I’m not recommending a children’s book you can use in your classroom today. Instead, I have something better. It’s a professional book about children’s books that every writing teacher needs to have improve their use of teaching with mentor texts needs to have.
Earlier this year Susan Ehmann and Kellyann Gayer published I can write like that! A Guide to Mentor Texts and Craft Studies for Writers’ Workshop, K-6. The amount of work they did to compile a text like this was evident to me by flipping through the pages, but even more apparent after reading through the introduction, which allowed me to picture the two of them dissecting hundreds of books for all of the possible things one could teach a young writer (from each book).
With Katie Wood Ray’s rationale in Wondrous Words to move guide them on their journey, the duo looked for books that did the following:
The bottom line for why I select the text is that I see something in how that text is written which would be useful for my students to also see. I see something about the text that holds potential for my students’ learning. I am looking for texts that have something in them or about them that can add to my students’ knowledge base of how to write well (1999, 188).
The authors identified over 20 craft elements found in the books they examined. Instead of just listing the crafts they noticed, they take the time to define and explain each one in detail. Ehmann and Gayer even list five exemplars for teaching a given craft element at the end of a craft element’s detailed description.
The book not only contains alphabetically organized charts of books that tell you which crafting strategies an author employed, but it also goes into detail about 150 books’ craft strategies. Let’s take a book, Earrings! by Judith Viorst, which I’ve used at the start of persuasive writing units of study to help kids think about the kind of reasoning they might engage when trying to convince someone to think their way. Ehmann and Gayer include a short summary of the book and then list and describe seven different crafting techniques (i.e., breaking the rules, hyperbole, lead, print features, punctuation, repetition, and voice) that teachers can point out to writers when they use Earrings! with a full-class, in a strategy lesson, or even in a one-to-one writing conference.
I have been asked “What books should I use for mentor texts?” more times than we can count. I’ll often point people to lists of books I’ve used in the past (Click here or here if you’d like to see them.). However, the books I know and like to use as a teacher might not suit your writing teacher taste. Therefore, having a professional text like I can write like that! will allow you to be in the driver’s seat since there are hundreds of possible texts you can use that teach several things at once.
A review copy of I can write like that! A Guide to Mentor Texts and Craft Studies for Writers’ Workshop, K-6 (2009) was provided by the International Reading Association.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).