#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: Muslim Girls Rise

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Book: MUSLIM GIRLS RISE: Inspirational Champions of Our Time

Author: Saira Mir

Illustrator: Aaliya Jaleel

Publication Info.:  Salaam Reads (October 29, 2019, available for preorder wherever books are sold).

Ages/Grades: first grade and up (ages 6 and up)

Categories: collective biography, expository, third person

First lines:

“Rise

verb /’riz

  1. to appear above the horizon
  2. to increase in intensity
  3. to attain a higher level
  4. to come into being
  5. to exert oneself to meet a challenge”

Overview (from the publisher):

Little Leaders meets Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls in this gorgeous nonfiction picture book that introduces readers to nineteen powerhouse Muslim women who rose up and made their voices heard.

Discover the true stories of nineteen unstoppable Muslim women of the twenty-first century who have risen above challenges, doubts, and sometimes outright hostility to blaze trails in a wide range of fields. Whether it was the culinary arts, fashion, sports, government, science, entertainment, education, or activism, these women never took “no” for an answer or allowed themselves to be silenced. Instead, they worked to rise above and not only achieve their dreams, but become influential leaders.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

A little backstory: I lived in Dharan, Saudi Arabia for two years growing up, so I have strong feelings about the overwhelmingly negative way the religion of Islam and its people are portrayed in America today. With that in mind, Saira Mir’s inspirational and empowering book about modern-day Muslim women heroes is a breath of fresh air. In this book, kids meet Amanda Saab, an outstanding cook, who feeds her neighbors’ souls and bellies with her Dinner With Your Muslim Neighbor program.

They meet Amani Al-Khatahtbeh who started the website Muslimgirl.com as a place of positivity for Muslim young women.

They meet a fashion designer. A congresswoman. A flight controller. Activists. Athletes. Comic book creators. As Saira Mir reminds us, “Muslim women make history every day. … By refusing to give up they achieved greatness.” This book would be motivational reading for any child.

For writers, collective biographies are less common than single-subject biographies. Yet, they provide wonderful, bite-sized reading. The key to a successful collective biography is a strong theme and takeaway that unites all the subjects. The unifying principle is normally discussed in an initial spead and re-emphasized at the end. Other notable examples include WOMEN WHO DARED, GOOD NIGHT STORIES FOR REBEL GIRLS, and WOMEN IN SCIENCE.

Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:

 

 

#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Book:

Bloom

BLOOM: A STORY OF FASHION DESIGNER ELSA SCHIAPARELLI

Author: Kyo Maclear

Illustrator: Julie Morstad

Publication Info.: HarperCollins, Feb. 6, 2018

Ages/Grades: preschool through 3rd grade (ages 4 and up)

Categories: first-person POV, narrative nonfiction, biography

First lines:

“Every story starts somewhere.

My story begins on September 10, 1890, in a beautiful palazzo in the center of Roma.”

Overview (from the publisher):

“Elsa dared to be different, and her story will not only dazzle, it will inspire the artist and fashionista in everyone who reads it.

By the 1930s Elsa Schiaparelli had captivated the fashion world in Paris, but before that, she was a little girl in Rome who didn’t feel pretty at all. Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli is the enchanting story for young readers of how a young girl used her imagination and emerged from plain to extraordinary.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

What makes something beautiful? For designer Elsa Schiaparelli anything could be beautiful, including a dress made of wool, cellophane, tree bark, and velvet. Or a shoe as a hat. This book could launch a wonderful conversation about what makes something beautiful and how we might broaden that definition. In addition, Schiaparelli takes an inventive approach to her designs, embracing failure much like so many inventors of machines and technologies. This could spark a discussion about the role of trial and error and experimentation in the creation of art.

Authors will note that this book is written in a more experimental point of view — first person. This allows for more introspection than usual in a picture book biography. Kyo Maclear writing as Schiaparelli helps us experience more fully the internal transformation Schiaparelli undergoes as she gains confidence in her designing skills.

Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:

  • The Philadelphia Museum of Art created an educator’s guide for its 2003 exhibit about Schiaparelli. The discussion guide is fabulous (grades 5 through 12).
  • For younger students, try a mixed media project using recyclables or cast-off objects, turning old things into something beautiful.
#MentorTextMoment, Books, Nature

#MentorTextMoment: You Are Home

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The Book:

YOU ARE HOME: An Ode to the National Parks

Author/Illustrator: Evan Turk

Publication Info.: Atheneum, 2019

Ages/Grades: ages 4 to 8

Category: apostrophe, lyrical language, list structure, expository, nature, #STEM

First lines:

“To the chipmunk in her burrow, sleeping beneath the leaves to keep warm; to the resilient bison in the steaming oases of an endless winter: you are home.”

Overview (from the publisher): “Award-winning author and illustrator Evan Turk showcases the beauty and importance of the National Parks in this gorgeous picture book that takes readers on an amazing tour across the United States.

Beneath the soaring doorways of stone,
and peaks that pierce the ceiling of clouds,
from every river, star, and stone
comes the eternal refrain:
you are home.

In simple, soaring language and breathtaking art, acclaimed author-illustrator Evan Turk has created a stirring ode to nature and nation. From the rugged coast of Maine to the fiery volcanoes of Hawaii, You Are Home reminds us that every animal, plant, and person helps make this land a brilliant, beautiful sanctuary of life.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Why was lyrical voice the perfect choice for a list book exploring the National Parks? Here’s why. Reading YOU ARE HOME literally brings tears to my eyes through its meditation on the majesty of “America’s Best Idea” (the title of Ken Burns’s documentary about the National Parks.)  And that’s the same feeling I get when I visit the National Parks in person. Turk’s lyrical text perfectly captures his awe-inspiring subject. Imagine how the impact of this story would have changed if he’d used a humorous or serious voice.

Also notable: Turk balances his spare, lyrical language with extensive backmatter, providing more facts about the animals that appear in his artwork and a map to the National Parks featured in the book.

Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:

  • Visit a National Park! Every fourth-grader and their family can get in free through Every Kid in a Park.
  • While you are there, check out the National Park Service Junior Ranger Program for kids of all ages. Complete the activity book during your visit and earn your patch or pin. Can’t visit in person? No problem. There are several badges you can earn online.
  • You also can check up on the wildlife through 20 webcams.
  • Evan Turk suggests drawing as a wonderful way to get to know a park. He created the book’s 20 drawings with pastel and black paper while hiking and exploring in person.
  • Turk’s book hints at the natural processes that formed many of these natural wonders, a great jumping off point for lessons about weathering and more.

     

     

#MentorTextMoment, Books, Nature

#MentorTextMoment: When Plants Attack

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The Book:

WHEN PLANTS ATTACK

Author: Rebecca E. Hirsch

Publication Info.: Millbrook Press, 2019

Ages/Grades: ages 9 to 14

Category: second-person POV, survey book, description structure, expository, sidebars, STEM, nature, scene building

First lines:

“In 1581 an explorer warned of an island in the South Pacific, known only as the Island of Death. On this island grew the Death Flower.”

Overview (from the author’s website): “In the wild, it’s eat or be eaten. Each living thing is on a mission to survive another day—including plants. And the measures they take can be downright deadly. Get a close-up look at meat-eating plants that trap unsuspecting mammals, African trees that enlist armies of biting ants as bodyguards, and an Australian shrub with prickly, poison-filled leaves that have landed unsuspecting humans in the hospital. But don’t get too close or . . . OUCH!

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

As soon as I brought this book into the house, my 12-year-old asked if it featured a pitcher plant (it does) and promptly took it out of my hands. It was weeks before I could get it back. Normally we think of picture books as a category for the youngest readers, but this book is a perfect example of how picture books can be “everybody books.”

First, is the subject matter. Hirsch knows how to hook older readers. Vampire vines? Tree-shrew toilets (pitcher plant). What kid wouldn’t be entranced?

Once the reader’s interest is piqued, Hirsch uses top-notch scene building to keep the reader turning the pages. Each chapter starts with a scene packed with sensory details, transporting the reader to far-off locations with its minute-by-minute action. Her writing allows you to “see” a mini-movie in your head. Hirsch also periodically uses second-person narration (“you”) to further connect with the reader.

Finally, Hirsch seamlessly weaves experts and their research into each chapter. I felt like each chapter was a mini “Scientist in the Field” book, giving readers a glimpse into the scientific method and the real work of both lab and field research.

Additional resources for authors and educators:

  • The books’ backmatter provides links to several videos of these plants in action. Here’s a favorite from The Atlantic.
  • The North Carolina Arboretum Society created has a fun-filled (and standards-aligned) educator guide for its Wicked Plants exhibit. A discussion of defenses begins on page 41.
  • For younger readers, Danielle’s Place has some really fun venus flytrap crafts and activities.
#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: John Deere, That’s Who

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The Book:

JOHN DEERE, THAT’S WHO

Author: Tracy Nelson Maurer, illustrations by Tim Zeltner

Publication Info.: Henry Holt, 2017

Ages/Grades: ages 4 to 8

Category: biography, STEM, STEAM, history, third-person POV, narrative

First lines:

Back in John Deere’s day, long before tractors and other newfangled contraptions, Americans dug the land with the same kind of plow that farmers had used as long as anyone could remember.”

Overview (from the publisher): “Back in the 1830s, who was a young blacksmith from Vermont, about to make his mark on American history? John Deere, that’s who!

Who moved to Illinois, where farmers were struggling to plow through the thick, rich soil they called gumbo? Who tinkered and tweaked and tested until he invented a steel plow that sliced into the prairie easy as you please?

Long before the first tractor, who changed farming forever? John Deere, that’s who!”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

You know what stands out about this book? Diction, that’s what! Tracy Nelson Maurer sprinkles her story with a few select words, giving us the flavor of the period and hinting at the country setting. Phrases like “newfangled contraptions,” “buckets of praise,” and “tuckered out.” Words like ” ‘course” instead of “of course.” Used too frequently, this type of language could be distracting, but Maurer uses these colloquialisms sparingly. Such fun!

When it comes to research, I’m always curious how authors deal with unsubstantiated facts or sources that conflict with each other. It happens more than you might think. In JOHN DEERE, Maurer had to make some guesses about whether John knew about plows made of steel instead of heavy iron. She lets the reader know right in the text instead of saving it for backmatter: “It’s a fair guess that John already knew of other plow designs…” Seamless!

Finally, I love Maurer’s ending where she tells us why we should care about John Deere. He didn’t invent a tractor. Just a plow. But that plow allowed farmers to work faster than ever, turning the prairie into America’s breadbasket. And that’s why we should care about John Deere. Do you?

Additional resources for authors and educators:

  • Tracy Maurer has a wonderful list of activities on her website, including coloring pages, a teachers’ guide, and other links.
#MentorTextMoment, Books, Science/Math

#MentorTextMoment: SWEET DREAMS, SARAH

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The Book:

SWEET DREAMS, SARAH

Author/Illustrator: Vivian Kirkfield, illustrations by Chris Ewald

Publication Info.: Creston Books, 2019

Ages/Grades: grades 2 to 5

Category: biography, STEM, STEAM, third-person POV

First lines:

Before the Civil War, Sarah obeyed her owner.

Hurry up.

Eyes down.

Don’t speak.

Overview (from the publisher): “Sarah E. Goode was one of the first African-American women to get a US patent. Working in her furniture store, she recognized a need for a multi-use bed and through hard work, ingenuity, and determination, invented her unique cupboard bed. She built more than a piece of furniture. She built a life far away from slavery, a life where her sweet dreams could come true.

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

One of the most transformational moments in my own writing was when I started to think about the craft of writing picture books as poetry, not prose. As a beginner, I often equated writing nonfiction picture books with writing an essay, which resulted in long, plodding paragraphs. Yikes! In SWEET DREAMS, SARAH, Vivian Kirkfield, shows us the magic of occasionally using short sentences, more like poetry, to keep the story moving. (Her opening is a perfect example.)

Also notable is how she shifts between a traditional third-person narrator and Sarah’s own experience. The opening lines above provide a perfect example. “Hurry up. Eyes down. Don’t speak.” are clearly words that Sarah hears as she works, though we aren’t told this directly. Overall, Kirkfield’s third-person narration stays very close to Sarah, the main character, giving us glimpses into her thoughts.

A final favorite is this book’s topic: invention! I find biographies about inventors to be so useful for students, in terms of teaching them persistence and the value of a growth mindset. What was it that Edison supposedly said? “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That seems to be the path of all inventors (and creators like writers too), and Sarah is no exception.

Additional resources for authors and educators:

#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The Book:

THE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT MARGARET WISE BROWN

Author/Illustrator: Mac Barnett, illustrations by Sarah Jacoby

Publication Info.: Balzar & Bray, 2019

Ages/Grades: ages 4 to 8

Category: biography, first-person POV, metafiction

First lines:

Margaret Wise Brown lived for 42 years.

This book is 42 pages long.

You can’t fit somebody’s life into 42 pages,

so I am just going to tell you some important things.

Overview (from the publisher):

An exceptional picture book biography of Margaret Wise Brown, the legendary author of Goodnight MoonThe Runaway Bunny, and other beloved children’s classics, that’s as groundbreaking as the icon herself was—from award-winning, bestselling author Mac Barnett and acclaimed illustrator Sarah Jacoby.

What is important about Margaret Wise Brown?

In forty-two inspired pages, this biography artfully plays with form and language to vividly bring to life one of the greatest children’s book creators who ever lived: Margaret Wise Brown.

Illustrated with sumptuous art by rising star Sarah Jacoby, this is essential reading for book lovers of every age.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Most picture book biographies use a narrative structure. There’s some sort of problem or goal introduced at the beginning. The main character attempts multiple times to solve the problem or achieve their goal. Typically the main character changes internally as part of the process (or society changes to accommodate the main character). And they achieve the goal or solve the problem at THE END.

So here’s the important thing about this book: it’s the first biography I’ve seen that employs a non-narrative structure, much like Margaret Wise Brown’s THE IMPORTANT BOOK, which Barnett mimics. Instead of starting with Margaret’s childhood and exploring her attempts to break into children’s publishing, Barnett riffs on the idea of what’s important about a person’s life. He also explores the idea of strangeness. Barnett’s non-narrative format is strange, but so were elements of Margaret’s life (as a girl she skinned her dead pet rabbit and wore the pelt!). And Margaret’s stories were often viewed as strange by snooty librarians who rejected them. But Barnett concludes that sometimes life is strange, so strange stories can feel true and important. And that’s what Margaret Wise Brown was all about.

Also notable is Barnett’s first-person narration and use of metafiction. He is clearly the narrator of the story, asking questions and injecting his opinions. His storytelling reminds me A LOT of his earlier metafiction, HOW THIS BOOK WAS MADE, in which he narrates the book-making process. A metafiction biography? Sure, why not?

I know this biography has generated a lot of discussion with some disputing whether it’s a biography at all. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Additional resources for authors and educators:

  • Go behind the scenes to learn about the making of THE IMPORTANT THING at this blog.
  • Discuss with your students: should some books be banned from the library, as Margaret Wise Brown’s were? Many favorites from Harry Potter to Captain Underpants often show up on banned books lists.
  • Writing activity: What is the important thing about YOUR life? How would you write your life in the style of this book (and THE IMPORTANT BOOK)?
#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: SONNY’S BRIDGE

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The Book:

SONNY’S BRIDGE: JAZZ LEGEND SONNY ROLLINS FINDS HIS GROOVE

Author/Illustrator: Barry Wittenstein, illustrations by Keith Mallett

Publication Info.: Charlesbridge, 2019

Ages/Grades: ages 6 to 9

Category: lively voice, biography, narrative nonfiction, rhythm

First lines:

Misty night.

Summer night.

East River New York City night.

You hear that?

Hear what?

That. THAT!

Overview (from the publisher):

This groovy, bebopping picture book biography chronicles the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins’s search for inspiration on the Williamsburg Bridge after quitting the jazz scene in 1959.

Rollins is one of the most prolific sax players in the history of jazz, but, in 1959, at the height of his career, he vanished from the jazz scene. His return to music was an interesting journey–with a long detour on the Williamsburg Bridge. Too loud to practice in his apartment, Rollins played on the New York City landmark for two years among the cacophony of traffic and the stares of bystanders, leading to the release of his album, The Bridge.

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Wittenstein explores the tremendous pressure on a musical genius like Sonny Rollins; the pressure of living up to his own name and reputation. It’s a theme I haven’t seen explored in other picture book biographies, but surely something to which children can relate. (Since we live in a time when there is often tremendous pressure on kids to achieve and keep achieving.)

So what does Sonny do when the pressure’s too much? He focuses on the work — the music — and he does so by playing just for fun on the Williamsburg Bridge. In music, a bridge is a section of the song that contrasts with the verse and chorus of a song, since the verse and chorus are repeated over and over again. Think of the bridge as a little respite from the repetition. So the Williamsburg Bridge is Sonny’s bridge in his musical career. And it leads to a breakthrough album called, The Bridge. Barry Wittenstein, you are a GENIUS.

This book is loaded with rhythm and rhyme, a perfect study in alliteration and assonance for writers of all ages.

Additional Resources:

  • Listen to The Bridge (or another jazz album) and consider how Wittenstein’s diction (word choice) and rhythm mimic the musical form. Note how Wittenstein’s short (sometimes one-word) sentences keep the beat of the book lively.
  • Write your own song, including verse, chorus and your bridge. Use a jazz song as a model if you can.
  • The publisher website has both an activity and educator guide for more ideas.
#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: HEY, WATER!

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The Book:

HEY, WATER!

Author/Illustrator: Antoinette Portis

Publication Info.: Neal Porter Books, 2019

Ages/Grades: ages 4 to 8

Category: lively voice, apostrophe, expository

Overview (from the publisher):

Hey, water! I know you! You’re all around.

Join a young girl as she explores her surroundings and sees that water is everywhere. But water doesn’t always look the same, it doesn’t always feel the same, and it shows up in lots of different shapes. Water can be a lake, it can be steam, it can be a tear, or it can even be a snowman.

As the girl discovers water in nature, in weather, in her home, and even inside her own body, water comes to life, and kids will find excitement and joy in water and its many forms. ”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Nonfiction author Melissa Stewart talks about “voice choice” in nonfiction. Want to see what a difference lively vs. lyrical voice can make? Read Antoinette Portis’s lively-voiced expository book, HEY, WATER! alongside Miranda Paul’s lyrical, circular narrative WATER IS WATER. Two very different books about the water cycle.

Additional Resources:

#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: Predator and Prey

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The Book:

PREDATOR AND PREY: A CONVERSATION IN VERSE

Author/Illustrator: Susannah Buhrman-Deever, illustrations by Bert Kitchen

Publication Info.: Candlewick, 2019

Ages/Grades: ages 6 to 9

Category: lyrical, compare/contrast, expository

Overview (from the publisher):

“Who wins, the assassin bug or the spider? The bat or the frog? The ant or the honey bee? The male firefly . . . or the female? The battle for survival between predator and prey is sometimes a fight, sometimes a dance, and often involves spying, lying, or even telling the truth to get ahead. Biologist and debut author Susannah Buhrman-Deever explores these clashes in poems and prose explanations that offer both sides of the story. With beautiful, realistic illustrations that are charged with drama, Bert Kitchen captures the breathtaking moments when predator meets prey. Readers who hunger for more about the art of survival will find an extensive list of references in the back. ”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

I had to take my time to savor the brilliance of PREDATOR AND PREY. Dueling poems representing the POVs of both predator and prey on each spread…it’s just magical when structure and content are so perfectly aligned.