Countdown to BREAKOUT: Elidee’s Library Receipt and Mentor Texts

Countdown to Breakout is a 23-day blog series about the three-year writing process for BREAKOUT, my new novel for young readers, which earned starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. It’s about a small-town prison break and manhunt that change the way three kids see their neighbors and the place they call home. Why a 23-day series? Because this book was inspired by the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility prison break that led to a 23-day manhunt in June of 2015. This blog series runs from May 14th to June 5th, release day for BREAKOUT. If you enjoy the posts, please consider pre-ordering the book!

Elidee’s Library Receipt and Mentor Texts

Once I decided to include Elidee’s poems in the documents that tell the story of BREAKOUT, I spent some time exploring the books she might love best – titles that might inspire her and serve as mentor texts for her own writing. As a former teacher, I know how important the scaffolding of a mentor text – a structure to borrow – can be for students just finding their poetic voices.

Here’s the page of BREAKOUT that shows Elidee’s receipt from the Wolf Creek Public Library…

Working on a novel-in-documents is like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle, where every time you revise one tiny thing, a big, drooly dog comes and knocks all the other pieces onto the floor, and some of them bounce under the sofa. Really, it feels like that. So as I revised, I was constantly working to make sure all the threads of the story were woven through consistently. See that book on Elidee’s list about the Hubble Space Telescope? She signs it out for a reason you’ll understand after another process post I’ll share in a few days. 🙂

Most of the books on Elidee’s reading list are poetry, though. I signed all of them out of my public library and read through, looking for the poems I thought Elidee would love most, and those that might connect with her situation in Wolf Creek as the manhunt continued. Here’s how Elidee used “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks as mentor text for her own poem.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at Elidee’s connections to BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson, but for now, it’s time to try your own mentor-text poem.

Today’s Assignment: Choose an event from today’s current events and write a poem in the style of “We Real Cool” about it.


Breakout cover imageThanks for joining me on this part of the Breakout writing-process journey! If you’d like to read the other posts in this series once they’re all posted, you can find them here.  I hope you’ll also want to read BREAKOUT for yourself, and I’d love it if you’d consider pre-ordering now. Here are some ways to do that:


If you’d like a signed copy, you can call my local indie booksellers at The Bookstore Plus at 518-523-2950 or order online here and note in the comments field how you’d like your book signed. I’ll personalize and sign it for you, and it’ll be mailed out on release day! 


You can also order from your own favorite bookseller, either online or in person at the store. (Indie bookstores are always my favorite because that way, you can buy a great book and support a business in your own community. You can find your nearest indie bookseller here.)

Bloomsbury is offering a great incentive for pre-orders, too – a free poster and set of bookmarks to share. Details about that are here.

And if you live near one of the cities where I’ll be on book tour this June, please come by and say hello!

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