Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Mentor Text Author Study: Jeff Mack

by Keila V. Dawson

Jeff Mack started illustrating for others in second grade. He started his adult career in the children’s book market as an illustrator too.  However it didn’t take him long to create his own stories as an author-illustrator. His books are wonderful mentor texts to study the finesse of visual storytelling and low word count“Saying something important in a short and simple way is a great challenge,” he said.

Mack has clearly won this challenge over and over. But how low did he go?

There are four words, good, news, bad, and very in his book, GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS. Good news! Rabbit walks toward Mouse under a blue sky holding a picnic basket. Bad news! Mouse is under a dark cloud and it starts to rain. Good news! Rabbit has an umbrella. Each scene unfolds showing the difference between an optimistic Rabbit who finds positive solutions, and a pessimistic Mouse who doesn't while both experience the same situations. After Mouse has a temper tantrum that hurts Rabbit’s feelings, Mouse finds something positive to do for his friend.

When discussing his plan for this book, Mack said, “I wanted to reduce the story to just the essentials, so that the words didn’t repeat anything you already saw in the pictures, they only help you understand what you were looking at in the pictures.”

Then he challenged himself, “How can I write one even simpler? I wanted to focus just on emotions of the characters.”

His book AH HA! achieved that goal. A frog just wants to have a peaceful day on the pond. When he feels safe and relaxed he says, “AAHH”, but when he is disturbed and endangered, his predators exclaim, “AH HA!” I won’t give away the end, but it’s the only time Mack turned those same letters into, “HA HA.” The entire book used just two letters!

Jeff Mack books are great mentor texts to study story elements like character, goal, and problem. 

In LOOK! Mack used only two words. What other word do you think he added to create the story problem? PLAYTIME is a bedtime story. What other word do you think he added to create that story problem? In MINE! he used one word, one rock, and two little mice to create one big problem.

The characters he creates are hilarious. His stories deal with feelings and situations young children encounter in their daily lives. In WHO WANTS A HUG? and WHO NEEDS A BATH?, Mack introduces us to a very friendly bear and a grumpy skunk.

Find all of Jeff Mack’s books and chapter books on his website. Writers who use his picture books as mentor texts will find they are excellent examples of how less is more.

Keila Dawson is a ReFoReMo Contributor. She’s hiked the rice terraces in the Philippines, climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan, and Mt. Sinai in Egypt. Keila finds adventures in picture books too. When she isn’t traveling, reading or digging in genealogical archives, she's writing and visiting schools. Keila enjoys sharing her love of Louisiana and world cultures. Her debut picture book, THE KING CAKE BABY, released in 2015, by Pelican Publishing Co., Inc.


  1. Thank you, Keila, for sharing the genius of Jeff Mack.

  2. Welcome Charlotte. Genius is definitely a great descriptor!

  3. Thank you. Simple is better, but it is difficult for many times we want to add in words what the illustrator will say in art.

    1. Isn't it? Like Jeff said, writing simply is such a challenge.

  4. Thank you for highlighting Jeff Mack's books and his extremely low word count!

    1. Welcome Tina. Thanks for stopping by. :)

  5. Less is more. A lesson I need to learn. I haven't read any of Mack's books. I think it's time. Thank you, Keila!