Carrie Charley Brown is our first guest for Mentor Texts for Writers 2015. She challenged herself to write a picture book about breaking the 4th wall, but FIRST, she studied mentor texts that had done it well. Stay tuned. At the end of her post, she offers you a challenge as well.
A picture book is like a happy shiny gift just waiting to be opened and explored. Lots of things go into that 400 word or less package… a stand-out concept, dynamic relatable characters, a unique voice… among countless other traits. With such a need to cry out “I’m different!” in order sell the masterpiece, one might question why in the world picture book writers turn to reading other picture books to learn.
Let’s examine just one of the fore-mentioned traits to see how valuable this practice can actually be. In general, today’s agents and editors gravitate toward shorter picture books. Our job then becomes to say it all without really saying it all. Therefore, studying great picture book models, of 400 words or less, might teach us a little about how to wrap everything into that tight little story arc. It examines the process and not the idea.
Last May, I challenged myself to write a picture book that would attempt to break the 4th wall and involve the reader as a character. I was inspired to do so by reading other picture book greats that featured unconventional interaction between the characters. As I studied these models, I focused in on the language.
Many of these models use a second person point of view to directly address the characters. However, when the word “you” is used, the reader can’t help but feel they are also being questioned… and sometimes they are. “You” are invited right into the story and even if you are not a character, you feel like you are. Other times, “you” feel like the narrator, addressing the character directly.
A mentor text is a stellar model used to understand how picture book elements work for great authors.
I consult different resources before considering if a book is worth studying. I pay attention to the book reviews of knowledgeable picture book writers, career reviewers, librarians, and award committees. If a book shows up in multiple places, that is an indication to me that I need to get my hands on it right away. But, sometimes just one particular opinion is usually right on the money.
Personally, I’ve been reading and studying a wide variety of picture books for over twenty years, first as a primary teacher, and now a picture book writer. After participating as a 2014 CYBILS Awards Fiction Picture Book Panelist, and reading hundreds of nominees in a very short period of time, I realized how many picture book authors would benefit from reading current mentor texts. While books from long ago have a lesson of their own, current picture books (those written within the last three years) can tell us more about the market today. It is exciting to know that the learning will never end and there will always be more new picture books to study.
So what do you say? Should we study together? I’ve been inspired to inspire! I recently founded the 2015 ReFoReMo Challenge, or Reading for Research Month. This online challenge aims to encourage picture book writers to reform their writing by reading mentor texts. Participants will learn how to use mentor texts, read, research, and interact in a private KidLit community. The ultimate goal will be to read 105 titles in three weeks and the major prize is deeper understanding of what makes picture books tick. But, there will be prize drawings, too! Registration will open on February 15, and remain open until 11 pm CST on March 1, 2015. For more information visit the ReFoReMo Blog here.
Carrie Charley Brown juggles ideas every day as a children’s writer, teacher, blogger, and mom. She is the founder of the 2015 ReFoReMo Challenge, or Reading for Research Month. You can learn more about Carrie’s writing journey, her KidLit Services, ReFoReMo, and many other amazing authors & resources, at her blogsite Carrie On… Together!