Monday, April 14, 2014

Learning How to Write Using Poetry Mentor Texts by Marcie Flinchum Atkins Featuring SHE SANG PROMISE by Jan Godown Annino

It’s Poetry Month! Reading poetry and using it as a mentor text is a great way to absorb spare and specific language. 

This month, I’m featuring a book by one of our own GROGGER bloggers, Jan Godown Annino. Her picture book biography SHE SANG PROMISE: THE STORY OF BETTY MAE JUMPER, SEMINOLE TRIBE LEADER, was already on my radar because I’m working on a full-length mentor text lesson plan for this book. 

Whether you are an adult writing children’s literature, a teacher teaching young writers with mentor texts, or a young writer who uses mentor texts, SHE SANG PROMISE is full of language that packs a punch. 

I personally love “herstories,” histories of strong women. This is one of those stories. 

Illustrated by Lisa Desimini
National Geographic, 2010

The book shares the life story of Betty Mae Jumper, a Seminole woman in Florida. She was an everywoman, a student, a nurse, a champion for educating her people, a storyteller, a leader, and voice for her people. 

What Writing Skills Can You Improve by Studying this Book?

* Lyrical, poetic language
* Vivid Verbs
* Sensory words
* Imagery
* Specificity of Language 

The word choice in this book is specific to Betty Mae Jumper’s life and her world. 

Application to My Own Writing

As you work on your own writing, take a look at your language. Make a list of some of your specific language. Does it convey a particular setting? Does is reveal a uniqueness of character? Does show action that is distinct to the topic or story at hand? 

Jump In

What are some of your favorite books with lyrical or poetic language? Share your favorites in the comments. 


  1. Thanks for highlighting this book, Marcie. And Jan, what a great pb biography! I didn't know Ntl Geo did pb biographies. How did u get in with them?

  2. Hi Tina! I loved your blog yesterday, by the way - thank you.
    I did what Kristin in your blog listed as her first. I attended a conference.
    It flowed from there. I've recently answered more process questions, asked in a tag by GROGGER Kathy Halsey, at the April 7, 2014 Bookseedstudio article with this url:

    Hope you can visit it?
    Good luck with all your many projects.

  3. Conferences are a great way to make connections, Jan, as well as discover ways to improve craft. At a recent conference I attended, Chronicle editor Melissa Manlove, used OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW (Kate Messner) as a mentor text. She pointed out how the language reflected the sounds of moving in snow and the ideas of "over" and "under". Thanks for pointing out how you use mentor texts, Marcie!

    1. Yes, what you said Patty! Thanks.

      To answer Marcie's question - I like to take a look at the ABC/E.B. White Read Aloud Winners. Read Aloud books are almost genetically wired to employ those delicious words that are textural, layered & carry multiple meaning while pleasing little ears.

      I will mention just one title I see in a glance in the room here, cringing also because I'm overlooking a buncha others, but even tho we are out of monster "season" I send you to the Emberly team (Rebecca & dad Ed, granddaughter Adrian is also credited on the delightful dust jacket) IF YOU'RE A MONSTER AND YOU KNOW IT, where twitching tails, wiggling warts & other moving phrases evoke the oversize actions of careening monsters.

      I sometimes feel that all fabulous picture books will be lyrical & likely, employ language that reflect the movements of the character or story. In biography, for example, see the flow of the words A RIVER OF WORDS, about William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant (illustrator Melissa Sweet).

      And the KM SNOW book is an E.B. White Read Aloud Honor Finalist, so that list is truly one mighty fine resource.

    2. Yes! I used Over and Under the Snow to launch my mentor text lessons and posts. Love that book!

  4. One of my favorite books that has lyrical language is Heartland by Diane Siebert. I just love reading it. The rhythm in the book is like a song and the artwork is just beautiful as well.

    1. Yes, Angela. I love that book. Great way to take a look at POV too.

  5. Thanks, Marcie. Your lesson fits right in with what we're doing/learning in RhyPiBoMo!

  6. I'm making a note of author Diane Siebert & HEARTLAND.
    Thank you Angela Turner.

    At midweek now I've collected library books for Friday reading & find Eve Bunting & Mem Fox among the group. These two authors consistently provide a lyricism with perfect storytelling that could lead a class in ideas, Marcie. Bet you already have lists peppered with their titles.

    The two titles at hand are HUNWICK'S EGG (Fox) & HAVE YOU SEEN MY NEW BLUE SOCKS? (Bunting.)

  7. Hi Marcie: As a trained instructor for English Language Learners [ELLs], it is so important to develop the English proficiency of students who are acquiring English as a second language. This can be done through rich vocabulary development that equals English proficiency. This featured book, She Sang Promise, by Jan Godown Annino, sounds like a book I need to own. As an aspiring author, thank you for the reminder to consider word choice, when writing pb manuscripts. ~Suzy Leopold

  8. As a new school year begins, appreciations again, Marcie for this post.
    You are a gem.