Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble   

By William Steig
Published: 1969

Awards: 1970 Caldecott Award Winner, National Book Association Finalist, 1970

Many of my colleagues that write about mentor texts, advocate for sticking with familiar and favorite authors when you are building your mentor text collection.

I agree with that idea—to a point.  The point is that there are many, many wonderful new books by wonderful new authors that are just waiting to be ‘discovered’ by us to use in our classrooms, as read-alouds, for shared reading and as mentor texts.

I feel that I owe my many readers and followers of this blog the opportunity to be exposed to new authors and titles so that you can possibly move them into your mentor text collection…for the kids! (It should always be about—what is best for the kids!)

I know that you are tremendously busy with your classroom work, so I feel it is part of my job to read these new books and put them on my mentor text blog for your convenience of taking it a step further to vet the books for your own use.

Saying all that—today on the way to the library to browse and find some books to write reviews for the blog—all of a sudden, a title—Sylvester and the Magic Pebble-just popped into my mind!!  Getting to the library, I went straight to the ’S’ section of the picturebooks (for Steig, of course!), and there it was-Sylvester and the Magic Pebble —just waiting for me!

SO—today I am sticking to an old, familiar favorite author and title! 

If you are an upper elementary teacher, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is a perfect mentor text for reading and writing workshop for many reading strategies and writing craft moves.

I would use it especially in writing workshop to model personification in an animal fantasy, word choice (Steig uses incredible vocabulary!), elaboration of details, and using those three craft moves to help develop a stronger voice and style. 

For any and all grade levels—Sylvester and the Magic Pebble—is a read-aloud MUST!

**Of interesting note—Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was actually banned by several school districts in the late 60s and early 70s because pigs were used to depict the policemen in the story. (In this animal fantasy, personification abounds and all human-like characters are animals.) Oh boy—the 60s!

Also—many students may not know that William Steig is also the author of Shrek!-the book that was behind the well-loved movie.

Book Talk
The Duncan Family lived happily in Oatsdale. They were a very close family of Mother, Father and son, Sylvester and they loved doing activities together.  One of Sylvester’s very favorite hobbies was collecting interesting pebbles.

One day when he is out walking, he found a bright red, perfectly rounded pebble!  He picked it up and held it. Because it was cold and rainy- he immediately (and without really realizing it) made a wish that the rain would stop—and it did! The rain actually stopped in mid-air!  

Sylvester was thrilled!  He headed home to show his parents! On his way home, his head will filling up with ideas on how the pebble could benefit their life. He was so deep in thought—that he did not notice that a lion had approached him.

Scared—Sylvester immediately made a wish to turn into a rock (instead of wishing the lion would go away!). He turned into a very large rock and the pebble lays nearby.  

Some favorite lines:
The lion came bounding over, sniffed the rock a hundred times, walked around and around it, and went away confused, perplexed, puzzled and bewildered. “

Sylvester’s parents were frantic when he doesn’t return and they asked the whole village to help in the search—but to no avail.  They were devastated!  And so was Sylvester-when he realized that the chances of someone picking up the red pebble, putting it on the rock, so that he can wish that he could back into himself—is almost nil. He resigned to the fact that he will probably be a rock the rest of his life!

And he probably would have—had not(nearly a year later) his parents decide to take a picnic at the very spot where Sylvester’s big rock was. In fact-they placed their picnic blanket right on top of the rock1

Some more favorite lines:
They sat down to eat. Sylvester was now as wide awake as a donkey that was rock could possibly be. Mrs. Duncan felt some mysterious excitement. “You know, Father. “ she said suddenly. “I have the strangest feeling that our dear Sylvester is still alive and not far away.”

THEN they noticed the pebble on the ground, picked it up and PLACED IT ON THE ROCK! Sylvester felt the pebble—made his wish to be his regular self again—and ta-dah!  He transformed back into Sylvester-to the shock and delight of his parents.

They decided to put the magic pebble away-they may need it someday.  But they realized they had all they really needed with the three of them being together.

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre:  Animal Fantasy
Reading Workshop Strategies: Questioning, Inferring, Analyzing, Connections to traditional literature (magic, talking animals), Personification
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Fantasy Writing, Elaboration, Word Choice, Voice, Personification

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Snail & Worm        
by Tina Kugler
Published 2016

Snail & Worm is a delightful book about two very different friends who travel through their life adventures together with silliness and humor that younger students will love!  The friendship between these two friends will remind readers of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad and Mo Willems’ Piggie and Elephant. Be sure to help your students compare and contrast between these groups of characters.

Snail & Worm is a perfect mentor text to use with K-2 students for reading and writing workshop!

For reading workshop, I would use Snail & Worm to help readers understand the characters and their motives, help students with solving words, adjusting their reading and their reading fluency. The book actually has three short stories—perfect for students to work on summarizing and inferring, as well.

In writing workshop, Snail & Worm is a perfect example for the younger students to study narrative writing. Snail & Worm can also easily be used to model ‘small moment’ writing, as well. Snail and Worm have quite a bit of conversation in the stories, but the author handles that by changing the color of the font for each character as they talk.  This may be a good writer’s move to teach young writers who want conversations in their stories, but aren’t quite ready to tackle using all the punctuation involved with using quotation marks.

This is a small book—so use that document camera to allow your students to fully enjoy it!

Your students will love these silly characters and I suspect….and hope…that Tina Kugler is planning sequels to Snail & Worm!

Book Talk
This is a book talk on the second story in Snail & Worm called ‘Snail’s Adventure’.

Snail sees a flower—a tall flower and decides the he would love to climb it and be tall as well!  HIs friend, Worm, happily encourages him to give it a try!

Some Favorite Lines:
OK, I will try. Will you watch me?
                 Yes, I will watch you.
Here I go!
                You can do it! You can climb that tall flower!            
I am climbing!
                   Go! Go! Go!

When Snail gets to the ‘top’ of the flower, he is thrilled and claims he can that he can see so much from there!

BUT—readers see from the fun illustrations, that as the snail was climbing, the flower actually bent over from the weight of the snail—-so that the flower was touching the ground and the snail is actually about an inch off the ground (but he hilariously doesn’t realize it!)

Snail looks all around—he can see the ants ‘way down’ on the ground and his house on his back.

Finally he realizes something!  He needs to get down and turns to Worm to ask, “How do I get down?”.  

Fun illustrations will help students understand the humor in the story.

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre:  Animal Fantasy
Reading Workshop Strategies:  Character Development, Summarizing, Inferring, Solving Words, Fluency
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Narrative Writing, Small Moment, Strong Endings, Grammar, Boy Hook

Tina Kugler’s website:

Monday, June 27, 2016

Papa’s Mechanical Fish  
By Candace Fleming
Illustrated by Boris Kulikov
Published: 2013

Awards: NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12: 2014; SLJ Best Children’s Books 2013-Picture Books

Papa’s Mechanical Fish is loosely based on a true event that happened in Lake Michigan in 1851. Author Candace Fleming takes the true story of an eccentric inventor who is credited for inventing the first submarine prototype and turns it into a delightfully funny story that students will enjoy and want to emulate in their writing.

I would use Papa’s Mechanical Fish in writing workshop for upper elementary students who are ready to break from the traditional narrative story written paragraph after paragraph after paragraph. 

Papa’s Mechanical Fish is told in first person by one of the inventor’s daughters. The author then proceeds to carry the majority of the action of the story in humorous dialogue that the inventor’s four children have about each their father’s latest unconventional inventions. Because the father enthusiastically tackles quirky invention after quirky invention, this style of dialogue by the children becomes repetitive—but not tiring. Fleming's writing is clever, funny, fast-paced, and keeps the reader turning the pages. To describe the sounds of Papa's workshop-onomatopoeia abounds—and students always love onomatopoeia!

Because it is loosely based on a true story, the book can be considered a historical fiction. Interesting debate could ensue in reading workshop as to why or why not this could be a historical fiction.  

**Please note—Boris Kulikov’s whimsical and comical illustrations are  very entertaining  and add depth and fun to the playfulness of the text.

Book Talk
Readers meet a young girl who proudly tells about her father’s inventions, the inventions humorous failings and his can-do, will-do, never-give-up spirit!

She tells of the collapsible coat hangers, edible socks and steam-powered roller skates—and  their comical demises!

The daughter then relates the events of one summer when on a family outing to go fishing—her father gets the idea of building a ‘underwater vessel’ or as he called it a ‘mechanical fish’.

He builds his first model of the mechanical fish-which has some laughable issues and doesn’t quite work; builds the next model improving on the mistakes-but it has some laughable issues and doesn’t quite work, AND he builds his next TWO models—with the fourth one finally working!

Each time, the family enthusiastically supports the father’s endeavors.

Some favorite lines:
‘So Papa twiddles his tools and pulls his hair. He racks his brain, sighs, and stares until one day he throws down his screwdriver. “Enough thinking!” he cries. “Who wants to go fishing?”
“I do!’” I hollar.
“Me, too,” says my brother, Cyril.
“Don’t forget me,” adds our sister, Mary.
“My daa-daa!” squeals the baby, Wilhelmina.
“Woof!” barks our bulldog, Rex.
“I”m so glad I brought along these poles.” says Mama.’

The family is thrilled with the final product with all six family members—and the family dog—going for an underwater ride in “Papa’s Mechanical Fish’.

Some more favorite lines:
‘The Whitefish IV is big enough for seven people to sit in….It has as steam boiler to run the engine and a battery to run the headlights….Along its length are a dozen portholes.
Papa grins “Who wants to go for a ride?”
“I do!” I whoop.
“Me, too!” say Cyril.
“Don’t forget me!” adds Mary.
“Go bye-bye!” squeals the baby.
“Woof!” barks Rex.
“I’m so glad that I brought along lunch.” says Mama.

The family enjoys the ride, celebrates with a lovely picnic...and then Papa gets another idea....about flying!

In the back of the book, the author adds the factual information about Lodner Phillips, the inventor on which this story is based. She also adds the sources she used to write the story-which would be a good lesson for students for citing sources and why that is important.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Reading Workshop Strategies: Predicting, Inferring, Questioning, Analyzing, Synthesizing
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies:  Narrative Writing, Personal Narrative, Memoir, Grammar (dialogue), Elaboration-Onomatopoeia, Boy Hook

Candace Fleming’s website:

Boris Kulikov’s website:

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Stranger          
By Chris Van Allsburg    
Published: 1986

Awards: The New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books citation-1986, Parent's Choice Award for Illustration from the Parents' Choice Foundation-1986

Chris Vans Allsburg is a master at fantasy writing that takes readers to the edge of wonder, mystery, and at times, delightful quirkiness. If you have read my mentor text reviews before, you know that I am in a huge admirer of Chris Van Allsburg's creativity and writing talent.

The Stranger would be a wonderful mentor text to use to teach fantasy writing and understanding fantasy reading for older students, grades 4th and up.  

For reading workshop, use The Stranger so that readers can strengthen strategies to help them understand these fantasy elements: a human-like character that could not exist in the real world, the setting of the story-which is grounded in the real world, but with magical elements and understand characters who have unusual traits or abilities.

For writing workshop,  have students analyze the way Van Allsburg slowly reveals the information about the Stranger to the audience. Then notice that how and when he adds new character elements that keep the Stranger mysterious.  The writing pattern of ‘reveal, then add; reveal, then add’ seems significant in this book.

Van Allsburg’s writing is complicated and by studying it, will lift your students’ reading and writing. 

**Did you know that Chris Van Allsburg has a ‘tradition’ of including a picture of the bull terrier named Fritz (that is a main character in his first book The Garden of Abdul Gasazi) in all his books?  Have your students try to find 'Fritz’ in The Stranger....and all of Van Allsburg’s books! Students love to do this!

Book Talk
Farmer Bailey is traveling home in late summer when he has an accident.  He hits a man in the road with his truck. The man is dazed and seems to have no memory or ability to talk.  Farmer Bailey, feeling responsible, takes the man (referred to as the Stranger) into his home so that he can recuperate.

The Stranger seems confused for a few days, has odd habits and very outdated clothes. Yet the Baileys are kind to him, feed him and include him in their family life. Even though the Stranger never does talk, he enjoys life with the Baileys. Soon, the Stranger begins to help Farmer Bailey in the heavy work around the farm to harvest the crops. The Stranger works very hard, but Farmer Bailey notices that he never seems tired or breaks a sweat. The daughter watches as the Stranger communicates and interacts beautifully and serenely with the wild animals and birds around the farm.

Some favorite lines:
‘The next morning Katy watched the stranger from her bedroom window. He walked across the yard, towards two rabbits. Instead of running into the woods, the rabbits took a hop in his direction. He picked one of them up and stroked its ears, then it down.’

One day, the Stranger notices a flock of geese flying south and cannot take his eyes off of them. In fact, he seems oddly hypnotized by watching them.  The family starts to notice strange things around the countryside—-all the trees are turning orange and golden for the fall, except for the trees around the Bailey's house and farm. The summer lasts so long at the Baileys, that the pumpkins grow to an extraordinary size!  

Yet the Stranger senses that because of his presence, the fall has not come to the Baileys farmland. After much thought, he decides to leave his new friends.

At dinner, he hugs them all and runs out the door. They follow quickly, but he has already gone!  They notice immediately that the weather is cooler and their trees’ leaves have turned a beautiful golden color. 

They never saw him again, but every autumn, the same thing would happen at the Bailey’s Farm: summer would be prolonged. The leaves on their trees would stay green longer than that trees in the surrounding areas. Then overnight, they would change to the brightest colors and in the frost of the barn windows these words would appear: “See you next fall”.

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Fantasy
Reading Workshop Strategies: Predicting, Synthesizing, Inferring, Analyzing, Critiquing
Writing Workshop Genre and strategies:  Fantasy Writing, Narrative Writing, Elaboration, Strong Lead, Strong Ending

Chris Van Allsburg’s website:

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Nat Geo Kids “Everything” Series 

Various Authors
Published by National Geographic 

This book series will quickly become for you a solid ‘go-to’ for teaching informational reading and writing.

The National Geographic Kids “Everything” Series is a nonfiction/informational series of books that should be in everyone’s teaching workshop tool-kit to use as informational reading and writing mentor texts. 

This series of books is loaded with excellent examples of standard text features typical of nonfiction / informational books.  The pages are well laid out with amazing photos that will engage readers immediately to want to dive in and learn more about the topic!

Text features of: table of contents, index, glossary, headings, sub-headings, photographs, time-lines, maps, captions, diagrams, comparisons, close-ups, labels, charts, graphs, change up of font for emphasis, italics and bullets are featured throughout the books.

Series subjects include: Ancient Egypt, Battles, Big Cats, Birds of Prey, Castles, Dinosaurs, Dogs, Dolphins, Insects, Money, Mythology, Pets, Predators Robotics, Rocks, Sharks, Sports, Volcanoes, Weather, World War 1.

Each book in this series delves into a singular subject in depth and in photographic brilliance that only National Geographic can do.

Be sure to use these books with your document camera, so that the text features can be easily detected and pull-out by students and the photos can be truly appreciated! 

Whether your class studies any of these subjects during a social studies, science or PBL unit,... or not, because all of the topics generate high interest, try getting a least of few of books in this series for your 'go-to' teaching workshop tool kit and classroom library. 

Also ask your school librarian to add the series to your school library collection!

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Nonfiction / informational
Reading Workshop Strategies:  Connecting, Questioning, Search for and Use information, Analyze
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Informational Writing, Search for and Use Information, Boy Hook, Elaboration

National Geographic website:

National Geographic website for teachers/librarians:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Little Red Writing 
by Joan Holub
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Published: 2013

A fun,fun,fun,must-have book for your writing workshop toolkit!!!

Little Red Writing is a hilarious, fractured fairytale that will inspire writers in many grades and on many levels!

I would definitely use Little Red Writing to launch Writing Workshop at the beginning of the school year to motivate and excite writers—-BUT the book would be at my fingertips for many other mini-lessons and teaching points throughout the school year, especially when introducing grammar/parts of speech.

Little Red Writing weaves a fun grammar emphasis ( parts of speech and punctuation), amusing literacy puns about writing that the students will love and elements of the writing process together that will have your students begging for re-read after re-read.

The story is loaded with side comments, writing that travels over the page and, especially… entertaining illustrations, so use your document camera as you are reading this book so that every bit of fun will be captured and enjoyed by your students.

*** Please make a point of noting the unusual style of illustrations to help carry the story.  It will appeal to some of your writers and even motivate some reluctant just never know!!!

Book Talk
A fun spin-off of the traditional tale, Little Red Writing centers around a student named Little Red (actually a red pencil) at Pencilvania School who receives a writing assignment from her teacher (Ms. 2). 

After thinking about the ‘story path’ she would like to take, Little Red decides to write a story about bravery because ‘red is the color of courage’.  Just as she is beginning to take a journey around the school to help with story ideas, Ms. 2 gives Little Red a basket fill with fifteen nouns to help her out, if needed. 

Little Red begins her story, but decides right away that she needs some help jazzing up her word choice. In the school gym, she comes across some very exciting verbs that she decides to use. She continues her journey past the school library, where Little Red meets up with some very interesting descriptive words (adjectives, of course)  that help her add pizzazz to her story. She soon runs into “Conjunction Glue’ who playfully explains the role of conjunctions in sentences in a humorous way. Before she knows it, she meets many adverbs that also amusingly prove to her their worth in making a story interesting.  

Punctuation is not to be left out and she learns how, why and what punctuation she should use. (again, humor abounds-especially in the accompanying illustrations.)

All of a sudden, Little Red spies a long, suspicious tail and cautiously follows it—-to discover that it is a WOLF 3000 pencil sharpener—-who is pretending to take the place of the beloved school principal, Principal Granny. 

Some favorite lines:
“I’d like to report hearing a growly voice. And you know what? It sounded kind of like yours.” said Little Red.
“The betterr to be hearrd on the school intercom,” said Principal Granny.
“I’d also like to report that I saw a long tangly tail. I can’t help noticing you have a tangly tail, too,” said Little Red.
“The betterr to get charrrged up for my school duties when my batterrries are rrrunning low,”said Principal Granny. 
“I’d also like to report I have just noticed what big sharp teeth you have!” said Little Red.
“The better to CHOMP little pencils and grrrind them up!” growled Principal Granny..who in reality was the WOLF 3000!

The janitor, named Mr. Woodcutter, of course, steps in and helps to save that day and the WOLF 3000 is destroyed. Principal Granny is found (although sharpened down very small).  

Little Red finishes writing her story and returns to class to share it with her classmates.

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Fairytale (Fractured)
Reading Workshop Strategies: Predicting, Inferring, Analyzing, Critique, Synthesizing
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Fairytale, Narrative Writing, Grammar-parts of speech and punctuation, Inspiring Writers

Joan Holub's website:
Melissa Sweet's website:

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

When Spring Comes   
By Kevin Henkes
Illustrated by Laura Dronzek
Published: 2016

Kevin Henkes again teams Laura Dronzek to create yet another outstanding picture book!

When Spring Comes is a narrative told in a gentle voice using repetition and patterns, alliteration and visual imagery, making it an excellent mentor text for many grade levels for different writing craft moves.

Of course and as always, When Spring Comes, should be read as a classroom read-aloud for students to enjoy the story and take in/ digest the meaning.  After reading it as a read-aloud, using it as a mentor text will be powerful.

For grades 1-3, there are several possibilities on how to use When Spring Comes as a mentor text. The pattern and repetition in which Henkes writes is easy to grasp for our youngest writers.  He also uses alliteration in parts of the book. This would be a nice challenge for 2nd or 3rd grade writers who are ready to add that type of writing to their narratives.

For grades 4-5, especially if it is the first year in a writing workshop, Henkes' use of visual imagery, as well as descriptive language, is worth emulating for writers who may find those type of writing moves difficult.

**Also to note-the illustrations by Laura Dronzek (Kevin Henkes' wife) are simple, clean, colorful, inviting and beautiful.

Book Talk
Henkes takes readers through a nature journey of the many things that happen “before spring comes’: the trees look like they have black sticks, the grass is brown, the garden is just dirt.

BUT…if one is willing to wait—the many wonders of spring reveal themselves: blossoms grow on trees, grass turns green with little flowers, birds are born.

Some favorite lines:
Before Spring comes, the garden is just dirt, and empty.
But if you wait, Spring will push green shoots through the dirt to fill up the garden.”

“But when spring is finally here to stay, you will know it….
There will be buds and bee and boots and bubbles.”

The story ends by declaring that when spring finally arrives and we think we are finished waiting, we really aren’t.  

Because there is always summer to wait for!

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Fiction
Reading Workshop Strategies: Visualizing, Connecting, Inferring, Questioning, Fluency
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Narrative Writing, Elaboration, Grammar (adjectives, descriptive language), Alliteration, Repetition/Pattern writing
Curriculum Themes (Grades prek-1): Nature, Seasons, Change

Kevin Henkes website:

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Over and Under the Snow   
By Kate Messner
Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
Published: 2011

Awards: 2012 Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text, E.B. White Read Aloud Award for Younger Readers Finalist, NSTA/CBC Outstanding Trade Book for Science, Capitol Choices Noteworthy Books for Children & Teens,New York Times Notable Children’s Book,Winter 2011-2012 Kids IndieNext Pick, plus State award picture book nominee in Kansas, Michigan, Virginia, New Hampshire and Illinois.

Over and Under the Snow  is Kate Messner’s first narrative non-fiction published in 2011. She followed it with Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt  in 2015 . Over and Under the Snow gently describes the beautiful, soft, snowy world—as well as fascinating events going on below the surface of the earth when it’s covered in snow.

For older grades, 3-6, Over and Under the Snow would be an excellent mentor for writers trying their hand at the hybrid genre of narrative non-fiction. Conversation between a child and her father who are slowly cross country skiing introduce the reader to the wonders of nature when a winter snow blankets the earth. The girl talks about what she notices ‘over the snow’ and her father talks to her about what is happening ‘under the snow’ with different animals hibernating,collecting food,hiding, etc. Cut-away illustrations give a readers a peek into the underground world. Messner uses an easy pattern of “over the snow’ and ‘under the snow’ on each page that would be a good model for students, if needed.

For younger grades, K-2 , Over and Under the Snow is a great addition to your ‘must-read’ read-aloud pile!

Book Talk
A young girl and her father cross country ski across the countryside after a quiet snow. The girl is fascinated by the beauty that is around her.  As she talks to her father about each wonder that she sees, he adds factual information about the animals as they are under the snow in their burrows-sleeping, hiding, gathering food.

Some favorite lines: 
Over the snow I glide. A full moon lights my path to supper.
Under the snow a chipmunk wakes or a meal. Bedroom, kitchen, hallway—his house under my feet.
Over the now I climb one last hill. Bonfire smoke rises: warm hands, hot cocoa, hot dogs, sizzling on pointed sticks.
Under the snow, a black bear snores, still full of October blueberries and trout.”

In the back of the book, Messner adds an “Author’s Note, as well as additional factual information about each animal mentioned in the book.

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Hybrid Text: Narrative Non-fiction
Reading Workshop Strategies: Search for and Use Information, Maintaining Fluency, Connecting, Questioning, Inferring
Writing Workshop Strategies: Narrative Writing, Informational Writing, Elaboration, Sentence Fluency, Hybrid Text, Inspiring Writers

Kate Messner's website:
Christopher Silas Neal's website:

Saturday, June 11, 2016

How to Catch Santa   
by Jean Reagan
Illustrated by Lee Wildish
Published: 2015

I know, I know. It's the middle of June and I am writing this review on a Santa story!

But I see this book as a ‘How-to” story and any time I run across a potential mentor text for a “How-To” writing unit of study—I grab at it!  By the way, other ‘how-to’  books by Jean Reagan are: How To Babysit a Grandpa, How to Babysit a Grandma,  and How-to Surprise A Dad.  Chances are they are as delightful as How to Catch Santa, so if you come across them, give them serious consideration as a mentor text for how-to / procedural writing. According to Jean Reagan's website, she has four more 'how-to' books under contract with her publisher. We should all keep our eyes out for them!

Your students will love this as a class read-aloud when you first read it to them.

Okay--for some reason, I feel compelled to remind my readers of one of my foundational beliefs when using mentor texts:

Mentor Text Golden Rule #1 ALERT!!!—-ALWAYS read each mentor text that you plan to use in a unit of study first to the class as a read-aloud!  After that, you can use it as a mentor text in their reading or writing units of study! The reason? Students need to ‘digest’ the meaning of the story first and foremost as readers.  Only then, can they begin to look at the book through the lens of a writer and use it to lift their writing.

How to Catch Santa is not a clear cut ‘how-to’ written with a precise counted list of things to do to catch Santa—as in 1. You need to do this 2. You need to do that 3. You need to do this again.

However, it does lay out in a sequence of ideas, things the reader could do and consider if they want any remote possibility of catching Santa.

The author offers lots of advise on many things children can do to catch Santa. Children typically do most of the suggestions anyway to prepare for Santa's visit, (leaving cookies, etc), but the author adds just new twists and depth to those suggestion for kids to consider.  Modeling how to add those twists and depth makes How to Catch Santa a great mentor text for procedural /how-to writing.

Book Talk
The narrator in the story speaks directly to the reader…building enthusiasm and excitement about the possibility of catching Santa.

Readers are first told to prepare a ton of questions to ask Santa in the event he is actually caught as well as prepare some information to tell him and gifts for him!  Some questions include: How fast do reindeer fly to get everywhere in one night? What is their fuel? How do you find kids on trips?

Then the advice: don’t get crazy trying to catch Santa. One needs to be crafty, clever and gentle.   The narrator adds interesting details on how to be crafty, clever and gentle!

Some Favorite Lines:
“Bake him cookies. Instead of putting them by the tree, draw arrows leading to your room. String bells and chimes above the cookies. That way, he’ll make a racket and wake you up.”

Writing Santa some riddles, getting advise from Mom and Dad, leaving the Christmas lights on so that Santa can see and being patient are also part of the plan.

In the end, the reader is encouraged not to give up hope if Santa is not caught this year—because there is always next year!

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre:  Realistic Fiction, How-To
Reading Workshop Strategies:  Connecting, Inferring, Predicting, Summarizing
Writing Workshop Strategies:  How-to/ Procedural Writing, Narrative Writing, Strong Lead

Jean Reagan’s website:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Wolfie the Bunny           
By Ame Dyckman
Illustrated by Zachariah Ohora
Published: 2015

Simply put: Your students will love Wolfie the Bunny! It is fast paced, fun….and can be oh-so- true and very relatable in terms of sibling rivalry! Your first read-aloud of this definitely will not be your last! Students will beg for more!

As a mentor text, I would use Wolfie the Bunny  with 1st and 2nd graders to emphasize grammar—especially proper use and placement of quotation marks. Throughout the book, the quotes from the sister,(named Dot), are written in large print, in different colors and sprawled diagonally across the page as she tries to draw attention to her parents that the baby they have adopted is indeed a wolf!  In addition, the creative ways that the dialogue is placed on the page can  serve as a mentor for your students on how to place their story on the page in creative, unconventional ways.  You never know which student you will reach when you open up creative options—so it is always worth it to create those opportunities for students.

Book Talk
The Rabbit Family—Mama, Papa and daughter, Dot, arrive home one day to find a bundle in a basket on their doorstep…it is a baby animal!  But it obviously is NOT a rabbit—it is a baby WOLF instead!

Dot sees the risk to the family immediately, but Mama and Papa are absolutely smitten with the adorable baby wolf.  Dot does everything she can to warn Mama and Papa that the wolf baby is dangerous. They excuse all of his behavior because of his adorable-ness! 

Dot is besides herself with worry about her family’s safety!

Some favorite lines:
Mama served carrots for breakfast.
“He likes them!” said Mama.
“He’s a good eater,” said Papa.
“Speaking of eating,” said Dot,

Dot’s friends came by to see the baby.
“He’s sleeping,” whispered Mama.
“He’s a good sleep,” whispered Papa.
HE’S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP!” they screamed.
“No kidding,” said Dot. “Let’s play at your house.”

One day, despite Dot’s objections, she and Wolfie are sent to the grocery store together. At the store they are approached by a huge bear, who wants to eat Wolfie for dinner.  Dot, rises above her fear of Wolfie and as a true sister, comes to his defense.  Bear eventually runs away, Wolfie gives Dot a hug of thanks and hand-in-hand, the “siblings’ happily head home.

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text: 
Book Genre: Animal Fantasy
Reading Workshop Strategies:  Fluency, Monitor and Correct, Solving Words, Connecting Summarize, Inferring, Synthesize
Writing Workshop Strategies: Narrative Writing, Grammar (dialogue/ quotations marks), Inspiring Writers, Boy Hook, Strong Endings, Strong Female, Character Development

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