Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Finding and Using Mentor Texts to Improve your Writing


I just read my first pile of books as a Cybils judge this year.  I spent over an hour reading the above books to my 8 year old son.  I read until my throat hurt, taking note of the books he liked, and the books I liked.  I marveled at our difference in taste.  I noticed the pacing, the page turns, the plot and the word choice.  I payed attention to when my mind wandered or when I was completely surprised.  

Carrie Charley Brown founded the Reading for Research challenge because of her experience as a Cybils judge.  Reading many stellar and NOT so stellar books in a short period of time made her realize that other writers would also benefit from extracting story elements and analyzing their impact.  

After 4 years of Cybils judging, I have 5 questions that I like to ask when analyzing mentor texts. This also helps me improve my own stories.

1. What makes this book compelling?  
2. How does the first page catch my attention?
3. What makes this book fresh and unique?
4. What makes the ending satisfying and surprising, yet inevitable?
5. How can I infuse my own stories with these qualities?

The Cybils Award is still open for nominations!  Please nominate 2018 mentor texts for the award!  I can't wait to read them!  

Which 2018 picture books do you feel pack the model mentor punch? 


  1. Yeah for the Cybils nominees & so glad you're sharing the pile thus far! I love the questions you ask as you read.

  2. Those are great questions. I NEED to ask them of my writing. I really thought THE ROUGH PATCH was great!

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  4. Thank you for these very useful takeaways + what a lucky 8-year old! :) ++ Tamaki's, They Say Blue - finalist for the Canadian Governor General's Literary Award!!

  5. I find it interesting that there's often a difference between an adult perspective and a child's perspective when it comes to reader appreciation, a topic worth exploring unto itself. Ideally, a Cybils winner should appeal to both, I'd think. Thanks for listing your questions. It makes for a much more targeted approach than just reading for entertainment, doesn't it?

    1. I agree. A Cybil's winning book should appeal to both kids and adults. I'm glad you like the questions.

  6. Thank you for sharing your Cybil reads with us, Kirsti. I'll keep those questions in mind as I study mentor texts.

  7. I love your list of questions. I'll be using them. Thanks.

  8. Great set of questions to ask of books we read and manuscripts we write. Thank you for the insight!