Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but it’s also a darn good writing tool. I call it “copycat” writing. Educators call it using a “mentor text.”
If you’ve read my book LIGHT UP THE NIGHT, you realize that it was patterned after the classic THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT. The structure of the cumulative verse made sense with my story of a child gathering security and a sense of place as he gets ready for bed. Each verse layers around the main character, like his cozy blanket white and red. LIGHT UP THE NIGHT, in turn, becomes a mentor text for fluency, cumulative verse and word choice. And the copycat writing continues into another generation of readers and writers.
The teachers and librarians at Hayden Valley Elementary understand the importance of mentor texts. They used my recent school visit to challenge students to write their own “copycat” book based on one of my books. I got to read a stack of them during my visit, and let me tell you, they were brilliant – some hilarious, some tender, some scientific, all wonderful. Thankfully, I didn’t have to judge the book contest. It would have been impossible to pick a winner.
I did get to have my picture taken with the winner. Waylon Lott’s origami picture book titled TOO MANY BUILDINGS is a creative tribute to calmer, country living … away from the busy city. I suspect he took his inspiration from his beautiful community there in Hayden.
Waylon used TOO PURPLEY! as his mentor text for voice, fluency and organization. But his detailed and thoughtful illustrations were all his own. And they were fantastic.
Have you tried “copycat” writing with your class? I’d love to hear about it. Better yet, let’s set up a Skype visit so that your students can read me their stories or poems. It’s easy! Check out my My Time Out for Teachers page for all the details.
For more ideas on how to use my books in the classroom, as well as other resources for teachers and librarians, please visit my Teachers page.