Show, Don't Tell!

Secrets of Writing
Josephine Nobisso
Eva Montanari
2 147 483 647
Gingerbread House
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
32 pages
Grade / Age level: 

Show Don’t Tell! Secrets of Writing by Josephine Nobisso

About 25 years ago, I attended a workshop for teaching writing in which the presenter talked about writing that "shows" as opposed to writing that merely "tells." As she described her method, I thought it was astounding and could quite possibly revolutionize the writing of my students. When I tried to teach it to middle school students, though, I had to break it down into components: What exactly is “showing” writing? How I wish I had had Nobisso’s book at that time. She breaks it down and makes it highly entertaining.

She begins by making the case for writing that shows. It requires specific nouns, clarifying adjectives, and action verbs with their modifiers. However Show Don’t Tell only deals with the nouns and adjectives. (A sequel dealing with verbs and adverbs is promised.) A lion who is a writer does the narration, and he is instructing the other animals on how to make their writing more engaging. He says that merely adding adjectives to a noun doesn’t cut it, and adjectives should never end a sentence (as in, She is pretty) because that would only tell the reader something, not show it. The lion leads the other animals on a lesson in finding the noun that is “just right” to show the reader the ideas he has in his imagination, and then adding adjectives only if it helps to clarify the sentence.

After the instruction, the lion asks the animals to do an exercise in which they feel, smell, and hear something and have to write about it. Your students can do this exercise as well since a little mesh patch, a scratch-and-sniff strip, and a push-button noisemaker are included in the book. Having the exercises makes the book so much more valuable and makes Nobisso’s point—children can write in a way that engages the reader’s imagination. My favorite line in the book is this: “One of the secrets of good writing lies in being not fancy, but honest.”

The illustrations are fantastic (oh dear, I ended my sentence with an adjective! I’m not showing it to you very well.). The text font and size for this book vary by who is speaking and is not printed conventionally on the page. Your kids will love looking at it, though some might be bothered by having to figure out who is talking or where the lion’s narration comes back in. And, even though it looks like a picture book, I think a middle- or high-school student could read it and get something out of it. You would need to read it aloud to younger children, sitting right next to them so they can see the varied text and discuss who is talking. And then, revisit it often as you practice writing that shows.

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