Realistic Fiction: Windows, Mirrors, and Mentor Texts Handout

Realistic Fiction: Windows, Mirrors, and Mentor Texts
“From Creative Process to Curriculum Connections”
Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
March 22, 2014

Teaching Ideas by 
Grace Enriquez, Ed.D.

Featured Titles

Written by Meg Kearney; Paintings by E. B. Lewis
Published by Scholastic in 2013
ISBN # 978-0545100410

  • Researching Animal Rescue - The work of rescuing dogs and other animals for pet ownership is both difficult and rewarding. Launch an inquiry unit with students about animal rescuing. Why would animals need to be rescued? What organizations are involved in rescuing animals? How do these organizations help rehabilitate rescued animals for pet ownership? What kinds of animals are “eligible” for it? Who decides and why? Share a variety of children’s literature dealing with the topic, such as Little Lost Dog: The True Story of a Dog Named Baltic, The Little Blue Dog, A Home for Dixie, Merlin, The Cat Who Thought He Wasn’t, and Maggie’s Second Chance. Invite a local animal shelter worker to talk with your class, or arrange for your students to visit a shelter in person or virtually through online resources. 
  • Animal Disabilities and Prosthetics - The impact of Trouper’s story is doubled by the fact that he is missing one leg. Invite students to research what medical and veterinary science has done to help physically disabled animals. Read these articles about animals that use prosthetics ( and, and have students contact organizations and companies that fit animals with prosthetics to learn more information. Compare and contrast the costs and benefits of animal prosthetics with human prosthetics. Then, have students further research the story of a particular prosthetic-wearing animal and write a short story about it.
  • Poetic Narratives - After reading Trouper with your students, show them the narrative text of the book written as a single poem and encourage them to identify the elements of poetry that make up the story. Then immerse students in the reading of poetic narratives, particularly through the picture book format, discussing the reasons authors may have for breaking up their poems into lines for certain pages or illustrations. Have each child select a favorite narrative poem that s/he would like to turn into an original picture book by making decisions about how to break up the lines of the poems for the pages and what illustrations would go with them.
  • Personification - Meg Kearney uses personification to tell Trouper’s story, drawing upon human thoughts and emotions to give Trouper voice from the first-person point-of-view. Read other stories or poems that use similar personification techniques, and challenge students to try writing a short story from a nonhuman perspective using personification. Another challenge would be to have students retell a familiar story from the perspective of a nonhuman object or character in that story (e.g., the mirror in Snow White, Tabby from the Mr. Putter and Tabby series, or the crayon from Harold and the Purple Crayon).

Animal Rescue Websites


Animal Rescue League of Boston

Buddy Dog Humane Society, Inc.

MSPA – Angell

Northeast Animal Shelter

Alliance for Animals

Gifford Cat Shelter

Deep in the Sahara
Written by Kelly Cunnane; Illustrated by Hoda Hadadi
Published by Schwartz & Wade in 2013
ISBN # 978-0375870347

  • One Object, Multiple Meanings – To Lalla, the malafa initially means beauty, mystery, womanhood, and tradition. As she speaks with another family member about it, she learns that it means something more, too. Have students brainstorm a list of objects in their families or homes that mean more than one thing. It could be a blanket, knitted by an ancestor or saved from their early childhood; or perhaps it is a souvenir from a trip or a figurine on a shelf. Invite students to write a multi-genre portfolio about the object, full of poems, personal narratives, essays, and other kinds of writing that convey the different meanings the object has to the writer.
  • Celebrating Communities of Girls and Women – Deep in the Sahara celebrates the bond within a community of girls and women. Within your own town and across the world, women unite both formally and informally to celebrate the experiences, values, interests, and histories they share together. Many of these communities also have an articulated mission to support girls and young women to realize their potential and likewise bond with one another. Divide students into small groups to research some of these organizations, such as the American Association of University Women, the Association of Junior Leagues International, the Nobel Women’s Initiative, and the Girl Scouts. Have students create a multimedia presentation about these organizations, making sure to include information about their founding, goals, achievements, and outreach opportunities.
  • Traditional Dress in a Modern World – Several cultural groups today continue to don traditional attire, such as Hasidic Jews, Muslim women, Amish folk, Indian and Bangladeshi women. Why are these wardrobes still valued in contemporary society? What do specific garments mean in those groups? If you have some students who come from families and communities that wear traditional dress, invite them to share their answers to these questions with the class as experts on the matters. If not, divide students into small groups to inquire into this topic. Encourage them to contact cultural and/or leadership organizations they might be able to interview to gain firsthand information to share with classmates.
  • Figurative Language - Author Kelly Cunnane incorporates plenty of figurative language into her narration, from rich metaphors to clever alliteration and striking onomatopoeia. Assign a different type of figurative language to each of several small groups of students. Have each group identify Cunnane’s examples of its assigned element of figurative language, and compile a class master list of them. Post the list in the class, and encourage your students to refer to it for help and inspiration, as they would a Word Wall, when writing narrative texts to enrich their details and voice.

Sunny Sweet is So Not Sorry!
Written by Jennifer Ann Mann
Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in 2013
ISBN# 978-1599909776

  • Sibling Rivalry - Tales of sibling rivalry are a familiar trope in children’s books, from Beezus and Ramona to Fudge and Peter. The Sunny Sweet series carries on this tradition, but with its own unique twist. With the help of your students and school or local librarians, gather a variety of picture books and chapter books that depict sibling rivalries. Share these books with your class as read-alouds, in literature circles, or for independent reading. Have them take notes and discuss the different kinds of sibling relationships, reasons for the so-called rivalry, and evidence of their real underlying feelings for each other. Then, invite them to write personal narratives about a time when they might have experienced any feelings of rivalry with a sibling, relative, or friend.
  • Examples of Bravery - In order to undo the damage that Sunny has done on the very first page of the book, Masha does a very brave thing. Yet there are several other examples of bravery peppered throughout the chapters, particularly since the majority of the action takes place in a hospital. Have students identify and chart these examples of bravery, comparing and contrasting the situations, people, and stakes involved. Invite students to share stories of their own moments of bravery, and to write persuasive and reflective essays about what it means to be brave, drawing upon both their own values and experiences and those of others.
  • Strengthening Voice - Voice is one of the most difficult writing traits for students to grasp and for teachers to teach. Voice is the trait that allows readers to develop a full sense of who is speaking the words on the page, whether it is a narrator, fictionalized character, or the author himself/herself. Jennifer Ann Mann does a great job of illustrating exactly what voice is, as we read and hear Masha’s own thoughts and dialogue. What words or phrases does she choose to help readers “hear” Masha’s distinct voice as Sunny’s tormented older sister? How does she view and describe the same things differently from how other characters do, such as her mother or one of the hospital nurses? To further demonstrate the quality of voice, do a reader’s theater activity with excerpts from the novel so students can really hear what Jennifer Ann Mann is doing in her writing. Then, have students experiment with voice by perhaps writing about the same topic in different voices.
  • Precise Descriptions - Much of the humor and spirit of the story comes from the precise descriptions in the text. How would the book or Masha’s feelings about Sunny read if they were written with more conventional words? For example, Masha thinks, “If only they could all see her crispy little black heart like I could, no one would be smiling.” Select a similar excerpt that uses particularly precise language. Replace the verbs with ones more frequently used (or perhaps overused) by your students, and read the excerpt aloud. Next, read the original language. How does it change the impact of the text? Have students take a piece of writing that they are already working on, highlight key words, and have them help one another brainstorm more interesting, precise, and descriptive choices.

All the Truth that’s in Me
Written by Julie Berry
Published by Viking Juvenile in 2013
ISBN # 978-0670786152

  • Selective Mutism – Although Judith is physically missing part of her tongue, there are other reasons why she doesn’t talk. Her selective mutism is a type of anxiety disorder that appears in other works of young adult fiction, such as Chris Crutcher’s Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. Have your class research causes and treatments of selective mutism, as well as gather a text set to read more fictional accounts of children and young adults who experience it. Do a character comparison analysis of these stories to help students gain more insight into selective mutism.
  • Grief and Loss – Many of the characters in this novel are grieving a significant loss in their lives, and each of them attempts to deal with that loss in a different way. With your class, chart as many examples of characters in the book grieving a loss as possible. Then compare and contrast them with one another to discuss the challenge of overcoming the grief. Invite the school counselor, or someone else trained in supporting grieving persons, to shed some light on what’s happening in the psyche as a person grieves a loss and how one eventually overcomes it. Encourage students to use this information to analyze the characters and their actions in this novel more deeply.
  • The Voice of Women – Judith’s is not the only female’s voice that is suppressed in the community of Roswell Station. As reflected in this novel, women have had to fight to have their voices not only heard but also valued as important. Use this novel as a springboard for inquiring into the ways female voices have been silenced and eventually needed and respected in societies throughout history. Gather a text set of other novels in which girls and women have held critical knowledge that could help resolve the plot’s main conflict, but have had to battle with patriarchal social norms to be heard. Follow this inquiry with explorations of real examples, such as the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the U.S. and, if you are comfortable and supported in discussing it, the controversies around women’s right to choose. 
  • Writing in Second-Person – As she narrates her story in first-person point of view, Judith directly addresses Lucas through second person point of view (called first-person address). Second-person is the least common perspective used to narrate texts, but it is often the most captivating for children. Invite students to study the purpose and effect of second-person point of view—either through first person address of another character in the book or second-person narration to the reader) and to rewrite excerpts from the text with a traditional third person point of view. What happens to the narration, voice, meaning, and power of the text? Make sure to discuss with them why an author might want to use the second person point of view and what effects it has on audiences. Have students try writing a story or revising an already written one using the second person point of view. Share other texts written in the second-person to deepen their understanding of this literary element, such as Choose You Own Adventure books or excerpts from Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Desperaux and Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events for second-person point of view. For first-person address, try sharing Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret or Silas House and Neela Vaswani's Same Sun Here.

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