Posted by: nancyisanders | April 2, 2015

Chapter Book: Our Mentor Text

Thanks for your patience as I picked the mentor text I’m going to use for writing my next chapter book and that you can use, too, as your mentor text for following along.

Here’s how it happened.

Somewhere while I was brainstorming last month for CHABOOCHA and making lists of ideas that might be fun to write and submit to Kaeden Books, I noticed that on my list I had a highly commercial idea with lots of potential.

When I stumble across one of those gold nugget ideas now and then, I do not…I repeat…I DO NOT…submit it for a work-for-hire project. I save it for submitting to a publisher who offers royalty contracts and since I now work with an agent, I save it for submitting to my agent who then submits it to publishers.

So I saved it. For now. And now I’ll show you step-by-step the journey and the process I take when I write a brand new chapter book. And if you want to follow along and write your own chapter book, I can guarantee it’s going to be lots of fun!

I’m in the middle of another project right now, a nonfiction deadline for teens that’s under contract, so I’ll be taking this new chapter book at a leisurely pace. You can, too!

So first I wanted to find a mentor text. (In an upcoming post I’ll share with you how to brainstorm an idea you can write about.)

For awhile I was thinking about using Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus. Here’s why I wanted to use it as my mentor text:
1. The voice is AWESOME. I’ve even seen junior high girls reading this series because the voice of Junie B. Jones is so strong. It’s a great example of how to write with a fantastic voice.

2. It’s about a real girl in a real world. Kids this age LOVE to read about school and friends and teachers and real life.

3. It is the right length and reading level. It’s just 6570 words with a 2.9 book level. It’s got 10 chapters and 69 pages. That’s an early chapter book.

But in the end, I turned it down. Why? Because it didn’t have one important criteria I like to use for a mentor text. It was written in 1992.


There are just so many subtle little details in a book that old that I might try to learn from that editors today might not be looking for. I try to use a mentor text that’s more current than that…rarely over 10 years old.

So I continued my search for a mentor text we could use.

I searched on amazon and in my local library and on my bookshelves.

I came really close to choosing Secrets According to Humphrey or Nancy Clancy and the Secret of the Silver Key. But even though it’s an AWESOME book and won tons of awards, Secrets According to Humphrey was over 27,000 words, much to much for the early chapter book we’re going to write while following along here on this blog. And Nancy Clancy was a mystery…that’s a whole other learning curve I didn’t want to tackle right now.

So I kept looking. Until I found it. Are you ready?

Drum roll please.

Our mentor text is:

Stink (Book #1) The Incredible Shrinking Kid by Megan McDonald.

Here’s why I chose it:
1. The voice is AWESOME. I haven’t read the whole book yet, but just the opening pages on Amazon had me laughing out loud.

2. It’s about a real boy in a real world with family and school and real problems. (He’s short.) Plus it’s a boy book. Publishers are always looking for boy books. (Hint: if you can brainstorm an idea for a boy book during our upcoming brainstorming session, that’s a big plus!)

3. It’s the right word length and reading level. How do I know? You can check it out on RENAISSANCE LEARNING. Just type in the title on the tab marked “Quiz Store” and you’ll see all the stats. 5502 words and a book level 3.0.

4. It was published in 2013. That’s really current so it will be full of current stuff editors are looking for.

5. And the super-duper extra bonus is this: It’s the first book in the series! Since we’ll be writing the first book with our brand new character we’re going to brainstorm together in an upcoming post, it will really help us introduce a character and learn how to start a brand new chapter book of our very own with series potential.

So if you want to join along in our upcoming adventure of how-to-write a chapter book from beginning to end (along with tips on where and how to submit it to a royalty-based publisher when we’re done) go ahead and buy your own copy of this book. It’s only $2.99 for Kindle or $4.99 for paperback. I prefer paperback because I like to mark key elements on the pages, but if you prefer digital, go for it. The important thing is to make the investment with a few bucks because it will pay off quickly!


  1. Perfect, Nancy. We have the whole series of Stink cuz Isaac fell in love with the character! I hope to join you. I just started Act 3 for the novel class and finished listening to your audios.

    • Yay! I’m so excited that you already know, love, and have the series!!!! So glad you’re moving forward with the MG Novel Class and hope you finish it up soon! It will be fun if you can join in our next adventure, too!

  2. Aww, I don’t have Stink handy 😦
    I will get it though 🙂

    • Glad you’re going to get it, Kathy! I’m ordering it in, too.

  3. I’m glad to see you taking us on a commercial book project, and the idea of a leisurely pace is appealing. Ordering the book today!

  4. This looks like fun. Like Pat, I’m gonna order the book today and follow along. Leisurely pace appeals to me. When do I have to have my pencils sharpened and a shiny new notebook?

    • Ooooh, I love your sharp pencils and shiny new notebook already! We’re going to start brainstorming next week!

  5. I am glad you discovered the Stink books and am sure you will love Megan’s writing. I thought you should know Stink #1 was first published in 2005 and there are now more than a dozen books in the series. Perhaps that will affect your use of the material as a mentor text. Interestingly, Megan’s original series, Judy Moody, helped me shape certain aspects of my chapter book which is now out on submission. Enjoy working through your latest project, and thanks for sharing your journey with us. It is a great source of inspiration for me.

    • Thanks for the tip on the initial publication date on Stink #1, Joanne! And how fun that you’ve used Judy Moody to help shape your chapter book. Best wishes on its success. I hope you’ll be even more inspired each step of our adventure!

  6. Another round of writing help – with a great mentor text. Have read several of the Stink books in my class – but not this one. Will definitely get it and follow along. Thanks again Nancy!

    • I’m so glad some of you are already familiar with the Stink books. Thanks for joining in!

  7. Sounds like fun! I’ve always wanted to write a chapter book! Off to order the book!

    • Yay!!!!! We’re going to have lots of fun!!!!

  8. This sounds like a fun break from revising my MG novel. Going to try to join in and keep up with you all! I’ve already found Stink!

    • Glad you’re joining in. Especially if you enjoy writing MG novels, this will give you many similar techniques to use and grow with in both genres.

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