Chapter Books

Writer Possibilities:

What can I learn from these writers?

What do the writer’s do that makes me think, “I can do that, too!”?

What writers’ secrets can I take from close study of these texts?

The Six Traits are present in all good writing; we only extract them for close study for our teaching/learning purposes. If the language of the traits is part of the culture of your classroom, then discovery of and showing of masterful use of the traits in mentor texts will enhance the writing practices of your students. Mentor texts, however, should be studied as writers, and not exclusively as trait-seekers. The power of the mentor text is that it opens up possibilities for students to think, “I can do this too…” and opens up ways into the unseen world of how a writer might think about why s/he made particular decisions while engaged in the writing of the text. While we cannot really know why a writer made a decision, we need not know this—we just need to wonder and to imagine a theory for why so that we can try it out in our own writing. This is why it is important to not just look at what writers do, but to name what they do and to develop our own theory for why.

Listed below are many possible mentor texts. Included are possibilities for trait focus; teaching ideas for some of the texts; and suggested possibilities for how the text might serve as a mentor for writing craft, technique, and style.

NOTE! The possibilities for texts mentioned on following pages remain open to your “noticings” and those of your students. These are just mine—a text speaks to each of us in unique ways. Read. Like a Writer. Share your inner conversations with your students and have them share theirs with you. That is how we begin to connect to the work of writing.

Sharon Creech  Love That Dog. Hate That Cat  


The text: Fun, Funny, and lots of teaching possibilities for showing poetry that does not rhyme; also teaching possibilities for entry into or in midst of a poetry genre study as the narrator, Jack, is reacting to poetry he is learning in school—an interesting way to present a narrative. In Love That Dog, the narrator starts off by writing his teacher in his journal, asking what is the point of William Carlos William’s poem about The Red Wheelbarrow. (So much depends/upon/a red wheel/barrow/glazed with rain/water/beside the white/chickens). Jack writes his own 16-word poem, which launches us into the novel. Teaching possibilities: Using So much depends…as beginning line, have students try their hand at writing 16-word poems.

Trait Focus: Voice: narrator is a boy named Jack; Organization: narrative poem novel and journal-like (each entry is dated and written as a poem)

Writing Craft possibilities:

Novels can be written in poetic form

Sandra Cisneros  The House on Mango Street

 This book is intended for full reading at grade six and above due to some content. However, as it is an episodic-vignette text, each chapter can stand-alone ; many chapters are excellent for teaching topic ideas. This is a memoir text, and an excellent example of memoir writing should you engage in immersion in the memoir genre. The chapters are also very short, and it is really harder to write short than it is to write long, so this is a good example for writing small.

Trait Focus:Ideas: Memoir—best writing comes from our own lived experiences; Organization: episodic; vignettes; Voice: powerful (p. 10 “In English, my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. …” ; Word Choice: Cisneros’ words create vivid, visual images throughout, which of course, also gives us the personality and voice of the main character, Esperanza.  (p.21 “The dog is big, like a man dressed in a dog suit, and runs the same way its owner does, clumsy and wild and with limbs flopping all over the place like untied shoes.”)

 Writing Craft Possibilities:

The stories of our lives, called Memoir, from “memory”, can only be told by us.

Memoir can be written in episodic, out of order vignettes.

Writing small—focusing on small moments in time.

Figurative language use to create vivid pictures in readers’ minds.

Patricia Reilly Giff   Pictures of Hollis Woods

 The power of this writing is in the structure and the voice of the main character, Hollis Woods.

Trait Focus: Ideas: telling stories of our lives; Organization: episodic writing—each episode can stand alone, but all connect to showing the theme of family and what it means to belong. Also—each chapter has a prequel, which is a description, by Hollis, of a picture that she has drawn.; Voice: Hollis shows us who she is through letting us into her inner thinking and voice and through her amazing use of words to describe people and events in her life; Conventions: italicized print is used to show us what Hollis is thinking. These thoughts stand outside of the action of each chapter. Interesting way to get reader into the head of the character.

Writing Craft possibilities:

Telling stories in episodes to tell an overall theme (in Hollis, all episodes connect to them of family).

Karen Hesse  Out of the Dust

 This is a Narrative Poem novel.  This text could be studied alongside of other similar formats so students could see how a story can be told through non-rhyming poetic structure.

Trait Focus: Organization—poetic structure; story is presented through seasons of the year; Voice: the poetic structure demands fewer words than narrative prose, thus voice shines through in fewer words; written in first-person so we know the thoughts of the main character

Writing Craft possibilities:

Writing small, as narrative poems demand

Organizing stories through time (seasons)

Note: This novel can also be used as an anchor text for Social Studies (historical time frame: Great Depression; Dust Bowl).

Kate DiCamillo Because of Winn Dixie

Trait Focus: Ideas: In two important places, the author uses the technique of the Decalogue, which is a list of ten things; Sentence Fluency: author creates rhythmic sentences in several places with the artful use of And.

Writing Craft possibilities:

Students may be familiar with the movie based on this novel–never judge a novel by its movie!

Rhythmic sentences—many examples; and writing small and showing, not telling

Decalogues (lists of ten things)—students love lists and may take up the idea to write their own and launch a story from a list

Gary Paulsen  Woodsong

Paulsen is a gifted writer and every book can be a mentor, especially for sentence fluency, word choice and voice. This book is a memoir.

Trait Focus: Sentence fluency—he is masterful at sentence length variations and examples can be found on every page. He can vary from a 100 word sentence followed by a 3 word sentence.; Word Choice—his use of figurative language to describe; Voice–use any of Paulsen’s books to notice powerful voice.

Writing Craft possibilities:

Varying sentence lengths to produce rhythm

Writing small—conservation of words and use of figurative language to produce powerful visual images

Study his use of Conventions–punctuation and how he effectively achieves voice through crafting with punctuation.

Gary Paulsen  The Winter Room

First-person narrative. If for no other study, the Intro (called Tuning) should be read aloud for the detail of description, and for study of conventions (punctuation)—as well as the message.

Trait Focus: Sentence Fluency–Paulsen is masterful; Word Choice; Conventions: masterful use of punctuation

Writing Craft possibilities:

Writing sentences with varying lengths to produce rhythm

Artful breaking of rules (sentence fragments)


Gary Paulsen  Molly McGinty Has a Really Good Day

Trait Focus: Ideas AND Organization–Molly’s notebook organization is the focus of each chapter. Each chapter begins with a quote from Molly’ notebook.; Voice—written in voice of a young girl; Conventions—as in all of Paulsen’s work, can be studied for use of punctuation

Writing Craft possibilities:

Stories emerge from our lived experiences. Paulsen says in the Foreword of this book that while most of his books are in the voice of males, this one is a girl, and that he got the idea from a young girl he met who kept a three-ring binder system to organize her life. This would be a powerful teaching point for students.

Kimberly Willis Holt  When Zachary Beaver came to Town

 Trait Focus: Word Choice—powerful, humorous, poignant dialogue to reveal characters and to describe small-town, southern life; Organization—told in first-person, present tense

Writing Craft possibilities:

A coming of age story

Dialogue to reveal character

Present tense writing (not easy to find!)

Sharon Creech  Heartbeat

 Trait Focus: Ideas AND Organization: a narrative poem novel; Conventions—use of italics to show dialogue; use of punctuation; Word Choice—repetition of words; onomatopoeia—many examples throughout text.

Writing Craft possibilities

Could be studied along with other poem-novels

Cynthia Rylant   Something Permanent

Rylant takes black and white photos of photographer Walker Evans, taken during Depression years in America to document the lives of ordinary people,  and writes a poem from each photo.

Trait Focus: Ideas: writing off a photograph

Writing Craft possibilities:

Photos to document a theme, a place, a time

Writing off a photograph

Useful as anchor text in study of Great Depression years.

Note: Mature content in some poems–teachers–choose poems with discretion.

Lynne Rae Perkins   Criss Cross

Interesting use of art, haiku, interview and narrative to tell coming of age story in the 60’s.

Trait Focus: Ideas AND Organization—haiku, interview, art; Conventions—placement of text and visuals within narrative

Writing Craft possibilities:

A good study for use of art (visuals) within narrative text

Jeff Kinney  Diary of a Wimpy Kid  (and the many sequels)

First of four books, all of which began as a web comic and are now offered in print.

Trait Focus: Ideas AND Organization—humorous takes of the life of a middle-schooler; Voice–written through voice of a boy;  Conventions—punctuation, use of graphics

Writing Craft possibilities:

The marriage of web and print—Kinney’s Wimpy Kid stories began on the web.

The stories we live are the stories we tell best.

Ralph Fletcher  Marshfield Dreams

Flecther  is a mentor to all who want to write, and especially so to teachers of writers. He is a professional educator/speaker/consultant who writes for adults and kids and he travels the country to present at conferences as well as  in local schools. This is his memoir—his autobiography. The value would be in reading excerpts to motivate writers. He also has a great website.

Trait Focus:Ideas: writing the stories of our lives (memoir)

Writing Craft possibilities:

Good text to support memoir writing

Jen Bryant  Pieces of Georgia

I love novels that sow us the power that the arts can bring into our lives. This is a touching story of a teenager who deals with a life change through the arts and writing.

Trait Focus: Organization—narrative poem; journal

Writing Craft possibilities:

When studied alongside other narrative poem structures students may see possibilities

The power of journaling and the arts

Sarah Weeks  So B. It

 Heartwarming story of a lost family being found; coming of age story

Trait Focus: Word choice; Voice-first person

Writing Craft possibilities:

Descriptive writing

Ralph Fletcher  Ordinary Things

Title says it all—poems about things observed by a young man on daily walks through his local surroundings.

Trait Focus:

Ideas—write about places you know well, the landscapes of your life; Organization—organized through time (daily walks in early spring)

Writing Craft possibilities:

Writing of a place

5 thoughts on “Chapter Books

  1. Dr Pam, I went to the book sale at the library today and saw the book Pictures of Hollis Woods (I see now that you have read that book). I thought it might be good because it won a medal, but there was no description on the book. So, it’s good?

    • Oh my yes!!! I have assigned it for my teachers to read many times. And when I give them a choice list I always include it. It’s one of the most popular titles. I have read it more than once. Highly recommend it!!!

  2. This is a wonderful list of novels for my students and teachers. I can’t wait to dig in/ revisit these titles for the purpose of studying craft and improving students’ writing.

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