By Cindy Williams Schrauben
I recently posted a poll on our Facebook page. The vast majority of you responded that you could use help in finding mentor texts that share the same story structure as your own work. I will, therefore, use our lists (HERE) to give you a few examples of how you might go about that.
First, let me give you an idea what I mean by ‘story structure.’ There are a numerous ways to go about telling a story. Some of them include:
Linear (days of the week, hours, months, seasons, etc.)
Refrains (although this is a writing ‘technique’, it is often described as a structure, as well)
Journey (goal to completion or solving a problem)
Progression (alphabet, numbers, etc.)
Let’s look at MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD by our own Kirsti Call and Corey Rosen Schwartz (illustrated by Claudia Ranucci -- release date: 9-1-20). Identifying story structure is, of course, easy to see in retrospect, but let’s pretend we are the authors starting with a concept. That concept could be in the form of a main character (a grouchy animal), a problem (her mood), a phrase (I’m in a bad mood), etc. From here, it is helpful to access our ReFoReMo files and find mentor texts that share this general concept. For Mootilda, I would identify the following story structures: Journey, Circular and Refrains. Since, we already have files for Refrains (HERE) and Circular Plots (HERE) we will concentrate on those.
Because Mootilda’s refrain is so integral to the story, we should look for other PBs that also use them for tension, mood, and personal growth. THE BAD SEED by Jory John and Pete Oswald fits that bill. Not only does this story use refrains, Mootilda and the Seed share a similar bad attitude and journey. Choosing a mentor text with a similar tone starts you off in the right direction. For me, a mentor text can accomplish a great deal by helping me ‘visualize’ the tone of the story. I think this mentor text would have been helpful in a variety of ways.
On the flip side, although BEAR SNORES ON (by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman) also includes refrains, I wouldn’t use it as a mentor text for Mootilda because the tone, audience, and voice are much different. It’s a balancing act.
Rosen Schwartz and Call have also used a circular structure for this story (which works beautifully with the refrain). Mootilda starts her day claiming, “I’m in a bad mood”. Her growth throughout the story enables her to address the ‘“I’m in a bad mood’ twist at the end. You’ll have to read this charmer to see what I mean.
In our document entitled Circular Plots, you will find, IF YOU EVER WANT TO BRING AN ALLIGATOR TO SCHOOL, DON’T by Elise Parsley. This begins and ends with the statement ‘Your teacher does not want you to bring an alligator to schools.’ Although it circles back in a different way than MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD, it has other similarities that might inform the authors. For example, they both feature silly antics by animal main characters. The initial ‘problem’ continues to drive the point across and accelerate the tension, and I would argue that one detail (Magnolia’s name on the board) could be seen as a refrain of sorts, as well.
So, when choosing mentor texts, don’t forget to use our files and read, read, read. Each story has multiple avenues to explore and the choice isn’t always simple, but the process is always enlightening.