#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: 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.

#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: JUST RIGHT

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The Book:

JUST RIGHT: SEARCHING FOR THE GOLDILOCKS PLANET

Author/Illustrator: Curtis Manley, illustrations by Jessica Lanan

Publication Info.: Roaring Brook Press, 2019

Ages/Grades: ages 5-9

Category: expository nonfiction, descriptive text structure, first-person POV

Overview (from the publisher):

“Do you wonder 
if humans
are the only beings who wonder
if they are alone 
in the universe?

Our sun is a star.
In the night sky are all kinds of stars,
and orbiting those stars
are planets like the ones in our own solar system.

Could those planets have life
like we do on Earth?

Planet Earth is not too big,
not too small, not too hot,
and not too cold. It’s just right.
Our very own Goldilocks planet . . . .

Follow a young girl
as she explores these questions
in this gorgeous book about the wondrous search
for another Goldilocks planet.

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Do you know how difficult it is to explain the techniques we use to search for exoplanets? Curtis Manley’s use of analogy makes JUST RIGHT accessible for young readers, as he talks about planets “winking” and “waving” and what that means to planet hunters. Takeaway: When trying to describe difficult concepts, why not try analogy?

#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: FLOWER TALK

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The Book:

FLOWER TALK: HOW PLANTS USE COLOR TO COMMUNICATE

Author/Illustrator: Sara Levine, illustrations by Masha D’Yans

Publication Info.: Millbrook, 2019

Ages/Grades: Grades 2-5

Category: Expository, humorous voice

Overview (from the publisher): “This new book from Sara Levine features a cantankerous talking cactus as a narrator, revealing to readers the significance of different colors of flowers in terms of which pollinators (bees, bats, birds, etc.) different colors “talk” to. A fun nonfiction presentation of science info that may be new to many kids—and adults!”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

This is what informational fiction is all about: adding fictional elements that excite and engage kids. Who could resist learning about how flowers “talk” from this cactus narrator?

#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: SEASHELLS: MORE THAN A HOME

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The Book:

SEASHELLS: MORE THAN A HOME

Author/Illustrator: Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah Brannen

Publication Info.: Charlesbridge, 2019

Category: Nonfiction, compare/contrast, expository, layered text, list structure

Overview (from the publisher): “Prolific, award-winning nonfiction author Melissa Stewart reveals the surprising ways seashells provide more than shelter to the mollusks that inhabit them.

Young naturalists discover thirteen seashells in this elegant introduction to the remarkable versatility of shells. Dual-layered text highlights how shells provide more than a protective home in this expository nonfiction exploration. The informative secondary text underscores characteristics specific to each shell. Elegant watercolor illustrations create a scrapbook feel, depicting children from around the world observing and sketching seashells across shores. ”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Compare/contrast list books are hard to write. You must get the hook/concept just right in the opening spread. Then all subsequent examples must reinforce the idea. Melissa Stewart’s SEASHELLS: MORE THAN A HOME is a perfect example.

Additional Resources/Classroom activities:

Melissa Stewart’s website is a rich resource for educators (and authors). Her video lesson about voice choice draws upon SEASHELLS, and would be a great lesson for authors of all ages.

#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: BEWARE OF THE CROCODILE

Dear blog readers,

I’m back! First, my apologies if you are subscribed to my blog via email. You are going to get many, many emails over the next couple of days, as I move my archive of #MentorTextMoment posts from Instagram to this site for better searchability. I promise in about a week, you won’t get more than an email every week or two from me. Now, on to content.w204

The Book:

BEWARE OF THE CROCODILE

Author/Illustrator: Martin Jenkins, illos. by Satoshi Kitamura

Publication Info.: Candlewick, 2019

Categories: Nonfiction, expository, humorous voice

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

How do we deal with difficult topics in #nonfiction. Martin Jenkins deals with death offstage in BEWARE THE CROCODILE. In other words, it happens between the pages, and the reader doesn’t see it. Instead, Jenkins muses, “What happens next is rather gruesome. In fact it’s so gruesome that we should skip the details. Let’s just say there’s a lot of twirling and thrashing, and then things go a bit quiet.” The reader gets the suggestion of death with humor and without the gory details.