I first began trying to think of some favorite titles. Recently, I finished up a two year stint working at our local children's library so I had all sorts of books running through my mind. I loved all those more recent titles, but they weren't favorites yet. I'd only read them once or twice.
So I started thinking about the books I used to read out loud to my children - there are definitely some favorites in those boxes out in the shed. I ran through the titles in my mind and made note of the ones that made me smile. The ones that I immediately thought, "Oh, I loved that book!"
I decided those would be my mentor texts.
So out to the shed I went and after locating some of the boxes with the picture books I started pulling out the well-worn favorites. I'm a little distressed because I haven't been able to locate THE box with THE favorite books in it but I did find some good ones.
I decided to start with Can't You Sleep Little Bear? by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Barbara Firth.
So now I had to figure out how to use this great book as a mentor text? First I read it. Then again. Then I read it out loud. And I began noticing patterns.
The first pattern was the use of Big Bear and Little Bear's names. The author never just calls them "Big" or "Little." Their full names are always used. And when mentioned together, Big Bear is always first. That sounds good to me when I read it aloud, even if I can't analyze exactly why. It might be age before youth, or the size difference, or because B comes before L in the alphabet. I don't know. It's just right.
Next, there was a pattern in the bears' conversations. Their conversations always begin, "Can't you sleep Little Bear?" and continued the same through the next six exchanges. Always the same wording, in exactly the same order. This provides structure and anticipation for the listener - they know what's coming and can 'read' along.
I also love the repeated use of the word bear - as in, "When night came, and the sun went down, Bear Bear took Little Bear home to the Bear Cave." And, "Big Bear settled in the Bear Chair and read his Bear book, by the light of the fire." Why wouldn't a bear have a bear chair and a bear book? For me this sets up a sort of cadence and reinforces that these characters we already are beginning to love are in fact, bears! The story would have felt less cozy, less contained if Big Bear had been reading "Golf Trivia for Bears." As someone just learning to craft picture books, I need to remember that simple is good. I don't have to be clever with something in my own manuscripts - sometimes simple is best.
Another Little Bear book
This is my start with mentor texts. I'm excited to explore this simple yet tender book further. I'll be looking for more patterns, word choices and plot and then trying to emulated all that in my own manuscripts. Plus I'll definitely be trying to decipher the plot line as my own stories are weak in the plot development department.
How has your writing changed after doing some mentor text work?