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


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. 

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: 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:

Screen Shot

It obviously resonated with me.

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


Giant John by Arnold Lobel, 1964

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


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.


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.


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 by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney, 1991

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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:

Poetry Mentor Texts: Some Bugs by Andrea DiTerlizzi

some bugs

Some Bugs

By Andrea DiTerlizzi

Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

Beach Lane, 2014

Some Bugs is one of those books that completely absorbs the reader in it’s fun but spare language. It’s a brilliant 94 words! Like Raindrops Roll, it’s one I typed up because I wanted to study the text. Not only does this text introduce different types of bugs to the youngest reader, it also invites older readers into the illustrations and rich language.

Mentor Text Writing Skills:

* Word Choice

* Vivid Verbs

* Rhythm

* Rhyme

* Spare language

* Specificity

I also featured Some Bugs in a nonfiction poetic picture book post recently.

Poetry as Mentor Texts: Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre

April is poetry month. Every Friday in April, I will feature a poetic picture book that can be used as a mentor text for writing. For past Poetry Month resources, check out these resources.

raindrops roll

Raindrops Roll

By April Pulley Sayre

Beach Lane, 2015

I can’t say enough good things about this book! I have recommended it to everyone. I have read it multiple times. I’ve typed out the words because I wanted to savor and study the language. At only 103 words, it’s a masterful work! And photographs are absolutely stunning.

I’m a big fan of April Pulley Sayre and this book might be my favorite of hers yet. This book can be used to teach the water cycle to primary students. But it can be used at ANY age to help students study poetic language.

Mentor Text Writing Skills:

* Word Choice

* Specificity

* Spare language

* Rhyme

For another post where I featured poetic mentor texts, see this Nonfiction Poetic Text post. 

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 

PiBoIdMo Prep 2014: Mining for Ideas

Come November, I’m usually physically and emotionally spent. I’m exhausted from the first few months of school and anticipating the exhaustion of the holidays.

But a challenge comes along every November that I just can’t pass up.


PiBoIdMo. Picture Book Idea Month, started by the amazing Tara Lazar. I’ve written about my experiences with PiBoIdMo in 2012 and 2013.

I should have declared 2014 the “Year of the Picture Book” because when I reflect on all of the writing classes and conferences I’ve attended, they’ve leaned heavily toward picture books. As PiBoIdMo creeps closer on the calendar, I realize, I’m armed and ready.

I take copious notes at conferences. Not only do I write down the key points the speaker is making, but I also jot notes to myself while they are talking. Reflections of how I could use this point in my own writing. What WIPs (works-in-progress) does this apply to? Or what new ideas does this conjure up?

For PiBoIdMo 2014, I’m planning to mine my notes. Usually I spend my year mining my PiBoIdMo journal when I’m looking to write a new picture book draft.

2013 PiBoIdMo Journal

2013 PiBoIdMo Journal

But this year, I’m going to do a bit of a reverso.

This year, I’m going to mine my other journals and notes from conferences to come up with my PiBoIdMo ideas.

I once heard Candice Ransom talk about how she keeps a journal, but also spends time going back through the journals to mine them for ideas. It’s hard to utilize all of those gems you captured in a journal in your writing, if you don’t go back and dig through them.

One of the journals I'll be mining for ideas for PiBoIdMo 2014

One of the journals I’ll be mining for ideas for PiBoIdMo 2014

This year, instead of trying to pluck ideas from the clear blue sky (though I would be happy if they did coming falling down), I plan to mine them out. I know I have ideas sitting there, ready to be grabbed. I just need to dig deep and pull them to the surface.

I’m gathering…

1) journals from the last year (yes, plural, I have them in my car, my purse, by my bed, and on my desk)

2) notes from Susanna Leonard Hill’s Making Picture Book Magic class

3) notes from Renee LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab class

4) notes from the WOW conference (I took particularly copious notes in Lisa Wheeler, Stacy McAnulty, Miranda Paul, and Jodell Sadler’s sessions)

5) notes from the Picture book workshop I took with Lola Schaefer and Rebecca Kai Dotlich

6) notes from Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s Picture Book Plotting class

As I look through all of my notes, I will get to revisit those “in the moment” ideas I wrote down. These ideas will go down in my PiBoIdMo journal for 2014. And I’m sure that I’ll be mining that journal all of 2015 when I write my picture book drafts.

This year's PiBoIdMo Journal

This year’s PiBoIdMo Journal


How are you prepping for PiBoIdMo this year?

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