Mentor Text Wednesday: Found Photos

Mentor Texts:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Snaps by Rebecca Kraatz (Clifford, Gordon, Leonard)

Writing Techniques:

  • Creative Writing
  • Graphic Storytelling
  • Writing Memoir


As a kid, summer was often unlimited time to read. I still use as much of my summer in that fashion. Aside from being an awesome way to spend the summer, it’s given me some material for this column.

Early in July, I finally got around to reading Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It was awesome, and I can see why people loved it. If you’ve not read it, it’s a wonderful bit of fantasy inspired by some strange found photos that Riggs collected.

photo 2Later, I got a copy of Rebecca Kraatz’s Snaps. I picked it up because Canada’s book chain, Indigo has been encouraging folks to #ReadTheNorth, and engage with Canadian literature. Prominent Canadians made reading suggestions, including musician Joel Plaskett, who reccommended his wife’s book. It is a graphic novel, which was inspired by, you guessed it, found 1

And that, my friends, is how mentor text sets come to be.

How We Might Use These Texts:

Creative Writing– Right away, I knew Riggs’ book was a source of inspiration I’d mine. I love the idea of incorporating visuals into the writing process. I have a handful of notes in my notebook about using photos as inspiration. Riggs shows exactly how viable this can be.

Looking at images, and deciding what stories live there is a rich place for our writers to begin. Riggs used “peculiar” photos, while Kraatz used ones that were more common. However, both of them used them to inspire stories. Riggs connected them into a cohesive narrative, while Kraatz crafted a bunch of loosely connected shorter narratives.

I’m hoping, next year, to collect photos like this, and have students look at them, notebooks open, looking for the stories. We’ll have some guiding questions, which I haven’t written yet. We’ll write some, and we’ll talk about the stories we found, to see if we can evolve them together.

Though what’s going on in my classes may change the purpose of this writing, the exercise itself will be, I think, rich. Showing a writer a place to mine for inspiration is never a bad idea. We can craft big pieces, or we can use it as an exercise in creativity.

Graphic Storytelling — I’m sort of obsessed with the idea of graphic storytelling. I’ve played with it a bit, and I’ve been curating mentor texts that will help me take my students into deeper work with it. Kraatz’s book will be invaluable in this area.

What I like about this book is that though there is a larger context connecting the individual stories, it is actually a collection of brief vignettes. Length, as we know, is always a concern. When you add the element of creating a visual to this, for many students, it can become a greater concern. The brevity of each vignette can show that a story can be told briefly.

Creating visuals will be concerning for some. It will no doubt help that Kraatz’s art is rough, and at time abstract. It doesn’t look like a conventional comic book, and feels almost more personal. I actually spend a fair amount of time encouraging students to “let go” and create. It’s not, I tell them about the quality of the art, but the act of creation. Also helpful, are resources like these from Wally Wood, which put the creation of comics into the realm of the doable.

Image via A Moment of Cerebus
Image via A Moment of Cerebus

Coupled with this is that fact that they’ve already got an image to work from. This will give them something to reproduce, or to set the tone. They can focus on elements of the photo, and zoom in. Or they can reuse the image, changing the text accordingly. Often, graphic storytellers will use a full page image, putting text throughout it to tell the story.

Conversely, with access to a scanner or copier, this could be done actually using the photo… collaging their graphic piece.

Graphic storytelling intrigues me because it pushes creativity in a different way. As far as the written word goes, this model may mean less text. Perhaps we begin with a wriiten piece that is “adapted” into a graphic story, pushing them to edit, and refine the piece to fit the form.

Writing Memoir — A pretty standard memoir assignment is writing a piece based upon a favorite photograph.  I think that that assignment could be evolved nicely using Kraatz’s work as a mentor text.

What I’ve come to love about using mentor texts is how we can use them to give validity to things we’re already doing. If we can show our writers examples of what we’re asking them to do in real life, it may give our lessons a bit more credibility. As well, I love when we’re able to use a mentor text to evolve things that we’re already doing.

How do you help your writers find inspiration? Do you know of any other mentor texts that use photos as inspiration? Do you have any sources for photos we could use to inspire students?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!


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