A Closer Look

During Monday night’s Twitter chat about information writing, author Melissa Stewart sent this Tweet in response to a question about creating your own mentor texts:

Interesting concept, isn’t it?  I wondered what could be gained by typing out another author’s text.  The next day I went to my bookshelf and pulled out one of my favorite books of all time, Looking Back by Lois Lowry.  I remember reading Looking Back for the first time and thinking, “This.  I want to write a book just like this.” Since then, I have read and reread Lois’s words many times.  What could I learn from typing them?

I opened to the first page and started typing:

Looking Back

Looking back (no pun intended) on the first paragraph, I noticed right away how many descriptive phrases Lois Lowry used.  It’s almost like the entire first paragraph is a string of descriptive phrases.

Wow, I never noticed that before.  I am usually more conservative in my writing, more succinct than Lois was in this paragraph.  Maybe if I want to write like Lois Lowry, I could try stringing several descriptive phrases together as well.

I was having so much fun, I decided to try it again with one of my all-time favorite picture books, Beekle by Dan Santat.  What I noticed when typing out the text to this beautiful picture book was how many times Dan Santat used the word ‘but.’

Beekle

I have read this picture book so many times I could almost recite it, yet I have never noticed the repetition of that tiny word before!  It is an interesting way of framing the story, isn’t it?  The repetitive use of the word ‘but’ tends to highlight the multiple problems poor Beekle is facing throughout the story.

I have studied mentor texts closely before, but I have to agree with Melissa Stewart: typing out the text gave me a feel for the flow of the text.  There was something about the act of typing that made me acutely aware of the writer’s choices. This is an enlightening way to study a mentor text.

**Note:  Teachers should always seek permission before typing full copies of texts.**