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:

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