When a symphony orchestra plays really well, it’s a masterpiece of collaboration. Each instrument adds power to the music we hear. Harmonies and countermelodies are only possible when two or more instruments are playing. And when an instrument is missing, it’s obvious to anyone who knows and feels the music.
Mentor texts are like conductors. They help us study when to rest, which beats to take, what notes to hit. Each element of a mentor text combines like the instruments in an orchestra to create the perfect powerful story. As we read mentor texts, we take notes, so we don’t miss a beat when it comes to our craft.
Your conductors are here! They’re turning to you and gently tapping their batons on your notebook. They’re raising them high and waiting for you to follow the music with your pencil.
The following mentor texts are harmonious collaborative masterpieces.
Saturday by Oge Mora
Finding a balance between work, school, and activities has always been a challenge for families. When you throw a pandemic into the mix, reliable family connections are even more important. Like a great crescendo, SATURDAY builds this bond right from the start with routine and repetition:
Because Ava’s mother worked Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, Saturday was the day they cherished.
On Saturdays they zipped to the library for weekly story time.
On Saturdays they lounged…
On Saturdays they picnicked…
And on this Saturday, they would also ride the bus across town for a one-night puppet show!
Like the buzzing excitement that we internalize when listening to Beethoven’s Flight of the Bumblebee, interplay between text and words is optimal for relaying the genuine wonder and excitement of a child in deep point of view:
The day would be special. The day would be splendid. The day was Saturday!
The accompanying illustration encircles these words showing Ava and her mother’s flurry of excitement as they prepare to leave for the puppet show.
And as it is true with every family, things don’t always go as planned and stress can get the best of us. A consistent message of unity and coping with disappointment together as a family delivers the closing as the words tease the page turn:
"What if we…” Ava started.
“You know we could…” her mother began.
It’s the illustrations that leave us with a simple, satisfying outro that celebrates the solution behind their special day.
Dozens of Doughnuts by Carrie Finison, illustrated by Brianne Farley
Dozens of doughnuts, hot from the pan,
Toasty and tasty, and all for...
This delicious read-aloud pairs perfect rhyme with expressive illustrations to create the ideal recipe for heart and humor.
Swish! The High-Flying Alley-Ooping Harlem Globe Trotters by Suzanne Slade and Don Tate
A steady beat dribbles through the pages with language that bounces so high it jumps right off your tongue!
It all started with those boys, thump-thumping basketballs up and down Chicago’s southside…
Years bounced by…
With their slap-stick tricks and pin-point shots…
It became non-stop, give it all you got, out to win it, sky’s the limit basketball.
With alliteration sprinkled generously throughout:
...raucous, record-breaking crowd…
...trounce the Trotters.
pope, princes, and presidents…
And a consistent message of unity and equity that wins the game:
The team that brought black and white America closer together brought the world a little closer together, too.
Mootilda’s Bad Mood by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call, Illustrated by Claudia Ranucci
This rollicking rhyming book shows how bad notes or bad mooooooods can turn around when in harmony with others.
Mootilda took a breath and said,
“I don’t know whose upsetter.
Let’s huddle and Cow-miserate
and then we’ll feel much better.”
A repeated refrain echoes song lyrics, and in this case, Mootilda is moooosical in this song she sings.
I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon by Baptiste & Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon
United language washes over this story of rebirth in a dry environment where clean water is scarce.
Tantoh drinks up facts and figures faster than his teacher can pour them onto the chalkboard. His hand shoots up like a cornstalk.
Deep POV unites us emotionally as he is lying in bed sick for seven years.
No one should die from drinking something that is necessary for life: water.
The underlying message throughout is also a direct quote (proverb) from Farmer Tantoh.
“When you don’t have what you want, use what you have.”
The closing leaves us thirsty to contribute to a healthy environment and learn more about environmental activists.
A trickle of hope runs through many villages. And a crop of young farmers-- who are proud to be farmers-- are digging in, planting ideas and growing a movement.
Bedtime for Sweet Creatures by Nikki Grimes and Elizabeth Zunon
Rhythmic language creates the music of this story filled with metaphors, similes, onomatopoeia and stunning illustrations.
“No! No! No!”
You beat the word like a drum the minute I say, “Come to bed sweet creature.”
This charming bedtime story shows creativity at bedtime and the love between a mother and a child.
“In the forest of your room, you cling to bear. I turn back the sheets and you GROWL. “In you both go!” I say.
Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry and Juana Martinez-Neal
Sometimes friends can see what we need before we do ourselves. In this case, the sea is personified as Swashby’s long-time dear friend. Lyrical language gives life to the sea, allowing us to feel her gentle musical waves and caring:
She knew him in and out,
Up and down,
And better than anyone.
Alliterated language continues to describe the life that Swashby adored,
Salty and sandy and serene. Until...
And pushes beyond the page turn to introduce the life that Swashby swam away from:
..squeaks and squeals sprang from the empty house next door.
Swashby leaves messages in the sand for the unwanted neighbors, announcing his intent to remain reclusive. Without ever actually speaking, the illustrations allow the sea to meddle with Swashby’s do-not-disturb tactics, washing out parts of the letters, and leaving invitations in the sand. Each time, a repetitive musical phrase follows:
And the sea fiddled, just a little.
Consistently splashed with poetic language that comes in threes, build heart, and creates a pattern, we are left with musicality in our hearts, craving for more:
After that, it was easy for Swashby to have tea with the girl and her granny--
and ice cream,
and s’mores on the beach.
It was easy for him to share his special sea glass.
It was even easy for him to see that neighbors
could be fun,
No Voice Too Small edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley
The symphony of voices in this book shows how each instrument (and person) makes a difference.
Each of us can be
Who does something
We can speak our heartache,
Sing our joy, and
Share our dreams.
We may be small,
I Talk Like a River by Jordan Smith and Sydney Smith
This story is a beautiful empathetic symphony filled with lyricism, poetry, and imagery. There is nothing like hearing the author himself read this book, and therefore, I encourage you to also locate the masterfully-done audio book at your library. The audio alone fills my head with pictures and pulls me so close to this character, who is the author as a child struggling with speech.
I wake up with the sounds of words all around me.
And I can’t say them all.
Just the thought of the ‘p’ in pine tree growing roots in his mouth or the ‘c’ in crow getting stuck in his throat makes us feel the weight of this character’s adversity and empathize with him:
The P in pine tree grows roots inside my mouth and tangles my tongue.
The C is a crow that sticks in the back of my throat.
Readers are invested in this character’s genuine heart, journey, and struggle.
At school, I hide in the back of class. I hope I don’t have to talk. When my teacher asks me a question, all my classmates turn and look. They don’t see a pine tree sticking out from my lips instead of a tongue.
He replays his bad speech day in his mind, but connecting with the river allows him to feel less alone.
I look at the water bubbling, churning, whirling, and crashing.
When the words around me are hard to say, I think of the river.
Even the river stutters. Like I do.
Hope flows like a river for anyone who struggles with adversity:
And I also think of the calm river, beyond the rapids where the water is smooth and glistening.
Lights Out by Marsha Diane Arnold and Susan Reagan
The poetic words of this book, shimmer and hum like fireflies wings. The hum crescendos to a full song when luminous text and illustrations combine to allow nature’s light to take over.
Where is Darkness? Where is Night,
where coyotes sing, owls hunt, and
birds fly across continents,
where foxes move through the dark
and beetles are more than beetles?
Fox and Beetle wonder
if Night is only lost.
Out there. Somewhere.
And so, together, they set out.
Across the wide, wide world,
they search ...
for the Dark of Night.
This is the kind of book not only teaches about light pollution, but it also powerfully shows the beauty of nature.
What books are harmonious collaborative masterpieces for you?
Kirsti is donating a copy of her newest book, Cow Says Meow to a U.S. winner, and Carrie is donating one quick-look critique! To be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must be registered by March 1, comment on each post, consistently read mentor texts, and enter the Rafflecopter drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo.
Kirsti Call is
the co-coordinator of ReFoReMo, and the co-host of Picture Book Look. She reads, reviews, revises and critiques every
day as a 12x12 elf, a blogger for Writer's
Rumpus, and a member of critique groups. She's judged the CYBILS award for
fiction picture books since 2015. She is a therapist trained life coach for creatives. Kirsti's picture book, MOOTILITA'S BAD MOOD
(Little Bee) debuted in the fall of 2020. COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD
TURKEY (Little Brown) release in 2021. Kirsti is represented by Emma Sector at
Carrie Charley Brown is the founder and co-coordinator of ReFoReMo. She eats, sleeps, and breathes picture books as an elementary school librarian, writer, and professional critique mentor. Carrie serves as a 12 x 12 Critique Ninja and contributed as a CYBILS fiction picture book panelist and regional advisor for SCBWI North Texas. She enjoys blogging, reviewing books, and spreading mentor text love. Her publications include ghostwritten projects and teacher resources. Carrie has a Masters of Education in School Library Media, and an endorsement in Literacy. She loves motivating people of all ages to discover the joy of reading by connecting personal interests.