Posted by: nancyisanders | July 17, 2020

Mentor Text for Nonfiction Picture Book Biography

You. Must. Read. This. Book. That is, if you want to learn how to write winning nonfiction picture book biographies for kids.

This is nothing short of a game changer in learning how to write.

Why? For starters, look at the title in this picture. THE AMAZING COLLECTION OF JOEY CORNELL. But wait…read the subtitle ABOVE the title:

“Based on the Childhood of a Great American Artist.”


This one word gives us the freedom as authors to create a wonderful picture book that’s classified with all the other nonfiction picture books that are out there in the market today. But we can use liberty in writing dialog and emotion and scenes that pure nonfiction can’t take.


Then there’s the plot line. It’s brilliant. (But then aren’t all Candace Fleming’s books brilliant?!)

This is not a birth to death timeline like so many other picture book biographies. Birth to success to death. Predictable. Ho hum. Boring.

Not this book! This book introduces us to Joey, who likes to collect things. It takes us along a journey to see what he collects while he’s young. It shows us a sad point in his childhood that motivated him to take his collection and turn it into an art show for his mother and sisters to enjoy.

End of story. We don’t find out when he was born. We don’t find out how he became famous. We don’t find out how he died.

Because all of that can be found in the Author’s Note at the end.

So if you want to learn a magnificent way to tell the story of your nonfiction biography, get this book, read it, type it out word for word, dissect it, and use it as a mentor text to write your biography BASED on the life of your subject.

My goal is to write a third draft of my nonfiction biography using this book as my mentor text. Then I’m going to compare and contrast the three drafts I’ve written…and move forward from there. I hope you do the same!


  1. This is an interesting book. Candace Fleming’s books are fantastic. The reviewers list it as a “picture book” without the nonfiction moniker and PW refers to it as a “fictionalized account”. But everyone seems to agree to shelve it in biography. Interesting!

    • Wendy, thanks so much for this info! It would be interesting to see how teachers fit it into their lesson plans. Does it meet the standards for informational text or fiction? Probably the first, so it still fits a big need in the educational market. Fun stuff to ponder!

  2. This is perfect for a long time stuck in the muck project of mine. Thanks for the tip, Nancy!

  3. Just ordered this from the library. Thanks for sharing this beautiful book.

  4. Excellent post! I’m definitely buying this book and typing out the manuscript.

  5. Thank you, Nancy, for this mentor text. I’m buying my copy. I have several of Candace’s books–she is the teacher!

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