Simple Ways to Use Cynthia Rylant’s Books as Mentor Texts

Cynthia Rylant's writing style works well for teaching so many skills including author's craft, visualizing, point of view, imagery, drawing conclusions, making inferences, and finding text evidence to support thinking. In this post, I share my top ten favorite titles and ideas to go with each.

Cynthia Rylant’s writing style works well for teaching so many skills including author’s craft, visualizing, point of view, imagery, drawing conclusions, making inferences, and finding text evidence to support thinking. Of course, her works also provide an excellent example for writing ideas, voice, and word choice, so they lend themselves well to persuasive, descriptive, and narrative writing. Today, I’d like to share the titles I like best and how I’ve used them.

These Cynthia Rylant titles that I find work well from fall into winter are included below. With themes of scarecrows, changes in the weather, life in the mountains, the Christmas holidays, and winter, you can weave in so many skills and writing options.

Titles by Cynthia Rylant That I Love:


I thought I’d start with my favorite of them all. This book is just so descriptive. You absolutely feel like you are a scarecrow, and because of this, it has great teaching potential. It is a fairly new title for Rylant, but it is available in paperback now. Here are a few skills that I teach with this book:

  • Visualizing with Text Details
  • Summarizing
  • Point of View
  • Making Inferences
  • Descriptive Writing about A Day in the Life of a Scarecrow


Another fall title by Cynthia Rylat that is PERFECT for right now is In November. It’s written almost like a poem with plenty of figurative language and description. Just consider this one quote…

In November, the trees are standing all sticks and bones. Without their leaves, how lovely they are, spreading their arms like dancers. They know it is time to be still.

With this title, I enjoy teaching the following skills:

  • Figurative Language
  • Making Inferences
  • Visualizing with Text Evidence/Imagery
  • Descriptive Writing using Patterned Text


This choice can be used any time of year, but I would use it at the front end of this author study mainly as a way to share some of Cynthia Rylant’s history with your students. Cynthia Rylant is from West Virginia, a state known for its beautiful mountains and fall colors as well as connections to coal mining. This book includes information of times past, and the illustrations help the reader visualize life without technology and things we have today.

This book, like In November, includes repetition, so it’s a fun one to imitate. You can have your students write about, “When I was Young in _____” or compare Then and Now. For reading skills, you might try these:

  • Making Connections
  • Making Comparisons
  • Questioning, and
  • Summarizing Information


Another book that connects to Cynthia Rylant’s childhood and history is The Relatives Came. This one is a classic in many classrooms and is listed as a recommended mentor text all over Pinterest. The setting is during the summer, and it tells about how the Virginia relatives go over the mountains to visit the West Virginia relatives. I’ve used this book with multiple grade levels even though the reading level is about a second-grade level.

Skills that this book works well for include:

  • Story Structure
  • Cause and Effect Relationships
  • Setting
  • Exploding the Moment (writing)
  • Narrative writing


Ah…what a gem! If you’re looking for a great book to help your students understand the importance of giving versus receiving. I love this book’s tenderness and feel like it provides a wonderful model for our children. The setting is West Virginia (like the previous two), and it too includes a Then and Now theme.

The story begins with a young boy looking forward to the coming of the Christmas train where he’ll receive a gift. He forever wishes for a doctor’s kit, but he’s received important things like socks and mittens. This true story is one of the best holiday books out there and carries so much meaning. Here’s what I teach using it:

  • Visualizing
  • Theme
  • Questioning using the QAR strategy
  • Sequencing Events
  • Making Comparisons, and of course,
  • Writing related to the theme


Another holiday book that works well for December is this one. I used both Silver Packages and Christmas in the Country for different reasons. Christmas in the Country is descriptive like the others I’ve mentioned. It’s great for discussions on family traditions, preparations, and how we all celebrate in different ways.

Skills you can teach with this book include:

  • Questioning
  • Making Comparisons
  • Using Text Evidence
  • Sequencing Events
  • Writing


Once the holidays are over, it’s time to look at winter themes. Snow is another descriptive text that students can imitate for their own writing. Kids love waiting for the automated calls to come out letting them know it’s a snow day, and this book totally relates to that enthusiasm.

I used this book primarily for writing ideas, word choice, and voice. In reading, you can teach author’s craft and visualizing using text evidence along with story elements, making comparisons, and cause/effect relationships.


What a sweet book! We had a dog just like Gracie, and this anytime book is perfectly connected to kids. Every single kid I know can relate to dogs that flee the scene and love the chase. It’s a great choice for cause/effect relationships, sequencing events. problem and solution, making connections, and with writing, kids can write their own pet adventure. Teachers can use this book as a mentor text for story structure and narrative writing. It’s an excellent choice for the middle grades.


This very simple text is best used for writing and theme extension. The story tells the importance of making the most of each day. I’ve included it as a great choice for back to school and establishing classroom routines.

With the organization being morning, noon, and night, you can work on organization with writing and the importance of prewriting and planning.

One interesting thing about this book is the way the illustrations were done. The illustrator used four colors-black, white, pale yellow, and light blue. The pictures can also lead to discussions of focus and how the author wants the reader to pay attention to specific details in the picture just like in the classroom where the teacher wants to keep the focus on learning. (Maybe it’s a stretch, but it’s worth a try.)


This is one of Cynthia Rylant’s lesser-known titles, but like All in a Day, it’s about keeping the focus on important things. In this book, the main character is a painter who focuses on the beauty of nature in his paintings. The peaceful surrounding helps him get creative, and as he paints, he has a silent observer. Eventually, the painter meets the young spy who’s been watching him, and they form a connection.

With this book, I teach:

  • Visualizing
  • Cause/Effect
  • Questioning
  • The Writing Process using Four Square


I’ve written about the benefits of using author studies in this post. I shared why it’s important to use them and which authors I’d recommend. Another post you should check out is this one featuring In November. In this post, I shared a lesson on author’s craft you’ll like. Finally, this post for Silver Packages includes ideas for making inferences. 


As you can see, this author study is comprehensive. It includes over 350 pages of printable and digital options for you to use as you celebrate Cynthia Rylant’s work. Author studies help students connect to the author’s style and gives students a place to go for other titles you may not be using. Kids love to reread books you’ve used too.

As you study her work, you can emphasize the importance of writing in your classroom too. I love creating class books with kids, and as you work through the author study, you’ll make quite a few. Many teachers choose to keep class books in tubs for parents to read as they wait for conferences on conference day and for students to borrow and read too.

This author study has received very positive reviews too. Check out what a few buyers have said:

Cynthia Rylant is one of my favorite authors! Your resource helps bring her wonderful writing into my classroom.


Excellent material, more than I will ever be able to use. All you’ll want for Cynthia Rylant.


Wow! I have been a long term fan of your reading comprehension work and to have these 10 units in the one bundle is just amazing and a bargain!!! I’ve hit the jackpot! I really am impressed by your graphic organizers and the range of activities included in each of your units – thank you!

As you can tell, I love Cynthia Rylants work and so have my students. I’ve used all of these units multiple times with different groups of children. Of course, they’ve been tweaked quite a few times too, and I’m quite sure your students will love the units as much as mine have.



Cynthia Rylant's writing style works well for teaching so many skills including author's craft, visualizing, point of view, imagery, drawing conclusions, making inferences, and finding text evidence to support thinking. In this post, I share my top ten favorite titles and ideas to go with each.

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Carla is a licensed reading specialist with 27 years of experience in the regular classroom (grades 1, 4, and 5), in Title 1 reading, as a tech specialists, and a literacy coach. She has a passion for literacy instruction and meeting the needs of the individual learner.