I’ve been thinking a lot about the mentor texts we share with students at the beginning of the school year. In most classrooms, the school year begins with narrative writing. As I mentioned in my April 2019 post, “Curating an Array of Mentor Texts,” I think it’s important to use a variety of mentor texts that will match both the reading and writing abilities of students. It is critical to providing a variety of texts to meet students’ needs if we are committed to differentiating instruction.
Summer is nearly upon us. While we spend time relaxing and renewing ourselves during summer vacation, many of us reflect on the school year that has passed and think about ways to freshen up our practice for the following school year. Just as we revisit our teaching practices, we can reflect and refine the mentor texts we share with students in minilessons, writing conferences, and strategy lessons.
In “Inclusive Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing with a Social Justice Lens,” I shared some questions to consider when selecting books to share for writing workshop. While I hope you’ll read the whole post, here are some of the questions, which Melanie Meehan adapted from Social Justice Books, to help teachers think about cultural awareness when selecting picture books to share with kids in writing workshop.
I want to help you get started on your quest by sharing some newer picture books (most of which create cultural awareness) that can serve as exemplary mentor texts to lift the level of students’ narrative writing.
Because by Mo Willems and Amber Ren
Publisher’s Summary: Mo Willems, a number one New York Times best-selling author and illustrator, composes a powerful symphony of chance, discovery, persistence, and magic in this moving tale of a young girl’s journey to center stage. Illustrator Amber Ren brings Willems’ music to life, conducting a stunning picture-book debut.
A Few Craft Moves You Can Teach Young Writers: The Way We Are Known Ending; Developing Setting/Creating a Sense of Era Lead; Movement of Time and Place; Pacing; Precise Nouns; Punctuation to Create Voice (e.g., commas, dashes); Repetition; Vivid Verbs;
Going Down Home with Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons and Daniel Minter
Publisher’s Summary: “On reunion morning, we rise before the sun. Daddy hums as he packs our car with suitcases and a cooler full of snacks. He says there’s nothing like going down home.”
Down home is Granny’s house. Down home is where Lil’ Alan and his parents and sister will join great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Down home is where Lil’ Alan will hear stories of the ancestors and visit the land that has meant so much to all of them. And down home is where all of the children will find their special way to pay tribute to family history. All the kids have to decide on what tribute to share, but what will Lil’ Alan do?
A Few Craft Moves You Can Teach Young Writers: Character Details; Dialogue Advances the Story; Circular Ending; Hyphenated Words; Internal Thinking; Combination Lead (i.e., developing setting/meeting the characters); Power of Three; Setting Details; Show, Not Tell; Varied Sentence Lengths.
Ojichan’s Gift by Chieri Uegaki and Genevieve Simms
Publisher’s Summary: When Mayumi was born, her grandfather created a garden for her. It was unlike any other garden she knew. It had no flowers or vegetables. Instead, Ojiichan made it out of stones: big ones, little ones and ones in-between. Every summer, Mayumi visits her grandfather in Japan, and they tend the garden together. Raking the gravel is her favorite part. Afterward, the two of them sit on a bench and enjoy the results of their efforts in happy silence. But then one summer, everything changes. Ojiichan has grown too old to care for his home and the garden. He has to move. Will Mayumi find a way to keep the memory of the garden alive for both of them?
A Few Craft Moves You Can Teach Young Writers: Back Matter (i.e., translations and pronunciations of Japanese words); Strong Character Development; Code Switching; Dialogue That Advances the Story; Combination Ending (i.e., final action/wraparound) Developing Setting Lead; Movement of Time and Place; Precise Words; Show, Not Tell; Varied Sentence Lengths;
Pup 681: A Sea Otter Rescue Story by Jean Reidy and Ashley Crowley
Publisher’s Summary: Washed ashore alone, a tiny sea otter pup needs help! Soon, a rescuer is there, to take her in and keep her warm and fed. The pup faces challenges in her new life without her sea otter family. But with the love and care of her rescuer, she flourishes in her new home. Inspired by a true story, Pup 681 is a heartwarming and hopeful tale about family and love.
A Few Craft Moves You Can Teach Young Writers: Author’s Note; Back Matter (i.e., fact sheet); Combination Ending (i.e., accomplishments/advice to the reader); Heart of the Story Unfolds Bit-by-Bit; Setting Details Lead; Interesting Print Layout; Punctuation to Create Voice (e.g., dashes, ellipses points, varied end punctuation); Speech Bubbles; Varied Sentence Lengths.
The Snow Lion by Jim Helmore and Richard Jones
Publisher’s Summary: After moving to a new home, Caro wishes she had a friend, but she’s too shy to meet the neighborhood kids. With a little imagination, however, Caro finds the Snow Lion. Together, they have all kinds of fun racing, climbing, and playing hide-and-seek. But when the boy next door asks Caro to come play, Caro isn’t so sure. Then, the Snow Lion has an idea! Making new friends isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it in the end.
A Few Craft Moves You Can Teach Young Writers: Dialogue to Advance the Story, Wraparound Ending; Setting Details Lead; Interesting Print Layout; Punctuation to Create Voice (e.g., ellipses points); Varied Sentence Lengths; Vivid Verbs.
What Is Given from the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack and April Harrison
Publisher’s Summary: “Misery loves company,” Mama says to James Otis. It’s been a rough couple of months for them, but Mama says as long as they have their health and strength, they’re blessed. One Sunday before Valentine’s Day, Reverend Dennis makes an announcement during the service– the Temples have lost everything in a fire, and the church is collecting anything that might be useful to them. James thinks hard about what he can add to the Temple’s “love box,” but what does he have worth giving? With her extraordinary gift for storytelling, McKissack–with stunning illustrations by Harrison–delivers a touching, powerful tale of compassion and reminds us all that what is given from the heart, reaches the heart.
A Few Craft Moves You Can Teach Young Writers: Dialogue That Advances the Story; Connecting with the Reader/Discovery Ending; Internal Thinking; Taking Readers Into the Past Lead; Movement of Time and Place; Precise Words; Punctuation to Create Voice (e.g., commas in lists, dashes); Strong Character Details.
All of the craft moves listed above are explained in the glossary of Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts.
This giveaway is for a copy of each of the following books: Because, Going Down Home with Daddy, Ojichan’s Gift, Pup 681: A Sea Otter Story, The Snow Lion, What Is Given from the Heart. Many thanks to Henry Holt, Hyperion, Kids Can Press, Peachtree Publishing Company, and Schwartz & Wade for donating a copy of each of these books for one lucky reader.
For a chance to win these six books, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, June 7th at 11:59 a.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Sunday, June 9th.
NOTE: You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter this giveaway.
Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contacts at each of the above-mentioned publishers will ship your books out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – NEW NARRATIVE PICTURE BOOKS. 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. Mrs. Abbey’s Class‘s commenter number came up when I did the drawing so she’ll win the books contained in this post.
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).