Baseball Books as Mentor Texts: Miracle Mud

This month, I will be featuring baseball books as mentor texts. Using sports-related books is a great way to get reluctant readers and writers interested in the story and the story structure. There are so many wonderful picture book baseball books that I couldn’t fit them all in. But I will be featuring four this month.

miracle mud

Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball

By David A. Kelly

Illustrated by Olivier Dominguez

Millbrook, 2013

Baseball regulations state that the shine has to be taken off the balls before they can be used in the major leagues. Lena Blackburne wanted to play baseball, but he wasn’t very good at it. He’d seen how players had tried every technique to make the balls not shiny, but nothing seemed to work. He tried mud from a fishing hole near his house. The mud worked on the balls without ruining them. Now, Lena Blackburne’s famous mud is the only mud used for taking the shine off of baseballs.

Writing Skills

* Sensory Words

* Specificity

Poetry Resources (Including Printable Lists)

Book Lists

I have been doing some compiling of old posts. I updated two different poetry book lists and made them into printables for easy filing and access.


This list is all of my favorite haiku books of all time, including some new favorites. Updated April 2014.


I love teaching the novel in verse, LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech. Last year I published a list of my favorite resources I use when teaching the book. I have updated the list and combined two different lists into one.

Poetry Month Posts from 2014

Water Can Be and A Leaf Can Be

Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons

Papa is a Poet

When Thunder Comes

She Sang Promise


Poetry Month Posts from 2013

Grumbles from the Forest

Forest Has a Song

One Big Rain

Poetry Mentor Texts



Poetry Mentor Texts: When Thunder Comes by J. Patrick Lewis

when thunder comes


by J. Patrick Lewis

Illustrated by Jim Burke, R. Gregory Christie, Tonya Engel, John Parra, and Meilo So

Chronicle Books, 2013

J. Patrick Lewis has captured fifteen international civil rights leaders’ struggles in this poetry collection. This would be an amazing book to study when looking at Civil Rights Leaders in a history/social studies class, but it would also be a mentor text for word choice. Lewis has distilled so much information and emotion into short poems.

Writing Skills:

* Word Choice

* Vivid Verbs

* Imagery

* Sensory Words

* History told in poetry

Poetry Month: Papa is a Poet

papa is a poet

Papa is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost

By Natalie S. Bober

Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt, 2013


This story is told in first person, through the eyes of Robert Frost’s daughter, Lesley. Lesley tells of the time when the Frosts lived on a farm in New Hampshire. Sprinkled throughout the narrative are pieces of Frost’s poems and they become part of the story as she tells about the landscape and their memories. Lesley tells about their family routines on the farm, her father’s love of books, and how he taught them to pay attention. It also tells how he moved to England, away from America, and upon his return, finally saw the success of his work. The back matter includes an author’s note, Robert Frost quotations, and reprints of many of his poems.

love that dog

This book could also be used as a supplement to Sharon Creech’s LOVE THAT DOG. For other books that can be used with LOVE THAT DOG, see this post. 

For other picture book biographies of poets, see this post. 

Hi, Koo! by Jon J. Muth, Poetry Mentor Text

hi koo

Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons

Written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth

Scholastic Press, 2014

I’m a huge fan of haiku books, and I have a huge collection of haiku picture books. For an annotated haiku book list, click here. 

This particular book follows Koo, a panda, through the seasons, capturing some small details of each season in haiku.


Writing Skills:

* Word Choice

* Sensory Words

* Haiku form

Other Haiku Resources:

* Haiku Magnets


* I Haiku You


Water Can Be… and A Leaf Can Be… Poetry Mentor Texts


Water Can Be..

By Laura Purdie Salas

Illustrations by Violeta Dabija

Millbrook Press, 2014


If you love the sound of words and really love to be surprised by them, then you need to get this book. Water Can Be… is truly a beautiful piece of poetry, but there is so much packed into so few words. Here’s a short sample:

“Water can be a…

tadpole hatcher

picture catcher [picture of a girl looking at her reflection in a puddle]

otter feeder

downhill speeder [picture of a racing waterfall].” 


It is an excellent companion book to Salas’ other book A LEAF CAN BE… and it could be used in the science classroom to teach seasons because she shows water in all seasons. It would also be useful in a water cycle unit.

But of course, my forte, is talking about how it could be used in the writing classroom.

Writing Skills:

* Specificity of language

* Word Choice

* Use of poetic language to describe


leaf can be

A Leaf Can Be..

By Laura Purdie Salas

Illustrations by Violeta Dabija

Millbrook Press, 2012


A leaf is not just a leaf. A leaf is so much more. This very spare text is written as a poem, but the language is packed with specificity. Salas offers a truly unique perspective on leaves. Here’s a short sample:

“A leaf can be a…

Soft cradle

Water ladle

Sun taker

Food maker…”


This book could easily tie into science units on plants and seasons. Back matter explains more facts about how a leaf is a “soft cradle, water ladle, sun taker, food maker” and more.

Writing Skills:

* Specificity of language

* Word Choice

* Use of poetic language to describe


More Information for Teachers

I highly recommend signing up for Laura Purdie Salas’ newsletter for teachers. You can sign up at her website.

Mentor Texts for Teachers Workshop

The month of March has been really busy for me as a writer and a teacher. I’ve attended three teacher conferences and one writing retreat. All of them were incredibly beneficial for me.

I presented at two of the teacher conferences (one for my local school district and one for the state) on using mentor texts to teach writing.

I made handouts for the participants, and I thought some of you might enjoy the handouts as well. Some of the handouts were at stations with loads and loads of books, but the handouts provide the book lists that I used.

Screenshot of title screen

Here is the link to the workshop page. Feel free to download the handouts and start using some of the ideas.

If you haven’t subscribed to my FREE Writing Teacher Useletter, then sign up on the sidebar to the right. It’s a monthly useletter with writing ideas you can use in the classroom.

Writing Marathon: The Results

The last several Wednesdays have been all about the Writing Marathon I did with fourth and fifth graders at my school.

Today’s post is all about the results. I had 20 students to participate in this extra activity that required 26 days, 30 minutes per day of outside writing.


26 days

30 minutes per day

20 participants

17 Marathon finishers

16,089 minutes spent writing

102,594 words written


My personal writing marathon results were not included in these statistics. Here are my results:

28 days

870 minutes

14,454 words

picture of tracking sheet

Writing Marathon Posts

Writing Marathon: The Method

Writing Marathon: Resources


Nonfiction Mentor Texts: Book Review of FINDING THE HEART OF NONFICTION

georgia heard



by Georgia Heard

Heinemann, 2013


I love books for teachers that are so practical that you could read them on the weekend and use them the very next week in your classroom. FINDING THE HEART OF NONFICTION by Georgia Heard is such a book. I’ve been a long-time fan of Heard’s work on writing texts.

I love using mentor texts in the classroom, and many of the things she suggests I’ve done in my classroom. However, since this book is focused on nonfiction, I will admit, I’ve not incorporated all of these ideas in teaching kids how to write nonfiction. But I can’t wait to try some of her ideas!

She covers imagery, focus, leads, point of view, voice, precise language, structures of a text, and endings. In every chapter she provides succinct examples of how you can use this in your classroom right away.

This book is approachable, easy to use, and recommends some of the most stellar nonfiction texts that are available for kids.

Just after I finished reading it, I began to outline all of the ideas I was going to use right away in my classroom.

If you are looking for a book on mentor texts to add to your professional library, this book is a must-buy, must-highlight, must-dog-ear, must-read, and must-use for your collection.

Writing Wednesday: Using THE TREE LADY as a Writing Mentor Text

tree lady


The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever

By H. Joseph Hopkins

Illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Beach Lane Books, 2013


This picture book biography about Katherine Olivia Sessions highlights the difference one person can make. Kate lived at a time when girls didn’t really pursue science or the outdoors. Kate did both. She loved trees, studied science, and transformed the city of San Diego by planting trees.


Writing Skills

* Use of a refrain

* Organization of the text

* Specificity

* Vivid Verbs