Mentor Texts for Writers: A Storytime Capsule by Carter Higgins

Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog

 

I can not wait for Carter’s books to come out because I know they will be absolute treasures! I hope this blog post will have you basking in words, one of the main reasons we writers want to write ourselves. If you missed Carter’s blog post for teachers and librarians, I encourage you to go back and read it (even if you are not a teacher or librarian). Both of her posts ooze a love for books, so go there, then come back. 


 

As a writer, my biggest fear is not capturing kid-ness accurately, truthfully, and with honor. And perhaps it’s not so much fear as a living, breathing promise to myself to not put something into the world without each of those things.

That’s what matters to me—because, I think, that’s what matters to a reader that can’t voice that yet for themselves. That’s what matters to a kid.

My editor responded to a new text from me as “a love letter to language so honest it makes you squirm.” Hearing compliments like that is a heart-patter for sure, but a paraphrased version of that quickly found its way to a post-it on my desktop:

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It obviously resonated with me.

So here are some texts that are so honest they make me squirm.

giantjohn

Giant John by Arnold Lobel, 1964

Long ago in an enchanted forest there lived a large giant named John.

weweretiredoflivinginahouse

We Were Tired of Living in a House by Liesel Moak Skorpen and Doris Burn, 1969.

We were tired of living in a house. So we packed a bag with sweaters and socks, with mittens and earmuffs. And we moved to a tree.

everybodyneedsarock 

Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall, 1974.

 Everybody needs a rock. I’m sorry for kids who don’t have a rock for a friend.

 hideandseekfog

Hide and Seek Fog by Alvin Tresselt and Roger Duvoisin, 1966

 The lobsterman first saw the fog as it rolled in from the sea. He watched it turn off the sun-sparkle on the waves, and he watched the water turn gray.

 roxaboxen

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney, 1991

 Marian called it Roxaboxen. (She always knew the name of everything.)

 thetomten

The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren, 1961

It is the dead of night. The old farm lies fast asleep and everyone in the house is sleeping too.

 amosandboris

Amos & Boris by William Steig, 1971

Amos the mouse and Boris the whale: a devoted pair of friends with nothing at all in common, except good hearts and a willingness to help their fellow mammal.

 rosiemichael

Rosie and Michael by Judith Viorst and Lorna Tomei, 1974

Rosie is my friend. She likes me when I’m dopey and not just when I’m smart.

 iwanttopaintmybathroomblue

I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak, 1956

I want to paint my bathroom blue—my papa won’t let me paint it blue—once I painted a rocking chair blue and it was pretty.

 

You probably noticed the similarities in these texts: they are old. Some, really old.

You’ve probably heard the ‘only read recently published books’ advice, which is sage and wise when you are learning about today’s industry, but for now: forget it. We’re not talking about the business, we’re talking about stories.

 

Really, forget it. Stories matter more.

 

What’s the best way to find them? Pop a squat in the library, and run your fingers over the shelves until you hit the dingiest, rattiest looking spines you see. Pull them out and give them a little sniff if you need to. Book people won’t judge you for that. Make a pile; check them out.

Read them closely and carefully, and look how they capture kid-ness.

I get goosebumps hearing that we are in a golden age of picture books—a resurgence and a renaissance. Making picture books today is an honor. But we are standing on the shoulders of some giants like John, and going back can mean going forward.

Lasting stories are the ones that stand up to a thousand readings, to a thousand different tote bags, to a thousand tiny hands. That does some damage, so look for the dings. Look for the smudges. Look for squirming honesty.


CarterHigginsheadshot

Carter 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: 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.

thestoryoffishandsnail

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.

idontwanttobeafrog

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.

1_05rowboat

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.

theadventuresofbeekle 

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.