE MOVIES by Don Brown 2003/Roaring Brook Press
(NF PB/3rd POV/Mack Sennett-movies-1900s-setting dreams and goals)

WHY: While I realize this is an older PB, the subject matter is of interest to me. Also, I had absolutely no idea who Mack Sennett was until I read this book.

WHAT: I like the tenacity of Mack. Don obviously has done thorough research about his subject and it shows. The story has a nice chronology that is easy to follow and best of all, there are tons of small details mixed into the story so that the reader is getting more than they anticipated without feeling overwhelmed by facts. As a “new” subject to me, I really loved this book. For upper elementary and junior high readers, this would be perfect to help understand the big picture.

HOW: In biographies, timelines are important. I always struggle in my own writing to decide which dates and details should be included. A PB format is tough. The reader expects a shorter read but the writer is promising enough facts to present a clear picture of the subject. As a mentor text, Don Brown really did a fantastic job incorporating just the right amount. It’s a lesson in scope and brevity.

17. CRANKENSTEIN by Samantha Berger. Illustrated by Dan Santat 2013/Little Brown & Co.
(PB/2nd POV -YOU-/anger management-interactive)

WHY: Of course, I have to laugh when I’ve pulled a book off the shelves only to see it two days later in a ReFoReMo post! I’m sure, like everyone else, the title sold us with it’s first impression. CRANKENSTEIN. Makes me laugh just saying it…

WHAT: What I like about this book at first is the interactive ability of 2nd POV. “Have you seen Crankenstein?” When author’s choose 2nd POV, the reader is forced to make connections. Everyone I’ve ever thought of who might be a Crankenstein pops into my mind. Now, this might cause a bit of mischief if the book is read aloud in a classroom, but I could easily see this read aloud and then reread by elementary age children.

HOW: This is one of those books in which the author builds the intensity of the negative character quality until, like a balloon, it bursts! At that point (when Crankenstien meets another Crankenstein) the story becomes somewhat quiet. It’s the surprise, the opportunity to take a breathe. And then… Samantha Berger brings it all back in again. It’s a great plot structure and a great text to study.

SIDE NOTE: If you are not familiar with the illustrations, CRANKENSTEIN is the work of the great Dan Santat of BEEKLE fame... Take a peek here.

18. FLIGHT OF THE DODO by Peter Brown 2005/Little Brown & Co.
(PB/3rd POV/Fitting in-Penguins-acceptance-helping others)

19. THE CURIOUS GARDEN 2009/Little, Brown & Co.
(PB/3rd POV/Gardening-HighLine-One person Makes a Difference)

WHY: I started with FLIGHT OF THE DODO. Out of all the Peter Brown books, I wanted to know more about a book that alluded to Darwin. And then, CURIOUS GARDEN is about the High Line. It’s the only PB I know of about the High Line in Manhattan.

WHAT: There are so many wonderful things about this book: great non-flight bird characters, easy to follow plot/problems, and fun, silly situations. But, I preferred THE CURIOUS GARDEN. The story line is smooth and purposeful. It’s didactic but not at all preaching. The biggest change in the MC, Liam, is the transformation in his gardening abilities and his/the garden’s influence on others. It’s a gorgeous story.

HOW: FLIGHT OF THE DODO is a helpful mentor text when a writer needs to look at ways to used the characteristics of animals and their natural abilities to construct a story. CURIOUS GARDEN has a such a very simple, basic plot structure that it’s worth re-reading. I would pair it with WUMP WORLD by Bill Peet and the deconstruction of plants in the Dr. Seuss classic, THE LORAX. Each treat essentially the same themes and subjects differently.

20. DRAGONS LOVE TACOS by Adam Rubin. Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri 2012/Dial Books for Young Readers
(Picture Book/Humorous/2nd POV/Responsibilities)

WHY: There are DRAGONS! And TACOS! (Need I say more??)

WHAT: There are so many different ways this simply story could go, but Adam kept it basic. Dragons love tacos; Dragons do not like salsa. Parties are cool; parties with tacos are awesome! From the basic introduction to all the ways that Dragons do love tacos (or hate salsa) to the taco party, the author keeps piling it on, thus building suspense.

HOW: One of the lovely things about 2nd POV is the way that the author drags the reader in as if “you” are able to somehow change the course of the story. Not only is this a great mentor text for building suspense, it could also be used to springboard spin-offs. Imagine-- Did you know that octopus love to write and only use black ink?

Other books I’ve read that are on the ReFoReMo recommended reading list:

-COUNT THE MONKEYS by Mac Barnett Illustrated by Kevin Cornell 2013 Disney/Hyperion
(PB/Interactive 2nd POV/Surprise ending)

-Z IS FOR MOOSE by Kelly Bingham Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky 2012 Greenwillow Books
(PB/Breaking the 4th Wall/Funny Alpha book)

-BRIDGET’S BERET by Tom Lichtenheld 2010 Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt
(PB/3 POV/Creativity-Individuality-Confidence)

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