Tuesday, December 8, 2020

ReFoReMo's Best Mentor Texts of the Year 2020

Our Reading for Research team is dedicated to learning craft from the best writing and illustrating in the current picture book market. The texts we choose as honorees every year are mentor models in many ways. Picture books published between December 11, 2019- December 7, 2020 were eligible for the awards this year.

Congratulations to the authors, illustrators and publishers chosen for the Reading for Research Best Mentor Texts of 2020!  

Carrie Charley Brown's Honoree


Author: Rita Lorraine Hubbard

Illustrator: Oge Mora

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade, January 7, 2020

The Oldest Student paints the perfect picture book mentor text right from the opening. We are invested in young Mary Walker’s life and well-being as she envisions freedom floating free on the breeze like a swallow. She works hard as a slave from the time she is a child and sets a goal to learn to read once she is free. When a character and goal are built with such strength, page-turns become a natural desire for the reader. Empathy transfers to the reader’s heart making them reflect on their own real-world life experience compared to Mary’s.  

As Mary grows older, we are continually reminded of her desire to read, while also learning the conditions she faces which make it impossible for her to achieve it. The perfect recipe for building tension and heart! Through all of the illustrations, we see continued symbolism of Mary’s unachieved goal: cut-off sentences and partial words hidden in the scenery. Mary refuses to give up her goal and begins learning to read at age 114. The once cut-off words and sentences found in the illustrations change to squiggles at the point of her commitment, and are finally shown as part of Mary’s clothing once she learns to read. She is clothed in her goal! The symbolism is masterful. 

A growth mind-set theme of “You’re never too old to learn” brews successfully under the story. Never once does it overpower the character, heart, or plot. As we trudge through this pandemic, it may feel like we may never return to life as we once knew it. Children going to school, businesses open, personal goals taking flight. Just like Mary, conditions may not be right for us to achieve personal goals. Let’s keep our goals in our hearts as we embrace Mary’s spirit and commitment.

Kirsti Call's Honoree


Author: DJ Corchin

Illustrator: Dan Dougherty

Publisher: Sourcebooks, August 2020

“She had a great idea.  At least she thought she did.  That’s when she got her first “no.” It was heavy. It was hard to carry.  And it kinda hurt.”

This story is about persistence and not letting the word NO keep you from following your dreams.  It’s a great reminder to think outside the box, get constructive criticism, allow others to help, and collect all of your No’s in order to create a YES!

I love how the illustrations in this story provide a visual portrayal of how heavy NOs can feel.  They start out colorless and end up colorful for the very last spread when each and every one of the thousand NO’s creates an enormous YES.

“There were just so many NO’s.  She needed more and more people to help.

But soon, something interesting happened.

She began to get curious about what her idea might end up looking like. In fact, it became fun for  everyone to add more NO’s and see how the idea might change and grow.”

The combination of text and illustrations is a powerful reminder for how we can take negativity and turn it into something positive.

Janie Reinart's Honoree


Author: Julie Fogliano

Illustrator: Jillian Tamaki

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers March 3, 2020


My Best Friend is all silliness and sweetness. In 362 words, Julie Fogliano reminds us of the pure joy of making a friend. The heart of this book is uplifting and playful. This story captures the giddy “big feelings” of innocent preschoolers who instantly know and love one another, even before they know each other’s name. Just like a preschooler’s writing, the text has little punctuation or capitalization.


“i have a new friend

 and her hair is black

and it shines

and it shines

 and she always laughs at everything”

“she is so smart

and when

i say la la la

she says

la la la”


The preschool voice is whimsical and switches from first to second person seamlessly.


“did you know that when you have

a best friend it is really fun

when you are hiding?”

Before the title page is a close up of the narrator staring at you, the reader. Turn the page  and the narrator is looking at her new best friend. The last illustration is of our narrator looking back to see if you are still watching her. The art and text of this story celebrates best friends.

Keila Dawson's Honoree


Author: Leslea Newman

Illustrator: Susan Gal

Publisher: Charlesbridge, January 28, 2020

In thinking about how terribly divided our country is at the moment makes me think of how the parallel structure works in a book. Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail focuses on Newman’s religious identity, family, and friendship. Self-identity is important to understanding how we see ourselves fit in a society and how society sees us. The themes of family and friendship are universal to all identities.


A parallel structure tells two different stories, side by side, from different points of view. But the stories intersect at some point. This story uses a parallel sentence structure to compare a boy’s experiences at a Seder and a cat that is outdoors. Parallel illustrations also show contrasting story lines that connect to one another.


Inside, candles glowed.

Outside, stars twinkled.

Inside, the boy drank grape juice.

Outside, the kitten lapped at a puddle.

In the end, it is finding where our stories intersect that resonate with the events of today. Although our experiences are different, it’s important that we focus on our connection as we are all a part of the same country and share the same Earth.

Cindy Shrauben's Honoree


Author: Shannon Anderson

Illustrator: Jake Souva

Publisher: Free Spirit Publishing, August 24, 2020


Now, more than ever, I feel the need to inspire children (and adults for that matter) to believe in themselves. Y IS FOR YET empowers the reader by example. The alphabet structure provides a straightforward framework that is valuable in a number of ways:

      It is very clear-cut -- C is for CHALLENGES -- how is this boy challenging himself?

      It lends itself to prediction strategies -- what growth mindset strategy might come next?

      It helps the reader remember the important points -- A is for Ability, B is for Brain, etc.

“Dd: When you are DETERMINED you are committed to accomplishing something, even if it’s difficult.”


Because this structure does not follow a storyline, the illustrator is able to include a diverse group of characters. It features 26 different children, in 26 different scenarios, succeeding in 26 different ways. This allows more children to envision themselves exhibiting a growth mindset. 

Congratulations again to all of the honorees! As our blog settles into our winter break, consider taking time to reserve these at your local library. It may renew your spirit and fill you with hope, as well as mentor text motivation for the new year. We will return in January, with more mentor text inspiration and the 7th-annual ReFoReMo on the horizon. From our families to yours, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!


  1. Thank you so much! What an honor. I'm proud to be among these other awesome titles.

  2. Hip hip hooray! Lovely list! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Off to reserve these at my library...

  3. Great list, as usual! Need to add three of these to my TBR list. Thanks!

  4. Thank you for sharing these. I'm also off to reserve them at the library!

    Thank you Carrie, Kirsti, Janie, Keila, and Cindy for all the work you do for RefoReMo!

  5. Congratulations to all the above author and illustrators!

  6. Great choices, and thank you Janie, Keila, and Cindy for always being here with great info! Happy Holidays!

  7. All wonderful books! Thanks to you all at REFOREMO for sharing your love of picture books throughout the year.

  8. I've got some reading to do. Thank you all for sharing.

  9. Great list! I even found a mentor text for one of my stories from the honorees! Thank you!

  10. Congratulations to all the authors and illustrators!