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.


Poetry Mentor Texts: Snoozefest by Samantha Berger



By Samantha Berger

Illustrated by Kristyna Litten

Dial, 2015

Snoozefest is a delight! Berger had me at the title: Snoozefest! I think the thing that delighted me (and would delight younger readers) is the word combinations. Snoozefest, Nuzzledome, naptacular, even the character’s name, Snuggleford Cuddlebun, play with sleepy language. There are also fun words in the illustrations. Snuggleford is a sloth who attends a sleeping contest, or Snoozefest, and it’s quite a celebration of sleep. This book is full of sleepy, snoozy language. The rhythm and rhyme makes it fun to read.

This book would be good a mentor text for:

* Word Play (especially puns)

* Alliteration

* Descriptive language

I’d highly recommend listening to Matthew Winner’s podcast episode with Samantha Berger, where she gives lots of inside scoop on Snoozefest and her process.

Other Poetry Month Posts

Some Bugs

Raindrops Roll

A Rock Can Be…

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.

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. 

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. 



Poetry Resources (Including Printable Lists)

Book Lists

I have been doing some compiling of old posts. I updated two different poetry book lists and made them into printables for easy filing and access.


This list is all of my favorite haiku books of all time, including some new favorites. Updated April 2014.


I love teaching the novel in verse, LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech. Last year I published a list of my favorite resources I use when teaching the book. I have updated the list and combined two different lists into one.

Poetry Month Posts from 2014

Water Can Be and A Leaf Can Be

Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons

Papa is a Poet

When Thunder Comes

She Sang Promise


Poetry Month Posts from 2013

Grumbles from the Forest

Forest Has a Song

One Big Rain

Poetry Mentor Texts



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. 

Hi, Koo! by Jon J. Muth, Poetry Mentor Text

hi koo

Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons

Written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth

Scholastic Press, 2014

I’m a huge fan of haiku books, and I have a huge collection of haiku picture books. For an annotated haiku book list, click here. 

This particular book follows Koo, a panda, through the seasons, capturing some small details of each season in haiku.


Writing Skills:

* Word Choice

* Sensory Words

* Haiku form

Other Haiku Resources:

* Haiku Magnets


* I Haiku You


Water Can Be… and A Leaf Can Be… Poetry Mentor Texts


Water Can Be..

By Laura Purdie Salas

Illustrations by Violeta Dabija

Millbrook Press, 2014


If you love the sound of words and really love to be surprised by them, then you need to get this book. Water Can Be… is truly a beautiful piece of poetry, but there is so much packed into so few words. Here’s a short sample:

“Water can be a…

tadpole hatcher

picture catcher [picture of a girl looking at her reflection in a puddle]

otter feeder

downhill speeder [picture of a racing waterfall].” 


It is an excellent companion book to Salas’ other book A LEAF CAN BE… and it could be used in the science classroom to teach seasons because she shows water in all seasons. It would also be useful in a water cycle unit.

But of course, my forte, is talking about how it could be used in the writing classroom.

Writing Skills:

* Specificity of language

* Word Choice

* Use of poetic language to describe


leaf can be

A Leaf Can Be..

By Laura Purdie Salas

Illustrations by Violeta Dabija

Millbrook Press, 2012


A leaf is not just a leaf. A leaf is so much more. This very spare text is written as a poem, but the language is packed with specificity. Salas offers a truly unique perspective on leaves. Here’s a short sample:

“A leaf can be a…

Soft cradle

Water ladle

Sun taker

Food maker…”


This book could easily tie into science units on plants and seasons. Back matter explains more facts about how a leaf is a “soft cradle, water ladle, sun taker, food maker” and more.

Writing Skills:

* Specificity of language

* Word Choice

* Use of poetic language to describe


More Information for Teachers

I highly recommend signing up for Laura Purdie Salas’ newsletter for teachers. You can sign up at her website.