Deep Concept Books: ReFoReMo 2018


For the last several years, I’ve been honored to contribute a mentor text list to ReFoReMo (Read For Research Month). This year, I focused on concept books for older readers that really hone in on deep concepts. Take a peek at my list here.

Past ReFoReMo posts:

2017–Reader Engagement

2016–Back Matter

2015–2nd person POV

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. 

New Mentor Text Lessons, Mentor Texts Lists, and More!

Guest Posts Around the Web

You may have noticed I haven’t been blogging much lately, but I have been doing some writing out and about on the web-o-sphere.

Using Mentor Texts to Revise a Novel in Verse at Teach Mentor Texts (Jen Vincent’s blog)

Author Study on Newbery Award Winner, Matt de la Peña at Picture Book Summit

New Mentor Text Lesson Plans

I have added 4 new mentor text lesson plans for Laura Murray’s Gingerbread Man books. You can find all of the links at this page or by clicking on the titles below.

The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas

The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Firetruck

The Gingerbread Man Loose on the School

The Gingerbread Man Loose at the Zoo

collage of gingerbread men

Back Matter in Picture Books

Collage of books

Carrie Charley Brown is hosting ReFoReMo (Read for Research Month), a time when writers challenge themselves to read picture books as mentor texts to improve their writing. I’m the guest author/educator there today talking about back matter in picture books. Hop over to her blog and give it a read.

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 for Writers: Anything Can Be a Mentor Text by Jen Vincent

I have been following Jen’s blog for years. We both are teachers and writers and we both love mentor texts. I love that Jen gives us a glimpse into the various ways she uses mentor texts. Please be sure you visit Jen’s website where she is one of the Teachers Write hosts every summer. 


I believe a mentor text is anything we can look to as an example of good writing. It can be a book, a poem, a quote, words on a Starbucks cup. I especially love how Ralph Fletcher defines mentor texts as, “…any texts that you can learn from, and every writer, no matter how skilled you are or how beginning you are, encounters and reads something that can lift and inform and infuse their own writing.”

charlie brown quotestarbucks cup

The beauty is any text becomes a mentor text in the hands of a writer. In that sense, a mentor text is as unique as its reader. If it inspires your writing, it’s a mentor text. I find myself taking pictures of things that inspire me. My phone ends up being a virtual writer’s notebook, full of ideas, snapshots of things that inspire me…including quotes on walls and words on Starbucks cups.

Thinking of a mentor text this way, we might not even realize what we have read that has influenced us! There is a big shift; going from a reader and a consumer to a writer who finds inspiration all around takes practice. The more I write, the more I pay attention to words and ideas all around me.

Depending on what I’m writing, I immerse myself as a reader in different formats or genres. When I’m doing research, I flood myself with every book I can find about a certain topic. I want to see what others have done so I can see how might story might fit in but also be different. I have a teeny seedling of an idea for a story about donuts so I checked out as many donut-related books as I could find from the library (I was surprised there weren’t that many!). In these mentor texts, I was looking for big picture ideas and themes.

book pile

Last year, I wrote a fiction picture book inspired by my sons. I compare it to a blend of Ninja! by Arree Chung and Must. Push. Buttons! by Jason Good so naturally I had to reread those books and others with a similar feeling. I paid attention to the pacing, how the author introduced the main character, and how the words worked with the illustrations.

jen pic with ninja book

When I worked on a non-fiction picture book biography earlier this year, I reread lots of my favorites in the same genre like The Right Word by Jen Bryant and Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet. At the same time, I also read some fiction picture books I love to see if any ideas there might transfer over into my non-fiction picture book. I love the word choice in Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly so it was one I looked at as a mentor text.

jen with The Write Word


Jen and Velma Gratch


I’m a fan of descriptive writing and I love studying beautiful writing and admiring how authors use words to bring ideas to life for readers. With students, I love to share a piece of text and ask them read it a few times and think about what stands out to them. What I love about an excerpt might be very different from what someone else likes. Taking time to relish in great writing helps me realize what the author has done that I might like to try in my own writing.

For my YA novels, I adore Jenny Han’s writing as a mentor text but I also read lots of contemporary young adult and pay attention to how the authors bring characters to life, characters’ story arcs, and how the protagonists interact with the antagonists. What I notice about Jenny Han’s writing in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is that her writing is so concise. She packs a lot of information and background knowledge into the first few pages. It’s amazing and very well done.

Jen and Han

Like I said, anything can be a mentor text. If it stands out to me, I usually take a picture of it so I can refer to it later. Oftentimes, what stands out to me is something I’m grappling with. This is from the back cover of Lost In The Sun by Lisa Graff. I love the alliteration and the way words are matched together so I snapped a picture.

back of book

In his book Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon talks about how nothing is original. Everyone is just taking bits and pieces of what others have done and creating something new. It’s nice to think that authors who have come before me are my mentors. When I think I might be stuck or I’m not sure how to start a story, I know I can always look at what others have done and see if they have an idea I might try in my own writing. All that matters is the words influence me and I’ve got a mentor text.

head shot

Jen Vincent is a Technology Integration Specialist for Mundelein School District 75 in Mundelein, Illinois. As a writer, blogger, and educator, she strives to model and inspire others to live a growth mindset in everything she does. Her passion is connecting people and ideas and believes in the power of being a connected educator to impact teaching and learning. Jen hosts Sunday Check-Ins for Teachers Write, co-hosts the kidlit It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? meme, and blogs at She can be found on twitter at @mentortexts and her website is

Mentor Texts for Writers: A Little Help From My Friends by Pat Miller

Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog

One thing is for sure, I couldn’t do this series “Mentor Texts for Writers” without a little help from my friends. I have been so fortunate to have amazing writers post about their experiences using mentor texts. Pat Miller and I both blog on the GROG blog. I also had the privilege of meeting her at the WOW Retreat last summer. If you have never read her posts on the GROG, here is the link to her posts. She always shares an amazing amount of knowledge in each post! She also hosts a nonfiction conference in the fall called NF 4 NF. Hold onto your hats, Pat knows nonfiction and you will learn a lot from this post. 



Authors don’t intend that their work be used by writers as mentor texts. But they spin a story or narrate a topic so well that you can often use their work as a blueprint for your own.

How do you find mentor texts? I have three strategies:


  • READ Each library visit, I beeline to the new book section. I come across mentors by reading widely. Even if you aren’t reading for a specific need, your author brain will be silently mentored.


  • FIND LISTS I can’t search the library’s catalog for “Strong Endings” or “Powerful Characterization”. But categorized lists of mentor texts are readily available on the Internet.


  • SEARCH BY SIMILARITY I’m writing about an unassuming woman who was pushed by circumstance to act in ways that affected history. So I searched for biographies of similar women.


Here are some of the books that added ingredients to my biography’s recipe.



Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney

(Disney/Jump at the Sun Books, 2009)

Belle escaped her owner as a young woman. “Belle ran right up to hope’s front door.” After a Quaker bought her and set her free, Belle named herself Sojourner Truth. I plant to imitate the author’s emotion and detail selection. “[S]omeone threatened to burn down the building [in which she was to speak.] She said, ‘I will speak upon its ashes’.”


MissMooreMiss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children by Jan Pinborough

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)

Quiet Annie hears that libraries are hiring women in NYC, so she moves, earns her degree, and gets her first job. Children weren’t trusted with library books. “But Miss Moore thought otherwise.” Page by page, Miss Moore makes changes that created today’s children’s service. Pinborough showed me how to choose events and build a life with them.


Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero by Cheryl Harness

(Albert Whitman, 2013.)

My book’s subject, constrained by her times, accomplished things considered inappropriate for women. I chose this title to show me how to portray that. “[She’s wearing] the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration a man can get. But she’s a woman! And she’s wearing PANTS!”



Wild Women of the Wild West by Jonah Winter

(Holiday House, 2011)

This book is a crash course in how to tell a life story in a single page with enough detail and feelings to leave no doubt why each of fifteen women was “wild”. “Long after the Wild West was over and she was 74 years old, Nellie Cashman drove a team of huskies 750 miles across the Arctic Circle—750 miles!” This book is full of action, emotion, and appeal, all things I want to include about my own wild woman.


TJ Library2TJ Library cover


Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barbara Rosenstock

(Calkins Creek, 2013)

In another manuscript, I’m writing about a woman who kept journals and published two books of her experiences. How to include excerpts in my biography? I found several mentors that masterfully handled the same problem. Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barbara Rosenstock (Calkins Creek, 2013) includes Jefferson’s writings in sidebars shaped like books.

Helen KellerKeller cover

Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller

(Disney/Hyperion, 2012)

In Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller (Disney/Hyperion, 2012), Doreen Rappaport includes a relevant quote on each page, written in a larger font. Her choices of quotes are crucial—one can read only the quotations and still get a vivid picture of Helen Keller.



Franklin Delano Roosevelt: A National Hero by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

(Sterling, 2007)

Sometimes, mentor texts simply inspire. When one of my manuscripts became tedious despite my best efforts, I was at a loss. Then I discovered Franklin Delano Roosevelt: A National Hero by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen (Sterling, 2007). Despite the unassuming cover, this book is a grabber. Sudipta likens the Depression inherited by FDR to the Dark Ages. “FDR led the country through the crisis of the Great Depression—in thirteen years, not four hundred.” Her knack for weaving history with details that interest children made Sudipta’s book a literary tow truck that pulled my text from its muddy mire.

With mentor texts so readily available, you no longer have to write alone. A visit to your library or bookstore will quickly supply you with a little help from your friends.


Unfortunately, Pat Miller didn’t know about mentor texts when she wrote her biography, The Hole Story of the Doughnut (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Spring 2016). She whined and suffered needlessly. But she knows better now and is happy to share her love of nonfiction writing. Join her and a stellar faculty at NF 4 NF: Children’s Nonfiction Writers Conference.

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


Image for posts--mentor texts in the classroom


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 for Writers: Meet My Mentor Texts by Linda Bozzo

Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog


I’m so excited that Linda Bozzo is on my blog today because I’ve actually met her in REAL LIFE. Linda and I met at the WOW Conference in Georgia last summer. I always learn so much by how others study mentor texts, and Linda is no exception.



In the same way a mentor teaches or helps someone who has less experience, mentor texts can help teach writers how to improve their writing. No matter where you are in your writing career, using mentor texts can be a powerful tool.



I use mentor texts to explore everything from examples of exceptional writing, to ideas, organization, voice, and even writing style. So I’d like to take this time to introduce to you some of my mentor texts . . .

speech bubblemoose







I often use several mentor texts for one manuscript. For example, when writing my biography about an inventor, I searched for mentor texts that would help me decide on the structure of my story, including where I wanted it to start.

The first one I found was MANFISH: A STORY OF JACQUES COUSTEAU by Jennifer Berne. The story starts with Jacques’ birth and how much he loved the water.


Similarly, ON A BEAM OF LIGHT: A STORY OF ALBERT EINSTEIN, also by Jennifer Berne, begins with Albert’s birth. It talks about how growing up he didn’t talk and instead he looked and wondered about everything.

beam of light

These two mentor texts helped me write the opening of my biography starting from, you might have guessed . . . the inventor’s birth.

dream bubble

In this same biography, I wanted to include a page spread of my inventor as he imagines the possibilities of his invention. All inventors must dream, right? Again, I looked to MANFISH for a similar scene where Jacque dreams he would someday be able to breathe underwater. In ON A BEAM OF LIGHT Albert has one of his biggest, most exciting thoughts ever; riding on a beam of light.

Then when I discovered STAR STUFF: CARL SAGAN AND THE MYSTERIES OF THE COSMOS by Stephanie Roth Sisson, I fell in love with the scene of Carl looking out at the night sky and imagining the possibilities.

star stuff

I knew I wanted to use the same exceptional writing and format that each of these books used for what I consider to be one of the most important scenes in my biography.

All three of these books feature a fold-out page to create depth, height, and expanse, respectively. While I know this is a decision for the book designer, I imagined my book benefiting from a fold-out page as my inventor performs above his audience. So I addressed this scene in my story in a similar fashion as shown on these three fold-out pages. I can dream too, can’t I?


PB pileI find mentor texts in various places including the new book section at the library, the bookstore, new book announcements, book reviews, and recommendations from writers and librarians. Another great place to find mentor texts is at writing conferences where editors are showing off the latest books they’ve edited.

Sometimes I purchase the books I use as mentor texts and other times, when I use books from the library, I type them out and save them in a file so they can be read over and over again.

Mentor texts continually help give me direction (especially when I’ve lost my way), keep me focused, and help me figure out what works, as well as what doesn’t, for my stories.

Linda headshot

Linda Bozzo is an award- winning author of more than 50 nonfiction children’s books. Linda was selected as the Outstanding Author for 2013 by the New Jersey Association of School Librarians. She is a member of SCBWI and enjoys presenting her writing journey to both children and adults. To learn more about Linda and her books visit:

Mentor Texts for Writers: Studying Lyrical Language for Prose by Renée M. LaTulippe

Words can not express how much I have learned from Renée. I have loved reading and writing poetry for many years, but when I took Renée’s The Lyrical Language Lab class, I loved poetry even more. She is an amazing teacher and she gives such valuable feedback. I continue to learn from her in the class’s Facebook group. I’m so happy to have her here sharing her knowledge with you. 

Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog



When I began developing my online course The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry, I knew I’d need to provide a lot of examples of how poetic techniques can be used in prose.


The first place I turned to was MG and YA novels, particularly Newbery Medal and Honor winners. There are so many rich examples in the genre! What I specifically look for in mentor texts is not just lovely language that sounds pretty, but language that strengthens and supports every single story element, including mood, tone, setting, and character. And, since I am using these texts to teach, I want to be able to pinpoint the poetic techniques being used and show how they support the story elements.


My favorite example, and one that I use in my course, is from Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. (This is printed in other blog posts around the Internet, but it really bears repeating!) (Click to enlarge.)




In these few pages, Creech uses several poetic techniques that support other story elements, including:


  • Figurative language and imagery (red)
  • Diction (fuchsia)
  • Repetition (purple)
  • Sound devices (green)
  • Hyperbole (blue)


What I particularly love about this example is that 1) it is so full of poetic techniques that I can use this text for multiple purposes, and 2) these are the opening pages to the novel, which is so important for me when I search for mentor texts. I want to see that magic from the moment I open the book, so I can then show students how important it is to pay attention to every word, starting with the very first one.


Because I rely heavily on first pages, I have found Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to be a big help in my search for mentor texts. It’s the first place I go when I discover a new possibility, and often use this feature to find more models for lyrical language. Some first pages that I am adding to my growing list of texts are from


cover-holesHoles by Louis Sachar for its amusing and effective use of repetition to create and support the narrator’s voice.









cover-winndixieBecause of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo for its rhythm and pacing.










cover-calpurniaThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly for its imagery and use of similes.










cover-barnBarn by Debbie Atwell (picture book) for the lyrical language that paints a picture of the book’s setting.







Because each lesson in my course is focused on one concept, I don’t really use whole texts; rather, I use short excerpts to illustrate and analyze the specific concept being covered. From there, students complete a writing exercise using the excerpt as a model for their own work.


Mentor texts play a huge part in my teaching, and I’m always delighted by the “a-ha” moments students can experience when they’ve read a really great example of a particular concept – and can then apply it to their own writing.


I highly recommend that writers start a collection of their own “snippets” – those wonderful words and phrases and sentences that stop us in our tracks when we read – to refer to again and again as guides and inspiration.



Renée M. LaTulippe has co-authored nine early readers and a volume of poetry titled Lizard Lou: a collection of rhymes old and new (Moonbeam Children’s Book Award) for All About Learning Press, where she is also the editor, and has poems in several editions of The Poetry Friday Anthology series as well as the upcoming anthologies The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry and One Minute Till Bedtime. She developed and teaches the online course The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry and blogs on children’s poetry at


Copyright (c) 2015 Renée M. LaTulippe.