Monday, March 3, 2014

Looking for Mentor Texts: The What, The Why, The How, The Where by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

WHAT is a Mentor Text? 

A mentor text is an exemplary text that can be used as a model for good writing. Instead of just reading to familiarize yourself with what’s out there in your genre (which is also important), you can read to find out how the writer actually put the story together to make it effective. 

You can use mentor texts to study big picture items like organization of the text, plotting, pacing, point of view, character development and more. You can also use mentor texts to study sentence and word level craft like word choice, sentence variety, descriptions, first lines, and titles. 

For a list of possibilities for common skills you can study using mentor texts, click here for this downloadable. 

WHY Should I Use Mentor Texts as a Writer?

If you want to be an expert at something, you find people who are already experts. In her book, FINDING THE HEART OF NONFICTION, Georgia Heard says, 

“Most disciplines expect that novices learn from experts, whether they're beginner tennis players watching professional tennis players or art students copying master paintings. Similarly, writers learn by emulation." (xiv) 

If you want to excel in a particular style of painting, you study paintings not just to appreciate the art, but to really figure out the technique used to render the piece of art. 

HOW Do I Figure Out What Mentor Texts to Use?

Try to find books like you want to write. If you want to write picture book biography, you should read as many picture book biographies you can get your hands on. Pick your favorites and really study those. 

If you like a particular author’s style, read other books by that author. 

If you want to learn about a new genre, pick out 10 books in that genre that are recent and really study what makes them work. 

If you have a particular weakness in an area, like plotting, pick books that are known for their perfect plotting. 

If you aren’t sure how to focus your nonfiction picture book, pick several nonfiction picture books and take a look at how they are focused. 

If you want to write a chapter book for young readers, pick several and outline how they are set up. 

Essentially, you can create your own course in a particular genre or craft technique. You can have it solely focused on what skills you need to improve as a writer. 

WHERE Do I Find Mentor Texts?

I find mentor texts by reading a lot. I read as many books as I can in the genre I’m writing in. I also read around that genre. The public library is immensely helpful. 

I also use Amazon

It’s helpful in finding books that are similar to the one you like. Search for a book you really like on Amazon. At the bottom it will tell you about what other books people bought that bought that particular one. It’s not always fool-proof. But it might just lead you down an enchanting rabbit-hole filled with good books. Once I develop a list, I then order them from my public library. 

I also spend a lot of time reading book lists. School Library Journal, The Horn Book, and various book bloggers are also places to follow. They will give you good ideas for new books that might go well on your mentor texts to-be-read list. Don't feel like you have to spend money on expensive subscriptions. These places have free e-mail newsletters and bloggers that produce regular content. 

Start collecting and refining your list of mentor texts. Remember, these are books that standouts for you, books that really speak to you and serve as models for you. Your mentor texts might not be the same as mine, and that’s okay. 

Stay tuned, next week we’ll talk about: I Have Mentor Texts I Want to Use, Now What?


  1. Great post, Marcie, very informative!

  2. Thank you Marcie. I will be sharing this post with all of my colleagues!


  3. Thanks, Tina and Todd! So glad to be on this GROG with you guys! :)

  4. Lots of great info here, Marcie - can't wait to explore and share! Just to add another resource, the Nevada Writing Project website (The Writing Fix) has many mentor texts, too.

  5. Yes, I use Writing Fix a lot. I have it linked at my blog

  6. Thank you for the great information, Marcie! So happy to have you as a guest for our very first post!

  7. This is an awesome post. Thanks for sharing :D

  8. I never thought of it this way, except in the sense that all good books are teachers. Mentor- I like that.

    1. Yes, and everyone has their own mentors. Books that really speak to them or that they admire. With mentors, the idea is that you study them, with intention, to help you become a better writer. More on this next Monday. :)

  9. Loved reading this! Thanks so much for sharing, Marcie!

  10. Great inaugural post, Marcie! Good explanation of the entire mentor text concept! Ready for part 2!

  11. Mighty fine to find you here Marcie, leading the parade of this blog. A favorite mentor
    text for adults is THE CREATIVE HABIT by the dancer Twyla Tharpe. She is an exemplar for all art forms, literature included. She read deeply on a topic when she planned her dances & thought with care about the ideas she expressed. I return to it as often as I can. Am so looking forward to the rest of your series.

  12. Yes, I love Tharpe's book as an writers inspirational text. It would be a great mentor text for those looking to write an inspirational book.

  13. Perhaps I should say it this way...Tharp's book can also be one of those guiding light books to get you through the whole process of creating itself.

  14. Librarians in the children's room are marvelous resources too! Love Georgia Heard! Thank you for your excellent suggestions!

    1. Absolutely!!!! I'm studying to be a librarian, and I hope to be a better-than-Google human resource. :) I know there are many librarians in my life that have been that awesome human resource for me.

  15. Congratulations GROG writers on your launch. Nice post, Marcie. As you know, I can't get enough of this mentor text stuff! ;-)