#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.


The Book:


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.


The Book:


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:



I’m back…..

Ok, maybe you haven’t wondered where I’ve been, but I will tell you anyway. September through November is always my insane time of year between coaching LEGO League, organizing the school Barnes and Noble Bookfair, planning two birthday parties (Minecraft! Cut the Rope!), and making Halloween costumes (ok, just the Minecraft Steve mask). Now I’m planning a Little Golden Books baby shower for my sister-in-law. And those are just all the extracurriculars. Honestly, by the time I get to Thanksgiving, I will feel like I’m on vacation.

So, enough about me. Without further ado, I present my PPBF pick, which has been sitting in my office for over a month.

TITLE:  President Taft is Stuck in the Bath

AUTHOR: Mac Barnett

ILLUSTRATOR: Chris Van Dusen

PUBLICATION INFO: Candlewick 2014

ISBN: 978-0763663179

SOURCE: library

INTENDED AUDIENCE: preschool to grade 3

GENRE: historical fiction picture book


“William Howard Taft was the twenty-seventh president of the United States. He busted monopolies, instituted the federal income tax, and became the only president to also serve as chief justice of the Supreme Court.”

From the publisher:

“‘Blast!’ said Taft. ‘This could be bad.’

George Washington crossed the Delaware in the dead of night. Abraham Lincoln saved the Union. And President William Howard Taft, a man of great stature — well, he got stuck in a bathtub. Now how did he get unstuck? Author Mac Barnett and illustrator Chris Van Dusen bring their full comedic weight to this legendary story, imagining a parade of clueless cabinet members advising the exasperated president, leading up to a hugely satisfying, hilarious finale.”


WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: One word: hilarious. Who cares if the story is true? Van Dusen’s images of Taft spilling out over the tub crack me up every time. Don’t believe me?


  • Visit the William H. Taft Historic Site in Cincinnati to learn about Taft’s real accomplishments (besides getting unstuck).
  • I feel like this book is begging for a simple machines activity. Can YOU figure out a way to get Taft unstuck? A pulley? A lever?
  • Take a bath. Hopefully you won’t get stuck. Use some bathtub crayons for some real fun.

You’ll find way more cool books at Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Books.” Every Friday folks review a host of new books. Join us!

Books, Science/Math

Book Review: The Case of the Sneezy Popcorn

TITLE: The Case of the Sneezy Popcorn (Body System Disease Investigations)

AUTHOR: Michelle Faulk, PhD


ISBN: 978-0-7660-3946-9

SOURCE:  publisher provided copy

INTENDED AUDIENCE: interest level = 5+ (publisher), reading level 5.6

GENRE: fact-filled fiction


“My name is Agent Annie Biotica. I am a Disease Scene Investigator with the Major Health Crimes Unit.”

From the book cover:

“What do you get when you combine evil microbes trying to harm the respiratory system and a super detective skilled at Body System Disease Investigations? You get crime-solving super sleuth Annie Biotica.” Think Law & Order meets your local doctor’s office.

THEMES/TOPICS: respiratory system, science, health, biology, mystery

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: It took me a few days to wrestle this book away from my mystery-obsessed 6 1/2-year-old. Sneezy Popcorn expertly combines mystery with learning about the respiratory system. Readers have to consider the clues carefully, interpret results of medical tests and help Annie Biotica solve the cases and cure the patients. The book is divided into 5 cases, but also includes three cases for readers to solve on their own, once they’ve learned symptoms and how to interpret medical tests. The book reminded us of Encyclopedia Brown, a current favorite in our house. One note of caution: very sensitive children may worry about contracting many of the illnesses described in the book. I had to reassure mine that he has had vaccinations for most of them.


Book Review: Tasty Desserts (Little Chef Recipes)

TITLE: Little Chef Recipes: Tasty Desserts

AUTHOR: Mercedes Segarra


PUBLICATION INFO: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4644-0465-8

SOURCE: Publisher-provided copy

INTENDED AUDIENCE: kindergarten through third grade

GENRE: how-to

SYNOPSIS: Are you hungry for some delightful desserts? From staples like brownies and cheesecake to new foods like “watermelon soup,” children will learn how to make delicious desserts with a parent’s help.

THEMES/TOPICS: how-to, cooking, baking

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: You would not believe how difficult it is to create a good cookbook for the youngest children, but Segarra and Curto have done it. This book is much more than a collection of recipes, but a good overview of how to become a “Little Chef.” The book includes a “Before You Start Cooking” section with sound advice on preparing to cook, like washing hands, donning an apron and reading the recipe thoroughly. “Words to Know”  in the back uses pictures to show children what key kitchen terms mean, for example “separate” (eggs) or “line” (a baking sheet). It also shows children pictures of kitchen equipment that they might not be familiar with.


Best of all, each recipe includes an illustrated ingredients list and step-by-step instructions. Finley, who can’t read yet, was able to look at the recipe, point to each picture, and describe what we would do in that step. I can’t wait to check out the other recipes in the series: Fun Party Foods, Pizza and Pasta, and Yummy Snacks.