Mentor Texts for Teachers: Resources for You to Use in the Classroom

Image for posts--mentor texts in the classroom

Check out some of the new resources for writing teachers.

Professional Books

writing thief

The Writing Thief by Ruth Culham

This new book on using mentor texts in the classroom is full of great ideas for using mentor texts in the classroom. In the fall, Ruth,  Kate Messner, Lisa Yee, and Varian Johnson did a free webinar about mentor texts, which you can watch for free here:

I highly recommend it for teachers because it gives a glimpse into writers and their processes.


59 Reasons to Write by Kate Messner

If you haven’t read REAL REVISION by Kate Messner, you need to get that book. Her new book, which has a free preview on the Stenhouse website, stemmed from Kate’s work with the free Teachers Write program she does in the summer. If you are a teacher of writing, Kate encourages you to try writing for yourself. She believes (and I agree) that it makes you a better writing teacher. This one just came out, and it would be perfect for a summer study with a group of other teachers.


Grammar Matters by Lynne Dorfman and Diane Dougherty

If you need some help teaching grammar with mentor texts, then this can be your go-to book. Dorfman has already put out two great mentor texts books (here and here). This one focuses on grammar. I have plans to use some of the lesson idea in this book in the coming weeks.

Mentor Texts for Word Play

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post at the Grog about using mentor texts to learn about Word Play. While I wrote the blog post for writers to use in their own writing, you can use the mentor texts and the ideas with students. Hop on over there to find out how to play with words.

Mentor Texts for Word Play Guest Post

punny titles

I’m over at the GROG today talking about mentor texts for word play. Whether you are a writer looking to make your writing more playful, or a teacher looking to help kids play with words, this post has a bunch of fun books to check out! Here is the link.

Mentor Texts for Writers: Carrie Charley Brown Breaks the 4th Wall

Carrie Charley Brown is our first guest for Mentor Texts for Writers 2015. She challenged herself to write a picture book about breaking the 4th wall, but FIRST, she studied mentor texts that had done it well. Stay tuned. At the end of her post, she offers you a challenge as well. 

Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog


A picture book is like a happy shiny gift just waiting to be opened and explored. Lots of things go into that 400 word or less package… a stand-out concept, dynamic relatable characters, a unique voice… among countless other traits. With such a need to cry out “I’m different!” in order sell the masterpiece, one might question why in the world picture book writers turn to reading other picture books to learn.

Let’s examine just one of the fore-mentioned traits to see how valuable this practice can actually be. In general, today’s agents and editors gravitate toward shorter picture books. Our job then becomes to say it all without really saying it all. Therefore, studying great picture book models, of 400 words or less, might teach us a little about how to wrap everything into that tight little story arc. It examines the process and not the idea.

Last May, I challenged myself to write a picture book that would attempt to break the 4th wall and involve the reader as a character. I was inspired to do so by reading other picture book greats that featured unconventional interaction between the characters. As I studied these models, I focused in on the language.


Big Bad Bubble by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

Carrie--Monster at the end

The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin


I Dare You Not to Yawn by Helene Boudreau, Illustrated by Serge Bloch


Many of these models use a second person point of view to directly address the characters. However, when the word “you” is used, the reader can’t help but feel they are also being questioned… and sometimes they are. “You” are invited right into the story and even if you are not a character, you feel like you are. Other times, “you” feel like the narrator, addressing the character directly.

Carrie-Easter Cat

Here Comes the Easter Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda

Carrie--Secret pizza

Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

Carrie--It's a tiger

It’s a Tiger! by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Jeremy Tankard


A mentor text is a stellar model used to understand how picture book elements work for great authors.

I consult different resources before considering if a book is worth studying. I pay attention to the book reviews of knowledgeable picture book writers, career reviewers, librarians, and award committees. If a book shows up in multiple places, that is an indication to me that I need to get my hands on it right away. But, sometimes just one particular opinion is usually right on the money.

Personally, I’ve been reading and studying a wide variety of picture books for over twenty years, first as a primary teacher, and now a picture book writer. After participating as a 2014 CYBILS Awards Fiction Picture Book Panelist, and reading hundreds of nominees in a very short period of time, I realized how many picture book authors would benefit from reading current mentor texts. While books from long ago have a lesson of their own, current picture books (those written within the last three years) can tell us more about the market today. It is exciting to know that the learning will never end and there will always be more new picture books to study.


So what do you say? Should we study together? I’ve been inspired to inspire! I recently founded the 2015 ReFoReMo Challenge, or Reading for Research Month. This online challenge aims to encourage picture book writers to reform their writing by reading mentor texts. Participants will learn how to use mentor texts, read, research, and interact in a private KidLit community. The ultimate goal will be to read 105 titles in three weeks and the major prize is deeper understanding of what makes picture books tick. But, there will be prize drawings, too!  Registration will open on February 15, and remain open until 11 pm CST on March 1, 2015. For more information visit the ReFoReMo Blog here.


Carrie Charley Brown juggles ideas every day as a children’s writer, teacher, blogger, and mom. She is the founder of the 2015 ReFoReMo Challenge, or Reading for Research Month. You can learn more about Carrie’s writing journey, her KidLit Services, ReFoReMo, and many other amazing authors & resources, at her blogsite Carrie On… Together!

Mentor Texts for Writers 2015: Guest Posts

On Tuesdays, I will be feature a new series for a few months in 2015. I love to see how other writers use mentor texts to help them become better writers. I have some amazing writers who are doing guest posts to tell us how they use mentor texts! I hope this will give you (and me) some tips for how to use mentor texts. It will give us a glimpse into others’ writing process.

Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog

Mentor Texts I’m Using Right Now

iridescence of birds image

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan

what forest knows

What Forest Knows by George Ella Lyon

Both are lyrical. Both are spare in text. Both are “quiet” books, but they are just the kind of book I love. I want to really study what sets these books apart. Of course, they are written by two amazing veteran writers. But they are standouts. The writing is excellent.

How I’m Using Them

I’m typing the texts outs. I want to study what they look like on the white page—without all of the illustrations. I want to see how these writers constructed beautiful poems that became fully illustrated 32 page picture books. When I see the book as a manuscript (just words on a page), it helps me to really see how the book was written.

Join Us!

Are you a writer who uses mentor texts to help you become a better writer? Do you want to do a guest post on how you use them? I still have spots for Tuesdays in 2015. E-mail me (marcie AT marcieatkins DOT com) and I will put you on the schedule.

Highlights Fiction Contest: Mystery Writing Tips

Highlights for Children Magazine runs a yearly fiction contest. This year the theme is a mystery and the deadline is January 31, 2015. If you are interested in some links on how to write a mystery AND a printable for planning your mystery, head on over to the GROG blog. I have posted my mystery contest post there. 
Screenshot of mystery sheet


Click on the image to download the printable from this page too. 

Making Time to Write in 2015

I’m over at the GROG today talking about ways you can make time to write in 2015. Click here for the full article.

Mentor Texts for Teachers 2015: Guest Posts

When I did my list of most popular blog posts in 2014, I noticed that six of the ten posts were mentor texts posts. I want to bring more mentor texts posts to you in 2015.

I’m inviting other teachers and librarians to post about how they use mentor texts with students. I hope their insights will be helpful as you explore mentor texts in the classroom.

These posts will be on Thursdays (1-2 times per month). Teachers will provide tips and ideas for using mentor texts successfully.

If you are a teacher who uses mentor texts in the classroom, and you would like to participate as a guest blogger, e-mail me (marcie AT marcieatkins DOT com) and I will put you on the schedule.Image for posts--mentor texts in the classroom

Best of 2014: Most Popular Posts

Looking back over 2014, I wanted to take note of my most popular posts on my blog. It helps me see what posts are most helpful to my readers. The shocking thing for me was that all of the most frequently read pages of 2014 were actually posts I wrote and posted in 2013!

That’s good because it means that much of my content is evergreen. And it also helps me to see what types of posts they are. Six out of ten were mentor texts posts aimed at teachers. The other four posts were posts on organizing your writing life.

1. Top 10 Picture Books for Word Choice

This has consistently been my most popular post for 2 years. I decided to create it into a printable PDF. You can access it two ways: 1) by signing up for my writing teachers’ newsletter (in the top right hand corner of my website) and 2) by getting it for FREE at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

2. What To Do About To-Do Lists

3. Personal Narrative Mentor Texts

4. Mentor Text Lesson Plan on Onomatopoeia

5. Over and Under the Snow Mentor Text Lesson Plan

6. Keeping Track of Submissions

7. Quarterly Goals Template

8. Mentor Text Spreadsheet: Picture Book Month in Review

9. Mentor Text Tip Tuesday: Scavenge the Books

10. Goal Setting Re-Vamped

What Do You Need?

I think these posts became the most popular because people googled for these exact needs–organization in their writing life OR mentor texts lessons.

I would like to create more evergreen posts in 2015. What do you need? If you are a teacher, what mentor text lists or tips do you need?

If you are a writer, what kinds of organization help do you need? I am also very passionate about helping writers make time to write. What do you need help with?

Comment below OR e-mail me with your specific need and I’ll try to create a post about it, if I can.

Looking Ahead: Mapping Out 2015

I know we are smack in the middle of two holidays. I’m in the middle of a break from work. But this is the time of the year when I start to get antsy about what’s going to happen in the next year. I start to make my goals and really outline how I’m going to accomplish them. Last year, I shared two new sheets (quarterly goals sheet and monthly focus sheet) I created to help with my goal implementation in 2014. While I liked the focus for the month page and not planning too far ahead by creating quarterly goals, this year I’m modifying things a little.

Look Back to Make Changes

First, I reflected back at 2014. I was able to accomplish a lot, but I spent a TON of time taking classes (both for my library certification and in writing for self-growth). I don’t think I’ll ever be done taking classes, but in 2015 I want to take the time to implement that which I have learned in my MFA, in workshops, and in online classes I’ve taken. This year my craft focus will be lighter on taking online classes and more on utilizing craft books and notes from classes already taken.

Make a Dream List

I know this post is about goals, but when I looked at what I would like my year to look like, as a writer, I started listing all of the things I would like to accomplish this year. It’s a big list.

Then I organized my list by topic. Everyone’s topics will be different. But mine were:

  • Picture Books
  • Chapter Books
  • Middle Grade Novel
  • Educational Writing
  • Business

Share Your Goals

I think it’s really important to share your goals with a few close writer friends. I’m not sharing them on here because many of them involve specific book subjects and titles that I’m not ready to share publicly yet. But I do think it’s a good idea to share them with some writers that you trust. You can encourage one another toward those goals in that way.

Block Off Your Calendar

You can use a pre-printed calendar or just a blank calendar printed from Microsoft Word. I went ahead and marked off the times I knew would affect my writing.

For example, in July I will be attending a week-long writing retreat in Georgia, then I’ll be teaching two weeks at Hollinsummer. I’m not saying I’m not going to be writing then. I probably will be. However, I will NOT be trying to restructure a whole novel during the month of July. That would be setting myself up for failure.

In February, I will be doing the Writing Marathon with my students, just like I did last year. I wrote with them and got a big project outlined and started writing sample chapters during that month. So, knowing that the marathon is coming up, I went ahead and planned out what I’d be working on for that extra writing time in February 2015.

Map Out Your Goals

Then I started plugging in the major projects I want to accomplish in 2015 and mapping them out. For instance, I actually have two middle grade novels I want to revise in 2015. Can I do that? Of course, I can—with proper planning. I have to be realistic about how long it will take and map out specific tasks to get those revisions done. I’m blocking off time to plan for the revisions and time to actually revise each chapter–all mapped out on the calendar.

Minimize Distractions

I have an issue with time wasting–especially on the Internet. This year, I’m trying something new. I’m not sure if it will work for everything I need, but so far, I like it. I’m trying the new Google Chrome extension Dayboard. You can plug in the 5 most important tasks of your day. Whenever you open a new browser, the tasks come up first–before anything else. It’s a good reminder of what you really need to be doing.

Right now, I’m using it to plan my next day. But it doesn’t go out any farther than “tomorrow.”

Evaluate Your Season

Each year I feel like I need to evaluate my season in life. What will my schedule look like? I always have a set time that I write each morning for an hour that doesn’t get affected by job or kids (usually). But there are pockets of other time that I can use. But I have to be intentional about them.

For example, my daughter has violin lessons and both kids have karate each week. During those times, I’m able to get a ton of stuff done. The key is planning for that time. I have a hard time writing fresh during that time (I do that in the morning). But I’m writing in the violin schedules and karate schedules on my calendar for January-May. I’m am planning how I will use that time at least a month in advance.

That 45-minute violin time is an excellent time to brainstorm and draft blog posts or articles. The two-hour karate time gives me time to research nonfiction picture books that I want to write.

This year will mean big changes for our family. I think they will positive changes, but they will affect my schedule. For this reason, I’m only planning for the first half of 2015 right now. But I also want to be intentional about not overusing my weekends for writing. I just can’t do that right now. I am blocking off one weekend a month to do extra writing, but that’s planned in advance.

What If I Get Derailed?

There’s a good chance something will come along to derail my carefully laid out plans. In the past, some of those derailments have been excellent for me. If they come along again in 2015, I’ll probably shuffle my schedule to accommodate them. I’m writing my plans on my calendar in pencil for a reason.

I anticipate change.

I anticipate that I’ll need to move things around. Something will take longer than expected.

But without a roadmap, I might be wandering aimlessly.

What About You?

What are your goals for 2015? Are you planning for success? Share how you map out your goals for the year.

Looking Back at 2014

For the last two years (2012 and 2013), I’ve done a post at the end of the year to celebrate what I’ve actually accomplished. I think I always get weary in December and wonder: “Did I get anything done?” While I knew the answer was “Yes.” I did have to prove it to myself.

Last year, I started a Book of Stars to record the little things that happened that were good. I taped in the nice things editors said, the the nice things other writers said. Writing can be a discouraging job. When I opened up my book to look back over 2014, it lifted my spirits.

Book of Stars

Published Works

* Educational book coming out in early 2015. This book pushed me to research and write fast and took over my life for a few months.

* Opened up Teachers Pay Teachers store

* Opened up my Books Page

* Wrote “Top 10 Books for Word Choice” and put it up as a freebie for signing up for my newsletter

* Mentor Text “E-Books” on sale at TpT and on my books page

* Wrote Educator’s Guide for Laura Purdie Salas’ Riddle-Ku Book


* “A Postcard and a Dream” appeared in Hollins magazine

* “Fran Cannon Slayton: Balance in the Writing Life” appeared in Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Highlighter

* “Teacher’s Pet: How to Get Your Book in the Hands of Teachers” appeared in Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Highlighter

* “Writing Picture Books with Kim Norman” appeared in Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Highlighter

* Freelance work for Interactive Achievement

Guest Posts

* “Overwhelmed? Overworked? Overcommitted? How to Keep Focus in 2014″ DIYMFA 1/9/14

* Kidsarewriters coach


* 12×12 participant with new manuscripts and a ton of revised ones

* PiBoIdMo—came up with 35 ideas

Classes Taken

(Note: If you love a writer, all of these classes would make excellent gifts)

* Making Picture Book Magic with Susanna Leonard Hill

* Lyrical Language Lab with Renee LaTulippe

* Julie Hedlund’s How to Make Money as a Writer

* Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s Plotting Picture Books from A to Z

Workshops Attended

* Candice Ransom’s retreat in Luray on revision

* WOW Retreat

* Picture Book Workshop with Lola Schaefer and Rebecca Kai Doltich

* SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference

Workshops Organized through SCBWI and Glenvar Library

* Fran Cannon Slayton

* Kim Norman

Workshops Taught

* Mentor Texts for Writers Webinar for WOW

* Mentor Texts for Writers workshop for NoVA writers

* Mentor texts for the classroom at local division level professional development and VSRA


* Got an agent! I’m now working with Jodell Sadler of Sadler Children’s Literary


* Taught a writing camp for high school girls at Hollins in summer 2015

* Received Teacher of the Year at my school


* Started and finished my library media endorsement at UVA and UVA Wise

Whew! Looking back at the makes me tired. But it is also testament to how much you can accomplish by setting aside a little bit of time for your writing each day. I still teach full-time and have two young kids. Most of the writing was done between 5-6 am daily.

As I think about what I want to accomplish in 2015, I look at the big picture and big goals. But I also want to focus on: What is the next step I can take to further my career. It might be as simple as revising one chapter. Each small step adds up to bigger ones.