#MentorTextMoment, Uncategorized

#MentorTextMoment: Dancing Hands

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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Book: DANCING HANDS: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

Author: Margarita Engle

Illustrator: Rafael Lopez

Publication Info.:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers (August 27, 2019)

Ages/Grades: four to eight years (preschool and up)

Categories: third-person POV, narrative nonfiction, biography, interiority, heart

First lines: “When Teresa was a little girl in Venezuela, Mama sang lullabies while Papa showed Teresita how to let her happy hands dance across all the beautiful dark and light keys of a piano.”

Overview (from the publisher): “As a little girl, Teresa Carreño loved to let her hands dance across the beautiful keys of the piano. If she felt sad, music cheered her up, and when she was happy, the piano helped her share that joy. Soon she was writing her own songs and performing in grand cathedrals. Then a revolution in Venezuela forced her family to flee to the United States. Teresa felt lonely in this unfamiliar place, where few of the people she met spoke Spanish. Worst of all, there was fighting in her new home, too—the Civil War.

Still, Teresa kept playing, and soon she grew famous as the talented Piano Girl who could play anything from a folk song to a sonata. So famous, in fact, that President Abraham Lincoln wanted her to play at the White House! Yet with the country torn apart by war, could Teresa’s music bring comfort to those who needed it most?”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

This book arrived at the perfect time in my writing journey. In my current picture book draft, I’m struggling to remember to focus on the main character’s internal journey, to slow down and share not just facts, but feelings. Engle does an excellent job of tracking Teresa’s emotional journey in this book. Here’s an example: “Poor Abraham Lincoln! Teresa hoped she could entertain the president, his grieving wife, and their two surviving sons. …But Teresa was brave, and she believed in trying her best…” Engle shares not only Tersa’s internal thoughts (“Poor Abraham Lincoln!”) but her feelings too, with words like “hoped,” “believed,” “remembered” and so on. This is such a wonderful reminder of what a picture book biography is about: a person, not just a plot.

Another element I admire about this book is how Engle elegantly shows why studying music matters. In this case, Teresa’s song comforts — for just a moment — a grieving family. What a beautiful testament to why the arts are important in daily life.

Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:

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#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.
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#MentorTextMoment: The Lost Forest

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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Book:

The Lost Forest

Author: Phyllis Root

Illustrator: Betsy Bowen

Publication Info.: University of Minnesota Press (April 2019)

Ages/Grades: 4 to 9 years

Categories: second-person POV, narrative nonfiction, biography

First lines:

“How do you lose a forest?

First you need a forest to lose. A forest like the red pines and white pines that once towered in Minnesota, trees that had never been logged.”

Overview (from the publisher):

“The story of a forest “lost” by a surveying error—and all the flora and fauna to be found there.

A forest, of course, doesn’t need a map to know where to grow. But people need a map to find it. And in 1882 when surveyors set out to map a part of Minnesota, they got confused, or tired and cold (it was November), and somehow mapped a great swath of ancient trees as a lake. For more than seventy-five years, the mistake stayed on the map, and the forest remained safe from logging—no lumber baron expects to find timber in a lake, after all.

The Lost Forest tells the story of this lucky error and of the 144 acres of old-growth red and white pine it preserved. With gentle humor, Phyllis Root introduces readers to the men at their daunting task, trekking across Minnesota, measuring and marking the vast land into townships and sections and quarters. She takes us deep into a stand of virgin pine, one of the last and largest in the state, where U.S. history and natural history meet. With the help of Betsy Bowen’s finely observed and beautiful illustrations, she shows us all the life that can be found in the Lost Forest.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Have you ever made a mistake? We all have. The wonderful thing about this book is it shows what beauty can come from mistakes, like 300-year old trees with branches reaching towards the sky. There’s tremendous power in such a message for students, I think. This book would pair beautifully with Corinna Luyken’s THE BOOK OF MISTAKES.

Another fascinating element is the extensive backmatter, especially the explanations of the surveying and mapping processes. The endpapers include beautiful renditions of the historic survey of the Lost Forty.

From a writer’s perspective, this book is an unusual biography of sorts — that of a small parcel of trees. And I love how author Phyllis Root admits –with humor–what the sources don’t tell us, including just why Josiah King made his fateful mistake.

Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:

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#MentorTextMoment: Two Brothers, Four Hands

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:

Two Brothers: Four Hands: The Artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti

Authors: Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan; illustrator: Hadley Hooper

Publication Info.: Neal Porter Books (April 2019)

Ages/Grades: 7 to 10 years old

Categories: third-person POV, narrative nonfiction, present tense, dual biography

First lines:

“In the Swiss village of Stampa, surrounded by mountains so high that in winter their shadows fill the valley live two brothers.”

Overview (from the publisher): “The inspiring true story of the Giacometti brothers, one an artist, the other a daredevil, both devoted to their craft . . . but even more devoted to each other.

Everyone who knew them agreed. Alberto was the genius of the family. His younger brother Diego was his opposite–he didn’t care much for books or schoolwork, and he had no idea what he would be when he grew up. But despite their differences, the two brothers shared an intense bond.

Alberto Giacometti became one of the iconic artists of the twentieth century, whose tall, spindly sculptures grace the collections of museums around the world. Diego was always at his side, helping and encouraging, and in his spare time creating remarkable pieces of furniture, works of sculpture in their own right.

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

The trick with writing a dual biography, in my mind, is finding the focus of the book. What theme connects the two lives together? In this book, the connection is apparent from the title: two brothers, four hands. Alberto Giacometti simply couldn’t have achieved his enormous success without his brother, Diego, who served as a model; built pedestals and molds and picked patinas; and in many ways sacrificed his own creative work to support Alberto. As Greenberg and Jordan write, Diego’s hands touched each and every one of Alberto’s sculptures. Children certainly will connect to the fierce bonds of family.

For teachers, this book serves as an excellent example of a “growth mindset.” Alberto Giacometti was far from an overnight success, instead, he honed his craft for more than two decades. He was a perfectionist who never felt his work was finished. And when he moved away from Surrealism, he was rejected by fellow artists, as well as art dealers, and friends. Through all of this, Alberto experimented, trying new things and striving to perfectly capture the human form.

Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:

  • The backmatter for this book contains a basic explanation of art concepts and discussion questions for evaluating Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man II sculpture.
  • The Nurture Store has the perfect Giacometti craft activity: making foil sculptures.
  • Why not incorporate this book into a growth-mindset lesson? Khan Academy has a growth mindset lesson here.
  • This Tate video not only shows Giacometti’s sculptures but also explains why his work resonated after World War II.
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#MentorTextMoment: Moth

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:

Moth: An Evolution Story

Author: Isabel Thomas; illustrator: Daniel Egnéus

Publication Info.: Bloomsbury (June 2019)

Ages/Grades: 6 to 10 years old

Categories: third-person POV, lyrical language, narrative nonfiction, nature, #STEM

First lines:

“This is a story of light and dark. Of change and adaptation, or survival and hope.”

Overview (from the publisher): “Powerful and visually spectacular, Moth is the remarkable evolution story that captures the struggle of animal survival against the background of an evolving human world in a unique and atmospheric introduction to Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection.

Against a lush backdrop of lichen-covered trees, the peppered moth lies hidden. Until the world begins to change…

Along come people with their magnificent machines which stain the land with soot. In a beautiful landscape changed by humans how will one little moth survive?

A clever picture book text about the extraordinary way in which animals have evolved, intertwined with the complication of human intervention. This remarkable retelling of the story of the peppered moth is the perfect introduction to natural selection and evolution for children.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

There have been a few evolution picture books in recent years like I USED TO BE A FISH (Sullivan) and GRANDMOTHER FISH (Tweet and Lewis). But as far as I know, no one’s attempted to explain natural selection, the mechanism of evolution, at the elementary school level…until now.

Through stunning illustrations and simple, lyrical language, Thomas and Egnéus show students how natural selection happens over time in response to changes in an animal’s habitat. As a mentor text, the great power in this book is the balance of words and pictures. It forces authors to consider how much they can rely upon illustrations to carry the story. And how much they need to explain.

Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:

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#MentorTextMoment: Hawk Rising

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:

HAWK RISING

Author: Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Brian Floca

Publication Info.: Roaring Brook Press, 2018

Ages/Grades: ages 4 to 8

Category: second-person POV, episodic narrative, fictional elements, STEM, nature, animals

First lines:

“Father hawk stretches wide his wings.

You stretch your arms as Mars rises red in the sky.”

Overview (from the publisher): “Early morning and a ruffle of feathers,

A shadow gliding through the backyard.

High above your house Father Hawk circles, sharp eyes searching for prey. From the front porch, you watch.

Swoosh!

He dives after chipmunks, crows, sparrows, squirrels.

Screech!

The sun sets low in the sky.

What’s for dinner?

A father red-tailed hawk hunts prey for his family in a suburban neighborhood in this thrilling, fierce, and gorgeous nonfiction picture book, Hawk Rising, illustrated by Caldecott medalist Brian Floca.

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Maria Gianferrari’s lyrical text is stunning. There’s so much for writers to study especially the rhythm and musicality of her language. But here’s what really interests me: what purpose do the fictional elements in the story serve?

But wait, you say, this is a true story! It is — mostly. The fictional elements arise, in my mind, through the combination of the second-person POV and the illustrations. Gianferrari uses second-person POV to draw the child reader into the text. She gives the reader imagined actions throughout the day as the hawk hunts its prey, for example, “you watching” and “you yawning.” Many nonfiction authors have done this to wonderful effect, including Michelle Cusolito in FLYING DEEP, which narrates an imagined day aboard the Alvin submersible.

Yet unlike FLYING DEEP, HAWK RISING includes children, a girl and her sister, in the illustrations. Through Floca’s illustrations and the second-person POV, the older sister becomes the “you” in the story.

So what do these fictional characters add to the story? In modern, fiction picture books, the typical advice is the main character must be a child or child-like character, which serves as a surrogate for the child reader. Introducing child characters into this true story seems to be an extrapolation of this idea.

Second, I think the introduction of these characters adds to the tension in the story. Time is passing. The hawk tries and fails again and again to catch his prey. As night nears, we can imagine it will be the girls’ bedtime soon. Will the hawk catch its prey before the girls must come inside? Would the story have worked without the children in the illustrations? Maybe, but I think some of the tension would have been lost.

Fictional elements in true stories are a big topic of discussion in writer circles right now, notably, talking bugs, animals, plants, etc. in illustrations, as well as fictional narrators in otherwise true stories. In many cases, these elements inject humor into the story and allow authors and illustrators to flex their creativity. Who doesn’t love Miss Frizzle and the Magic School Bus? As long as the reader can tell (or is told) which elements are made-up, it’s probably fine. Just to be sure, I always suggest writers play fair with the reader, telling them what they’ve made up. You’ll often find this information in an author’s note.

Additional resources for authors and educators:

  • Curious City DPW has two activities: Spot the Hawk and a make-your-own Red-Tailed Hawk glider.
  • Check out the Cornell Lab’s red-tailed hawk cam.
  • Can your students separate fact from fiction? Grab a few books with fictional elements to spark a discussion with your students. Check out titles by Jason Chin (CORAL REEFS, REDWOODS), Bridget Heos (WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING LARVAE), Bethany Barton (I’M TRYING TO LOVE SPIDERS), Miranda Paul (ARE WE PEARS YET?), Sara Levine (FLOWER TALK), Magic School Bus, etc. Ask students why they think authors and illustrators mixed facts with fiction?
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#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.
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#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.
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#MentorTextMoment: SOAR HIGH, DRAGONFLY

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The Book:

SOAR HIGH, DRAGONFLY!

Author/Illustrator: Sheri Mabry Bestor, illustrations by Jonny Lambert

Publication Info.: Sleeping Bear Press, 2019

Ages/Grades: ages 5 to 8

Category: narrative nonfiction, layered text, cycle structure

Overview (from the publisher):

“Dragonflies are some the world’s most beautiful (and fascinating!) insects. And one many children can find right in their backyards! With a simple story, perfect for read-alouds, and colorful illustrations, this scientific look at a dragonfly’s life-cycle will captivate little entomologists. Informative sidebars are included that let children learn even more about these amazing insects.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

SOAR HIGH, DRAGONFLY!, uses a circular, seasonal structure, layered text, onomatopoeia, and strong refrain to celebrate this captivating creature.

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#MentorTextMoment: HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE

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The Book:

HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE: HOLLYWOOD STAR AND BRILLIANT INVENTOR

Author/Illustrator: Laurie Wallmark, illustrations by Katy Wu

Publication Info.: Sterling, 2019

Ages/Grades: ages 5 and up

Category: narrative nonfiction, biography

Overview (from the publisher):

Movie star by day, ace inventor at night: learn about the hidden life of actress Hedy Lamarr!
“To her adoring public, Hedy Lamarr was a glamorous movie star, widely considered the most beautiful woman in the world. But in private, she was something more: a brilliant inventor. And for many years only her closest friends knew her secret. Now Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu, who collaborated on Sterling’s critically acclaimed picture-book biography Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, tell the inspiring story of how, during World War Two, Lamarr developed a groundbreaking communications system that still remains essential to the security of today’s technology.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Often providing too much context in a biography would steer us off our story path. Here, Laurie Wallmark needed readers to understand the breadth and depth of Hedy Lamarr’s inventive nature. Instead of listing Hedy’s many inventions in the text, Katy Wu includes them in the illustrations (below). Perfect solution.

Additional Resources:

Laurie Wallmark’s site includes a curriculum guide and other activities. Click here.