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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.
#MentorTextMoment

#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: 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:

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#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.

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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.

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#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?

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#MentorTextMoment: WHEN THE BEAT WAS BORN

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The Book:

WHEN THE BEAT WAS BORN: DJ COOL HERC & THE CREATION OF HIP HOP

Author/Illustrator: Laban Carrick Hill, illustrations by Theodore Taylor III

Publication Info.: Roaring Brook Press, 2013

Ages/Grades: Grades 2-5

Category: Narrative nonfiction, biography

Overview (from the publisher): “Before there was hip hop, there was DJ Kool Herc.

On a hot day at the end of summer in 1973 Cindy Campbell threw a back-to-school party at a park in the South Bronx. Her brother, Clive Campbell, spun the records. He had a new way of playing the music to make the breaks―the musical interludes between verses―longer for dancing. He called himself DJ Kool Herc and this is When the Beat Was Born. From his childhood in Jamaica to his youth in the Bronx, Laban Carrick Hill’s book tells how Kool Herc came to be a DJ, how kids in gangs stopped fighting in order to breakdance, and how the music he invented went on to define a culture and transform the world.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Picture book biographies are tricky. They have to go beyond “that’s cool” to tell the reader why they should care. It’s not enough to be first at something. There must be a larger meaning/impact. Laban Hill sums up the “so what” so perfectly in the last spread of WHEN THE BEAT WAS BORN. He tells us, “Herc didn’t just rock the block. He put the hip hip hop, hippity hop in the world’s heartbeat.”

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#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?

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#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.