Poetry Mentor Texts: Snoozefest by Samantha Berger



By Samantha Berger

Illustrated by Kristyna Litten

Dial, 2015

Snoozefest is a delight! Berger had me at the title: Snoozefest! I think the thing that delighted me (and would delight younger readers) is the word combinations. Snoozefest, Nuzzledome, naptacular, even the character’s name, Snuggleford Cuddlebun, play with sleepy language. There are also fun words in the illustrations. Snuggleford is a sloth who attends a sleeping contest, or Snoozefest, and it’s quite a celebration of sleep. This book is full of sleepy, snoozy language. The rhythm and rhyme makes it fun to read.

This book would be good a mentor text for:

* Word Play (especially puns)

* Alliteration

* Descriptive language

I’d highly recommend listening to Matthew Winner’s podcast episode with Samantha Berger, where she gives lots of inside scoop on Snoozefest and her process.

Other Poetry Month Posts

Some Bugs

Raindrops Roll

A Rock Can Be…

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Guest Post: Platform Building

As many of you know, I write mostly about mentor texts (both for teachers and for writers) and I also write occasionally about organization and time management. All of that is part of my “platform.” I’m over at Alayne Kay Christian’s blog talking about platform. Check out my post called “A Case of the Why Nots: How I Built (and am still building) My Platform.” 

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Poetry Mentor Texts: A Rock Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas

a rock can be

A Rock Can Be…

By Laura Purdie Salas

Illustrated by Violeta Dabija

Millbrook, 2015

On Tuesday, my students and I had a Skype visit with Laura Purdie Salas. Just hearing her talk about her process was so encouraging to all of us. In preparation for her Skype visit, we studied Laura Purdie Salas’ work. We wrote poems using her books  A Rock Can Be, A Leaf Can Be, and Water Can Be as our mentor texts. We’d been studying weather, so students wrote their poems as “A Cloud Can Be…”

One of the things I love about Laura’s series of books is that she captures the beauty of poetry, nuance in language, and still manages to teach facts in a subtle way. The back matter in each of her books can be used to connect the poem to standards in Science.

Each spread follows the pattern, “A rock can be…”

My favorite spread is:

“Lake skimmer

Building trimmer”

This book would be good a mentor text for:

* Word Choice

* Rhyming words

* Specificity

* Word Play

Here is my poem using Laura’s form as a mentor text. 

A Cloud Can Be…

By Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Inspired by Laura Purdie Salas’ Can Be … books

A cloud is a cloud—

It’s water, air, dust

When weather starts changing

It’s the clouds that we trust.

A cloud can be a…

Sleet maker

Snow shaker

Sun shader

Star fader

Shaper shifter

Dust lifter

Drizzle downer

Garden drowner

Storm grumbler

Tornado rumbler

Sky crawler

Rain hauler

A cloud is a cloud

Droplets above sea

When clouds tumble-bumble

A cloud can be a…

Rainbow revealer

Moon concealer

Hail pelter

Thunder belter

Swimming spoiler

Plan foiler

Lightning dasher

Party crasher

Balloon catcher

Dream hatcher

A cloud is a cloud—

Look up and see

Now go and discover

What else it can be.

Check out my other posts about Laura Purdie Salas’ work:

Water Can Be.. and A Leaf Can Be…

Laura also has new poetry collections available. I had the privilege to write the teachers’ guide for RIDDLE-KU.

RiddleKu Cover

Other Poetry Month Friday posts:

Raindrops Roll

Some Bugs

For more poetry resources, check out this page.

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Mentor Texts for Writers: The Sum and Parts of Picture Books by Patricia Toht

Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog

 Fellow GROGger, Patricia Toht, always delights me with her posts. I always learn new things from her and how she analyzes texts. I hope you enjoy this analysis of how to dig into picture books. 



It’s suggested that, as writers, we should read 100 books in the genre we’d like to write. Having hosted story times at both a bookstore and a preschool program, I’ve happily read more than ten times that many picture books. What a joy!


Now that I’m writing picture books myself, I’ve discovered that my brain has a pretty good feel for the general rhythm found in most picture books – the rise and fall of action, three-part movements, melodious sentences, etc. This is invaluable when I’m working on pacing and page turns.

But using mentor texts doesn’t stop with that overarching rhythm. With each new book I write, I find challenges that would benefit from a narrower study. My current WIP has rhyming text, as well as a suggestion for a wordless spread, so I have two specifics to look into:


Challenge #1 – Rhyming Text

Stack of Rhyming Books


Sources for texts: My own library, industry reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Horn Book), blog reviews, and a list developed during last year’s RhyPiBoMo (Rhyming Picture Book Month).



  • How many stanzas in the book?
  • What is the type of stanza (e.g. couplet, quatrain, free verse, etc.)?
  • What is the rhyme scheme?
  • Are there any variations in the rhyme?


Findings: Julia Donaldson’s books proved to be terrific mentor texts for me. Often written in quatrains with an ABCB rhyme scheme, they often had smaller embedded refrains. I typed up several of them to get a feel for the rhythm, nuances and page breaks.


For more specific findings about rhyming picture books, see my blog post about it here. 


Challenge #2 – the Wordless Spread

Books with Wordless Spreads


Sources for texts: It turns out that there’s no easy way to search for picture books that contain wordless spreads! Luck for me, a blog post at PictureBookBuilders gave me a few titles to begin my search with. A question posed to Facebook friends from PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) added more.



  • Where in the book does the spread occur?
  • What is the use of the spread? (Is it a visual punch line? Does it slow or quicken the pace? Does it compress time? )
  • What emotion is conveyed?


Findings: I gathered all of my findings in a spreadsheet.

Screen Shot Wordless Spreads excel sheet

You can find a written summary on the GROG.

As before, the perfect mentor text for me floated to the top – QUEEEN VICTORIA’S BATHING MACHINE. Again, I typed it up, noting page breaks, location of the wordless spread and its function, which gave me insights for my own book.



From my experience of looking at mentor texts, I can offer a few suggestions for picture book writers:


  • Read picture books for the sum (the whole book) as well as its parts (individual elements).


  • Reviews in trade magazines and blog sites (including this very one!) are helpful sources for mentor texts.


  • Join writing groups. Fellow authors will amaze you with their knowledge!


  • Develop a systematic way of comparing titles. I often use an Excel spread sheet, adding columns as I notice more helpful comparisons.


  • Remember that it’s good to learn the “rules,” but it’s also okay to break them sometimes.





Patricia Toht is a Chicagoland native who was also lucky enough to live in England for several years. She owned a children’s bookshop, Never Never Land, before turning her hand to writing. She is the author of two upcoming picture books by Walker Books, PICK A PUMPKIN and PICK A PINE TREE (Autumn, 2017). Her poetry appears in AND THE CROWD GOES WILD!: A GLOBAL GATHERING OF SPORTS POEMS (Friesen Press) and THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY FOR CELEBRATIONS (Pomelo Books).

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Poetry Mentor Texts: Some Bugs by Andrea DiTerlizzi

some bugs

Some Bugs

By Andrea DiTerlizzi

Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

Beach Lane, 2014

Some Bugs is one of those books that completely absorbs the reader in it’s fun but spare language. It’s a brilliant 94 words! Like Raindrops Roll, it’s one I typed up because I wanted to study the text. Not only does this text introduce different types of bugs to the youngest reader, it also invites older readers into the illustrations and rich language.

Mentor Text Writing Skills:

* Word Choice

* Vivid Verbs

* Rhythm

* Rhyme

* Spare language

* Specificity

I also featured Some Bugs in a nonfiction poetic picture book post recently.

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Poetry as Mentor Texts: Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre

April is poetry month. Every Friday in April, I will feature a poetic picture book that can be used as a mentor text for writing. For past Poetry Month resources, check out these resources.

raindrops roll

Raindrops Roll

By April Pulley Sayre

Beach Lane, 2015

I can’t say enough good things about this book! I have recommended it to everyone. I have read it multiple times. I’ve typed out the words because I wanted to savor and study the language. At only 103 words, it’s a masterful work! And photographs are absolutely stunning.

I’m a big fan of April Pulley Sayre and this book might be my favorite of hers yet. This book can be used to teach the water cycle to primary students. But it can be used at ANY age to help students study poetic language.

Mentor Text Writing Skills:

* Word Choice

* Specificity

* Spare language

* Rhyme

For another post where I featured poetic mentor texts, see this Nonfiction Poetic Text post. 

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Mentor Texts for Writers: Doors and Maps: Digging for Treasure in Middle Grade Mentor Texts by L.M. Quraishi

Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog


It’s time to dive into middle grade mentor texts. Like L.M. Quraishi, our guest blogger today, I love to read and write middle grade. In fact, when I’m stuck in any kind of writing, I particularly like to read middle grade novels because it always helps me savor words again. After reading this post, I’m sure you’ll be like me and want to run out and get your hands on the copy of the mentor text she walks us through. 





© L. M. Quraishi, 2015

I cannot read without writing anymore.

When I’m half a page into a new novel and think to myself, Oooh, this is gonna be good! the reader in me loses herself in the story. And the writer in me keeps a detailed map of all the story’s doors to Neverland.

  • How exactly did the author frame this door into her world?
  • What grain of wood did she choose, so that when I place my palm against its texture and inhale its fragrance, I understand her characters with my very skin and senses?
  • Where was the door placed along the path of story, at just the spot to entice my fingers to the knob?
  • What did the door reveal as it swung open wide?


For me, a mentor text is any book that beguiles the reader in me, and rouses the writer in me.

When I find one, I slow down to savor it. I am looking for each curtain of Oz, because I want to peek behind every one.


I’ve learned to notice the different kinds of doors that authors build into their stories.

Sometimes when studying a mentor text I use an exercise I call Digging for Treasure.

  • Keep smartphone handy while reading/re-reading.
  • Copy sentences and page numbers that stand out into the Notes app.
  • Email file to self.
  • Take a closer look at the author’s craft.

Like invisible ink staining parchment with a secret map, the patterns of artistry reveal themselves under the heat of careful examination.


Most recently I’ve been enchanted by Tricia Springstubb’s new middle grade novel, Moonpenny Island (Balzer & Bray, 2015).

I couldn’t turn more than three pages of this book without wanting to dig out a piece of her writing and hold it in my hand. Treasures I found on Moonpenny Island:



© L. M. Quraishi, 2015


Relevant and compelling characterization…

When Flor was in the third grade and had to draw a spelling picture for secret, she drew a rock.


for ALL the characters…

Cecilia reaches for a towel and slowly dries her hands. First one, then the other, then the first one again, like her hands are precious objects.


with humor:

Between that hat and the oversize clothes, approximately two percent of this girl is visible.


Characterization that reveals relationship:

Across the road, Mrs. Defoe calls her name. “Flor!” She makes it sound like something you step on.


Dialogue with minor characters that reveals deeper truths and themes of the story:

“People have been leaving home as far back as Adam and Eve,” she calls as Flor heads out the door.


Fresh and relevant language—images, metaphors and description that elaborate character…

Flor’s afraid of the dark, and out here, she can tell, the dark would be that thick, suffocating kind, the kind that runs against you like black fur.


…set the mood…

An empty chip bag skips across the sidewalk and hugs her ankle like it wants company.


…or hint at story/character arc:

The sun’s slipped a few notches, and when she stands up, her shadow wears stilts.


Outstanding sentences placed at the beginning or end of a chapter:

Life’s a crooked shelf, and things keep rolling off before Flor can catch them.


Flawless foreshadowing…

The water stops their breath.


…even when it’s just about the weather:

The rain is mean. Mean like cruel and mean like this means change is coming.


Change for EVERY character:

Mrs. Defoe steps outside. Her brown jacket is buttoned to her chin, but what is this? Around her neck is a yellow scarf….the pure yellow of buttercups.


The next time you’re reading a book and it gives you chills, try taking a closer look at the story’s doors. Draw yourself a map, and dig out that treasure for your own chest. If you have coin to spare, send it my way via link to your post. I’d love to read what you’re reading.


Find Moonpenny Island reviews in The New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, and Publisher’s Weekly.





Born to a Pakistani father and American mother in California, L. Michelle Quraishi was raised on a steady diet of liverwurst, Madeleine L’Engle, and sitar music. After college, she spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay, before moving to the Mission District of San Francisco where she taught Spanish bilingual kindergarten. She now lives in the San Francisco East Bay with her husband and two children, finding inspiration for her children’s books in goddess lore, brain science, animal behavior, calculus and kung fu. You can connect with her at lmquraishi.com, or on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

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Mentor Texts for Writers: Finding Authentic Voice in Cultural Mentor Texts by Keila Dawson


Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog

Keila and I share something in common. We are both Third Culture people. Keila is a TCA (Third Culture Adult) and I’m a TCK (Third Culture Kid). In other words, we’ve lived in countries that are different from our passport country. What I love about Keila’s approach to mentor texts is that she takes multicultural children’s books and teams them up with the ever-important voice. Welcome, Keila!



Write what you know.


Write from the heart.


When we write what we know and from the heart, readers will hear our unique “voice”. Or so we are told. Does “voice” come naturally to writers? Can a writer study it? Wait, what is “voice” anyway?

“Voice is the sum of all strategies used by the author to create the illusion that the writer is speaking directly to the reader from the page.” (Don Fry, quoted by Roy P. Clark, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, Little, Brown, 2006)

Voice involves a lot of simultaneously moving parts! I get it, it’s complicated. Yet, although hard to explain, I know it when I read it. As picture book writers, we read a lot of picture books. My favorites have a certain je ne sais qua, that ‘I don’t know why, but I love this book’ feeling. Trying to figure out what makes a book so appealing is worthy of a deeper look. So I took a look inside books, to study different parts. I like to learn about the authors too and hear about their story behind the story. Given my passion for genealogy and travel, I am drawn to books about culture. Books that I want to read over and over, or read aloud, or hear the author read aloud, are the ones where I connect to an author’s voice or the story’s voice. Below are examples of ways in which I hear “authentic voice” in books. The books I chose to share are all representative of a specific culture. And today, with an emphasis on inclusion and diversity in children’s literature, there are many, many different voices waiting to be heard, and audiences eagerly waiting to hear them.

Word Choice & Vocabulary



Clovis Crawfish and the Big Bétail by Mary Alice Fontenot, illustrated by R. A. Keller, Claitor’s Publishing, 1963-1977.

Republished by Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.

I believe voice was introduced to me unconsciously by Mary Alice Fontenot. Above is a photo of my very used, beloved, first edition black and white copy. Her stories about Clovis and friends remain popular today.

When I read this book, I can hear the author’s voice through her word choice. The words flow. The vocabulary is familiar and personal because I grew up listening to Louisiana languages and lingo, pronunciations, and cadence.

 “That’s René, said Clovis. “He’s a rain frog, and he is my friend. He is singing his rain song because he wants it to rain so he can get cool. “J’ai chaud, j’ai chaud” is a way to say, I’m hot, I’m hot’ in south Louisiana.

“You folks over here sure do talk funny,” said Andrew.

Clovis [klaw-VEES]   bétail [bay-TA-yuh]   René [ruh-NAY]   j’ai chaud [ZHAY-SHOH]


How to dress

How to Dress a Po’ Boy by Johnette Downing, Pelican Publishing, 2013

 Johnette Downing is an example of a read, re-read, and read it again “voice.” Her books are sing-a-longs too! Through poetic verse and music she oozes southern charm and love of culture.


“A po’boy is a sandwich, everybody knows,

“Dressed” with all the fixings and this is how it goes.”




Tales of Tutu Nene and Nele by Gale Bates, illustrated by Carole H. McCarthy,

Island Heritage Press, First Edition, Fifteenth Printing, 2004

When looking at voice in a cultural context, folktales come to mind. I enjoy collecting these from different places around the world. For generations stories educated, entertained, and influenced behavior. Modern tales do the same.


“In Hawai’i, a Tūtū is a grandmother who is known for her stories and wise words. The Nēnē is Hawai’i’s state bird and is believed to be the rarest goose in the world. Nele Nēnē loves to listen to her Tūtū’s tales. When she finds a hole in the fence and escapes into the wild, her grandmother’s words have a profound effect upon her survival. (from the introduction)


Sentence Structure & Point of View


A Catfish Tale: A Bayou Story of the Fisherman and His Wife by Whitney Stewart, illustrated by Gerald Guerlais

Albert Whitman & Company, 2014


“Once upon a time” or “A long time ago” or “It is told” are commonly used in folktale beginnings. In this retold tale, the beginning resembles the listener-speaker dynamic used in storytelling and told from the point of view of an alligator who heard the tale from his “Pawpaw”.


“You ever heard the story of the fisherman and his wife? It’s an old tale my pawpaw told me when I was just a hatchling. Some say it’s a lie, but Pawpaw swore he saw it all happen with his own eyes.”

Onomatopoeia, Anthropomorphism & Description

jingle dancer

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, Ying-Hwa Hu, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright

HarperCollins, 2000


The onomatopoeia, anthropomorphism & description on the opening page of this book engage the reader at a sensory level. You can hear, see, smell, and taste the author’s words. And the jingles, in a cultural context, are central to this Native American story.


            “Tink tink, tink, tink sang the cone-shaped jingles sewn to Grandma Wolfe’s dress. Every Grandma bounce-step brought clattering tinks as light blurred silver against jingles of tin.

Jenna daydreamed at the kitchen table tasting honey on fry bread, her heart beating to the brum, brum, brum of the powwow drum.


new shoes

New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Holiday House, 2015


Write what you know. Sounds easy enough. But what if you don’t know what you don’t know? What if what you think you know is wrong? Susan Meyer researched the Jim Crow era for a novel work in progress. When she discovered ways African-Americans resisted restrictive laws and oppression, the idea for a picture book emerged. She asked African-American friends to read her manuscript. In a scene where the mother encounters discrimination, Susan’s character responded boldly. Friends however told her the mother would have acted differently back then. Susan changed that scene. That change in dialogue created a more authentic and accurate portrayal of the event. Any disconnect from potential readers avoided.


            “Mama, I say, “Can’t colored folks try on shoes?”

            “Mama sighs. “No.” But then she puts on a smile. “Let’s think about how nice your feet will look for school.”

Diction & Purpose 

last stop

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2015


This book is a good example of write from the heart. Not only because it’s a sweet story about family, thankfulness, and volunteerism, but because the author conveys to the reader a story that he wanted to write. Rather than adhere to standard conventions of writing, he remained true to his story’s “voice.” The use of diction used throughout helps readers hear the playful, warm relationship between the child (grandson) and the elder (grandmother). The syntax is not standard but the voice is perfect and authentic. The characters are well developed. The detailed illustrations reflect the diversity along the city street, through the buildings, transportation and the people.

“Nana, how come we don’t got a car?”

“Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire and old Mr. Dennis who always has a trick for you.”


If you are looking for ideas about characterization, the books below use both universal themes and specific events tied to a particular cultural group. Follow the journey of the Cuban cockroach looking for love, the quirky Peruvian-Scottish-American girl who likes that she doesn’t match with her red hair and tan skin, and Little Red Hot from Texas and her grandmother who can stomach the hottest chili peppers no wolf can handle. Find out what survival, kindness, and resilience feels like through the characters portrayed in stories while they experience the Holocaust, a Japanese internment camp, and the uncertainty of post Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.


Martina The Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale by Carmen Deedy, illustrated by Michael Austin

Peachtree Publishers, 2014


Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match: Marisol McDonald no combina by Monican Brown Ph.D., illustrated by Sara Palacios

CBP; Bilingual edition, 2013

 little red hot

Little Red Hot by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Laura Huliska Beith

Two Lions, 2013


gifts from the enemy

Gifts from the Enemy (The humanKIND Project) by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Craig Orback

White Cloud Press, 2014

 baseball saved us

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki,  illustrated by Dom Lee

Lee & Low Books,1993


A Penguin Named Patience: A Hurricane Katrina Rescue Story  by Suzanne Lewis, illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Sleeping Bear Press, 2015

I enjoy books where the story creates “the illusion that the writer is speaking directly to the reader from the page.” Finding books with “voice” appeal may help in finding the “voice” you want to bring to the story you want to write.


kcb headshot_book

Keila Dawson was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, lived in the Philippines, Japan, Egypt, and on both coasts in the US. She worked in states and abroad as a teacher, school administrator, and educational consultant before she became an author. Outside of writing, Keila enjoys travel, tennis, and genealogical research. But most of all, she enjoys sharing her love of Louisiana culture. Her debut picture book, THE KING CAKE BABY (Pelican Publishing Co., January 2015), highlights one of many unique cultural traditions celebrated in New Orleans, eating king cake during the Mardi Gras season. For more about Keila and the Baby, visit www.keiladawson.com .


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Mentor Texts in the Classroom: A Second Person Point of View Writing Challenge

Image for posts--mentor texts in the classroom

I love it when my day job and my writing life merge together–when research and studying in one feeds the other. I was working on a post for ReFoReMo on second person point of view (which you can read here) in my writing life. In my teaching life, I was preparing for an upcoming mentor text book study meeting using Georgia Heard’s Finding the Heart of Nonfiction.  I wanted to use some nonfiction mentor texts in a short lesson in science class.

NF collage

I utilized some nonfiction picture books that were written in second person point of view. I read snippets of some of these books as mentor texts and my students and I talked about features of second person point of view. Because we were studying some tricky concepts in electricity (insulators, conductors, series circuits, parallel circuits, open circuits, closed circuits, and more), I wanted to see how well students understood those concepts.

I asked students to pick an electricity term and write a short piece that gives facts about that term using second person point of view. Example: If you were an insulator you would slow down electricity.

Right away we applied our newfound writing technique (second person point of view) to our content knowledge (electricity). Students wrote a few sentences, a paragraph, or even a page. But I quickly was able to find out two things: 1) Do they understand the electricity concept and 2) Were they able to apply the point of view lesson.

The results were fascinating. Students eagerly shared. Their examples were full of voice, full of knowledge, and mostly clearly understood how to write in second person.

It was a quick and easy way to utilize nonfiction mentor texts and a quick way to do some cross-curricular nonfiction writing.

This took less than one class period to implement and it could be done in any content area.

More Resources:

Second Person Point of View Primer and Examples for ReFoReMo

Printable PDF Bibliography of Second Person Point of View 

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Mentor Texts for Writers: Writing Picture Book Biographies by Sarah Glenn Fortson




Many of you may have read some of my posts on historical fiction vs. nonfiction and picture book biography structures, so you might know this post is right up my alley. What I also love is that we mention some of the same books, but Sarah thought about them in a totally unique way that I hadn’t thought of. That shows that these are great books. I hope you learn as much as I have from Sarah Glenn Fortson’s post on picture book biographies. 

Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog



“Mentor Texts…help writers envision the kind of writers they can become.”

Georgia Heard, Finding the Heart of Nonfiction



In a picture book biography for young children, the main character is often an adult, or grows into an adult. For authors who write in this genre this means decisions must be made about handling adult information in crafting the story. This information can range from “dry” to totally inappropriate for young readers.

In my study of exemplary picture book biographies, I’ve discovered a few options for dealing with sensitive information:

miracle mud


Miracle Mud, Lena Blackburne And the Secret Mud That Changed Baseball, by David A. Kelly (Millbrook Press/Minneapolis)

David Kelly hit on a gem of a story.

I mean, come on, mud and baseball? He gets to say things like, “Players even rubbed balls with spit and tobacco juice. That made the balls stink.” But even in this super-kid-friendly tale, Kelly found sensitive details.

Pitchers use to nick and scuff new balls so that they would be unpredictable and hard to hit, but the league outlawed roughing up the balls after a stray one struck a player and killed him. That’s why teams began looking for alternative ways to make slick new balls rough. David Kelly made the decision to leave death out of his story, but added it to the back matter. The tone of Miracle Mud, is light-hearted. A death would be jarring, plus Kelly didn’t need the information for the purpose of “sense-making.”

But here’s a tale that absolutely needed the sensitive for “sense-making.”


a boy called dickens

A Boy Called Dickens, by Deborah Hopkinson (Schwartz & Wade Books, New York)

 Poverty, debtors prison, child labor in a rat-invested warehouse, neglect, runaways…Hopkinson includes it all, because as she says, “For years Dickens kept the story of his own childhood secret. Yet it is a story worth telling. For it helps us remember how much we all might lose when a child’s dreams don’t come true.”



farmer george

Can you imagine writing yet another book about George Washington without it being redundant or dry. Peggy Thomas imagined it. While visiting George Washington’s home, Peggy was struck by the idea that Washington’s goal to make Mount Vernon self-sufficient paralleled his goal for our nation’s independence. She used this nugget and the new angle in Farmer George Plants a Nation (Calkins Creek).

The final three picture book titles I’m including are examples of pacing techniques…great ways to combat “biographical-dryness.” Jodell Sadler teaches a wonderful class, Pacing Picture Books to WOW!

  • Use questions to pull your reader forward.


elizabeth leads the way

Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tonya Lee Stone


  • Use objects to reveal character and enhance setting simultaneously.


cart that carried martin

The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting


  • Use repetition…and
  • Do less to do more.

on a beam of light

On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne



A heart-felt “thank-you” to Marcie for allowing me to be a guest on her blog. I enjoyed the process of putting this post together.




Sarah Glenn Fortson, former educator, now children’s author is represented by Jodell Sadler of Sadler Children’s Literary. Visit her at SarahGlennFortson.com.

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