Creating Teaching Tools for Picture Books



Each picture book I’m bringing to Millersville has a sticky note (like this) from me on the end papers.

Next month, I’ll be presenting at the Millersville University Elementary Literacy Institute. My presentation, “Help Kids Imagine Possibilities in Their Writing Using Mentor Texts,” will include time for teachers to dig into picture books to mine them for craft moves so they can create a lesson set for the book of their choice. One of the nicest things about the Millersville Institute is that it’s a short drive from my house. Therefore, I can easily bring lots of picture books with me, which is something I can’t do when I fly to a speaking engagement.


Seeing as the Institute participants will have read Craft Moves, I am going to bring lots of new picture books with me so they’ll have a variety to choose from when creating a lesson set with a partner. Each one has a sticky note inside the front cover that provides a few ideas to help teachers get started mining each book for craft moves. Each list is purposely not comprehensive. It’s merely a starting point to help someone mine each book for craft moves.

Since summer is a great time to seek out new mentor texts for your writing workshop, here are some of my new favorites — most of which have a 2017 publication date — that I think are perfect for classroom use:

9781452127125.pt01A Beetle Is Shy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long (Chronicle Books, 2016)

Publisher’s Summary: The award-winning duo of Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long team up again, this time creating a gorgeous look at the fascinating world of beetles. From flea beetles to bombardier beetles, an incredible variety of these beloved bugs are showcased here in all their splendor. Poetic in voice and elegant in design, this carefully researched and visually striking book is perfect for sparking children’s imaginations in both classroom reading circles and home libraries.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: technical language, circular ending, vivid verbs, sharing a secret lead, print layout, creating categories, grouping related information and illustrations, and ellipses points

GoodDayForAHatA Good Day for a Hat by T. Nat Fuller and Rob Hodgson (Abrams Appleseed, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: Mr. Brown loves hats and can’t leave the house without wearing just the right one. But on this day, every time he opens the door to leave, the situation changes, and Mr. Brown must change his hat accordingly. At last, wearing every hat he owns, Mr. Brown is on his way. When he finally arrives at his destination, we find that it’s Mr. Brown’s birthday, and his friends have just the right hat for that as well.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: lead (dialogue with action), surprise ending, ellipses points, repetition, turning point, precise words (e.g., vivid verbs)

9781561459681About Habitats: Seashores by Cathryn Sill and John Sill (Peachtree, 2017) – US ONLY

Publisher’s Summary: In this addition to the About Habitats series, award-winning author Cathryn Sill uses simple, easy-to-understand language to teach children about seashores and what kinds of animals and plants live there. John Sill’s detailed, full-color illustrations reflect the wide variety of seashore topography. A glossary and afterword provide further fascinating details about seashores to inspire readers to learn more.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: precise words (e.g., specific nouns, vivid verbs), captions, commas in lists, back matter (i.e., glossary, detailed explanations of each illustration plate)

9781771385695Animals Do, Too! How They Behave Just Like You by Etta Kaner and Marilyn Faucher (Kids Can Press, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: “Do you like to dance?” asks the first spread of this playful nonfiction picture book. “Honeybees do, too!” responds the next. Illustrating the simple text are joyful drawings that visually connect the children enjoying a dance party to the honeybees performing their own “dance” in the hive. A block of more in-depth text fleshes out what the honeybees are actually doing and why: their waggle dance tells other honeybees “where to find a tasty meal.” Using this same rhythmic question-and-answer style throughout, the book compares a series of children’s favorite activities to similar things that animals do. From playing tag and leapfrog (gazelles and cattle egrets) to blowing bubbles and getting piggyback rides (gray tree frogs and marmosets), there are seven activities/animals in all. And though the behaviors might look the same, while the children are playing, the animals are performing essential tasks such as finding food or caring for their young.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: Q&A structure, teaching tone, precise words (e.g., specific nouns, vivid verbs), parenthetical references, dashes, back matter (i.e., more details on each animal)

TH_Catching Air HiResCatching Air: Taking the Leap with Gliding Animals by Sneed B. Collard III (Tilbury House Publishers, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: Only a few dozen vertebrate animals have evolved true gliding abilities, but they include an astonishing variety of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. North America’s flying squirrels and Australia’s sugar gliders notwithstanding, the vast majority of them live in rainforests. Illustrated with arresting photographs, Catching Air takes us around the world to meet these animals, learn why so many gliders live in Southeast Asia, and find out why this gravity-defying ability has evolved in Draco lizards, snakes, and frogs as well as mammals. Why do gliders stop short of flying, how did bats make that final leap, and how did Homo sapiens bypass evolution to glide via wingsuits and hang gliders—or is that evolution in another guise?

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: content-specific words, ellipses points, font treatment, print layout, vivid verbs, topics/subtopics, teaching tone, text features (e.g., information boxes, captions, diagrams), dashes, back matter (e.g., glossry, website list, books list)

9781524739058 (1)Come with Me by Holly M. McGhee and Pascal Lemaitre (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: When the news reports are flooded with tales of hatred and fear, a girl asks her papa what she can do to make the world a better place. “Come with me,” he says. Hand-in-hand, they walk to the subway, tipping their hats to those they meet. The next day, the girl asks her mama what she can do—her mama says, “Come with me,” and together they set out for the grocery, because one person doesn’t represent an entire race or the people of a land. After dinner that night, the little girl asks if she can do something of her own—walk the dog . . . and her parents let her go. “Come with me,” the girl tells the boy across the hall. Walking together, one step at a time, the girl and the boy begin to see that as small and insignificant as their part may seem, it matters to the world.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: dialogue, internal thinking/feelings, sharing a secret lead, repetition, show, don’t tell, movement of time and place, varied sentence lengths, power of three, lesson learned ending

9781561459438Flowers for Sarajevo by John McCutcheon and Kristy Caldwell (Peachtree, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: One morning, the bakery is bombed and twenty-two people are killed. The next day, a cellist walks to the bombsite and plays the most heartbreaking music Drasko can imagine. The cellist returns for twenty-two days, one day for each victim of the bombing. Inspired by the musician’s response, Drasko finds a way to help make Sarajevo beautiful again.

Based on real events of the Bosnian War, award-winning songwriter and storyteller John McCutcheon tells the uplifting story of the power of beauty in the face of violence and suffering.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: internal thinking, repetition, meet the characters lead, varied sentence lengths, movement of time and place, dashes, final action ending, back matter

Go Sleep In Your Own Bed! CoverGo sleep in your own bed! by Candace Fleming and Lori Nichols (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: This funny and irresistible picture book feels like a classic in the making. When Pig plops into his sty at bedtime, he finds Cow fast asleep in his spot. “Go sleep in your own bed ” he squeals, and sends her packing. But when Cow finally snuggles down into her stall, she finds Hen sleeping there. So begins a chain reaction of snoozing barnyard animals being awakened and sent off to their own beds, until every last one is in just the right place. Young children will delight in repeating the refrain “Go sleep in your own bed ” and laugh at the antics of these hilarious–and very sleepy–farm animals.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: vivid verbs, onomatopoeia, repetition, dashes, surprise/circular ending, end punctuation (e.g., exclamation points)

9781467780094fcIf You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas and Jaime Kim (Millbrook Press, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: What would you do if you were the moon? Do you think you would rest quietly in the night sky? Oh, no. The moon does so much more than you might imagine! It spins like a twilight ballerina, plays tug-of-war with the ocean, and lights a pathway for baby sea turtles. Discover the many other roles the moon plays in this whimsical and lyrical picture book.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: dialogue lead, fact inserts, teaching tone, vivid verbs (i.e., that start each page’s heading), categories, parentheses, content-specific words, back matter (e.g., glossary, further reading)

life-9781481451628_hrLife by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel (Beach Lane Books, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel explore the beauty and tenacity of life. Life begins small, then grows… There are so many wonderful things about life, both in good times and in times of struggle. Through the eyes of the world’s animals—including elephants, monkeys, whales, and more—Cynthia Rylant offers a moving meditation on finding beauty around us every day and finding strength in adversity. Brendan Wenzel’s stunning landscapes and engaging creatures make this an inspiring and intriguing gift for readers of all ages.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: teaching tone, precise words, lead (simple statement), varied sentence lengths, punctuating longer sentences with commas, colons, circular ending

9781467794107fcNoah Webster’s Fighting Words by Tracy Nelson Maurer and Mircea Catusanu (Millbrook Press, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: Noah Webster, famous for writing the first dictionary of the English language as spoken in the United States, was known in his day for his bold ideas and strong opinions about, well, everything. Spelling, politics, laws, you name it—he had something to say about it. He even commented on his own opinions! With a red pencil in hand, Noah often marked up work that he had already published. So who edited this book? It certainly looks like the ghost of the great American author and patriot picked up a pencil once again to comment on his own biography!

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: meet the character/dialogue lead, internal thinking (i.e., inside the boxes), varied sentence lengths, ellipses points, power of three, precise words, repetition, way we are known ending, back matter (i.e., timeline, author’s and illustrator’s notes, source list, bibliography)

SnowflakeinMyPocketSnowflake in My Pocket by Rachel Bright and Yu Rong (Kane Miller, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: The snow is coming – Bear can smell it! Squirrel is so excited – he’s never seen snow before! But when the snow arrives, Bear suddenly gets sick. Can Squirrel still share this silvery, sparkly, tumbly, magical whiteness with his best friend?

A friendship story, a story about patience and longing, this delicately-crafted book features a cut-out window in Squirrel’s oak tree home, giving readers a sneak-peek to the wintry world outside, and capturing the cozy, cuddly feeling of sharing a snowy night with a loved one.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: movement through time, dialogue, setting/meet the characters lead, onomatopoeia, vivid verbs, exclamation points, ellipses, lesson learned/dialogue ending

Stand Up and Sing_HiResStand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich and Adam Gustavson (Bloomsbury, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: Pete Seeger was born with music in his bones. Coming of age during the Great Depression, Pete saw poverty and adversity that would forever shape his worldview, but it wasn’t until he received his first banjo that he found his way to change the world. It was plucking banjo strings and singing folk songs that showed Pete how music had the incredible power to bring people together.

Using this gift throughout his life, Pete encouraged others to rally behind causes that mattered–fighting for Civil Rights, ending the Vietnam War, or cleaning up the Hudson River. For Pete, no challenge was too great, and what started out as a love for music turned into a lifetime of activism and change. His greatest talent–and greatest passion–would become an unforgettable part of American history.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: partial quotations, compound adjectives, precise words, back matter (e.g., author’s note, quotations), dashes, movement of time and place, way we are known ending

Strong as Sandow_fnl_300Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth by Don Tate (Charlesbridge Publishers, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: Little Friedrich Muller was a puny weakling who longed to be athletic and strong like the ancient Roman gladiators. He exercised and exercised. But he to no avail.As a young man, he found himself under the tutelage of a professional body builder. Friedrich worked and worked. He changed his name to Eugen Sandow and he got bigger and stronger. Everyone wanted to become “as strong as Sandow.”Inspired by his own experiences body-building, Don Tate tells the story of how Eugen Sandow changed the way people think about strength and exercise and made it a part of everyday life.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: meet the characters lead, headings, topics/subtopics, dialgoue, varied sentence lengths, show, don’t tell, compound adjectives, power of three, dashes, ending, accomplishments/way we are known ending, back matter (e.g., afterword, author’s note, bibliography, quotation sources)

9781771387279That Thing Lou Couldn’t Do by Ashley Spires (Kids Can Press, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: “Lou and her friends are BRAVE adventurers. They run FASTER than airplanes. They build MIGHTY fortresses. They rescue WILD animals.” But one day, when they’re looking for a ship to play pirates in, Lou’s friend has an idea: “Up there! The tree can be our ship!” “Ummm …” says Lou. This is something new. Lou has never climbed a tree before, and she’s sure she can’t do it. So she tries to convince her friends to play a not-up-a-tree game. When that doesn’t work, she comes up with reasons for not joining them — her arm is sore, her cat needs a walk, you shouldn’t climb so soon after eating. Finally, she tells herself she doesn’t want to climb the tree. But is that true, or is this brave adventurer just too afraid to try?

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: meet the characters lead, repetition, varied sentence lengths, speech bubbles, font treatment, internal thinking, wraparound ending

Click here to read Ashley Spires’s Author Spotlight piece, “To Edit or Not to Edit,” which she shared on TWT last month.

9780399166921The Mermaid’s Purse by Patricia Polacco (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016)

Publisher’s Summary: Young Stella loves books so much, her books begin to take over the farmhouse. “Why, Stell, you need your own library to hold those books,” her pa tells her, so he and the neighbors build her one! She calls it “the Mermaid’s Purse,” since the midwife said Stella was born in one. Stella opens the Purse to her neighbors and travels around the countryside, sharing her books door-to-door. Not everyone gives them a chance at first, like grouchy Pig Ears Lonsberry. But farmer Dunkle sure changes his mind when information in a book saves his sick sheep. Eventually, everybody comes to love the Mermaid’s Purse—so when a tornado destroys it, scattering Stella’s precious books far and wide, the whole community rallies to help.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: dialogue, meet the characters lead, show, don’t tell, dashes, compound adjectives, structure, surprise ending

9780803738683 (3)The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016)

Publisher’s Summary: The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, who lives alone atop a hill, has a job of the utmost importance. It is his task to open any bottles found at sea and make sure that the messages are delivered. He loves his job, though he has always wished that, someday, one of the letters would be addressed to him. One day he opens a party invitation—but there’s no name attached. As he devotes himself to the mystery of the intended recipient, he ends up finding something even more special: the possibility of new friends.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: repetition, compound adjectives, varied use of commas, movement of time and place, structure, pivot point, meet the characters lead, varied sentence lengths, power of three, surprise ending

360_Things That Grow HRThings That Grow by Libby Walden and Becca Stadtlander (360 Degrees, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: The world around us is always growing and changing! Step into this beautifully illustrated book where time has slowed down, and discover how a seed transforms into a mighty tree; how mountains and islands are formed; and what a puggle becomes when it grows up.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: teaching tone, text features (e.g., captions, diagrams), lists, headings, content-specific words, dashes, commas in lists, parentheses (for explaining technical language)

Tornadoes cTornadoes (Updated Edition) by Seymour Simon (Harper, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: In this updated and revised edition of Tornadoes, award-winning science writer Seymour Simon gives readers an in-depth look at these captivating and powerful storms through fascinating facts and stunning full-color photographs. Readers will learn all about tornadoes, from how they are first created to the destruction they leave behind.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: content-specific vocabulary, back matter (e.g., glossary), technical language to teach about topics, hyphenated words, grouping related information into categories, partial quotations, commas to punctuate complex sentences, text features (e..g, captions, text boxes, maps)

Tree of Wonder_FC_HiResTree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree by Kate Messner and Simona Mulazzani (Chronicle Books, 2015)

Publisher’s Summary: Deep in the forest, in the warm-wet green, 1 almendro tree grows, stretching its branches toward the sun. Who makes their homes here?

2 great green macaws, 4 keel-billed toucans, 8 howler monkeys, 16 fruit bats, 32 fer-de-lance vipers, 64 agoutis, 128 blue morpho butterflies, 256 poison dart frogs, 512 rusty wandering spiders, 1,024 leafcutter ants.

Count each and every one as life multiplies again and again in this lush and fascinating book about the rainforest.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: fact inserts, teaching tone, vivid verbs, structure (i.e., using numbers that multiply), dashes, ellipses, back matter

9781467789387fcYaffa and Fatima, Shalom, Salaam by Fawzia Gilani-Williams and Chiara Fedele (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2017)

Publisher’s Summary: Two neighbors, one Jewish, one Muslim, have always been best friends. When they both fall on hard times, can they find a way to help each other? In Fawzia Gilani’s retelling of this folktale, which has both Jewish and Arab origins, differences are not always causes for conflict and friendship can overcome any obstacle.

Some craft moves you might teach kids with this book: repetition, meet the characters lead, see-saw structure, precise words, internal thinking, varied sentence lengths, pivot point, final action ending


giveaway 062317

I believe most of these books are well-suited to use across the elementary grades. However, I took the liberty of breaking them up into “sets” for giveaway purposes.  |  Click on the image to see which books are in each set.

Giveaway Information:

Most of the publishers whose books are featured above are giving away one copy of each book that’s listed above. As a result, I’ve clustered books together so four lucky educators will receive a set of mentor texts. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter this giveaway.)

Leave ONE COMMENT by Friday, June 30th at 11:59 p.m. EDT to enter to win one of the above-mentioned sets. When you leave your comment, be sure to write down whether you’d like to win the primary fiction, primary nonfiction, upper-grade fiction, or upper-grade nonfiction. I will use a random number generator to pick the winners. However, if your commenter number is selected, but you haven’t specified which set you’d like to win, then another number will be drawn.

Prizes will be announced by Monday, July 3rd. If you are the winner of one of the text sets, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – NEW MENTOR TEXTS. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone who left a comment about these books. I used a random number generator and the following people won the book sets:

  • Primary Fiction: Lily Esquivel
  • Primary Nonfiction: readingtothecore
  • Upper-Grade Fiction: Julie Monetta
  • Upper-Grade Nonfiction: Marsha Ladd