Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Snowy Day  
By Ezra Jack Keats

Awards: Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association, 1963
New York Public Library’s 150 most influential books of the 20th century, 1996

The Snowy Day.  What an all-time classic!  The simplicity of text. The innocence of Peter playing in the first snow of the season. We can all relate to his wonder in so many things that he experiences: his footprints pointing out and then in, finding the perfect stick to help him explore in the snow, the clump of snow that falls out of the tree when he hits it, being hit by a way-to-big snowball thrown by the big kids (and the sting that follows), the snowman and the snow angels. Later, soaking in his tub and thinking about his adventures….

I was fascinated by Ezra Jack Keats’ personal story and inspiration for The Snowy Day. He wrote The Snowy Day in 1962. Peter, the main character is an African American little boy about four years old. (Ezra Jack Keats was white, by the way.) Even though in 1962, the civil rights movement was gaining attention and momentum, there were very few African American characters in children’s books...if any. Yet, Ezra Jack Keats was not out to make a civil rights statement at all. Years before, in the early 1940s, he had cut out four photos from a Life magazine showing an African American boy. The boy’s expression had captivated Keats, so Keats kept the photos in his writer's notebook for many, many years.  When he got ready to write The Snowy Day, he used the adorable photos as his inspiration for Peter. Keats had grown up in a multi-cultural neighborhood and didn’t think it mattered what color the main character was—the enjoyment and wonder Peter experiences in the snow is what any child would experience—no matter what color, of course!

Keats went on to include Peter as a main character in several other books including: Whistle for Willie, Peter’s Chair and A Letter for Amy.  Readers watch Peter grow into a pre-teen through these stories. 

I have included several websites at the bottom of this review about Ezra Jack Keats.  The NPR story link includes the photos that were the inspiration for Peter.  Another website is from Keat’s foundation and includes his acceptance speech for the Caldecott where he explains his unusual art technique that he used for the book.

The story of Keats cutting out those photos in the 40s, saving them for 20 years and then using them as an inspiration for The Snowy Day, reminded me so much of what Ralph Fletcher and others have advised young writers for a long time. Simply—write down ideas /small moments that intrigue you or catch your attention in your Writer’s Notebook.  You may not come back to it for a while, but if and when you do—it can blossom into an imaginative and clever piece of work.   You just never know!!!

Oh yeah—back to mentor texts!   The Snowy Day would be an excellent mentor to use for Narrative or Small Moment writing from Grade 1 on up!

Book Talk
Readers meet Peter, who wakes up to the first snow of the winter.  After breakfast, he gets on his snowsuit and goes out to explore!

And explore he does! Perfect four-year-old little boy exploration!  He makes his feet crunch in the snow—delighting in the noise—then he is even more delighted with the snow prints he makes! He tries out some different ways to make prints. 

A stick is found and is added to the fun. More prints are made and then some knocking down of snow from a tree. 

Peter longingly looks at the big boys’ fun during a snow fight-but gets jolted by a snowball and wisely decides he is not big enough for snowball fight yet.  He settles on making a snowman and snow angles.

When the day’s exploration is done, Peter innocently —and famously— puts one more snowball in his pocket to keep for tomorrow’s anticipated fun.  He soaks in his tub, thinks about his day and finally checks on that snowball one more time—-and of course, it is gone.  To Peter’s dismay.

Some favorite lines: “He picked up a handful of snow—and another, and still another. He packed it round and firm and put the snowball in his pocket for tomorrow. The he went into his warm house. He told his mother all about his adventures while she took off his wet socks.  And he thought and thought and thought about them.”

He dreams about the sun melting all the snow, but happily wakes up to the new piles of fresh snow outside. The story ends with Peter and a friend going out for another day to play in the glorious snow.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Realistic Fiction
Reading Workshop strategies: connecting, inferring, questioning, summarizing, fluency, visualizing
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Narrative Writing, Small Moment, Inspiring Writers

NPR article on Keats with photos that inspired Peter’s character:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse 
By Kevin Henkes

Awards: MANY! *ALA Nootable Children's Book *Booklist Editors' Choice * Hornbook Fanfare*Publishers Weekly Best Book *School Library Journal Best Book *IRA Children's Choice*American Booksellers Book of Year * Children's Literature Choice List name a few!!!

One of the most effective ways to use mentor texts as models for Reading and Writing Workshop genres and strategies is to use books that the students are familiar with.  

At first that sounds a bit strange and counter-intuitive…but the reason makes tremendous sense.

Students need to be very familiar with the storyline, they need to have an understanding of the characters’ motives, they need to appreciate the humor, the hook, the flashbacks—whatever that story ‘held’.  

If students do have a strong understanding of the story through read aloud, they can then freely turn their attention to understanding the important teaching point of the mini-lesson for which you are using the book. 

Students will be ready to look at the story through a new and different lens. They will be engaged because of their prior connection to the story and ready/open to learn something new.

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse fits into the category of ‘well known books’ by students—making it an excellent mentor text.

And although Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is typically read in Grades K-2 as a read aloud, I would recommend it as an outstanding mentor text to use in Grades 4 and 5.  Henkes' writing is brilliant and sophisticated, and embedded with humor that the students will ‘get’ at a deeper level in the upper grades. This makes it a fitting model for several different and interesting reader’s and writer’s moves that 4th and 5th graders could grasp, experiment with, and emulate.

Book Talk
Lilly loved school and absolutely adored her teacher, Mr. Slinger.  She would do anything and everything to please him. Mr. Slinger was so cool and unusual, which motivated Lilly to do well in school. He also motivated Lilly to want to become a teacher when she grew up.  In class, she particularly enjoyed going to the special area- the “Light Bulb Lab”-to explore her creative side.

One day, Lilly brought a new purple plastic purse (which sang a tune when opened) and new movie star sunglasses to school!  She couldn't wait to tell the class about them and she constantly interrupted Mr. Slinger during the morning’s lessons by whispering to others about her purse.

Mr. Slinger told Lilly to put her things away and wait until Sharing Time. Being told to wait made Lilly want to share all the more—especially because she was so excited about the purse. She continued to whisper and finally in his ‘firm teacher’s voice’ (which he had never used before with Lilly), Mr. Slinger took the purse and sunglasses away from Lilly to hold until the end of the day.

A favorite line:Lilly really, really want to show everyone. “Not now,” said Mr. Slinger. “Wait until recess or Sharing Time.” But Lilly could not wait. The glasses were so glittery. The quarters were so shiny. and the purse played such nice music, not to mention how excellent it was for storing school supplies.”

Lilly was shocked, hurt….and furious!!  And being  hurt and furious is not a good thing to be!  Letting her emotions get the best of her, she again visits the Light Bulb Lab and writes Mr. Slinger a not-so-nice note and slips it into his teacher bag. She then also decides that she does not  want to become a teacher when she grows up.

At the end of the day, Mr. Slinger returns the items to Lilly. On her way home, she opens the purse and finds a very, very nice and understanding note from Mr. Slinger.

She feels horrible, small and is ridden with guilt because of the note she left him and she knows he is going to find and read.

She tells her parents everything and they guide her through her emotional battle of working through her embarrassment.  (She even puts herself in her ‘uncooperative chair!)  Her mother helps her write a new note and dad makes a snack for her to take to school the next day.

The next day she goes immediately to Mr. Slinger, delivers him the peace offering of the snacks, the note and a verbal heartfelt apology.  He loves the new note and together they decide to rip up the note from the day before. Lilly had brought her purple purse back to school and enthusiastically shared it at Sharing Time. Mr. Slinger, Lilly and the class all danced to the music that the purse made. The class enjoyed the snacks. The school day ended up being a very good day—just as Mr. Slinger had predicted and Lilly once again wanted to be a teacher when she grew up (that is—if she doesn’t change her mind).

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Animal Fantasy
Reading Workshop strategies: Connecting, Inferring, Synthesizing, Analyzing
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Fantasy, Strong Lead, Elaboration, Character Development, Strong Female

Kevin Henke’s website

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Beginner’s Guide to Running Away from Home   
by Jennifer Larue Huget
Illustrations by Red Nose Studio (aka Chris Sickels)

Awards: Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College Children’s Book of the Year 2014

Looking for a memorable mentor text to introduce your students to procedural / how-to writing? 

Try The Beginner’s Guide To Running Away From Home! 

The story narrator gives comical and entertaining step-by-step detailed advice on what to do and how to carry out a plan to run away from home.

Okay.  I have to admit it. The title of this book grabbed me. Really grabbed me.  I put it on hold at my public library and could not wait until I got the email that it was waiting for me!   Besides being a mentor for procedural texts, this book is a great example of how to write an enticing title!

Using this as mentor will possibly inspire several “The Beginner’s Guide to…..” stories in your classroom.  If this is the first time with a procedural Unit of Study for your students, that might be okay as the students  experiment with the genre and gain confidence as ‘how-to’ writers. 

Special attention should also be given to the unique illustrations by Red Nose Studio (aka Chris Sickels). Sickels uses handmade puppets (that he created) as the story characters with larger than life, often humorous facial expressions (the baby sister is screaming with a wide opened mouth in every picture of her), hair (the main character) and the like.  He actually creates the miniature sets-like a movie set-on each page.  I have included an interview with him below that focuses on the creating of the puppets and the developing of the sets. You never know which students you will inspire by pointing out this unique technique of puppetry /illustrations.

Another "How-to" by Jennifer Larue Huget that I have reviewed on this blog: How to Clean Your Room in 10 Easy Steps

Book Talk
The narrator (an unnamed boy) greets readers immediately and speaks directly to them throughout the book giving sound advice (from an 10-11 year old point of view) on how to go about planning running away from home.  The narrator is very detailed in his advice, not leaving out a single deed that the reader would need to do to run away. Humor abounds! Your students, no doubt, will love it and be drawn in! Exactly what we want!

Readers learn how to decide on a good reason to run away (everyone is paying attention to the baby), how to practice saying that reason out loud (will need to say it in a convincing , dramatic way when the time is right!), how to decide what to take with you and how to pack (taking a red wagon is recommended).

A favorite line: “If you’re planning on running away, the first thing you need is a reason. Like maybe your parents are going gaga over your little sister and ignoring you. So what if she is a baby? You were there first! Not fair!”

Readers are told that the most important part of running away is the note. And putting the note where it will be seen and not missed. (He pins it to his baby sister.)

Another favorite line: “And now for the most important part.  Write a note:
                                   Why I ran away
                                   (like anyone cares):
                                   It’s never my turn to pick the TV show.
                                   That dumb baby.
                                   Not allowed to keep a pet squirrel.
                                   Have to wear sweater vests.
                                   Grandma’s peas, peas, peas.
Imagine  your parents’ faces when they read it. If they look like they’re about to burst into tears, you’ll know your note is perfect.”

Using sophisticated humor that students will definitely understand and relate to, the narrator continues giving solid guidance to readers on selecting a place to run to. Somewhere at this point of the story, the boy starts having second thoughts about running away.  

He suggests that there is always the option of giving the parents one last chance and he heads home into the arms of his mother. He decides to give his family a chance once more—with the option of always running away again (now that the knows all the ins and outs!)

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Procedural / How-To (Narrative)
Reading Workshop strategies: Search for and Use Information, Inferring, Connecting, 
Analyzing and Critiquing
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Procedural / How-to, Informational Writing Strong Lead, Strong Title, Elaboration

Red Nose Studio (aka Chris Sickels):
Interview with Chris Sickels about his unique style of illustrations:

Friday, July 24, 2015

By Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Laura Stringer

OH, Cynthia Rylant!! How do you do it?  Rylant always inspires me with her incredible talent and ability to use words to create imagery and emotion. 

Snow would be a compelling mentor text to use for upper elementary grades (including grade 6) in a grammar study of figurative language. It is a great read aloud for lower elementary, as well!

Beautifully written, Snow, created in lyrical free verse, would be an especially powerful mentor to use in locations that do actually get a lot of snow.(Of course, it can be used as a mentor text in any locale!) Students who have experienced snow on a regular basis will be able to completely relate to the similes, metaphors and other figurative language that Rylant uses to describe the different types of snow. Rylant breaks a lot of conventional rules by writing long, drawn out sentences—yet by arranging them in verse, they flow down the page in a beautiful melodic, storyteller-type voice.  This writing move is a great example for students who are ready to experiment with their own writer’s voice.

Connecting to the text in this way will bring a strong sense of engagement for students and open a path for them to be influenced by Rylant to try to emulate some of her writing moves.

Book Talk
The narrator begins by simply describing different types of snow to readers.

The storyteller’s voice is singsongy and flowing as the snow is compared to a shy friend, described as sometimes being fat and cheerful, or sometimes being so heavy that it buries everything around it.

A favorite line:
The best snow 
is the snow that 
comes softly in the night,
like a shy friend
afraid to knock,
so she thinks she’ll
just wait in the yard
until you see her.
This is the snow 
that brings you peace”

Throughout the book, the simplicity of snow is characterized in numerous, lyrical and wondrous ways.

Another favorite line:
“Children love snow
better than anyone does,
and they never complain
as they pull on their
red boots and mittens 
and make plans
to catch
wet flakes on their tongues
and roll their small bodies
to the bottom of a hill.
The snow loves them back.
It gives them angels
and new friends.”

Rylant has said that her childhood in West Virginia inspired various books that she has written.  Snow is one of them and it is indeed, written with a child-like wonder at the white wintery beauty. 

As Rylant says on her website (see below): “Simple things make good stories.”

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Poetry: Lyrical, free-verse
Reading Workshop strategies: Maintain Fluency, Connecting, Visualizing, Analyze, Summarizing
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Poetry, Inspiring Writers, Elaboration, Strong lead,
Curricular Themes:  Winter/ Seasons, Grammar (figurative language, sentence fluency, similes, metaphors)

Cynthia Rylant’s website:

Laura Stringer’s website:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Why,Commas Really DO Make a Difference! 
By Lynne Truss
Illustrated by BonnieTimmons

Awards: 2007 Book Sense Book of the Year Honor book

Following the success of her book for adults called by nearly the same name, (Eats,Shoots & Leaves, The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation), British author Lynne Truss turned her attention to writing a children’s version focusing on the (dreaded, yet important) comma. 

Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a comical and amusing mentor text to use to draw attention to the on-going challenge for students: understanding and using commas correctly!!

Bonnie Timmon’s hilarious illustrations demonstrate the confusion that the misuse of the comma can cause. 

The illustrations are key to the full understanding of the comma and enjoyment of the book by students, but the book is small. I recommend that you use this book with a document camera to enlarge the illustrations for the full effect and to generate the conversation that you would want to have with your students.

This book will deepen student engagement in the often dry topic of conventions. A possible group writing project would be for student to come up with their own version of the book with sentences whose meaning can change with a shift of a comma or two.

Book Talk
The book actually starts before the introduction,with a funny interaction between a panda and a librarian, demonstrating misunderstanding that can happen when commas are placed incorrectly in a sentence.

Lynne Truss then fills the book with simple sentences…actually the same simple sentence on the same open page spread. 

However on each page, the sentence is punctuated differently with commas— which, of course, completely changes the meaning of the sentence!

Bonnie Timmons’ illustrations are lively and entertaining, but in being so, really drive home the message to the students about the importance of correct punctuation.

Examples from the book:
“The kids, who got ice cream, were very happy.
The kids who go ice cream were very happy.”

“Becky walked on, her head a little higher than usual.
Becky walked on her head, a little higher than usual.”

Truss and Timmons have two follow-up books that continue having fun with the challenge of punctuation. I have not read them, but  I plan to as  they would be worth exploring as mentor texts as well:
The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes
Twenty-odd Ducks: Why Every Punctuation Mark Counts

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

Lynne Truss’s website:
Bonnie Timmons’ website:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Not Norman   
A Goldfish Story
by Kelly Bennett
Illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

Awards: Many! CBC (Children's Book Council) Children's Choice  *:: Toy Portfolio 2006 Gold Medal    *A FamilyFun Magazine Best Children’s Book for 2005    *Booktrust Book of the Month for August 2005    *Texas Institute of Letters Best Children’s Book for 2005

Not Norman is a fun mentor text to use to introduce students (grades 1-3) to the concept of ‘opinion’ and to Opinion Writing.  I would use Not Norman in the “Immersion phase” of Writing Workshop. Several things you could do: When introducing the book, you ask your class a simple question “Would a goldfish make a good pet? Why or Why not?” List the reasons for the different opinions for all to see. You could even use a simple boxes and bullets model. Stress that these ideas are simply the opinion of classmates. Students could be grouped at this point in threes or fours to work on a write up of their opinion to present to the class.

Then read the book to the class.

An amusing addition to this story that students will enjoy: On Kelly Bennett’s website (see below) she has written a similar story, but this time from Norman’s (the fish) point of view /opinion called “Not Curtis”!  An extension of this idea, would be to encourage students to write the story from the viewpoints of Curtis's parents or some of his friends.

Book Talk
Readers meet Curtis as he is receiving his birthday gifts. His ‘big gift’ is….. a pet goldfish! 
Oh no! 

Curtis really, really, REALLY wants a pet —preferably a dog or a cat, but definitely NOT a goldfish.  A goldfish is not what Curtis considers a pet at all!  He wants a pet that  he can interact with and all a goldfish can do is swim around, around, around, around, and around….or so Curtis thinks!

Curtis decides to take Norman back to the pet shop and exchange him for another pet—but he cannot go until Saturday. Something happens in the meantime that Curtis was not anticipating!

Curtis takes Norman for pet show-and-tell day at school.  He tries to proudly tell his class about his fish, but a snake gets loose and that grabs everyone’s attention instead.  Curtis is a bit put-out, feeling everyone was rude to not listen to him about Norman,the fish! 

A favorite line: “Does anyone hear the story of how I got Norman? Does anyone even ask to hold his bowl? No. They’re all jumping and screaming and chasing the snake. Not Norman. He’s looking right at me. ‘Thanks for listening,” I tell him.”

At orchestra practice, Curtis puts Norman on a table nearby as he plays his tuba and Curtis notices that Norman seems to be singing along with the tuba music!  Curtis is thrilled!  

Another favorite line: “ I take out my tuba and begin to play.  I glance over at Norman. He’s swaying back and forth. Glu, glu glu glug, he mouths. ‘Look! Norman’s singing,” I say. “Pay attention!’ snaps Maestro. ‘And try to play the proper notes.’ “

Throughout the rest of the week, Norman proves time and time again that he is the pet and friend that Curtis has been hoping for.  Slowly, Curtis starts noticing, but doesn’t yet realize all this.

He does take Norman back to the pet store—but in the pet store, Curtis feels that none of the other pets measure up to how special Norman is…….and of course, Curtis ends up keeping Norman!

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Realistic Fiction
Reading Workshop strategies: Predicting, Inferring, Character Development,Connecting, Synthesizing
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Narrative writing, Personal Narrative,Opinion writing, Character Development

Kelly Bennett’s website:

Noah Z. Jones’s website:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Flight of Apollo 11
by Brian Floca

Awards:  Robert F. Sibert Honor Book and a New York Times 10 Best Illustrated Books of the Year 2009. 

Moonshot is an excellent mentor text to use to model and demonstrate a hybrid genre: it is narrative nonfiction about a historical event written in non-rhyming verse! That interesting mix makes a wonderful book about a fascinating and exciting time in US history.

Moonshot is also a wonderful ‘unconventional’ nonfiction mentor to use to demonstrate how to change up informational writing from writing just facts on a page ‘to teach someone something’, to making those facts come alive through a narrative writing voice. Interested writers could explore different writing and craft moves similar to the text in Moonshot.

Book Talk
In Moonshot, Brian Floca introduces readers to the journey of Apollo 11, the space mission that landed the first humans on the moon. He poetically writes about the astronaut’s complete journey from start to finish: starting the morning of the launch—saying goodbye to their families, getting into their incredibly, huge space suits and walking out to space ship, strapping in and then the countdown to liftoff. He takes readers into the Mission Control before the lift off and we hear the infamous “Go / No Go” from the mission control crew. Through his simplistic writing, Floca also helps the reader understand the importance and complications of the machinery of the rocket. His writing helps build the tension (on the moon and on Earth) for the reader of the actual landing on the moon when Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin miss their landing mark by four miles. He beautifully describes the astronauts dramatic view back to Earth from the moon, the final splashdown and being back home with their families.

Favorite lines:
"But in that blank and starless sky...
...high above
there is the Earth,
rushing oceans, racing clouds,
swaying fields and forests.
Family, friends and strangers,
everyone you've ever known,
everyone you  might--
the good and lonely Earth,
glowing in the sky."

Floca weaves and blends the facts of the entire space mission with a masterful storyteller’s voice. HIs writing invites readers to easily understand and digest the facts of the sequence of events, the importance of this momentous event and the bravery of the astronauts.

Be sure to point out the fabulous illustrations to students!  Enlarged with a document camera would really enhance the illustrations for the students.

Inside the covers, Floca adds a detailed timeline and  more in-depth information about the flight, that interested students will devour!

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Hybrid-Narrative Nonfiction written in verse
Reading Workshop strategies: Search for and Use Information, maintain fluency, predicting, inferring
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Informational writing- narrative; Unconventional informational writing, elaboration
Curriculum themes: science/ space exploration

Brian Flora’s website:

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mighty Jackie The Strike-Out Queen   
by Marissa Moss
Illustrated by C.F. Payne

Awards-Many!   2005 IRA Teachers' Choices for 2005-2006,  2004 ALA Notable, 2004 Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, 2004 Starred Review, Booklist, 2004 Top Ten Sports Books of the Year, Booklist 2004.

The 2015 US Women Soccer Team, Champions of the World Cup, have captured the hearts of our country this summer.  What an inspiration for young women and girls to follow their dreams—no matter if their dreams are: sports, arts, science, medicine, politics…or anything!!!

As inspiring as this team is, credit must also (and always!) be given to the many women who blazed the trail ahead of them and opened the path for them.

Jackie Mitchell is one of those trailblazers.

Mighty Jackie is a narrative biography about a 17 year old young woman named Jackie Mitchell, who in 1931, did something absolutely remarkable as a member of a minor league baseball team, the Chattanooga Lookouts (which, of course, was dominated by male players). Jackie’s story is phenomenal, but not well known, as often is the case in women’s sports and with female athletes of her era.  Yet, her accomplishments chipped away to open sports opportunities for women and girls in the years ahead—including the young women who just represented the US at the Soccer World Cup.

In 1931, Jackie Mitchell, using her special pitches (especially her deadly sinker: “the Drop”) struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in a baseball exhibition game in Chattanooga. 

By doing so, she shocked and infuriated the two famous Yankee players and absolutely thrilled the Chattanooga fans.

On the heels of the incredible championship by the women’s soccer team, Mighty Jackie would be a great mentor text to add to your list of biography mentors this coming school year.  Students will also be motivated to further research her story.

I dedicate this review to another mighty Jackie—brave, courageous and incredibly talented.

Book Talk
From a very young age, Jackie Mitchell’s father saw her potential as an athlete—especially as a baseball pitcher.  He worked with her, encouraged her and built her self-esteem and confidence by telling her that she could be good at anything-as long as she worked hard at it.  As luck would have it, the Mitchell’s next door neighbor was a major league pitcher named Dizzy Vance. Dizzy worked with and mentored Jackie-teaching her many different styles of pitches.

Jackie signed to play with the Chattanooga Lookouts, a minor league baseball team.  The team owner had arranged for an exhibition game with the New York Yankees as they traveled from New York to their spring training in Florida.  News got around that a new player for the Lookouts-a girl-was probably going to pitch in the game!

A huge crowd of people-4,000--showed up that day to watch the Yankees vs the Lookouts and their female pitcher.  And indeed, after the starting pitcher was taken out of the game in the first inning—Jackie Mitchell was put into the game to pitch.

A favorite line: ‘She stood tall on the field and looked back at the crowd in the bleachers. They were waiting for her to make a mistake, and she knew it. They were waiting for her to prove that baseball was a man’s game, not her game. “It is my game,”  she muttered to herself and bit her lip.’

The next batter was none other than Babe Ruth—the home run king—already a legend, even as an active player.

The story goes through the pitching sequence--and Jackie's thoughts and 'self-talk' as she pitches to the Babe.  Jackie holds onto her courage, confidence and belief in herself…and delivers strikes to Babe Ruth.  He is shocked, angry and throws down his bat.  The crowd absolutely goes nuts with cheers for Jackie.

Lou Gehrig was next up to bat and Jackie easily strikes him out!  Again, the Chattanooga crowd is thrilled and Lou Gehrig is angry.  Jackie stays in the game for a while more and if finally pulled out.

Another favorite line: Back to back, Jackie had struck out two baseball’s best batters, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. She’d proven herself and now the fans loved her for it. But Jackie didn’t hear them. She was too proud and too happy. She’d done what she’s always known she could do.’

The story ends with Jackie glowing in her accomplishments that day. She was able to how the world that ‘throwing like a girl’ indeed is a very good thing!

The author’s note on the final page tells readers that later that week the commissioner of baseball declared that women could not play with and against men in the major or minor leagues claiming that baseball was ‘too strenuous’ for women.  This echoed a comment by Babe Ruth before the game against Jackie Mitchell where he was quoted as saying that women are “too delicate” to play baseball.  Regardless of the commissioner’s decision, Jackie Mitchell did continue to play in the minors for a few more years.

And no one could take away the fact that she had struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Biography (Narrative)
Reading Workshop strategies: Summarizing, Visualizing, Inferring, Synthesizing
Writing Workshop genre and strategies:  Informational ( Biography), elaboration, flashback
Curricular themes: Female accomplishments, Strong female

Marissa Moss’s website:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Adventures of  
Beekle The Unimaginary Friend  
By Dan Santat

Awards: 2015 Caldecott Winner

Beekle is an incredibly beautiful book. No wonder it won the Caldecott this year! It definitely has the ‘WOW’ factor- not only with the fabulous illustrations, but with the imaginatively creative storytelling, as well. 

I would use this as a mentor for older students (Grs 4-6) to model strong leads, creative flow,  use of elaboration ( in text and illustration) and sentence fluency to build imagery and visualization for readers.  I would definitely use it as a read-aloud for younger students.

Also, have students focus on the magnificent illustrations, as there is so much depth layered into them. This book would be great to use with a document camera projected onto a smartboard or a smart TV.

Dan Santat is an inspiration to the world of children’s literature with his creativity, not only with his illustrations, but also with his flowing, thoughtful storytelling.  He mentions in his ‘About the Author’ blurb, that his parents had wanted him to become a doctor.  Thank goodness he didn’t! 

Book Talk
Readers meet an imaginary friend who is born on an island in a faraway land where imaginary friends enthusiastically await to be called into service by children in cities and towns.  As he waits, he thinks and wonders about the child who will be his friend and what life will be like with him or her.

A favorite line: “He was born on an island far away where imaginary friends were created. Here, they lived and played each eagerly waiting to be imagined by a real child.”

However,this particular imaginary friend is not selected by any child. He watches all his friends get selected, but he remains on the island. He begins to think about all the things his child would be doing to keep him/her so busy that they cannot come up with a moment to imagine him.

So he takes things into his own hands and heads to the Big City to find his friend.  He is brave and travels into the unknown. He makes some interesting observations about humans and human behavior.  He finally finds a former friend from the island and follows him to a playground.

The imaginary friend is so happy at the playground and he senses that something good might happen there. Sure enough, by chance, he finds his human friend.  The exchange between the two when they meet is  tender and as they work through getting to know each, the child names the imaginary friend, Beekle!  

Another favorite line:At first, they weren’t sure what to do. Neither of them had made a friend before. But….after a little while they realized they were perfect together.”

Beekle is thrilled with his name and his budding friendship.  Together with their other friends (real and imaginary!), they all go to explore the world in extraordinary ways.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Fantasy
Reading Workshop strategies: Predict, Connecting, Inferring, Analyzing, Visualizing
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Fantasy writing, strong lead, elaboration, sentence fluency

Dan Santat’s website:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Duck! Rabbit!   
By Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

Awards:  Many!  To name a few……2010 Baker’s Dozen (13 best books for Family Literacy) by Pennsylvania Center for the Book  American Library Association Notable Children's Book of 2010 *Time Magazine Top Ten Children's Book of 2009, #1  * Publishers Weekly Best Children's Books of the Year, 2009 *Barnes & Noble Best Kids' Books of 2009 * National Parenting Publications Awards 2009 –Gold Award

Duck! Rabbit! is an imaginative, clever story that centers around an optical illusion that students absolute love!  Be prepared to read this over and over!

I would use this book as a mentor text for Opinion Writing with K, 1st or 2nd grades during the immersion phase of Writing Workshop. The immersion phase takes place before the writing portion of a Unit of Study begins. The teacher spends time reading aloud books that fit into the writing genre to introduce the students to that particular genre. This gives students the opportunity to learn how to listen and think about the genre as writers.

I would read the book and have the students form an opinion whether they think the illustration is a duck or a rabbit.  They would have to then decide (probably working with a partner or triad), on reasons to support their opinion. Depending on the grade level and the ability of the writers, we may do some shared writing (K, 1) , developing stories to support the opinion (modeling, modeling, modeling all the while) or I would possibly group together according to opinion(1st or 2nd gr) to write a group story expressing and supporting their opinion.  Sharing these stories would be lively and fun!

Book Talk
Rosenthal and Litchtenheld created a hilariously entertaining  book that challenges readers to decide whether the illustration/optical illusion is a duck or a rabbit! 

The verbal exchange by two unseen characters is a comical banter back and forth discussing whether the image is a duck or a rabbit.  As each present their reasons or evidence to support their perspective, it is easy for the reader to see that point of view.

A favorite line: “Look, the duck is so hot, he’s getting a drink.  No, the rabbit is so hot, he’s cooling off his ears.”

The story ends with the two characters somewhat making a truce over the duck/rabbit debate, only to start the deliberation all over again when they see an anteater/brachiosaurus!!

Expect huge student engagement with this read! And…take advantage of that engagement by encouraging the students of form an opinion!

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: (Humorous) Persuasive Text
Reading Workshop Strategies: Questioning, Visualizing,Predicting, Compare and Contrast
Writing Workshop Genre: Opinion Writing (especially immersion read aloud phase of WW)

Tom Lichtenheld’s website:

Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s website: