Looking at old and new – mentor texts

Kipling, Kinney and Kadahata sit together on one shelf and as I turn I find Ursu, Vanderpool and Vern taking up another shelf.  I know they fit in the alphabet together and that means the Dewey decimal system in this little library will put them together as well.  But wait my brain is jumping from 1912 (copyright date) to 2012 (copyright date) is that possible?


I have walked into a small pristine little library in Tryon, North Carolina.  All books are on the shelves, no request for a book is necessary.  You just walk up to the shelf and they are there for the reading.  Age of book does not make a difference.  The old “classics” of 1912 or 1906 – Cooper’s the Deer Slayer sits next to Creech’s Walk to Moons.   Avi’s  Crispin sits next to Barrie’s The Little White Bird and Peter and Wendy  (We know the Disney version of Peter Pan).




It seems this is a chance for authors across the ages to chat with each other as they sit side by side.  They could share stories and learn from each other the craft of writing.  Well, really maybe it is our 1990 – 2012 authors that are learning from our friends of old – the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s.

The thinking for me is mentor texts.  I work so hard to share author’s writing with my students, to model a variety of styles of writing.  Here sits so many different styles of writing from over the ages.  The stiff formal language of Barrie or Cooper next to Sharon Creech and Kinneys – Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which is casual and very familiar.  The ability to be able to hold and read books of the early 1900’s (some first additions) and then turn to The Diary of A Wimpy Kid is an amazing gift.  It is a shift in writing and even book structure.  I know there were comic books long ago that might fit better long side our Wimpy kid books by still I wish I could share this wide range of writing with my students.

For students to see the vocabulary, the text structure, the complex writing style – WOW!  Children’s writing has come a long ways.  It is more inclusive, it has taken on a design sense that appeals to the young reader but sometimes we have also lost the depth of story, the strong character change and the complex thinking that goes on within the story.

Writing for children ( or writing stories in general) it appears is a fine balance of depth, character development, inclusion and design. Teaching writing must also share that understanding.   I only hope as a teacher of writing I can help my students see and create that balance.  They are our future authors!

What “old books have your read lately or turn to as a mentor for your own writing?

Some of the books found in Tryon’s library – The Lanier Library

The Deer Slayer – Cooper, 1841

Around the World in Eighty Days – Vern, ( 1873 ) 1952

The Little White Bird – Barrie, 1902

Peter and Wendy – Barrie, 1911

Just So Stories – Kipling 1916

Walk Two Moons – Creech 1994

Kira, Kira -Kadahata, 2004

Moon over Manifest – Vanderpool, 2010

The Dairy of A Wimpy Kid – Kinney, 2007

Breadcrumbs- Ursu, 2012

About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
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3 Responses to Looking at old and new – mentor texts

  1. What a great post and reminder of the value of sharing the old as well as the new when consdiering mentor texts.

  2. I absolutely love the old books sitting next to the new ….and since you asked….Secret Garden-yes, 100 dresses- yes, Stormy, Misty’s foal- yes, Brighty of the Grand Canyon- yes. I guess the 60’s really have informed my life 🙂 Thanks for sharing this. xo nanc

    • Great collection – I have read many of those as well. I don’t know Brighty of the Grand Canyon but know Henry’s book Misty of Chincoteague. I have shared that with classes years ago. Thanks for sharing your mentors and good reads.

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