Monday, September 4, 2017

Analyze and Examine Mentor Texts ~By Suzy Leopold

The temperatures are dropping and days are becoming shorter on the Illinois Prairie—all signs that summer is coming to a close. Many are celebrating the last unofficial end of summer during this Labor Day weekend. The autumnal equinox, when night and day are roughly equal in length, officially takes place on September 22nd.
The morning sun
on the prairie.
With a new season around the corner, it is time to revisit your writing goals. Adjust as need be.


Today I'll share a friendly reminder about the importance of studying, examining, and analyzing mentor texts. I'll share some thoughts and pose some questions.

When a writer reads and studies high-quality books in the genre one writes you'll discover many important elements that make for stellar book. Examine books and discover how doing so provides a writer with support, encouragement, and motivation along your writing journey of becoming published. 

Time to grab a magnifying class and discover what makes a book a book and apply it to your own writing.

There are many aspects to consider and interpret when examining a stack of well written books as mentor texts. I'll point out a few for our GROG Blog readers.

From the cover with the title to the back matter, including an author's note and everything in between, there is much to consider. How does the author hook the reader in the beginning of the story? Are the characters believable? Do you note a well-paced plot with words that fit just right?

Analyze the text structure of well written books. Examine and determine how the text is organized. This deeper understanding can help you as a writer to better understand how to use text structure more effectively in your own writing. 

Investigate, compare, and contrast, and discover ways quthors use transitional words to move the reader along. Are there excellent page turns included keeping the reader focused and wanting to know more? 

Study the word choices used by the author. Does the author use higher level vocabulary and well-constructed sentences? 

When a writer dissects books and notes what is working and what is not, all of the acquired knowledge will carry over into the writer's own stories. Investigate, compare, and constrast to discover, and interpret the theme and the "so what" of the story. 


"The use of mentor texts is intentionally using the rich relationship between reading and writing to improve writing."
David Willett Premont, 
Professor, Brigham Young University 
A Mammoth Sunflower
from my prairie garden.

Finally, keep in mind the target audience you write for. Publishers generally assign age groups and classify children’s books into categories. Listed below is one variation of many that describes reader age groups:   

  •  Birth to 24 months

Look for minimal text—one word per page; no more than one to two lines of text per page. Are there bright primary colors and contrasts between dark and light? This helps develop babies’ vision. Photographs are great for babies and toddlers. Now pull out the manuscript that you set aside and think about how you can revise your book to appeal to these littles.
Quarks!
by Ruth Spiro

  • 2 to 3 years

Do you note one to two sentences per page for limited attention spans? This age group enjoys stories that allow participation and movement. Board books are excellent choices for engagement. There are those who may believe writing for this age is easy. I know you’ll disagree. Does you picture book project include participating and movement for toddlers? It may be time to polish your work.
MARISOL MCDONALD DOESN'T MATCH
MARISOL MCDONALD NO COMBINA
By Monica Brown

SAM AND JUMP
By Jennifer K. Mann
  • 4 to 5 years
Books written for this age group are longer and more complex. The stories include more detail and description. Excellent examples should allow for participation, (same for 2 to 3 year olds) creativity, and conversation. The story line should keep the readers’ attention and develop language preparing kids for school readiness. Revisit your manuscripts that are *under construction* and keep these tips in mind when you revise.
  • 5 to 9 years
LINES, BARS AND CIRCLES
HOW WILLIAM PLAYFAIR INVENTED GRAPHS
By Helaine Becker
Read books that make for excellent read alouds and keep this in mind as you write your stories. Look for books that use playful language, such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhymes, rhythm, and tongue twisters. Think about stories that allow kids to participate and provide conversation for the reader to question and respond. This helps children develop literacy skills and instills a love of reading. What about early chapter books? Look for interesting characters and plots filled with adventure, mystery, and a hook that keeps the reader turning the pages.

  • 10 to 12 years
The preteen years can be a time for big changes in our youth, both physically and emotionally, along with increased self-consciousness. This age group wants to make a connection to dynamic characters and memorable plots. These tweens desire to see themselves in the books being read and want to read about the struggles of daily life and growing up. Kids in this age group read books that offer confidence boosters, determined characters with a can do attitude that problem solve and grow for the better. From mystery to adventure to well-written nonfiction books, kids this age want inspiration, entertainment, knowledge, and information. 
ME AND MARVIN GARDENS
by Amy Sarig King
There are many more important elements to consider when examining and  analyzing mentor texts. Hopefully, these few will serve a purpose with your writing.

Share your thoughts and comments about specific elements that you feel are important to consider when analyzing books as mentor texts.

22 comments:

  1. Hey, Garden Girl. This is a true 101 on a great way to study mentor texts! Thanks for this tutorial and the prairie magic.

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    1. You are appreciated, Kathy. Always my pleasure to share writerly thoughts and the magic on the prairie.

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  2. It's always great to be reminded of what to look for as I go through my latest pile of library books. Thanks.

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    1. My pleasure, David. I, too, always have a tall stack of picture books checked out of the library to read & study. And I always seem to have fines to pay for keeping books past the due date. ;)

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  3. Thank you, Suzy, for some prairie beauty and excellent tips to consider when analyzing mentor texts. I not only study the text, but I also study the illustrations. I look for that balance between the two.

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    1. Your tip to study the illustrations, too, is very important. Thank you Charlotte for sharing your thoughts. Always happy to share prairie beauty with you.

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  4. Thank you Suzy for breaking it down by age. That helps distinguish these types of books. Charlotte's right, now add the wild card element (if youre not an illustrator) of doing only 1/2 the work. Great post.

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    1. It is my pleasure to share these tips with my writerly friends, Maria. I am pleased you found the age groups helpful. As you know, writers must always consider the audience.
      ~Suzy

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  5. So many books, so little time, but indeed we must dig deeper into books to understand why they work. Great advice Suzy!

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    1. So true, Keila. I'm sure there are days when you feel there are not enough hours in the day to read, write, and create. Thank you for your comment.
      ~Suzy

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  6. Thank you Suzy for providing good questions to ask myself as I analyze mentor texts. I also appreciate how you've broken down the reader age groups. Very helpful information!

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    1. Judy, I am delighted to know the questions I suggested are helpful to you. along with the reader age groups. May the time spent examining & analyzing picture books support you as a writer.
      ~Suzy

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  7. Great article and tips to remember, Suzy. Thank you! Your write up of each level is so professional :) Reminds me of F&P.

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    1. Your kind words about the descriptions for the reader age groups warms my heart, Tina. I feel I grow and learn as a writer when I write a new post for the GROG Blog. Wishing you a successful school year.

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  8. Enjoyed this. Always need to remind ourselves mentor texts are pure gold. I just read Shark Lady and it made me think how I could add words scattered in my text that had to do with my subject the way she did with ocean terms. What she did gave it a another layer. Thanks, Suzy.

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    1. Your thoughts about identifying mentor texts as gold are so true, Sherri. Thank you for your excellent analysis of the book, SHARK LADY.

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  9. Thanks for this great post and examples of mentor texts.

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    1. And thank you, Claire, for reading the GROG Blog today. Your comment is appreciated. All the best.
      ~Suzy

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  10. Excellent post Suzy! I'm sharing it with our group.

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    1. Thank you, dear Julie. You're the best.

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  11. Thanks for a great list of "to-dos"! Just to make sure I don't miss anything. There are so many aspects to analyze.

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    1. So true, Jilanne. I shared a few elements with you to consider when examining books as picture books. There are many more.

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