When we teach children how to write, it’s important that they are able to narrow a topic down to a small moment. These mentor text picture books will help you model how to write about small moments.
In other words, we use the best professional writers and apprentice our children to their craft moves, studying what these writers do, and applying it to our own writing!
That’s what it means to use mentor texts to teach children writing.
Mentor Texts for Teaching How to Write Small Moments
Hike by Pete Oswald
Take an adventure with a boy and his father out of the city and into the woods. Wordless, playful, emotion-filled, and deeply satisfying, see the beauty of nature from a log bridge and a waterfall to the pine forest where the father and son hike to plant a new tree. Stunning and heartfelt, use this book to write the words in this small moment experience.
Between Us and Abulea A Family Story From the Border by Mitali Perkins illustrated by Sara Palacios
This small moment focuses on the trip a family takes in order to reunite for las posadas. They arrive at the border fence where you’ll see the fence, see the regular people, and see the kids and their mama talking to their abuela between the fence slats. In a sweet resolution, when the boy can’t give his abuela his drawing, the little girl helps make it into a kite to fly it over the top of the fence.
Home In the Woods by Eliza Wheeler
Captivating illustrations and an inspiring historical story based on the author’s grandmother’s childhood show joy, resilience, and family unity despite difficult circumstances. It’s organized by season; a year in the life of a single-parent family with eight children during the great depression. Though in each season, read about a small moment when the family bands together. Their love shines through the work they do — doing chores, making jam, telling stories, or pretend playing. Beautifully written and memorable.
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari is ready to jump off the diving board. Mostly. His dad tells Jabari that he feels scared too, and sometimes after a deep breath and telling himself he is ready, the thing stops feeling scary and feels like a surprise instead. I really like this advice. And it works for Jabari, too. Beautiful illustrations, perfect text to picture ratio, and a helpful, relatable story with a relatable main character make this a new read-aloud small moments favorite.
Daniel’s Good Day by Micha Archer
Read about a boy walking through his neighborhood where he talks to neighbors about what makes a “good” day. From the neighbor painting to the nanny pushing a stroller to a gardener and even his Grandma, Daniel listens and observes. And he has a good day, too. The exquisite collage artwork and the beautiful message of the little things that make a good day make this a memorable story.
When Charley Met Emma by Amy Webb, illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard
When Charley sees Emma at the park in a wheelchair who looks different, he initially loudly asks, “Why does she look so weird, mommy?” which makes Emma feel sad. His mom says, “Different isn’t weird, sad, bad, or strange. Different is different. And different is OK!” Charley apologizes and then asks Emma questions. Emma helps Charley know that even though she’s a little “differenter” than he is, she’s a lot the same, too. This compassionate story of a playground meeting shares the importance of accepting differences with kindness and openheartedness.
Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara
Belle gets to make Freedom Soup with her Ti Gran this New Year. And while they cook and dance and prepare, Ti Gran shares the story of how the soup came to be. Long ago in her home country of Haiti, where people were slaves and Freedom Soup was only for the free. The slaves revolted and won. To celebrate, they ate Freedom Soup because now it’s for everyone. Gorgeous illustrations filled with movement and color compliment this accessible history. The last page includes a recipe you can make after you read this story about freedom and revolution.
‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak
In the tradition of the cumulative poem, “This is the House that Jack Built“, this Hawaiian version shares a familial cultural tradition of Hawaii of making poi for the family’s lu’au. Pak’s atmospheric, stylized watercolor illustrations and Loomis’s lyrical text show the many hardworking hands, so wise and old, that pick the kalo to make the poi to share with ‘ohana, the loved ones. A particular focus of this poem is on the family’s connection to the earth with rain, sun, and mud. The family gathers at the end of the day together on a beach to eat and celebrate.
Tiny, Perfect Things by M.H. Clark, illustrated by Madeline Kloepper
Celebrate the wonder of ordinary, small things! (Small moments!) A girl and her grandfather take a walk to notice all the tiny, perfect things; things like a yellow leaf, a snail, a red bottle cap, a flower growing through a sidewalk crack…When they arrive home, the little girl excitedly shares about the wonders. This story is sure to inspire your own neighborhood walks searching for tiny, perfect things. Warm, earthy illustrations throughout.
Night Walk to the Sea: A Story About Rachel Carson, Earth’s Protector by Deborah Wiles and Daniel Miyares
This is a simple story about a nighttime walk through the cinnamon ferms and tall trees with gray frogs croaking down to the salty shore where the mom and son see sparkling luminous life in the ocean — will o’ the wisps! The writing is filled with sensory details and a strong sense of place.
“And then, as the soft dark folded itself around them, and the sea called to them, in and out, in and out, like a lullaby, Roger and Rachel breathed in the salty sea air together.
Ode to an Onion Pablo Neruda & His Muse by Alexandria Giardino, illustrated by Felicita Sala
When Neruda is struggling with sadness while writing about the situation of poor minors, his friend Matilde shows him the truth about life using an onion as a metaphor. The truth is that sad and happy can coexist. “The onion’s papery skin crinkled in Pablo’s hand… The scent burned Pablo’s eyes. Tears streamed down his checks… But then he noticed how the sunlight shone through the onion’s layers…”
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Zuri’s daddy helps her see how her hair lets her be her unique self. Like when she wears her hair in braids with beads, she is a princess, or when she wears it in two puffs, she’s a superhero. One day, Zuri decides to do her hair herself. Daddy helps her learn. But it’s pretty tricky at first but then Daddy gives Zuri the perfect supergirl style. I LOVE so much about this book — the celebration of culture, the dad with long hair and a tattoo, and that a dad that does his daughter’s hair.
Early Sunday Morning by Denene Millner, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
It’s Sunday and Sarah and her family are going to church. But this day, Sarah is singing her first solo in the choir. As we watch she and her family prepare for services, she gets advice to help her nervousness, and a wonderful surprise when she does sing. This picture book is a beautiful portrayal of an African-American family and their church culture accompanied by outstanding illustrations.
Grandpa’s Stories: A Book of Remembering by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Allison Colpoys
During each season, a girl and her grandpa spend playful time together. When Grandpa dies, the girl holds on to her memories, writing and drawing them in the notebook her grandpa gave her.
Crown An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
Sitting on the barber’s chair, a young boy reflects on how, when he leaves, he’ll feel like royalty. Not to mention, people will take notice of his fresh cut — his teachers, his mom, and the girls in his class. Because he’ll be looking good. The author transports readers into this boy’s shoes as he celebrates his cool cut, the men around him on the chair, and the barber who cuts his hair. Rhythmic, vibrant words plus bold, oil painting illustrations give this barbershop experience a swagger of its own.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
My favorite picture book from childhood still endures today as a classic! It has finally snowed and the little boy can’t wait to go play…This exploration of the first snow is a perfect small moment example to share with growing writers.
Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
This charming story that my kids love is about a little girl and her mom visiting the library. It’s simple with a small focus and absolutely wonderful.
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua
Amy can do a lot of things but she can’t make bao very well. Amy watches the dough rise, her dad rolls the dough while Amy’s dad makes the filling. Amy tries to make her own bao but she tries and tries and she just can’t. Then Amy has a great idea — to make Amy-sized pieces. Perfect! They get boiled and taste delicious. A yummy introduction to Chinese dumplings and that with a little creative problem solving, you can achieve your goals.
Sleep Tight Farm: A Farm Prepares for Winter by Eugenie Doyle, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
Watch as the family works together to cut wood, fix the chicken coop, store equipment, and do these things that get the farm ready for “down quilts of snow.” The evocative words in this picture book give readers a cozy feeling. The author’s repetition of “good night” as the farming family buttons up for winter feels like a lullaby. “Good night, fields, peaceful and still.”
Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed
Bilal tells his friends all about daal. Together, they carefully prepare the ingredients, then wait as the flavors mix together. While they’re waiting, they play outside. Finally, the daal is ready for more ingredients and the best part of all — eating! This story makes me want to eat daal, too — it’s a lovely introduction to this savory lentil dish from South Asia as well as a warm-hearted example of sharing traditional foods with friends from other cultures.
Seeking an Aurora by Elizbeth Pulboard, illustrated by Anne Bannock
This small moment story shows a little girl and her father in search of an Aurora one dark, still night. Lovely imagery (“warm, bitterly light spilling from the kitchen window and our footprints in the silvery frost“) and gorgeous crayon textured art.