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


Research Site and Instagram

Research Site

I have a number of nonfiction writing projects going on right now. I found myself trying to organize the sites I go to often in the research process. For most projects, I often start with Google and Amazon to find out what books are already out there, but there were places that I went to consistently no matter the project.

For about a year, I’ve been using a private Google Site to curate these links and use them myself. However, I thought it might be helpful to put it out there into the world so others could use it as well.

Link to Research Site

If you have suggestions or favorite sites you think need to be included, comment below or email me with suggestions. It’s a work-in-progress.


I’ve been on Instagram for awhile, but I’ve never been very active on it. I got inspired last weekend to post a little more often. I’ve decided my Instagram (for now) is all about showing daily ins and outs of a writer’s life. Feel free to follow me over at my Instagram page.

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.

Mentor Texts for Writers: Writing Picture Book Biographies by Sarah Glenn Fortson




Many of you may have read some of my posts on historical fiction vs. nonfiction and picture book biography structures, so you might know this post is right up my alley. What I also love is that we mention some of the same books, but Sarah thought about them in a totally unique way that I hadn’t thought of. That shows that these are great books. I hope you learn as much as I have from Sarah Glenn Fortson’s post on picture book biographies. 

Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog



“Mentor Texts…help writers envision the kind of writers they can become.”

Georgia Heard, Finding the Heart of Nonfiction



In a picture book biography for young children, the main character is often an adult, or grows into an adult. For authors who write in this genre this means decisions must be made about handling adult information in crafting the story. This information can range from “dry” to totally inappropriate for young readers.

In my study of exemplary picture book biographies, I’ve discovered a few options for dealing with sensitive information:

miracle mud


Miracle Mud, Lena Blackburne And the Secret Mud That Changed Baseball, by David A. Kelly (Millbrook Press/Minneapolis)

David Kelly hit on a gem of a story.

I mean, come on, mud and baseball? He gets to say things like, “Players even rubbed balls with spit and tobacco juice. That made the balls stink.” But even in this super-kid-friendly tale, Kelly found sensitive details.

Pitchers use to nick and scuff new balls so that they would be unpredictable and hard to hit, but the league outlawed roughing up the balls after a stray one struck a player and killed him. That’s why teams began looking for alternative ways to make slick new balls rough. David Kelly made the decision to leave death out of his story, but added it to the back matter. The tone of Miracle Mud, is light-hearted. A death would be jarring, plus Kelly didn’t need the information for the purpose of “sense-making.”

But here’s a tale that absolutely needed the sensitive for “sense-making.”


a boy called dickens

A Boy Called Dickens, by Deborah Hopkinson (Schwartz & Wade Books, New York)

 Poverty, debtors prison, child labor in a rat-invested warehouse, neglect, runaways…Hopkinson includes it all, because as she says, “For years Dickens kept the story of his own childhood secret. Yet it is a story worth telling. For it helps us remember how much we all might lose when a child’s dreams don’t come true.”



farmer george

Can you imagine writing yet another book about George Washington without it being redundant or dry. Peggy Thomas imagined it. While visiting George Washington’s home, Peggy was struck by the idea that Washington’s goal to make Mount Vernon self-sufficient paralleled his goal for our nation’s independence. She used this nugget and the new angle in Farmer George Plants a Nation (Calkins Creek).

The final three picture book titles I’m including are examples of pacing techniques…great ways to combat “biographical-dryness.” Jodell Sadler teaches a wonderful class, Pacing Picture Books to WOW!

  • Use questions to pull your reader forward.


elizabeth leads the way

Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tonya Lee Stone


  • Use objects to reveal character and enhance setting simultaneously.


cart that carried martin

The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting


  • Use repetition…and
  • Do less to do more.

on a beam of light

On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne



A heart-felt “thank-you” to Marcie for allowing me to be a guest on her blog. I enjoyed the process of putting this post together.




Sarah Glenn Fortson, former educator, now children’s author is represented by Jodell Sadler of Sadler Children’s Literary. Visit her at

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. 



Historical Fiction and Nonfiction Mentor Texts

Mosaic of book coversMentor Texts

Whenever I’m reading someone else’s work for critique or whenever I’m struggling in a particular area of my writing, I always turn to mentor texts. They are like “guiding lights.”

I’ve been involved in some discussions online that are asking for great suggestions for picture book biographies (recent ones), historical fiction examples, and even books for the youngest of readers.

I created the list for writers who need some good mentor texts to guide them in learning about the genres and writing their own books. However, this list could easily be used for the classroom and I’ve shared many of these books with students.

I have also included this list in a PDF for easy printing.

But you may wonder why I delineated between historical fiction and nonfiction in my list or HOW I delineated.

Nonfiction vs Historical Fiction

I’ve noticed a lot of people who have been asking about what makes a book historical fiction. Here are some of my rules of thumb:

  • Parts of the narrative that cannot be proven as fact
  • Invented Dialogue
  • First person POV (unless it’s an autobiography)
  • Using the historical facts to create a believable, but fictional, story (example: using the facts of the Civil War battles and times to create a fictional story about a child during the Civil War)

How Can I Tell the Difference?

  • Read it yourself.
  • Read the author’s note at the back of the book. Most of the time, the author points out parts that he/she couldn’t find and had to imagine or invent. But they usually back up those imagined parts with impeccable research.
  • Take a look at the CIP (Cataloging in Publication) information on the copyright page. While sometimes, it claims that books are biographies when they use invented dialogue, it does give you some guidance. It points you to where it should be shelved in the library (though there is some wiggle room), which also will give you a clue.

But, What if??????

There are those books that seem to fit firmly in one category, but really aren’t clear cut. Case in point: THE RIGHT WORD: ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS. The main text is absolutely nonfiction, but there are parts of the text (not the main text) that have speech bubbles. My guess is that’s invented dialogue.

This is an excellent book! One of my absolute favorites this year. Because the main text or story is nonfiction, I’m going to include it in my nonfiction list. However, you could read this book without reading the dialogue and still understand it. The dialogue is woven into the illustrations, and it creates a kid-friendly part to the text.

Would I let students use this text as a reference source? Absolutely.

Betsy Bird articulated this very issue much more clearly than I did. Here’s her post about these books. I particularly encourage you to read the comments, for the conversation that occurred there is very, very important.

I also really like Tanya Lee Stone’s article about invented dialogue.

Some links were shared in the comments that delve even deeper into this issue. Marc Tyler Nobleman’s article in The Horn Book is excellent. and another article about what can happen when you invent dialogue.

I’m not an expert on this. I think the line between historical fiction and nonfiction is important. What is amazing to me is that the quality of books out there is continue to increase. All of these books are on my list because they are excellent. I enjoy reading them and sharing them with children.

My main goal for this list is to give writers some stellar mentor texts to take a look at when writing nonfiction or historical fiction. This has been a discussion on several Facebook groups I’m a part of.

I read widely to create this list, but I know there are books that I missed. If you disagree with my delineation, feel free to say so. Or if you have books to add to the list, please comment as well. I’m really interested in having you lead me to more good books!

Click here for the printable PDF version of this list.


All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick

Ben Franklin’s Big Splash: The Mostly True Story of His First Invention by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by S.D. Schindler

Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

The Flag Maker by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue

George Washington’s Birthday: A Mostly True Tale by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Barry Blitt

Georgia’s Bones by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Bethanne Andersen

Going North by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olshan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock by Mary GrandPre

Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, illustrated by Gwen Strauss

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales



Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos written by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Dream Something Big by Dianna Aston, illustrated by Susan Roth

Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor

Jack’s Path of Courage: The Life of John F. Kennedy by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Tavares

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough, illustrated by Debby Atwell

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson

Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein by Don Brown

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky

A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson

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

The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman


An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (and all others in this series)

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong

Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Cindy Trumbore, illustrated by Susan Roth

Redwoods by Jason Chin

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton

Events/Slice of Life/Niche areas

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1901 by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Stewart

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox, illustrated by Brian Floca

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Miracle Mud by David A. Kelly

My Country ‘Tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights by Claire Rudolph Murphy, illustrated by Brian Collier

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

Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

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

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton


All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon by Katherine Tillotson

Bring on the Birds by Susan Stockdale (she has several NF animal books for young readers)

Gravity by Jason Chin

The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan

Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Life by Lola Schaefer, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong

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. 

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 HERE COME THE HUMPBACKS as a Writing Mentor Text

here come the humpbacks


By April Pulley Sayre

Illustrated by Jamie Hogan

Charlesbridge, 2013


This nonfiction book about humpback whales combines lyrical first lines on each page, with narrative facts and separate factoids on each page. Beautifully written and chock-full of information that will delight animal lovers, it can also be used as a non-fiction writing mentor text.


Writing Skills:

* Vivid Verbs

* Alliteration

* Figurative Language

* Specificity

* Organization of the text

* Onomatopoeia

* Poetic language in a nonfiction text

Writing Wednesday: Using MARTIN AND MAHALIA as a Writing Mentor Text

martin and mahalia


By Andrea Davis Pinkney

Illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Little, Brown 2013


This book moves me to tears every time I read it. The beauty of the words and the illustrations feel like a song and celebration. The Pinkneys have woven two important people with amazing gifts together in this nonfiction piece about Martin Luther King Jr’s and Mahalia Jackson’s impacts on the Civil Rights Movement. It is the perfect book to read to celebrate Martin Luther King day, but it’s also the perfect book to study as a nonfiction writing mentor text.


Writing Skills:

* Leads (beginning lines)

* Vivid Verbs

* Metaphor

* Adjectives

* Sensory Words

* Rhythm

* Use of poetic language in a nonfiction text

* Use of a refrain in a nonfiction text

More Mentor Text Resources

A few weeks ago, I introduced my teacher useletter. I will feature writing tips and mentor text tips in this free useletter for teachers. Also, if you sign up, you get a FREE 50 page MENTOR TEXT TIPS printable e-book. Sign up on the sidebar to the right.

Mentor Text Resources

Mentor Text Lesson Plans

Mentor Text Tips