January 4, 2011 at 5:35pm
The following article was written by senior staff developer, Colleen Cruz.
Students love to read fantasy and no doubt have already read several fantasy novels. However, when it comes time for students to try their hand at writing a fantasy short story, these novels, while giving a great sense of the genre, are not always the most accessible when students need to see models of the kind of writing they are capable of doing. When choosing a fantasy mentor text there are a few things you might want to keep in mind:
- Choose a text that you enjoy. You will not only be reading this text with your students many times over (as a whole or in parts), but your students will be reading it and trying craft moves that will be directly inspired by the text.
- Consider the length of the text. The texts that work the best tend to be ones that are about the length you are expecting your students to write. Picture books and short stories are usually just right.
- Keep in mind the qualities of writing you are planning to teach. If you plan to highlight the role of setting in a fantasy story, then you will definitely want the text you choose to not only include setting, but to craft it in a way that you’d like your students to be inspired by.
- Look to picture books, anthologies and magazines. All of these sources are great places to find short texts that will be accessible to students as well as make it easier for you to gather multiple copies of.
- Be mindful of readability. While mentor texts are often read aloud when they are introduced, students will eventually be studying the texts up close and reading them on their own. For that reason, you don’t want to choose a text that is higher than your students’ reading levels. If you have a wide range of reading levels in your class, you might consider having a few possible options for students.
- Shoot for the zone of proximal development. The best mentor texts are ones that manage to hit Vygotsky’s sweet spot of proximal development – they offer examples of writing moves that are just outside of what they writer is currently capable of doing – without being too challenging or too easy. In other words, the piece should give students something to learn from and want to emulate – not be so hard that they feel overwhelmed.
Below are a few popular fantasy mentor texts that teachers across the country have found helpful when teaching students to write fantasy fiction. You might begin your own fantasy mentor text quest by looking to these texts as examples of texts that might work well as mentors:
Merlin and the Dragons by Jane Yolen. This higher-level picture book features gorgeous illustrations and sumptuous writing as it spins a tale of a young King Arthur listening to a portentous tale being spun by his teacher, Merlin.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. This popular picture book tells the story of Princess Elizabeth who must go on a quest to rescue her prince after a dragon steals him away. Clear and clever writing with a simple, yet funny plotline.
The Guardian of Memory by Bruce Coville from The Glory of Unicorns edited by Bruce Coville. In this richly drawn short fantasy story, where the land is led by a gracious unicorn queen, Grimwold, the Keeper of the Unicorn Chronicles, gets called to a ceremony in the Grove to announce the new Guardian of Memory. A wonderful text to show character development, authentic dialogue and syntactical complexity.