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

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.

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

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


Poetry Mentor Texts: When Thunder Comes by J. Patrick Lewis

when thunder comes


by J. Patrick Lewis

Illustrated by Jim Burke, R. Gregory Christie, Tonya Engel, John Parra, and Meilo So

Chronicle Books, 2013

J. Patrick Lewis has captured fifteen international civil rights leaders’ struggles in this poetry collection. This would be an amazing book to study when looking at Civil Rights Leaders in a history/social studies class, but it would also be a mentor text for word choice. Lewis has distilled so much information and emotion into short poems.

Writing Skills:

* Word Choice

* Vivid Verbs

* Imagery

* Sensory Words

* History told in poetry

Monstories: How to Use Monster Books to Write Your Own Monster Story

There are some really great monster books out there. One of my newest favorites is MONSTORE by Tara Lazar, which I featured during Picture Book Month. 

I use MOSTLY MONSTERLY by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Scott Magoon, and I NEED MY MONSTER by Amanda Noll, illustrated by Howard McWilliam, to help students come up with their own monster.

mostly monsterly

MOSTLY MONSTERLY uses a lot of vivid verbs to talk about what the monsters do.

i need my monster

I NEED MY MONSTER uses a lot of unique word choice to describe the monsters that are tried out.

monster poster picture


The first thing I do is read both of these books. As I’m reading we make a list of vivid verbs used to describe the monsters and unique word choice used to describe the monsters.

Then students create their own monster by drawing and describing it using vivid verbs and other unique word choice. They can use the sample posters we created to do this.

Using the planning sheets, students can create their own monster and monster story. This is a great way to use a mentor text as a writing prompt or story idea generator.

screenshot of printable

Click on the image to download the printable


I’ve been using storyboarding a lot as a planning tool for my students. It seems to be easier for them to plan by doing simple drawings than actually making lists or plunging in to the writing. Then after they storyboard, they can work on a rough draft of their monster story.

Other Favorite Monster Books


MONSTORE by Tara Lazar, illustrated by James Burks


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 THE TREE LADY as a Writing Mentor Text

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

Beach Lane Books, 2013


This picture book biography about Katherine Olivia Sessions highlights the difference one person can make. Kate lived at a time when girls didn’t really pursue science or the outdoors. Kate did both. She loved trees, studied science, and transformed the city of San Diego by planting trees.


Writing Skills

* Use of a refrain

* Organization of the text

* Specificity

* Vivid Verbs

Writing Wednesday: Using MOONSHOT as a Mentor Text for Writing


Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

By Brian Floca

Atheneum, 2009


This narrative nonfiction text tells the story of the Apollo 11 mission from Earth to the moon and back again. It is a very poetic but very informative text of this landmark event in history. It’s not only beautifully illustrated, but the language is spectacular.


My two favorite lines in this book are:


Description of Eagle as it separated from Saturn.

“… Eagle, hidden till now,

a stranger ship, more bug than bird,

a black and gold and folded spider.”


Description of Eagle landing on the moon:

Eagle slows and lower goes until a spray of dust,

a bloom of moon, flowers up around her.”


Writing Skills:

* Description

* Sensory Words

* Onomatopoeia

* Specificity

* Vivid Verbs

* Word Choice


* Note: Brian Floca also wrote and illustrated LOCOMOTIVE, which just won the 2013 Caldecott Medal and received a Sibert Medal Honor.


Writing Wednesday: Use FROG SONG as a Mentor Text for Writing

frog song


by Brenda Z. Guiberson

illustrated by Gennady Spirin

Henry Holt, 2013


Different types of unusual frogs from around the world are brought to life in this book with interesting facts, onomatopoeic frog sounds, and gorgeous paintings.


Writing Skills:

* Nonfiction writing

* Onomatopoeia

* Specificity of language

* Vivid Verbs

* Descriptive Language

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