NF10for10 2016: Nonfiction Books as Mentor Texts for Writing


This is the first time I’m doing a 10 for 10 post as a librarian instead of a classroom teacher. There are a few differences in this: 1) I’m in a position now where people are asking for book recommendations on a daily basis, and 2) I am in a position where I’m reading the same book multiple times. If I choose to read a book to third grade, it has to be a book I love enough to read aloud and hook them and absorb ME for seven readings.


The books that I chose for this year’s list are books are all nonfiction that completely absorbed me. They are delightful as read alouds and they are stellar examples of nonfiction writing.

For each book, I’ve highlighted writing craft that I particularly like.

Most of these books are strong in specific word choice, which I refer to as “specificity.” For me, this means that the author uses domain-specific language. One of the treasures of these books is that none of these books use the words like vocabulary words, but they use words that true to the world they are writing about.

I'm trying to love spiders

I’m Trying to Love Spiders

Written and Illustrated by Bethany Barton

Viking, 2015

* Voice

* Specificity in word choice

* Tone

the spider

The Spider

Written and illustrated by Elise Gravel

Tundra Books, 2015

* Voice

* Specificity

* Tone

I also recommend reading both of these spider books and having a discussion about how two authors chose to write about the same topic.

finding winnie

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

By Lindsay Mattock

Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Little, Brown, 2015

* Word choice

* Dual Narrative

* Lyrical language

I also read this book alongside Winnie by Sally M. Walker. Students discussed how two authors took the same topic and wrote about it. They especially noted how they started the stories in different places.

how to swallow a pig

How to Swallow a Pig: Step by Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom

By Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Houghton Mifflin, 2015

* Point of view

* Organization (How-To Text)

* Alliteration

* World Play

* Specificity in word choice

tiny creatures

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes

By Nicola Davies

Illustrated by Emily Sutton

Candlewick, 2014

* Specificity in word choice

* Imagery

* Sentence variety

leaflets three let it be

Leaflets Three, Let it Be! The Story of Poison Ivy

By Anita Sanchez

Illustrated by Robin Brickman

Boyds Mills Press, 2014

* Vivid Verbs

* Specificity in word choice

* Adjectives


Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova

By Laurel Snyder

Illustrated by Julie Morstad

Chronicle, 2015

* Lyrical language

* Alliteration

* Vivid Verbs

* Rhythm

water is water

Water is Water: A Book about the Water Cycle

By Miranda Paul

Illustrated by Jason Chin

Neil Porter: Roaring Brook, 2015

* Vivid verbs

* Word Play

* Specificity in word choice

* Rhythm


Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France

By Mara Rockliff

Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

Candlewick, 2015

* Specificity in word choice

* Vivid Verbs

* Voice

* Tone

trombone shorty

Trombone Shorty

By Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews

Illustrated by Bryan Collier

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015

* Voice

* Specificity in word choice

* Refrain (repetition)

* Personal narrative

The 10for10 posts are happening all over the web today. Click here to join the Google+ Community where post links are being shared. 

Previous 10for10 Posts

Poetic Nonfiction Picture Books

Fiction Picture Books for Word Choice

Nonfiction Picture Books about Virginia History

Mentor Texts for Writers: Finding Authentic Voice in Cultural Mentor Texts by Keila Dawson


Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog

Keila and I share something in common. We are both Third Culture people. Keila is a TCA (Third Culture Adult) and I’m a TCK (Third Culture Kid). In other words, we’ve lived in countries that are different from our passport country. What I love about Keila’s approach to mentor texts is that she takes multicultural children’s books and teams them up with the ever-important voice. Welcome, Keila!



Write what you know.


Write from the heart.


When we write what we know and from the heart, readers will hear our unique “voice”. Or so we are told. Does “voice” come naturally to writers? Can a writer study it? Wait, what is “voice” anyway?

“Voice is the sum of all strategies used by the author to create the illusion that the writer is speaking directly to the reader from the page.” (Don Fry, quoted by Roy P. Clark, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, Little, Brown, 2006)

Voice involves a lot of simultaneously moving parts! I get it, it’s complicated. Yet, although hard to explain, I know it when I read it. As picture book writers, we read a lot of picture books. My favorites have a certain je ne sais qua, that ‘I don’t know why, but I love this book’ feeling. Trying to figure out what makes a book so appealing is worthy of a deeper look. So I took a look inside books, to study different parts. I like to learn about the authors too and hear about their story behind the story. Given my passion for genealogy and travel, I am drawn to books about culture. Books that I want to read over and over, or read aloud, or hear the author read aloud, are the ones where I connect to an author’s voice or the story’s voice. Below are examples of ways in which I hear “authentic voice” in books. The books I chose to share are all representative of a specific culture. And today, with an emphasis on inclusion and diversity in children’s literature, there are many, many different voices waiting to be heard, and audiences eagerly waiting to hear them.

Word Choice & Vocabulary



Clovis Crawfish and the Big Bétail by Mary Alice Fontenot, illustrated by R. A. Keller, Claitor’s Publishing, 1963-1977.

Republished by Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.

I believe voice was introduced to me unconsciously by Mary Alice Fontenot. Above is a photo of my very used, beloved, first edition black and white copy. Her stories about Clovis and friends remain popular today.

When I read this book, I can hear the author’s voice through her word choice. The words flow. The vocabulary is familiar and personal because I grew up listening to Louisiana languages and lingo, pronunciations, and cadence.

 “That’s René, said Clovis. “He’s a rain frog, and he is my friend. He is singing his rain song because he wants it to rain so he can get cool. “J’ai chaud, j’ai chaud” is a way to say, I’m hot, I’m hot’ in south Louisiana.

“You folks over here sure do talk funny,” said Andrew.

Clovis [klaw-VEES]   bétail [bay-TA-yuh]   René [ruh-NAY]   j’ai chaud [ZHAY-SHOH]


How to dress

How to Dress a Po’ Boy by Johnette Downing, Pelican Publishing, 2013

 Johnette Downing is an example of a read, re-read, and read it again “voice.” Her books are sing-a-longs too! Through poetic verse and music she oozes southern charm and love of culture.


“A po’boy is a sandwich, everybody knows,

“Dressed” with all the fixings and this is how it goes.”




Tales of Tutu Nene and Nele by Gale Bates, illustrated by Carole H. McCarthy,

Island Heritage Press, First Edition, Fifteenth Printing, 2004

When looking at voice in a cultural context, folktales come to mind. I enjoy collecting these from different places around the world. For generations stories educated, entertained, and influenced behavior. Modern tales do the same.


“In Hawai’i, a Tūtū is a grandmother who is known for her stories and wise words. The Nēnē is Hawai’i’s state bird and is believed to be the rarest goose in the world. Nele Nēnē loves to listen to her Tūtū’s tales. When she finds a hole in the fence and escapes into the wild, her grandmother’s words have a profound effect upon her survival. (from the introduction)


Sentence Structure & Point of View


A Catfish Tale: A Bayou Story of the Fisherman and His Wife by Whitney Stewart, illustrated by Gerald Guerlais

Albert Whitman & Company, 2014


“Once upon a time” or “A long time ago” or “It is told” are commonly used in folktale beginnings. In this retold tale, the beginning resembles the listener-speaker dynamic used in storytelling and told from the point of view of an alligator who heard the tale from his “Pawpaw”.


“You ever heard the story of the fisherman and his wife? It’s an old tale my pawpaw told me when I was just a hatchling. Some say it’s a lie, but Pawpaw swore he saw it all happen with his own eyes.”

Onomatopoeia, Anthropomorphism & Description

jingle dancer

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, Ying-Hwa Hu, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright

HarperCollins, 2000


The onomatopoeia, anthropomorphism & description on the opening page of this book engage the reader at a sensory level. You can hear, see, smell, and taste the author’s words. And the jingles, in a cultural context, are central to this Native American story.


            “Tink tink, tink, tink sang the cone-shaped jingles sewn to Grandma Wolfe’s dress. Every Grandma bounce-step brought clattering tinks as light blurred silver against jingles of tin.

Jenna daydreamed at the kitchen table tasting honey on fry bread, her heart beating to the brum, brum, brum of the powwow drum.


new shoes

New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Holiday House, 2015


Write what you know. Sounds easy enough. But what if you don’t know what you don’t know? What if what you think you know is wrong? Susan Meyer researched the Jim Crow era for a novel work in progress. When she discovered ways African-Americans resisted restrictive laws and oppression, the idea for a picture book emerged. She asked African-American friends to read her manuscript. In a scene where the mother encounters discrimination, Susan’s character responded boldly. Friends however told her the mother would have acted differently back then. Susan changed that scene. That change in dialogue created a more authentic and accurate portrayal of the event. Any disconnect from potential readers avoided.


            “Mama, I say, “Can’t colored folks try on shoes?”

            “Mama sighs. “No.” But then she puts on a smile. “Let’s think about how nice your feet will look for school.”

Diction & Purpose 

last stop

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2015


This book is a good example of write from the heart. Not only because it’s a sweet story about family, thankfulness, and volunteerism, but because the author conveys to the reader a story that he wanted to write. Rather than adhere to standard conventions of writing, he remained true to his story’s “voice.” The use of diction used throughout helps readers hear the playful, warm relationship between the child (grandson) and the elder (grandmother). The syntax is not standard but the voice is perfect and authentic. The characters are well developed. The detailed illustrations reflect the diversity along the city street, through the buildings, transportation and the people.

“Nana, how come we don’t got a car?”

“Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire and old Mr. Dennis who always has a trick for you.”


If you are looking for ideas about characterization, the books below use both universal themes and specific events tied to a particular cultural group. Follow the journey of the Cuban cockroach looking for love, the quirky Peruvian-Scottish-American girl who likes that she doesn’t match with her red hair and tan skin, and Little Red Hot from Texas and her grandmother who can stomach the hottest chili peppers no wolf can handle. Find out what survival, kindness, and resilience feels like through the characters portrayed in stories while they experience the Holocaust, a Japanese internment camp, and the uncertainty of post Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.


Martina The Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale by Carmen Deedy, illustrated by Michael Austin

Peachtree Publishers, 2014


Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match: Marisol McDonald no combina by Monican Brown Ph.D., illustrated by Sara Palacios

CBP; Bilingual edition, 2013

 little red hot

Little Red Hot by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Laura Huliska Beith

Two Lions, 2013


gifts from the enemy

Gifts from the Enemy (The humanKIND Project) by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Craig Orback

White Cloud Press, 2014

 baseball saved us

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki,  illustrated by Dom Lee

Lee & Low Books,1993


A Penguin Named Patience: A Hurricane Katrina Rescue Story  by Suzanne Lewis, illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Sleeping Bear Press, 2015

I enjoy books where the story creates “the illusion that the writer is speaking directly to the reader from the page.” Finding books with “voice” appeal may help in finding the “voice” you want to bring to the story you want to write.


kcb headshot_book

Keila Dawson was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, lived in the Philippines, Japan, Egypt, and on both coasts in the US. She worked in states and abroad as a teacher, school administrator, and educational consultant before she became an author. Outside of writing, Keila enjoys travel, tennis, and genealogical research. But most of all, she enjoys sharing her love of Louisiana culture. Her debut picture book, THE KING CAKE BABY (Pelican Publishing Co., January 2015), highlights one of many unique cultural traditions celebrated in New Orleans, eating king cake during the Mardi Gras season. For more about Keila and the Baby, visit .


Mentor Text Spreadsheet: Picture Book Month in Review



Collage of all books


Picture Book Month is officially over. But I have created one last thing to share with you on mentor texts. Each day, I shared a mentor text post with you featuring different ways that each of these books could be used to teach writing skills to young writers.

Picture Book Month Mentor Text Posts

I’m now introducing a spreadsheet that summarizes all of the texts I referenced in November. The spreadsheet includes a list of all of the texts, links to their posts, and the skills for each text. Then I broke the spreadsheet workbook into various pages–one page for EACH skill. So if you are looking for all of the books that teach Onomatopoeia that I mentioned in November, then you can access them all on one page. This is the list of skills that have their own pages:

* Adjectives

* Alliteration

* Description

* Figurative Language

* Imagery

* Onomatopoeia

* Organization

* Personal Narrative

* Persuasive Texts

* Point of View

* Sensory Words

* Sentence Variety

* Specificity

* Tone/Mood

* Voice

* Vivid Verbs

* Word Choice

* Word Play

Because there are so many different skills, you can’t see them all at once. You might see this button on the bottom right hand side of the spreadsheet.

Arrow Screenshot for spreadsheet

Use the arrows to scroll right and left to access all of the pages. They are listed from left to right in alphabetical order.

Mentor Text Spreadsheet 

Picture Book Day 5: Picture Books as Writing Mentor Texts Featuring THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT




day the crayons quit


By Drew Daywalt

Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Philomel/Penguin, 2013


Each crayon in the box writes a note to Duncan complaining about being used too much or too little. Duncan has to think of a clever way to keep them all happy.

Mentor Text Writing Skills:

* Voice

* Point of View

* Tone


For more information about mentor texts, check out these links:

Mentor Text Resources

Mentor Text Lesson Plans

Mentor Text Tips

Glossary of Mentor Text Terms

List of all Picture Book Month Posts

Picture Book Month Day 4: Picture Books as Writing Mentor Texts Featuring I STINK!




i stink



by Kate and Jim McMullan

Joanna Cotler/HarperCollins, 2002


The garbage truck speaks in this picture book, telling the reader of his nighttime adventures moving trash in the city.

Mentor Text Writing Skills:

* Specificity of language

* Alliteration

* Voice

* Point of View

* Onomatopoeia


For more information about mentor texts, check out these links:

Mentor Text Resources

Mentor Text Lesson Plans

Mentor Text Tips

Glossary of Mentor Text Terms

List of all Picture Book Month Posts

Picture Book Month Day 3: Picture Books as Writing Mentor Texts Featuring ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT







by Laurie Keller

Henry Holt, 2003



Arnie the doughnut doesn’t realize that doughnuts are for eating. Told from Arnie’s point of view, we follow Arnie on his adventure to not be eaten.

Mentor Text Writing Skills:

* Specificity of language

* Point of View

* Dialogue

* Tone

* Voice



For more information about mentor texts, check out these links:

Mentor Text Resources

Mentor Text Lesson Plans

Mentor Text Tips

Glossary of Mentor Text Terms

List of all Picture Book Month Posts

VerseDay: Poetry Month Post #1



Poetry Book of the Week

Since April is National Poetry Month, I will feature a poetry book that I really love each VerseDay in April.

Grumbles from the Forest



by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrations by Matt Mahurin.

Wordsong, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59078-867-7

Each well-known fairy tale is rewritten in the form of a two different poems from different points of view. For example in the story of “Gingerbread Boy” one poem, written in haiku, shares the feelings of the gingerbread boy. The other poem details the heartbreak of the bakers who baked the gingerbread boy. This book is a fun romp through fairy-tales and points of view. With Yolen and Dotlich penning the poems, the reader is immersed in language that is perfection.

Mentor Text Ideas

Want to use GRUMBLES FROM THE FOREST as a mentor text? Here are some suggested mentor text lesson ideas:

* Point of View

* Word choice

* Poetic forms

VerseDay Featured Post

Today’s VerseDay featured post is at Versenovels, revealing some new novels in verse and their covers. There’s even a poll. Check it out.