Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mentor Text Resources & a Winner!

Thank you to all the participants in the Mentor Text Challenge. Remember mentor texts are an excellent defense against writer's block, lack of inspiration, and all sorts of writer's ailments.

We have a challenge winner (selected by

She has won a 2013 PiBoIdMo Journal and the warm touchy feeling that comes with knowing $3 goes to support Reading is Fundamental!  Marcie grabbed the book A Storm Called Katrina and selected its first person narration style to apply to a WIP.  (Marcie - If I can't find you, email me at laurimeyers (at)!)

If you've been following along on the Mentor Text Posts, you deserve a prize for your commitment to studying craft. So just for you... 

Excellent Resources for KidLit Nerds

RenLearn  Type in the title of a book and get its book level, word count, AR points, etc.

Scholastic  Type in the title of a book and get its grade interest level, grade reading level, and theme/subject area. It also provides biographical information for the author and illustrator.

Readability-Score  Paste the text of a story, and receive a wealth of information, including Fleisch-Kincaid Reading Ease, grade levels from a variety of systems, characters, syllables, word count, sentence count, etc.
This site is great if you have typed up mentor texts (like we talked about here...) And it's perfect for analyzing your own work. 

These resources are also helpful if you have greedy bedtime readers, like mine who says "maybe this many books?" while holding up 5 fingers.  Now you have the data to support your side of the negotiations. 
Fancy Nancy at 418 words and Owl babies at 325 words? Okay, fine.  
Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book at 1763 words? Your eyes better be closed by the end of that, kid!

Thanks again for playing, and sorry about any injuries which may have been incurred.
Good luck finding the rest of your PiBoIdMo ideas and celebrating Picture Book Month!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mentor Text Challenge (with a PiBo Prize!)

I like to write a "companion" post for PiBoIdMo every year. Last year's Match Up Mash Up game spurred PB ideas faster than a cowboy at a rodeo. This year since we've been talking mentor texts to learn craft, study word counts, and improve read-aloud-ability, I want to highlight another great use for mentor texts:  


No, no, no. Not plagiarism - but as a springboard, a starting point, a puzzle frame, a make-your-own-sundae bar... pick your favorite metaphor.

Does this guy look worried about
stealing a little bread? Heck, no!
Just have a little nibble...
(By Roman Olmezov via
You can try straight substitution. Take Kevin Henkes' Little White Rabbit, where a rabbit wonders what it would be like to be a different color, have different locomotion, or be a different size. Replace the rabbit with another animal or person or thing (we allow personification of inanimate objects in this neck of cyberspace.)

What desires would this new MC have?  Maybe he's a banker who wishes he could skip through the park. Spend money. Go nudie in the vault. Now you have a completely different story!

You can also steal style elements of a mentor text. Is it predominately dialogue? Is it in present tense? Does it have a repeating refrain? Is it rhyming?

To illustrate the idea, I'm throwing a Mentor Text Challenge! Are you ready? OK!

Close your eyes and walk over to your picture book shelf.  Ouch! Who put that wall there? 
Let's start over....

First, go to your picture book shelf.
Now, close your eyes.
Grab a picture book, and open your eyes.  
Study the key style elements of this book - First person? Wordless? Circular plot? Chicken-centric?
Pick one element and apply it to a current draft or on the next draft you start.

Easy, peasy, don't get queasy, this challenge will be a breezy!

And there's a prize! There couldn't be a challenge without a prize.

So if you leave a comment sharing the book you picked and the feature you chose by November 20th, you'll be entered to win a 2013 PiBoIdMo Idea Journal (with added benefit of sending $3 to Reading is Fundamental!)  With 160 pages you can embrace the 2013 PiBo theme and let your "ideas take flight" over the next year.

Let's get ready to read and kick off the Mentor Text Challenge!
P.S. If you have other ideas on how to politely borrow from mentor texts, please share those too!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ask the Education Consultant - Interview with Marcie Colleen

I adore seeing Marcie Colleen at NJ SCBWI events, because she is a ball of energy and easy to find in a crowd. But it has been fun seeing Marcie everywhere in writing cyberspace the last few weeks, too.

Marcie & Lauri hanging out...
if we look exhausted it's because
Ame Dyckman (in the background)
had us wrestling PBs all day. 
As Education Consultant for Picture Book Month she developed this outstanding teachers' guide Why Picture Books Belong in the Classroom, where she makes a case for both non-fiction and fiction as teaching tools.

She served as housecleaner for PiBoIdMo with her post on preparing your creative idea collection space. 

She was seen rolling up her sleeves and mining childhood memories over at the Picture Book Academy, where she is a graduate and Blogette! 

Did I mention she ran the NYC Marathon last Sunday? Oh yeah. That too. :)  

So it seems totally reasonable she is hosting an Ask the Education Consultant Blog Hop on her site this month! She's hopped over here today to teach us about picture books in the classroom. 

Lauri: Everyone gives teachers little frowny face stickers when they "teach to the test." In the same vein, should writers avoid "writing to the Common Core?"

Marcie: I have been a part of the education world for quite some time.  State and Federal mandated standards have come and gone and quickly as the politicians that championed them.  As writers we are often careful not to write to the trends.  However, educational learning standards are essentially a trend, a buzz word. So, in my humble opinion, writers need to avoid “writing to the Common Core” and instead write what they want to write.  Any good teacher will be able to adapt any book for classroom use.  Teachers need to teach.  Write need to write.  Simple as that.

Lauri: I know teachers aren't supposed to have favorites, but... what's your favorite kind of picture book to write a teacher's guide - a PB that does a lot of things pretty well or a PB that does one thing with excellence? 
Marcie: I love a challenge.  When I first moved to NYC I worked for the Broadway theatre world and created curriculum guides for popular Broadway shows.  I remember thinking at first that the musical CHICAGO had no educational value, until further research turned up topics such as greed, the American Judicial System, celebrity and media, etc.  The same thing happened when I worked on AVENUE Q (a musical known for its language and naughty bits).  When I first take on a pb for a Teacher’s Guide, my favorite moment is sitting down with a pb to give it a good read with pen and paper in hand. By the end of the reading the paper is filled with educational ideas and possibilities…and it only grows from there.  Its like my archeological dig.  That’s what I love.
Lauri: Do humorous books present more difficulty to include in the classroom?
Marcie: As a person, I find it best to connect with people through humor and laughter.  Why not bring that into the classroom? The classroom that laughs together….
Of course, a sense of humor is part of child development.  But laughter in the classroom can help foster this.  Studies have shown that children with a well-developed sense of humor are happier and more optimistic, have higher self-esteem, and are better at handling differences between themselves and their friends.  Here is a great link for some further info:  how does sense of humor develop
However, where an issue might be difficult is when a book appears to be totally silly with no academic value. This is when a Teacher’s Guide tool or other standard-aligned curriculum plans can help an educator validate their book choices to school administrators or parents who might question a teacher’s choice. 
Lauri: Can taboo topics, potty humor (y'know like mice wedgies, fart explosions...) or any other naughtiness impact a book making it into the classroom?
Marcie:  Perhaps we should ask Dav Pilkey this question.  His Captain Underpants series has been both heavily challenged by parents and educators, but also hailed as a brilliant series that reaches even the most reluctant boy readers. 
Obviously parents have strong opinions as to what they want their children “exposed” to.  Teachers must know their audience.  You can’t please all of the people all of the time.  But is the goal to keep the kids in a protective bubble?  Or to get them interested in reading and perhaps begin a lifelong love?  Aye, there’s the rub!  A complicated topic with several equally complicated answers.  But as a writer, fear not.  Write on.  For every nay-sayer, you will have a cheerleader. 
Lauri: Could you share a few resources for PB writers to be introduced to common core standards?
Marcie: Google “Common Core State Standards” and quickly become overwhelmed.  I know I did. 
School Library Journal hosted a 6-part webcast series about the Common Core that I found very helpful. Although they are geared toward professionals in the education world, they will give you a good overview on what the CCSS entail and how educators are “unpacking" the standards for themselves.
Also, Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth and Christopher Lehman is a great book that really makes sense of the CCSS for its readers.  It’s not the easiest read, but if you truly want to understand the standards, this is how. 
Visit Marcie Colleen at The Write Routine
And of course, reading the actual standards.  They can be found, in detail, at
There is really no shortcut.  They aren't rocket science.  But navigating through it all can be overwhelming. 

My advice to pb writers: get the gist and then move on.  You have books to write.  No need to get into all of the nitty gritty ins and outs.  Leave that to the experienced educators.  There are plenty of us who write curriculum or work in School and Library Markets Departments at publishing houses to assist you with the details when the time comes. 
Lauri: Ahh, after this interview, I'm feeling much less scared about managing the common core in my writing process! Thank you, Marcie! Keep an eye on Marcie's blog for more hop spots this month. 
Mon Nov 11 @ Jean Reidy 

Wed Nov 13 @ Darshana Khiani 

Wed Nov 20 @ Joanne Roberts 

Mon Nov 25 @ Tina Cho 

Wed Dec 4 Julie Hedlund

In previous chapters Marcie Colleen has been a teacher and a theatre educator, but now she splits her days between chasing the Picture Book Writer dream and chasing toddlers on the playground as a nanny. Both are equally glamorous! Her blog, The Write Routine and her Teacher’s Guides, can be found at  She lives with her fiancĂ© and their mischievous sock monkey in Brooklyn, NYC.

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