NF10for10 2018: Sidebars are Not for Skipping

As a kid, I’m pretty sure I only read sidebars if they looked interesting. But there are a whole bunch of nonfiction picture books with excellent sidebars.

As a writer and a librarian I’ve been keenly interested in nonfiction books that have two levels of text—a main text and text that supports. The supporting or secondary level text often appears as a sidebar or text box.

I love that the same book can appeal to varying ages of readers or interest levels.

Here are some of my favorites that offer more than one level of text:






Snowflake Bentley

Written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Illustrated by Mary Azarian

This book is a classic and one of the first books I remember reading to students that had two levels of text in a picture book. I still lean on this one every year.






Octopuses One to Ten

Written by Ellen Jackson

Illustrated by Robin Page

This is a counting book with numbers 1-10 and main text that relates the numbers to an octopus. But the book has a rich secondary text with octopus facts.






Mr. Ferris and His Wheel

Written by Katheryn Gibbs Davis

Illustrated by Gilbert Ford

Following the story of how the Ferris Wheel made it to the World’s Fair, the sidebar information gives extra details that expand upon the main text.







A Beetle is Shy

Written by Dianna Aston

Illustrated by Sylvia Long

I love all of the books in this series (A Nest is Noisy, A Butterfly is Patient, A Seed is Sleepy, A Rock is Lively, An Egg is Quiet). They each have a lovely lyrical poem, with a phrase or a line on each page. Then each page has generous subtext with lots more information about the topic.






From Here to There and Me to You: A Book of Bridges

Written by Cheryl Keely

Illustrated by Celia Krampien

The main text is very simple about specific bridges and the concept of bridges. The sidebars give extra information about some of specific bridges mentioned and about certain types of bridges. A nice blend of a concept of bridges and the facts about bridges.






Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree

Written by Kate Messner

Illustrated by Simona Mulazzani

This book lets the reader into the rainforest animals that depend on the Almendro Tree. There is a main text, numbers that double on every page, and more detailed information about the animal mentioned on the page.






Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist

Written by Barbara Herkert

Illustrated Vanessa Brantley-Newton

This picture book biography tells the story of Harriet Powers, a quilt artist. The sidebars give the reader context of the time period.







Feathers: Not Just for Flying

Written by Melissa Stewart

Illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

This books talks about all the different ways that birds use feathers. Each page has a small amount of main text and includes a text box with extra information about a specific bird that uses the feather in the way mentioned.






28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World

Written by Charles R. Smith, Jr.

Illustrated by Shane W. Evans

This is a collection of poems about 28 important days in black history. Each day has longer text, mostly page-length poems. On each page, there is a little bit more information about a key person from that day. This could be used with upper elementary-high school.






Prairie Dog Song

Written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore

Collages by Susan L. Roth

This book’s main text is a rewritten folk song. Then at the bottom of each verse, there is another text that is written in prose with extended information about things that are mentioned in the verse and more.


What are some of your favorite nonfiction picture books with interesting sidebars?

For other Nonfiction 10 for 10 Posts, check out the hashtag: #NF10for10


ReFoReMo is Here!

ReFoReMo stands for Reading for Research Month. It is run by Carrie Charley Brown and her team and focuses on diving into picture books as mentor texts.

My post is the first one in the line up today with a focus on reader engagement in picture books. Hop on over there to read my post about these 10 picture books. 

NF10for10 2016: Nonfiction Books as Mentor Texts for Writing


This is the first time I’m doing a 10 for 10 post as a librarian instead of a classroom teacher. There are a few differences in this: 1) I’m in a position now where people are asking for book recommendations on a daily basis, and 2) I am in a position where I’m reading the same book multiple times. If I choose to read a book to third grade, it has to be a book I love enough to read aloud and hook them and absorb ME for seven readings.


The books that I chose for this year’s list are books are all nonfiction that completely absorbed me. They are delightful as read alouds and they are stellar examples of nonfiction writing.

For each book, I’ve highlighted writing craft that I particularly like.

Most of these books are strong in specific word choice, which I refer to as “specificity.” For me, this means that the author uses domain-specific language. One of the treasures of these books is that none of these books use the words like vocabulary words, but they use words that true to the world they are writing about.

I'm trying to love spiders

I’m Trying to Love Spiders

Written and Illustrated by Bethany Barton

Viking, 2015

* Voice

* Specificity in word choice

* Tone

the spider

The Spider

Written and illustrated by Elise Gravel

Tundra Books, 2015

* Voice

* Specificity

* Tone

I also recommend reading both of these spider books and having a discussion about how two authors chose to write about the same topic.

finding winnie

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

By Lindsay Mattock

Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Little, Brown, 2015

* Word choice

* Dual Narrative

* Lyrical language

I also read this book alongside Winnie by Sally M. Walker. Students discussed how two authors took the same topic and wrote about it. They especially noted how they started the stories in different places.

how to swallow a pig

How to Swallow a Pig: Step by Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom

By Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Houghton Mifflin, 2015

* Point of view

* Organization (How-To Text)

* Alliteration

* World Play

* Specificity in word choice

tiny creatures

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes

By Nicola Davies

Illustrated by Emily Sutton

Candlewick, 2014

* Specificity in word choice

* Imagery

* Sentence variety

leaflets three let it be

Leaflets Three, Let it Be! The Story of Poison Ivy

By Anita Sanchez

Illustrated by Robin Brickman

Boyds Mills Press, 2014

* Vivid Verbs

* Specificity in word choice

* Adjectives


Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova

By Laurel Snyder

Illustrated by Julie Morstad

Chronicle, 2015

* Lyrical language

* Alliteration

* Vivid Verbs

* Rhythm

water is water

Water is Water: A Book about the Water Cycle

By Miranda Paul

Illustrated by Jason Chin

Neil Porter: Roaring Brook, 2015

* Vivid verbs

* Word Play

* Specificity in word choice

* Rhythm


Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France

By Mara Rockliff

Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

Candlewick, 2015

* Specificity in word choice

* Vivid Verbs

* Voice

* Tone

trombone shorty

Trombone Shorty

By Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews

Illustrated by Bryan Collier

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015

* Voice

* Specificity in word choice

* Refrain (repetition)

* Personal narrative

The 10for10 posts are happening all over the web today. Click here to join the Google+ Community where post links are being shared. 

Previous 10for10 Posts

Poetic Nonfiction Picture Books

Fiction Picture Books for Word Choice

Nonfiction Picture Books about Virginia History

Mentor Texts in the Classroom: A Storytime Collective by Carter Higgins


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Carter and I share a love for books, the Braves, and Virginia. She is a librarian, and I’m a soon-to-be-librarian, so I particularly loved this post about how she uses mentor texts in the library. Carter is an amazing champion of books and this post is no exception. 


You know when you first wake up and you’re a little bit groggy and still figuring out that what just happened was a dream, but man, wasn’t it awesome to be the boss of an all you can eat gelato factory?

That’s kind of how the first few moments of summer are.

A school year is this magical whirlpool of exhaustion and events and learning and loving. The start of summer feels a little bit like rubbing the sleep out of your eyes. And finally—finally, there’s a chance to remember that incredible dream and relive all of the best parts.

Here are some of the best parts.

As a librarian, I use mentor texts a bit differently. For us, they are building blocks for community. For sharing. For gathering together. 5th period on Mondays in June looked a lot different than 5th period on Mondays in September, and that’s thanks to living and breathing and experiencing stories together.

So I wonder: what text will make us laugh? What text will make us squirm with fear or delight in its charm? What text will they want to read to their moms and dads and pets and baby brothers? What text will be the ones that these kids hold dear when they are thirtysomethings?

Here’s what we loved. Here’s what transformed us from a bunch of people just sharing a room with white brick walls and dusty shelves to a bunch of people living and breathing the same spectacle of story. Any of these books will transform a bunch of wigglers or a not-quite-there-yet community into a storytime collective.


The Story of Fish and Snail by Deborah Freedman


Fish is brave. Snail is scared. These friends are patient with each other, and there’s always room for both pirates and kittens. And hopefully, there’s always a friend you can borrow a little bit of brave from.


I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty and Mike Boldt


Sometimes, you just have to be what you are because you can’t be what you’re not. Good thing someone’s always there to hold your hand and remind you of that. In the book, it’s a dad-frog. During school, it’s me to them and them to each other.


Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins


This tiny pink cake probably takes up some shared space in the souls of all of us: he’s rude. What he doesn’t see coming is who really sees through that, and thanks to a gentle bunch of Cyclopses, we get a taste of that little rude cake making a sweet change of heart.


The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat


If you haven’t read this one to a room full of small people, wish your summer away so you can get back to the classroom. The empathy that spills out of kids as they experience Beekle’s sadness is palpable. (And a cute little bum-bum never hurts.)

These mentor texts, these experiences, reminded both me and my 5th-period-on-Monday friends of four beautiful things, all year long.

Be brave.

Be you.

Be silly and willing.

Be friends.

CarterHigginsheadshotCarter is a librarian at an independent K-6 school in Los Angeles, California. (Like Marcie, she’s a Virginia girl at heart, though! Go Braves!) She writes about picture books and graphic design at her blog, Design of the Picture Book, and she’s counting down the days until both her middle grade novel and picture book debut. Be on the lookout for A Rambler Steals Home (HMH, 2016) and Everything You Need For a Treehouse (Chronicle, 2017). You can find her on Twitter @carterhiggins.


Mentor Texts in the Classroom: Why Mentor Texts Work: The Consume, Critique, Produce Model by Pamela Brunskill

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Welcome back to Pam Brunskill! Pam is an author and educator and I’m happy that she’s sharing some of her mentor text experience with us! 


As teachers, we know that students engage in the classroom when they are involved in designing their own learning experiences. They gain ownership over the criteria, develop a deeper understanding of what they are studying, and take pride in creating their final projects. When teaching Language Arts, mentor texts can provide the tools to motivate and guide students in this type of learning, which will enable them to produce quality writing themselves.

This past semester, I taught a class called Literacy Across Contexts to pre-service teachers at the university level. One of the goals was to address Language Arts methods for students in PreK-4th grade, so I introduced my undergraduates to the Consume, Critique, Produce (CCP) instructional framework. Developed by John O’Flahavan at the University of Maryland, this model requires students to read and analyze numerous texts within a genre before asking students to write their own. It is because of this framework that mentor texts work.

To demonstrate, each portion of the process is explained below.


Students need to consume lots of mentor texts in order to gain an idea of the characteristics of a genre. For example, teachers who wish to have their students write poetry should have their students read and listen to lots of mentor poems to experience rhythm, use of figurative language, different forms of poetry, and other poetic elements. The students get a feel for what makes a poem a poem.


Students need to critique the mentor texts to determine the criteria used in that genre. They engage with mentor texts like researchers and discuss what makes something good in a genre and what does not. They make a list of examples and non-examples. In this bottom-up approach, students are involved in discovering how writing works, and are involved in developing the criteria they will use for their own writing. In the poetry example, students analyze the mentor poems to note characteristics that distinguish poetry from prose. If a specific type of poetry is to be studied, such as a limerick, the students figure out the rhyme scheme, humor, and meter by noting the commonalities amongst various mentor limericks.


Because students following this framework have immersed themselves in a genre and developed the criteria for what that genre requires, they can confidently and competently produce something that fits the expectations of that genre. If the class is writing limericks, after going through the consume and critique stages, a teacher could realistically expect her/his students to produce a witty poem with five lines, in the rhyme scheme of AABBA, and with the 3-3-2-2-3 meter. Since the students were involved in designing their conditions for success, they will be better prepared to produce high-quality poems, and have ownership and appreciation for their work.

Using the Consume, Critique, Produce model in classrooms allows teachers to use mentor texts in authentic, high-interest ways. Taking the time to immerse students in reading and studying quality writing enables teachers to engage their students with literacy. And, this fosters a classroom of capable writers.

To view a great 3 minute video that demonstrates how CCF works in regards to flash mobs, click here:


Pamela Brunskill began her career teaching 3rd and 6th graders in Clarence, NY, focusing mainly on language arts and social studies. Over the past ten years she has been writing, teaching as an adjunct instructor in the education departments at Bloomsburg University and Bucknell University, and raising her three children. She has been published in Highlights for Children and is represented by Louise Fury from the Bent Agency. Pamela also helps authors create educational resources for their books at Authors and Educators. You can find Pamela at her website,, or on Twitter under the handle @PamBrunskill.









Mentor Texts in the Classroom: Fiction and Nonfiction Tips by Suzy Leopold


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Suzy Leopold is back talking about using mentor texts in the classroom. If you missed her post on Tuesday, go back and read about how she uses mentor texts as a writer too. 


Mentor Text Definition

Mentor texts are books and literature that students can read, relate to, study, and reread again for a variety of instructional purposes.


Why Do I Use Mentor Texts in the Classroom?

Mentor texts:

  1. Provide models for students to make the reading-writing connection.
  2. Have the power to help a student grow as a writer.
  3. Encourage students to connect to new reading and writing strategies.
  4. Provide models for students to imitate.
  5. Demonstrate the importance of choosing words wisely in their writing.
  6. Stimulate creativity and interest


A Favorite Mentor Text

oak tree grows

As An Oak Tree Grows

Author and Illustrator G. Brian Karas


From a single perspective, the life of a magnificent oak tree is shared from 1775 to the present. Not only does the oak tree change and grow throughout the many seasons, the surroundings change and grow throughout the life of this oak tree. Progress with transportation and communication become new and modern, while other things hardly change at all.


Many nonfiction books are written with facts and information. The newly published nonfiction books that guide my students with their writing are fresh and engaging. Sometimes referred to as creative nonfiction, these books capture and hook the reader telling a story. Back matter is a special feature: Author Notes, Resources, Facts, and Bibliographies. This fresh look is based on education reforms known as Common Core.


An Oak Tree Grows models a timeline for students, as they too, create their own stories using timelines.


A timeline is an excellent graphic organizer that represents chronological events in time. There are many types of timelines that can be used based on the grade level and the subject of study.


A Timeline Graphic Organizer

 seed timeline

Documenting a timeline for a seed.


Growing a seed takes time and care for it to become a healthy plant.

  1. Pour warm water on a small peat pellet and watch the pellet expand.
  2. Plant one or two seeds inside the opening of the peat pellet.
  3. For best results, create a green house using a tray that has a dome shaped plastic lid. Plastic wrap loosely placed over a seed tray can also be used.
  4. Once the seed has sprouted transfer the entire peat pellet and the growing seedling into a peat pot, adding some rich potting soil.
  5. Water the plant gently and place in a location with indirect sunlight.
  6. Observe and watch the growth of the plant.
  7. Document the information on a timeline for the plant.



Using a timeline as a visual can support a reader and a writer to be a better reader and a writer.


A timeline can be used for short periods of time or for many years depicting change, growth and facts from the past to the present.


A Quick Tip on How to Use a Mentor Text for a Fiction Picture Book

boomer goes to school

Boomer Goes to School

By Constance W. Mc George

Illustrator Mary Whyte

boomer's big day

Boomers Big Day

By Constance W. Mc George

Illustrator Mary Whyte


Whole Pizza or a Slice of Pizza Metaphor

Writing is like a pizza.

Writing is a process, without one-size fits-all answers, evolving and changing as we write.


  1. Draw a circle on a piece of paper depicting a pizza.
  2. Write My dog Boomer on top of the circle.
  3. The entire pizza represents My dog Boomer.
  4. If I begin writing, my focus will be on the whole pizza focus. That means I will  write everything about Boomer.
  5. Writers take one more step. They write about one slice of the pizza.
  6. Writing a slice is about one event about Boomer. A slice of pizza might be about the day Boomer snuck into the house during a thunderstorm or the day Boomer ran away.
  7. Write about the one event in time. The story can be fiction or nonfiction. Writing about one action or experience is writing like a pizza; one slice of pizza at a time.



Sometimes we begin writing or researching and realize our focus may still be too wide. It may be time to narrow it some more. Time to write about a smaller slice of pizza.

Sometimes we may need to widen the scope. Time to write about a larger slice of pizza.

Sometimes we have to change our focus completely.

headshotI am a wife who is adored by my husband, Perry. We are proud parents of five boys and three daughters in law. Pa Perry and Oma Sue [grandparents] enjoy spending time with their seven sweet, smart grandkids, who reside in Texas.

I am an educator of hundreds of students, throughout the years in San Antonio, Texas, from preschool through eighth grade. I also taught at the college level at The University of Incarnate Word College. Additionally, I planned and presented many workshops for administrators and co teachers on staff development days. The highlight of my career was reading and writing with ELLs [English Language Learners] from various countries, including Sweden, Cambodia, Thailand, Germany, Columbia, Mexico and many more. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education, a Bilingual certification, Reading Recovery certificate, and a Master’s of Science in Reading.

Currently, I read and write with kids in our community. I provide after school and summer school lessons with Mrs. Sue for six elementary aged students.

I am on The Write Team for a local newspaper, Carlinville~Macoupin County Enquirer~Democrat. The articles I write are about the importance of literacy. For example, two articles published were, Reading Should Not Take a Summer Vacation and Make this School Year the Best Ever by Planning Ahead.

My husband and I are organic gardeners on the Illinois prairie, who enjoy cooking and baking for family and friends. I am a reader and a writer. I am a painter of acrylics & watercolors and a creative crafter. I am a cyclist on a pink Marin Portofina. I am a walker and an occasional 5K jogger. Leaving the world a better place is important to me, so I read, write and create every day.

Mentor Texts in the Classroom: Pet Projects by Lynne Marie

Please welcome author Lynne Marie to our Mentor Texts in the Classroom series. Teachers are always looking for new ways to help kids tell their own stories. Pet stories often make their way into student writing. What better way to help students become better writers than to introduce them to some mentor texts about pets. 

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hedgehogA growing number of authors/writers rely on “Mentor Texts” as research for their current writing projects, whether fiction or non-fiction. Mentor texts can inspire a new or different idea, illuminate a genre, exhibit a style, teach facts, demonstrate the way a theme is handled, express the ways a story can be told or show what has been done before and need not be redone. The same is true for using Mentor texts in the classroom.

There are many ways that I have used picture books to teach students of all ages about writing. Picture Books work well because you can get a complete point across, completely from beginning to end, in a fairly short amount of time. However, the best way to teach about writing is to begin at the beginning.

Every story starts with an idea. If a writer or student is stumped about what to write about, all he/she needs to do is pick up a book. Any book can be used as an example for potential methods of finding their own ideas OR taking an old idea and freshening it up to make it appear new. For the purposes of this post, we will assume our writer wants to write about wanting a pet – a story that has been told time and time again, and is perhaps old and overdone.

Take a look at these “Pet Projects” and see how pairing an idea that has been done with something that is different, new, or unusual, turns into a whole NEW idea!

me want pet1. ME WANT PET by Tammi Sauer. Pictures by Bob Shea.

This author takes the universal problem of a child’s desire to own a pet, and shakes it up by adding a main character who is a Cave Boy, which opens up a stone age of new and exciting pet possibilities! Can you say Saber-toothed Tiger?

snow dog

2. SNOW DOG SAND DOG by Linda Joy Singleton. Illustrations by Jess Golden.

This author takes on a similar problem, but her Main Character is allergic to dogs, so must find creative ways to “make the best of a sneezy situation.

princess peepers

3. PRINCESS PEEPERS PICKS A PET by Pam Calvert. Illustrations by Tuesday Mourning.

Again, here we have the usual dilemma of our Main Character wanting a pet. However, combine that problem with a Princess who is nearsighted and loses her glasses, and we have medieval mayhem and lots of fun illustrations!


But those are just a few successful TWISTS on what have might have seemed like an overdone story line of a Main Character wanting a pet – here are some more….


gilbert goldfish i wanna iguana







my pet book
prudence wants a pet







jacob oreilly









Now that you’re done reading this post, challenge yourself to pair an overdone plot or subject with something unusual or rare and see what you or your students come up with!

Of course, using a picture book to teach idea inspiration is just one item at the top of the list of how Mentor Texts can be used in the classroom. Be sure and check back here for more ways!



Lynne MarieLynne Marie is a New York Girl living in a Florida World. She loves anything any everything Disney, Broadway, European History and the Everglades. She’s an avid picture book reader and the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten, published by Scholastic, and a Travel Agent. Please visit her on Facebook:

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.

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.

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.