By Linda Skeers
One of the most important things a writer can do is to read, study and analyze books in their chosen genre – especially recently published, award-winning, and starred reviewed books. In the past, I would sit down to really study a book – to figure out what makes it tick and to somehow absorb some secret that would improve my own writing. Alas, I read and enjoyed a lot of books, but I wasn’t sure I was really learning anything from my own solitary study.
That changed when I became a part of a Picture Book Study Group. You know the saying “Two heads are better than one?” Well, imagine how much better six heads could be!
Reading the same books and sharing my thoughts and opinions with others and listening to their thoughts and opinions gave me a whole new perspective on HOW to learn from a mentor text.
My group formed from a casual conversation about wanting to dive deep into picture books with the hope that analyzing great books would help improve our own writing. We’ve been going strong for over five years, so I guess it’s working.
First, we agreed on some ground rules:
We also select books in the same genre or category so we can compare and contrast and see how different authors handled similar topics. Any subject works – how about TREES? Here’s a list of titles we could read and explore:
BE A TREE! – Maria Gianferrari
SURVIVOR TREE – Marcie Colleen
THIS VERY TREE – Sean Rubin
TREES – Tony Johnston
THE SECOND LIFE OF TREES – Aimee Bisonette
BEFORE WE STOOD TALL – Jessica Kulekjian
THE WISDOM OF TREES: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom – Lita Judge
THANK YOU, TREE – Fiona Lee
LISTEN TO THE LANGUAGE OF TREES: a story of how forests communicate underground – Tera Kelley
Again, five titles work well but this gives you an idea of what’s “out there” and worth studying! Topics can range from food to frogs and space to scientists.
Possible discussion questions:
Did one book stand out among the group? Why? (it’s interesting that we almost always have a different favorite and it’s enlightening to discover why certain books resonate with different people)
What was the writing style? Conversational? Humorous? Lyrical? Straight-forward? What other styles would work with this topic?
What was included in the Back Matter? Did it enhance the text?
What did the author do to keep readers engaged and turning pages? Was there something unique or surprising about this book?
Was a technique used that you could attempt with your own writing?
Would this book appeal more to adults than children? Why?
Other questions and comments will spring up during the discussion. Remember, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and you can learn a lot from someone else’s perspective – especially when it’s different than your own!
This also works for Middle Grade and YA – you just might want to limit the list to 2-3 titles each month.
Gather a group of writers interested in analyzing books in your favorite genre and start studying together – it’s a fun way to learn and share and it might just help you look at your own manuscripts in a new way!
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
Disclaimer: The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas . The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.