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23 Books for Teaching Writing

August 13, 2021 by Kristin Halverson




When it comes to teaching writing, I didn’t learn a whole lot in my teacher prep program. It is a skill I have honed over time. I was also fortunate enough to observe some master teachers who excel at their craft and learn from them.

Throughout the years, I’ve amassed a collection of mentor texts for teaching writing – books that I love, the kids love, and also perfectly match the skills I want to teach. Whenever I discover a new picture book, I love to share it with others.

So… here’s my list of 23 books for teaching writing!

General Writing

1 – One Day, The End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Theme: Adding Details

I absolutely adore this story and it is one of my favorite books for teaching writing. I play it up like I have the BEST new book for the students to hear – they’re going to loooove this story. It is so in-depth and there is so much going on in each of the stories – they’ll never believe it is all in one book. And then I start reading. And they crack up because they know how ridiculous the stories sound when they have few to no details. A must-read for all primary grades!

Writing Book 2 – Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon

Theme: Finding Inspiration

Secondary Skill: Speech Bubbles/Dialogue

Ralph can’t write a story because nothing ever happens to him…or so he thinks. Ralph avoids writing like the plague because he thinks he has nothing to say, until one day, his classmates help him discover that maybe he does have stories to tell.

3 – A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen

Theme: How To Start Writing/Adding Details (for early writers)

Secondary Skill: Speech Bubbles/Dialogue

How do you write a story when you don’t know any words, only letters? The little boy in this story discovers the answer from his sister. As she prompts him to add details and move the story along, the little boy realizes that even he can write a story. This is great for emergent writers and has an emphasis on oral storytelling from the few symbols that the boy puts on paper. I love how the teacher and classmates help the little boy continue to develop his story by suggesting ideas – just like we do at school!

4 – The Best Story by Eileen Spinelli

Theme: Writing from the Heart

This is one of the first books I get out each year from my set of books for teaching writing. I follow it up with a heart map graphic organizer. The main character in this book enters a contest at the library, trying to win for having the best story. The problem is, she keeps getting conflicting information on what makes ‘the best story’ from her family. As she tries to add all these elements to her story, she discovers that the best story is the one that is your own.

Writing Book 5 – Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills

Theme: Finding Inspiration/The Magic of Words

Rocket wants to write his very own story. He starts by collecting words. Then, he decides to use his words to write a story but doesn’t know what to write. As Rocket is guided by the little yellow bird, he slowly develops his story, which he shares with Owl, his newly discovered and eventual friend.

6 – Author: A True Story by Helen Lester

Theme: The Writing Process/Finding Inspiration

The author tells the story of her life – how she became a writer. I love how she explains the process of becoming a published author and how it takes persistence and practice (as everything does to be good at it!) and she experiences the same things that our students do as they are writing. It demystifies the process of becoming an author, which seems so elusive to children, when they are, in fact, authors themselves!

Writing Book 7 – Little Red Writing by Joan Holub

Theme: Writing, Words (Grammar), and the Mechanics of a Story

Secondary Skill: Speech Bubbles/Dialogue

Little Red Writing’s teacher (Mrs. 2 at pencil school) tells the students they will be writing a story. While she gives the basic elements of a story, Little Red sets off to write her story. She encounters a variety of situations that might try to deter her from sticking to the plot – including an adjective forest but also has other problems arise such as a run-on sentence with the help of conjunction glue and all capitals and large punctuation with adverbs. As the author introduces each element, she includes it in the story of Little Red Writing in a comical way. There’s a lot going on with this story, but you can take it one step at a time if you want.

Writing Book 8 – The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds

Theme: The Magic of Words

Secondary Theme: Helping Others

Anything Peter H. Reynolds writes is gold in my opinion. This is one of my favorite books for teaching writing. Jerome (the main character) collects words in this book. He drops his collection one day and the words combine in ways he had never thought possible. As Jerome begins to share his words with others, he learns that you never know what words will help someone’s day be a little bit brighter. This is a must-read!

9 – Max’s Words by Kate Banks

Theme: The Magic of Words/Creating Descriptive Sentences

Max wants to be like his brothers who each collect things, so he decides to collect words. His collection grows and grows and Max realizes that while his brothers may have large collections, their collections aren’t worth much – just money, but he can create incredible sentences and stories. The illustrations in this one are fantastic!

Writing Book 10 – What Do Authors Do? by Eileen Christelow

Theme: The Writing Process

The author based this book on questions children ask her as she does presentations around the country. It is one of a handful of books I’ve got on this list of books for teaching writing that shows the entire process – idea through publishing – for how a book is made (technically two books – a picture book and a chapter book). This book has comic-book style illustrations and has just the right touch of fun and whimsy added to the details of writing.

Writing Book 11 – The Plot Chickens by Mary Jane Auch

Theme: The Writing Process

If you like puns, you’ll love this book. It is FULL of them as Henrietta decides to write her own book. She gets advice about ‘hatching a plot,’ creating suspense, having the main character solve their problem, and using the five senses to describe in vivid detail for the reader. Not only does Henrietta write her own book, but she also self-publishes after she is turned down so the reader sees the publishing process as well!

12 – How This Book Was Made by Mac Barnett

Theme: The Writing Process

Mac Barnett is another favorite author and does a fabulous job with this piece – especially when you’re looking for books to teach writing. Barnett relays the story of how a book is written and published – with a few interesting side steps along the way from a tiger and pirates. I use this when I introduce sharing as a part of the writing process (in particular) because the book ends with the idea that a book isn’t complete until it has a reader.

13 – A Perfectly Messed Up Story by Patrick McDonnell

Theme: Your Story (and Life) Aren’t Always Perfect

This story starts out perfectly mundane until a drop of PB and J falls on the page…and the story must adjust. With continued unexpected difficulties from an invisible, perceived reader who isn’t taking very good care of the book, the character and story adjust. This is a great fit for teaching kids that life isn’t always perfect – and we can adjust to continue on.

Writing Book 14 – The Panda Problem by Deborah Underwood

Theme: Fiction Story Elements

I dig the funny books and this one checks that box in the set of books for teaching writing. It is all about what fiction stories need – a main character with a problem. In this book, your students (and you) will crack up at the plot twist while also learning about characters, problems, and events!

15 – Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

Theme: Strategies for Getting Unstuck

Secondary Theme: Perseverance, Creativity

Writers get stuck. It happens to everyone. But what do you do when you are stuck? Oliver Jeffers is one of my favorite authors and I love how this book (a pretty quick read) can lead into a conversation of what authors should do when they get stuck. We create an anchor chart and leave it up for reference as long as it is needed!

16 – Chalk by Bill Thomson, I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët, or Any Other Wordless Picture Book

Theme: Illustrations Tell a Story

Illustrations are an important part (if not a critical part, depending on the book) of any picture book. By showing my students one or a few wordless picture books and discussing how we can ‘read’ the story through all the amazing illustrations, they understand that their illustrations are just as important and should a) match the story, b) be detailed, and c) help the reader understand what is going on.

Writing Book 17 – Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor

Theme: Writers Edit and Revise

Students love to be fancy – so I use Fancy Nancy to encourage them to make their writing ‘fancy’ after the draft! We don’t always do this, but when we take a piece through the entire writing process, this is a great text to refer to for getting them to edit and revise their work.

Genre-Specific Writing

Narrative:

18 – Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Theme: Perseverance, Overcoming Your Fears

Jabari is ready to jump off the high dive – he has done everything he needs to do to be ready. But when the time arrives, he isn’t quite sure, although he won’t admit that. He does his warm-up stretches and lets the other kids go first, but eventually, makes the climb up the ladder and takes his dad’s advice to reach his goal.

Potential Writing Prompts:

  • Jabari gets nervous to jump off the high dive. Everyone gets nervous. Think of a time you were nervous and write about what made you nervous and how you calmed down.
  • Jumping off the high dive for the first time can be scary. Think of a time you did something that scared you. How did you feel when you did the thing that was scary before you did it?
  • Jabari perseveres in the story – he doesn’t give up on his goal of jumping off the high dive. Write about a time you persevered – a time when you overcame obstacles to achieve a goal.
  • Jabari’s dad supports him in achieving his goal. Think of someone who supports you in achieving your goals. Write about them, what qualities they exhibit that make them so supportive, a time when they supported you, and how they did it.

19 – A Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards

Theme: Compassion

Mrs. Goldman knits hats for everyone, with the help of Sophia, who makes the pom-poms. Mrs. Goldman is too busy taking care of everyone else though and doesn’t have a hat for herself so Sophia decides to knit her one. She tries and tries, but the hat is full of mistakes. Sophia comes up with a creative solution to her problem to make a one-of-a-kind hat for Mrs. Goldman.

Potential Writing Prompts:

  • Mrs. Goldman shows compassion for others by knitting them hats. How do you show compassion for others? Write about a time you showed someone or something compassion.
  • Sophia is a child, but notices a need in her neighbor and shows her compassion by knitting her a hat. What is something that your class could do to show compassion? Think about where there might be a need in your community and write about how you could help!
  • Sophia’s hat is full of holes, but she comes up with a creative solution to the problem. Think about a time you solved a problem. Write about the problem and how you solved it.

Argumentative:

Writing Book 20 – Can I Be Your Dog? by Troy Cummings

Theme: Compassion, Empathy

Arfy is a homeless mutt living in a box in the alley – he needs a home. So, he writes a series of letters to all the residents of Butternut Street (starting with the nicest looking house and ending with the one that is kind of scary looking, but he is so desperate he would take anything), and one by one they turn him down. Just when he thinks all hope is lost, a solution presents itself. I cried the first time I read this one – it is a winner in my book!

Potential Writing Prompts:

  • Arfy gets many rejection letters, but he keeps trying to find a loving home and family because it is so important to him. Why is it important to not give up when something is very important to us? Write about this and share a time when something was very important to you.
  • Think about something you want to change at home. Write a persuasive letter to your adults and convince them to make the change.
  • Write a letter to your teacher about something you would like to change about your classroom. Think about how you could best persuade him/her.
  • Consider your community. How could it be a better place for everyone? Write a letter to your town board, city officials, mayor, or other people in charge of your community. Convince them to make the change.

21 – A Pet for Petunia by Paul Schmid

Theme: Compassion

Petunia wants a pet – and has to convince her family to let her get one. The pet that Petunia wants though? A little less than conventional. Petunia ends up loving the animals that others may not like (even remotely).

Possible Writing Prompts:

  • Petunia tries to convince her parents to let her get a pet skunk. Make a list of reasons your adults should let you get the pet you want.
  • Petunia changes her mind about have a skunk for a pet when she learns how much they smell. Think of a time when you changed your mind about something. What was it? What made you change your mind?
  • Petunia sees a porcupine at the end of the book. Write a prediction for what you think will happen next with Petunia. Give evidence to support your prediction.

Informative:

Writing Book 22 – Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots by Michael Rex

Theme: All About Facts and Opinions

Secondary Theme: Getting Along with Others

In a playful, engaging, and interactive manner, the author takes the reader through the differences between facts and opinions. There are questions asked of the reader to discern between fact and opinion and the author incorporates the theme of getting along with others, even when our opinions differ.

Possible Writing Prompts:

  • Select the topic of your choice. Make a list of facts about the topic and a list of opinions about the topic.
  • Write some facts and opinions about your teacher.
  • Think of an opinion you agree or disagree with. Write why you agree/disagree with that opinion.
  • Make a modified t-chart with you on the left and your friend on the right. Write a fact about yourself and a fact about your friend. Then, write an opinion about yourself and an opinion about your friend. Exchange papers with your friend and add a fact and opinion to each column on their paper while they add to yours.

23 – Any of the National Geographic Early Readers (like Sea Otters, Planets, or Pyramids)

Theme: All About (Topic)

National Geographic does a top-notch job with books for kids (just as they do for adults!). The photographs and content are super engaging and give just the right amount of content information on a topic. These books are a hot item in my classroom library – so much so that I’ve had to get multiple copies of some!

Possible Writing Prompts:

  • Use the topic from your book and write a brochure or book of your own ‘All About (Topic).”
  • Create a “Did You Know?” poster of things you learned on your book’s topic.
  • Create a 3D model of your book’s topic. Write an informational description of the topic, as if your piece were to be displayed at a museum.
  • Write a newspaper or magazine article on your topic.
  • Make a list of questions you still have about your topic after reading. (Then, see if you can find the answers!)

What are the books for teaching writing that you treasure? Have you used any of those listed above? Share your favorites below! I always find that linking these books with targeted Writing Mini-Lessons really helps cement the concepts for my students. It also greatly improves the content of their writing and allows each one of them to develop their own unique voice. 🥰

WRITTEN BY: KRISTIN HALVERSON, NBCT

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