Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reading Mentor Texts - And Other Books

              My blog today is participating in the Blogiversary of Jen and Kellee from Teach Mentor Texts. It is their second year blogging, hence the BLOGIVERSARY!  To celebrate, they have created a two-year anniversary Blog Tour, and I am Monday’s post on the tour.  Katherine, at Read, Write, and Reflect started the tour on Saturday, and Maria, of Maria’s Mélange shared yesterday.  Be sure to read their posts about their favorite mentor texts if you haven’t already.  Thanks to Jen and Kellee for asking me to share. 

My personal favorite!
              I believe I’ve become a better writing teacher and writer because of Byrd Baylor.  I’ve used each of the following books in one way or another for many years, to read to inspire writing about personal connections to the outdoors, to show how to incorporate the details of research, to write poetry.  Baylor’s words are spare and includes some philosophy of Native Americans and their connection to nature.  I hope you will find one of her books that is a surprise to you.  In my research, I have not found a book by Byrd Baylor published since the 90’s.  The little I can find is that she lives in the high desert area of Arizona near the Mexican, state-of-Sonoran border.  I found one reference that said she presented at the Arizona Book Festival in 2004. 

              Peter Parnall, an acclaimed artist, illustrated all the following books that Baylor wrote below, but the final two.  Along with the author’s words, Parnall’s illustrations are amazing, ethereal and intriguing.  They show off Baylor’s words by echoing them with his own spare artistry, but tiny surprise details within the outer shapes.  I recently taught a poetry lesson using The Way To Start A Day, and students crowded around in order to examine more closely the details of the pictures.  They are beautiful.

         In each, I share some favorite words from the text.

The Way To Start A Day Caldecott Honor– In her spare and beautiful words, Baylor tells of people, including cave people, all over the world with special words to greet the sun each morning.  She includes directly personal words of advice in how to make a song to the sun:  When you feel the sun/you’ll feel/the song too.
Hawk, I’m Your Brother Caldecott Honor – This is the sweetest of all these, about a boy who wants so much to fly that he steals a hawk baby that he believes might teach him how.  He eventually realizes that he cannot keep his hawk from doing what it must, fly.  Its theme surely is that one can realize a dream in more than one way.  Baylor says:  and you see sky reflected in his eyes.
The Desert Is Theirs – Caldecott Honor   There are ceremonies to pull down rain, a story of who lives in the desert & shares it with each other, essentially part of how adapted living things live, including people.
I’m In Charge of Celebrations – A young woman keeps a notebook filled with those celebrations she alone chooses.  She tells how she chose “Dust Devil Day” as her first.  And she has a “Green Cloud Day” and a “Coyote Day”.  Like others here, this particular book emphasizes the importance of seeing little things and appreciating them.
The Other Way To Listen – This too, is so beautiful, about listening to those things that ordinarily don’t make sounds.  It tells a story of a young child learning some things about listening to an older man.  After asking and asking, the older man says:  Do this:  go get to know one thing as well as you can.  It should be something small.   He speaks of hearing the sound of a seedpod opening, a horned toad or a rock.  I can imagine using this as a mentor text for an outdoor adventure essay or a personal essay about learning something from an elder.   
Everybody Needs A Rock – This is more tongue-in-cheek than the others, and special in a different way.  If you are hiking with younger children, I would suggest reading this before going.  In it, Baylor gives 10 rules for finding a special rock.  One of the rules begins with The shape of the rock is up to you. (There is a girl in Alaska who only likes flat rocks. Don’t ask me why. I like them lumpy.)
If You Are A Hunter of FossilsWhen speaking of finding a fossil like a brachiopod, Baylor writes: I see/the tiny/clam/ plowing/through mud./I see/sea lilies/sway.  This book mentions several kinds of “finds” that can happen in different states, like a rhinoceros bone in the hills of Nebraska.  It respects the magic in finding a fossil in a rock and what that can mean.
Desert Voices – Written in mask poems, including pack rats to desert wrens to coyotes, showing that Baylor certainly knows her animals well.  There is a surprise inclusion at the end.   from JackrabbitMy long ears bring me/every far-off footstep,/every twig that snaps,/every rustle in the weeds. 
 The Table Where Rich People Sit – A young girl, sitting at their scarred dining table, tries to convince her parents they need to earn more money so they can buy more things.  They give her reasons why being outside and finding life’s treasures there means they are rich.  It’s a lovely sentimental story that I’ve used to give students the idea of finding what really matters in their lives.  Maybe I should mention that my parents made this table from lumber than somebody else threw away.  They even had a celebration when they finished it.
When Clay Sings, illustrated by Tom Bahti, using designs only from prehistoric Indian pottery of the American Southwest – Caldecott Honor  They say/that every piece/of clay/is a piece of/someone’s/life.  and They say the clay remembers the hands that made it.  Marvelous story about finding shards and being respectful to those pieces.  Sometimes a whole piece is found and then one can imagine the maker and the user of long, long ago.   
           Many of my favorite trips both with family and my class have happened in the southwest.  Being from Denver, I didn’t have to go far at times, but I have also taken my class on a marvelous driving trip through Utah, down to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, back through New Mexico, then home to Colorado.  
           Most areas in these states have similar habitats of which Byrd Baylor has written.  One special time we were allowed to enter a sacred area to just look at the many shards and parts of objects to be found there.  We were allowed to dig shallowly, and return the piece(s) found exactly as found.  We worked as partners in order to aid each other’s work.  This book was a guide for us as we studied and wrote.

Guess Who My Favorite Person Is, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker in beautiful watercolors    - two people meet, and choose all kinds of favorite things, like sounds and places to live and things moving.  They talk about the rules, which change all the time, and it’s a lovely conversation about favorite things.  It would work beautifully with poetry or essays about favorite things.  She said, “My feet like mud, but my face likes wind, especially if I’m running up a hill.”

My hope is that you have found some great books here to add to your mentor texts.


  1. There is so much good stuff to take in (as per usual) Linda! I have seen "I'm in Charge of Celebrations" (what a fabulous title!) at our local library, so I shall have to stop by and check it out on my way home from school today.

  2. I love this! I think I recognize the name Byrd Baylor but I don't recognize these titles at all. They sound beautiful. I love stopping to recognize and listen to nature. The Other Way to Listen made me think of Eldest from the Eragon series by Christopher Paolini. He has to sit and really be in tune with the forest and it reminds me of that. It sounds like there are so many great books here I will be looking for at the library! Thanks for sharing these books and for celebrating with us, Linda!!!

  3. I don't think I know these books but will be looking them up for my summer reading. Thanks for sharing, Linda!

  4. I used Everybody Needs a Rock for years with my preschool class to help them think and look. It is at the top of my favorite all time books for teaching list.

  5. "I'm In Charge Of Celebrations" is a must for me every year. The only other one I know is "The Way To Start A Day". Perhaps I will be perusing some more Byrd Baylor at the library this summer.

  6. Thank You for sharing the works of the beautiful author, Byrd Baylor. I have used many of these books in my own teaching, notably I am in Charge of Celebrations and The Table Where Rich People Sit. Students are really drawn to Byrd Baylor's words and the accompanying illustrations. Her words are an excellent example of showing vs. telling.

  7. I love these! I love putting multiple cultures into my units. I'll have to check these out.

  8. You have given us all something new to find, what a great list! I will be looking for THE OTHER WAY TO LISTEN first! Thanks for helping me add to my list, love it!

  9. Everybody Needs a Rock sounds like a book my kids would enjoy -- my boys and I all collect special rocks when we go hiking and we each have our own collection of special rocks.

  10. I think these books sound like home. Thank you for suggesting I read this. I have heard of a few of them, and now I will be buying a few of them.How lucky for you and your students to have made these trips. Thank you once again Linda.

  11. Oh Linda, what a fabulous collection you have here. Most of the titles are unfamiliar to me, so I'd be sure to check most of them out for my own 'delectation.' :) I am also a little excited to see the Grand Canyon this July. My sister in law is now currently based in Vegas so we're staying with her and the Grand Canyon would only be a few hours away. Thanks for sharing all these goodies.


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