The term voice in writing refers to the narrator’s or author’s personality coming through, some call this the author’s style. This list of children’s picture book and chapter books provide mentor text examples for you as you teach students all about writing with voice.
In a first-person narrative, voice means the writing sounds like you — the words you like to use, the tone, the authenticity, it feels genuine to readers.
Voice can be formal or casual depending on the audience, it can be sarcastic or reverent. A strong voice means you get a sense of who the author or narrator is.
These mentor texts show strong voices, most of them irreverent and full of personality because it’s easier to explain voice to students when it’s most obvious.
You might work with your writers on rewriting some of these books with a dull voice, devoid of personality, just to compare and contrast what you’re looking for with voice. And remember, good writing with voice means the writing sounds like the writer.
Mentor Text Books to Teach Voice
I Can Only Draw Worms by Will Mabbitt
This zany counting book with all the worms is a laugh-out-loud adventure in neon pink, yellow, white, and black. The narrator explains that he can only draw worm so that’s exactly what he does. Draws lots of worms. Ten, actually with funny commentary filled with voice.
It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk, illustrated by Edwardian Taylor
On every page, the narrator of this hilarious story interrupts narration to boss Jack around. Of which Jack isn’t a fan because he doesn’t really want to be a thief and murderer. His dialogue with the narrator will crack you up. Finally, at the giant’s house in the sky, Jack changes everything. He befriends the giant, makes him a taco salad, and goes to Cinderella’s house for a party. It’s the perfect updated version of Jack and the Beanstalk with a take-charge hero and curmudgeonly narrator. Use this picture book to compare the two different voices.
The Blobfish Book by Jessica Olien
I LOVE how creative this book is with a cartoon-like blobfish with a big personality who interjects said personality during the book’s photograph and textual information about life in the deepest parts of the ocean. Perfect text to picture ration (aka. not too much!) makes this a nonfiction home run!
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems
Here’s another unpredictable and side-splitting retelling of Goldilocks. In this story, we have Dinosaurs, not bears: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway. Also, in this story, the dinosaurs eat little succulent children. Oh, and there is some sarcasm. And by some, I mean a lot.
I Am Not a Fish! by Peter Raymundo
This is a must-read story about a jellyfish’s identity crisis that will also teach kids about fish and other sea creatures (—that are not fish.) You’ll love this story for its humor as well as the balance of dialogue bubbles and narrative text. Maybe this will be your newest read-aloud favorite! It’s a hilarious romp in the ocean that we think is awesome! (Teachers, this is a fantastic mentor text for teaching voice.)
This Is A Sea Cow by Cassandra Federman
What a giggle-worthy story! A little girl named Cassandra writes a report on sea cows that the Manatee (aka. Sea Cow in the report) comments on line by line, illustration by illustration, page by page. First, he takes issue with the term sea cow and that he is a lot like a land cow. (“Ummmm… I don’t think so.“) It’s totally funny — you’ll even learn some new facts about manatees as well as get a great example of a strong narrator voice.
Mars: Earthlings Welcome by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Mars is a planet with a big personality. In first-person narration, Mars shares all its many features that are much better than Earth’s. Like two moons and 37 more minutes in a day! It’s funny, entertaining, and very informative. I would love to use this in a writing class to teach voice, point of view, and even organization.
My Worst Book Ever! by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman
Breaking Cat News: Cats Reporting on the News that Matters to Cats by Georgia Dunn
These are hilarious, tongue-in-cheek cartoons of cats reporting the very latest news from their oh, so news-worthy lives. As you can imagine, they report breaking news about empty food bowls, the best sunspots, and the vacuum cleaner’s return as well as life’s many mysteries such as why is glass in the way of the birds. Good stuff, right?! Very funny. Teachers and homeschoolers, use this to model writing with voice.
XO, OX A Love Story by Adam Rex, illustrated by Scott Camp
My Favorite Pets by Gus W. for Ms. Smolinski’s Class by Jeanne Birdsall, illustrated by Harry Bliss
Sheep are Gus’ favorite pets. Which is why he writes this hilarious report for his class. . . You’ll laugh as he explains the basics with a bit of elaboration. “A boy sheep is a ram. He has horns. They do not come off.” This text is paired with an illustration of Gus trying to pull off the horns with a rope lasso. Super funny and even a little informational . . .
Semicolons, Cupcakes, and Cucumbers by Steve Newberry
Don’t miss this totally hilarious voice-filled picture book about…GRAMMAR! Teachers and homeschoolers, you’ll want this in your repertoire of picture books. These four punctuation mark friends want to play together but what should they do? They all have different ideas that will crack you up. The author makes grammar fun and appealing.
Undercover Ostrich by Joe Kulka
Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith
In a word: hilarious. Lulu is a spoiled brat who demands that her parents get her a dinosaur for her birthday. Since they won’t, Lulu decides to find one herself. Which she does. And it turns out that the dinosaur wants to keep Lulu as HIS pet! Will this teach Lulu to behave more kindly? This read-aloud is short but worth every minute.
Planet Omar by Zanib Mian
Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai
Pie in the Sky is an insightful, funny, and poignant look at the struggles of immigrating to a new country (Australia) and the difficulties of learning English along with growing up and grieving the loss of a father. Jingwen’s observations and wit make him a likable main character and the illustrations capture the depth and flavors of his experiences. He likens learning English to becoming human. After school with his brother, he bakes the cakes that his father wanted to include at his dream Pie in the Sky bakery. It’s a coming-of-age story that is both salty and sweet, the perfect blend, and possibly my favorite middle-grade chapter book of the entire 2019 year.
Gris Grimly’s Tales from the Brother’s Grimm collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, translated by Margaret Hunt, illustrated by Gris Grimly
Whimsical, quirky, and totally cool black-and-white pen-and-ink illustrations from Gris Grimly make these dark, often sinister stories come alive. If you don’t have a Grimm collection, this would be the book I’d recommend.
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young
If you like quirky humor, then this is your perfect mentor text chapter book. Learn what happens when the kids’ father goes out to get more milk. It’s crazy– he runs into pirates, aliens, and all sorts of incredible things! Totally hilarious and quite short, this little book makes an accessible and fun mentor text.
The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John, illustrated by Kevin Cornell
This is the mostly the hilarious adventure of two pranksters who eventually work together to pull off the biggest prank of all time — a prank that will ensure they get April Fool’s Day off from school. Any book of Mac Barnett’s is going to have strong voice, this one is a favorite choice.
In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz
We love the message of this book, the fairy tale mash-up, the humor, . . . everything! More Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson tales await in the harrowing, hilarious adventure about Frog, Jack, and Jill on an adventure to seek a magic mirror.
The Twits by Roald Dahl
In the typical dark humor of Dahl, the Twits are mean and awful and we can’t help but crack up at every bad thing that comes their way. Perfect for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans who love to laugh while reading.
Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit
Chapter books like this written in first person point of view are really great for teaching voice because the personality of the main character shines through. This book is even better because written as letters and emails between Vivy and her favorite baseball player, VJ Capello, whose voice we can study as well. Vivy is a girl on the autism spectrum who loves baseball, particularly pitching knuckleballs. Vivy writes to VJ all about getting to play on a team as well as making her first friend, pitching, and getting bullied by the coach’s son. It’s a compelling, engaging story with excellent writing.
Beavers: The Superpower Field Guides by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Frith
Not necessarily a chapter book but a great mentor text example for writing with voice. After you zip through this engaging nonfiction book, Elmer will be your new favorite kind of animal — and you’ll be a beaver expert, too. Excellent, engaging writing with plenty of voice.
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