Mentor Texts to Teach Juicy Word Choice in Writing

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When we teach children to use rich, wondrous words by filling them up with the sound of many wonderful words. We must read to them authors who use astounding word choices. We must encourage them to read high-quality mentor text picture and chapter books filled with precise, lyrical, sensory words.

Katie Wood Ray, author of Wondrous Words, says, “I remember the first time I realized students were gazing up at me while I was reading to them. I was overcome for a moment at how significant their gaze was, at how much trust I saw in their upturned faces. At how awesome my responsibility was to fill that space between them and me with words, wondrous words that would not disappoint them, words that would not let them down, words they and I could stand on, walk across and meet one another in a place the ordinary words of our days forbid us to go. It was a journey of words we could make together through reading aloud.”

Use these mentor text picture books and chapter books in your classroom or homeschool to teach students to read like writers, study the author’s craft, love wordplay, and write using juicy words.

FIND ALL MENTOR TEXT BOOK LISTS HERE

Mentor Texts to Teach Juicy Word Choice in Writing

Picture Books


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.

Mentor Texts to Teach Juicy Word Choice in Writing
The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds & the Life of H. Tracy Hall
by Hannah Holt, illustrated by Jay Fleck
Brilliantly conceived and exceptionally written using a parallel storytelling. The structure shows the similarities between the rocks of the earth and a boy’s life using the descriptions of HEAT, PRESSURE, CHANGE, and WAITING. As we read, we learn about the graphite in the earth as well as the curious boy who finds solace in the library. We see the diamonds waiting to be discovered while the boy grows up to work in a lab where he patiently builds an invention — a machine that makes diamonds. You’ll love the beautiful wordsmithing in this mentor text.

Mentor Texts to Teach Juicy Word Choice in Writing
How to Read a Book
by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
A luminous, whimsical celebration of the reader’s life with lyrical text, evocative images, and captivating typography. “Squeeze every morsel of each plump line until the last drop of magic/drips from the infinite sky.” Sweet’s layered collages pop with neon color and vibrant images while Alexander’s prose creates rich mental images. This is a dazzling book you’ll want to savor again and again.


Maya and the Lost Cat
by Caroline Magerl
Rich in figurative language and imagery, Maya rescues a cat but then searches for its owners. Finally, she finds where the cat belongs. As a thank you, the cat gives her a gift — a kitten. Gorgeous word choice and illustrations! “Then, sly and gentle, Cat carried something… a small and cloudy gray bundle…and gave her kitten to Maya.


I Am the Wind
by Michael Karg, illustrated by Sophie Diao
Lyrical text shows the wind whooshing over tundra musk ox, whistling through the highlands to a snow leopard, and whipping up a storm for a troop of chimpanzees. The wind travels the world’s terrain and visits the different animals who live there. “Bursting clumps of clouds over laughing gopher frogs, I stir the bayou bog–a puddle-slapping spree! I wake up the world. I AM THE WIND.


Wintercake
by Lynne Rae Perkins
Filled with rich, wonderful words, this is a sweet winter story that starts with a misunderstanding but shows the power of kindness and starting new traditions. Thomas loses his fruit basket and assumes someone stole it. But then a stranger returns the basket he found. Thomas and his friend Lucy chase after the stranger to include him in their Winter’s Eve plans.


Stegothesaurus
by Bridget Heos, illustrated by T.L. McBeth
This stegothesaurus was different from his stegosaurus brothers– he knows a lot of words and uses them to describe the world. When he meets an allosaurus who was actually an allothesaurus, at first it seems like they are meant to be friends. Until the Allothesaurus reveals how she learned so many words. YIKES! I’m so impressed with this clever story about a word-loving dino that has the cutest illustrations EVER!

Mentor Texts to Teach Juicy Word Choice in Writing
The Word Collector
 by Peter H. Reynolds
Get inspired by this book about a boy named Jerome who loves words so much that he collects them! As he collects, Jerome notices the beauty of pairing words unexpectedly. Then, he realizes that he must share the words with the whole world. Use this beautiful book to inspire your own word collections.
  
The Keeper of Wild Words
by Brooke Smith, illustrated by Madeline Kloepper
Brook’s friend, Mimi, is a writer who asks Brook to help her keep the words from disappearing. The two wander into the world where the wild words are waiting, ready to see and notice everything around them. As they walk through nature, they notice silver minnows swimming, bushels of sweet, fresh, tangy mint, and a green-velvet head, bright-yellow beak Drake lifting off. Special words are featured in colorful, bigger sized type, so kids notice the many rich nature words in the story.

 
Unstoppable
by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laura Park
The animals join forces to be better at everything. First, the crab and the crow work together so they can be a flying clawing creature. They call themselves a crabbird or a birdrab. They add on a turtle and a bear and now are an UNSTOPPABLE Birdraburtlebear! Suddenly, they notice construction workers digging up their forest for a shopping mall. How can they combine with other creatures to stop them? Their solution is both HILARIOUS and MEANINGFUL, involving both the President and Congress.


The Perfect Pillow
by Eric Pinder, illustrated by Chris Sheban
Evocative word choice with blue-hued illustration capture the nighttime journey of sleepy boy in search of a good night’s sleep in his new bed in his new room. Brody hopes the perfect pillow will help him sleep. So, he takes his stuffed dragon, Horst, on a pillow quest. Leaves are too crunchy to sleep on and the squirrels don’t want him in their tree anyway. Clouds make soft and silky pillows but the wind is too noisy. Finally, Brody returns to his warm home where he realizes that “a friendly dragon makes the perfect pillow“.


Pocketful of Poems
 
by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
I love how Nikki Grimes writes poetry that collectively makes a narrative story. This book of poems tells the story of a girl named Tiana who loves words. Her style is conversational, relatable, and made even more interesting with textured collage illustrations. “Pigeons masquerade as wildlife. They can’t fool me. We’re all city folk.” This book makes an inspirational, amazing mentor text.

Mentor Text Children's Books to teach word choice
Just Like Brothers by Elizabeth Baguley, illustrated by Aurelie Blanz
Lush illustrations and lyrical text tell the redemptive story of a young boy whose mother warns him of the wild wolves in the forest while simultaneously, a wolf cub’s mother warns him of the rough humans. Neither boy nor cub pay too much attention. They’re too busy chasing rabbits. When they get lost and meet, they’ll discover that their preconceived ideas were wrong. “And soon they’re chasing rabbits, / playing hide-find and tumble-ball, / all wide-smile and wag-tail.” The story ends with the mothers coming together in trust. You will love this BEAUTIFUL message of acceptance and understanding!!!  (Also, the fabulous word combinations make this an excellent mentor text for writing workshop.)

 

the almost fearless hamilton squidlegger
The Almost Fearless Hamilton SquidLegger
by Timothy Basil Ering
Use this mentor text picture book to talk about rich vocabulary and made-up words. Hamilton Squidlegger is fearless in all things except bedtime. It will take some bravery and new monster friends and soon Hamilton will become totally fearless. Teachers, have your kids try to define the imaginary words using the context clues.

 

Mentor Texts Children's Books to Teach Juicy Word Choice in Writing
Honey
by David Ezra Stein
I’m in love with the wonderful words, similes, and descriptions Stein uses throughout this new picture book. The language pops with sweetness, just like the honey there bear so anxiously awaits. The world around bear “spicy, aromatic, sparkling with sunlight“, reminds him of honey but it is too soon, he must wait.”Clouds cracked and grumbled in a heavy sky.” Until finally, he hears a buzz — and that means honey! This is an exquisitely written and illustrated masterpiece that leaves readers with the satisfaction of savoring life’s precious moments. Teachers, use this in writing workshop to study word choice.

 

Mentor Texts to Teach Juicy Word Choice in Writing
Things to Do
by Elaine Magliaro, illustrated by Catia Chien
Beautifully illustrated and filled with words that sparkle into wonderful images, this is a lovely, lovely book I highly recommend! These are the things to do if you’re dawn, a honeybee, the sky, and more.Things to do if you are RAIN / Polka dot sidewalks. Freckle windowpanes. Whoosh down gutter spouts. Gurgle into drains. Patter ’round the porch in slippers of gray. Tap dance on the roof. Then . . . go away.”

 


Poor Doreen A Fishy Tale
by Sally Lloyd-Jones & Alexandra Boiger
You’ll groan in agony watching clueless Doreen mistake danger for fun and adventure. First, it’s the hook that’s not really a delicious dragonfly, then it’s the yanking fishing pole that makes her think she can fly. Her so-called adventures continue all the way to her second cousin twice removed’s home. What an incredibly funny fishy tale!

 


Boom! Bellow! Bleat! Animal Poems for Two or More Voices
by Georgia Heard, illustrated by Aaron DeWitt
Show kids the beauty of words, oral reading, and imagery, as well as the playfulness in poetry with poems that are meant to be read by two people.  The book is filled with the noise of fish, geese, frogs, mockingbirds, snakes, bees, and other animals. I particularly adore the many sounds of elephants. So will you. Listen, “Snort, ruuuuummmble, roar, cry, bark,…”

 


The Dictionary of Difficult Words
by Jane Solomon, illustrated by Louise Lockhart
This oversized dictionary contains the coolest selection of 400 words starting with abecedarian (someone who is learning the alphabet) and continuing through to Zeppelin. Each letter gives readers about 15 new vocabulary words to learn plus the pronunciation, part of speech, and definition. You’ll find haberdashery, ichthyologist, luddite and mugwump, mulligrubs, mumpsimus, and mishpocha. Learning new words will be a salubrious experience because you’ll soon become a sesquipedalian.

 

Chapter Books


Big Words Small Stories: The Missing Donut
by Judith Henderson, illustrated by T L McBeth
Get excited about words! These short, entertaining stories about a boy and his cat contain challenging vocabulary words in context. This isn’t just an easy chapter book of stories but also a wonderful mentor text for rich word choice.

 


What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau
Mexican-American Clara Luna doesn’t know anything about her father’s Mexican heritage until she spends the summer with her grandparents in rural Mexico. There, she discovers the beauty of her grandparents’ life and culture and grows into her own identity. This is a beautiful, important book, one that I’ve read several times and highly recommend.


In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz
We love the message of this book, the fairy tale mash-up, the humor, . . . everything! Both Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales combine into a harrowing, hilarious adventure about Frog, Jack, and Jill on an adventure to seek a magic mirror.

writing workshop mentor texts to teach good word choice
Willa of the Wood
by Robert Beatty
Set in the time of early American settlers, this is a beautiful story of love about a night-spirit still connected to the powerful wood magic of her ancestors. Willa accidentally discovers that her clan is keeping human captives and technology, and now the Faeran leader wants her dead. Alone and hunted, Willa cautiously observes a human man, slowly learning to trust him. When she realizes that one of his children was one of the human captives she saw and not dead like he thinks, Willa knows what she must do. The author deftly explores the meaning of family, as well as the themes of prejudice and caring for the natural world.

 

Warren the 13th and the All Seeing Eye
Warren the 13th and The All-Seeing Eye: A Novel by Tania Del Rio, illustrated by Will Staehle
I loved this quirky mystery book so very much — Warren has inherited his family’s hotel but since he’s still a child, his no-good uncle is in charge. Which means that Warren is the bellhop, valet, groundskeeper, and errand boy for very few hotel guests in the once popular hotel. His uncle’s new wife is up to something and she and her witch sisters reveal that they’re searching for the powerful “All-Seeing Eye” which attracts many mysterious guests who destroy the hotel in pursuit of this treasure. Warren needs allies and ideas about where to search so he can discover the treasure first and save his family’s hotel.

 

Sweep by Jonathan Auxier
Set in Victorian London, this is a beautiful, bittersweet story about a plucky girl and her protector golem which in the telling, illuminates the horrifying lives of chimney sweep kids as well as the world’s anti-semitism. Young Nan’s Sweep father-figure is gone so she works for a cruel chimney sweep who uses children to make himself richer. When another sweep tries to burn Nan alive, a charcoal golem, formerly a piece of charcoal left to her by Sweep, emerges to save her. She and her growing protector golem, Char, find a new place to live but must stay vigilant so her old master doesn’t find them. On their own, they are helped by a street boy and a kind Jewish teacher. It’s an irresistible story that will expand your heart…and your definition of what makes a monster.

 

mentor texts to teach word choice
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    Hi! I’m Melissa Taylor, mom, writer, & former elementary teacher & literacy trainer. I love sharing good books & fun learning resources.

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