Learning from mentors

This week’s inspiration is a combination of two things I’ve been “studying” and exploring with my own kids this summer. For the month of July we’ve been reading a new picture book each day, inspired by the book a day challenge. (This is the time of year that my Amazon cart is overflowing with my dream list of new books.) I’ve also been reading Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher and trying to model looking at the world as a writer. Part of living like a writer, is reading like a writer. Which is precisely what my oldest daughter, Wren, and I found ourselves doing as we read Mark Pett’s wordless book, The Girl and the Bicycle. Wren had snubbed her nose to this selection a few days prior, not interested in a book without words. But persistent mom pulled it back out a few days later, when she was a little less tired and a little more open minded. What pursued was magic. She had remembered my previous pitch and said, “This is the book we have to make up our own words for, right mom?”

So we set to work, studying the pictures and looking for clues about what was happening in the story. Wren pointed out what the people were doing in each picture.  I quickly realized that the setting was something I needed to draw Wren’s attention to because it helped to show the passage of time and other important details she may have missed on her own. One read through together and Wren was sold. The Girl and the Bicycle has been her go to book and I’ve enjoyed listening to her different renditions and the details she adds each time she reads the book. You can hear a snippet here.

Today, we worked to put the lessons we learned from studying Mark Pett’s illustrations into our own drawings. We created some new characters, cut them out, and placed them into different settings that I drew in my notebook. This inspired my older daughters to create some of their own characters and to tell the stories that went along with the different scenes by moving the characters around. You can see some of this below:


As I observed the girls, creating, storytelling, and playing I wondered how we could replicate similar experiences in the workshop setting. How can we engage kids to read like writers and inspire them to mess about with trying out some of the lessons they learn in authentic and playful ways? This is something I’d like to continue studying with my own kids but also across grade levels back at school in the fall.


Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Slice of Life. I started the Slice of Life challenge in March of 2017. I was inspired by the community of writers that I found. So I have continued to “Slice” every Tuesday. You can find out more and read other Slices here.



15 thoughts on “Learning from mentors

  1. I love Fletcher and your photos! Cheers to you for focusing on setting with your girls. I recently attended professional development on “tools for writing” and part of the focus was on writing about place, as setting drives everything, including plot and character motivation. Just thinking about the strong mental images they’ll be able to make and the strong sense of story they’ll have from this experience, as they grow as writers and readers. Delightful post.

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  2. You have me wondering what it would be like to start the practice of writing and discussion around a “picture of the week” sort of like Kelly Gallagher’s “Article of the Week”…hmm…a lot of mileage can be gained in that practice.


  3. You didn’t just study the pictures – you and Wren were close reading. Pictures are text! The idea of creating time and space to “mess about” is how, I believe, we will teach teachers to observe and reflect and in the end create classrooms with more joy and discovery! Love when home and school collide to raise questions that will push our teaching forward!

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  4. I love how you and Wren discovered setting and the movement of time. Our focus is so often on the character we forget how the other elements make the story rich. Playing with different settings is brilliant.


  5. What a great way to explore and study the work we are trying to do with all children. This post made me wish my kids were young and living at home so that I could “study” some stuff with them.


  6. I love this little slice of your and your daughters’ reading and writing life. I haven’t seen the book The Girl and the Bicycle, so I will definitely look for it. Storytelling at its finest.


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  7. Very cool way of interacting with a book. I haven’t seen The Girl and the Bicycle, but I’ll find it. Your post reminded me of two of my daughter’s favorite books when she was little, The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie de Paola, and Pancakes for Breakfast. We made up words and had lots of discussions about what was happening. The setting was always central, but I don’t think I knew to look at it that way, and I never thought of pulling those characters out and playing with different settings. Do over?


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