Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Mentor Texts to Teach Craft, Style, Voice #nfpb2015

nonfiction picture book challenge 2015

Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge is my favorite reading challenge. Be sure to visit Alyson’s blog to discover more wonderful titles.

Last week, I shared ten recommendations for a starter collection of nonfiction picture books, appropriate for K-16 classrooms. (To bring your growing collection to a total of 20, check out Carrie Gelson’s wonderful recommendations for a starter collection.) Because book lists have a tendency to beget book lists, my list last week got me thinking about other ways to use picture books in my college classrooms.

Many of my college writers dread the research paper. They think that researched writing is boring, bland, the dry cereal of writing—and not the sugary kind of dry cereal either. And I confess: teaching researched writing is something I struggle with. I love reading it—in fact, I read more nonfiction than fiction. But I don’t always love teaching it. I think I have a tendency to let the research part overwhelm the writing part, and I don’t always manage to convey my enthusiasm for nonfiction writing with the pieces I tend to share as mentor texts. Just this week, I had an epiphany: instead of sharing the essays and reports I usually turn to as mentor texts, what about sharing nonfiction picture books? In an effort to cover all the content associated with researched writing, I sometimes forget that we first need to read great examples of nonfiction and simply enjoy. Nonfiction picture books are a brilliant way to show my students that researched writing can be vivid, memorable, stylish, and full of voice.

Here are 10 titles I think are especially effective for showcasing writing craft.

i'm trying to love spiders

I’m Trying to Love Spiders, written and illustrated by Bethany Barton. Humor. An intrusive narrator. A blend of almost metafictional narrative with spider facts.

ben frnklin's big splash

Ben Franklin’s Big Splash, written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by S.D. Schindler. Dazzling word play and an intriguing blend of fact and speculation.

earmuffs for everyone

Earmuffs for Everyone!, written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy. Compelling process narrative of the story behind the story. Great for a mini-lesson on how writers find topics and what they do when the topic doesn’t pan out in the way they expect.


Emu, written by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Graham Byrne. Imagery. Poetic sentences. Clarity. The telling detail.

before john

Before John Was a Jazz Giant, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Sean Qualls. Prose like jazz poetry, bringing music to life.

a nest is noisy

A Nest Is Noisy, written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long. Luminous, lush prose, rich and resonant with metaphor.


Josephine, written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Words that dance on the page. Rhythmic. Musical.

creature features

Creature Features, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Straightforward question-and-answer format elevated by the creativity of interviewing the animals themselves. Remarkable clarity and detail in simplicity.

it jes happened

It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw, written by Don Tate and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Colloquial tone captures and recreates a tradition of oral storytelling in prose.

iridescence of birds

The Iridescence of Birds, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Hadley Hooper. A couple of sentences to convey an entire life in art. The value of pruning.





8 responses to “Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Mentor Texts to Teach Craft, Style, Voice #nfpb2015”

  1. moddyscience Avatar

    These are very interesting non-fiction books. I like the range of non-fiction in this selection. There are biology books, biographies, English expressions and a self help/biology book in the case of, ‘I’m Trying to Love Spiders.’ 🙂

  2. Jane Whittingham Avatar

    I adore “The Iridescence of Birds”. The beauty of simplicity. A picture book that will appeal to readers of different ages in different ways.

  3. carriegelson Avatar

    Brilliant post and such wonderful titles you chose! I hope you share how this sharing goes over with your students!

  4. Michele Avatar

    You have created two weeks of amazing lists! I know how much time it takes to go through all of those books, and your thinking is so spot on! Thank you!

  5. Linda Baie Avatar

    Beautiful list, Elisabeth. How did it go with your students? I love a lot of these books, but that cover of Emu just pleases me every time. It takes crafty writers to write non-fiction research without the help of those talented illustrators!

  6. Erica Avatar

    Thank you for sharing such a fabulous list! I have not read any of the books on this list, so I think I now have a new list to turn to for my weekly reading! I personally love reading non-fiction picture books to my daughter as an impetus for considering social issues. We just recently started discussing race issues and privilege, which are hard topics for even ADULTS to consider–but books like “I am Rosa Parks” by Brad Metzler and “We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song” by Debbie Levy were great stories to read as jumping off points for our conversations. Lily is 6, so they provided an easy way for her to think about the topics. To me, it is amazing!

    I had never considered looking for picture books to display the attributes of research writing, but it definitely seems much more appealing, even as an adult, than some of research examples we had to read in school!

  7. […] list of nonfiction picture book mentor texts to use to teach craft, style, […]

  8. […] of nonfiction picture books. You can check out the Starter Kit for Teachers New to Nonfiction, the Mentor Texts to Teach Craft, Style, and Voice and the list of 20 titles for upper elementary. With this list, I hope to remind myself to […]

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