With so many books out there, how does a writer choose appropriate mentor texts to read? (If you missed my initial post about mentor texts, you can find it here.)
Here are some hints for choosing good mentor texts. At the end of the post, I’ll suggest some links where you can find more assistance.
1. Choose CURRENT books. No matter how much you may love a classic you first encountered years ago (or last month), literature — and particularly children’s literature — has changed quite a bit in recent years. Look for books that have been published within the last 3-5 years.
2. Usually you will look for books in the genre you’re writing in. If you want to write a middle grade mystery, read other middle grade mysteries. You may have read dozens of current adult mysteries, but writing for middle grade is very different. So in our hypothetical example, you need to read middle grade mysteries published within the last 3-5 years.
3. Start with looking at all kinds of MG mysteries, but then narrow it down, depending on what you want to learn, what aspect of the writing you want to delve into.
You might narrow the choices by subject, so if you’re writing a middle grade mystery set in the visual art world, you might read CAPTURE THE FLAG, HIDE AND SEEK, and MANHUNT by Kate Messner. (Don’t limit yourself to just one author, but this is just an example.)
If you’re interested in seeing how others handle writing in first person, look for books written that way. Or instead, you might narrow your choices by books about girl main characters or books about boy main characters. Perhaps compare and contrast those two, to dig deeper.
Perhaps narrow the choices by setting, or time period. If there are different aspects of writing you want to study, you will want to look for several books that will help you consider each different aspect.
4. Most of the time you will want to choose books that are well-written, likely from established writers (although there are some fantastic new and emerging writers whose books stand up well to the well-written test) — although books that perhaps aren’t as well written, or don’t quite hit that “sweet spot” for you, can teach as well. Think about WHY they don’t work as well, and what you might have done differently.
5. Get help from friends. Ask writing partners or critique group members for suggestions. Read blog posts about mentor texts. Keep your eyes and ears open for leads on good books that might be just what you’re looking for.
6. Read, read, read.
Here are some links that you might find helpful:
Pat Miller on Mentor Texts for Writers: A Little Help From My Friends.
And here’s a post from Carrie Charley Brown on the texts that DON’T grab you.
Finally, I’d like to remind those who write picture books that ReFoReMo (Reading for Research Month) will begin March 1st. You can learn all about it and sign up to participate at this link.
Happy reading! Happy writing!