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MOWMT March 27: Vivian Kirkfield Uses Quotes


Using Quotes Effectively in Nonfiction PB Bios

by Vivian Kirkfield


Back in 2019, my agent submitted one of my manuscripts to an editor. It was a nonfiction picture book biography, the type of story I love to write. The editor liked it – but not enough to acquire it immediately. She asked me to make some changes…an R&R – a revise and resubmit. 


But even after two R&Rs, it still wasn’t there. And that’s when I (Revision Tip Alert!!!) googled the editor, read interviews she had done over the years where she mentioned books she was working on, ran out, got a stack of those titles and STUDIED THEM AS MENTOR TEXTS. 


I discovered she LOVED quotes. Fortunately, Annie Londonderry, the subject of my book, wrote a column for the New York World newspaper in 1895 after she returned from riding a bike around the world. I immediately pulled out several lines that fit into the manuscript nicely, made a few more changes, and submitted it for the THIRD TIME. And hurray!



If you are planning to use quotations in your manuscript, I hope you check out these mentor texts.


Calkins Creek (2019)


This narrative nonfiction picture book begins with a quote from Yogi Berra: “It was fun. If I had to do it over again, I’d do it again.” We immediately discover this young boy LOVES to play baseball. Every page turn brings us to action and to quotes that show us Yogi’s heart and help us connect with him. 





How appropriate that a book about a woman who spoke out for Women’s Rights contains many of the words she uttered! Belva Lockwood was the first woman lawyer to argue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and she devoted her life to overcoming obstacles and demanding equality for women. The story is laced with her quotes – usually floating above her head. In this way, the quotations don’t interrupt the flow of the story, but they help us feel like the main character is speaking directly to us.



Albert Whitman & Company (2021)


Not all quotes are found floating on the pages of picture books. Sometimes the writer works the words into the text of the manuscript itself. In DEAR MR. DICKENS, author Nancy Churnin takes the words written in letters by a young woman named Eliza Davis. Saddened by the negative portrayal of Jewish people in the works of Charles Dickens, Eliza wrote the famous man a letter, asking him to portray Jewish people more accurately. But Dickens felt he had done nothing wrong. And so, Eliza wrote to him again. This time he paid attention, and his change of heart was reflected in his future books. As author Churnin weaves lines from the correspondence between Eliza Davis and Charles Dickens, the reader experiences those moments as if they were happening right now.


Philomel (2017)


Each woman highlighted in this book receives only one paragraph of text, but what I love most is that every glorious illustration has a quotation woven into the art that exemplifies that person. On the page where Helen Keller sits with an open book, “One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” And on the illustration showing Oprah Winfrey looking at a young girl (perhaps her younger self?), “The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.”




As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, Annie’s actual words appear as quotations throughout the story. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, here are two spreads from the book so you can see how Alison Jay floats the quotations, written in cursive, on each illustration.


Giveaway: Vivian is offering a copy of Pedal, Balance, Steer AND a 30-minute Ask-Me-Anything Zoom chat.


Vivian’s Bio:


Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more words – but she’s already checked off jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, walking under the ocean, and going around the world in less than 80 days. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the picturesque town of Bedford, New Hampshire. A retired kindergarten teacher with a master's in early childhood education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. Her nonfiction narratives bring history alive for young readers and her picture books have garnered starred reviews and accolades including the Silver Eureka, Social Studies Notable Trade Book, Best STEM Book K-12, Bank Street College of Education Best Book of 2022, and Junior Library Guild Selection.



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Feel free to click the links to buy the books mentioned and help support our Weekly Mentor Text Talks! Thanks for sharing the #BookLove #MarchOn #MentorTexts #RateYourStory

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