Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

June Meeting: Author Donna Janell Bowman

“Every creation begins with the inspiration from another creation,” expressed Donna Janell Bowman, at our monthly meeting. She is the award-winning author of picture book biographies Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, and King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagra—all releases from Peachtree Publishers.
Writers (and June brides) in the audience took note when the author described designing a wedding gown based on the inspiration from other gowns. Taking the sleeves from one gown, the bodice of another, and the lace of a third, one’s dream dress might begin to take shape. In this same fashion, writers can glean inspiration from other books to create their own. “Through mentor texts we can observe, study, imitate, and create,” said Bowman. We can then discover our originality.
How to Find Quality Mentor Texts:
Utilize resources such as: Publisher’s Marketplace, Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal, Horn Book, https://diverse, American Library Association, National Council of Teachers of English, National Council for the Social Studies, award lists, librarians, teachers, book store staff, publisher websites, and social media by joining writing groups and following authors.
 How to Utilize Mentor Texts:
-Read and reread books “by the truckload” for inspiration and analysis.
-Certain books can directly influence newer books; for instance, Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words was directly influenced by A Boy Called Dickens.
-Read books from within the last tens years because styles change.
-Read multiple books on the same topic to explore how each author approached the same subject differently.
-Keep a reading log of the books you read, along with your annotations on each.
-Note which publishers publish the books that you admire.
-Type out the mentor text, including page numbers; use this exercise to deconstruct the book, without art. (Use only for personal study; never distribute.)
-Notice how many pages are dedicated to backstory.
-Monitor pacing, structure, and narrative arc.
-Reconstruct the outline.
-Is there a refrain?
-Will a parent be able to read this over and over?
-Immerse yourself in your genre, be it fantasy, mystery, teen angst, cultural concerns, etc.
-Try your hand at graphic novels.
-Use showing, not telling voice.
-Replace boring nouns and verbs with specific vocabulary for vivid descriptions.
To Analyze Picture Book Biographies:
What is the theme, focus, age group, and point of view? How is the passage of time handled? How is the story’s historical context presented, and how is an information dump avoided? What is the voice? Is art required to understand the story? Is there a narrator? Is the character well-developed? Is there a hook at the end of each page for strong page turns?
To Analyze Chapter Books:
Look for the overall series’ plot, as well as the plot within each book of the series. What is the reading level? Some editors request a certain grade level. How long are the sentences? Sentence length can provide tension, for example short bursts can add dramatic effect.
To Analyze Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels:
Type up critical chapters to study. Is there an opening hook? Does each character have a voice? Where is the inciting incident placed? Read through once and then recreate an outline on the second reading. Chapter titles are often not the same thing as the outline. What are the chapter-end hooks? What is the word count? For middle grade novels, there is a difference between young middle grade and older middle grade levels.
Remember, your teachers are right in front of you, in the pages of published books. “We all imitate to find our own individuality.”
Author Donna Janell Bowman also teaches classes and is available to mentor individual writers.