5 Winter Picture Books to Teach Figurative Language

In college, my beloved Reading Methods professor read us picture books at the beginning of class. As twenty-something-old college students, we relished those five-ten minutes it took for her to read a book. We could relax, get lost in something other than student teaching hours, seminars, and projects, and just enjoy a good story. When she read us a picture book for the very first time, she asked, “Did you enjoy that?” Our response was, “Of course, we did!” She went on to say that if we, as grown adults, enjoy a picture book this much, then don’t discount it for older elementary students, middle schoolers, or even high schoolers. It was one of those ah-ha moments I’ve clearly held onto ever since. Today, we are going to dive into 5 winter pictures books to teach figurative language.

As a teacher who has taught all three levels of students: elementary, middle, and high school, her philosophy has proven true as I have used picture books quite often to teach concepts, as a brain break, and to ignite a love of reading and writing in students.

Picture Books as Mentor Text

Picture books are being used as mentor text more and more. Just because a book is written for younger students doesn’t mean the author didn’t devote hours to that piece of writing, perfecting every word, every character, and every storyline. Just because it’s geared toward younger students doesn’t mean that the writing isn’t amazing. Using picture books to teach students how to write is the beginning of students connecting authentic, real-world literature to their own writing.

When teaching writing, I love to teach figurative language, a concept explored in literature classes as we analyze stories and novels. Think about your favorite author and you probably don’t think about how many similes or metaphors they used; however, you do think about how descriptive their characters were or how they got the setting just right for you to imagine it clearly. Great authors use figurative language so smoothly that you don’t even realize it. Figurative language takes descriptive writing to the next level. It adds a creative flair to help readers understand the words and descriptions even more clearly. That’s a writing skill I hope my students can grasp.

The following picture books can be utilized as wonderful mentor text to teach figurative language. Plus, they’re based in winter, so it fits in nicely with the season, and if your students are writing a winter story, these books will be great inspiration.

1. Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen

A Caldecott Medal winner, this book breathes figurative language. It is in almost every sentence. This book paints such a lovely, timeless, still scene of winter. It is a soothing picture book that students will enjoy and glean a lot from on how to use figurative language.

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Publisher’s Synopsis: 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. But there is no answer.

Wordlessly the two companions walk along, for when you go owling you don’t need words. You don’t need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn’t an owl, but sometimes there is. 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. Wonderfully complemented by John Schoenherr’s soft, exquisite watercolor illustrations, this is a verbal and visual treasure, perfect for reading around and sharing at bedtime.

Examples of figurative language:

Simile: The trees stood still as giant statues. / Somewhere behind us, a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song. 

Personification: A farm dog answered the train, and then a second dog joined in. They sang out, trains and dogs, for a real long time. And when their voices faded away, it was as quiet as a dream.

Alliteration: Our feet crunched over the crisp snow./ He looked up searching the stars.

Metaphor: The moon made his face into a silver mask. 

These are just a couple of examples from Owl Moon. This book is a wellspring of figurative language. 

2. Snowflakes Fall, by Patricia MacLachlan

Snowflakes Fall is a wonderfully descriptive picture book all about the beauty of snow, the winter season, the children who enjoy it, and even the blessings found at the end of the winter season. Not only does this book contain a blizzard of figurative language, but the deep meaning and motivation behind this book are also inspiring. 

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Publisher’s Synopsis: In Snowflakes Fall, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Steven Kellogg portray life’s natural cycle: its beauty, its joy, and its sorrow. Together, the words and pictures offer the promise of renewal that can be found in our lives—snowflakes fall, and return again as raindrops so that flowers can grow.MacLachlan and Kellogg, who are longtime friends, were moved to collaborate on a message of hope for children and their families following the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Kellogg lived in Sandy Hook for thirty-five years—he raised his family there and was an active member of the community. With Snowflakes Fall, they have created a truly inspiring picture book that is both a celebration of life and a tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique.

Examples of figurative language: 

Personification: Snowflakes fall to sit on gardens and evergreen trees. / Frantic, icy snowflakes scratch the window glass./ Branches fly and shadows darken dreams. 

Simile: Snowflakes fall, drift, and swirl together like the voices of children. 

Alliteration:On its loved library, And its familiar flagpole 

3. Bright Winter Night, by Alli Brydon

This adorable picture book has beautiful illustrations, incorporates the forest animals working together as a team, and has rhyming words. All of these elements will intrigue students, but it also has some great examples of figurative language. 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: The forest calls, and creatures come: big and small, one by one. They sense there is a task to do as night descends, replacing blue. On one bright winter night, a group of woodland creatures emerges from the forest. Despite their differences, they start to build something together, using items found on the forest floor. What are they making? And how quickly can they build it? Something special is happening tonight, and soon the animals are off—in a race to catch a glimpse of one of nature’s most astounding wonders! With lyrical text and sparkling artwork, Bright Winter Night is a celebration of the joy and beauty of nature and the special gift of friendship and togetherness.

Examples of figurative language:

Metaphor: The wolf pack launches with a start and races through the forest’s heart. 

Onomatopoeia: The sleigh careens, the rabbits jump as the rest go BUMP BUMP BUMP. 

Personification: The colors dazzle, glow, and blaze-the flashes sizzle, shock and amaze!/ The magic in the winter’s air drifts all around them, everywhere. 

4. The Snow Dancer, by Addie Boswell

Not only are the illustrations gorgeous in The Snow Dancer, but the word choice is the perfect example of descriptive writing. The figurative language is also amazingly abundant in this story. Additionally, if you wanted to choose one book to focus on onomatopoeia, this one is it! 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: Young dancer Sofia wakes up to a quiet, white world—it’s a snow day! She makes her way outside to the neighborhood park, where a field awaits her, white and shining and open. It isn’t long before the rest of the neighborhood wakes its sleepy head—and the other kids make their way to the park, scattering all of Sofia’s beautiful silence. But with the help of a new young friend, Sofia is ready to show everyone what a snow dancer can do on a perfect day like this. With lyrical language and gorgeous art, this book sparkles with all the joy and beauty of a snow day.

Examples of figurative language: 

Personification: All through the night, they fell-frosting the rooftops, fluffing the sidewalks, laying fuzzy hats on the fire hydrants. 

Alliteration: She sniffed the cold, clean air. 

Onomatopoeia: Whooomph! She fell down the hidden steps./ Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. She hopscotched down the invisible sidewalk.  (There are so many more examples of Onomatopoeia!)

Simile: The sun shone like a giant spotlight. The soccer field gleamed like a giant stage. /Outside the world sparkled and glistened. 

5. Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter, by Kenard Pak

I love this series of books. Kenard Pak has a picture book that says goodbye to every season and hello to another. These straightforward books with gorgeous illustrations use personification for the entirety of the story, as parts of the season speak as if they are animate. Not only is there a plethora of personification examples, but the author uses other figurative language examples as well. 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: As leaves fall from their trees, animals huddle against the cold, and frost creeps across windows, everyone knows―winter is on its way! Join a brother and sister as they explore nature and take a stroll through their twinkling town, greeting all the signs of the coming season. In a series of conversations with everything from the setting sun to curious deer, they say goodbye to autumn and welcome the glorious first snow of winter in Kenar Pak’s Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter.

Examples of figurative language: 

Alliteration: Autumn afternoon/Setting sun/wispy winds/…Swept into the sky

Personification: Now that the wispy winds have come, we fall from the oak tree branches and are swept into the sky! (Leaves)/ Our pine-needle branches shiver in the wind while you sleep. (There are many examples of personification!)

Metaphor: Hello, snowflakes. Hello. We fall in a white, misty curtain and muffle all the sounds around you. 

Simile: Hello, clouds. Hello. We cover the sky like a downy, soft blanket. 

Activities: 

To further practice identifying and writing figurative language, check out this FREE Picture Book Figurative Language Activity we have!

Grab yours today!

We also have Figurative Language Posters available in our store as well!

Click here to grab yours today!

Conclusion:

Using winter picture books as mentor text to teach figurative language is a great way to provide authentic examples for students. Picture books can be utilized for any grade level as a way for students to see real writing examples that have figurative language and to practice identifying figurative language. Also, winter picture books bring just the right coziness that makes reading so fun and delightful. 

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Teaching Writing with Roald Dahl Part 1

Growing up, my teachers always had a fondness for Roald Dahl, and for that, I am grateful. Roald Dahl was a British author famous for such works as Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, and The Witches. If you haven’t read those books, chances are you’ve seen the above movies. Dahl has sold more than 250 million books worldwide and continues to be popular among many teachers and students today.  This blog post will cover different techniques for teaching writing with Roald Dahl and his marvelous books.

Roald Dahl’s birthday was September 13. Therefore, we thought we would go down memory lane and discuss how his books can be used as mentor text to teach writing. Mentor texts serve as real-life examples of writing to provide a model for students to emulate. Students can learn how to write effectively from Dahl’s published works.

Matilda: Forming Ideas and Creating Characters

My personal favorite of Dahl’s is Matilda. This novel is appropriate for grades third and up. It is a wonderful read-aloud for younger grades as well. This story is about a five-and-a-half-year-old girl with remarkably intelligence. With the ability to read advanced works and the knowledge to do upper-level math, Matilda stands out as the oddball in her family of self-centered people. Her family doesn’t appreciate her need for learning, and they treat her in borderline neglectful ways. Matilda even inhabits some interesting magical gifts. Once Matilda starts school, her precious teacher Miss Honey sees the young girl’s remarkableness. However, the mean oaf-like principal, Miss Trunchbull, does not. This novel is heartwarming and unique. 

Matilda is a wonderful example to use as mentor text to teach your students how to write interesting, complex, and multi-faceted characters for their stories. Matilda is chock full of them from an interesting whimsical pigtail-wearing friend of Matilda’s named Lavender to the sweet Miss Honey whose name alludes to her even sweeter demeanor. Students could be inspired by Bruce, the boy who loves chocolate cake, and Matilda’s whacky and tacky used car salesman father. Ms. Trunchbull and her scary disciplinary ways is another example of a captivating character. Analyzing the characters, listing their character traits, and evaluating their motivations (why do they do what they do), can help students hone in on some spellbinding characters of their own. 

Many students struggle with how to get their ideas flowing that are needed for writing. Matilda has magical elements mixed with realistic characters that could inspire children to use their imagination to form ideas. Some enthralling ideas students could explore range from how to intermingle realistic elements with fantasy and magical ones to how to write shocking scenes. Roald Dahl is famous for this. I believe anyone who has read Matilda remembers the scene in which Bruce eats an entire chocolate cake in front of the school, or when Miss Trunchbull spins Lavender over her head and throws her into a field. Shocking scenes make for interested readers and students can learn that from Roald Dahl.

James the Giant Peach: Setting and Descriptive Language

James and the Giant Peach is my mother’s personal favorite. A four-year-old boy named James becomes an orphan when his parents are eaten by rhinos. (Classic Roald Dahl to throw in the shock factor.) He is sent to live with his Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge who are evil. Three years later, James is extremely depressed and begs his aunts to take him to the sea where he lived with his parents, yet they say no as evil aunts will do. James, distraught, runs outside to find an old man in a green suit. This old man gives James magic green crystals and tells James to eat them and in doing so, amazing things will happen. James is about to do as commanded, but then trips over his aunts’ peach tree’s roots and the crystals burrow into the ground.

Immediately a gigantic peach starts to grow. The aunts immediately see this as an opportunity to get rich as crowds form around the spectacle. Next, James is sent to clean up after the crowds and sees a hole in the peach. He crawls in and discovers a whole world with bugs his size from a spider to a ladybug. From this encounter, the story becomes more and more enthralling and kooky as the giant peach falls off and squashes the aunts. The peach rolls and rolls and finally plunges into the sea with James floating inside the peach with this kooky crew of bugs. More and more spellbinding scenarios occur leaving readers intrigued.  

Since the majority of the story takes place in a peach, analyzing the setting will help students come up with their own interesting settings. Evaluating how settings impact stories is crucial when teaching writing. James lives on top of the peach as it continues to travel and float in the sea. That is until seagulls lasso it into the sky.

Students learn that if it weren’t for the setting of the peach, the story would be entirely different. They can imagine a scenario in which the peach isn’t part of the story. Next, they can discuss what elements of the story would then change. Dahl emphasizes that setting plays such an important role that it takes on the life of being another character in a way. Encourage students to think outside of the box in terms of where their story will take place. Settings can range from outer space to even a piece of fruit.

Descriptive language is one of Dahl’s strengths. Dahl spins words together in such a spellbinding fashion. By taking excerpts from James and the Giant Peach and analyzing them, students can become inspired with their own writing. Here is an example of how Dahl uses descriptive language to illicit wonderful imagery: 

Another example of Dahl’s use of descriptive language: “Everybody was feeling happy now. The sun was shining brightly out of a soft blue sky and the day was calm. The giant peach, with the sunlight glinting on its side, was like a massive golden ball sailing upon a silver sea.”

Teachers can have students analyze what word choice created this imagery. Dahl’s writing is full of similes, metaphors, and descriptive language. His works are an amazing example of mentor texts that helps students write their own unique works.

Boy: Roald Dahl’s Autobiography

Roald Dahl not only wrote amazing fantasy novels, but he also wrote an autobiography.  Boy Tales of Childhood details his childhood into early adulthood, his life in the public schools of England, and his very first job. Boy Tales of Childhood chronicles how his life experiences shaped him into becoming a writer. His autobiography spans the 1920s-1930s in Wales, which makes for an interesting backdrop. His childhood contains comical mishaps with teachers and mischievous musings with his friends. Dahl was inspired to create Trunchbull from memories of his semi-abusive principal from his boarding school. Students can get a glimpse into Dahl’s early life and see how many aspects of his childhood have influenced his works, including how the Cadbury company used Dahl and his classmates as focus group members and how this inspired Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Boy Tales of Childhood makes a perfect example to use to teach students how to write a narrative or their life story. Dahl includes many quotes that are perfect tips for writing an autobiography. 

“When writing about oneself, one must strive to be truthful. Truth is more important than modesty.”

“An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life and it is usually full of all sorts of boring details.”  (We admittedly would tell students we don’t want all the boring details.)

Boy Tales of Childhood also has many shock factor scenes that show students how honesty in narratives will keep readers interested. I first read this book when my Miss Frizzle-like fifth-grade teacher read it aloud to us. The scene I remember the most was when Dahl’s boil was lanced. The way he describes it and his feelings minute-by-minute made for a shocking yet hilarious story. Additionally, Dahl describes how he put a dead mouse in a candy jar at one of his favorite candy stores which makes for laugh-aloud moments. Dahl had many interesting adventures which can inspire students not to hold back when writing about their own life experiences. 

Conclusion

Roald Dahl is an author who will always stick with you once you read his works. If you have not introduced your students to him, now is the time for a new generation to experience his writing. By using his works as mentor texts, students can learn how to write unique characters and settings, come up with compelling ideas all while using descriptive language. Roald Dahl is one of our personal favorites and we hope he becomes one of yours too. 

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What is Mentor Text?

Writing can be a difficult subject for students and teachers alike. It may be challenging to get students to truly understand how to write, and this, in turn, can prove challenging to us teachers. Some students view writing as an easier task than others, just as different subjects can come naturally to some children. Sometimes there’s a future Roald Dahl in our classes, but for other students, writing can be a discouraging task.

Those students that struggle with writing most likely have listened to or read hundreds of picture books and short stories by the time they step into their 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms.

There is an overwhelming connection between reading well-written work and turning those books into a how-to of writing for students. Our pupils may not realize it, but these same stories they know and love actually hold the essential tools great writers need in order to create new works of art.

So, what are mentor texts and what do they have to do with our students’ writing abilities? Mentor texts are those well-crafted picture books or short stories that teachers can use within the classroom to serve as a model to teach writing. Mentor texts serve as an example of what great writing is. It is simply the secret treasure trove to use in order to create and foster great work.

Common Core State Standards, or CCSS, places a heavy emphasis on narrative, personal narrative, persuasive, and informative genres, including compare and contrast pieces.

Most educators were taught how to teach in various methods classes. We were taught how to teach writing, but we were not taught how to write a children’s book ourselves. How many classes did you take on how to teach writing versus how to write a children’s book? There is a difference.

Sure, college taught us how to write a great essay, an awesome one for that fact, but we were not taught how to write a great children’s book or for that matter, an interesting children’s informational compare and contrast book either.

Furthermore, most of us educators weren’t taught how to write an intriguing personal narrative, unless we took a specific writing class. One of those intriguing personal narratives can be found in a wonderful children’s book. The Relatives Came, by Cynthia Rylant is a picture book that doubles as a personal narrative. Do you see exactly what I am trying to confer?

So, where did these children’s authors that we know and love learn to write such awesome masterpieces?They studied their writing craft by analyzing the same picture books we read to our students in our classrooms. The same exact books.

However, what they did that is differently than how we were taught to teach writing is that they not only studied the well-crafted sentences, but they studied the formulas or models of writing each picture book or short story secretly contained.

So, you might be thinking…that is all and great, but what should we do as teachers to develop our students’ writing skills to this level?

They studied their writing craft night and day by analyzing the same picture books we read to our students in our classrooms, the same exact books. However, what they did that is different from most of us is they not only studied the well-crafted sentences, but they studied the formulas or models of writing each picture book or short story secretly contained.

So, you might be thinking, that is all and great, but what should we do as teachers to develop our students’ writing skills to the level I am describing?

The answer is simple. We must do the same thing. We must use these same formulas secretly contained in picture books or short stories to help our students develop superior written works within our classrooms, and we should do this with the help of mentor texts.

We are going to turn to those mentor text, those award-winning picture books or short stories, to guide our students along the same writing paths as those great authors who have come before us.

Let’s think of mentor text as a treasure chest full of buried gold and jewels, and ourselves as a guide, while our students are the pirates in desperate search of this hidden treasure. With this in mind, our job is to guide our crew to their correct destination, which in this case is the treasure trove of outstanding writing.

So, how do we guide our students? Where do we find these formulas or models? By reading and mimicking mentor texts.

Mentor Text for Personal Narrative

The first thing for us to do is to provide great mentor texts specifically directed at what we are striving to teach. For example, if the genre we desire to teach our students is a personal narrative, we shouldn’t give our students a pencil, paper, and simply describe what a personal narrative is and then walk away to see what they create. No, we, as their guides, must direct them that treasure trove of personal narrative mentor texts.

One of the finest books I have read to showcase a personal narrative and to show students that a personal narrative doesn’t have to be as exciting as a trip to Disneyland in order to entertain an audience is Fireflies, by Julie Brinckloe. It is a simple story of a young boy who goes out into the night to catch fireflies.

Nothing fancy, no great birthday presents, no making the game winning touchdown. But, oh, how the author weaves a story of how humble an act of catching fireflies can easily turn into a grand adventure. By following her model, we see that instead of writing, “I ran into my backyard,” we see the author weave, “The screen door banged behind me as I ran from the house.” Instead of stating, “I was happy,” the author writes, “The moonlight and the fireflies swam in my tears, but I could feel myself smiling.” Ah, the beauty in the perfect example.

After listening to this story, my students started thinking about all the simple things they could write about, how they could turn a simple sentence into pure magic by imitating Brinckloe’s style.

My students decided by following Brinckloe’s model, they could write stories about scraping their knees while riding their bikes or whisking away from a dog someone let run loose at the park. By following the model of Fireflies, my students understood how an author could make a simple occurrence in their life turn into an intriguing and interesting personal narrative.

Mentor Text for Opinion Writing

Another genre that seems to bring so much dread to both teachers and students is persuasive or opinion-based writing. In opinion-based writing, students must first introduce their topic, state an opinion, and then give reasons and evidence to support their opinion. Last, the young writer must conclude with a summary re-stating the main opinion.

That sounds like such a technical, structured piece of writing that most young authors would slowly sling to the floor after hearing that particular explanation. However, this is where, once again, we can utilize those mentor texts to lead them to a treasure trove of gold. A great book to share with your students to get them excited about writing their opinions in order to persuade others and make students laugh at the same time is The Big Bed, by Bunmi Laditan.

This is an adorable story of a little girl who does not want to share her mommy and her bed with her father. She goes to great links to convince or persuade her father that he should sleep in a cot beside their big bed. She uses science, charts, sales pitches, past history, everything she can conceive to convince her father that she belongs in her mommy’s bed instead of him. For example, one of the compelling reasons she wants to sleep with her mommy is because she is afraid of the dark. Instead of just stating this fact and hoping for a buy-in, the author writes, “Science has proven that one of the many symptoms of bedtime is darkness. Daddy, are you scared of the dark? Because I am…I can’t sleep alone.” Who could argue with this fact?

After reading this story, my students better understood this particular style of persuasion and the direction they could travel in order to convince their audience to buy-in on their opinions. How did we do this? We studied the model the author and other authors have utilized to create these wonderful pieces of writing. We followed their hidden treasure map to create our own convincing works of persuasion.

Mentor Text for Informational Text

Students love science. It is one of those magical times for them to explore the world around them, searching for answers to some of life’s mysteries. They also love reading the new style of illustrated biographies. However, it is another issue when you ask them to perform the daunting task of writing about their findings or to ask them to write a unique biography. So, what is a teacher to do? The same as before, turn to mentor text to demonstrate to our students the different text structures authors use to create those awesome science books and illustrated biographies they love to read so much.

For example, in additional to the library classes I teach, I also am a writing coach to my fourth-grade teachers. Recently, our students worked on creating compare and contrast writings. Their middle and conclusion paragraphs were awesome. However, they seemed to have a difficult time creating their introductory paragraphs. Their writings were good, but it was not something that would catch a reader’s eye and make a student want to continue to read their writings. So, what was I to do?

I searched my non-fiction section in the library to gather all the interesting compare and contrast books I could find. That is when I was blessed to find Lisa M. Herrington’s What’s the Difference series, with books like Frogs and Toads, Turtles and Tortoises, Monkeys and Apes, Butterflies and Moths, and Crocodiles and Alligators. We dove headfirst into these books to see if we could find a model the author may have used to create these interesting pieces of informational text.

It was funny but after reading some of the books comparing unique animals, the author’s model jumped out at us, easily teaching us a new and exciting way to use mentor texts as a guide or model.

From this point, we went back to our Google drive accounts, and courageously deleted the students’ original introduction paragraphs and re-wrote their passages utilizing the mentor text model instead. To the students’ surprise, it drastically changed their paper to the point that everyone wanted to read each other’s writings. It was amazing how much of a difference the mentor text model made. I have been using this method for a while now, and even I was truly impressed with the differences between their first drafts and their new work.

Conclusion

The struggle that a majority of students feel in the classroom concerning writing is real. However, there is hope. With the addition of mentor texts in our classrooms for the express purpose of providing excellent writing models greatly increases the students’ odds of creating those masterpieces we have been dreaming of. Mentor texts can be utilized for many different types of genres, including personal narrative, opinion pieces, and informational texts. There are many different examples. Some are classics, such as Fireflies, by Julie Brinckloe. Others are newcomers, such as The Big Bed, by Bunmi Laditan, which include many of the traits the CCSS recommends. To sum up, mentor texts are well-crafted picture books or short stories that we should utilize within our classrooms. They are truly the treasure trove of gold we need as models for our students to create and foster great writing within our classrooms.

For more information, please visit

6 Suggestions for Using Mentor Text Within the Classroom, by Christina Gil.

8 Tips for Teaching with Mentor Texts, by Christina Gil.

Mentor Texts, by Dr. Joanne Meier.