Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Great Fuzz Frenzy  
By Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
Date published: 2005

 Awards: 2006 Wanda Gag Book Award, 2008 Bill Martin, Jr. Picture Book Award, 2006 Notable Children's Book in the English Language Arts….plus various states awards

The Great Fuzz Frenzy is a humorous story that will delight students as they follow the silly capers of a prairie dog town when a tennis ball is dropped in a hole leading to their underground burrow.

The Great Fuzz Frenzy is an excellent mentor to use to demonstrate several writing strategies:dialogue, writer’s voice, how to develop humor, use of strong verbs, as well as the use of onomatopoeia to name a few. 

An interesting strategy to use with older, more sophisticated student writers would be effective use of shortened sentences or incomplete sentences for emphasis by the author.

An example from the book (describing what the prairie dogs initially do with the fuzz):
They twisted it. Braided it. Danced and paraded it.
It was a fuzz frenzy.
A fuzz fiesta.
A fuzz fandangle.
The whole prairie was abuzz about fuzz.

When you read this story aloud, be sure to discuss the illustrations starting at the inside cover as it is through the initial illustrations that the story truly begins!  The illustrations throughout the book are delightful!

Book Talk
A golden retriever is playing catch with her owner and eyes a prairie dog at the entrance of its burrow. The retriever tries to play catch with this new interesting creature!

The dog drops the ball into the burrow hole and readers see it travel ALL the way down the tunnel leading to the base of the burrow. The authors cleverly turn the illustrations sideways and use a flap to help readers understand how far under the ground the ball journeys.

The ball is an object of great curiosity to the prairie dogs. Finally one of them, the smallest prairie dog of all named Pip Squeak, touches it and discovers it is soft and fuzzy!

Pip places a bit of fuzz on his head and the rest of the prairie dogs want some, too!  They all jump towards the ball and grab some fuzz.  They decorate themselves in all kinds of various and hilarious ways and have a wonderful time celebrating the wonders of the fuzz! 

Until the largest prairie dog of all, Big Bark, arrives.

As well as the prairie dog town from next door!  

Soon ALL the prairie dogs--brothers, sisters, cousins, friends--were fighting over the fuzz!

Some favorite lines:
Pulling, grabbing,  swiping, nabbing, poking, jabbing—it was war! War between the fuzzes and the fuzz-nots. Their peaceful town was a battleground.
It was a fuzz feud.
A fuzz fiasco.
“I started this,” moaned Pip Squeak. “I have to do something. Everyone! Stop! Stop fighting!”

The prairie dogs fight until all are exhausted. When they awake the fuzz is gone!  They learn that Big Bark has taken it, but he is then swept away by an eagle-who takes the fuzz from Big Bark. Big Bark wiggles free and is caught by the prairie dogs as he falls to earth.

They all agree that fuzz is trouble!

Some more favorite lines:
‘You saved me!” Big bark cried. “But I stole your fuzz! Now it’s gone forever.”
“Good, “  said Pip Squeak. “Fuzz is trouble, Right?”
“Yaaaaaay!” the crowd cheered. Friend hugged friend. Cousin hugged cousin. Dog hugged dog.
“We don’t need fuzz.” said Pip.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Fiction/ Animal Fantasy
Reading Workshop Strategies: Summarizing, Maintaining Fluency, Predicting, Character Development, Visualizing.
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Narrative, Fantasy writing ,Grammar (dialogue, strong verbs, descriptive words, onomatopoeia )

Janet Stevens' website: 
Susan Stevens Crummel's website:

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Widow’s Broom
By Chris Van Allsburg

I have always felt that award winning author Chris Van Allsburg is an extremely gifted, brilliant author.  I marvel at his level of creativity and thoroughly enjoy his use of language,as well as the layers of twists and intrigue that he includes in all his stories.

The Widow’s Broom does not disappoint and holds the students spellbound—as many of Van Allsburg’s stories do.  I have read it to my 3rd, 4th and 5th graders in our library classes and all thoroughly enjoy the suspense and fun twists in the story.

As a mentor text, The Widow’s Broom would be an excellent example of narrative writing. Van Allsburg’s use of words and language, sentence structure and his use of mystery should be pointed out. Students at all levels of writing will gleam something from his work and hopefully transfer it to their own.  In particular in The Widow’s Broom, Van Allsburg presents writers with a fitting example of a strong lead AND a strong, surprising ending.  If your class is writing Halloween narratives, of course, it would be an exceptional mentor for how to write a suspenseful story without getting into all the gore that students seem to default to almost immediately!

Speaking of being held spellbound, I was when I watched the Reading Rockets segments of an interview with Chris Van Allsburg. Here is the link:   I particularly love his personal story of being a sculptor in New York City(he has a Masters from Rhode Island School of Design in Sculpture).  His sculpture studio was so cold in the winter time he couldn’t work there in the evenings, so he would often sketch pictures just to pass the time. One day, he showed his sketches to his wife, who is an elementary art teacher. She encouraged him to  show them to his agent, who encouraged him to create a children’s story around the pictures. That became his first book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, which, of course, won a Caldecott Honor Award. Wow!  What an impressive, inspirational beginning!

Be sure to have your students look for the little while terrier in the The Widow's Broom. Van Allsburg featured the dog in The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, and has featured the dog since. He has always placed the dog somewhere in the story or in an illustration in every single one of his books. He also talks about the dog in the Reading Rockets interview.

Book Talk
One autumn evening, a witch’s broom looses its power. The witch falls to earth landing in the garden of widow, Minna Shaw. Minna finds the witch the next day battered and bruised, but being the kind person that she is, Minna helps the witch tend to her wounds. The witch finally leaves and also leaves the old broom since it is no use to her any longer.  Minna already has a good cleaning broom, but keeps the witch’s broom anyway.

Soon after that, Minna discovers that the witch’s broom still has unique powers—it sweeps and sweeps Minna’s house— all by itself!  Minna soon teaches the broom to do many of the chores around the house—cutting wood, fetching water, playing tunes on the piano.  Minna is delighted and thankful for the help. 

Soon the neighbor, Mr. Spivey, notices, but considers the broom evil and dangerous! Minna politely disagrees—and so do many of the women in the area as they see what a help the broom is to Minna.

One day, two of the Spivey boys and their dog see the broom joyfully sweeping a dirt road and they begin to harass the broom. The broom does its best to ignore the boys, but they continue the bullying. Finally the broom knocks the boys on the ground and flings the dog into far-off trees.

Mr. Spivey and other neighboring farmers are now furious and come to Minna’s house to burn the broom. She agrees with them, gives them the broom.

Some favorite lines:
“The widow could tell by their faces that the men would not be leaving without her broom.  There was nothing she could do to stop them. For a moment she stood silently, then answered. ‘Of course you are right. If it could do such  thing, we must get rid of it.’ She led the men into her kitchen. ‘It sleeps in here,’ she whispered, pointing to a closet. ‘If you move it carefully, it will not wake up.’ The men knew how strong the broom was and hoped the widow was right.”

The men burn the broom and everything soon returned to normal.  

Sort of.

One day a few weeks later, Minna informs the Spiveys that she has seen the Ghost of the Broom! It looked like the broom, but it was white and it was carrying an axe! The Spiveys see the Ghost of the Broom circling their house that night. Within a few days, it gets so close that it taps on their front door with the axe!

The next day, the Spiveys and their eight kids move away and beg Minna Shaw to come with them.  She refuses and won’t leave her farm.

That night as she is falling asleep, the broom—which had been painted white—continues to play the piano. Readers figure out that Minna had outsmarted the neighbors by giving them her plain, old, regular broom to burn and keeping the witch’s broom to help her and to keep her company.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Fantasy
Reading Workshop Strategies: Predicting, Inferring, Synthesizing, Questioning, Character Development
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Narrative writing, Strong Ending, Strong Beginning, Strong Female, Elaboration, Fantasy writing

Chris Van Allsburg website

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Dot
 by Peter H Reynolds

The Dot. "Make your mark" it says on Peter Reynolds' website.

The Dot by Peter Reynolds’ is a simple, but extremely inspirational and powerful book.  

Reynolds has written an incredibly motivating and beautiful story about encouraging and honoring the creative spirit in every single person, no matter how obvious—or not so obvious—that creative spirit may be. 

The Dot has inspired an “International Dot Day” to celebrate the creativity in everyone!  This year “International Dot Day” will be celebrated on September 15.  There are a tremendous amount of “Dot Day” activities across the internet!  Check it out and bring all the creativity out of all of your students!

The Dot can be used as a mentor text in a variety of ways.  The Dot has both a strong lead and a strong ending which can be discussed and analyzed in a mini-lesson, especially for 3-6 graders. The Dot  is a great example of  a 'less is more’  text—which is another writer’s move that is important for older students to understand and start applying to their own writing.

K-3 students will thoroughly enjoy the story, as well. For 2nd and 3rd graders, The Dot  would be a great, but simple model of the use of quotation marks in dialogue

The Dot would also be a great mentor text for all grades to demonstrate the live skills of ‘confidence’  and ‘perseverance ‘.

Book Talk
Readers meet Vashti, the main character, after her art class, and she is feeling pretty dejected. She had not been able to draw a single thing in class that day and was absolutely convinced that she could not draw at all.

The wise art teacher (of course!) asks her to make a dot on the page. Vashti was hesitant, but eventually made a big dot on the blank paper. Her teacher asked her to sign her name under the dot.

A favorite line:
‘Her teacher smiled. “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.”
Vashti grabbed a marker and gave the paper a good, strong jab.
“There!” ‘

The teacher had The Dot framed in a gold frilly frame and hung it above her desk. Vashti was astounded (and thrilled) when she walked into art class the next week and saw it.  

What a confidence boost!  Vashti thus began a series of ‘Dot’ drawings!  Big dots, little dots, lots of big dots, lots of little dots. The dot drawings were all displayed at the school art show and they were quite the hit of the art show!

A little boy really admired Vashti and her talent!  He wished he could be like her, but claimed that he couldn’t draw a straight line.  

Another favorite line:
“Vashti noticed a little boy gazing up at her. “You’re a really great artist.  I wish I could draw,” he said. “ I bet you can,” said Vashti.
“ME?  No,not me. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.”
Vashi smiled. She handed the boy a blank sheet of paper.
“Show me.”

Vashi had him draw his line—which was gloriously squiggly. 
Then she asked him to sign it….leaving the reader with a ‘warm fuzzy’ understanding that the boy would experience similar recognition and confidence for his creativity.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Realistic Fiction
Reading Workshop Strategies: Predicting, Connecting, Inferring, Character Development
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Narrative writing, Personal Narrative. Small Moment, Strong Ending, Strong Beginning, Strong Female
Curricular Themes: Lifeskills, Grammar (dialogue) 

Peter Reynolds’ website:

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I Will Never NOT EVER Eat A Tomato 
By Lauren Child

Awards: Kate Greenaway Medal  (UK’s award for best illustrated children’s literature book)

I Will Never NOT EVER Eat A Tomato is a delightful and entertaining story about siblings Charlie and Lola.  Younger students will enjoy (and connect with) the character of Lola—who is an extremely fussy eater—and the comical strategies that her older brother, Charlie, uses to try to get her to eat her vegetables.

As a mentor text, this book would work as a strong example of how to use dialogue in your writing—for younger students (2nd-3rd) I Will Never NOT EVER Eat A Tomato is a great mentor to use to demonstrate how to correctly use quotation marks.

For older students (4th-6th), I Will Never NOT EVER Eat A Tomato is an excellent example of  how to create an entire story that is told nearly entirely with dialogue between the characters—with humor even!  A very challenging writer’s move, for sure!

Book Talk
Charlie is put in charge of his sister-again!  And…he has to feed her dinner!

AND..Lola is a VERY fussy eater!

A favorite line:
Lola was at the table, waiting for her dinner. And she said, “I do not eat peas or carrots or potatoes or mushrooms or spaghetti or eggs or sausages,   I do not eat cauliflower or cabbage or baked beans or bananas or oranges. And I absolutely will never, not ever eat a tomato. (My sister hates tomatoes.)

This challenges Charlie to be creative in his approaches to get Lola to eat her vegetables.

Another favorite line:
“And I said, “OH, you think these are carrots?  These are not carrots. These are orange twiglets from Jupiter.”  “They look just like carrots to me,” said Lola. “But how can they be carrots?” I said. “Carrots don’t grow on Jupiter.” “That’s true,” said Lola. “Well, I might just try one if they’re all the way from Jupiter.”

Charlie continues in this way: giving common vegetables new enticing, creative and comical names to build Lola’s curiosity and interest in eating the food.

And it works!  After every ‘renaming’ and subsequent creative story about the vegetables by Charlie, Lola agrees to give the vegetable a try and eats it!!

Until the end, when she is faced with eating a tomato!  By this point, Lola joins in renaming the vegetables!  When she renames tomatoes  ‘moonsquirters’ and declares them ‘her favorites', she happily gobbles them up!  Yeah Charlie!

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Realistic Fiction
Reading Workshop Strategies: Connect, Inferring, Synthesizing,
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Narrative, Personal Narrative, Small Moment, Opinion Writing, Strong Lead, Strong Ending, Character Development 
Curricular Theme: Grammar (Dialogue) 

Lauren Child's website:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

By Donald Crews

Donald Crews is, of course, a well recognized and outstanding children’s literature author. In 2015, the American Library Association (ALA) honored Donald Crews with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, because of his lasting contribution to children's literature. So very well deserved!

BigMama’s is a delightful children’s lit classic and a wonderful autobiographical journey into Crew’s summertime adventures at his grandmother’s farm in rural Florida.  

BigMama’s is an excellent mentor text to use with grades 3-5 as an example of ‘personal narrative’ writing.  Crews’ writing is genuine, sincere, and fresh. He describes moment-to-moment as the kids excitedly roam and thoroughly examine BigMama’s house to reassure themselves that everything is (wonderfully) the same and in its proper place (including the all important Sears and Roebuck catalog).

BigMama’s would be an outstanding story to share as a read aloud for grades K-2. By the time it is used as a mentor in the upper elementary, the students should be familiar with this classic and be ready to look deeper at Crews’ writing craft and moves.

Book Talk
Crews starts the story at the end of the train trip from New Jersey to Florida.  Crews and his siblings are so excited to be at BigMama’s. Readers learn that “BigMama” is the special name that Crews’ family calls his grandmother: his mother’s mother.

The family is greeted by Uncle Slank who takes them to BigMama’s house.  The children scatter throughout the house to see if everything is the same—or to check if anything has changed.

A favorite line: “Then off with our shoes and socks. We wouldn’t need them much in the next few weeks. Now to see that nothing has changed. In the hall, the sewing machine that you had to pedal like a bicycle. The big clock over the fireplace.”

To their delight everything—from the sewing machine to the tiny extra room off the back porch to the well at the end of the porch to outhouse that was scary in the dark—was the same!

Another favorite line: “In the backyard was the chicken coop, where Sunday dinner’s chicken spent its last days.”

The kids continue to roam all over BigMama’s farm digging up worms for fishing, swimming in the pond and eating dinner around the huge round table with their grandparents and their cousins from the down the road.  

The evening ends with the whole family enjoying the beautiful black, rural night sky filled a millions of stars. The book ends with a fast forward to Donald Crews as an adult thinking back to  the good times at BigMama’s with the whole summer ahead of him.

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre:  Autobiography 
Reading Workshop Strategies:  Summarizing, Connecting, Questioning, Visualizing, Fluency
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Personal Narrative, Small Moment, Elaboration, Flashback, Strong Lead, Strong Ending

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Girl’s Like Spaghetti                   
Why You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes!
By Lynne Truss
Illustrated by Bonnie Timmons

Another ‘must-have’ grammar / conventions mentor text for your classroom!!!  This would be a great mentor for elementary grades 2 and up and middle schoolers.

In this book, author Lynne Truss focuses on The Apostrophe, its strength as a convention, how it changes the meaning of a sentence when you use it correctly AND incorrectly and how everyone must have a clear understanding how to use it.

In the book introduction, Truss states that the apostrophe “is the most helpful of all the punctuation marks.”   She discusses its use in helping all contractions and its use to show possession. (Unless the writer is showing possession for the world ‘it’).

Truss manages what could be a dry topic, in a fun, easy-flowing style of writing—choosing humorous sentences that are illustrated in equally playful and comical ways by Bonnie Timmons.

Following the same writing pattern as she did in the comparatively whimsical book about grammar : Eats, Shoots & Leaves—Why,Commas Really DO Make a Difference!, Truss places the same sentence on both sides of the open page. On one page, she uses an apostrophe in one place in the sentence, on the other page with the same exact sentence, she places the apostrophe in a different position—or doesn’t use one at all.  

Here are some examples from the book:
*The dogs like my dad.   The dog’s like my dad.

*Those smelly things are my brother’s.  Those smelly things are my brothers.

This book will draw the students in with the hilarious sentences and pictures.  Capitalize on their  engagement—by coming up with your own class book, class binder, of fun sentences using apostrophes. 

The Girl’s Like Spaghetti is a small book—it would more effective to use under your document camera for your students to get the most out of the book and enjoy it together!

Have fun and get those kids talking about apostrophes!!

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre:  Nonfiction / Informational (narrative)
Reading Workshop strategies: Monitoring and Correcting, Maintaining Fluency, Adjusting Fluency, Understanding Conventions, Search for and Use Information
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Informational Writing, Grammar, Understanding Conventions
Curricular Themes: Grammar

Lynn Trusse’s website:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Monster Needs Your Vote 
by Paul Czajak
Illustrations by Wendy Grieb

**This book is set for release/ publishing around August 25, 2015.  Look for at your bookstore or library soon after that!

As we know, the actual vote for the next US President will take place over a year from now—but, again, as we all know, the election activities are already in full swing!!!

This timely, informative and fun book will help spur interest in a very important part of our government—the presidential election.  Paul Czajak has written the story in an easy ,flowing, rhyming verse, so it is an enjoyable read-aloud for all ages.

It is would be a great resource and mentor text for any type of social studies activities that you would do to bring greater understanding of the election process to your students. In the story, Monster struggles at first to find a relevant platform that is meaningful for voters. This would be a great conversation starter with Gr. 4-5 students.  Another way to blend some social studies and reading workshop strategies would be to have your students work on ‘questioning’ and ‘summarizing’  of Monster Needs Your Vote  for greater understanding.

The publisher, Might Media Press, has sent me a link to their “Campaign Kit” with permission for me to share it with all of you-so here it is with lots of great information and activities centered around the election:

As a mentor text for  Writing Workshop, Monster Needs Your Vote, could easily be used as an example of Opinion Writing.  Monster finally settles on an election platform that—in his opinion (and mine!) is worth fighting for—funding and saving the city library so that it will remain open for all to enjoy.  This can certainly initiate conversation,opinions and writing about what individual students think would a valid platform for candidates. 

I personally would like to thank Paul Czajak for his books dedication “To All the librarians in the world.” 

Book Talk
At the beginning of the story, Monster and his buddy are noticing all the candidates discussing issues with people in the town.  This peaks Monster’s interest in the process of running for president—so he declares himself a candidate!

Monster’s friend tries to encourage him to decide on a platform that is important to him and one in which he thinks people will support and vote for him.  

He tries several ‘issues’ that just don’t quite work— 1. Extending summer and 2. Dessert for dinner— just don’t attract a lot of potential voter attention!

Some favorite lines:
Monster’s oratory skills were filled with monster flair.
But no one stopped to listen, and the people left the square.
“Monster, maybe summer isn’t what the voters need.
Perhaps a change of issues if you’re going to succeed.”

Monster finally sees a sign that the local city library is closing and he is furious!  He decides that keeping the library open will be his main election issue.  With that in mind, he sets out and campaigns effectively for the rest of the summer—until he finds out he is not even old enough to run for President.

More favorite lines:
“The library is closing. That’s a crime that can’t take place!
To fail on education is a national disgrace!”
We started with a grassroots movement, going door to door.
With poster saying, ‘Reading Turns Your Voice into a ROAR!”

At this point, Monster has raised so much awareness about the library, that it does not matter to him if he becomes President or not!!  The library stayed open and Monster was a hero to the townspeople!

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text: 
Book Genre:  Animal Fiction
Reading workshop strategies: Solving words (election vocabulary), Fluency (story in verse) Questioning, Summarizing
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Opinion Writing, Poetry, Fiction writing, Boy Hook
Curricular Theme:  Social Studies / Elections

Paul Czajak’s website:

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt 
by Kate Messner
Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

I loved this gardening book, Kate Messner!  We love gardening at our house and have tried to promote ‘garden-based learning’ at every school at which we have taught.  This book would definitely help the students understand the busy-ness and the wonderfulness of the garden. A must-have for the school library or classroom library!

As a mentor text—we have another hybrid text…Messner does a wonderful job of weaving the narrative of a young girl and her grandmother as they work in their garden through the seasons, peppered with factual information about the plants and animals ‘up in the garden’ and insects and animals ‘down in the dirt’.

I would use Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt in different ways at different grade levels.  For grades K-3, I would use it as a read-aloud to be savored and enjoyed.  I would use it to support curriculum studies of plants, gardens and/ or insects. (My current school has a school garden with ‘Garden Time’ worked into each class’s schedule. This book would definitely support the learning done during Garden Time.)

For grades 4th  and 5th, I would use Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt as a mentor for the sophisticated writing that is needed to write a narrative hybrid text.  The sequence that Messner uses (‘Up in the garden’ at the paragraph at the top of the page and a ‘Down in the dirt’ to start the paragraph at the bottom-or next- of the page) is an excellent pattern that students can imitate to write their own narrative nonfiction, if they so choose.

Book Talk 
Readers meet a young girl and her Nana in their garden.  As they start to prepare the top of the ground for their spring garden, Nana advises the girl that even though the soil on top is not quite ready, down in the dirt the insects and earthworms are busy turning the soil to make it ready for the two of them to work their garden magic.

When the insects have the soil ready, the two get to work planting large garden boxes. Soon readers see that the plants are sprouting, then thriving, under the constant care and nurturing from the girl and Nana.

For everything that they do up in the garden, something is happening down in the dirt. When the girl and Nana get so hot from working and sit in the shade, the worms under the ground dig deeper to get cool.  When the girl and Nana pick cucumbers and zucchini into the evening, a skunk comes into the garden that evening to pick up and gobble insects to eat. When a praying mantis catches mosquitos up in the garden, a snack slithers and pokes underground to catch a tasty grasshopper.

Some favorite lines:
“Up in the garden, there’s so much to eat! Ladybugs feast on aphids. Nana crunches green beans. I bite a ripe tomato, warm from the sun. Juice dribbles down my chin.
Down in the dirt, a robin’s beak finds a cricket, a beetle, a grub. Slugs are scrumptious, too."

The story continues through the planting seasoning as readers learn what the girl and Nana do during the heat of the summer, in the evening with fireflies, and as they finally get ready for winter.  Readers also learn what is happening down in the dirt during this same timeframe.

All through the book, readers witness the connection (or cycle) in a garden between what happens above the ground surface and how it often effects what happens below…and vise versa.

To note: At the end of the book, Messner gives detailed factual information on the all the animals and insects mentioned in the story.  Inside the front and back cover are pictures of all the plants in the books.

Beautiful illustrations and interesting ‘down in the dirt’ cut-aways by artist Christopher Silas Neal.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Hybrid test- narrative non-fiction
Reading Workshop strategies: Search for and Use Information; Maintaining fluency, Connecting, Inferring, Questioning
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Narrative Writing, Elaboration, Sentence Fluency, Hybrid Text, Inspiring Writers
Curricular Themes: Plants, Insects, Gardening

Kate Messner website:
Chris Silas Neal website:

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Perfect Pet 
by Margie Palatini
Illustrated by Bruce Whatley

The Perfect Pet is a great mentor text to introduce the art of persuasive writing!  

Many students will identify with the main character, Elizabeth, who desperately and humorously tries various kinds of approaches to coax, cajole and convince her parents to let her have a pet.  To no avail.

For your mini lessons, zero in on the persuasive language the author uses with her character to sway her parents. Although Elizabeth does not get her way in the book (well…she kind of does), the arguments for having a pet that Elizabeth gives her parents can serve as one model for your students for this type of writing—especially if they are new to persuasive /argumentative writing.

The Perfect Pet would be especially effective as a mentor text for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade. The students will relate to Elizabeth in many ways. The Perfect Pet also has a lot of easy conversation throughout the story. It would also be an excellent mentor for using correct quotation punctuation for dialogue.

Book Talk
Elizabeth wants a pet in the worse way, but her parents are adamant when they say ‘no’!

Instead, they give her a plant to take care of—a cactus, no less, that Elizabeth named Carolyn.

This motivates Elizabeth to try all kinds of strategies to convince her parents to let her have a pet.  She decides to try different techniques and pleads for a different animal with each different technique.

For example:
Approach: Catch them off Guard (to ask for a dog)
Approach: The Element of Surprise (to ask for a horse)
Approach: The Full Stomach (to ask for a cat)
Approach: Go For Broke (to ask for a variety of animals)

Some favorite lines: 
“So, how about a horse?”
“Huh? What? Who?” said Father.
“Huh? What? Who?” said Mother.
“I could ride it, Give it carrots. Lumps of sugar. A horse would be the perfect pet. Whaddya say?”

Elizabeth finally stops trying to persuade her parents—because she does discover a pet and quietly keeps it a secret.  She discovers an insect, whom she names ‘Doug’. Elizabeth quietly feeds him crumbs, lets him help her with her homework and snuggles with him for a bedtime story.

Elizabeth decides that Doug is definitely ‘The Perfect Pet’! 

Then Mom notices Doug one day and does not understand his importance in Elizabeth’s life—and almost squashes him!!  Elizabeth saves him, explains about him to Mom and they all become one big, happy family!

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Realistic Fiction
Reading Workshop strategies: Connecting, Inferring, Questioning, Summarizing
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Opinion Writing /Persuasive Writing, Narrative Writing, Character Development, Strong Female, Strong Lead, Grammar (quotation marks)

Margie Palatini’s website:
Bruce Whatley's website:

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

 by Paul Fleischman
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Awards: Numerous! Parent’s Choice Silver Honor, School Library Journal Book of the Year, American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, State Book Award in California, Washington, Missouri, Louisiana, Arizona, Rhode Island 

What a story to capture anyone’s imagination! 

At the beginning of the year,Weslandia would be an excellent read aloud to introduce the idea of a unique (classroom) community to your students. How could your classroom imitate what Wesley does in the story?  Could they together create a unique classroom culture/civilization? Using it as a read aloud in this way will initiate the student's comprehension, making them 'ripe' for deeper understanding of strategies when you are ready to use Weslandia as a mentor text for Reading or Writing Workshop.

Weslandia is an excellent mentor text to introduce fantasy writing to intermediate students. Fleischman's brilliant writing can be used as a strong model for students in Writing Workshop on how to use strong verbs and adjectives to develop elaboration and create a unique,imaginative story.

Wesley is a bright, intelligent, creative child who just doesn’t fit in with anyone at school and is basically misunderstood by all—including his parents.  He doesn’t like pizza and his best sport is running away from the kids who bully him.  His parents can’t figure him out and can’t understand why he won’t conform.  But Wesley is true to himself.  Thank goodness!  Without his intellect, creativity and willingness to be a nonconformist, we would not have a story!

Summer begins and so does Wesley’s summer project: to use everything he has learned in school to create his own civilization in his backyard. It succeeds beyond expectation!  He prepares a garden plot to see which seeds the wind would blow into the yard…..and Wesley would take it from there. And did he!  From the seemingly magical seeds that arrived, he produced food, then  hats, clothing, tools, shelters, games, lotions, musical instruments, writing pens and ink, papyrus type paper. He is inspired to create his own oral language and from that, he develops his own written language.

The kids in the neighbor (his tormentors)  notice all of this, of course.  At first they continue to torment, but soon they are just curious, then drawn into the fascinating ‘civilization’ that Wesley has created—which by this point of the story—he is calling ‘Weslandia’. They buy sunscreen from him, play his new games, and by the time school starts, they are all wearing the clothes he has woven from the stalks of the magical plant (which Wesley has named ‘swist’)

Fleeishman’s writing voice and use of strong adjectives and strong verbs deepens the anticipation of the reader to see if Wesley is successful and we find ourselves cheering him on!  Hawkes incredible illustrations add beauty, appreciation and actually, a magical touch to the story.

Favorite lines from this story (very hard to select just one):
“Fruit appeared, yellow at first, then blushing to magenta. Wesley picked one and sliced through the rind to the juicy purple center. He took a bite and found the taste an entrancing blend of peach, strawberry, pumpkin pie, and flavors he had no name for.”

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Fantasy
Reading Workshop strategies: Fluency, Inferring, Synthesizing, Analyzing, Visualizing
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Fantasy Writing, Elaboration, Strong lead, Strong ending, Inspiring writers, Boy hook, Analyzing
Grammar: strong verbs, strong adjectives, sentence fluency

A chat with Paul Fleischman and Kevin Hawkes about Weslandia:'weslandia%20alphabet'

Paul Fleischman’s website:
Kevin Hawkes's website:
Danitra Brown, Class Clown 
By Nikki Grimes
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

Danitra Brown, Class Clown is another great mentor text to use at the beginning of the school year as an ‘enjoy the book first as a class read aloud before you use it as a mentor text later in the year’!  It’s fun and it hits the right note with many of the issues that kids contemplate at the beginning of the year: friendships, a new teacher, shyness because of an unusual first name, boy crushes, sitting next to your BFF-talking too much to your BFF- getting separated from your BFF-—to name just a few!

Danitra Brown, Class Clown is yet another wonderful book of poems that reads-like-a-narrative story under the overarching theme of school and friendship by masterful storyteller and poet, Nikki Grimes.

Read as a read aloud, explore the poems and laugh together to build class community. This would be a perfect book to put under the document camera. Read it several times, invite your students to share/read their favorite poems from the story; read your favorites to the class,have students take turns reading different lines, or stanzas.  Enjoy the book together.

Keep the book available for the students to revisit all year.  Bring it out again as a mentor text when it is time for your Poetry writing Unit of Study.  Danitra Brown will be a tremendous mentor text during that writing study. Could your students emulate Grimes style of selecting a ‘through line’ and writing poems in a narrative way to tell a story? Challenging-but possibly the theme idea may be a hook that some students need. 

Dantria Brown would also be an excellent book of poems to help students with fluency work during Reading Workshop.

Book Talk 
Readers meet best friends, Zuri Jackson and Danitra Brown.  Best friends, but very different from each other. Zuri has some insecurities about  many things in life… and Danitra—none!  Danitra is brave, brazen, funny and very loyal to her friend, Zuri.

With a new poem on each page, Grimes takes readers through the first couple of days of school for the girls. Zuri, who loved the previous year’s teacher, is not sure about the new teacher, Miss Volchek.  Danitra encourages her to give the new teacher a chance.

Miss Volchek asks the two best friends (who are sitting next to each other) to stop talking. 
They don’t.

Here’s the poem:
“A World Away
Miss Volchek warned us not to speak.
“Stop chattering , you two.”
But keeping quiet all day was
impossible to do.
Obeying will be easier
beginning with today.
Miss Volchek made Danitra sit
three stinking rows away.”

Through poetry, readers learn that Zuri struggles with math, and Danitra does everything she can to help her friend be successful . Zuri’s mother gets very ill, and Miss Velchek gently comforts Zuri. Zuri has such a beautiful singing voice that she has been given a solo in the school concert. She sings “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” so beautifully, that she feel as if she has.

Climb Ev’ry Mountain
“I have a solo today.
The glee club
is behind me,
lips puckered
round as quarters,
ooh-oohing on cue.
I stand front and center
in an all-school assembly, 
and my mouth opens,
and I’m not sure 
what will come out.
A whimper? A shout?
The right chord
would be nice.
I close my eyes,
soak in the melody,
and drown my doubt.
I sing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”
and I do.”

The end of the story finds us in the middle of the school year. With Danitra’s encouragement—and sometime hocus-pocus—Zuri has worked hard on math and has gotten a good grade on a math test. She has begun to like Miss Velchek and even thinks she might miss her next school year.

End part of the ending poem:
“I’ll sort of miss Miss Volchek.
(You tell her, and you’re dead.)
I can’t imagine next year will be
half as good as now,
but Danitra and I will find a way
to make it great, somehow.”

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Poetry (Narrative)
Reading Workshop Strategies: Fluency, solving words, Connecting, Synthesizing, 
Writing Workshop genres and strategies: Poetry, Personal Narrative, Elaboration,
strong lead, strong female

Nickki Grimes website:

E.B. Lewis website: