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Mentoring Primary Writers

The past eight days have been exceedingly busy, while also being exceedingly great.  First, Ruth was here and we spent a lot of time planning out the final third of our book.  Then, I traveled to Philadelphia for the NCTE Annual Convention.  On Monday, I was in a new school working with a dynamic group of seasoned teachers who have implemented Writing Workshop this year and want to get better with conferring.  Top that off with getting ready to host my first Thanksgiving and you’ll probably understand why I hadn’t thought much about the mentor text I was going to review today until after dinner last night.

As my family was kindly helping to clean-up the kitchen, I went into my home office and consulted a stack of books I was thinking about reviewing.  I selected a couple from the pile, brought them over to the couch, and began reading.  The first one captivated me immediately.  While I read the second book, I went back to the first one, impressed with the way the writer managed to beautifully tell the story of Oliver, a four year-old boy whose parents recently separated and was going through all the stress that inevitably brings for a child.

Oliver at the Window, written by Elizabeth Shreeve and illustrated by Candice Hartsough McDonald, was published last month.  This book serves as an excellent read aloud for young children when you’re teaching about different kinds of family structures (e.g., two-parent families, separated families, divorced families, blended families, extended families).  Additionally, Oliver at the Window can be used to teach several crafting techniques to students.  They are:

  • Commas: This book uses commas in a variety of ways (e.g., in lists, in introductory phrases, before conjunctions, and in dialogue).  If you’re looking for mentor sentences to use with your students that include commas, then this book has a bunch of them!

  • Descriptive Language: Shreeve uses precise words to create sensory images.  Towards the end of the book, Oliver’s lion is described as “soft, silky, and just the right size.”  That description actually changed the way I thought the lion would feel.   Readers hear Oliver’s tummy rumbling, can see snowflakes swirl in the sky, and can hear the school’s gate squeak.  This text certainly provides teachers with many opportunities to show students how authors use language to help their readers make a movie in their minds.

  • Comparisons: There are three spots in Oliver at the Window where Oliver’s dad is compared to Oliver’s mom in both the illustrations and the words.  Those places are pages 8 & 9, pages 11 & 12, and pages 16 & 17.  Comparisons on those pages reflect which house Oliver is going to go to, what each parent sounds like when they pick him up from school, and pictures that he created of both parents’ houses, respectively.  As a reader, I thought this happened so that we could better understand Oliver’s state of confusion, while also understanding his desire to feel more settled in the midst of the great transition he’s going through.

  • Symbolism: There are two objects in the story that are symbolic of something more.

    • THE LION:  Oliver’s stuffed lion is the only thing in Oliver’s life that is a constant.  The Lion is treated kindly by both of Oliver’s parents who allow him to bring the lion to each of their homes.  Furthermore, the lion accompanies Oliver to school, though Oliver depends on the lion less and less as he begins to transition into the reality of his new life.

    • THE WINDOW:  Oliver spends a lot of time looking out of the window in the beginning of the book.  As the book goes on, the window is not needed as much by Oliver since he’s adjusting to his new school (and his new life).  He makes a new friend, who is also new, by the window in his pre-school and a friendship develops.

While the publisher states this book is for children ages four – six, I think Oliver at the Window can be used as a mentor text to help students up through third grade with the above-mentioned crafting techniques.

Oliver at the Window is on my desk today.
NOTE: A review copy of this book was provided by Boyds Mills Press.

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

3 thoughts on “Mentoring Primary Writers Leave a comment

  1. Oliver at the Window is a beautifully done book that tugs at the heart of parents and children alike. It is poignant without being preachy, touching without being overly sentimental. And it shows transformation as Oliver is able to reach out to others. Bravo Elizabeth Shreeve.

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