Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Mentor Text Author Study: Tim McCanna

Before Tim McCanna became an author, he worked as a graphic designer, wrote songs and musicals, played in several bands, and earned an MFA in Dramatic Writing for Musical Theatre.

McCanna compares writing picture books to a musical theater song, “A musical theater song has to start somewhere and end somewhere different and it needs to be a journey and the character needs to come out on the other end different. That’s how I like to think about crafting a picture book as well.”

That's exactly how Tim McCanna writes his stories. His books are written to be read aloud and performed.

Rhythm, Rhyme, and Meter

Given McCanna’s musical background, choosing to write in verse makes sense. In his stories the words flow, the rhyme is flawless, and he doesn’t miss a beat. In addition to the perfect rhyme, McCanna’s BITTY BOT books, Tad Carpenter (Illustrator) have a well-developed character and story arc.

We get to know the character in the first BITTY BOT book right away and learn what he’s up to.

In a busy robot town
bots begin to power down-

all except for Bitty Bot!
Feeling sleepy? Maybe not! 

All the bots in Botsburg beep: 
“Day is over. Time for sleep!” 

“Kiss your papa. Hug your mamas. 
Activate your bot pajamas.” 

Every bot is tucked and tight?
Peace and quiet?
Well… not quite. 

What's that noise in power three? 
Who in Botsburg could it be? 

Bitty Bot with power tools! 
Breaking all the bedtime rules.

Engaging Your Audience
McCanna invites kids to make some noise in BARNYARD BOOGIE, Alison Black (Illustrator). This story features farm animals that play music in a band together. The problem in this story is finding something for Cow to do. Fun musical sounds and a refrain, “But what can Cow do? Moo?” keeps kids engaged and entertained. This story so much fun to read aloud!

The Barnyard Band is performing today.
All the musicians are coming to play!

Horse brings the tuba.

Goat swings the sax.

But what can Cow do?

In SO MANY SOUNDS, Andy J. Miller (Illustrator), kids experience everyday sounds the main character hears as he starts his day. Each scene ends using the refrain, Oh, so many sounds to hear! 

Listen! Do you hear a sound? 
Noises come from all around. 
Soft and gentle, loud and clear, Oh 
so many sounds to hear!

The story circles back when the main character returns home and his day's end hearing different sounds.

Covers ruffle.

Click! The switch
turns off the light.

No more noises.
Not a peep.
Everyone is sound asleep.


In JACK B. NINJA, Stephen Savage (Illustrator), McCanna takes a fresh approach to retelling an old nursery rhyme classic. In the first two spreads, McCanna hooks the audience. His audience learns Jack is a ninja who's going on a secret mission and they get to go along!

Jack B. Ninja! Jack, be quick!
Jack, jump over the bamboo stick!

Secret mission starts tonight.
Hide in shadow, out of sight.


McCanna is a ninja master of onomatopoeia demonstrated in BOING! A Very Noisy ABC, Jorge Martin (Illustrator). He not only uses onomatopoeia to tell the story using a cumulative structure supported by the illustrations, but he also alphabetized the words. Brilliant! The story starts with a sneeze that sends a boy’s ball bouncing away and sends him on a journey until he finds it. But when he returns home and falls asleep, “ZZZZZ”, the final spread starts the story all over again.





WATERSONG, Richard Smythe (Illustrator), uses the perfect combinations of water sounds and illustrations to tell a story about a fox seeking shelter during a rainstorm.  This book is an excellent example of how words and illustrations work together in harmony.

In the opening, Drip drop plip plop pitter patter pat tells us the storm is just starting. McCanna uses POP! Gush Rush! Crash! Whish Wash! Wham! to show tension when the storm intensifies. And Ripple shimmer tumble glimmer to show the calm near the end.

Non-fiction backmatter adds another informational layer to this fictional account.

Why do books by Tim McCanna make good mentor texts? They show us how he develops a character and story arc. He chooses a limited amount of the right words to tell his story. His rhyme is perfect. And he has mastered the literary device of onomatopoeia that is fun and engages his audience.

Each and every one of McCanna's books deserves applause. Encore! Encore!


  1. Love this post, Keila! And Tim has such GREAT rhyme!!!

  2. I have to say, I've oread his books. Now I want to read them all! Thanks, Keila.

  3. Such insights, Keila! I knew a few of these picture books, but hadn't appreciated the full range of Tim's work.

  4. I love all Tim's books - but I think WaterSong connects with me in a special way. Thanks for bringing these mentor texts all together in one post, Keila.

  5. Love Tim's books :) Thank you for sharing these mentor texts!

  6. Yes, he knows how to write minimalist, a technique I've yet to master. Study on!

    1. Oh I so wish. I wish. See what I did there? We can do it! LOL!

  7. Thanks for sharing. WaterSong is in my "wish I wrote it" pile.

  8. Wow! Thank you for this amazing post Keila!

    1. Welcome Tim! As you can see from the comments above, everyone loves your work. :)

  9. Great examples of rhyme! Thanks so much! I've read several, but now there are more to discover. :)

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