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31 Outstanding Mentor Texts for Narrative Writing in Elementary School
Show students how it’s done with these fabulous picture books.
Fantastic mentor texts for narrative writing can really help take student writing to the next level. These are compelling read-alouds that you can pull out again and again to show kids “how writers do it.” There’s no need to feel limited to the same titles you’ve always used or the ones your writing curriculum suggests. Work your way through this big list of mentor texts for narrative writing , both old and new, until you find your new favorites. You’re welcome.
(Just a heads up, WeAreTeachers may collect a share of sales from the links on this page. We only recommend items our team loves!)
1. Together We Ride by Valerie Bolling
This book takes the classic learning-to-ride-a-bike story to the next level. A girl perseveres through fears and falls with the help of her dad. Add this to your mentor texts for illustrated narrative writing. Right down to the dad’s dreads and beard, the stickers on the girl’s bike helmet, and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, the artwork makes readers feel like they are right there—and can show kids how to add more of their own details to their stories via drawing.
Buy it: Together We Ride on Amazon
2. New Shoes by Chris Raschka
A child discovers his old shoes are too tight and heads to the shoe store to pick out new ones. Use this to show new writers how they can tell a great story with just a few sentences. You can also introduce new techniques for illustrations; all these pictures are delightfully zoomed in.
Buy it: New Shoes on Amazon
3. Granny and Bean by Karen Hesse
Granny and Bean go for a walk on a cloudy day. They enjoy all the simple pleasures of the beach, like waves, shells, sand, petting dogs, and seaside snacks. Use this to share an attainable example of a strong narrative for younger writers. Each page has only a short sentence or two, but they manage to tell a beautiful story.
Buy it: Granny and Bean on Amazon
4. The Secret Fawn by Kallie George and Elly MacKay
As the youngest sibling, a girl feels like she misses everything—including the deer her family saw in the yard. She heads outdoors to try to see it for herself and ends up having an even more special experience. Use this quiet little story to show kids how to focus their narrative on a small but significant event.
Buy it: The Secret Fawn on Amazon
5. Hiking Day by Anne Rockwell
A girl and her parents take a local hike to enjoy all the sights and sounds of fall. Use this to teach about adding more to a narrative by including details, thoughts, sounds, and dialogue.
Buy it: Hiking Day on Amazon
6. City Moon by Rachael Cole and Blanca Gómez
A boy and his mom take a walk in the city at night to look for the moon. Add this to the mentor texts for narrative writing you use to teach about bringing the setting to life. Also, show students how to stretch one brief experience into a story that feels important.
Buy it: City Moon on Amazon
7. Not Little by Maya Myers
Dot is the smallest person in her family, but she doesn’t hesitate to stand up for the new kid when he’s bullied in the cafeteria. (Clearly, she is NOT LITTLE!) Use this to teach about strong, impactful sentences. Plus, introduce the technique of using a repeating line to show readers what’s important in your story.
Buy it: Not Little on Amazon
8. Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari has done everything he needs to in order to learn how to jump into and swim in water—he’s ready for the diving board. He stops to stretch. Then he stops to think. He just doesn’t feel ready. Use this to show how to stretch a small moment over several pages.
Buy it: Jabari Jumps on Amazon
9. Kitchen Dance by Maurie J. Manning
A little girl wakes up in her house because music is playing downstairs. She wakes her brother, and they sneak downstairs to find their parents dancing in the kitchen. Their parents welcome them and invite them to join the dance. Use this to show students how to write about the small but precious moments in their family lives.
Buy it: Kitchen Dance on Amazon
10. Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee
This picture book is all about one ride on a roller coaster and all the emotions and excitement that it delivers. Use this to teach small-moment writing and text/writing features that students love to emulate—using dashes to stretch out words, using CAPITAL letters to place emphasis on words, and using sound words.
Buy it: Roller Coaster on Amazon
11. Abuelita and I Make Flan by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom
Anita is excited to help her grandmother make her birthday dessert—so excited that she breaks her grandmother’s special plate. Can she help enough to make up for it? Use this to show kids how to add flair to their narratives with speech bubbles, labels, and different types of text. Also use it to encourage kids to try to include the narrator’s internal monologue in their writing.
Buy it: Abuelita and I Make Flan on Amazon
12. When Lola Visits by Michelle Sterling
With rich detail, a girl describes how summer smells, tastes, and feels when her grandmother visits from the Philippines. Use this to teach about adding sensory details to narrative writing.
Buy it: When Lola Visits on Amazon
13. Applesauce Day by Lisa J. Amstutz
A girl and her family pick apples and make applesauce in her family’s special pot, which has been passed down through generations. Use this to teach about writing about an experience one bit at a time.
Buy it: Applesauce Day on Amazon
14. The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann
City-dweller Ernestine is so excited to go camping with her cousin. It turns out there are a few parts of the great outdoors that take some getting used to, though. Use this to teach about experimenting with speech bubbles and different page layouts as a way to add interest and detail to narrative pieces.
Buy it: The Camping Trip on Amazon
15. Joy Ride by Sherri Duskey Rinker
Joy finds a beat-up bike and convinces her tinkering granddad to help her fix it up. But when her peers make fun of her new ride, she makes the impulsive decision to push the bike down a steep hill, and then must face the feelings that follow. Use this as a solid example of a more detailed personal narrative that includes dialogue, characters’ thoughts and feelings, and interesting language.
Buy it: Joy Ride on Amazon
16. Powwow Day by Traci Sorell
It’s the day of the tribal powwow, but River is worried. She’s been sick and can’t join in as she usually does. The healing dance her friends and family perform inspires her to keep getting better. Use this to model the impact of using different sentence lengths. Intentional line-breaks and onomatopoeia make the text feel almost like poetry too.
Buy it: Powwow Day on Amazon
17. Love Birds by Jane Yolen
Jon doesn’t have any friends yet in his new town, but he keeps busy birding, his favorite pastime. A funny coincidence in the woods introduces him to his first new friend, a fellow birder. The author wrote this as a companion to the classic Owl Moon , one of our longtime favorite mentor texts for narrative writing. Use it to model how to include details about sounds and setting.
Buy it: Love Birds on Amazon
18. Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham
Every Sunday the whole extended family gathers at Granny’s for a big meal. Today, Granny invites her grandson to help prepare the family’s favorite dishes for the first time. From grating the cheese to washing the grit from the greens, he learns about each crucial step. Use this to model how to break down an experience into small parts and describe them in more detail.
Buy it: Soul Food Sunday on Amazon
19. The Electric Slide and Kai by Kelly J. Baptist
As his family prepares to attend a big wedding, Kai desperately wants to impress his grandad with his dance moves so that he’ll give him a “dance nickname” like other members of the family. Use this to teach students to add their thoughts, goals, and emotions to their narrative writing, and to show, not tell, using dialogue and characters’ actions.
Buy it: The Electric Slide and Kai on Amazon
20. A Thousand White Butterflies by Jessica Betancourt-Perez and Karen Lynn Williams
Isabella recently immigrated to the United States from Colombia and is eager to start school and make friends, but an unexpected snow day changes her big plans. Use this to model writing precise sentences and to show how a character’s emotions change during a story. If you have bilingual students, this is also a nice one to show how to weave in words from another language.
Buy it: A Thousand White Butterflies on Amazon
21. Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco
There is a loud thunderstorm at Grandma’s old farmhouse. “This is Thunder Cake baking weather,” calls Grandma, as she and her granddaughter hurry to gather the ingredients around the farm. A real Thunder Cake must reach the oven before the storm arrives, and the closer it gets, the more determined they become. This is one of our favorite tried-and-true mentor texts for narrative writing to model interesting openings and setting a scene. Also use it to talk about words that sound like what they mean, strong verbs, punctuation, and including an “extra”—in this case, a recipe—at the end of the story.
Buy it: Thunder Cake on Amazon
22. Tight Times by Barbara Shook Hazen
A little boy wants a pet, but his family has no money. On the day his father loses his job, he finds a stray kitten. Use this for teaching about inferring and how to create a scene that lets readers decide what’s happening.
Buy it: Tight Times on Amazon
23. The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
The relatives came in a rainbow-colored station wagon. Everyone hugged and hugged all over the house. They stayed all summer, gardening and playing music. When they finally had to leave, they were sad but knew they would be together again next summer. Use this to spark memories of students’ family visits and trips, which are always good inspiration for narrative writing.
Buy it: The Relatives Came on Amazon
24. Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon
A boy named Ralph has zero writing ideas. Nothing ever happens to him. His life is so boring. Sound familiar? Use this to teach about finding writing ideas.
Buy it: Ralph Tells a Story on Amazon
25. My Dog Mouse by Eva Lindström
A girl walks her neighbor’s dog, Mouse. He has ears as thin as pancakes that flap like flags in the wind, and he eats meatballs in one bite. This is one of our favorite mentor texts for narrative writing for the younger grades. Use it to teach adding small, meaningful details and interesting comparisons to help readers imagine your story. It’s also a good example of a powerful lead and ending.
Buy it: My Dog Mouse on Amazon
26. A Space for Me by Cathryn Falwell
An older brother gets tired of sharing his room with his annoying little bro, so he decides to build his own space in his yard. Both brothers learn from the experience and end up finding common ground together. Use this to teach about sticking close to a meaningful theme to write a focused narrative.
Buy it: A Space for Me on Amazon
27. My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero
A young girl tells the tale of a motorcycle ride around her neighborhood with her Papi. Use this to model ways to characterize an important person throughout a story. It’s also great for modeling how to use vibrant descriptions and for building energy across the arc of a narrative.
Buy it: My Papi Has a Motorcycle on Amazon
28. A Map Into the World by Kao Kalia Yang
A girl moves to a new house and welcomes twin baby brothers to her family. Next door, an elderly neighbor grieves the loss of his wife. Use this to show students how describing what each character does or says in a situation can help create a complete scene. Also explore strategies for conveying the passage of time.
Buy it: A Map Into the World on Amazon
29. Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina
Two best friends spend a final day together before one of them moves away. This one is full of heart, with equal parts sadness and sweetness. Use this to teach … well, everything. Model strong leads and endings, how to use small details to create a mood, and how to do justice to a particularly emotional experience by telling it step by step.
Buy it: Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away on Amazon
30. Watercress by Andrea Wang
When a girl’s parents spot watercress growing on the roadside, they pull over to pick it so they can make a meal reminiscent of their native China. The girl hates the whole experience but ends up appreciating it more as she learns what it means to her family. Add this to your mentor texts for narrative writing for when you work on revising for tighter, more precise language. Imagine how this narrative might have started out and compare that to its sparse but incredibly powerful final text. Also, share the author’s note, in which she describes the experience that led to this book, to teach about how to choose meaningful narrative topics.
Buy it: Watercress on Amazon
31. On the Trapline by David A. Robertson and Julie Flett
A boy visits his grandfather’s old trapline in the northern wilderness, which is steeped in memories. Besides being a beautiful example of personal narrative, this is a fascinating exploration of Cree tradition for kids. Use this to model how to include details and dialogue to explain things to readers and for planning an interesting structure for your narrative. (In this case, it’s a repeating line at the end of each section that explains a Cree word.) It’s also a nice example of how to weave memories of the past into a present-tense narrative.
Buy it: On the Trapline on Amazon
Eager to use these mentor texts for narrative writing in your classroom? Also, check out our favorite mentor texts for how-to or procedural writing and opinion writing .
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What Is A Mentor Text?
Mentor texts offer writers examples of concepts you’re teaching to your students. They are read alouds that show your learners how to apply what they’re learning. Mentor texts are used to model everything from excellent uses of dialogue to the use of sensory detail in narratives.
Teaching Narrative Writing Using Mentor Texts
Narrative writing can go in two big directions for our writers- personal & fictional. Within these two are narrative writing elements that you’ll want to showcase to your students. I like to focus on dialogue, focusing on small moments and experiences, using sensory details, using their imagination, and providing a clear ending. Presenting your students with high-quality examples of all these is a great way to teach them to think like writers. Check out the teaching narrative writing in the primary classroom post if you need some more ideas for instruction. Go to our post called Teaching Narrative Writing: Introductions for specific guidance on teaching kids how to write a strong introduction!
Note: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you click and purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Personal Narrative Mentor Texts
These mentor text examples teach students to focus on small personal moments from their own lives to create rich and entertaining stories.
#1 – Jabari Jumps
by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari Jumps is a classic on many mentor text lists for good reason. It tells the story of Jabari as he goes through the emotional rollercoaster of jumping off the diving board at a local pool. It is such a great example of taking a small personal moment and focusing on it to write a narrative.
#2 – I Lost My Tooth in Africa
by Penda Diakite
Similar to Jabari Jumps, this story centers around something your students are sure to be familiar with- losing a tooth. I love that it shows students there are a lot of different ways to experience such a familiar moment.
#3 – When Father Comes Home
by Sarah Jung
This book focuses on the significance mandarin tree and a boy’s struggle with a father who can’t be home much. The main character describes his experience with his father’s long absences. You can use this story to talk about personally challenging moments in a student’s life.
Fictional Narrative Mentor Texts
These books will show your students that in addition to being personal narratives can be fantastical and magical.
#4 – Lift
by Mihn Le
I love this story because students connect to it on a few different levels. They will relate to having a sibling and all the frustrations that come with that. Use this mentor text to discuss making something magical out of something normal.
#5 – Looking for Jumbies
by Tracey Baptiste
This is a fun story about a girl named Naya who goes looking for creatures from folklore called jumbies. I like using it to talk about stories they may know and how they can be used as inspiration to create their own narratives.
#6 – Beekle
by Dan Santat
Dan Santat is not only the incredibly talented illustrator of Mihn Le’s Lift mentioned above but he’s also an author in his own right. I love using this story to talk to my students about writing narratives that present something we’re all familiar with- the imaginary friend- and looking at it from a different viewpoint.
Mentor Texts That Use Descriptive Language
The authors of these two books use wonderfully descriptive language to talk about favorite foods. These mentor texts showcase how using sensory words bring narrative writing to life.
#7 – Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
by Kevin Noble Maillard
This book tells the story of making delicious fry bread. The author describes the sound, shape, color, and taste as he tells the story of beloved family food. Ask your students to focus on the interest and richness all the descriptions bring to the narrative.
#8 – Paletero Man
by Lucky Diaz
Spending hot summer days chasing down the ice cream man is an experience we can all relate to. Use this book to describe creating a rich setting and building excitement in a narrative.
Mentor Texts With A Nice Sense of Closure
Sometimes when students write their own narratives they can get a little lost in the weeds of the story and forget to wrap things up. These narrative mentor texts provide readers with a satisfying conclusion.
#9 – Gustavo the Shy Ghost
by Flavia Z. Drago
Gustavo is a shy ghost who has difficulty meeting new friends. This story has all the story elements we want to see in student narratives with a happy ending to round it out. The illustrations are colorful and interesting and your students will connect to the shy little ghost.
#10 – Ricky, the Rock That Couldn’t Roll
by Jason I. Miletsky
This is a fantastic book that showcases the importance of friendship and perseverance. It has a wonderful message and a satisfying conclusion. I also really like using it to showcase examples of dialogue and how adding in minor characters to a narrative can add interest.
#11 – Bubbe’s Belated Bat Mitzvah
by Isabel Pinson
The story of Bubbe’s Bat Mitzvah is based on a true story of a girl helping her grandma achieve something she never thought she would. It focuses on one specific event, a Bat Mitzvah, and provides readers with a nice sense of closure. This is a great story for working on sequencing as well.
Mentor Texts About Writing Narratives
If your students are getting stuck right at the beginning you can read the two books below. They’re good ways to begin a narrative writing unit or as a break if students become frustrated.
#12 – Ralph Tells A Story
by Abby Hanlon
This is a great one for reluctant writers. Ralph thinks he has nothing to write about but he couldn’t be further from the truth.
#13 – The Best Story
by Eileen Spinelli
This mentor texts is for those students who struggle with coming up with their own ideas. You know the students who retell other stories as their own? Use this story to discuss using your own voice when writing a narrative.
Narrative Writing, Mentor Texts, & Visual Rubrics
Don’t forget to use these mentor texts to model, model, model. As you read the mentor texts above use them to create visual rubrics for your students to refer to during their own writing. There’s a great visual rubric included in the Writing Bulletin Board.
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The Best Mentor Texts For Teaching Personal Narratives
Are you looking for picture book ideas for your next writing unit? Perhaps you’re about to teach personal narrative writing to your students and you’re in dire need of ideas and recommendations for story books. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with the best mentor texts for teaching personal narratives!
Why use personal narrative mentor texts?
First up, let’s just acknowledge the importance of using mentor texts when teaching writing. The simple truth is that WE know what we expect our students to do, but our students have no idea! Students need to be exposed to examples of the writing genre that we teach.
Mentor texts aren’t just great for exposing students to the genre, they are also powerful for explicitly teaching the structure and features. For example, we can show examples of characterization, setting, problems and solutions. We can show an author’s use of dialogue or transition words. Overall, mentor texts can be really powerful.
Let’s dive in to my recommendations! FYI, I recommend these books in my third grade personal narratives writing unit (which you can check out here ).
Let’s take a look at the best mentor texts for teaching personal narratives. Please note that this blog post features Amazon affiliate links (if you purchase, I make a small commission, at no cost to you).
‘Saturday’ by Oge Mora
In this heartfelt story, a mother and daughter look forward to their special Saturday routine together every single week. But this Saturday, one thing after another goes wrong – ruining story time, salon time, picnic time and the puppet show they’d been looking forward to going to all week. Mom is nearing a meltdown…until her loving daughter reminds her that being together is the most important thing of all.
Teaching idea – A weekend recount pairs well with this storybook. Ask your students to write a personal narrative about what they did last Saturday.
You can check out the storybook here .
‘Ralph Tells A Story’ By Abby Hanlon
Nothing ever happens to Ralph. So every day when it’s time to write stories, Ralph thinks really hard. He stares at his paper. He stares at the ceiling. But he has no stories! With the help of his classmates, Ralph realizes that a great story can be about something very little . . . and that maybe he really does have some stories to tell.
Teaching idea – If you are tired of your students wailing, ‘I don’t know what to write about!”, this story book is what you need. It’s great for when your students are stuck for writing ideas. It can accompany your lesson about brainstorming narrative ideas.
You can check out the story book here .
‘A Moment In Time’ By Jennifer Butenas
A fun loving story in rhythm and rhyme about a family of four and their moment in time. It’s a balmy, summer Cape Cod day and this visiting family is savoring every moment. Experience the delight, the joy and exhilaration a mindful moment can bring!
Teaching idea – This picture book is ideal for teaching about small moments. Ask your students to share and write about small moments from their lives.
You can check out the picture book here .
‘Roller Coaster’ By Marla Frazee
This exhilarating amusement park visit begins with a line of prospective riders, eagerly awaiting their turn . . . with at least one person who has never done this before. Zooming, swerving, dipping, and diving, this delightful story featuring a breathtaking ride and a hilarious range of reactions, will help readers lose their roller coaster anxiety.
Teaching idea – This is the perfect mentor text for teaching small moments. Encourage your students to pick a small moment and really zoom in on the details, just like in the book!
You can check out the mentor text here .
‘The Snowy Day’ By Ezra Jack Keats
No book has captured the magic and sense of possibility of the first snowfall better than The Snowy Day. Universal in its appeal, the story has become a favorite of millions, as it reveals a child’s wonder at a new world, and the hope of capturing and keeping that wonder forever.
Teaching idea – This storybook pairs well with a lesson about positive memorable moments. Get your students to brainstorm happy small moments and share the details.
Psst! If you’re a 3rd grade teacher, I’ve got something extra special for you! Click here to grab a FREE lesson plan, graphic organizer, and poster that goes well with this book.
‘Knuffle Bunny’ By Mo Willems
Trixie, Daddy, and Knuffle Bunny take a trip to the neighborhood Laundromat. But the exciting adventure takes a dramatic turn when Trixie realizes somebunny was left behind…Using a combination of muted black-and-white photographs and expressive illustrations, this stunning book tells a brilliantly true-to-life tale about what happens when Daddy’s in charge and things go terribly, hilariously wrong.
Teaching idea – This story book pairs well with a lesson about negative memorable moments. Get your students to brainstorm sad or angry small moments and share the details.
‘Stella Tells Her Story’ By Janiel M. Wagstaff
Stella and her classmates were excitedly sharing stories before class, prompting Ms. Merkley to teach a lesson on how to write narratives, or stories. Ms. M tells explains that they have to choose a topic first, then organize their stories by telling what happened first, next, and last. Students will learn along with Stella as she goes through the writing process of brainstorming, planning, drafting, publishing, and finally sharing her story.
This is definitely one of the best mentor texts for teaching personal narratives!
Teaching idea – This picture book is great for teaching the structure of a narrative. You can introduce your students to the idea of writing a beginning, middle, and end.
‘Jabari Jumps’ By Gaia Cornwall
Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he’s a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all. “Looks easy,” says Jabari, watching the other kids take their turns. But when his dad squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. In a sweetly appealing tale of overcoming your fears, newcomer Gaia Cornwall captures a moment between a patient and encouraging father and a determined little boy you can’t help but root for.
Teaching idea – This mentor text is about father and son, which is a great way to introduce characterization to your students.
‘Owl Moon’ By Jane Yolen
Late one winter night a little girl and her father go owling. The trees stand still as statues and the world is silent as a dream. Whoo-whoo-whoo, the father calls to the mysterious nighttime bird. Distinguished author Jane Yolen has created a gentle, poetic story that lovingly depicts the special companionship of a young child and her father as well as humankind’s close relationship to the natural world.
Teaching idea – This storybook is a great accompaniment to a personal narrative lesson. It’s ideal for teaching students about setting and they can discuss the setting in the book.
‘Come On, Rain’ By Karen Hesse
Come on, rain! Tess pleads to the sky as listless vines and parched plants droop in the endless heat. Up and down the block, cats pant while heat wavers off tar patches in the broiling alleyway. More than anything, Tess hopes for rain. And when it comes, she and her friends are ready for a surprising joyous celebration.
Teaching idea – This story book is ideal as a lesson warm up when you are teaching about problems in a personal narrative. Ask your students about a time where they have had a problem, like getting hurt or losing something.
‘Fireflies’ By Julie Brinckloe
A young boy is proud of having caught a jar full of fireflies, which seems to him like owning a piece of moonlight, but as the light begins to dim he realizes he must set the insects free or they will die.
Teaching idea – This picture book is perfect for introducing the idea of solutions in a personal narrative. You can ask students to write about solutions to problems they’ve faced.
‘Nothing Ever Happens On 90th Street’ By Roni Schotter
Eva, a would-be writer, sits on her New York City stoop with her notebook, waiting for something to happen. She has been given a homework assignment to record goings-on in her Manhattan neighborhood. A hilarious sequence of happenings ensues and Eva learns that you can find inspiration for writing anywhere if you observe carefully enough.
Teaching idea – This mentor text pairs well with a brainstorming lesson. When your students are planning what to write about for their personal narrative, this book will be a great warm-up.
‘The Best Story’ By Eileen Spinelli
The library is having a contest for the best story, and the quirky narrator of this story just has to win that rollercoaster ride with her favourite author! But what makes a story the best?
Her brother Tim says the best stories have lots of action. Her father thinks the best stories are the funniest. And Aunt Jane tells her the best stories have to make people cry. A story that does all these things doesn’t seem quite right, though, and the one thing the whole family can agree on is that the best story has to be your own.
Teaching idea – As your students are planning their personal narratives, read them this storybook as a lesson warm-up. It opens up the discussion about what a ‘good’ story is.
‘Kate And Nate Are Running Late’ By Kate Egan
Being on time is an art–an art most of families have yet to master. From spilling coffee to misplacing keys, we’ve all dealt with the many things that can derail our morning routines. This humorous depiction of chaotic mornings is oh, so true. Kate and her two children, Nate, and his older sister, Maddie, have all overslept. How will they EVER make it to school and work on time dressed, fed, and organized?
Teaching idea – This story book pairs well with a lesson about endings/solutions/conclusions. Ask students what happened at the end of the story.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the best mentor texts for teaching personal narratives!
If you’re a 3rd grade teacher, be sure to check out Terrific Writing. It is a comprehensive writing curriculum for Third Grade.
The books in this blog post are used in Unit 1 ‘Personal Narratives’, where students learn how to write engaging personal narratives about their lives. Click here to check out the unit!
P.S. Click here to grab free activities from my free resource library!
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Teaching Narrative Nonfiction
I remember when I first saw the term “narrative nonfiction” in my state’s reading standards and honestly, I didn’t know what it meant! If you’re new to teaching literary nonfiction, I hope this post will give you a good overview to get you started!
What Is Narrative Nonfiction?
Narrative nonfiction, or literary nonfiction, is nonfiction text that uses a storytelling structure to present information about a topic, such as a real person or event. It’s different than expository text, which simply presents the facts.
Since the facts are written in a narrative format with characters, a setting, a plot, etc., it can be a more engaging and memorable way for students to learn about the world.
It’s kind of tricky to differentiate between narrative nonfiction and historical fiction. To me, narrative nonfiction is more about presenting facts through a story, and historical fiction is more about telling a story that is based on some facts. Clear as mud, lol.
Biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs are definitely part of the narrative nonfiction genre, but it can also include texts based on historical events or other topics like animals. The good news is that there’s a huge variety of texts that will attract readers with different interests in your classroom.
Introducing Narrative Nonfiction
One way to kick off this unit is to put out a selection of nonfiction, fiction, and literary nonfiction books for students to explore. You can have them work in small groups to discuss what they notice about the formats of the books and maybe sort them into groups.
They’ll start to see that expository nonfiction books have text features and mostly stick to the facts, but narrative nonfiction books look a lot more like fiction and often contain dialogue. I like to create an anchor chart as groups share the characteristics they notice.
Another option to introduce literary nonfiction is to start with a mentor text read-aloud and ask students to identify the author’s purpose. This leads to great discussions and helps students see that it’s kind of the best of both worlds. Scroll down for some of my recommendations for books to use!
Another way to teach students the difference between expository texts and narrative nonfiction texts is to pair literary nonfiction books with nonfiction books on the same topic. Students can compare and contrast the structures and details of the two books. I ask students to discuss which type is the most efficient to use if you need to find a fact quickly, and I also have them share which type they prefer. You can also try using shorter passages , which are great for reading groups.
Here are some examples of book pairings:
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind [picture book] by William Kamkwamba and Wind Power: Alternative Energy by Matthew Ziem
I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are by Bridget Heos and Flies by Larry Dane Brimner
Similarly, you can compare narrative nonfiction books or passages with fiction by asking students to highlight the facts they find it in each. This is a great way to reinforce author’s purpose for this unit – while they’re being entertained, they are also being hit with lots of facts!
Literary Nonfiction Skills and Standards
There are tons of reading skills that you can weave into a literary nonfiction unit, including:
- summarizing the events and supporting details (and sequencing, too)
- drawing conclusions and making inferences
- identifying the conflict and resolution
- analyzing the author’s word choice (i.e., figurative language, descriptive words, vocabulary)
- identifying cause and effect relationships
- inferring character traits
- identifying the narrator of the story
- describing how the language, characters, and setting contribute to the plot
- explaining the author’s purpose
- synthesizing the main idea of the text (i.e., what are this person’s contributions/why is this event significant?)
My fourth graders were struggling one year with summarizing the events of a text. I read aloud Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell. We identified the major events in the story as a class and then I assigned partners one event to illustrate and write in their own words. We put them together to create our own timeline of the book and it made a really nice display.
This genre is a perfect one to dive deep into character analysis and have students infer character traits using evidence from the text. They can practice making conclusions about that person’s contributions or the event’s significance. I’ve also had some great conversations with my students about what might have happened to the character(s) if they’d lived in a different place or time.
My Favorite Narrative Nonfiction Books
Here are a few narrative nonfiction mentor texts that I recommend for 3rd-6th grades! Click on the titles for more info!
- Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick
- Pop!: The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy
- We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson
- The Boston Tea Party by Russell Freedman
- One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul
- Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff
- Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
- Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh
- The Marvelous Thing that Came From a Spring by Gilbert Ford
- Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff
- Henry’s Freedom Box by Levine Ellen
- Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate
- Nya’s Long Walk: A Step at a Time by Linda Sue Park
- Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet
- One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies
Scholastic News and Time for Kids are some other good places to look for short narrative nonfiction articles.
I think narrative nonfiction is a really engaging and fun genre to teach. It definitely makes informational text more accessible for reluctant readers! It’s also fun to have students write their own pieces after researching a person or topic of interest to them. What tips do you have for teaching a literary nonfiction unit?
This post contains affiliate links; I earn a small commission from products purchased through these links.
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Hey there – I was wondering if you had a link to the anchor chart you used? So glad I found your site and TPT – need more VA TPT teachers 🙂
Hi Rachel, I’m glad you’re finding the content helpful! Please email me through the Contact page and I can send it to you!
I would love to have the anchor chart that you used! I’ll be using your guidance as I teach this for the first time! So great!
I was searching for additional work on narrative nonfiction. I found this very attractive and informative for fourth graders in this virtual learning era. I will definitely use the image as my introduction.
I was thinking of how to teach Nonfiction and came across your post. Thank you so much for posting it. I found it very useful.
I subscribed but I was never sent these anchor charts.
Hi April, thanks for subscribing! You should receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Please check for that in your spam folder!
I subscribed but was never sent the anchor chart.
Hi Erin, thanks for subscribing! You should receive a confirmation email asking you to confirm your subscription, and then you’ll get a second email with the download. Please reach out again if you don’t see it!
Thank you for the post. I also subscribed with the hopes of receiving the anchor chart but it hasn’t come through yet.
Hi Leslie, thanks for subscribing! If you used your work email address, it may have been blocked or gone to your spam folder. Can you please try again with a personal email?
Could you please share your anchor chart? Thanks!
Hi there! If you use the link at the bottom of the post to enter your email, it will automatically be sent to you!
Thank you for sharing!
Hello. I subscribed, but alas no anchor chart. I did check all mail including spam and did use a personal email address. Thanks for your help.
Sending you an email, Kimberly!
Hi there, I did subscribe like the others but did not receive the anchor chart. I checked my spam folder as well.
I’ll send it your way, Lisa!
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Personal Narrative and Memoir Children’s Books (Mentor Texts)
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Read examples of personal narrative and memoir. In other words, read someone’s authentic story based on their real life with rich details that show experience and authority.
Choose from these picture book and middle-grade book mentor text examples to show your growing writers examples of good personal narrative mentor texts with sensory details, vivid verbs, small moments, and organization.
NOTE: I’m including a few picture books that are not actually personal narratives but read as such. I’m doing this so you have a bigger list of choices from which to find books that appeal to your specific writers.
Here are my favorite books to use with growing writers who want to write their own stories.
Personal Narrative Picture Books
Personal Narrative / Memoir Middle-Grade Books
Melissa Taylor, MA, is the creator of Imagination Soup. She's a mother, teacher, author, and freelance writer. She writes Imagination Soup and freelances for publications online and in print, including Brightly for Penguin Random House, USA Today Health, Colorado Parent, and Parenting.
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Mentor texts to teach children personal narrative writing, by lindsay barrett.
Nothing makes a teacher’s heart sing like when a student lands on a perfect topic, or captures a moment with just the right phrase in their personal narrative writing. Studying fantastic mentor texts exposes students to examples that elevate their work. Many professional resources reference the same classic titles over and over, though, and having a variety of options is essential in today’s classroom. Look no further! To expand your collection of personal narrative mentor texts, consider these fresh choices:
by Ruben Pfeffer, illustrated by Mike Austin
Reminiscing about recent experiences is often the first step for young writers to craft effective personal narrative pieces. Seasonal titles that portray activities to which students are likely to connect, like planting a garden then cooking and eating with family can spark ideas that get pencils moving. Presenting attainable models is so important for giving students confidence in their writing abilities. This title uses minimal language and communicates much of the narrative via the illustrations, making it a useful example for brand-new writers. (Grades K – 1)
by Chris Raschka
With sweet simplicity, this text chronicles a classic rite of childhood: getting new shoes! Use this story to demonstrate choosing one event to write about in detail. Even the illustrations are focused, with their knees-down, shoes-only view, and the narrator describes the holes in his old sneakers and the new choices with childish accuracy. (“They are a little pinchy right there.”) This story also shows how to incorporate inner monologue and emotion in manageable ways. (“How about these?” the narrator wonders. “Comfy! I like them! I want to show Emma!”) (Grades K – 1)
by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White
This cold-weather read features a family getting dressed for the snow and making forts, highlighting the different perspectives of two sisters. One girl loves exploring the snowy day while her sibling prefers to stay cozy inside (at first). The format of the book presents one sister’s narrative on the left side of the book and the other sister’s narrative on the right side to contrast their individual experiences as they go about the day. (Grades K – 1)
by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Time spent with favorite people is a great source of inspiration for students’ personal narratives; this energetic text shows students how to describe a character and hone in on one memorable shared experience. The young narrator waits eagerly for Grandma Mimi to arrive with her purse full of treasures. On this special visit, it even contains a present! Use this story as an example of how students can write more about one important topic. (Grades K – 2)
by Gaia Cornwall
When young students first begin learning about personal narrative, reading stories that have an easily identifiable beginning, middle, and end really helps. The plot structure of this title can be easily distilled: Jabari, his dad, and his sister go to the pool. Jabari gets ready to jump off the diving board. After some hesitation, he makes his dive and celebrates with his family. Like any strong narrative, there’s more to the story, though. Jabari’s feelings are perfect examples to encourage students to write more about their emotions. He’s excited, nervous, downright scared (that diving board is HIGH!), and, in the end, proud! Plus, he and his family are all so darn sweet. You’ll gladly read this book aloud over and over again. (Grades K – 2)
Life on Mars
by Jon Agee
A young astronaut travels to Mars in search of life. He observes the terrain around him (“Mars is pretty gloomy. More gloomy than I thought.”) and starts to doubt that there is anyone living on the planet. Little does he know, a large and very confused Martian trails him the whole way. With Agee’s signature wit, this picture book provides an imaginative example of a boy’s observations of his out-of-this-world experience — and kids will love the unexpected twist at the end. (Grades K – 2)
by Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara
With shouts in both English and Creole, island children enjoy an exuberant game of soccer. A sudden rainstorm gives them pause, but they decide to kick off their shoes and “Play on!” in the mud. This text shows students how even just a few brief sentences per page can still pack exquisite detail. (“Uh-oh. Shutters bang. Sun hides. Clay dust stings. Sky falls.”) They can also examine the vibrant illustrations to notice how pictures can add depth to a story, right down to the mouths open in jubilant yells and the tongues sticking out to catch raindrops. (Grades K – 3)
My Dog Mouse
by Eva Lindstrom
This gentle title about a girl who takes her neighbor’s dog for a walk is a mini-lesson workhorse. Use it as an example of stretching one moment into a story; the entire book is a play-by-play of one stroll. Refer to it again to exemplify “show don’t tell.” Descriptions like “We seem to be standing still but I think we’re moving. All sorts of things are flying around. Mouse’s ears flap like flags and he shuts his eyes to keep out the sand. I hold tight to the leash” are a far cry from “It’s windy.” Share it yet again to study powerful endings. Throughout the book, readers will likely forget that Mouse doesn’t actually belong to the girl because she describes him with such tender detail, but the final line — “I wish Mouse was mine.” — will make everyone sigh. (Grades 1 – 3)
Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe
by Katey Howes, illustrated by Valerio Fabbretti
Magnolia Mudd loves inventing crazy “Mudd-powered” contraptions with her Uncle Jamie. She’s skeptical when he asks her to be the flower girl in his wedding, so he challenges her to define a more appealing role. She tackles the task with gusto, her voice shining throughout thanks to the author’s use of punctuation, bolded words, and exact language. Chart examples of exclamation marks, ellipses, and catchy lines such as “I hooked our leaf blower to a jug of paint, added a hose and nozzle, whipped up some super-cool stencils, and took my creation for a test drive,” to give students ideas for adding plenty of Mudd-powered panache to their own writing. (Grades 1 – 3)
Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash/Marisol McDonald y la fiesta sin igual
by Monica Brown, illustrated by Sara Palacios
In this bilingual story about planning her birthday, Marisol doesn’t stop chatting — to her family, her friends, and even herself — making it a great example of how to use both dialogue and inner monologue effectively. (“I think that green stripes, red flowers, and yellow stars are marvelous together. Especially with my purple high tops,” Marisol muses.) Study all or part of this longer text; use a vignette like Marisol’s pirate-princess-unicorn birthday soccer game as an example of writing in detail about one event, or notice how the author transitions between scenes to link them into a cohesive multi-part narrative. (Grades 2 – 3)
A Different Pond
by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
This hushed tale of a predawn father-son fishing trip offers a cache of rich, descriptive comparisons and sensory details. The minnows from the bait store “swim like silver arrows” in the boy’s hands, he feels the calluses on his dad’s hand as they climb down to the pond, and the sky holds “faint stars like freckles.” Also use this title to examine how descriptions and dialogue can show more about characters. Snippets of conversation and lines like “Dad smiles, his teeth broken and white in the dark, because we have a few fish and he knows we will eat tonight” say so much with so few words. (Grades 2 – 4)
What are your favorite mentor texts for personal narrative writing? Share your ideas in the comments section below!
6. City Moon by Rachael Cole and Blanca Gómez A boy and his mom take a walk in the city at night to look for the moon. Add this to the mentor texts for narrative writing you use to teach about bringing the setting to life. Also, show students how to stretch one brief experience into a story that feels important. Buy it: City Moon on Amazon 7.
You can check out the mentor text here. ‘Owl Moon’ By Jane Yolen Late one winter night a little girl and her father go owling. The trees stand still as statues and the world is silent as a dream. Whoo-whoo-whoo, the father calls to the mysterious nighttime bird.
Here are a few narrative nonfiction mentor texts that I recommend for 3rd-6th grades! Click on the titles for more info! Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick; Pop!: The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy; We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson
Mamaw pours the pudding and I cover the top with slices of banana. Then we eat it all.” As well as, “Outside Abuela’s morning kitchen red ants climb over scratchy grass and bite my feet while I pick naranjas with abuelo in the yard. ” My Beautiful Voice by Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpoys
When young students first begin learning about personal narrative, reading stories that have an easily identifiable beginning, middle, and end really helps. The plot structure of this title can be easily distilled: Jabari, his dad, and his sister go to the pool. Jabari gets ready to jump off the diving board.