Reading for Research Month (ReFoReMo)



By Gloria Reichert

Last year, at the recommendation of a friend, I participated in Reading for Research Month for the first time. This helpful educational experience introduced me to multitudes of picture books I probably would not have discovered otherwise. Daily posts by leaders in the picture book field and lists of mentor texts guided my growth as an author and challenged me to apply these new ideas to my own writing.  

Since ReFoReMo was such a positive experience for me, I wanted to acquaint others with this opportunity. Carrie Charley Brown and Kirsti Call, coordinators of ReFoReMo, graciously accepted my request to answer questions about ReFoReMo. Their thoughtful answers will inform you about ReFoReMo and give registration information.

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What exactly is ReFoReMo? How did the concept for ReFoReMo originate?

Carrie: The Reading for Research Month Challenge, or ReFoReMo, is a month-long craft-focused challenge for writers of all ages that utilizes picture books as mentor texts to learn more about stellar craft.  As an educator, I knew how much stellar picture books impacted the writing process for elementary students. As a picture book writer, looking back on my extensive study of mentor texts and a goal to continue this habit as new releases came out, I wanted to share this study with others. But it wasn’t until my participation as a 2014 CYBILS fiction picture book panelist that the idea for ReFoReMo occurred to me. I read hundreds of picture books in 1.5 shorts months and felt the impact of what separated the great from the not-so-great. I noticed that even writers of any level could benefit from focused mentor text study. It was then that the idea of ReFoReMo was born! After the inaugural year in 2015, I assessed the unexpected overwhelming response and teamed up with my writing partner, Kirsti Call, to handle the challenge as a partnership. 

Kirsti: I’m grateful that Carrie invited me to help with ReFoReMo.  There is nothing better than working with my writing partner on something as important as writing good books!  As a published picture book author and CYBILS panelist myself, I’ve read and studied hundreds of picture books in short periods of time and it makes a huge difference in my ability to write well.  Reading stellar books really helps us write stellar books. 

 When does ReFoReMo occur, and how is it handled?

The ReFoReMo challenge takes place every March.  Through daily educational posts written by authors, illustrators, educators, and publishing professionals, paired with lists of mentor text recommendations that reinforce specific craft elements, participants receive an entire month of varying perspectives that many participants have compared to a master-level craft class. We strive to post a list of our presenters’ recommendations before the challenges begins, so people will be ready to read and study the mentor texts as they read the posts. Participants range from writers and illustrators of all levels of experience to classroom teachers and their students and librarians.
Registration opens on February 19 this year, with specific instructions in a blog post at www.reforemo.com. Participants will receive the daily posts in their inbox when they sign up for the blog. It is a free challenge and there is a Facebook discussion group for participants to share study thoughts. 

How does one become involved with ReFoReMo?
As mentioned above, registrations for the ReFoReMo challenge begin in February, but you can participate in ReFoReMo all year by subscribing to our blog, and joining our facebook group.  We post something about picture books every week during months outside of March.  

What should participants expect?

Here’s the general schedule for this year:
March 1-2 ~PREPARATION PERIOD~ with Carrie Charley Brown and Kirsti Call
Participants will read preparation posts that will help them get the most out of the challenge. They will reserve library books while reflecting on their own manuscripts and needs. Participants will need a library card and a willingness to seek out books.

MARCH 5-29 ~READING & RESEARCH PERIOD~
Guest presenters will offer craft perspective and mentor text recommendations for participants through daily blog posts. Participants will read & research writing craft through the recommended mentor texts and any others that may relate to their own manuscripts.

March 30 ~REFLECT AND SHARE~
Participants will relate what they have learned to their own manuscripts & share with others on our blog and in our Facebook discussion group. 

What do you want participants to take away from ReFoReMo?

We want others to benefit from developing a regular research habit. There is deep research waiting underneath great mentor texts that we can learn a lot from. We hope that participants gain a greater appreciation for this process and learn about their own writing by recognizing what they love in other people’s books.   

What has been your most rewarding experience resulting from your involvement with ReFoReMo?

Carrie: Hearing that our mentor text study has inspired others and helped our participants grow as creatives is a huge reward for a labor of love. An a-ha feels so good! I love coming together as a community to share what we discover through mentor texts. The blog posts start as the inspiration behind the research and the community reacts through comments and discussion to promote learning as they read. Wonderful connections result and people have even come together to study in person outside of our group. The act of challenging yourself to read so many books (approximately 120 in one month) is no small task. But with community support, it makes all the difference.


Kirsti: What I love about ReFoReMo is the actual challenge itself!  It’s like a masterclass!!!  I also love the connections that I’ve made with writers, librarians, agents and editors through helping with coordination.  I love Reading for Research simply because I love reading, and I love writing and this challenge is the best of both worlds.

                                                                                                                                                                                      

Now that you possess all this wonderful information about ReFoReMo, I hope you will consider participating. I can’t wait to read the picture books and to see what new things I will learn!
Thank you, Carrie and Kirsti, for taking the time to answer my questions and for all you do to help picture book authors and illustrators.
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If you live in Northeast Ohio, you might be interested in the following opportunity offered at the Parma Snow Branch of the Cuyahoga County Library. 

Every March, authors Carrie Charley Brown and Kirsti Call lead an online picture book challenge called Reading for Research Month, or ReFoReMo. The goal of the challenge is to encourage writers of all ages to learn from picture books as mentor texts. You are invited to consult and discuss picture books in-person with volunteer Carole Calladine, ReFoReMo fan. Free discussions will take place over our Sunday afternoons: February 25, March 11, March 25, and April 8, from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm at the Parma Snow Library (216-661-4240). For more information on formal ReFoReMo workshops, contact Carrie Charley Brown at carriebrown@carriecharleybrown.com.

    

Writing Goals: How to Stay on Track in the New Year

By Gloria G. Adams


Most people start out a new year setting goals. Most of us never accomplish all that we desire. Here are some ways to stay on track with your writing goals this coming year.

1.      Set realistic goals. 

It’s too easy to take on more projects than you can reasonably accomplish, or accomplish well in one year. (Me: guilty as charged!) You know yourself best; gauge how much you normally get done over the course of a week, then set your goals a little lower to begin. If you find you’re having no problem meeting the small ones, increase them little by little. Small successes will give you the confidence to do more, but don’t overdo and make yourself stressed and frustrated.  

2.      Write down your goals and keep track of when you accomplish them.
Use planners, print or digital, to keep track of your writing times and dates. Celebrate your progress every month or every week or even every day. You may be amazed at how much you actually are able to accomplish when you see it in black and white. 

Check out our calendar planner made just for writers from Two-4-One Kid Critiques. Available on Amazon. https://tinyurl.com/y7w9d8ek 
 

3.      Set regular writing times weekly or daily. 
We are creatures of habit; get into the habit of writing at the same time, for the same amount of time every day and it should soon become a habit.

4.      Break big projects into smaller tasks. 
If you are planning to write a 60,000-word novel, break it into smaller sections so you don’t find yourself overwhelmed. Set dates by which you want to finish the first draft of each section. If you don’t meet those, re-group, and set new dates.

5.      Join programs that make deadlines for you. 
Look into projects like NaNoWriMo or the 12 x 12 Challenge to give you incentives and deadlines. Or, set your own deadlines. Maybe you even want to start your own program to help yourself and other writers stay on track. Any ideas?

 6.      Engage others. 
Ask the members of your writer’s group or groups to help you stay on track. Find a group if you don’t already belong to one. Critique groups are invaluable. Commit to being accountable to your group members, or even just one member, to whom you can be specifically accountable; offer to be his or her “accountabilibuddy,” too.

7.      Find a “no-distraction” zone in which to write. 

Lock yourself away in a home office if you have one or go to a library or similar quiet place to write. Distractions will drain your time more than you realize.

8.      Write the end first.
 Write the end of your novel or series, or the twist at the end of your picture book first. If you know where you’re headed, it will help to keep you focused.

Gloria G. Adams and Jean Daigneau are partners in a critique editing service, Two-4-One Kid Critiques. They offer TWO critique edits for the price of one, plus a collaborative summation. They specialize in picture books and middle grade novels, but consider other works on a project by project basis. Check out their rates and other information at www.two4onekidcritiques.com. Or, contact them at two4onekidcritiques@gmail.com.

A Holiday Wish

By Kate Carroll




A Song of Six Pens wishes you Happy Holidays and this gift for the coming year:

Creative
Hours
Reveling
In
Stories
That
Make
A
Sale.


Giving
Ideas
Full
Throttle!

An Interview with Author LeeAnn Blankenship


By Gloria G. Adams


LeeAnn Blankenship has always loved writing. Her picture book, Mr. Tuggle’s Troubles, was

published in 2005 and continues to be a favorite read-aloud at schools and libraries. She has written for several children’s magazines, as well as educational non-fiction for Rosen and Enslow Publishing. Read on to learn more about LeeAnn's path to publication!


GA: What started you on the path to writing?

LB:  I believe my desire to write is deeply rooted in my love of reading. I was read to quite a bit before I learned to read for myself. My love of reading has never lessened. I also always loved poetry and some of the earliest books I remember from my childhood were written in rhyme. Most of my earliest writing was poetry - when I was as young as seven or eight.

When I was about 10 or 11, my poem “Candyland” was rejected by Ladies Home Journal. I had no idea how to properly submit a poem for publication and had no one in the family to help me. Actually, now I know it was not at all like what the magazine published and it obviously had been written by a child.

I enjoyed English as a subject and especially doing term papers. Poetry seemed to find its way into my class work any time it could. And I remember winning some sort of contest in high school by answering essay questions about the UN and world peace. As a result, my social studies teacher and I went to a banquet or award ceremony at Western Kentucky University.

For most of my working years, I was a social worker with children and their families. I don’t believe I ever consciously thought, “Maybe someday I’ll be a writer.”  I just always loved reading and writing. When I went to college, I majored in elementary education because I loved children. Any time I could take elective classes, I chose something connected with English. When I picked my own topic for research in a senior seminar, I choose “How to Use Poetry in the Classroom.” And I also took a summer course in college about Children’s Literature – and loved it.

I imagine one of the first things I did as a young adult that put me on the path to thinking more seriously about writing was subscribing to Writer’s Digest magazine. I read articles about writing but never really imagined I’d actively pursue that career. And I always noticed those advertisements that said, “Do you want to write for children?”  By then, I had married and started a family. I loved reading to my own children and the transition to thinking about writing for children myself happened naturally I suppose.  


GA: What were some of the challenges you faced on the road to publication?

 LB: My first picture book was rejected five or six times and has never been published. I wrote it in 1973 while my newborn son napped each afternoon. I really knew nothing about what I was doing but tried any way. I suppose I just tried to model my book after others I had read.

So, my biggest challenge at first was my lack of knowledge about the nuts and bolts of writing and publishing. I did get a book out of the library about writing for children and that was a big step – just educating myself about the subject. Then I found a writer’s group that met at the Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, library. Fortunately, there were two other young women who were interested in writing specifically for children.  Sometimes the three of us would separate from the others and talk about stories, rebuses, and books. When I heard about a one-day workshop for children’s writers, I signed up. There I learned about the Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators and that a local chapter was in the process of organizing and I became involved.

Not having a strong network of other writers early on was another challenge I faced.

When my youngest child was in high school, I turned 50 years old and realized if I was ever really going to try my hand at writing, I’d better not wait much longer.

Another challenge was the way my life and responsibilities distracted me for so many years. By then, my desire to write had really increased and I just couldn’t ignore it any longer. At that point, I decided to take the Institute of Children’s Literature Course in Writing for children and young people.  (They were the “Do you want to write for Children?” folks). That was where I had my first experiences with actual assignments and learning the craft, as well as dealing with editing comments from my instructor.  It was a valuable course and I began to get more serious about writing and submitting.

I began to submit magazine articles but got discouraged by rejection. I was about ready to give up when I was invited to Ohio State to hear a dinner speech by Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Tribe. Before attending the event, I read her autobiography. It focused on her endurance and fighting against the odds.  After her speech, I met her and told her I was a children’s writer interested in writing about her.  She agreed to vet the article for me and “Wilma Mankiller: Proud Cherokee” became my first published piece, appearing in Cricket magazine.

Chief Mankiller and her story played a pivotal role in my not giving up. Rejection is hard on all of us, and her tenacity inspired me to keep trying. 


GA: How did you come up with the idea for Mr. Tuggle’s Troubles?

 

LB: Mr. Tuggle’s Troubles is a humorous picture book about a childlike guy who is extremely disorganized and the problems that arise because of it.  At the time I wrote it, I was trying to get better organized at home – specifically in my home office. (I am still working on that.)

I actually dreamed the first part of the book and woke myself up laughing.  I got out of bed and wrote down what I remembered. I finished the first draft the following day.  But it was still a lot of revisions plus 7 years and 21 rejections before it was accepted for publication.


GA: What is your writing routine?


LB: I have found I am not a person who can successfully grab a little time here and a little time there. I need larger blocks of writing time. For a while I did well, planning my writing on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays but recently I’ve been struggling with distractions and the many pressures of life.  So now I’m trying to get back on track.  I write all day on Friday and hope to work up to another day or so on top of that. To be accountable, I recently began reporting in once a week with a favorite editor/friend about how I did each week. I don’t want her to be disappointed in me so it has been an effective incentive so far!


GA: What have been the pros and cons of being a writer?


LB: I’d say the biggest advantage is the joy of creation and the satisfaction of seeing my work in print.  But following close behind is the circle of wonderful writer friends I’ve made (from all over the country) and the fabulous adventures I’ve had as a result of my writing. I’ve met famous people and traveled to fascinating places. Plus, writing means I am always learning.

The cons are that it takes away from time with my family and it still has emotional ups and downs.


GA: What do you do in your free time?

LB: I’m still an avid reader and love gardening, sewing, & being with my family. I used to paint but decided to focus on my writing instead.


GA: Who are some authors in your genre that inspire you?

LB: I grew up with Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books & loved them! But I also like Katherine Patterson, Lois Lowry, Richard Peck, and Shelley Pearsall.

For non-fiction, I admire James Cross Giblin, Larry Dane Brimner, and Candace Fleming. And I can’t leave out the poets! Two of my favorites growing up were Robert Frost and Robert Louis Stevenson. More contemporary poets I enjoy are Shel Silverstein, Eileen Spinelli, and Rebecca Kai Dotlich.


GA: Do you have a favorite children’s book?

LB: Corduroy by Don Freeman.


GA: What are you working on now?

LB: I am currently writing a book for an educational publisher about 21st Century Tunnels.  As soon as that’s finished, I’ll be going back to a middle-grade historical fiction novel I’ve begun about Henry Samson, an English teenage who came to the New World with his aunt and uncle on the Mayflower.


GA: What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as an author?
Sculpture in the eye of a needle by Willard Wigan


LB: In 2009, I was able to spend an entire afternoon with the English micro-sculptor Willard Wigan, who carves the smallest artwork in the world. We were at the Chicago gallery where his sculptures were on display. After my interview for an article that later was published in Highlights for Children, he invited me to join him, his press agent, and the gallery owner for a special lunch. He is such a talented artist and absolutely one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. 


GA: What nuggets of wisdom can you impart to aspiring writers?

LB: If you’ve been bitten by the “I wanna write” bug, you might as well accept it.  Once bitten, you’ll never be the same again!  Enjoy the ride, even the bumpy parts of the road.








Parting Gifts



By Kate Carroll

We are gearing up for our annual SCBWI Writers’ Conference here in northern Ohio, and there’s hope and anticipation in the air. Aside from the dream of a book contract (!),  the weekend fills me with knowledge, inspiration, and camaraderie with my fellow authors. 

Attending a conference or a workshop revs my creative engine, but halfway through, I feel like I’m on “info overload”.  I look forward to unpacking all the knowledge and letting it sink into my brain, but not right away. I need to separate from the excitement and truly inhale all of the information in long, lingered, intentional moments.

Reviewing my notes and handouts may be the first thing I want to do once I leave a conference, but I rarely do - because, let’s face it - LIFE happens. I often have to delay that gratification to attend to other things. So, down the road a bit,  after the conference adrenaline wears off, and I’m needing a little motivation or direction, I reach for those lovely parting gifts.  I pull out my workshop notes, my handouts, my whatevers, and jump into the treasure trove of learning materials again. This time, I linger and listen ever so intently to the sage advice that will enhance my writing and lead me to publication.  



                                                                                               
             Here are some of my favorite pearls of wisdom from the “pros” at past writing events:

“Every word matters.”  
Kate DiCamillo 

“Anticipate your readers’ reactions.”  
Jodelle Sadler

“There’s a kid out there who needs your book.” 
 Danielle Smith

“Take the emotion of a frozen moment in your life and insert it into a character and/or the setting of your story.”  
Dandi Daley Mackall

“Put yourself into the mindset of a 6 year old.”   
Nikki Garcia

“Make me laugh. Make me think. Make me want to turn the page.”   
Michelle Poploff

“Be careful not to take my illustrator’s job away from me with your words.”  
Eric Rohmann

“Writing takes talent, tenacity, timing and luck.” 
 Laurie Knowlton

“If a character makes a decision, pause and ask, what would happen if he went another way?   Tina Wexler

“Start out with an article. It’s a great way to get your feet wet and gain a writing credit.”  
Mary Ryan

“Red herrings are very good in a mystery novel, but bad in a picture book.” 
Lisa Wheeler

“You must have the seed of an idea before you can grow a story.”   
Nancy Roe Pimm

If you are going to a conference or workshop soon,  I hope you are breathless with excitement and anticipation - both coming and going!