Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Mentor Text Talk with Darshana Khiani

Dear ReFoReMo Community, you are in for a wonderful perspective today! 

Darshana Khiani has been an online friend since 2013, when I joined my first online kidlit community. I am so excited to celebrate her debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari, and her mentor text process.  If you stay committed to mentor text analysis like Darshana has, you will most certainly grow your craft by leaps and bounds.

Thanks so much for joining us, Darshana! 

How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?

That’s an interesting question since I still feel as if I’m discovering what type of writer I am. I write across a broad range of topics. My debut (HOW TO WEAR a SARI) is a funny, light-hearted, commercial story while my next book (I’M AN AMERICAN) is about our shared beliefs and American immigration history. I read lots and lots of picture books. I read one picture book every morning at breakfast. Reading lots of books allows me to figure out what I’m interested in

and learning new ways to tell a story. I love books that surprise me in some way whether it be in the concept or execution. I’m still in awe of Mac Barnett’s THE WOLF, THE MOUSE, & THE DUCK. Wow! The incredulousness of it. I hope that by reading so many wonderful picture books the brilliance of them will seep into my psyche and infuse my writing.

How do you utilize picture books as mentor texts to learn more about craft?

Whenever I come across a book that does a specific aspect well, I mark it in my spreadsheet.

Here is a snippet:

Perhaps the book has fantastic page turns, the perfect ending, or great read-aloud quality. I also

maintain lists on Goodreads as well.

I use mentor texts both in the beginning during story creation and later during the revision

process. At the start of a project, I may read mentor texts to find out what’s already in the

market. One of the things I strive for in my writing is to be fresh and original as much as

possible. When I’m revising, if there is some aspect that isn’t working, I will refer to my mentor

list to find books to study. For example, say the language isn’t singing, then I might read the

books on my list that have a lyrical quality. In studying them, I may type them out, do a story

analysis, or record myself reading the book aloud. Whatever is needed to figure out the magic. I

love analyzing picture books for a specific craft aspect, it brings out my analytical side.

Yes to all of that! You are a model mentor text analyzer! 

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of How to Wear a


In the Summer of 2016, I studied picture books with 2nd POV for a different story that had to do

with bears and the paparazzi. I read all the books I could find and analyzed how the 2nd POV was

used. Here were some highlights of my analysis:

I tried to determine what the 2nd POV was contributing to the story -- style, tension, positive

reinforcement, or something else. While I didn’t make much progress on the bear story, all the

stuff I had learned was in my psyche and would come out in a different story.

By Fall 2016, Navratri (Indian holiday season) and Diwali were around the corner. I wondered

what it would be like for a young Indian girl to try and wear a sari. It was kind of an Indian

version of the Birdie books by Sujean Rim (BIRDIE’S BIG-GIRL SHOES and BIRDIE’S BIG-GIRL DRESS) in spirit and feeling. However, the voice that came to me was the sales character from the 2nd POV book

HAVE I GOT A BOOK FOR YOU by Melanie Watt and . The narrator in my first few drafts was so sales-y and

mischievous that I had to tone the voice down during revisions and eventually found the

perfect balance in the text to convey humor and sincerity.

Wow! Amazing perspective, Darshana! Thank you for your insight. Best wishes on your future writing and promotions!

Darshana Khiani is a second-generation Indian American who grew up in rural Pennsylvania and

now resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pooch. She is an author, engineer, and a South Asian Kidlit Blogger. Her debut picture book HOW TO WEAR A SARI releases June 2021. When she isn’t working or writing she can be found hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, or traveling. Visit her online at

https://www.darshanakhiani.com or on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok at @darshanakhiani.


  1. Congrats, Darshana, I love your spreadsheet and your process of using mentor texts. Congrats on HOW TO WEAR A SARI! I remember our early writing days back when we met at the WOW Retreat.

    1. Thank you Kathy! Yes I fondly remember that WOW Retreat. Hope we 'run' into each other somewhere soon.

  2. Thanks for sharing your method of analyzing mentor texts, Darshana. I too think they are the best way to learn about story and craft. Congrats!

    1. Thank you Beth. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. Nice Interview Darshana. n congrats on your book.

  4. Congratulations Darshana! I remember us sharing a table at the WOW Retreat. Thank you for sharing your writing journey and your method of analyzing mentor texts. I'm adding your book to my TBR list. Happy dancing for HOW TO WEAR A SARI!

    1. Yes, I remember that too! :-) I want to say you had a story involving jellybeans or something small and colorful but I could be wrong. Maybe I'm just hungry. Hope you enjoy the book.

  5. Wonderful and helpful discussion. Thanks for sharing! Your books are on my list.

    1. Thank you. I'm glad you found the post helpful.

  6. Love learning how others take books apart in analysis, yay! (Also wondered if post needs an edit... was it "commercial", or comical? "My debut (HOW TO WEAR a SARI) is a funny, light-hearted, commercial story ") =)

    1. Well the book is comical and I think has wide-appeal (hence commercial, good for trade market). Whereas my next book I'M AN AMERICAN I feel will have stronger appeal to the library and school market. But who knows maybe families will buy it too. :-) Glad you found the post useful.

  7. Your book looks fabulous! I can't wait to read it. Thank you for all your tips on reading the mentor texts too. I love the way you read a picture book at breakfast.

    1. Thank you. I hope you enjoy the book. I do love that morning routine. I bummed on days when I have to skip.

  8. Wow, so wonderful, thank you both for sharing! And congrats on the first of many wonderful books!

  9. Congratulations! Thanks for the tips on mentor texts.

  10. Great post! I love how you keep track of the different mentor texts. Thanks for the tips. Congratulations!

  11. Congrats, Darshana. I love the idea of reading a new book each morning at breakfast. And totally agree with you on Matt Barnett's book. Ingenious.
    Need to check out Melanie Watts book for 2nd POV. Thanks for sharing. Great post!

    1. I hope you love Melanie's books as much as I do. Her books have such a 'loud' voice. :-)

  12. Thank you. It’s so interesting to see how you use and keep track of mentor texts. You’ve given me a lot to think about.