Welcome to another guest post in my series For The Love of Mentor Texts here at Teach Mentor Texts. I love to talk about the power of mentor texts to impact our writing but I'm thrilled to have friends share how they use mentor texts for a fresh perspective. Today I'm excited to welcome Bridget Geraghty to share how mentor texts are an inspiration to her.
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Mentor Texts as a Source of Inspiration
By Bridget Geraghty
February 8th, 2017
I am willing to bet that most authors owe their first notion that they should write a book to a mentor text. Had it not been for that awakening they experienced through reading another person’s written work, the call to create something just as awe-inspiring may have passed them by. This is surely the case for me, as I can attribute my pull to write “Molly Bell and the Wishing Well” to mentor texts that stirred a sense of longing to write a story that would leave an indelible mark on others the way those books did for me.
It was during my time as an elementary school teacher that I truly beheld the influence that a remarkable story has on a child’s perspective and understanding. I would like to share a couple of examples of books that not only had an effect on the students in my classroom, but also inspired me to write a story that touched readers in the same way.
One such story is “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. There is an abundance of beautiful lessons for children in this story. But one that stands out for me is the way the author uses a secondary character, Martha, as a means to help the main character, Mary, overcome her selfishness and sulky attitude. Mary is a forlorn and miserable child who pushes away anyone that tries to engage with her. But Martha is a jolly, no-nonsense young woman who sees past Mary’s behavior and uses her gentle guidance and steadfast encouragement to help Mary open her eyes to the beauty and wonder of the world around her.
Likewise, in my middle grade novel, “Molly Bell and the Wishing Well”, the main character, Molly, has to overcome the grief she has in her heart over the loss of her mother. I used a secondary character, Grandma Saige, in a similar “counselor” role with the purpose of showing Molly by example and through her loving advice that there is still joy to be experienced in her life.
Another example of a mentor text that I utilized in the creative process of writing my own book is “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” by Robert C. O”Brien. One aspect of this story that impressed upon me in particular is how the main character, Mrs. Frisby (a mouse), must fight her fears to reach her goal. In order to help her sick child and save her family’s home from being destroyed, she must travel through a field and risk being attacked by a villainous cat, fly on the back of a bird although she is afraid of heights, and visit a frightening predatory owl because he is the only one who knows how to heal her child. All of these things terrified Mrs. Frisby, yet she found the resolve within her to press on.
In my story, I also wanted to impart the lesson that if you want something badly enough, sometimes you just have to do it afraid. In “Molly Bell and the Wishing Well”, Molly is overcome with the desire to visit a wishing well she believes is magical so she can wish away the unwanted parts of her life. She is staying at her grandparents’ farm, and her grandfather does not want her to go to the wishing well (he has his own reasons for forbidding Molly to see it). But Grandma Saige has a soft spot for Molly’s interest in it, so she tells Molly where it is. In the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep, Molly decides that she will sneak out of the house and go on an adventure to find it. But of course, it is an overwhelming and scary experience for Molly that she must find the courage to keep going through because she wants to reach the wishing well so desperately.
So, in both of these examples and in other mentor texts I have used that influence my writing, I look for the essence that is captured within the characters or through the action in the story. What was the lesson that appealed to me so deeply, and how can I in my own way, through my characters and events, leave my readers with that impression I hope will be made in their own minds? My greatest hope is that perhaps one day a child will read “Molly Bell and the Wishing Well” and be drawn to a theme that speaks to his or her heart, and be inclined to tell their own story one day that breathes to life a new way of teaching that lesson.
A big thank you to Bridget for taking the time to share her love of mentor texts!