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.

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 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 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 

Mentor Texts for Writers: Building a Picture Book Biography

Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog

Recently, I have been writing a picture book biography. I love the topic, I love the research, but I do not love how it’s structured at this point. I haven’t yet captured the essence of the story through the way I’m telling it. So, I began investigating unique ways to structure a picture book biography. I sifted through biographies I really, really loved and narrowed my focus to the ones that truly embodied what I was trying to learn.

There are so many different structures, and I have just scratched the surface with these examples.

NF Text Structures Collage

One Person, Many Books

One of the things I love about picture book biographies that are being published is that many new angles are being presented about “old” subjects. For example, Thomas Jefferson is a person that nearly every child studies in school, but I am always fascinated by the ways that authors present him in new ways.

TJ builds a library

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by John O’Brien

TJ life liberty

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman

those rebels

Those Rebels, John and Tom by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

worst of friends

Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the True Story of an American Feud by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain, illustrated by Larry Day

Biography in Verse

These books are biographies, but they are told in free verse. Both of them reflect the music of their subjects. By using free verse poetry the poets were able to distill things down to their very essence.


Dizzy by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Sean Qualls

johnny cash

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash by G. Neri, illustrated by A.G. Ford

Utilizing a Frame that was Important to the Subject

In When Marian Sang, Marian Anderson was a famous singer. Pam Munoz Ryan has sprinkled hymns throughout the book that are reflective of the songs she sang and the story of her life. In Noah Webster’s Words, Ferris has utilized words and their dictionary-esque definitions to mirror the major accomplishment in Webster’s life.

noah webster

Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris, illustrated Vincent X. Kirsch

when marian sang

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick

Narrow Focus or Short Time Frame

Instead of focusing on the person’s whole life, these books focus on a particular time or event in someone’s life.

gingerbread for liberty

Gingerbread for Liberty! How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

a home for mr emerson

A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

the streak

The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Terry Widener

Comparing and Contrasting

These books are set up  with a comparing/contrasting structure. Coco Chanel is compared to other people in Different Like Coco. Ben Franklin’s and Thomas Edison’s inventions are compared to modern inventions in Now and Ben and Timeless Thomas.

different like coco

Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews

now and ben

Now and Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin by Gene Barretta

timeless thomas

Timeless Thomas: How Thomas Edison Changed Our Lives by Gene Barretta

Main Text and Sidebar Information

When drafting a nonfiction book, there is so much information that you want to impart to readers, but you also don’t want to overwhelm them. I love books that utilize sidebars that supplement the main text. The lovely thing about sidebars is that the book can then appeal to different levels of readers. For some readers the main story line will be just enough. For older readers, all the information is helpful.

mr ferris and his wheel

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford

snowflake bentley

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian

TJ builds a library

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by John O’Brien

Incorporating Quotes

Of course, incorporating primary resources is a bonus when it comes to biographies. It also helps serve as a mentor text to young writers how primary resources can be incorporated. But as a writer, it’s hard to get those quotes incorporated just right without being too clunky. These books handle quotes from the biography’s subject well right within the text of the story.

helen's big world

Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Tavares

a home for mr emerson

A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

martin's big words

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Brian Collier

Present Tense

When writing about the past, it seems counterintuitive to write in present tense. But these books do just that, and it works well. I never thought about a tense change as a possibility for my historical book, but these examples make the reader feel like they are right there in the moment. They bring history alive, and that’s what many authors of historical books would love to do.

ballet for martha

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg, illustrated by Sandra Jordan

brave girl

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

fantastic jungles

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Amanda Hall

Using a Refrain

I’ve been fascinated by refrains in picture books. I love to see how an author takes a thread of a story and crafts a refrain. While it’s fun to see these in fiction picture books, I’ve really enjoyed seeing them in nonfiction as well.

george did it

George Did It by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain, illustrated by Larry Day

i could do that

I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote by Linda Arms White, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

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

Nonfiction Second Person Point of View

I’ve read several nonfiction science books written in second person point of view, but this is the first second person biography I’ve read. While I’ve seen some biographies that talk to the reader directly for a paragraph or so, this is the only recent one I’ve found that carries that thread all the way through.

iridescence of birds

The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia McLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Try it Out

Do you need to breathe new life into a nonfiction book, especially a picture book biography? Try reworking it using one of these structures.

A special thanks goes out to Jackie Wellington, who sent me an enormous list of books for me to check out for unique structures. That list got me out of my funk and back to work.

NF 10 for 10: Nonfiction Poetic Picture Books

Nonfiction PB 10 for 10


I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction picture books lately because we are doing a nonfiction mentor text book study at my school using FINDING THE HEART OF NONFICTION by Georgia Heard.


One of the things I admire about nonfiction is an author’s ability to convey facts in a very spare text. I especially enjoy it if the text is spare and beautiful. Today, all of my books have two things in common: 1) They are nonfiction picture books. 2) They have poetic texts. Not all of them are rhyming texts, but some of them are.

NF 10 for 10 with words

They can be used to cover content in the classroom, but they can also be used to teach writing techniques like vivid verbs, imagery, word choice, point of view, and much, much more.

eat like a bear

Eat Like a Bear

By April Pulley Sayre

Illustrated by Steve Jenkins

This book is told in second person point of view and also shares information about how bears eat after a long hibernation.

raindrops roll

Raindrops Roll

By April Pulley Sayre

 With extremely spare text, this book of photographs using lovely language to describe raindrops. A must-read if you are talking about word choice or the water cycle.

iridescence of birds

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse

By Patricia MacLachlan

Illustrated by Hadley Hooper

One of my favorite books of 2014. This is a picture book biography that’s a poem told in second person point of view.


water can be

Water Can Be… (and also A Leaf Can Be…)

By Laura Purdie Salas

Illustrated by Violeta Dabija

Much like her poetic book about imagine what leaves can be, Salas’ book about water is also an excellent book to use with the water cycle and word choice.

some bugs

Some Bugs

By Angela DiTerlizzi

Illustrated by Brenden Wenzel

 Some bugs introduces all different types of bugs with fun, playful language.


swamp chomp

Swamp Chomp

By Lola Schaefer

Illustrated by Paul Meisel

Another very spare text with excellent vivid verbs. It also introduces the concept of a food chain.




by Jonah Winter

Illustrated by Sean Qualls

This picture book biography utilizes language that mirrors jazz music. An excellent biography, but it could also be used talk about pacing, rhythm, and word choice.

mama built a little nest

Mama Built a Little Nest

By Jennifer Ward

Illustrated by Steve Jenkins

This rhyming text told in first person point of view shows different birds and their nests. Small bits of expository text on each spread also provide additional information.

hello I'm johnny cash

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash

By G. Neri

Illustrated by A.G. Ford

Another picture book biography told in verse. The collection of free verse poems tell about Cash’s life. It would be good for teaching biography and word choice.


all the water

All the Water in the World

By George Ella Lyon

Illustrated by Katherine Tillotson

This is a poem spread out over a picture book format. All the water in the world can touch on water cycle standards and also be a great example for word choice.


Other 10 for 10 Posts

 10 for 10 Picture Books for Mentor Texts for Word Choice

10 for 10 Nonfiction Picture Books about Virginia History as Writing Mentor Texts


Want to see other PB 10 for 10 Posts for today and the archives? Check out the Google + community. 



Baseball Books as Mentor Texts: BARBED WIRE BASEBALL by Marissa Moss

barbed wire baseball

Barbed Wire Baseball

By Marissa Moss

Illustrated by Yuko Shimizu

Abrams, 2013

Kenichi Zenimura loved to play baseball. He play baseball for years. Until World War II, when he and other Japanese families lived their lives in internment camps. But inside that bleak camp, Zeni made a baseball field. He spent a lot of time constructing and making the best baseball field he could. Then he organized teams and games, giving a little bit of hope to himself and the people living there. This would be an excellent text to also incorporate into a WWII unit.

Writing Skills

* Figurative Language

         * Similes

* Descriptive Language

* Sensory Words

* Vivid Verbs

Other Baseball Mentor Texts:

Miracle Mud

Mighty Jackie

Baseball Books as Mentor Texts: MIGHTY JACKIE by Marissa Moss

mighty jackie

Mighty Jackie: The Strikeout Queen

By Marissa Moss

Illustrated by C.F. Payne

Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2004

Jackie had been pitching her whole life, even getting coaching and encouragement from a former Brooklyn Dodger pitcher. But girls couldn’t play major league baseball. Her team played an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, and Jackie got to pitch. When she faced Babe Ruth, he wanted to show her up. But she ended up striking him and Lou Gehrig out.

Writing Skills:

* Onomatopoeia

* Using quotations in a nonfiction text

* Sensory words

Other Baseball Mentor Texts:

Miracle Mud

SHE SANG PROMISE by Jan Godown Annino, Mentor Text Lesson Plan

she sang promise bookcover


by Jan Godown Annino

Illustrated by Lisa Desimini

A few weeks ago, I featured SHE SANG PROMISE as a mentor text on the Grog site. This week, I’m debuting the full length lesson plan.



* Description

* Word choice, including:

* Specific nouns

* Vivid Verbs

* Sensory Words

* Imagery


Nonfiction Picture Books about Virginia History as Writing Mentor Texts

We all know that students need to become more comfortable reading and writing non-fiction. Last fall, I did a post on 10 of my favorite fiction picture book writing mentor texts. For this post, I’m focusing on some non-fiction mentor texts–with a bent toward history, specifically American history, as it relates to Virginia history.

Why? I teach 4th grade in Virginia. And while I’m not the person on my team who teaches Virginia history, I think it’s really important for me to know as much of it as I can. My daughter is also studying Virginia history this year, so she and I have been taking trips and reading a lot about Virginia history.

If you don’t live in Virginia, must our U.S. History has roots in Virginia, so much of this will apply to U.S. History as well. And remember, my focus here is using these non-fiction texts to teach WRITING. It’s a bonus that it will also piggyback on the history standards. It’s what I call “double-dipping.” Teaching the content you need to teach while also exposing students to stellar texts that can be used as models for good writing.

For more information about definitions of the different writing skills I cover here, refer to the Glossary of Mentor Text Terms.

worst of friends




by Suzanne Tripp Jermain

Illustrated by Larry Day

Dutton, 2011


Writing Skills:

* Figurative Language

* Sentence Variety

* Specificity

* Adjectives

* Tone

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library


By Barb Rosenstock

Illustrated by John O’Brien

Calkins Creek, 2013


Writing Skills:

* Organization of the text

* Specificity of language

* Rhythm

* Sentence Variety


John paul george ben


By Lane Smith

Hyperion, 2006

Writing Skills:

* Tone

* Voice

* Character descriptions

* Fact vs. Fiction


George did it




By Suzanne Tripp Jurmain

Illustrated by Larry Day

Dutton, 2006

Writing Skills:

* Figurative Language (Similes)

* Sensory Words

* Adjectives

* Use of a refrain

TJ life liberty pursuit of everyting


by Maira Kalman

Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, 2014

Writing Skills

* Voice

* Tone

* Organization of the text

* Specificity

revolutionary friends


by Selene Castrovilla

illustrated by Drazen Kozjan

Calkins Creek, 2013

Writing Skills

* Tone

* Sensory Words

* Adjectives

* Imagery

* Specificity



Other Mentor Text Resources:

Mentor Text Resource Page

Mentor Text Spreadsheet

Picture Book Month Archive (30 Posts using Picture Books as Writing Mentor Texts)

10 for 10: Favorite Pictures Books for Teaching Word Choice


What are your favorite picture books for teaching Virginia or US History? Leave me a note in the comments below.