Monday, February 8, 2016

Mentor Texts: Breaking the Fourth Wall in Picture Books

The idea of breaking the fourth wall is eliminating the barrier between reader and story and allowing them in. This allows the readers to immerse themselves into the wonderful world of imagination.

Many picture books use this technique to get readers engaged through a unique interactive experience. Humor and intrigue is a big part of it, which is what makes it so appealing to readers.

My writing mentor Jim challenged me to write my children's story eliminating the fourth wall. I stumbled on its approach so I took the time to study picture books that successfully broke the fourth wall. 

Breaking the fourth wall is nothing new in picture books. Author Crockett Johnson did a marvelous job with his book, HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON. It has become a classic favorite.

In his book, the story unfolds as the main character, Harold, draws in the book with his purple crayon. Harold doesn't know exactly where the story will take him, but he is in for an adventure and takes the readers along with him. This story is told in third person, but the pictures draw (no pun intended) the readers in through imagination.

Author Mo Willems is a pro at breaking the fourth wall with his Elephant & Piggie and Pigeon book series. In WE ARE IN A BOOK! the characters talk to each other then break out and refer to the reader. Later, they end up talking to the reader using speech bubbles. There is an interaction between characters, and between characters and the reader.

Yes Gerald?I think someone is looking at us.
A reader! A reader is reading us.
 End: Hello, will you please read us again?

Diagram for We Are in a Book!

Sometimes breaking the fourth wall can get complex as in BIG BAD BUBBLE by Adam Rubin. 

The story is told in second person and starts off like this:
You may not know this, but when a bubble pops, it doesn't just disappear.
Then a character butts in:
Bubbles are sneaky. You never hear them coming…

And now the character and the narrator, who is not revealed, are having a dialogue with each other. But at the same time, because the narrator is outside, we feel as if the character is talking to us, the reader.

Narrator: Don't listen to Mogo…he has no idea what he's talking about.
Character: Bubbles kill thousands of monsters every year.
 Narrator: No, they don't.

 Character: Oh, yeah? Prove it. 

The diagram for this story looks like this:
Diagram for Big Bad Bubble


A simple breaking the fourth wall device is to simply have the character(s) talk to the reader. This is very effective in creating an interaction between character and reader. 

Basic diagram for breaking the fourth wall

In IS THERE A DOG IN THIS BOOK? by Viviane Schwarz, several cats are talking directly to the reader and they are referring to the book that they are a part of. They ask the reader to do something. In this case, cats are inviting readers to lift tabs. This makes them feel a part of the story.

Oh, hi!You opened our book!Come and look at all the pages!

Wait- is there somebody else in this book? 

PRESS HERE by Herve Tullet is a clever and fun interactive picture book that encourages participation. The reader is instructed to do something like "press here," turn the book upside down, and shake it.

My all time favorite classic picture book is THERE IS A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK, by Jon Stone. Readers are instructed to NOT to turn the page. Of course, that builds curiosity and leaves readers eventually turning the page. Grover is so adorable in his plea to readers and his fear of what's at the end of the book.

Reader as Narrator

Deborah Underwood, author of HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT uses the simple technique of character and reader interaction. The difference is that the reader becomes the narrator. As the reader reads the book as narrator, the cat is looking outside of the book. There is a private interaction between the reader and the main character, the cat. This technique allows the reader to become part of the story and makes for an exciting and personal experience.

What's wrong, cat? You look grumpy.
Diagram for Here Comes the Easter Cat

Referring to Book as Part of Story

The interaction between characters, narrator, and reader are elements to breaking the fourth wall. Referring to the book itself is another element as in THE JACKET by Kristen Hall. This story is told in third person and is about a favorite book- the (nameless) main character's book. Near the end, the readers are led to believe the book referred to in the story is the very book they are holding because it has the same cover as the book in the story. This is a great technique to get the readers emotionally involved.

Another story that refers to the book in the story is ERNEST THE MOOSE WHO DOESN'T FIT by Catherine Rayner. This is also written in third person. In this story the book comes to life as we see a transformation of the book unfold before our eyes. We see only parts of a moose because he is too large for the pages. Having the character step out of the book transports the reader into another dimension. 

Breaking Out of Character

Characters who go in and out of character as in THIS IS A MOOSE by Richard T. Morris also breaks the fourth wall. 

The story begins like any other story:

This is the Mighty Moose. His father is a moose. His mother is a moose…
This moose wants to be an astronaut.
Then all of a sudden, they break character with:
Excuse me, but moose cannot be astronauts…

The characters begin talking with each other and the story switches between the narrator telling the story in third person and natural dialogue between characters.

Diagram for This is a Moose

In CHLOE AND THE LION by Mac Barnett, Barnett himself is talking directly to the reader. His presence is known because we can see him in claymation form as a character in the book. This technique really makes you feel like you are part of the creation process.

 Here is how he starts the book:

This is me, Mac. I'm the author of this book. 
This is my friend, Adam. He's the illustrator of this book. 
And this is Chloe. She's the main character of this book.

Here, readers get a backstage pass into the book process with a formal introduction. This is effective at getting readers invested in the story.

After the introduction, the story begins as third person narrative:

Wherever Chloe went, she looked for loose change.

Not so long after the story begins, we are interrupted by Barnett who takes us out of the imaginary world:
 I'm sorry. Hold on. Adam could you come out here?

This is what it looks like in diagram form:

So you see, there are several techniques you could use to break the fourth wall of your story. Experiment with these and find which suits your story best.

After studying these mentor text, I decided that I didn't want a narrator interacting with my characters. Since I had more than one character, I used the character interaction and one sided communication of characters talking to readers as in the diagram of This is Not a Book by Mo Willems. This process of studying mentor text helped me to see the different ways to approach breaking the fourth wall. May it help you.

Mentor text for breaking the fourth wall:

THIS IS A MOOSE by Richard T. Morris


THE JACKET by Kristen Hall

HERE COMES THE EASTER by Deborah Underwood


IS THERE A DOG IN THIS BOOK? by Viviane Schwarz


BIG BAD BUBBLE by Adam Rubin




Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Debut Author Interview with Catherine Bailey

Catherine Bailey is a children's author from sunny Florida. She just celebrated the release of her debut picture book MIND YOUR MONSTERS on August 8, 2015 in her hometown's Barnes &  Noble, which proved to be a MONSTER of a party!

Catherine started promoting her book way in advance. I won my MYM swag during her cover-reveal giveaway on her blog back in March. She's created a lot of buzz since so I wanted to get the inside scoops of her marketing skills. 

In this interview, you will learn every detail on what goes into planning a book launch party and more. Lots of monsterly love here so let's get started! 

Monster Marketing 

An interview with debut author Catherine Bailey

Catherine, how did you come up with the idea for Mind Your Monsters?

My then two year old daughter asked me “Mommy, how do you move a monster?” The best answer I could come up with was “Politely.” – LOL! Then I was intrigued by this idea that by using manners – specifically please – small kids could have this great big power. Plus I love Halloween and all things monster.

Sterling Publishing, 2015
PLEASE (notice my politeness?) tell us the path you took that led you to your agent 

Basically I queried Kathleen, was very kindly and thoughtfully rejected, and then approached her again a few months later when Mind Your Monsters was pulled from the slush pile by an editor at Sterling Publishing. Kathleen had never seen Mind Your Monsters before because I queried her with a different manuscript (You don’t query agents with stories that you have out on sub to editors).

You can read the long version of this story on my author blog here.

Who initiated the set-up of your book launch party? 

I initiated the launch party – as well as every single library, school and store visit since. My publisher provided me with a publicist who has been wonderful in terms of submitting the book to print media. But as a debut author it really was on me to get the word out – in person and on social media. I spent three days driving to every place I could think of that might sell or carry my book, equipped with a self-made “media packet.” I called newspapers and schools. I figured out Twitter…. Eventually…. Sort of. I hired a web designer and paid for a website. I made a Facebook page. I kept my blog updated. I bought promo items, made an enormous plywood replica of my book cover for photo ops, and researched what to do at events (crafts games, work sheets, etc.) Bottom line – I hustled, and I’m still hustling! 

"As a debut author it really was on me to get the word out"

I love the idea of the photo op with your giant book cover! So tell me, what goes on in the planning of a launch party at a bookstore?

Well first I had to pick a place. The local Barnes and Noble was the obvious choice (though I had a back up option just in case). I called and got the B&N event coordinator’s name and email. I contacted her with a pitch for the party, my headshot, Press Release, book cover graphic, black and white samples of the artwork, etc. Once Barnes and Noble was on board with hosting the event I mapped out a rough schedule – reading, crafts, signing – and got everything approved by B&N. I didn't plan any food because it was prohibited and frankly that was fine with me.

Then I promoted the event online and in person. I had flyers designed by my web designer and printed them up at Staples. It was summer so I approached local camps and asked them to send the flyers home with the kids. If school had been in session I would have contacted them as well – at least schools where my daughters attend, and where I have teacher and mom friends. I posted them at YMCAs, stores, gyms, libraries, daycares – pretty much if it was in Stuart and didn’t move, I taped my flyer to it.

"I promoted the event online and in person"

How did I figure out what to do? I researched launch parties on the Blueboards, I asked my critique partners who are published, and I read author blogs. I also chatted with librarians for ideas and my agent was SUPER helpful. I did all this BEFORE I contacted B&N so I could approach them with a concrete, professional plan.

Did much of your marketing expense come out-of-pocket?

Yup, LOL! I have paid for everything – from gas for road trips to launch party flyers to little monster toys – except for a huge and beautiful poster that my publicist sent to me. My husband is less than thrilled with this but I think it’s crucial to show readers, educators and your publisher that you are “in it to win it”

How many months in advance did you plan for the book launch?

Two months.

Any other marketing strategies that worked or didn't work for you? 

Facebook has been a wonderful resource, as has Twitter. And I don’t even really understand Twitter. I do know that I can be at a reading or signing and post a picture to these sites from my phone – which is easy, free, fun promotion. They are also great places to get the word out about events, and most importantly to show thanks. A lot of people will work hard to make you successful and support you. Be grateful – and be grateful publicly!

Adorable plush monsters!
Also stick with what you know and don’t spread yourself too thin. Do I use Pinterest and Instagram? Nope. They are probably fabulous but I have enough with my FB page, Twitter account, website, blog and in person work.   

"A lot of people will work hard to make you successful and support you. Be grateful and be grateful publicly!"

What resources did you use to help you plan for the marketing of your book?

The best resources were my critique partners and the Blueboards. Which is to say – you should learn from authors who’ve already done this. And be sure to pay it forward. For example, school visits were a mystery to me. But after weeks of online research and talking to teachers, I drafted and polished my Author Visit Packet. Then another writer asked to see it, copied it, tweaked it, and is using it now. I’m thrilled I could help her like so many other writers helped me.

Oh and does Diet Coke and Nutella count as resources? Because I used those too :)

Oh, I LOVE Nutella! Yes, they count as resources. Nothing like nuts to keep you sane!

Thank you so much, Catherine, for doing this interview with me. I've learned so much as to what goes on behind the scenes of an author! I'm finding that an author wears many hats.  I wish you happiness and abundance! 

PLEASE show Catherine your monsterly love by picking up a copy of MIND YOUR MONSTERS. Available in bookstores today!

Fun Facts:

  • # of rewrites/revisions for Mind Your Monsters: Dozens 
  • # of months from first draft to polished ms: 14 months
  • # of months for Sterling to publish Mind Your Monsters: 32 months!
  • # of months from agent contract to Sterling contract:  7 months

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Children's Picture Books on Running

Today is National Running Day!

"National Running Day, held annually on the first Wednesday in June, is a day when runners everywhere declare their passion for running."

I love to run.

I love the feeling of being outdoors in the fresh air, surrounded by wildlife and spectacular views. Combine this with an invigorating run and I'm a happy person. 

I enjoy running so much that I wrote Running Boy In this story, the question that everyone is asking is, "Running Boy, why do you run?" It is my hope to instill in the hearts of children the love for running…and reading!

Speaking of reading, NationalRunning Day is a great opportunity for me to share with you a few more picture books on running. My two favorites are Marathon Mouse, by Amy Dixon and The Pumpkin Runner, a Smithsonian Notable Book by Marsha Diane Arnold. These are wonderful reads that I hope you will share with your children in hopes to get them more active.

I am excited to have authors Marsha and Amy sharing their inspiration behind the books they wrote in celebration of National Running Day! May these selections motivate and inspire you to run!

Nearly all the sheep ranchers in Blue Gum Valley rode horses or drove jeeps to check on their sheep. But Joshua Summerhayes liked to run...with Yellow Dog trailing behind him." So it's no surprise when Joshua decides to enter a race from Melbourne to Sydney. People laugh when old Joshua shows up in his overalls and gumboots, calmly nibbling a slice of pumpkin for energy. But then he pulls into the lead, and folks are forced to sit up and take notice.Inspired by a true event.

Marsha Diane Arnold
The Pumpkin Runner was inspired by Cliff Young, a 61-year-old Australian farmer who loved to run.  He enjoyed running around his farm for years, then decided to enter an 875-kilometer race from Sydney to Melbourne against professional runners. People laughed at the unlikely runner, but he surprised everyone by winning!  Then he surprised them again by splitting the $10,000 prize among all the other runners. Cliff didn’t run for the money. He ran for the love of it!

I first heard about Cliff Young while attending a workshop led by a friend. He told the story of Cliff to demonstrate perseverance. He’d read about Cliff’s feat in Sports Illustrated; there was just one short paragraph. When I heard the story of this improbable “hero,” I knew I had to write a picture book about him. My book is fiction, of course, but it was inspired by a real race and a real man. I named my fictional hero Joshua Summerhayes.

Thank you, Romelle, for sharing The Pumpkin Runner on National Running Day! This Smithsonian Notable book has been around since 1998, but I’m delighted to say it’s still “running” strong. I know of at least two schools that celebrate The Pumpkin Runner with races and other activities.  For the past three years, I’ve skyped with the wonderful community at Walter Jackson Elementary in Alabama to help celebrate their annual Pumpkin Run day.  I hope to run with them in person in the future!

The mice of New York City dread the day of the New York City Marathon more than any other—the crowds, the large shoes, the noise. All of them, that is, except for Preston. He and his family live underneath the starting line on the Verrazano Bridge and every year Preston has dreamed of joining all the other runners in the marathon. This year, Preston is determined to make his dream come true, even though his family tells him that mice are not fit to run marathons. He trains hard, showing his family that mice can do much more than just scurry.

Amy Dixon
It was 2011, and in the 2 years since my husband, Rob, had taken up distance running, I had been in search of a picture book about the sport that I could share with my children. I was looking for something that reflected the early mornings, the intense training, and the roadside cheering that was now part of our family culture. But I couldn’t find one! The seed was planted…I wanted to write a book about running a marathon.…but I had no idea what the story would be.

Cut to November. On the morning of the NYC Marathon, we settled in to watch the international event on TV, and saw this picture:

This is a picture of the start of the NYC Marathon. All of those brightly colored blobs are PEOPLE. Over 40,000 people, all lined up on a bridge together. What a scene! This picture launched a series of questions in my head…what was it like to be there? What about the people that live there? Do they love the marathon or do they hate it? From there, Marathon Mouse took off. What would it be like for a mouse family, who lived underneath the start line? If Marathon Day was the one day of the year they hated because they were afraid for their lives, how would it feel if one of their kids wanted to be a runner?

Marathon Mouse accomplished a few different things for me. There are so many kids out there like mine who spend their weekends cheering on their mom or dad from the sidelines. I love that they get to see their experiences reflected in this book. It also introduces running as a fun and rewarding pastime to a younger generation. And lastly, it encourages kids to work hard to achieve their dreams! 

Thank you Marsha and Amy for sharing your story behind the story.

Feeling inspired? Then grab your running shoes and run...

to the nearest bookstore!

For fun, complete this sentence in the comments below: I RUN...

I'll start:

For more children's books on running visit Outdoor Nation. The books that are featured are:

Nonfiction children's books:

~Happy Running!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The HOW-TO of Mentor Text

There's been a surge for the use of mentor text in classrooms by students and teachers, and by writers. A few months ago Carrie Charlie Brown hosted an event that she created- Reading For Research Month (ReFoReMo) to help writers improve their craft.

I have to admit I've never really understood HOW to use mentor texts until I participated in ReFoReMo. If you'd like to learn about my methods of research, you can read about it on Carrie's blog.

I'm guest-posting today! 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

My Top Picks for Favorite Picture Books

It's the last week of celebrations over at Wordsmith Studios and today we discuss what we are reading.

I read picture books.

There. I said it. I am a grown woman, a health professional, a triathlete, a married mother of two tween boys, and my favorite books are picture books.

After a full day of discussing the cause and effect of bacterial plaque and the prevention of periodontal disease to my patients, running/biking/swimming for an hour or more, chauffeuring my kids here and there, re-learning trigonometry to help with my freshman son's homework...all I want to do at the end of the day is relax with a short, funny book that I can finish in the night without having to fall asleep midway through the first chapter. Picture books.

I love picture books. I write picture books. I read picture books.

It's May and I've already read 113 books this year!

Since I go through picture books like it's candy, I'm going to share with you my favorite[s]. Yes, plural. I have so many favorite picture books that I can't pick just one. So I'm going to share with you my top 10!

Looking at my list, I can tell you that I gravitate towards humorous books that are on the quirky/goofy side, but with heart.

In no particular order:

Planet Kindergarten Planet KindergartenPlanet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt

PLANET KINDERGARTEN is a fun, engaging story that is told from the unique perspective of a child. The MC imagines his school is in outer space and experiences an exploration of his lifetime. Author Sue Ganz-Schmitt manages to capture the authentic emotions that children experience on their first day of school.

The MonstoreThe Monstore by Tara Lazar

What's not to love about a Monstore- a store that sells monsters! Tara Lazar's language and word choice are superb. It makes a fun read aloud. Illustrator, James Burks, did an outstanding job of bringing the characters to life. Kids will have a field day thinking of the monsters they'd like to have.

Prudence Wants a PetPrudence Wants a Pet by Cathleen Daly

Prudence wants a pet so badly that she even goes so far as to get one on her own- a branch, a twig, an old shoe, etc. This book is so funny you can't help but laugh out loud. Cathleen Daly did a wonderful of characterizing Prudence as a sweet and clever child that you can't help but empathize and fall in love with her.

 CarnivoresCarnivores by Aaron Reynolds

I adore this book! Aaron Reynolds did a fantastic job of instilling in our hearts the importance of self appreciation. I love the message that sometimes others can be misunderstood in a hilarious way.

A small note of warning: Not ideal for the sensitive reader. A few characters do get hurt in the story-telling of this book. On a side note, it makes for good discussion and lesson about ecology and the nature of things.

Sophie's SquashSophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller

A delightful story about a little girl named Sophie who takes a friend, Bernice, wherever she goes. But Bernice happens to be a squash, which makes this story hilarious, yet endearing. Sophie's positiveness is infectious. I also love the subtle lesson on the cycle of life that is intertwined with the story.

Creepy Carrots!Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds

Twilight Zone meets The Shining in this hilarious picture book by Aaron Reynolds. I've always been a fan of the Twilight Zone series so this one grabbed and sustained my attention throughout the reading. In Creepy Carrots, a rabbit fears that his favorite food is after him. You will never look at a carrot the same way again.

Mr. Tiger Goes WildMr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter  Brown

Mr. Tiger, sporting a top hat, coat and tie, is a proper tiger. Unhappy with his mundane life, he decides to let loose and follow his animal instincts. With sparse text and lovely illustrations, this story conveys the universal message, be yourselves, in a brilliant and humorous way.

The Day the Crayons QuitThe Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

This is one of those books I wished I could have written. Duncan wants to color, but when he opens his crayon box, he finds letter after letter from each colored crayon protesting about the unfairness that goes on in the coloring box. It is original, clever, fresh, and oh, so FUNNY!

The last two books are not humorous picture books, but they stood out to me as beautifully written picture books that pulled my heart-strings.

City Dog, Country FrogCity Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems

A poignant story of friendship between a dog and a frog written with beautiful language and eloquent style. It is also about loss that is told in a sensitive manner that children can comprehend. The four seasons depicted in the story brilliantly brings us to another emotional level.

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting DownSit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Wow! Picture books are difficult to write, let alone a historical nonfiction story. In a few word, author Andrea Pinkney, writes a powerful poetic story of four college students staging a peaceful protest by sitting at an all-white diner counter. A civil-rights story of courage and equality.

View all my reviews

Again, it was difficult for me to narrow my list to top 10 so I'm going to share with you five more as Honorable Mentions:

This Is a MooseThis Is a Moose by Richard T. Morris

 MapleMaple by Lori Nichols

I Don't Want to Be a FrogI Don't Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty

 This Orq. (He Cave Boy.)This Orq. by David Elliott

The Three Ninja PigsThe Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz

Hope you get a chance to check out these books. There's nothing like a picture book to melt your stress away.

"Writing is like a vacation. I get to travel anywhere my imagination takes me" ~Romelle Broas

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

My name is Romelle and I read picture books! 

To see what other Wordsmith Studio Members are reading, join the blog hop below:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...