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:

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Amazing Grace  
by Mary Hoffman
Pictures by Caroline Binch

What a great picture book to share with your students as the school year gets started to send them the message that you believe in the potential of each and every one of them!  Each and every one of them can certainly have the confidence, imagination and ‘can-do’ attitude that Grace shows throughout the story.

Grace is amazing character with an incredibly beautiful imagination and with confidence that gives her foundation for her strong determination and belief in herself.

AND what a perfect mentor text to use for a Narrative Unit of Study—which, of course, should be the first writing unit of study of the year?  Amazing Grace should be a constant mentor text throughout your narrative unit of study of writing to demonstrate and model narrative, character development, grammar (dialogue)  and elaboration.    

Book  Talk                                                                                                                       
Readers meet Grace and learn immediately that she loves to listen to stories—stories that are being read to her or stories that are told or stories that  she made up herself.  She didn’t care, she allowed her imagination to her embrace the story. She often acted out the story with her stuffed animals.  She ALWAYS gave herself the most important character role to act out and to become.  Grace thrived as all the different characters that came into her life through story.  Readers see Grace as Joan of Arc, Anasi the spider, a pirate, a Trojan soldier, Hiawatha and name a few!

Some favorite lines: “ Grace was a girl who loved stories. She didn’t mind if they were read to her or told to her or made up in the own head. She didn’t care if they were in books or movies or out of Nana’s long memory. Grace just loved stories. After she heard them and sometimes when they were going on, Grace would act them out.”

One day at school, Grace’s teacher announced that the class will perform the play, Peter Pan. The students learn that they will be able to audition for the lead roles. When the class was asked who would be interested in auditioning for the role of Peter, Grace sat tall and raised her hand with confidence.  The main, most important character: that is who Grace wanted to be!!!

However, one classmate informed her that she cannot be Peter, because she is a girl. Another classmate told her that that she cannot be Peter, because Grace is black and Peter is white.

Grace is shocked and saddened that others would apply these ‘rules’ to her, when nothing has ever held her back before: She went home and shared her thoughts with the two women in her life who encouraged her the most: Ma and Grandma. They reassure Grace that she can do anything—there are no limits at all!

She decided to ignore her classmates comments and continued to plan to practice for the audition for the role of Peter. Grandma helps out by deciding to take Grace to a ballet—a ballet that starred a beautiful, talented and yes, black, prima ballerina in the role of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.  Grace was greatly inspired by the ballerina. The set Grace in a whirl practiced her moves and lines for the role of Peter all weekend long.

Grace aced the audition in front of her class and the class voted overwhelming for Grace to be Peter in their class play!

And in the class performance, Grace did an outstanding job as Peter, of course!!!

Some other favorite lines:
“The play was a big success and grace was an amazing Peter Pan.  
After it was all over, she said, :I feel as if I could fly all the way home!”
“You probably could, “ said Ma.
“Yes,” said Nana. “If Grace put her mind to it, she can do anything she wants.”

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Realistic Fiction
Reading Workshop strategies: Questioning, Connecting, Inferring, Summarizing, Analyzing
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Narrative Writing, Character Development, Elaboration, Grammar (dialogue) Strong Lead, Character Development (strong female)

Mary Hoffman’s website:
Caroline Binch’s website:

Friday, August 7, 2015

If You Were an Antonym (Word Fun) 
by Nancy Loewen
Illustrated by Sara Gray

A simple book and fun mentor text to use when modeling how to use word choice in thoughtful and meaning ways so that  students’ written stories will have an deeper impact on readers.

Antonyms and the concept of ‘opposite’ are relatively easy for students to understand—(including kindergarten and first graders) especially when they can see the two opposite words illustrated or demonstrated in some way (boy-girl; fast-slow; big-little, etc.)

The ease with understanding opposites makes them a great platform to take a step further. Through modeling in your mini-lesson, students at all levels can grasp the ideas of using opposites for emphasis and effect.  

It is important that students know that antonyms are more effective when they  placed near each other in the sentence.

For K-2 students that might mean modeling opposite sets to a class and encouraging them to include antonyms to describe a character’s action. For example: The tall boy with short legs ran quickly in the first part of the race, but slowed down at the end when he had to run up a hill.

For grades 3-5 students, an interesting activity with antonyms would be working with “Semantic Gradients” .  Here is one way to work this idea into your classroom:

After the activity, the lists could be put on writing workshop charts, or perhaps you could take pictures of the lists and keep them in a handy binder on students’ desks for easy reference when they are ‘stuck’ and need a ‘good word’.

Older Students (grades 5 and above) might be ready for a discussion and modeling of how to use antithesis sentences in their writing.

If You Were an Antonym can set all these strategies in motion!

Book Talk
If You Were an Antonym introduces to readers what exactly antonyms are with simple written and illustrated examples (to begin with): early-late; big-small; dark-light.

Further in the book, readers learn about different kinds of antonyms: complementary, graded, relational and auto-antonym.  Readers learn that antonyms could have prefixes or suffixes, too.

An example: “If you were an antonym, you could be a complementary antonym. You would be all or nothing. You would either be one thing or another: on-off; heads-tails.

If you were an antonym, you could be a relational antonym. You would be in a pair with your opposite. You would have no meaning without your opposite: student-teacher; parent-child.”

If You Were an Antonym can be a catalyst for great discussions and strategies as your students explore grammar and using words in creative, interesting ways. 

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book genre: Informational 
Reading Workshop strategies: Search For and Use Information
Writing Workshop strategies: Grammar, word choice, inspiring writers

There are many other books in this same series: If You Were a Conjunction, If You Were a Noun, If You Were a Palindrome, If You Were a Preposition If You Were a Synonym, If You Were an Adjective, If You Were a Verb (to just name a few!)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Show Way
by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Hudson Talbott

Awards: Newbery Honor Book 2006, Booklist Editor’s Choice, BookLinks Lasting Connections

As I was reading Show Way  for the very first time, I found myself thinking, ‘Wow—what an incredibly powerful historical fiction this is!”.  

Then I got to the end of the story and thought, “Whoa—this is really about the real women in Jackie Woodson’s life/family, including Jackie—is this an autobiography?—not really. 

But it’s not fiction if it is about the real women in her family—hmmmm….

A family tribute? A woman’s narrative?  A family narrative???

Are those actually considered genres??? 
Could they be genres if I wanted them to be?? Well, maybe!”

Show Way  is a story whose lyrical vernacular kept me spellbound as it wove it’s way through the tapestry of a family’s (Jackie Woodson’s) poignant, yet inspiring history. It completely captured my imagination as I followed the story of the strength and courage of these women and their, sometimes quiet, yet immensely important contributions to their families, friends and communities.

So back to that genre issue—where could Show Way fit as a mentor text for reading or writing workshop? It’s obviously a hybrid genre which, according to my handy-dandy Fountas and Pinnell’s Genre Quick Guide flipbook: “Hybrid texts are texts that include at least one nonfiction genre and at least one fiction genre, blended in a coherent whole.”  It seems to me that this beautiful book is a combination of a historical fiction and a narrative non-fiction.

And—I think it is okay—more than okay—wonderful, really—that every single book that we read to our students doesn’t fit into a ‘genre box’.  It is a very good thing to expose our students to this type of  sophisticated writing  and appreciate it for the contribution to the writing world that it is.

I have no doubt that the exquisite writing of Jacqueline Woodson will inspire many of the writers sitting in your class.  For that simple, yet significant reason, this book should absolutely be used as a mentor text.

Book Talk
The story begins with readers meeting Soonie’s great-grandmother as she is being sold as a slave at seven years old and being separated from her family.  She is able to take with her is some muslin material, a needle and some thread.  The muslin,needle and thread turn out to be bridge, connection and bond to the future generations of women in the young girl’s family.

She was raised by Big Mama, a woman on the plantation who would tell the slave children stories about children that would/could somehow get themselves free. Big Mama also taught the children to sew quilt patches with stars,moons,roads,rivers and trees that would eventually help to lead escaped slaves to the path of freedom. Both of these activities greatly influenced the women in the family.

Soonie’s great grandmother grew up, married, had a daughter whom she taught to sew moons, stars, roads, rivers and trees onto the quilts. The pattern is then set for the generations of the women in this family. Soon readers learn that the quilts are called “Show Way” quilts because indeed they show people the way to freedom. 

Some favorite lines: 
"Sewed so fine, she was making clothes for everyone in the big house
and slaves, too.
And at night, she sewed stars and moons and roads--
tiny patch pieces of stars and moons and roads.
Slaves whispered what no one was allowed to say:
That Mathis know how to make...
...a Show Way.

For several generations, the women in the family continue to sew quilts that to lead others on better paths and journeys to improve their lives.  When the family is finally freed, the women continue to sew quilts and this time, they sell them to make a living.  They also hold fast to the stories about the quilts, making sure that rich history lives on.

Some other favorite lines:
"When Soonie was seven, she was tall and straight-bones like her mama,
took in wash with her mama. Sewed stars on patch pieces. 
Sewed stars and moons and roads; sewed fields and rivers and trees.
Patched the pieces together for her mama to sell come market day.
Called those quilts 'Trail to the North'. Called the quilts 'Show Way'.
Didn't much need that secret trail to the North anymore, 
but started living well off the money those quilts brought in".

Fast forward through many generations to th late 1950s, when twin girls are born into the family.  Instead of making quilts to help others journey, they help march on the Freedom Lines that took place during the 1960s. They were scared, but their grandmother had sewn patches of the family’s quilts into their dresses to give them strength and courage, and of course, that works.

Finally,the author,Jacqueline Woodson, is born. One of the twins is her mother—the twin who wrote poems (of course!)  Jackie grew up, had her own daughter and passes on the love, creativity and tenacity that has embraced the women of their family for generations.

Suggest Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Hybrid Text (historical fiction and narrative non-fiction)
Reading Workshop strategies: Critiquing, Inferring, Analyzing, Synthesizing, Questioning
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Narrative Writing, Personal Narrative, Strong lead, Strong female, Elaboration
Curricular Themes: US /Civil War History, Black History Month, Family roots/family tree/ family contributions, We Need Diverse Books

Jacqueline Woodson's website:
Bio on Hudson Talbott:

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

How to Clean Your Room in 10 Easy Steps 
by Jennifer LaRue Huget
Illustrated by Edward Koren

Awards: Finalist-Bank Street Child Study Children's Book Award

Another entertaining, witty, engaging Procedural /How-To book by Jennifer LaRue that the students will love.  

Talk about ‘text to self”!

The kid-humor is perfect and any child who has ever had a messy room (every kid on the face of the earth?)  will truly appreciate the message and relate to the story.

Huget provides yet another choice mentor text for a genre that can really capture a student’s imagination and help to develop their writer’s voice. Student’s who choose to mimic Huget’s style will have fun getting quirky and humorous in their elaboration of the steps in their own ‘How-To’.

Book Talk
The story’s narrator speaks directly to the readers throughout the book:
From the first page: “Welcome to my room. You will notice that it is very clean.”

She offers to show readers how to clean their room as well. First, of course, one would need a 
messy room to begin…and the narrator instantly messes up her room!

The book is then organized into the ten easy steps.  Each step is revealed on the upper left hand corner of the two page spread next to the number of the step.

For example: 
“1. Always wait until your mother hollers, “GET UP THERE AND CLEAN YOUR ROOM NOW!” using all three of your names.” 


“8. Look carefully for evidence of snacks you’ve snuck into your room”

Each ‘step’ is then followed by hilarious details that will make your students laugh out loud.

Like this example:
“6. Pick up any clothes you see lying around.
Don’t waste time trying to figure out if they’re dirty or clean. Wad them all up in balls and put them somewhere where they won’t get in the way. Under the bed is good.”

The illustrations are amusing and add fun to the text.

The genre and playfulness of the topic will motivate and engage students— and I am guessing, even the reluctant writers in your class.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Procedural 
Reading Workshop strategies: Fluency, Connecting,Questioning, Visualizing, Search for and Use Information
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Procedural /How-to, Informational Writing, strong lead, elaboration, writer’s voice, inspiring writers